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Records of the Ostrowo Jewish Community Council

 Collection
Identifier: RG 13

Scope and Content Note

The collection comprises a portion of the records of the Jewish community of Ostrowo (today, Ostrów Wielkopolski, Poland, located in the Greater Poland Voivodeship). The records date mainly from 1834 to 1919, with a few scattered materials from as early as 1822; Ostrowo was located at this time in the Posen region of Prussia and, after 1871, of the German Empire. Originally Polish, it had been part of territory annexed by Prussia in 1793, in the Second Partition of Poland. In 1919, following the First World War, Ostrowo was incorporated into the Second Republic of Poland. Only a small Jewish community remained there in the interwar period. The records are mainly those of the Jewish communal administration, or council, of Ostrowo; a small amount of material pertains to individual Jewish voluntary organizations active in the community (found in Series IV, related to charitable aid).

Also included in the collection, in the last folder (Folder 178), is a fragment of a handwritten inventory list, partially in Yiddish, presumed to have been produced in YIVO Vilna, circa 1930s, which contains listings for the majority of the items in the present collection, as well as listings for some 40 volumes or folders that were not received by YIVO in New York after the war (see the Arrangement note for further details).

Financial records (Series IX) make up nearly 40% of the collection by extent, spanning the period 1834 to 1919 (with gaps within the runs of specific document types), including budgets, balance sheets, and tax lists, along with related correspondence, and relevant minutes and decisions of the communal administration, as well as account books and supporting documentation of income and expenses. The remainder of the collection represents substantial groupings of records pertaining to communal governance and Jewish civil rights (Series I); community membership (Series II); employment of community rabbis and other personnel (Series III); charitable aid (Series IV); education (Series V); religious institutions and communal property (Series VI); court cases (Series VII); and general correspondence and ephemera (Series VIII).

Series I documents the establishment of a communal governance structure and administrative procedures, as well as communal elections in the period from 1834 through the 1840s, and sporadically in later periods. Records related to community membership (Series II) pertain to citizenship status (i.e. naturalized or non-naturalized), in the period 1834 to 1848; departures from the community (1834-1850s); marriage banns (1834-1839); marriages (1836-1846); male Jewish births in excerpts from Adelnau county records (1847-1874); and ownership of synagogue seats, related to the new synagogue that opened in 1860. In addition, tax lists reflecting community membership are found among financial records (Subseries IX.1).

Concerning the employment of community personnel (Series III), the records are particularly notable for the rich documentation of the community's hiring process and negotiations with its head rabbis, covering a continuous period from 1843 until the end of the term of Rabbi Samuel Freund, in 1907; and also include biographical materials from the numerous rabbi candidates who were not hired. Records concerning the community's administration of charitable aid (Series IV), which range from 1834 to 1919, with gaps, include hundreds of petitions for aid from individual community members in the mid to late 19th century, as well as many appeals from outside Jewish organizations and other Jewish communities; several files relate to voluntary associations with charitable purposes (Folders 61-67).

Records on education (Series V) are partial, documenting the establishment and administration of the state-sanctioned Jewish elementary school from the time of its founding, in 1835, through the 1850s; and the administration of the Hebrew religious school, beginning with its statutes of 1899, through 1913.

Series VI, Religious institutions and communal property, contains much material related to construction, maintenance, and renovation of communal buildings, including the construction of a new mikveh (circa 1842), the new synagogue (1857-1860), and a mortuary (1873), and the renovation of the synagogue in the 1890s. Other materials include synagogue budgets, mortgage and property records, inventories of communal property, and documentation of bequests and gifts.

A small grouping of files pertaining to court cases (Series VII) in the early to mid 19th century includes three cases that relate to the 18th-century beginnings of the community, two having to do with obligations stipulated in the community's original charter of 1724, and a third related to a loan from the Catholic Church in 1760.

Series VIII contains additional correspondence, petitions, and communal decisions, on a variety of topics, as well as ephemera such as meeting notices and communal announcements.

Well over 90% of the collection by extent comprises bound volumes of records, as they were prepared in the community, most of them with their original covers intact, and inscribed with titles. In the inventory list below, the folder titles are taken from the original German titles of the volumes, and an English-language title is given on the following line. Occasionally, the cover of the volume may be missing; or, in a small number of instances, the materials arrived in the form of loose documents, without any original folders. In those cases, an English-language title is supplied; folders containing loose documents are specified as such in the folder description. Bound volumes generally contain at least 50 leaves, and sometimes 100 to 200 leaves or more; for smaller volumes (under 50 leaves) a leaf count is provided.

