“Ostrog” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume V
(Ostroh, Ukraine)

5020' / 2631'

Translation of “Ostrog” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem Published in Jerusalem


Click here to see how to add a Memorial Plaque to this Yizkor Book
GoldPlaque SilverPlaque BronzePlaque

 

Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Shalom Bronstein

 

Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume V, pages 34-40,
edited by Shmuel Spector, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.


[Pages 34-40]

Ostrog

(Ostra; Ostraha)

(A city in Southern Volhyn)

Translated by Shalom Bronstein

 

This translation by Shalom Bronstein is Dedicated in memory of those members of our family
who perished in the Holocaust and in honor of the members of the Dimmerman Family
who left Ostrog and settled in Philadelphia and in Israel.

 

Population

YearGeneral
Population
Jewish
Population
1565?1,000 including surrounding towns
1765?1,765
1778?963
1784?1,123
1787?1,829
1847?7,300 including surrounding towns
18827,7175,717
189714,7499,208
192112,9757,991
193113,2658,171
193715,0009,240 according to city estimate

Ostrog, a city located in southern Volhyn on the Horyn River, is mentioned for the first time in the Chronicle of Nestor in 1100. This was at the time of the division of the Kiev Kingdom among Russian princes. Ostrog was included in the holdings of Prince David the son of Igor. In the middle of the 14th century the city was surrounded by a wall and Ostrog became an important fortress. In 1383 the king Vladislav Jagiello, in his capacity as Grand Duke of Lithuania, presented Ostrog and the surrounding area to Prince Fyodor the son of Daniel. The latter wanted to develop the city and he invited Greek, Armenian and Jewish merchants to settle there.

One could assume that Jews began to settle in Ostrog from the end of the 14th century. Definite evidence of the existence of a Jewish community comes from the first half of the 15th century. These are the early tombstones from 1445 and a reference to Jews in Polish treasury documents dating from 1447. Evidence of Jews in Ostrog increases in the first half of the 16th century. In 1532, Jews are mentioned as carrying on substantial trade with Walachia. They purchased cattle there and sold cloth and other Polish goods. Jews from Ostrog participated in a delegation together with Jews from Lithuania that traveled to King Sigismund I. Their object was to refute allegations against the Jews of Lithuania who were accused, as it were, of kidnapping Christian children and forcibly converting them to Judaism. In 1545, Ostrog Jews purchased the right to collect government taxes in the city of Zhitomir.

In 1563 the Jews of Ostrog paid a head tax of 600 Lithuanian commercial groschen. It was the largest amount paid by any Jewish community in Volhyn and it equaled about one third of the total head tax levied on the Jews in all of Volhyn. Two years later, in 1565, the Jews were required to pay 500 Lithuanian commercial groschen, the amount that only the Jews of Luck were obligated to pay. According to estimates, at that time Ostrog had some 1,000 Jews, about one third of the total Jewish population in the entire region of Volhyn. These facts point to the importance of Ostrog in the second half of the 16th century. So it was that Ostrog was one of the four leading communities in Volhyn and was included among the founders of the Regional Council [Va'ad] and the most active member of the Va'ad when it was established.

Until the Catastrophe of 1648-1650 [the Chmielnicki uprising], according to Rabbi Meir of Szczebrzeszyn in his work Tzuk Ha'itim [Stressful Times], Ostrog was “the great city of scholars, scribes, Torah and distinction.” It became the spiritual center of all of Volhyn as well as of Poland. It had an important Yeshiva and some of the most noted rabbis lived there: between 1540 until the early 1570s, Rabbi Solomon Luria, known by his acronym as the Meharshal, the author of Y'riot Shlomo, Amudei Shlomo and Ateret Shlomo; between 1602-1604, Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Horowitz, known by his acronym as the Shel”oh, the author of Shnei Luhot Habrit; between 1615 and 1632, Rabbi Samuel Eliezer Edels, known by the acronym as the Meharsha, the author of Hidushei Halakha and Hidushei Aggadot and between 1642 and 1649, Rabbi David Halevi Segal, known as the Ta”z, the author of Turei Zahav.

