Home > Murder on November 11, 1939

Głós Ostrowi, published in Ostrów Mazowiecka, 1979
Edited by Towarzystwo Miłośników and Ziemi Ostrowskiej

Józef Kolasiński

The Tragedy Of Ostrów Jews

Monument commemorating the November 11, 1939 massacre.
Click on image for more details.

The Germans could not forget their defeat in World War I and their disarmament in Ostrów Mazowiecka on November 11, 1918. That is why they prepared a plan to wipe out their disgrace.

A confidant of general governor Hans Frank was appointed mayor of Ostrów Mazowiecka. He was equipped with special authorizations, had an official's uniform with three stars, and a swastika on his sleeve. According to rumors, in addition to organizing city government, his orders were to get even for November 11, 1918. Housed at city hall, this Hitler supporter was in constant communication with the commanders of the military unit commander stationed in town, of the Gestapo, and of the gendarmerie. Starting in late October through November 11, 1939, they gathered a few times a day in his office at city hall, and carried on long discussions, which were not bound to bring in anything good. The results of those discussions were to be seen soon.

Around October 30, 1939, the German authorities issued orders for all the Jews residing in Ostrów Mazowiecka and their families to gather in the market place. All of them were taken by force from their homes to the gathering place, where it was announced that they were no longer allowed to manage any business, such as manufacturing, skilled craft or retail.

The Jews were ordered to leave the city voluntarily within one day and to go across the border (demarcation line) between Germany and the Soviet Union, which was located just outside of Ostrów Mazowiecka. The Jews dispersed quickly and started an immediate escape to the Soviet side. However, some of them, together with their families, including many members of the Board of the Jewish Community (about 600 people), decided to stay in town, and asked the German authorities for permission to continue living in Ostrów. The Germans did not grant such permission, but did not bother those who stayed in town.

This continued until November 9, 1939. On that day, a German soldier in uniform, carrying a gas mask, a bottle filled with liquid and a smoke producer, was seen by Polish residents of the city, including Tadeusz Karwowski. The soldier entered a one story wooden building, previously owned by Jews, located across the street from city hall. He was visible in the attic where, near a small window, he started to collect flammable materials. He poured the liquid from the bottle over them, set them on fire and knocked out a hole in the roof of the building for better airflow. Then, he left the building and went into the street. The adjacent wooden buildings located near, some of which were previously owned by Jews, quickly caught on fire. When a fire brigade arrived with pumps and barrels of water, the Germans did not allow them to proceed until the whole Jewish neighborhood caught on fire. It was only when buildings taken over by the Germans became exposed to the fire that they ordered the firefighters to start putting it the fire out. The moment the fire started, the Germans were spreading the news among the Polish population that the Jews have set the city on fire, which they will be held responsible for.

The Jews were arrested following the forged "crime" of setting the city on fire. The arrests took place during the whole night and the following day, not only in the city, but throughout the county. All those arrested were placed in the cellars at city hall, in the city jail and in the cellars at the brewery. On Nov. 10, 1939, Mayor Funkh issued an order in German to the City Post Station of the Civic Guard. The following is a rough translation:

"To local City Post. Regarding Fire Protection (Fire Department).

All members of the fire brigade should be listed in a roster. The population must be informed that, in case of fire, all males 17 to 45 years old are obligated to avail themselves immediately to the Fire Department. All fire equipment available in the city and its surroundings must be found, collected and stored properly in the Fire Department warehouse. The [local] population must learn about the Jewish plans to start further fires. At all times, at least one person must be on the lookout in each house. Suspects, especially Jews, can be temporarily detained by anybody and sent to the city police station for examination".

This order was issued only after the Jewish quarter had been set on fire, on the eve of the murder of the Jews. On November 11, 1939, at 10 [a.m.?], they were taken away to the forest near the Warsaw highway and shot. The content and form of this order confirms suspicions that the crime was planned ahead and committed with premeditation.

Click here for photos from the day of the massacre, November 11, 1939.  

Click here for testimony from an Ostrów Mazowiecka survivor.