Under the system of communal governance established in 1834 there were two branches of the community leadership, a representatives' assembly and an executive body (Vorstand), also referred to as the administrative officers (Verwaltungs-Beamten). Most of the records are those of the community executive, with inclusion of its correspondence with the representatives' assembly. In the earliest period, until the mid 1840s, there are six volumes (Folders 1, 2, 6, 29, 46, and 127) labeled specifically as records of the representatives' assembly: "Acta der Repräsentanten-Versammlung"; when present, the latter reference has been transcribed, and appears at the end of the title. Records from the early period are otherwise labeled with the phrase "Acta der Verwaltungs-Beamten der israelitischen Corporation zu Ostrowo" (records of the administrative officers of the Jewish community of Ostrowo). Beginning in the 1850s the volumes are usually in file covers custom printed for the community, carrying a full printed title along the same lines; however, from the 1870s on, the file covers are of a different style, with the label "Synagogen-Gemeinde zu Ostrowo" (synagogue community of Ostrowo) at the top, and then simply the brief title "Acta" (records). Communal account books and supporting financial documentation (Subseries IX.2) are often labeled only with brief generic titles (e.g. "Ausgabe-Beläge").

Dates

  • 1822-1919

Creator

Language of Materials

Predominantly in German, with some Hebrew and Yiddish, a few documents in Latin, and several bilingual printed items in German and Polish.

Access Restrictions

The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.

Use Restrictions

The images, documents, film footage, audio materials, and texts displayed in any portion of this web site may be copyrighted. Permission to use this web site is given on condition that the user agrees to follow U.S. copyright laws. The user agrees that she or he assumes liability for any copyright violations resulting from unauthorized use of items appearing on this web site and to hold YIVO harmless from any action involving copyright infringement. It is the responsibility of the user to carry out a due diligence search under U.S. copyright laws to determine the copyright status of items displayed on this web site.

Historical Note

The beginnings of the Ostrowo Jewish community under Polish rule

The town of Ostrów Wielkopolski, known in German as "Ostrowo," is today located in west-central Poland, in the Greater Poland Voivodeship. It lies some 25 km. southwest of Kalisz, and 115 km west of Łódź. The town was founded by a Polish nobleman in 1404. It received town privileges in 1564; however, by the beginning of the 18th century its economy was so weakened, in the wake of the plague and war, that its citizens relinquished town status in 1711 in order to reduce the tax burden. In 1714, the then owner, Count Jan Jerzy Przebendowski, of nearby Przygodzice, who was the Grand Treasurer of the Crown of Poland, reestablished the town, and strove to revive trade and crafts by attracting new settlers; among newcomers who arrived in 1717 were several Jews.

On 26 September 1724, Count Przebendowski issued the Jewish community a charter that granted certain trading privileges and right of residence in exchange for stipulated taxes and tributes. The geographic extent of the community was henceforth limited to the extent of the properties of the 12 Jewish householders then residing in Ostrowo, in a certain part of town known as the Jewish quarter; those property owners could in turn rent to other Jews. Before the end of the year, the community proceeded to establish a synagogue and a cemetery, both adjacent to its houses, as allowed under the charter.

In 1740 there were 79 Jews living in Ostrowo. Early in its history the community maintained close ties with the Jewish community in Kalisz, and did not employ its own rabbi, but had a shochet who was also the cantor. The first rabbi to serve in Ostrowo was Jakob Landé (son of rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Landé), who arrived in 1773 and served until his death in 1787. His successor was Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf, who served from 1787 until his death in 1806 or 1807.

In 1770 the Jewish quarter had 23 houses; among the owners were nine merchants, nine tailors, three furriers, and two physicians. As of 1779 there were 158 Jews residing in Ostrowo.

Prussian rule: Second Partition of Poland, 1793; Grand Duchy of Posen, 1815-1848; Prussian Province of Posen, 1848-1919

Ostrowo was located in territory annexed by the kingdom of Prussia in the Second Partition of Poland, in 1793, becoming part of the county (Kreis) of Adelnau (Odolanów), in the Prussian province of South Prussia.