The 1648 Catastrophe hit the Jews of Ostrog with great severity. In August 1648 the Cossacks under the Hetman Tisa attacked Ostrog. The wealthier Jews fled westward to 'to the Polish country,' that is to the other side of the Bug River. Neta Natan of Hanover, who was one of the refugees that passed by Ostrog, relates that the Cossacks, with the assistance of local Christians murdered about 600 Jews. Some of Ostrog's Jews returned to their city in February 1649 and began to rebuild their lives. But a very short time later the Cossacks again attacked Ostrog resulting in the murder of some 300 Jews and the wooden houses of the Jews were set on fire. The brick houses were torn down and the synagogues were used as stables. Several poor Jews who fled joined the Polish Hetman Jan Pirlai and fought the Cossacks.

The Ostrog community was devastated and it took years to recover. On 15 September 1661, Israel ben Koppel, a representative of the community swore before the local court that only five Jewish houses remained in the two parts of the city. The testimony was given to release the returning Jews from the obligation to pay taxes. In 1673 the city passed from the Ostroh princes to Prince Jozef Lubomirski and in 1678 he received a document from the Sejm concerning the city's rehabilitation. Among the things stated in it “ . . . we reaffirm the laws and rights of the local inhabitants, Christians and Jews alike, that we received from past generations, we ratify every paragraph and declare that they will be in effect for them for ever.”

As stated above, Ostrog was among the leading communities in Volhyn and its representatives participated in the Regional Council. On 18 Iyar 5393 (1635) delegates were at the Council meeting in Wiszniewice where the proposal of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller prohibiting the purchase of the post of rabbi from the government was approved. In August 1666 the ledgers of the Ludmir [Wlodimierz Wolynski] fortress record the decision of the Council regarding two representatives from Volhyn to the session of the Council of the Four Lands in Przeworsk. One of them was Aaron Zelig from Ostrog. At the 1698 meeting of the Regional Council in Turbits, an approbation was granted to the book Ir Binyamin [City of Benjamin] by Rabbi Benjamin Zev Wolf, the head of the rabbinical court in Zmigrod. Rabbi Joel ben Isaac Hailperin, head of the rabbinical court and head of the Yeshiva in Ostrog was among the signatories. This is 'Rabbi Joel the Great,' who is recorded as a participant in the meetings of the Council of the Four Lands at that time.

The sphere of influence of Ostrog from a geographical standpoint was the largest in all of Volhyn, stretching from the Horyn River in the west to the Dnieper in the east including the northern part of Kiev province. According to the head tax list of 1700, that was received at the meeting in Horokhov, twenty-three communities were under the jurisdiction of Ostrog, some of them rather large with a tax in excess of 1,000 guilden: Polonnoye, 1,700 guilden; Miedzyrzecz and Kilikiev, 1,500 guilden; Korets, 1,150 guilden and Rovno and Zaslaw, 1,000 guilden each. The rabbi of Ostrog signed a legal decision that he rendered in the wake of a complaint by a rabbi that his community was persecuting and tormenting him. The case was discussed and decided at the Regional Council meeting in Kozin on 26 Tevet 5480 (1720). Towards the end of the 1750s the leaders of Ostrog quarreled with the leaders of the Ludmir and Kremenets communities. They opposed the territorial expansion of the Kremenets community, presumably at the expense of Ostrog. The Ostrog leaders accused the leaders of the other two communities of embezzlement of public funds and refused to approve the expenditures to the Regional Council and requested that they be permitted to repay their share in payments spread over a number of years at low interest. The Regional Council called a special meeting to deal with the accusations and it took place in Rachmanowo, near Kremenets, on 22 February 1758. The position of Ostrog at the time was so strong that she had the power to deal as an equal among equals with all of the other leading communities of Volhyn.

