The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Memorial Book of Ostrow-Lubelski
by Isidore Last

I am dedicating this article to the memory of my late brother Monia (July 19, 1928 -- September 14, 1945)

The aim of this article is to depict the history of Ostrow and its Jewish community up to the Second World War and the Holocaust. The article is based on information which can be found in history books and encyclopedias. Unfortunately this information is scant since Ostrow has never been a big town and no importent [sic] events are known to have happened there.

Ostrow is located on a small river, Timenica, in the Lublin region, some 35 km. to the north-east from Lublin. Around Ostrow there are numerous peat-bogs. In the old times the whole area was covered by big forests. Now only the Parczew forests situated between Ostrow and Parczew are left. The town of Parczew is Ostrow's closest neighbour, 16 km to the north. The other neighbouring town is Lubartow, which is located 29 km. to west.

The history of the town

At the end of the XIIth century the place where the town of Ostrow is located was quite near the eastern border of the Polish Kingdom. The area's development was hampered by the invasion of the Mongols, who destroyed most of the settlements there in the middle of the XIIIth century. Only in the beginning of the XVth century did the town of Lublin and its surroundings return to normal life. It is known that at that time Ostrow already existed as a village where a wooden Polish church was built soon after 1442. More than 110 years later, on January 25, 1548, the Polish king Zygmunt I granted Ostrow the status of a town. Ostrow also obtained from the king some other privilages [sic], particularly the right to hold fairs on Saturdays.

The middle of the XVIth century, when Ostrow became a town, was a time of fast development of the whole area around Ostrow. Five years earlier than Ostrow, in 1543, the town of Lubartow was founded. Ostrow's neighbour town, Parczew, which in our memory is a small insignificant place, at that time played a remarkable role in Polish history. It served as the seat of the sessions of the Polish parliament (Sejm) and the scene of important negotiations between Poland and Lithuania. In the previous XVth century a wooden royal palace was built near Parczew. An organized Jewish community existed in Parczew from the start of the XVIth century, and in 1566 there were about 60 Jews there.

Taking into account the small distance between Parczew and Ostrow, we can assume that the first Jews came to Ostrow from Parczew, most likely at the end of the XVIth or the beginning of the XVIIth century. It was the time of relative prosperity of Polish Jews, who were mostly protected by the Polish kings. This prosperity was interrupted in the middle of the XVIIth century by the uprising of Chmelnicki's Cossacks who killed tens of thousands of Jews in Ukraine and South-east Poland. In 1648 most of the Lublin Jews were killed by Polish peasants who called themselves by the name of "Cossacks". The Ostrow Jews apparently escaped the killings.

During the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries Polish kings granted additional new rights to the Ostrow merchants. These rights reflected the growth of the town as a local trade center. In 1660 the whole town was burnt down but this event could not hold up its development for a long time. The first known number of Jews in Ostrow dates from 1676. In that year there were 60 Jews in the town. About 50 years later the area around Ostrow was severely damaged by the Northern War between Russia and Sweden. Thus by 1718 only four Jews remained in Parczew. We may assume that some of the Parczew lews fled to Ostrow, which was not hurt by the war. The number of Jews settled in Ostrow rapidly increased during the XVIIIth century. In 1765 as many as 344 Jews lived in Ostrow a 500% increase compared to 1676. The growth of the Ostrow Jewish community aroused the anxiety of the local Polish authorities and on July 21, 1789 King Stanislaw August restricted the liberties of the Ostrow Jews. This restriction may be well associated with Ostrow's rise as a local Catholic center. In 1755 a beautiful Roman-Catholic church was built there. The church has remained until now the only real site of which the town can be proud.

Polish rule in Ostrow ended in 1795 after the third (final) division of the Polish Kingdom. From 1795 till 1815 Ostrow belonged to the Austrian Empire. In 1815, after Russia defeated Napoleon, the whole of central Poland was annexed to the Russian Empire. Russian rule in Ostrow lasted exactly 100 years, until 1915.

Under Russian rule Ostrow was included into the newly-formed Siedlec province. Correspondingly, the town's name was changed from "Ostrow Lubelski" to ""Ostrow Siedlecki". According to the Jewish encyclopedia published in Petersburg at the end of the XIXth century "Ostrow... belongs to the places where the Jews long since have not been restricted in their rights to settle there". In 1856 there were 851 Jews in Ostrow, 33% of the total population of 2579 residents. In 1897 there were as many as 3221 Ostrow Jews, an increase of 278% within 41 years. This increase cannot be explained by natural growth alone so we have to suppose that in this period many Jewish families came to Ostrow from other places. The Polish (Christian) population was also inceasing, but far less rapidly than the Jews. In 1897 there were 2858 Christians in Ostrow, and they formed a minority of the total population of 6079 residents. Most of Ostrow's residents (53%) were Jewish. It seems that at that time the town of Ostrow was at the peak of its prosperity. At the end of the XIXth century, after the railway system was built, the town began to lose its momentum. Unfortunately, none of the railways went through the town, and this surely affected local trade. It was also the time of the great Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe to America, and many Ostrow Jews emigrated as well.

