OLKUSZ


OLKUSZ (Heb. עלקוש), town in Kielce province, Poland. There was a Jewish settlement in Olkusz by the time of Casimir the Great (1333–70), who expropriated the gold and silver mines in Olkusz belonging to his Jewish banker Levko. In 1374, however, Olkusz obtained the privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis; Jews were barred from residing there and left for Cracow. During the reign of John Casimir (1648–69), a Jew, Marek Nekel, was granted the first concession to quarry in the hills and was allowed to trade in metals (1658). An agreement between the Jews and the municipality concluded in 1682 granted Jews domiciliary and trading rights on condition that they helped to defray the town debts; they were accordingly granted the customary privileges by John Sobieski (Dec. 3, 1682) to enable their settlement. The Olkusz community came under the jurisdiction of the Cracow kehillah, but in 1692, the community of Olkusz and other towns in the district seceded from Cracow, a decision endorsed by the *Council of the Four Lands. In 1764 there were 423 Jews living in Olkusz. The economic position of the town deteriorated in the 18th century after copper mines in the district had been ruined by the Swedish invasion. A *blood libel involving the Jews in Olkusz in 1787 was the last such case to occur in Poland before its partition. The principal Jew accused, a tailor, was sentenced to death, but the leaders of the community managed to obtain the intervention of King Stanislas Poniatowski and secure a reprieve. Under Austrian rule (1796–1809), the number of Jews living in Olkusz diminished, and when it was annexed to Russia the prohibition on Jewish settlement in border districts applied. However, there were 746 Jews living in Olkusz in 1856 (83.4% of the total population), 1,840 in 1897 (53.9%), 3,249 in 1909 (53%), 2,703 in 1921 (40.6%), and in 1939 about 3,000.

[Nathan Michael Gelber]

Holocaust Period

The Germans entered the town on Sept. 5, 1939, and subjected the Jews to beating and torment, plundering of property, kidnapping in the streets for hard labor, and religious persecution. The Judenrat, created in October 1939, had to take care particularly of 800 deportees who came from other localities in Upper Silesia. Transports of men to labor camps in the Reich commenced in October 1940 with the dispatch of 140 Jews. A second transport with 130 Jews left Olkusz in January 1941; the third, composed of 300 women, left in August 1941. In the spring of 1942, shortly before the liquidation of the community, the number of transports increased. In March 1942, 150 women were shipped out, followed on April 20, 1942 by 140 men. One month later during Shavuot (May 21–23, 1942) about 1,000 Jews, including women, were sent out. The victims of these transports were mainly the poor, particularly refugees and deportees; those with means could temporarily avoid such transports. In the latter half of 1941 a ghetto was established in a suburb. It was open and probably not fenced off, but leaving the ghetto was forbidden and the entrances were watched by German and Jewish police. There were, together with the new arrivals, about 3,000 Jews interned in the ghetto. In the last few months prior to the liquidation, transports to labor camps increased, and the German police on March 6, 1942 publicly hanged three Jews for illegally leaving the ghetto and smuggling food. Local Jews were forced to build the gallows and carry out the hanging. The final liquidation took place in June 1942. A Selektion ("selection") was carried out to separate the most able-bodied men for labor camps from the rest of the inhabitants, among them the local rabbi; the latter were all sent to *Auschwitz. A group of some 20 Jews was left to clear up the ghetto; they were afterward deported and exterminated. The community was not reconstituted after the war.

[Danuta Dombrowska]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

K. Leszczyński, in: Biuletyn Głównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce, 9 (1957), 157; Balaban, in: Yevreyskaya Starina, 7 (1914), 163–81, 318–27. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Sefer Zikkaron le-Kehillat Olkusz,(1972).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.