The endeavors of the Ostrog community were not limited to Volhyn alone. Its prominent rabbis took an active part in the deliberations of the Council of the Four Lands. At the meeting that took place on 5 Adar 5378 (1618), the Meharsha signed a decree involving the prayerbook. Rabbi Natan Neta the son of Moses Mordecai Kahana signed Council decrees in 1632 and 1639. In 1644 Rabbi Gedalia the son of Israel Shlomo, who referred to himself as Rabbi Zalman of Jerusalem, signed decrees. Since the Catastrophe of 1648-1649 had such a devastating effect, there was a break in the presence of representatives from Ostrog to the Council of Four Lands. When they returned, Rabbi Aaron Zelig the son of Judah Leib Katz signed in 1666 and twice in 1672; Rabbi Joseph the son of David Kl”b, signed in 1678 and Rabbi Naftali the son of Isaac Katz signed in 1685, 1687 and 1688. Rabbi Joel ben Yitzhak Isaac Hailperin, who was also known as 'Rabbi Joel the Great,' and served as rabbi in Ostrog between 1692 and 1712, participated in the deliberations of the Council of the Four Lands in 1692, 1699 and 1712. Rabbi Abraham the son of Meir signed three times in 1717; Rabbi Joseph Yuzpa signed in 1721; Rabbi Abraham Kahana in the years 1718, twice in 1724 and in 1739. Rabbi Meshullam Zalman the son of the Hakham Zvi, who was the brother of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden, served as rabbi of Ostrog between 1737 and 1777 and attended the sessions of the Council of the Four Lands until it was disbanded. Throughout the Council's existence, the community of Ostrog participated.

As previously mentioned, Ostrog continued to be a prominent city noted for its rabbis and Yeshiva even after the Catastrophe of 1648-1649. At the end of the 18th century, her rabbis were Rabbi Meir Margoliot, in Ostrog 1777-1790, who spread the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. He was followed by Rabbi Hayim Hakohen Rappaport, whose son Rabbi Jacob Hakohen Rappaport succeeded him, serving in Ostrog until 1862. From that year until 1892, Ostrog did not have a community rabbi. A bitter disagreement raged between the followers of Hasidism and their opponents, the Mitnagdim. When the dispute was settled, Rabbi Elijah Choverov was brought to serve in this capacity. Other rabbis who served in Ostrog were Rabbi Pinchas Markowitz, who lived here for eighteen years in the middle of the 18th century; Rabbi Meir Margoliot, already mentioned above, who brought the Hasidic preacher Rabbi Jacob Joseph ben Judah Sefard (known by the acronym YYB”Y), and was known for his works on the Torah and the book of Psalms. Later, his grandson, known as Rabbi Jacob Joseph the Second, who studied under Rabbi Barukh of Medzhibozh, the grandson of the Besht [Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement] served in Ostrog. He established a Hasidic Court and dynasty in Ostrog. Rabbi Jacob Joseph, together with Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin and the Magid of Trisk, was arrested. His place of leadership in the court was filled by his son, Rabbi Eliyakim Getzel. He was followed by his son, the grandson of Rabbi Jacob Joseph the Second, Rabbi Alter-Mordecai Sefard (“Alternue”). Upon his death in 1934 the Hasidic dynasty in Ostrog came to an end.

In the beginning of the 20th century there were still some pages from the Hevre Kadisha ledger from 1710 and from the 1820s in existence. In Ostrog, the synagogue known as the Meharsha Synagogue was built like a fortress. It is estimated that the synagogue was constructed some one hundred years previously that is in the beginning of the 17th century.

At the time of the raids of the Haidamacks, Ostrog was not affected, but one of the towns under its authority, Kurson suffered a great deal. Twenty-seven Jews were murdered there, while others fled leaving only one Jewish tenant. However, the Ostrog community did not take that into consideration and levied a head tax of 120 guilden on the Kurson community. On 2 June 1737, Joseph Yavlonovski, the regional governor, issued a complaint to the king about the Jews of Ostrog. On the other hand, the leaders of Ostrog helped the Jews of Dubno when they suffered at the hands of bands of the Haidamack soldiers.

