Miedzyrzec Podlaski Railway Station
Miedzyrzec Podlaski lies 62 miles north of Lublin and in August 1939, there were approximately 16,000 inhabitants which included about 12,000 Jews. A Wehrmacht unit occupied Miedzyrzec Podlaski on 13 September 1939, but soon retreated and left it to the Red Army. The Soviet forces arrived on 25 September 1939, but ten days later, the Red Army fell back behind the Bug River, taking with them some 2,000 Jews from Miedzyrzec. On 9 October 1939, the German forces reoccupied Miedzyrzec. From the outset the German authorities evicted Jews from the wealthier neighbourhoods in central and northern Miedzyrzec. Those evicted were in the main resettled in the poorest Jewish neighbourhood, known as Szmulowizna. This was located in eastern Miedzyrzec, and the neighbourhood stretched from Brzeska Street to the Krzna River, and approximately 1,800 of the town’s Jews were relocated there.
The residents of Szmulowizna also sheltered thousands of Jewish deportees. By April 1940, 3,500 deportees – from Nasielsk, Gdynia, Kalisz, Lodz, Pultusk, Rybnik, and Serock – resided in Miedzyrzec. In November 1940, 350 deportees arrived from Krakow and another 1,400 from Mlawa. In January 1941, the SS brought 300 former prisoners of war (POW’s) to Miedzyrzec. By then, Miedzyrzec was home to some 4,000 Jewish newcomers. After the arrival of 780 deportees from Mielec on 14 March 1942, the Jewish population of 16,555 included 5,480 refugees. The Jewish population peaked at 17,546 with the May 1942 arrival of 1,025 Slovak Jews. Because so many Jews were concentrated in Szmulowizna, many survivors believe an open ghetto existed in Miedzyrzec from the early autumn of 1940. However, Gitel Donath, a September 1941 voluntary arrival from Siedlce, recalls that some Jews, including wealthier deportees, lived in southern neighbourhoods in Polish-owned and occupied buildings. In April 1942, moreover, Jewish charity officials reported on the Jewish Social Self-Help (JSS) ghetto questionnaire that neither an open or a closed ghetto existed in Miedzyrzec. Officially, a ghetto was established in Miedzyrzec only after the first deportation ‘Aktion’ on 25-26 August 1942. During the ‘Aktion’ members of Reserve Police Battalion 101, Ukrainian SS from the SS Training camp at Trawniki, local Gendarmes, and SS men from Radzyn, rounded up and forced 11,000 Jews onto trains destined for the Treblinka death camp. A surviving railway schedule, Fahrplananordnung 562 indicates that a deportation train of 50 wagons departed Miedzyrzec at 9:31 in the morning, only to return at 9:42 the same day, for another trip to Treblinka the next morning. Almost all the deportees were gassed on arrival at Treblinka. Another 960 to 1,800 Jews were shot on the spot in Miedzyrzec. The victims accounted to more than one half of the 3,000 Jews murdered in Miedzyrzec during the deportations.
