Jews settled in Ostroh in the first half of the 15th century. The earliest known tombstones date back to 1445, and documents – to 1495. The local Jewish population was subject to the decree banishing Jews from Lithuania, but in 1503 they were allowed to return. In 1536, King Zygmunt Stary defined the amount of taxes imposed on Jews.

In the 16th century, as well as in the first half of the 17th century, many local Jews earned their living from trading with Wallachia, supplying the Polish market with clothing and other goods in return for horn cattle. They also transported wood, wax, potash, pelt and leather goods to Gdańsk. The Jewish community of Ostroh became one of the largest and most economically developed in Volhynia, which strengthened its position in the Council of Four Lands (Va’ad Arba Aracot).

Jews had their own district in Ostroh. In 1603, out of 73 Jewish houses – 50 were located at Starożydowska (Old Jewish) Street. In the middle of the 16th century, a stone synagogue was erected. This era in the history of the local Jews came to a violent end with the Khmelnytsky Uprising. In 1648, the Cossacks slaughtered 600 Jews, and 300 more were killed in February 1649. The Great Synagogue was converted into a stable, and the Jewish houses were brough to the ground as the murderers searched for valuables that had allegedly been buried by the victims. A decade later, in 1660, there were still only five Jewish houses in the town. During this period, the haidamakas tried to organise another pogrom in Ostroh, but the Jews were defended by the Tatars living in the town. For a long time, prayers were held in the main synagogue in commemoration of that day. In 1666, a representative of Ostroh appeared again in the Council of Four Lands. In 1678, the Council provided support to the town “demolished to the foundations and razed to the ground” by confirming the privileges granted to both Christians and Jews.

In 1765, Ostroh was inhabited by 1,777 Jews owning 415 houses. In 1784 –  1,123 Jews in 323 houses and in 1787 – 1,829 in 282 houses. In the 17th-18th centuries, Ostroh became a great centre of Jewish culture, especially of religious learning. It was the location of one of the most famous yeshivot in Poland, gathering numerous rabbinical authorities. In the 16th century, the head rabbis of Ostroh and thus the superiors of the yeshiva were Kalonimus Haberkastn and Salomon Luria; and in the 17th century – Jeszajahu Horowic and Samuel Eliezier Edels. In the second half of the 18th century, the town also became one of the largest centres of Hasidism. A disciple of Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Meir Margoliot (died 1790), settled there.

In 1792, Ostroh became the arena of Polish-Russian battles. The Jews who had taken refuge in the main synagogue gave the Russians directions to a ford in the river, thus avoiding bloodshed. A description of this event was read in the synagogues of Ostroh in memory of the fortunate salvation.

In 1793, Ostroh came under the rule of Russia. In 1797, there were 133 Jewish merchants and 1,624 Jewish burghers in the town; in 1803 – 45 merchants and 2,161 burghers. In 1847, 7,300 Jews lived in the town, and at the end of the century, according to the census of 1897 – 9,208. At the end of the 19th century, there were 3 synagogues and 19 houses of prayer in Ostroh. In 1910, there was a one-year Jewish primary school with a crafts section, a Talmud-Torah school and a private Jewish male school.

In the years 1920-1939, Ostroh belonged to Poland. In 1921, there were 7,991 Jews in the town, with the total population of 12,795; in 1939, Ostroh had 10,500 Jewish inhabitants.

Under the Soviet occupation which began in 1939, all Jewish institutions were closed down. In the spring of 1940, many families were exiled into the Soviet Union. After the outbreak of the Soviet-German war, many young Jews were drafted to the Red Army, and a group managed to escape east.

Germans entered the town on 3 July 1941. There were 9,500 Jews living in the town at that time. On 4 August 1941, in the nearby forests, Germans killed 3,000 people; on 1 September, during the next “Aktion” – another 2,500 people.

A ghetto was set at the command of the occupant. The Judenrat was formed, headed by A. Komedant. An underground movement was active in the ghetto. Upon obtaining information about the preparations for another genocidal operation, as many as 800 Jews fled to the forests. Most of them were soon killed by Ukrainian peasants and Ukrainian nationalist troops, but partisan units were also formed under the command of H. Kaplan, M. Trejberman and P. Ejzensztejn. The above-mentioned operation took place on 15 October 1942. All Jews who were still alive – ca. 3,000 people – were killed in the vicinity of the town.

The Red Army seized Ostroh on 13 January 1944. A small number of Jews, mostly from partisan units, passed through the town, but soon they all left for Poland, and from there migrated to Palestine and other countries.

Based on:

Ostrog, [in] Elektronnaya Yevreiskaya Entsiklopedya [online] 2003, https://www.eleven.co.il/?mode=article&id=13106 [Accessed: October 21, 2017].

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