In 1792, the Russian general Suvarov laid siege on Ostrog. The city was bombarded and two shells penetrated the Meharsha Synagogue. One stuck in a wall and the other did not explode. To avoid the destruction of the city, one of the Jews went to Suvarov and told him that there were no Polish soldiers in the city. Suvarov believed him and the shelling ended. In commemoration of these events, the 7th day of Tammuz 5552 (1792) was declared 'a local Purim' and a special Scroll of Tammuz was even written. It was customary to read this scroll every year in the synagogue on that date in commemoration of the event.

In the 19th century during Russian rule, the Jewish population of Ostrog more than tripled. Most of the Jews engaged in trade – especially in lumber, agricultural produce and cattle. The production of wagons and carriages was the most important area in skilled labor with their output sent far and wide. In the second half of the 19th century, there were Jewish owned factories in the following areas: two sawmills, several tanneries, a candle factory and a workshop producing furniture. At the end of the 19th century two Jewish banks, the Lending and Savings Fund and the Mutual Credit Bank were established. Both of them provided merchants with credit and taught the general public a lesson in modern banking. Both banks were in existence until the start of World War I. The Rovno-Kiev rail line that was constructed at the end of the 19th century passed a distance of fourteen kilometers from Ostrog and by not coming directly to Ostrog seriously retarded the city's future economic growth.

From time to time, the Jews of Ostrog suffered from plagues and fires. The worst of the fires broke out in 1889. It destroyed a great quantity of material goods as well as the ancient ledgers (pinkasim) of the community. In spite of the fact that the Jews of Ostrog made up 75% of the city's population, they had no representation in either the local government or among its employees.

There were several attempts to establish a Hebrew printing press in Ostrog. A local Christian printing firm existed since the middle of the 16th century. A Jewish printing firm started in 1792 but it folded about ten years later. A second try that also failed after a short time was in 1817.

Towards the end of the 19th century the Talmud Torah for poor students was created in Ostrog. Over the years it became the religious Tachkemoni School. The teachers were professionals and the curriculum included both secular studies and languages. The Russian government operated a school for Jewish boys in Ostrog whose director and teachers were also Jews. It was on a high level and many of its graduates continued their studies at institutes of higher learning. Ostrog also had a private girls' school and a Yeshiva for lower grades that functioned until the end of World War I. It was succeeded by the Meharsha Yeshiva that operated until September 1939.

Several small libraries were established in Ostrog in the beginning of the 20th century. They were initiated by the youth wings of various movements. In 1905 they joined together to form one public library that provided books in Yiddish and Russian. After the Balfour Declaration in 1917 a Hebrew and Yiddish library began to function and existed until September 1939.

Political movements also became active in Ostrog at the start of the 20th century. The first was Hovevei Zion that had an agent representing the Odessa committee. Two Zionist groups that subsequently merged also began then. Together they had more than one hundred members. Other groups followed: the Socialist Zionists (S”S) and Poalei Zion and alongside of them the Bund and the Bund Youth. After the 1905 Revolution, all these groups had to function underground. However, educational groups continued to operate sponsoring evening seminars and lectures. The socialist organizations attempted to continue to function as artisan unions. After they organized demonstrations and strikes many of their members were arrested. For example, eighteen Zionists were arrested for organizing and participating in a party without first getting police permission. Only after the February Revolution in 1917 were these groups again able to function legally.

A few months after the outbreak of World War I, Jewish refugees especially from Galicia began arriving in Ostrog. A local branch of the Jewish Committee for Help (YeYKOP”O} was established and began raising funds. It supported refugees and the families of those who were drafted. The February 1917 Revolution was enthusiastically welcomed in Ostrog with demonstrations and declarations. The establishment of the Ukrainian Republic and the anarchy that prevailed did not affect the Jews of Ostrog. On 18 May 1918 the Bolsheviks entered Ostrog and carrying out a pogrom of looting assisted by local Ukrainians. The quickly organized Jewish Self Defense helped put an end to this incident. In the following years with the changing governments the Jews of Ostrog fell victim on more than one occasion. The economic situation, especially that of the refugees worsened, and the Committee for Help was forced to direct requests for aid to the Department of Jewish Affairs in Kiev.