In 1807, following Prussia's defeat in the Napoleonic wars, South Prussia was part of the territory that Prussia ceded to France under the Treaty of Tilsit, and which became part of the Duchy of Warsaw, a quasi-independent Polish state established by Napoleon, with Napoleon's ally Friedrich August I of Saxony serving as its monarch in a personal union. A few years later, following Napoleon's defeat, most of what had been South Prussia, including Adelnau county, reverted to Prussia, under the settlement reached at the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, becoming part of the newly constituted Grand Duchy of Posen, under Prussian control but with some promised cultural and economic autonomy intended to benefit the Polish population.

In 1816, approximately 52,000 Jews, or 42% of all Prussian Jews, lived in the newly established Grand Duchy of Posen, where they made up 6.4% of the total population.

The Posen region corresponded roughly to the historical region of "Greater Poland" (Polish: Wielkopolska), the core of the medieval kingdom of Poland (in the west-central part of present-day Poland). Besides the significant Jewish minority, the population of Posen was a mixture of Poles and Germans, with Poles predominating in most areas. There had been a small minority of Germans in the region dating back to the medieval period and, following the Prussian annexation, the German population steadily increased, as a result of governmental policy that promoted German settlement, and favored German language and culture. At the end of the 19th century the town of Ostrowo had a population that was approximately 60% Polish, 30% German, and 10% Jewish.

With respect to Jewish civil rights Posen took a separate development from the rest of Prussia. The Emancipation Edict of 1812, which formally granted Prussian Jews full citizenship status and (at least in principle) eliminated prohibitions against their entering certain professions, did not apply to Posen (which was not under Prussian control at the time). Civil rights for Jews in Posen were first addressed in a law dated June 1, 1833, applying specifically to the grand duchy, which gave the Jewish community the status of a corporation, specifying a certain governmental structure, with elected representatives; and set out conditions for community members to become naturalized Prussian citizens. Requirements for naturalization included an unblemished moral conduct; proof of permanent residence in Posen since 1815, or explicit permission to settle there at a later time; economic self-sufficiency, as demonstrated by occupational status or ownership of property; ability to use the German language in public life; and adoption of a fixed family name. Members deemed unqualified for naturalization were categorized as "tolerated Jews" and remained without basic rights such as the free choice of residence and occupation, and eligibility for public office. Under these stipulations naturalization proceeded in Posen at a slower pace than elsewhere in Prussia: by 1846 only 20% of Jews in Posen had been naturalized, compared to two thirds of Prussian Jews overall.

A Prussian law governing Jewish communities dated July 23, 1847 put naturalized Jews of Posen on an equal footing with other Prussian Jews, but still retained the distinction between naturalized and non-naturalized community members. In 1848, revolutionary unrest throughout the German lands included an unsuccessful Polish uprising against Prussian rule in Posen. The 1848 constitution that Prussia subsequently adopted (revised 1850) formally granted civil rights to all Jews under the clause concerning freedom of religion; and it incorporated what had been the grand duchy as a regular part of the Prussian state, as the Province of Posen.

The province of Posen was divided into two administrative regions (Regierungsbezirke): one centered in the city of Bromberg (Bydgoszcz), encompassing the northern and eastern parts; the other centered in the city of Posen (Poznań), comprising the western and southern parts. Adelnau county, where Ostrowo was located, was in the south of the Posen administrative region.

In 1871, following the Franco-Prussian war, the province of Posen, along with the rest of Prussia became part of the newly founded German Empire. In an administrative change in 1887, the eastern part of Adelnau county was split off as a separate entity, the Ostrowo county, with the town of Ostrowo as its seat.

During a Polish uprising in Ostrowo at the end of the First World War, an independent "Republic of Ostrów" was briefly established, from November 10 to 26, 1918. This local insurrection was followed by the region-wide Greater Poland uprising, in December of that year. Finally, under the Treaty of Versailles, in June 1919, most of the Posen province, including Ostrowo county, was ceded to the new Polish state, the Second Republic of Poland.

Further history of the Ostrowo Jewish community

In 1794, according to the first government census after the beginning of Prussian rule, there were 381 Jews in Ostrowo, making up 15% of the total population of 2,541. The community in 1794 included 31 tailors, the largest occupational group. By 1835 the Jewish community had grown to 1,256 individuals (267 families).

