Jews began to settle in Międzyrzec Podlaski, a town located near an important trade route connecting Brest to Warsaw since 1520. Documents from the 16th century mention three Jewish traders from Międzyrzec: Moszko Abramowicz, Cadek Judycz and Cechm Szachnowicz, who maintained trade contacts with Brest, Chełm and Lublin.

In 1595, one of the first Jewish printing houses in Poland was established in Międzyrzec Podlaski. In 1621, local Jews received additional privileges from the then owner of the town, Aleksander Radziwiłł. Documents from 1644 mention a house of prayer located near the southeastern part of the market square. In the 1720s, Jews owned more than 30 houses in town.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the Jewish community was a large and well-organised part of the kehilla in Tykocin. In 1718, a synagogue, a mikveh and a ritual slaughterhouse were constructed. Over time, a Jewish district, later called Szmulowizna was developed in Międzyrzec Podlaski. In 1712, 101 out of the 390 people paying taxes were Jews.

Jewish settlement in Międzyrzec increased during the eighteenth century; by 1827, the Jewish population accounted for more than 65.4 percent of the town's population (3,012 Jews out of 4,609 residents).

The opening of a surfaced road from Brest to Warsaw in 1823 and the construction of a railway connection between Warsaw and Brest in 1867 resulted in the development of trade in Międzyrzec Podlaski. By 1886, there were 10 prayer houses, 45 cheders and a Jewish hospital in Międzyrzec Podlaski.

Between the end of the eighteenth century and the outbreak of WWII, the Jewish community in Międzyrzec expanded and developed rapidly. In 1790, Jewish craftsmen's guilds for tailors and furriers were established and in 1898 trade unions appeared for tanners and bristle sorters. In 1903, there were 31 factories in town. In 1829 there was a water mill in the town owned by Dawid and Aron Wajnberg and a forge owned by Lejbk Mintz. In 1831, there were two copper foundries, both belonging to Salomon Cirles. In 1880, a second steam mill was reported in the town, owned by Szymon Papiernia. In 1876-1925, Jews owned factories specialising in matches manufacturing. In 1887, a company named "Szeinmel Brothers (Srul and Szymon) Agricultural Tools Factory" began production at 23 Warszawska Street. It operated until the outbreak of World War II. By 1898, there were factories producing roof mountings belonging to Simcha Minc and Chil Rotsztajn and, in 1914 there was a factory producing scales owned by M. Szejnmel.

In 1915, Międzyrzec began using its own power station. The Finkelsztajn brothers produced electricity for the town; prior to 1910, they built a steam mill at Brzeska Street. In 1915, they opened a power station at the mill. In 1930, the company operated under the name Power and Industrial Plants, Mill and Sawmill (Elektrownia i Zakłady Przemysłowe, Młyn i Tartak).

In the early twentieth century, a printer named Jaakow ben Abraham operated in the town. He was known as the "bookseller from Międzyrzec Litewski", who later left the town and moved to Frankfurt am Main. A printing press was established prior to 1914, located at 10 Jatkowa Street. It was run for many years by Jeszaj Josef Rogożyk, who published books and magazines in both Polish and Yiddish.

The Jewish residents of the town also engaged with cultural aspects of life. Between 1905 and World War II, there was the Mendel Szpilman "Klezmer" Brass Band.

By 1912 the following libraries were operating in town – a library of the Międzyrzecka Jewish Community and another of the Association for the Promotion of Libraries and Reading Rooms. In later years, the following libraries were established: Brener’s Library, Grojer’s Library, the I. L. Perec Librar, plus several smaller ones.

The local community also hosted theatre troupes and meetings with eminent Jewish writers were organised. Międzyrzec’s visotrs included Szalom Asz and Icchok Lejb Perec.

In 1913, the Iluzjon cinema, owned by Jankiel Rajsze Zilberberg, opened in Międzyrzec.

In the interwar period, the Jewish population constituted the largest ethno-religious group in the town (approximately 65 percent of the population). The majority, as many as 180 of the 201 houses in the town, belonged to Jewish owners.

The largest Jewish occupation was trade. There were approximately 90 Jewish shops in the town. A number of people made a living from making brushes and brooms using traditional methods. There were numerous tanneries. In 1898, the tanners formed their own trade union. In addition, there were manufacturing plants producing feathers, wire, and light bulbs. In 1925, there were three mills, several granaries, and oil mills.

In the 1920s, Jews arriving in Międzyrzec could spend the night in the W. Kozes hotel on Lubelska Street or at J. Sobelman’s hotel in the market square. Over the next decade, the number of photographic shops joined the photograph shop owned by Chaim Kronharc, which had been operating since 1914. G. Obersztern and Izak Feldman also opened their shops.

Doctors, midwives, and dentists operated in the town. There were pharmacy warehouses. Lawyers and attorneys offered legal services. Combined with representatives of other professions, these individuals composed the Jewish intelligentsia of Międzyrzec.

