Ostrołęka is a town in northeastern Poland on the Narew river, about 120 km (75 miles) northeast of Warsaw, with a population of 53,605 (2007) and an area of 29 km² (11 sq. mls). Situated in the Masovian Voivodeship (since 1999), previously capital of Ostrołęka Voivodeship (1975-1998). Currently capital of both Ostrołęka County and Ostrołęka City County.
Ostrołęka lies on a sand-mud plain on the left side of the Narew River. The name comes from a plain that was once flooded by the Narew during the spring. A small island is located about 1 kilometer (half a mile) from today's town centre. In the 11th or 12th century, there was a fort built on it, making it one of the few fortifications on or near the Narew. Other forts were located in the city of Łomża, Nowogród and Pułtusk. The fort was surrounded by the village now known as Ostrołęka. Ostrołęka was first mentioned in the Province Act of 1373, signed by Prince Siemowit III. The actual date of the town's foundation is not precisely known, but it is known that by 1373, Ostrołęka was one of the biggest towns in the surrounding area.
After the disaster the town quickly recovered. In the middle of the 17th century, the town passed trough a period of impoverishment and stagnation. On July 25, 1656, the town resisted a Swedish attack and was laid waste by the Swedes. In 1665 Tomasz Gocłowski founded a monastery to settle the Bernardine monks in the town. The monastery was built in a late Baroque style. In 1676, with only 400 inhabitants left, it was the most populous town of the Łomża region. In the 18th Century, for 35 years, Ostrołęka was destroyed numerous times by foreign armies such as the (Swedish, Russian, and Saxon).
As part of a comprehensive plan of industrializing Poland, an extensive settlement for linen and cotton craftsmen was begun on the right bank of Narew in 1826. The number of craftsmen increased, and workers trained in new crafts. The town had also 2 bridges, one permanent. The new highway Warsaw-St. Petersburg ran through Ostrołęka. Although the town's citizens were eager and proud to take part in the November's rebellion, they worried that their city, as in every previous war, would be destroyed. However they did not expect that the heaviest fighting would take place on Ostrołęka's commons. According to the plans, the Polish Army was supposed to attack Russian Infantry Corps of the Tsar's Guard, which camped at the territory between Augustów and Ostrołęka. On May 18th, Ostrołęka was conquered by General Henryk Dembiński. But General Jan Zygmunt Skrzynecki didn't make a use of his temporary superiority and he couldn't make up his mind if to attack the Russians situated near Łomża. As a result of that, Łomża was destroyed. When on May 26th a cannonade was heard, Jan Zygmunt Skrzynecki couldn't believe that Hans Karl von Diebitsch (a Russian general) had already reached the suburbs of the city. He gave an order to defend. The best possible place to defend was the Bernadine monastery, where the Fourth Infantry Regiment fortified, which made it the main defending force of the city at that time. Unfortunately the Russians had brought cannons with them, and thanks to their power, they forced the Polish soldiers to a surrender. Hans Karl von Diebitsch took over Ostrołęka and the battle moved to the right side of the river Narew. Polish troops tried to defend the bridge with the greatest effort. Jan Zygmunt Skrzynecki wanted to stop Russian forces from crossing the river. Lieutenant-Colonel Józef Bem and his Fourth Battery were charged in to defend the bridge. Bem attacked the enemy and managed to hold them back. The battle was a beginning of Insurrection's defeat. About 6000 Polish soldiers died in it including many Kurpes. Bem, for his bravery, was nominated as Commander-in-Chief of Artillery and he was honoured with a Virtue Militari Cross. The battle was the greatest and the most bloodiest battle in the November's Insurrection.
After the Polish-Russian War, Ostrołęka was one of the most destroyed cities. Although it suffered great losses, Ostrołęka stayed a district city of Płock's Province. Ostrołęka's economy greatly declined. Nearly all the city's craftsmen became bankrupt. Only products of Ostrołęka's amber works were still supplied all over Europe. Ostrołęka got refunds from the Tsar's Treasury. However, it took a long time before it rose from its downfall. On October 17th 1848, Wiktor Gomulicki, a writer and poet, was born in Ostrołęka. He was famous for translating a French masterpiece by Victor Hugo. In 1847 a monument commemorating Russian Army's victory in the battle of Ostrołęka on 26th May 1831 was raised. At the time of January's insurrection, no battles took place nearby Ostrołęka, as the tsar placed a quite large Russian detachment in the city worrying of Kurps' rebels. In 1864 after a Russian government's order, Benedictines left Ostrołęka and the monastery buildings were under parish-priest authority since. At the beginning of the new century, an Orthodox church was built in Ostrołęka as a propaganda accent of the Tsar's authority.
