OPATOW (Pol. Opatów; Yid. Apta, אַפטאַ), town in Kielce province, E. Poland. A Jewish settlement existed in Opatow from the 16th century. In 1634 the town was divided into two sectors, the Christian and the Jewish, the latter known as the "Street of the Jews." According to Samuel Feivish in Titha-Yaven (Venice, 1670) over 200 Jewish families perished there during the Swedish invasion of Poland in 1656. Conditions became so difficult that in 1687 the *Council of the Four Lands issued an ordinance prohibiting other Jews from settling in Opatow without obtaining express permission from the community board (kahal). The community in Opatow was efficiently organized at this period, and its diverse activities, including collection for the needy of Ereẓ Israel, were administered by various officers (ne'emanim and gabba'im). In the 18th century its economic position deteriorated and it became dependent on the whims of the overlords of the town and the governor. The minute book (pinkas) of the Opatow community was an important source of information for the history of Polish Jewry; a copy was preserved in the communal archives in Warsaw up to 1939.
The Jewish population in Opatow increased in the 19th century, numbering 2,517 in 1856 (out of a total population of 3,845), and 4,138 in 1897. Among the noted personalities who lived in Opatow the best known is the ḥasidic ẓaddik, Abraham Joshua *Heshel, "the rabbi of Apta."
Before World War II 5,200 Jews lived in Opatow. The town came under the Radom District of the General-Government during the Nazi occupation. Many Jews fled before the Germans entered, young Jewish men in particular escaping to Soviet-occupied territory. After the capitulation of the town, the Germans set fire to the market place where mainly Jews lived. Over the next days 200 men, Poles and Jews, were deported and never returned. A "contribution" (fine) of 60,000 marks was exacted, and Jews were evicted from the better residences, which were handed over to German officers. A ghetto was officially established in the spring of 1941. It was open and without fence or guard, but Jews were forbidden to leave it on pain of death. Food, however, was available illegally in the open ghetto for high prices, so that Jews with means did not suffer from hunger. The poor (among them deportees and refugees from other places), who had no property or could not get work or were not hardy enough to get on in these difficult conditions, suffered misery and hunger, being left only with the meager official food rations. Among the poor an epidemic of typhus broke out and a hospital was set up in the synagogue, which also served the surrounding Jewish towns. Jews engaged in hard labor in the vicinity of Opatow, on road construction and in quarries.
The number of Jews in Opatow grew continually because of the influx of refugees from surrounding townlets and villages, as well as from distant towns – *Konin, *Lodz, and *Warsaw. In September 1940 there were 5,800 Jews, 600 of them newcomers; by September 1942 there were about 7,000 Jews, 1,800 of them deportees. Shortly before the liquidation a number of Jews from Silesia settled in Opatow Ghetto, which from June 1, 1942, was one of the 17 ghettos officially left in the country.
In July 1941 the German police began abducting young men for labor camps. Raids were carried out by German police with the help of Jewish police. Jews found in hiding were often executed. Until the liquidation of the ghetto, about 1,900–2,100 Jews were sent to the labor camps. A group of youth planning armed resistance bought weapons from Poles and stored them in the garret of the synagogue. The German police, who were informed, seized the weapons and shot a group of girls who were found there. The Judenrat was composed of well-known persons, mainly Zionists. The president, Mordekhai Weissblum, is reported to have taken care of the Jewish population, organized Jewish life, and alleviated German persecution and repression by personal diplomacy and bribery. But the Judenrat was also reproached for having prepared lists of candidates for labor camps, although it also sent parcels with food and clothing to the camp inmates.
The liquidation of the ghetto took place on Oct. 20–22, 1942. German police and Ukrainians surrounded the ghetto and carried out a mass Selektion in the square. Six thousand Jews were driven on foot to the Jasice station near Ostrow, loaded onto wagons, and taken to *Treblinka. Another 500 to 600 Jews were taken to a labor camp in Sandomierz. During the three-day Aktion several hundred Jews were killed in the town. The Germans left a few score Jews in Opatow to clear the terrain and sort out Jewish property. After the work was completed the Jews were shot at the Jewish cemetery, with the exception of a few individuals, among them the president of the Judenrat, who reached labor camps in Sandomierz. The community was not reconstituted after the war.
Apt (Opatov), Sefer Zikkaron… (Heb. and Yid., 1966); A Rutkowski, in: BŻIH, no. 15–16 (1955), 75–182 passim; Yad Vashem Archives.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.