The February 1917 Revolution started a great awakening in the Jewish community. The underground political parties came out in the open and branches of the Bund, Achdut, Mizrahi, Young Zionists and Zionist Workers opened in Ostrog. A citywide young Zionist committee was established to coordinate local activities. For the first time elections took place and the Democratic Kehillah [community] was elected. It had representatives from political parties and professional organizations. The Zionist parties held a majority and they were able to pass a resolution that the language of instruction in the Jewish schools would be Hebrew.

Between the Two World Wars

After the cessation of hostilities, a local Rescue Committee was established to help revitalize the economic situation of Ostrog's Jews with the help of the Joint [the American Joint Distribution Committee], organizations of Ostrog natives in the United States and philanthropists. Credit groups that did not charge interest were set up and provided support to establish educational and health facilities. However, these efforts failed to a large extent because of the situation created by the government. According to the peace agreement between the USSR and Poland in 1921 the international border was on the outskirts of Ostrog, and the city became a frontier settlement; its eastern suburb – the new city - was included in the military zone that ran along the border. In 1926, the offices of the district were relocated to Zdolbunow. In 1926 the border was completely sealed and Ostrog was cut off from most of the villages to the east that until then supplied her with goods and credit. The commercial and financial institutions that had branches in Ostrog closed them, as did the larger factories. Only small concerns such as flourmills, oil pressing, tanneries, soap manufacture and pottery produced as a cottage industry remained. All of these were in Jewish hands as was the export of agricultural produce to central Poland and Silesia. About 70% of the petty commerce was in Jews' hands. Haberdashery, textiles and metal products were completely Jewish owned. A good portion of the storekeepers' income came from the weekly fair and the five large annual fairs held in Ostrog. In contrast to their commercial involvement, Jews ran only 35% of the workshops.

Several credit institutions supported Jewish commercial activity. The first was the People's Bank, which was a subsidiary of the Jewish Cooperative Center and was the successor to the Lending and Savings Fund. In 1930 the People's Bank had 547 share-holding members, most of them merchants. Its position deteriorated in the second half of the 1930s and was in the process of liquidation. The second bank was the Free Loan Society that was started in 1926 with funds from the Rescue Committee. This organization ceased granting loans in 1934 and spent its time in trying to collect outstanding debts in order to improve its financial situation. Within a short time two private banks, the Merchants Bank and the Credit Bank, began to operate.

Even though Jews made up 66% of the city's population, their representation on the city council was small. At the first council that was appointed at the end of 1926, there were only five Jewish members in contrast to seven Polish representatives and several members from the Ukrainian and Russian communities. Along with this, a Jew was chosen for the position of deputy head of the city council and several Jews were on the various city committees. In the elections held at the end of 1927, fifteen Jews were elected out of a total of twenty-four members on the Council. This time a Jew was also elected as a deputy mayor and in addition a Jew was one of the two members [referred to by the term Lawnik] of the city administration. In January 1929 the Jewish deputy mayor of the city, who was Ostrog born was forced to resign. In his place a Jewish officer from Przemsyl was appointed and brought to Ostrog. The man was quickly accepted by the Jewish community in general and among the Zionists in particular. In the elections of 1930, the Jews elected him deputy mayor. In those elections the number of Jewish representatives fell to nine and only with difficulty were the Jews able to get one of their delegates [as Lawnik] into the city administration. Even though they comprised 90% of the taxpayers, the Jewish representatives had to struggle bitterly to get allocations for Jewish institutions. When the budget of the city was presented to them for their approval, the regional administrators removed them.

