Even though some sources indicate that the first Jews settled in the area of today’s Terespol Municipality as early as in 1535, no bigger wave of Jewish migration reached the town until the first half of the 18th century. The person who owned it at the time, Jerzy Fleming, invited Jews to settle in the town and granted them various trade privileges in hope of boosting the economic development of Terespol. Like in many other towns and localities, most Jewish families lived off crafts and small trade.

In the years 1810–1817, many Jewish merchants and entrepreneurs settled in the town, which had been granted the status of a “free town” by Saxon King Frederick Augustus and thus was subject to very beneficial customs regulations. Together with local Germans, Jews engaged in a wide array of trade activities. Over the course of the 19th century, the Jewish population of Terespol grew significantly. Towards the end of the century, they constituted ca. 70% of the total population, while at the beginning of the 20th century – as much as 80%.

Due to Jews being prohibited from settling in the border area of the Russian Empire, many of them settled in Terespol, to which the ban did not apply, and thus were able to freely carry out business activities in many other localities, for example Brześć. Over the course of the 19th century, there appeared numerous Jewish–owned vinegar factories and gherkin and pickle production plants known for their high–quality products; they constituted one of the main sources of income for the local community (Until the 1990s, the tradition was preserved by the Fruit and Vegetable Processing Plant). A large portions of Jews worked in facilities offering accommodation and board or provided various services for the Tsar’s Army and workers. They also made their living off the maintenance of the machinery used for the construction of the Brześć Fortress.

During WWI, many Jews left the town. Out of 2,884 Jews living in Terespol in 1907, only 1,200 remained in 1921 (according to that year’s census). When Poland regained independence, the number of Jewish inhabitants of Terespol and its surroundings decreased by almost a half compared to the period before 1915.

In the interwar period, the kehilla in Terespol had jurisdiction over several nearby villages. The community owned a synagogue, two Beit Hamidrash (est. 1849), a mikveh and a ritual slaughterhouse. Several Jewish political parties were active in the town, the most popular of which were Zionist organisations preparing the local youth for settling in Palestine. Jews from Terespol lived mainly off trade and crafts. Starting from late 1920s, the local economy depended on the production of vegetables – mostly cucumbers and white cabbage – and three big processing plants, run by Jewish entrepreneurs and providing work for a large portion of the town’s inhabitants.

After the German and Soviet attack on Poland, Terespol was controlled by the USSR forces for a short period of time. Numerous young Jews fled the town in September 1939, as the Red Army was withdrawing from the region.

Those who remained in the town had to deal with the German occupation, which started in September 1939. All of the 284 Jewish people residing in Terespol were sent to the German extermination camp in Treblinka on 29 August 1942.

Bibliography

  • "Terespol", [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 3, eds. Sh. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 1303.
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