We know nothing important about Ostrow at the beginning of the XXth century. It is known only that a Russian military unit waa stationed in the town during the first Russian Revolution (1905--1907) and that there was some revolutionary unrest among the soldiers. In the summer of 1915, during the second year of World War One, Ostrow was occupied by German troops, apparently without any battles at all. The German occupation lasted until 1918. In Novembcr 1918 the Polish state was proclaimed, and due to the new administrative division Ostrow obtained again its old name -- "Ostrow Lubelski". According to a census carried out in 1921 the number of Jews in Ostrow was no more than 1267. This number demonstrated an importent decrease in the Jewish Population of Ostrow in the period from 1897 to 1921. The number of Christians (2546) also decreased, but by some 10% only. The total population was 3813, and the Jews made up one-third. The number of Jews in the villages around Ostrow was as following: Bobryk -- 11, Drozdovka -- 11, Gleboki -- 16, Kolehovice -- 42, Krasne -- 50, Zamiescie -- 17. Together with the Jewish residents of these villages, Ostrow's Jcwish communily numbered 1414 Jews. Although the natural growth of the Jewish population was relatively large at that time, the number of Jews in Ostrow most probably was also decreasing after 1921, as many Jews were leaving the town.

The 20s and 30s were years of high political activity among the Ostrow lews, including the Zionist movement. It was also the time of the beginning of the "aliya" of Ostrow Jews to Palestine (Mr. Faiershtein was probably the first "oleh" from Ostrow). This period of the Jewish life in Ostrow is well portrayed in the memories publishd in the present book so we do not need to linger more on this subject.

The Second World War and the Holocaust

On September 1, 1939 German troops invaded Poland and unleashed the Second World War. Ostrow was located deep in the rear, so at the beginning of the war people were afraid of air bombardments only. Although German war planes indeed many times flew past Ostrow, they fortunately did not find there anything worthy of a bomb. In the middle of September the Germans were moving rapidly from the west to Lublin and from north to Siedice and Wlodawa, approaching Ostrow. The Polish line was formed by the army of General Przedzymirski some 20--40 km. from Ostrow. The Polish cavalry was concentrated in Parczew, under the command of Ceneral Anders who became later famous as the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish army in exile. On September 17 Lublin was taken and a cavalry brigade was moved from Parczew to the south, apparently via Ostrow, in order to stop the German advance. On the same day the Germans took the town of Wlodawa located 60 km. to the east of Ostrow. However, Przedzymirski's troops drove them away.

On September 17 the Soviet Union invaded Poland. This invasion destroyed the Polish defence ability almost completely but it saved the lives of many Jews who found the opportunity to escape from the Nazis. Soviet troops were moving westwards without any serious resistence and already on September 22 they were on the east bank of the Bug, opposite the town of Wlodawa. Ostrow, as well as Parczew and some territory around it, remained for almost a week free of Gerrnan occupation in spite of the closeness of the German troops. This delay in the German advance can be explained, at least partly, by the resistence of the Polish troops. The last pocket of this resistence was destroyed by the Germans, with some Russian assistance, only on October 5. This battle, the last battle of the German-Polish war, took place about 40 km. from Ostrow. Ostrow was occupied by the Germans at the end of September.

From the very beginning of the German occupation the Polish Jews were deprived of all their rights and exposed to severe persecutions. One of the first actions was a forcible transfer ot the Jewish population. In November 1939 Lubartow Jews were moved to Parczew and Ostrow; later, however, thay returned home. At the end of 1939 the Nazi leaders decided to move Jews from various territories to the Lublin region, planning to make this a Jewish reservation. Many of these Jews were settled in Ostrow. The plan to form the Jewish reservation was abolished in the summer of 1940. The physical destruction of the Polish Jews started in February 1942 in the Lublin region. Among the first victims were Lublin Jews who on March 16 were dispatched to the death camp of Belzec. In the spring of 1942 the Germans began to move Jews from various occupied countries to the Lublin area, either dirertly to the death camps, or to some ghettoes On April 13 and 15, 1942 two trains With Slovakian Jews, mainly women and children, arrived at Lubartow. 330 of these Jews were immediately dispatched to Ostrow.

In the beginning of May 1942 a secret order was sent to all local police commanders (Kreishauptmanns) to be prepared to deport Jews from the small towns in the Lublin district. In his answer of May 19, 1942 Kreishauptmann Ziegenmayer recommended the deportation, in the first place, of the Jews from six towns including Ostrow. The number of Jews in Ostrow was indicated by Ziegenmaycr as amounting to 3062. This number probably includes 300 Slovakian Jews. Since in 1921 Jere were only 1267 Jews in Ostrow, we may suppose that in May 1942 most of the Jews in Ostrow were not of local origin.

