Brief History of the Jews of Ostrowiec

Based on the research in Polish by Wojtek Mazan (excerpts translated from Polish) and additional sources.

Early History

Jews first settled in Ostrowiec in the early part of the 17th century. There was first mention of the Jewish Cemetery in Ostrowiec in 1657.

A wooden synagogue was first mentioned in 1682, next to which stood a prayer-house. Earlier, in the first half of the 17th century, Jews from Ostrowiec had belonged to the Opatów community.

In 1765, the Jewish population of Ostrowiec area was about 900; most lived within the town itself. In 1787, the Jewish Community Council was made up of towns: Ostrowiec, Kunów and Waśniów and over 50 villages from the Sandomierz County.

In general, the 19th century was a time of prosperity for Ostrowiec Jews. The city had become strongly industrialized with various Jewish businesses including cement works, soap factory, soft drink factory, construction, taverns and restaurants.

In 1863, several Jews from Ostrowiec took part in the January Uprising.

Early 20th Century History

In 1904 and 1905, many anti-Jewish riots broke out in the city. Poles and Jews, however, came together many times in anti-Russian demonstrations.

Jewish political life began to develop at the turn of the 20th century and Zionists were active from beginning of the century. During World War I, communal life continued to blossom, even though the economic situation of Jews had worsened.

By 1925, there over 9,000 Jews in the Ostrowiec community, with four main synagogues and over 40 smaller ones throughout the area.

World War II – Holocaust Years

1939- Germans entered the city on September 7, 1939. At that time, the city had about 10,000 Jews.  A Judenrat was set up and Jews were forced to be slave laborers in German controlled factories.

In the spring of 1941, a ghetto was established in Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski including Jews that were brought in from surrounding areas, including 1000 Jews from Austria. Therefore, the population of Jews rose to over 15,000.

Annihilation of the Jewish Ghetto

On October 11-12, 1942, about 11,000 Jews were rounded up in the town square (Rynek). About 1,000 were shot dead during those days and the “non-workers” were sent in cattle cars by train to their death in Treblinka. A small labor camp for Jews, called the small ghetto, was set up in a portion of the former ghetto.

At the same time, a slave labor camp was established at the Ostrowiec steelworks where many of the remaining local Jews were employed.

In January 1943, there was a second deportation of about 2,000 Jews to Treblinka. Over 1,000 Jews were sent to labor camps in Sandomierz and Bliżyn.

In July and August 1944, the women and men (mainly from the slave labor camp in the steel works) were deported to the extermination camp in Auschwitz.

During the last 2-3 years of the war, however, many Jews managed to escape, including by joining partisan units.  Some even participated in the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943.

Ostrowiec was liberated in January 1945 by the Red Army. Few Jews, however, returned to live in Ostrowiec, fearing pogroms or anti-Jewish activity. After the War, by May 1945, less than 200 Jews remained in Ostrowiec.

In October 1945, a memorial was held for the third anniversary of the deportation of most of the community to their deaths in Treblinka.