Until the First World War, the city managed to develop, but it still was a relatively unremarkable small town. The First World War destroyed its peaceful and monotonous character. Confiscation and forced labor devastated the economy caused rising prices for essential products, and generally caused the city to decline. In 1915, military operations in the territory of Polish Kingdom intensified. By July the city was situated on the front line, and in August 1915 Germans crossed the river Narew and entered the ruined city. At the time of the German occupation, life in Ostrołęka was as hard as in the time of Russian occupation. During the years 1916 – 1918, Germans greatly exploited the forests for timber. To make transporting the wood easier, they built 40 km of road from Ostrołęka to Myszyniec and a narrow-gauge railway line. In 1918, the hardest times of the First World War was over and Poland slowly recovered.
After the First World War, the city became a part of Białystok's province. War losses were estimated for 75%. New schools and departments were opened as the city was being rebuilt. When in 1920, a Russian army attacked Poland, Ostrołęka became a military operations route again. At night from 5th to 6th August, the Russian army entered the city. However, soon after that the town reverted to its normal life. In 1923 a cinema was built. In 1928 a power station was built. It was planned to build a monument commemorating people killed during the battle of Ostrołęka. It was to be unveiled on 26th May 1931. Thanks to a generosity of citizens other monument, commemorated to Józef Bem, was built. It was unveiled 100 years after the battle had taken place. Bulwarks at the beach and new allies were built. In 1939 Ostrołęka was a city without any hopes for further development.
From June 1939 to the outbreak of the war, 10 km (6 miles) of beachhead on both sides of the Narew were fortified and shelters were built. But the German army reached Ostrołęka without any obstacles, and on the 10 September they occupied it. Ostrołęka's name was changed to Scharfenwiese. However, it was not a part of German-occupied Poland, but rather on the outskirts of the Third Reich. Germans began confiscating and within two hours of their arrival, all Jews where ordered to leave. Most of them were transferred to the camp at Treblinka, where many died. Those who survived created an Organization of Immigrants from Ostrołęka in Israel. Churches and Polish schools were changed into magazines, workshops and factories. Soon, underground partisans started attacking and destroying German fortifications in and around Ostrołęka. However, there were also German sympathizers among the citizens of Ostrołęka who joined the Volksliste. They were mainly those whose names were German and who could easily prove "Aryan" descent to the Nazis.
Ostrołęka was recovering very slowly from its decline. A plan created by central authorities, which zakł an improvement of economic situation of Poland, gave Ostrołęka a chance for development. Ostrołęka became a central city of Warsaw's region. In 1959, a cellulose and paper factory was built. The next new thing in city was a sewage refinery, which was supposed to keep water in Narew clean without destroying its biological life. However, the river's water lost its blue colour and became dirty green. In 1973 a cellular concrete factory was built in Wojciechowice. New jobs brought people to the city and caused a development of alimentary industry. During 70's a meat factory was opened. Also a new factory called "Future" producing mainly wooden articles was opened. At that time a sports base was also developed. A new swimming pool, a stadium for 5000 people, and a holiday resort were built. A new hospital was built. In 1989 the city entered a new era of capitalism, which has lasted until the present.
In 1989 new horizons were opened for Ostrołęka. It was given province rights. This gave Ostrołęka superiority over Wyszków or Ostrów Mazowiecka. The paper factory "Cellulose" started to fire people en masse after privatisation while modernising production. The factory "Future" went bankrupt and the cellular concrete factory was modernised and many people were fired. The year 1989 brought opportunities for private craftsmen. Many small service establishments were opened and average people were able to invest their money. The construction industry developed. Building of a new hospital was started, but it hasn't been finished until today. The economy also developed. Three new trade pavilions were built, clubs and discos were opened. All bigger companies were privatised. Cellulose changed its name to Intercell, and the cellular concrete factory was bought by the Ytong company. The city became prettier. A Głowackiego Street was made into a walk. Commons of Ostrołęka were cleaned, which made them more attractive. The centre of the city began to fulfill trade functions. In 1999 the city lost its rights as a province and became a district city.