The Democratic Kehillah (community) that was elected in 1917 continued to serve in an unofficial manner until the first elections were held in 1928. Seven factions competed in this election. Mizrahi [religious Zionists] succeeded in having five of its members elected, making it the largest party. In the 1932 elections, eleven lists competed most of them representing professional groups, and only six factions garnered enough votes to have representatives. Each had two delegates. Seventy two percent of the community participated in the voting. Community income came mainly from taxes and through fees collected for kosher slaughtering of meat. About 80% of the expenditures were for salaries for rabbis and shochtim [those who slaughtered meat], and the maintenance of the Jewish hospital and orphanage. From the period of World War I through the 1920s Rabbis Joseph Wertheimer and Ephraim Guberman served the community. After the former left Ostrog, Rabbi Dov Kaplan held the position as the second rabbi and the pharmacist Abraham Shreier also served. Rabbi Mordecai Ginzberg was elected the community rabbi in 1932; his assistants were Rabbi Ephraim Guberman and Rabbi Zev Sefarad, the son of Rabbi Alter Mordecai.

All the Jewish schools, with the exception of the Talmud Torah were closed. In 1919 the Kultur League established a branch in Ostrog and they established an elementary school and kindergarten where Yiddish was the language of instruction. Afterwards they combined with the “Tsisha” network. Initially, they received funding from the Joint (American Joint Distribution Committee) but when this aid ended and with the antagonistic policy of the government, the school closed in 1921 and the nursery school in 1923. During the 1920s in Ostrog the Tarbut School, where instruction was in Hebrew, opened and closed a few times. Only during the 1930s was it firmly established with a nursery school operating alongside of it. In 1936 the first classes of the Tarbut High School opened and these institutions continued operating until September 1939.

As stated, until the end of the 1920s the religious school Tachkimoni functioned, as did the elementary Yeshiva established in 1910. However, it declined in the 1930s. In 1933 students of the Chofetz Hayim started the Meharsha Yeshiva. These two Yeshivot were active until September 1939. Ostrog had two public libraries, one founded by the Kultur League for Yiddish books and the other by Tarbut that had some two thousand books in Hebrew and other languages. These libraries were centers of cultural activities, lectures, literary analysis and drama clubs. For a number of years starting in the late 1920s a local Jewish intellectual club existed.

Among the other community institutions mention must be made of the orphanage that educated some forty children during the 1920s. It was operated by the Committee to Aid Orphans whose members were very active in Council of the Volhyn Region. The Taz branch took care of the medical needs of the school children, the organization of summer camps for poor children and the overseeing of the Jewish hospital that had a dispensary that provided medications at no charge. When Polish rule began in Ostrog, there was an old age home and a soup kitchen for the needy but both closed because of financial difficulties.

As already stated, Zionist activity in Ostrog started at the beginning of the 20th century. Under the Polish administration it developed many offshoots in spite of the fact that Ostrog was in a military zone and the government placed many difficulties in their way. This was especially true with regards to the left-wing Zionist groups. In the 1920s the following groups were active: Hitachdut (Unity); Poalei Tzion (Workers of Zion) that developed from Tzi'erei Zion (Young Zion); Mizrahi (Religious Zionists); the Revisionists' party Hamedinah (the State); WIZO (Women's Zionist Organization), Ha-oved Hatzioni (the Zionist Worker) and others. Among the youth movements were Hehalutz (the Pioneer) and Hashomer Hatzair (the Young Watchman). The latter one moved leftwards and after it separated from the movement Hashomer Haleumi (the National Guard) later known as Hashomer Hatzioni (the Zionist Guard) was established. In the late 1920s a Betar group was organized and in the 1930s Dror, Gordonia and Yitkonia were founded. Hehalutz maintained a kibbutz-training program at a Jewish farm near Ostrog.

As stated, the Bund, which was active in Ostrog, founded a branch of the Kultur League in 1919 that in turn established a school, a kindergarten and a library. In the 1920s the Bund set up several professional organizations and in the 1929 election, two members were chosen to represent it in the city council. In 1930, the Polish government banned the Bund from operating in border areas and over time it disappeared.

The results of the elections to the various Zionist Congresses are as follows:

The Sixteenth Zionist Congress, 1929 – 122 votes were cast;
General Zionists – 20; Mizrahi – 34; Revisionists – 5; Hashomer Hatzair – 30; Poalei Tzion – 33.
The Eighteenth Zionist Congress, 1933 – 1,445 votes were cast;
General Zionists – 109; Mizrahi – 51; Revisionists – 9; Revisionist Brit – 529; Working Eretz Yisrael – 644; the Hitachdut (Union) – 103.
The Twentieth Congress, 1937 – 525 votes were cast;
General Zionists – 97; Mizrahi – 10; the Country Party (Medinah) – 7; Working Eretz Yisrael – 411.

