Some historical sources state that the first Jewish settlers arrived in Opole as early as in the 16th century, which is proven by the documents from 1538 where Jews of Opole trading with merchants from Lviv are mentioned[1.1].

According to the poll tax register of 1674, there were 88 Jews among 478 inhabitants of Opole[1.2]. In 1664, the then town owner, Jerzy Słupecki, issued privileges, confirmed by Stanisław Dunin-Borkowski ten years later, that were to encourage Jews to settle down in the town. Under this privilege, Judaism adherents were guaranteed a free purchase of yards and houses, including those located at the market square, and the landowner was to abide by royal laws and privileges that referred to Jews. The inventories of the manor in Opole dated 1688 and 1690[1.3] indicate that at that time Jews lived, above all, at the market square and on Błotna Street, which was within the boundaries of the Old Town. It was in this part of the town where a Jewish district and a synagogue complex developed. It can be assumed that in the mid-17thcentury a Jewish cemetery was mapped out, which is not conclusively proven by historical sources[1.4].

Thanks to favourable conditions, from the 17th until the 19thcentury, the local community experienced demographic and economic growth. According to 1860 data, there were as many as 1,585 Jews living in Opole, which constituted more than a half of the overall population[1.1.3]. It is known that a brick synagogue and a mikveh operated there in that period, which suggests that it was not later than the mid-19thcentury (or perhaps even much earlier) that an independent Jewish kehilla was formed in Opole. Like in many other towns, Opole Jews earned their living as craftsmen and tradesmen, shoemakers and tailors, above all. Between 1872 and 1880, a new synagogue and a bet ha-midrash were built on Cicha Street. At the turn of the 19th and the 20thcenturies, Jews constituted more than a half of the overall population of Opole.

At the beginning of the 1920s, there were about 2,500 Jews living in Opole, which made over 35% of the town’s population. Over the course of the next ten years, the Jewish community witnessed a rapid demographic boom and numbered 4,300 Jews in 1931.

Most families lived off small trade and craft – there were 420 craft workshops (shoemakers, tailors, hat makers and carpenters) and 270 stores, most of which were concentrated around the market square; there were also five Jewish tanneries, two oil mills and three oat mills[1.5]. The local kehilla administered a synagogue, a house of prayer, a mikveh[1.6], a shelter for the elderly[1.7], a ritual slaughterhouse[1.8] and a Jewish cemetery. There was a Talmud Torah school supervised by the kehilla[1.9] and the Gemiłu Chesed Association, which granted interest-free loans to impoverished Jews[1.10], at work in the town. Additionally, there were also eleven private houses of prayer founded between 1920 and 1922[[refr: | APL, UWL, WS-P, sygn. 730, s. 4. (National Archives in Lublin, Office of Lubelskie Province 1918-1939, Social-Political Division, Call No. 730, p. 4)]], including a few Hasidic shtiebels. In August 1928, a local branch of the ‘Tarbut’ Association took certain measures to organize a Hebrew elementary school for Jewish children[[refr: | APL, UWL, Starostwo Powiatowe Puławskie, sygn. 4, k. 63 (National Archives in Lublin, Office of Lubelskie Province, Puławskie County Office, Call No. 4, sheet 63) ]]. Although the Orthodox Jews formed a majority in the municipal authorities, the left-wing Bund party and the Zionist movement developed in the town (such as Mizrachi and the Revisionist Zionists). A Zionist ‘Gordonia’ organization, which was quite popular and influential among young people, also operated in the town, engaged in cultural and education activities and preparing young pioneers to leave for Palestine. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the He-Chaluc Zionist organization was founded in Opole. Towards the end of the 1920s, an independent ‘Kultur Liga’ organization of cultural character operated in the town for a short period; it had its own library and organized various lectures[1.11].

In Septembr 1939, World War II began and western Poland came under German occupation. From the end of 1939, Opole Lubelskie was a place of gathering for Jews from western Lublin region and abroad. In late December, about 2,500 Jews from Puławy and about 300 from Józefów were displaced there. As a result, the Jewish population in Opole numbered about 7,000 people at the beginning of 1940. In February 1941, circa 2,000 Jews of Vienna were resettled to Opole - the majority of them was affluent and well-educated, and found it difficult to adapt to new, often extremely tough living conditions.

In March 1941, a ghetto we set up in the western part of the town, enclosed by Nowa, Ogrodowa and Nowy Rynek Streets. Initially, the area was fenced off with a barbed wire, which was later replaced by a high wooden pole fence. A thirty-person Jewish police unit (germ. Ordnungsdienst) and a unit of Jewish Social Self-Help (germ. Judische Soziale Selbsthilfe) worked under supervision of the local Judenrat, Thanks to support granted by the Central Commission of Jewish Social Self-Help in Kraków (pl. Główny Komitet Żydowskiej Samopomocy Społecznej w Krakowie), a soup kitchen for the needy was at work there for a short time. Physicians who came to the ghetto from Vienna founded here a little hospital, but all patients (about 30 people altogether) were executed by Land Commissioner Horst Goede in July 1941. In the spring of 1941, in the wake of disastrous living conditions, a typhus fever epidemic broke out in the ghetto, the death toll of which was about 500 people.

The Jews from the ghetto in Opole Lubelskie were forced to work in a sugar factory and were engaged in cleaning or road works. They also laboured in local manors, where they took up farm work in Niezdów, Janiszkowice, Górna Owczarnia, Łaziska and others, which in turn, enabled them to smuggle food to the ghetto. In early spring of 1942, Jews from Kazimierz on the Vistula River, Wąwolnica, Slovakia and France were resettled there, which increased the number of Jews in the ghetto to ca. 11,000.