A second printing press established by J. Lebenglik joined the one belonging to Rogożyk. In the 1920s, both printers also opened bookstores. The Jewish press flourished. In 1927-39, 12 magazines were published in Yiddish. Most of them did not last more than a year, but some did, such as “Mezryczer Wochnblat” (1926–1932), “Mezryczer Tribune” (1928–1932), “Podlasier Cajtung (1932–1937), “Mezryczer Lebn” (1933–1937).

Ca. 1927, a second cinema appeared in Międzyrzec. It was called Casino and was located in at ul.Staromiejska Street 28, and belonged to H. Cukerman. A third cinema was built by Hersh Leib Lemons in the old town.

In the first half of the 1920s, social and educational organisations were created in Międzyrzec, including the Jewish Cultural and Educational Association "Tarbut", Kultur-Liga – operated with the help of the Bund, which also managed the Jewish library and a unit of the Cultural and Educational Society "Frajhajt," which was probably established in 1930 and engaged in adult education.

After World War I, Międzyrzecz Jews became more interested in politics. Bundists and Folkists gained great influence in the town.

Jewish youth organizations also operated with the support of political parties in Międzyrzec, including the left-wing Zionist organisation Ha-Shomer ha-Cair and Gordonia, affiliated with the Zionist Labor Party Hitachdut.

Jewish youth in Międzyrzec were educated in numerous schools. There were 52 cheders in the town, yeshiva and religious school for girls run by the Beit Yaakov organisation. It was also possible to receive education in secular private schools, including the Tarbut Hebrew school and the Jewish junior high school which had the status of a state school in 1922-23.

In October 1939, when the Red Army withdrew from the town after ten days of occupation, over 2,000 Jewish inhabitants – mostly young men – fled with the army across the Bug River [[re: | Miendzyrzec Podlaski. Within the first few months of the Nazi occupation, mass executions of Jews began. During the first extermination action, they had shot and buried approximately 1,000 people in a trench along Brzeska Street.

Międzyrzec quickly became a point of concentration of Jews from the region. The Germans transported Jews to Szmulowizna, a quarter inhabited by the poorest of the Jewish population and created a ghetto there in mid 1942. According to different sources, 17,000 to 24,000 people were placed there. A large labor camp was also created in the town, where Jews were used as forced labor.

In May 1942, the first Jews from Międzyrzec and the surrounding area were transported to the extermination camp in Treblinka. Between 25 August and 26 August 1942, the Germans gathered all the Jews on the market square. Approximately 1,000 infirm people were shot, while the remaining 11,000 were deported to Treblinka. A small group of Jews remained in the town, employed in local labour camps. Soon, a group of Jews from the Radzyń district were resettled to Międzyrzec, however, by October 1942, most of them had been deported to the extermination camps at Treblinka and Majdanek. In December, about 550 people were relocated to a forced labor camp in Trawniki. Most of them died in Treblinka in 1943.

The final liquidation of the ghetto in Międzyrzec began in May 1943. Several hundred people were killed on the spot, 3,000 were sent to the extermination camp in Treblinka. In the following months, the Germans tracked down and murdered approx. 1,000 Jews hiding in the town and in the surrounding woods. Eventually, the ghetto was liquidated on 17 July.

In May 1943, during the liquidation of the ghetto, the Nazis destroyed the Jewish Quarter and synagogue buildings. Gravestones from the Jewish cemetery were used to pave roads and for construction purposes. After the WWII, a new residential district was built in this area.

On 18 and 19 July 1943, in retaliation for the murder of two Germans by the Polish underground movement, the German occupiers shot 179 Jews at the local Jewish cemetery.

After the liberation, in July 1944, there were only 20 Jews left in Międzyrzec who had managed to survive the years of occupation. They had been hiding in the town and the surrounding forests and villages. There were also survivors who had fled to Soviet territory with the Red Army at the beginning of WWII and those who had survived the camps begun returning to the town.

After the war in 1944-1946, the Jews of Międzyrzec Podlaski and the surrounding areas were attacked. The victims of such incidents included Srulek Zylberstein and Genia Adlerstein, killed in a train from Międzyrzec Podlaski to Biała Podlaska by a group of attackers on 18 September 1946.

 

Bibliography:

  • Mezritsh le-zecher kedoshe 'irenu, Mezritsh Book,in Memory of the Martyrs of Our City, ed. Y. Ronkin, B. Heller, Tel Aviv 1978 [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Miedzyrzec_Podlaski/Miedzyrzec_Podlaski.html#TOC475 [accessed: 9.04.2021].
  • Miendzyrzec Podlaski [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. 2, Nowy Jork 2001, p. 821.
  • Międzyrzec Podlaski, [in:] Pamiątki i zabytki kultury żydowskiej w Polsce (Remains and Heritage Sites of Jewish Culture in Poland), ed. P. Burchard, Warszawa 1990.
  • Trzciński A., Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej na Lubelszczyźnie (The Remains of Heritage Sites in the Lublin Province), Lublin 1990.
  • Trzciński A., Sobota J., Cmentarze żydowskie w Międzyrzecu Podlaskim (The Jewish Cemeteries of Międzyrzec Podlaskie), Lublin 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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