World War II

During Soviet rule, 1939-1941, the mayor of Ostrog was Motel Goren who had been active in the Bund in the 1920s and later became a communist.

After 22 June 1941 some one thousand Jews from Ostrog managed to escape eastward, some in the framework of joining the Red Army, some retreating along with government officials and some on their own. On 28 June 1941 the Germans captured the part of the city on the west bank of the Horyn River while the Soviet army dug in on the east bank and tenaciously fought the Germans to keep them from advancing to Kiev. During this battle, which lasted until 2 July, parts of the city were destroyed and some five hundred Jews were killed in the bombing and shelling. On 3 July 1941, the Germans subjugated all of Ostrog. A longer night curfew starting at 6:00 PM was imposed on the Jews. The curfew for the non-Jewish population started at 9:00 PM. Besides this, Jews were required to wear armbands with a Star of David.

At the same time, two infantry units of the SS carried out extensive 'cleansing' operations against the remnants of the Red army in the area stretching from Ostrog eastward. Heading the campaign was the senior commander of the SS and police of the southern army corps, SS General Yeklin. As in Byelorussia, the SS sought easy prey – the Jews in the area of the campaign. Claiming that the Jews of Ostrog were helping the Soviet soldiers and paratroops who were seen at the nearby Ozhenin railroad station, the Jews were ordered on 11 Av 5701, 4 August 1941, to gather in one place and once they did they were surrounded by SS troops. At this point, the military governor of Ostrog intervened and claimed that the city was in ruins and that he needed manpower to clean and restore it. The SS troops then chose 2,000 elderly, women and ill people, marched them to the city outskirts and murdered them. The day after the massacre, the Germans confiscated anything of value owned by Jews and levied a fine of 100,000 rubles on them. A little less than a month later, 9 Elul 5701, 1 September 1941 the men were assembled at the sawmill. The Germans separated 2,500 men from the group, brought them to the Nikitin forest and murdered them in pits that had been previously prepared for this purpose. Most of the remaining Jews in Ostrog were women and children.

A few days after they captured Ostrog, the Germans appointed a Judenrat but most of its members were murdered in the two aktzias already mentioned. Survivors described the members of the Judenrat who were then appointed as well as the five Jewish policemen favorably.

Jews of Ostrog were used as forced laborers in the sawmill, cutting trees in the forests, loading and unloading at the Ozhenin railroad station and in providing other services. There was hunger in the area and the people suffered from malnutrition; several Jews were executed for smuggling food. Youth organized in several groups with the intention of fleeing to the forests and fighting there. However, when their attempts at acquiring weapons failed the groups disbanded.

The Jews that were still alive were concentrated in a Ghetto that was set up in the destroyed part of the city. The Ghetto, jammed with some 3,000 people, was sealed in June 1942. The crowding averaged ten people to a room. In September 1942 the Ostrog Judenrat joined in the efforts of the Judenrats of Zdolbunow and Mizocz to annul the orders of annihilation. At the head of the effort stood the engineer Simcha Shleifstein, who headed the Zdolbunow Judenrat and who was close to the German Righteous Gentile Hermann Grebe. At the advice of Grebe, the Jews collected gold and other valuables to bribe the Gebietskommisar [German regional commander] to cancel the murder of the Jews of these three locations. The execution actually was postponed until October but was not rescinded. Meanwhile, Shleiferstein was arrested and murdered.

On 4 Heshvan 5703, 15 October 1942, 3,000 Ostrog Jews were assembled and led to the city outskirts where they were murdered. Some 800 escaped from the massacre but most were recaptured and murdered later. About thirty Jews who were in the forest near the village of Khorov were surrounded by a band from the O.P.A. and six of them were killed. The remaining group joined various Soviet partisan units, such as that of Odukha and others.