The synagogue built in 1724 was constructed of wood and stood until it was demolished, due to its poor condition, around 1860. The cornerstone for a new synagogue was laid in April 1857, and the Moorish-style building, designed by architect Moritz Landé, was completed in 1860. Gas lighting was installed in 1868; and a major renovation was carried out in 1900.

The first cemetery, established in the Jewish quarter in 1724 remained in use until September 1780. At that point the community was directed by the government to discontinue use of it within a short time, and to acquire grounds for a new cemetery away from the town center. Within the month, the community established the new cemetery in the locality of Krempa (Krępa), on the outskirts of town, on inherited land of Prince Radziwill, which it rented at a low yearly rate; in 1824, with Radziwill's permission, the cemetery was enlarged. In 1873 a mortuary was added.

The first schoolhouse, a wooden building, was erected in 1760. In 1835 the Jewish community established an elementary school of two classes that was recognized by and received the financial support of the Prussian government, with teachers who were government-licensed. A new building to house the school was constructed in 1841. In 1860, a religious school (Talmud Torah) was also established, funded by the Jewish community; in that year there were a total of 362 schoolchildren.

The community apparently had a mikveh (ritual bath house) as early as 1790. A new mikveh was erected circa 1841, in connection with the building of the new schoolhouse, and another new facility was built circa 1867.

A tragic incident occurred during services in the synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur on October 11, 1872. The gas lights suddenly went out, leading to a false rumor that there was a fire. The ensuing panic in the women's section, from which a narrow staircase provided the only exit, led to the deaths of 14 women, two girls, and two younger children.

The size of the Jewish community reached its peak around 1861, when there were some 1,900 members, making up approximately 27% of the total Ostrowo population (approximately 7,000). The opening of a railroad line at Ostrowo in 1875 spurred industry and growth in the town overall; however, by this time the Jewish population was in decline. In Ostrowo, as in the rest of Posen in the late 19th century, younger Jews often moved away to larger German cities.

In 1871 the Jewish community comprised 1,612 members, and in 1890, it had further decreased to 1,079 members, making up 20% and 11% of the town's population, respectively, in those years. In 1900 the Ostrowo Jewish community numbered 756, or approximately 6% of the total population of the town (11,800).

In 1914 the Jewish community numbered 556, or a little less than 4% of the town's population. After the First World War, when Ostrowo became part of Poland, the Jewish population declined rapidly, with many members moving to larger German cities, or emigrating to the United States, or to Palestine. In 1921 the community numbered 170, or approximately 1% of the total population; in 1931 there were 49 Jews in the town.

Upon the German invasion of Poland, in September 1939, the German forces occupying the town destroyed the interior of the synagogue and subsequently used the building as a warehouse; both the old and the new cemeteries were destroyed as well.

Both Alicke (2008) and the Virtual Shtetl website, report that there were 66 Jews in Ostrów Wielkopolski in 1939, apparently based on local municipal records. Both those sources also indicate that in spring 1940 there were still remaining in the town a few Jews, who were at that time deported to the Łódź ghetto. Wein's Hebrew-language work Pinkas Hakehillot Polin (1999) gives a figure of 17 for the number of Jews residing in the town in 1939, and further reports that in December 1939 these last remaining Jews fled to some unknown destination.

Rabbis of the community in the 19th to 20th century

Rabbi Zvi (Hirsch) Peiser (also called Hirschele Charif) became the community's rabbi in 1807 (succeeding Ze'ev Wolf), and served until 1823. He was succeeded by Rabbi Menachem (Mannheim) Auerbach, from Lissa (born 1773), elected in 1823. Auerbach was the son of Rabbi Chaim Auerbach, then the rabbi of Lentschütz, in Congress Poland. During Auerbach's term, Joseph Pilz was dayan, or assistant rabbi (Dajan; Rabbinatsassessor), until 1833, and was succeeded in that role by Joseph David Holleschauer (1785-1860). Rabbi Auerbach died in March 1848, and the rabbi's post remained vacant for over a year.

In July 1849 Rabbi Aron Moses Stössel, of Neu Raußnitz, Moravia, was elected. During his time in office Stössel urged the building of a new synagogue to replace the old wooden one, and presided over the laying of the cornerstone in April 1857. He died in June 1861.