Any further German orders concerning the fate of Ostrow Jews are unknown to us. According to information provided by survivors, Jews were moved from Ostrow to Lubartow in October 1942. On the way many of them were killed. The Jews who reached Lubartow were most likely deported together with the Lubartow Jews to the Sobibor and Belzec death camps on October 11, 1942.

Ostrow Jews were sent to death at the time when the Nazi machinery for the physical destruction of the Polish Jews was working at full speed. Most of the Jews of such large cities as Warsaw, Cracow and Lublin were already dead. They were killed mainly in the death camps which were built in the spring of 1942 in the Lublin area, not so far from Ostrow. In autumn 1942 the Ostrow Jews probably knew, at least vaguely, these terrible facts.

It is doubtful that there were any contacts in Ostrow between the Jews and the Polish underground movement and partisans, although the conditions for these contacts were better than in many other towns. The resistance movement in Ostrow and around it was extremely active. The first resistance group was formed in Ostrow as early as the autumn of 1940 (A. Respondek, a teacher) and more resistance groups were formed in 1941--1942 (W. and K. Markiewicz, K. Sidor and etc); most of Jem were connected with the Communist GL (Gwardia Ludowa). The Parczcw forests located several kilometers from Ostrow served as a partisan center beginning with the winter 1941-1942. We do not know anything definite about the attitude of the Polish underground movement in Ostrow toward Jews. Most probably the fate of Jews was not of interest to them. This is well demonstrated by the testimony of L. Doroszewski, who describes the underground organizations in Ostrow and the situation there beginning from 1940 without mentioning Ostrow Jews at all. However, talking into account the Communist background of the most of the resistance groups, we can hope that they were at least not hostile to the Jews.

The attitude towards the Jews of the partisans around Ostrow was surely not negative. They were mainly Soviet soldiers who had fled from German captivity. The first commander of these partisans was a former Soviet officer, "David", (killed in a battle in 1943). His real name is unknown but judging from his pseudonym he could have been a Jew. In the spring of 1942 David's group joined 8 partisan unit under the command of "Fiodor" (Theodor Albert), a former Soviet officer of Polish origin. Fiodor cooperated later with Jewish partisans.

The first battle of Fiodor's partisans took place in November 1942. The partisans tried to beat off a German assault on a forest where a group of Parczew Jews were hiding. Unfortunately the partisans were forced to retreat, and most of the Jews were killed on the spot. On December 17, 1942 the Fiodor unit captured the town of Ostrow, killing a policeman and wounding a few others In the spring of 1943 the Jewish partisan unit of Chyl Grynszpan was formed, operating mainly in the Parczew forests together with the Fiodor unit. In the second half of 1943 and the beginning of 1944 Ostrow was under the control of the Communist AL (Armia Ludowa). Only in April 1944 did the Germans recapture Ostrow after a short battle. The Soviet troops entered Ostrow on July 22, 1944.


  1. Dukumcnty i matcrialy do dziejow okupacji niemleckiej w Police, t. II, "Akcje" i "wysiedlenia", Centralna Zydowska Komisja historyczna w Polsce, Warszawa, 1946.
  2. Gtowna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Niemeickich w Polsce, Warszawa 1982.
  3. E. Gronczewski, Kalendarium Walk Gwardii Ludowej i Armi Ludowej na Lubelszczyznie (1941-1944), Lublin 1962.
  4. Gwardia Ludowa. Ja. syn Judu polskiego. Relacie i wspomnienia dziafaczy PPR, GL i AL Lubelszczyzna, 1942-1944, Lublin 1964.
  5. Gwardia Ludowa i Armia Ludowa na Lubelszczyznie (1942--1944). Lublin 1960.
  6. Historia Polski, t I, Pansiwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa 1979
  7. L. Landau, Kronika Lat Wojny i Okupacji, i. I, Warszawa 1962.
  8. Maa Encyklopedia Powszechna, Warszawa 1959.
  9. M. Norwid-Naugebauer, Kompania Wrzesniowa 1939 w Polsce, London 1941.
  10. Sownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego, Warszawa 1886.
  11. K. Tymieniecki. Polska w sredniwieczu. Warzsawa 1963.
  12. B. Wasiutynski, Ludnosc zydowska w Polsce w wiekach XIX I XX, Warszawa - 1930.
  13. Wspomnienia Zolnierzy GL i AL, Warszawa 1962.

    English and German

  14. Black book of Localities whose Jewish Population was Exterminated by the Nazis, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1965.
  15. Encyclopedia Judaica, Jerusalem 1972.
  16. German Crimes in Poland, New York 1982.
  17. The Jewish Encyclopedia, New York--London 1904
  18. E. R. Rosenfeld, Lebenszeichen aus Piaski; Briefe Deportichrer aus dem Distrikt Luublin, 1940--1943, Mu"nchen 1968.
  19. B. D. Weinryb, The Jews of Poland, Philadelphia 1973.

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