The Red Army liberated Ostrog on 5 February 1944. About forty Jews who survived in hiding or in the partisan ranks returned to the city.


Sources

Archives and Libraries

Central Zionist Archive: S-5/1707, 1713, 1796; Z-3/867; Z-4/206, 3605, 231/4613
Ghetto Fighters Archive: E. 1846
Jewish National and University Library: V-772/273 from the Archive of the Jewish Ministry in Ukraine
Yad Vashem Archive: 03/2794, 03/2047, 03/2562, 03/3876; TR-10/63.

Books

Biber, Menachem. Mazkeret L'gedolei Ostroh [The Great Men of Ostrog], Berdichev, 1907. [Hebrew]
Fishman, Y.L., editor. Towns and Mother Cities in Israel. Volume I, Jerusalem 1947. [Hebrew]
Grines, Miguel. Ven Dos Leben Hot Geblit [When Life Was Blooming], Buenos Aires, 1954. [Yiddish]
Halperin, Y, editor. Pinkas of the Council of the Four Lands.Jerusalem, 5705 (1945), [Hebrew]
Megilat Polin [Scroll of Poland], Jerusalem 8-13 [Hebrew]
Pinkas Ostrah, A Book in Memory of the Ostrah Community. Tel Aviv, 1960. [Hebrew]
Sefer Ostrah, A Memorial to the Holy Community of Ostroh. Tel Aviv, 1987. [Hebrew]
Spector, Shmuel. The Holocaust of Volhynian Jews 1941-1944. Jerusalem, 1986. [Hebrew – also available in an English translation]
Tzuk Ha'itim [Stressful Times] Rabbi Meir of Szczebrzeszyn, Krakow, 5410 (1650), in Y. H. Gurland, Lekorot Ha-gezeyrot al Yisrael [History of the Persecution of the Jews], Odessa, 5649 (1889).
Unsere Ehre hist Treue. Kriegstaggebuch des Kommandostabes Reichsfuhrer [Our Honor is Upright – The War Diary of the Fuhrer's SS] Vienna, 1965. [German]
Yalkut Volhyn – Volume I – Brochures 4-6; Volume III – Brochures 7-9; Volume IV – Brochures 12-13; Volume IX – Brochures 29-30.

Newspapers and Periodicals

Hatzfirah [Hebrew] – 26:1879; 17 Shevat 5671 (1911); 3 Adar 5674 (1914)
Regesty i nadpisy, [Russian] Peterburg, 1899-1912: I, pp. 167-169, 452; II, p. 340; II, pp. 101-102.
Volhyner Gedank (Volhyn Thoughts) [Yiddish] – Luck: 6.1.1928.
Volhyner Leben (Volhyn Life) [Yiddish] – Rovno: 12.12.1924; 13.2.1925; 27.1.1928; 3.2.1928; 14.8.1928; 6.1.1931; 13.1.1931; 6.2.1931; 9.3.1931; 10.7.1931; 9.10.1931; 20.11.1931
Volhyner Stimme (Volhyn Voice) [Yiddish] – Rovno: 13.1.1928; 7.9.1928; 4.1.1929; 11.1.1929; 25.1.1929; 8.3.1929; 14.2.1930; 21.2.1930; 16.5.1930
Volhyner Woch (Volhyn Week) [Yiddish] – Rovno: 27.8.1926; 22.9.1926; 29.10.1926; 3.12.1926; 7.1.1927; 21.1.1927; 28.1.1927; 4.2.1927; 18.2.1927
Volhyner Zeitung (Volhyn Newspaper) [Yiddish] – Rovno: 15.4.1932; 26.4.1932; 20.5.1932; 9.6.1932; 8.7.1932; 4.10.1932; 9.12.1932; 6.1.1932; 27.1.1932
Volyn, Rowno, No. 13, 15.2.1942 Jerusalem Iyar 5766


 Yizkor Book Project    JewishGen Home Page  


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
Emerita Yizkor Book Project Manager, Joyce Field
Contact person for this translation Shalom Bronstein
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 15 Oct 2009 by LA