Following Stössel's death, the rabbi's post remained vacant for approximately a decade, although candidate searches were conducted at various points. During that time the rabbi's functions were carried out by the community's assistant rabbis (Rabbinatsassessoren) Nathan Holzmann (d. 1884) and Samuel Fränkel (d. 1878), as well as a third assistant rabbi, Moses Ungar, who was hired in 1865 (he had previously worked in Raschkow, and after several years in Ostrowo moved to Jutroschin, in 1870).

In 1861 the community conducted a search for a cantor qualified to introduce choral singing in the synagogue service, and hired Pinchas Haft, who remained in Ostrowo until at least 1864.

In May 1871, after the long interlude without a spiritual leader, the community selected as its new Rabbi Israel Meir Freimann (born 1830, Cracow), then the rabbi of Filehne. He served until his death in August 1884.

After Freimann's death, assistant rabbi Solomon Goldschmidt (d. 1897) fulfilled the rabbi's function until the election, in September 1885, of Rabbi Elias Plessner (born 1841, Berlin). Plessner served until his death in March 1898. His successor was Rabbi Samuel Freund (born 1868, Gleiwitz, Upper Silesia), who was inducted into office in November of the same year. Freund served in Ostrowo until 1907, when he departed to become the new rabbi for the community in the city of Hanover (where he died in 1939).

The last rabbi to serve in Ostrowo was Rabbi Leopold Neuhaus (born 1879, Rotenburg an der Fulda), who took up the post in 1908. When the town became part of Poland, in 1919, he moved to Leipzig, Germany. (Later a teacher and rabbi in Frankfurt am Main during the National Socialist period, he survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp; in 1946 he emigrated to the United States and settled in Detroit, where he died in 1954.)

The small Jewish community that remained in Ostrów Wielkopolski, Poland, during the interwar period did not have a permanent rabbi.

Secular leaders of the Ostrowo Jewish community

From its beginnings through the early 19th century, the Ostrowo community was led by a small number of community elders (early on the number was three or four, and by 1814 had grown to five). Beginning in 1834, in accordance with the 1833 Prussian law governing Jewish communities in Posen, the Ostrowo community established a council of elected leaders, consisting of an assembly of representatives, which in turn elected an executive body. The chair of the executive was the primary leader of the community; and the representatives' assembly also elected a chair. Community statutes (Gemeindestatut) were first drafted in 1834, and were revised on August 23, 1836. The statutes were revised again on May 7, 1877; and there was apparently also a later addendum to the statues dated June 3, 1901.

Following, with approximate years of service (gleaned, as best as possible, from the files in the present collection), are community members who served as chair (Vorsteher) of the community executive (Vorstand) from 1834 through the First World War:

Samuel Gerstmann, 1834-1837, 1841-1843
B. Marcuse, 1837-1839, 1840
Aron Berliner, 1839-1840
Nathan Lewi, 1844-1846
Abraham Cohn, 1846-1850
Baruch Berliner, 1850-1853
Mannheim Cohn Baum, 1853-1856
Louis Hellinger, 1856-1859, 1872-1873
Moritz Wehlau, 1860-1866, 1871-1872
Simon Spiro, 1866-1871
Moritz Pulvermann, 1873-1875
Josef Landé, 1876-1880s
David Goldstein, 1880s-1895
Fabian Fränkel, 1896-1898
Moritz Rothstein, 1901-1907
Jakob Krauskopf, 1908-1916

Following are those who served as chair of the representatives' assembly:

Jacob Wehlau, 1834-1837, 1840-1843, 1848-1852
M. Spiro, 1837-1840
Nathan Lewi, 1841
Mannes Hirsch Cohn, 1843-1845
M. Gerstmann, 1853-1855
J. Guttmann, 1855-1857
Boas Fraenkel, 1860-1862, 1866-1867, 1876-1877
Moritz Pulvermann, 1862-1864
Abraham Cohn, 1865-1866
H. Krauskopf, 1868-1873, 1878-1879, 1888-1892
M. Cohn Baum, 1876
S. Friedländer, 1883-1885
Lazarus Callomon, circa 1894
Isidor Herrmann, circa 1898
Marcus Callomon, 1902-1903
Isidor Voss, circa 1903-1916

From the mid 19th century on members of the Jewish community participated in the town government, including Nathan Friedländer, Heimann Krauskopf, Simon Spiro, and Max Spiro. David Goldstein was a member of the town council beginning in 1875 and a member of the magistrate (executive body) from 1882 until his death in 1910. In the early 20th century Jakob Krauskopf and Salo Josephi were members of the magistrate; and councillor (Justizrat) Isidor Voss and attorney Martin Goldschmidt were council members.