On 31 March 1942, a group of about 1,950 Jews from the ghetto in Opole Lubelskie was transported to Nałęczów, from where they were next taken to the death camp in Bełżec. In May, another group of about 2,000 people was deported to the death camp in Sobibór. The final liquidation of the ghetto took place on 24 October 1942. Some of ca. 9,000 remaining Jews were then taken to Nałęczów, from where they were transported to the death camp in Sobibór, while others were marched off to the forced labour camp in Poniatowa, where most of them were executed on 4 November 1943. Germans ruined the synagogue and other buildings that belonged to the Jewish community in Opole. The western part of the town, where the ghetto was located, suffered extensive destruction as well[1.12].

Of about 1,400 Jews confined in the ghetto in Opole, around 500 managed to escape and hide in households of Polish families and in forests, where many young men joined partisan units[1.13].

 

Bibliography

  • K. Kołodziejczyk, Rzemiosło i rzemieślnicy w międzywojennym Opolu Lubelskim, [in:] Opole Lubelskie. Katalog tradycji rzemieślniczych i kupieckich, Opole Lubelskie 2008 [online] http://www.opolelubelskie.pl/turystyka/pub/opole_lubelskie.pdf [accessed: 22 Decemer 2014].
  • E. Kosik, Zagłada Żydów w Opolu Lubelskim, „Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego” 1989, no. 2/150.
  • M. Kubiszyn, Opole Lubelskie, [in:] Śladami Żydów. Lubelszczyzna, Lublin 2011, pp. 296–300.
  • Memorial Book of Opole-Lubelski, D. Shtokfish (ed.), Tel Aviv 1977 [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/opole/opole.html [accessed: 22 December 2014].
  • M. Paschke, Opole Lubelskie. Studium historyczno-urbanistyczne, Lublin 1984.
  • Żydzi w Opolu Lubelskim, Fundacja Ochrony Dziedzictwa Żydowskiego [online] http://fodz.pl/PP/?d=8&id=51&l=pl [accessed: 22 December 2014].
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] M. Paschke, Opole Lubelskie. Studium historyczno-urbanistyczne, Lublin (1984).
  • [1.2] M. Paschke, Opole Lubelskie. Studium historyczno-urbanistyczne, Lublin (1984).
  • [1.3] Archiwum Państwowe w Lublinie (State Archives in Lublin), Księgi Grodzkie Lubelskie, p. 129/21287, 451-57; Quoted after: M. Paschke, Opole Lubelskie. Studium historyczno-urbanistyczne, Lublin (1984).
  • [1.4] K. Bielawski, Opole Lubelskie, Kirkuty – cmentarze żydowskie w Polsce [online] http://www.kirkuty.xip.pl/opole_lubelskie.htm [accessed: 22 December 2014].
  • [1.1.3] Archiwum Państwowe w Lublinie (State Archives in Lublin), Księgi Grodzkie Lubelskie, p. 129/21287, 451-57; Quoted after: M. Paschke, Opole Lubelskie. Studium historyczno-urbanistyczne, Lublin (1984).
  • [1.5] K. Kołodziejczyk, Rzemiosło i rzemieślnicy w międzywojennym Opolu Lubelskim, [in:] Opole Lubelskie. Katalog tradycji rzemieślniczych i kupieckich, Opole Lubelskie 2008 [online] http://www.opolelubelskie.pl/turystyka/pub/opole_lubelskie.pdf [accessed: 22 December 2014].
  • [1.6] Archiwum Państwowe w Lublinie [dalej APL], Urząd Wojewódzki Lubelski 1918-1939 [dalej UWL], Wydział Społeczno-Polityczny [WS-P], sygn. 818, s. 4; 722, s. 2 (National Archives in Lublin, Office of Lubelskie Province 1918-1939, Social-Political Division, Call No. 818, p. 4; Call No. 722, p. 2)
  • [1.7] APL, UWL, WS-P, sygn. 722, s. 2 (National Archives in Lublin, Office of Lubelskie Province 1918-1939, Social-Political Division, Call No. Call No. 722, p. 2)
  • [1.8] APL, UWL, WS-P, sygn. 722, s. 2 (National Archives in Lublin, Office of Lubelskie Province 1918-1939, Social-Political Division, Call No. Call No. 818, p. 4
  • [1.9] APL, UWL, WS-P, sygn. 818, s. 4. (National Archives in Lublin, Office of Lubelskie Province 1918-1939, Social-Political Division, Call No. Call No. 818 p. 4)
  • [1.10] APL, UWL, WS-P, sygn. 485, k. 14 (National Archives in Lublin, Office of Lubelskie Province 1918-1939, Social-Political Division, Call No. 485, sheet 4)
  • [1.11] After: Memorial Book of Opole-Lubelski, D. Shtokfish (ed.), Tel Aviv 1977 [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/opole/opole.html [accessed: 22 December 2014].
  • [1.12] Żydzi w Opolu Lubelskim, Fundacja Ochrony Dziedzictwa Żydowskiego [online] http://fodz.pl/PP/?d=8&id=51&l=pl [accessed: 22 December 2014].
  • [1.13] E. Kosik, Zagłada Żydów w Opolu Lubelskim, ‘Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego’, 1989, no. 2/150; see also: Żydzi w Opolu Lubelskim, Fundacja Ochrony Dziedzictwa Żydowskiego [online] http://fodz.pl/PP/?d=8&id=51&l=pl [accessed: 22 November 2014].