Postscript

No Jewish community was ever re-established in Ostrów Wielkopolski in the post-World War II period. In 2006, in an agreement with the Jewish community of Wrocław (earlier known in German as Breslau), the nearest organized Jewish community, the town of Ostrów Wielkopolski acquired ownership of the building that had formerly been the synagogue, and undertook a historic restoration of it, financed jointly with the European Union. At the same time the town agreed to construct lapidariums—memorial collections of the tombstone fragments—on the sites of the two former Jewish cemeteries. The restored synagogue opened in 2011 and is used as a venue for arts and cultural events; the lapidariums were completed in 2008.

References

Alicke, Klaus-Dieter (2008). Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum. 3 vols. Güterloh: Güterloher Verlagshaus. Vol. 3. "Ostrowo (Posen)," cols. 3251-3252. Available online at: www.jüdische-gemeinden.de

Freimann, Aron (1896). Geschichte der Israelitischen Gemeinde Ostrowo. No place or publisher given. Contains a transcription of the community's 1724 charter, p. 18-22; and a list of community heads of households at the time of publication, p. 25-26. Available online full text via Google Books. JewishGen has made available an English translation, at the Ostrowo Wielkopolski home page: kehilalinks.jewishgen.org

Heppner, Aaron, and Isaak Herzberg (1911). Aus Vergangenheit und Gegenwart der Juden und der jüdischen Gemeinden in den Posener Landen. Koschmin and Bromberg. Vol. II, issue 17. "Ostrowo," p. 666-679. Available online from the library of Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Aron Freimann Collection: sammlungen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/freimann

International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). "Ostrow Wielkopolski." International Jewish Cemetery Project.

Virtual Shtetl. "Ostrów Wielkopolski." Originally a project of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, since 2012 the Virtual Shtetl website, www.sztetl.org.pl, is sponsored by the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Wasserman, Henry (2007). "Prussia." Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik (Eds.), Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2nd ed. Ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Vol. 16, p. 653-656.

Wein, Abraham, ed. (1999). Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities: Poland, Volume VI: Districts Poznan and Pomerania; Gdansk. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem. "Ostrow Wielkopolski," p. 19-21. In Hebrew.

Extent

12.3 Linear Feet (30 boxes, 178 folders)

Abstract

The collection comprises a portion of the records of the Jewish community of Ostrów Wielkopolski, today in west-central Poland, in the Greater Poland Voivodeship. The region was annexed by Prussia in 1793, in the Second Partition of Poland; in German the town was known as Ostrowo. The records date mainly from 1834 to 1919, with a few materials from as early as 1822. During this period the town was part of the Posen (Poznań) region of Prussia and, after 1871, of the German Empire; in 1919, it was incorporated into the Second Republic of Poland. The community numbered nearly 2,000 members in the late 19th century and declined steadily thereafter due to migration of members to larger German cities or overseas; only a small Jewish community remained during the interwar period. The records are mainly those of the Jewish communal administration, or council; a small amount of material pertains to several community voluntary organizations. Included are financial records such as budgets, balance sheets, and tax lists; communal minutes and decisions throughout the period; correspondence with the government, and, to a lesser extent, with Jewish organizations and other Jewish communities; records pertaining to community members' naturalizations, marriages, births, and synagogue seat contracts; petitions from individual community members, especially pertaining to charitable aid in the mid to late 19th century; records pertaining to communal educational and religious institutions; records on the hiring and employment of community rabbis,cantors, and other personnel, including application materials from candidates not hired; property records and mortgages; documentation of construction and renovation of communal buildings; records related to court cases, bequests, and estate and guardianship matters; and ephemera such as meeting notices and announcement fliers, as well as scattered clippings.

Arrangement

The great majority of the items are volumes of records that were bound and titled in the community. Many of the volumes have on the front cover what is apparently a location designation, indicating a shelf or compartment, and position number (e.g. "Fach 1, no. 1")—a labeling system that was applied in the community, likely reflecting how the volumes were stored. Those designations, when present, are included here in parentheses following the original German title. (Some volumes do not have such a designation, or are missing the cover; some have a designation beginning with "Litt." and a letter of the alphabet, reflecting what was apparently an alternative, or older, alphabetical system; and a small amount of material arrived as loose documents, with no original folders.) The series in the current arrangement are largely based on clusters of records that are apparent from the community's location designations, while further bringing together records of a similar nature whenever possible. The current arrangement represents a new arrangement compared to the one devised in an earlier processing completed in the 1970s.

This collection was part of the YIVO Archives in Vilna before the Second World War. A fragment of a handwritten inventory list presumed to be from YIVO Vilna survives, and is stored with the collection, in the last folder (Folder 17). It comprises the beginning and end of the list but is missing a middle portion that would have contained approximately half of the entries. The list enumerates items numbered up to 205, but since, in one instance, a single volume was itemized as 25 separate entries (no. 178 to 202), the list actually refers to approximately 181 volumes or folders. The first part of the Vilna list (up to no. 121) is based on the sequencing of the community's location designations; after that, the order does not reflect any particular arrangement.

During the initial processing of the collection in New York in the 1970s, it was determined that some 40 volumes/folders in the Vilna inventory were not among the materials that arrived in New York. The finding aid produced during this initial processing closely followed the Vilna list, including the latter 40 folder numbers as empty placeholders (approximately half of those folder numbers could be correlated to an entry in the fragmentary inventory list; for the others no information was available). On the other hand, some materials (especially booklets of supporting financial documents, and loose documents) were not apparently accounted for in the Vilna list. In the finding aid, the latter additional material was integrated into the folder number sequence by using the numbers 178 to 185 (essentially 'extra' numbers in the Vilna list, being among the 25 entries that were bracketed as referring to a single volume), plus the appended numbers F1 to F14, for additional financial records. In one instance (no. 99) loose material was assigned the number for a missing volume that pertained to the same topic.

The current arrangement encompasses only the materials in the present collection, without reference to materials that appear to be missing in comparison to the fragmentary Vilna inventory list; and the folders are simply numbered sequentially. A concordance of the old folder numbers with the current folder numbers is available for reference.

The collection is arranged in the following series:
  1. Communal governance and Jewish civil rights, 1833-1916
  2. Community membership, 1834-1887, 1908-1915
  3. Employment of rabbis and other personnel, 1836, 1841-1913
  4. Charitable aid and voluntary associations, 1834-1919
  5. Education, 1834-1859, 1897-1913
  6. Religious institutions and communal property, 1822-1824, 1833-1913
  7. Court cases, 1823-1828, 1836-1866
  8. General communal correspondence and ephemera, 1824, 1834-1915
  9. Financial records, 1834-1919

Other Finding Aids

The earlier finding aid produced by Steven M. Lowenstein in the 1970s is on file at YIVO; attached is a concordance of the old and new folder numbers. Also, a fragment of a handwritten inventory list presumed to be from YIVO Vilna survives, and is stored with the collection, in Folder 178; see the Arrangement note for further details.

Custodial History

The collection was acquired by the YIVO Archives in Vilna in the prewar period. During the German occupation of Vilna in 1942, these records were among the materials looted by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (a special task force of the National Socialist regime devoted to the plunder of art and cultural artifacts) and sent to the Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage (Institute for Study of the Jewish Question), an institution of the National Socialist Party (NSDAP), in Frankfurt am Main. In 1945 these records were among materials recovered by the U.S. Army and returned to the YIVO Institute in New York, via the U.S. Army archival depot in Offenbach. The records arrived at YIVO in New York in 1947.

Related Material

Other records of the Ostrowo Jewish community can be found in the following locations:
  1. Berlin, Germany: Centrum Judaicum. Around 1906 a significant grouping of the Ostrowo community archives dating back to 1656 was given to the Gesamtarchiv der deutschen Juden (Central Archives of German Jewry), Berlin, which began operations in that year and existed until 1938.1 Some of those archives were taken over by the East German state archives in the post-World War II period, and later returned to the German-Jewish community; today that portion of those materials can be found in the archives of the Centrum Judaicum foundation, located at the Neue Synagoge (New Synagogue), on Oranienburger Strasse, in Berlin. A catalog was published in 2001, as Volume 6, Parts 1 and 2, of Quellen zur Geschichte der Juden in den Archiven der neuen Bundesländer, edited by Stefi Jersch-Wenzel und Reinhard Rürup (Munich: Saur). Among materials pertaining to the Ostrowo community are 35 files of community records (entries 5910-5944), dated 1798, 1814-1912; as well as five other files with some connection to the community (listed under the community name in the place index), including a copy of the community statutes of 1877 (entry 10461).
  2. Jerusalem, Israel. In the 1950s many of the records of the Gesamtarchiv der deutschen Juden, especially the oldest ones, were transferred to Israel and are held at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, in Jerusalem; that transfer apparently included a portion of the Ostrowo community records dated 1724 to 18252 (such holdings are not, however, currently listed among records of Jewish communities in the Central Archives' online catalog).
  3. Moscow, Russia. A small portion of the records of the Gesamtarchiv der deutschen Juden was at some point transferred to the "Osobyi Arkhiv" (Special Archive), in Moscow, a repository for records confiscated by the Red Army from Germany and other countries during World War II. Possibly a fraction of the Ostrowo community archives is found there.2
  4. Poznań, Poland. Polish State Archives (poznan.ap.gov.pl). Under collection title "Gmina żydowska w Ostrowie," one folder of material, 1831-1907.
  5. Vilnius, Lithuania. During the YIVO Vilna Collections Project, it was ascertained that both the Lithuanian Central State Archives and the Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences hold small quantities of records of the Ostrowo Jewish community.
  6. Warsaw, Poland. Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH) (although no such holdings could be found currently in the Institute's online "Archive Inventories")2
In addition to the above materials in Poznań, small groupings of files related to the Ostrowo Jewish community are found in other Polish state archives, as detailed in the following publication: Quellen zur Geschichte der Juden in polnischen Archiven, edited by Stefi Jersch-Wenzel (München: Saur, 2003).

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research also holds other records of Jewish communities in Germany, including: RG 14 Krotoschin (Krotoszyn) Jewish Community Council; RG 15 Briesen (Wąbrzeźno) Jewish Community Council; RG 244 Adelebsen Jewish Community; and RG 31 Germany (Vilna Archives) Collection, Series IV, containing smaller groupings of records of the Filehne (Wieleń), Raschkow (Raszków), and Rybnik communities.

Finally, the archives of the Leo Baeck Institute, New York, also at the Center for Jewish History, focuses on materials pertaining to the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry.

Notes

  1. A 1906 notice about the beginnings of the Gesamtarchiv ("Mitteilung über das Gesamtarchiv der deutschen Juden"), published in Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums (Jahrgang 50/Neue Folge 14, Heft 2, March/April, p. 246-247) highlights the donation from Ostrowo (along with that from Darmstadt), as being valuable for its age and completeness: "Von besonderem Werte sind die geschlossenen Gruppen, das heisst Sammlungen sämtlicher Gemeindeakten während eines längeren Zeitraumes; solche sind besonders von Darmstadt (mit dem Jahre 1650) and von Ostrowo (mit dem Jahre 1656 beginnend) eingegangen" (p. 247). The Ostrowo community is also listed as having records in the collections of the Gesamtarchiv in the business report published in the organization's journal Mitteilungen des Gesamtarchivs der deutschen Juden, 1910, Heft 1, p. 45-46.
  2. Information regarding possible holdings in the archives in Jerusalem, Moscow, and Warsaw is taken from an earlier finding aid for the present collection, produced by Dr. Steven M. Lowenstein at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in the 1970s.

Processing Information

During the current processing the materials were transferred into new acid-free archival folders, and the folders were newly arranged and numbered sequentially (see the Arrangement note). The materials also underwent conservation treatment.
Title
Guide to the Records of the Ostrowo Jewish Community Council, 1822-1919 RG 13
Status
Completed
Author
Originally processed by Steven M. Lowenstein in the 1970s. Edited by Rivka Schiller in 2006. Finding aid encoded by Yakov Il'ich Sklar in 2006. Materials further processed, described, and prepared for digitization by Violet Lutz in 2016.
Date
©2017
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English, with inclusion of original folder titles in German, accompanied by an English translation.
Sponsor
Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022). Additional work funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Earlier work funded by the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation (2006).

Revision Statements

  • February 14, 2018: dao links for folders 1-99 added by Leanora Lange.
  • March 13, 2018: dao links for folders 100-178 added by Leanora Lange.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

Contact:
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