An enclosed ghetto immediately was created for approximately 6,000 to 7,000 Jews retained for work outside the labour camp system. The ghetto encompassed 6 hectares of land, including the Szmulowizna neighbourhood and some of the Polish neighbourhood, near Jatkowa and Warszawska Streets. Most survivors recall its sole residents initially, were members of the Jewish Council (Judenrat), led by Szymon Klarberg and the Jewish Police. Ordered to sleep at work sites during the deportation ‘Aktions,’ the remaining Jews were ordered into the ghetto only in early September 1942. A barbed-wire fence surrounded the ghetto. Initially Ukrainian SS auxiliaries guarded the fence from the outside but local Polish (Blue) Police soon replaced them. The Jewish Police maintained security inside the ghetto. The ghetto residents left for work under Jewish Police escort through two gates, including one on Brzeska Street. Otherwise, Jews were forbidden under penalty of death to leave the ghetto. SS- UntersturmMiedzyrzec Gendarmerie post, most notably, Franz Bauer, also exercised considerable authority. After several Treblinka death camp escapees returned to Miedzyrzec, the ghetto inhabitants learned that the deportees had been murdered. Some of them fell into deep despair, whilst others determined to evade future deportations, constructed elaborately concealed hiding places. Most of the ghetto residents laboured in their previous jobs, which included working in a tannery and a brush-making workshop in Miedzyrzec, on local road construction crews, as agricultural labourers on an estate in Aleksandrowka, digging and drying peat at a farm in Wysokie, in water irrigation work in Rogoznica, hewing trees in forests near Sokule, and cutting the timber at local sawmills and loading it onto trains. Others worked as domestic or agricultural servants for local ethnic Germans and Poles. About 40 residents, mostly craftsmen, maintained the Gendarmerie post. Others staffed kitchen at a canteen established for the members of Reserve Police Battalion 101, stationed in Miedzyrzec from September 1942 to liquidate the Jewish communities of Kreis Biala Podlaska and Radzyn. The Miedzyrzec ghetto also served as a collection and transit ghetto. Between 26 and 29 September 1942, members of Police Battalion 101, SS, Security Police, Trawniki-SS, and Polish police transferred to the ghetto almost all the 12,300 surviving Jews of the Kreis Biala Podlaska, except those held in labour camps. Imprisoned at the synagogue and other buildings, the 6,000 deportees mainly women, children and the elderly, were sent to the Treblinka death camp on 6 October 1942, whilst 150 Jews were murdered at the Jewish cemetery. That same day, security forces rounded up non-working women, children, and the elderly from the Miedzyrzec ghetto and imprisoned them at the synagogue. Workers from the sawmill and some Jews employed on road construction were also brought there. The prisoners were guarded by Jewish Police and armed Trawniki-SS and members of the German police. On 7 -8 October 1942, almost all of the Jews from smaller communities in the northern part of Kreis Radzyn were transferred to Miedzyrzec. On 9 October 1942, the synagogue prisoners including those from Kreis Radzyn were sent to the Treblinka death camp. The 7-9 October 1942 deportation included approximately 7,000 Jews in Miedzyrzec. Because hundreds had evaded the deportation ‘Aktions’ or jumped from the trains and made their way back to the ghetto, the population of the Miedzyrzec ghetto stood at between 5,000 and 7,000. This figure included a significant number of women and children from Miedzyrzec itself as well as fugitives from the Kreis Biala Podlaska and Parczew deportations. The ghetto area was then reduced by half, forcing some 10 to 25 people to reside in a single room. Rations were suspended, and some 30 people perished daily, mainly from illnesses related to starvation and from typhus. The Gendarmes and Polish Police shot any Jews found illegally outside the ghetto, who were engaged in bartering possessions for food with local Poles. The Germans organised labour crews to sort and clear the belongings of those Jews deported to the death camps. In mid- October 1942, 219 older family members and children of agricultural workers in Wohyn were transferred to Miedzyrzec.
Between 14 -16 October 1942, another 1,000 to 2,000 Jews arrived from Radzyn. The deportees were imprisoned at the synagogue and in buildings outside the ghetto. Late one night, inebriated Gendarmes, including Bauer, Heine, and a group of ethnic Germans, opened fire on a makeshift prison barracks at a sawmill, killing more than 100 deportees from Radzyn. The next morning, Fischer promised to spare the lives of the survivors, if they came out of hiding, by marching them to the ghetto. On 27 October 1942, members of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 and an SS contingent led by Heine sent the Wohyn deportees and almost all the other Radzyn deportees to their deaths in the Treblinka gas chambers, in what was classed as the third Miedzyrzec deportation. The next day on 28 October 1942, Friedrich Wilhem Krüger, Higher SS and Police Leader of the General Gouvernement, named Miedzyrzec as one of eight Jewish residential areas in the Lublin District. Around 30 October 1942, additional Jews arrived in Miedzyrzec under armed escort. The deportees included children of labour camp inmates in Suchowola and others from labour camps from Lukow to Terespol, and others. They were incarcerated at the synagogue and in abandoned Jewish properties, just beyond the ghetto. Many of the deportees were deprived of food and water, and they perished before members of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 cleared the buildings on 7-9 November 1942, sending the occupants to their deaths at Treblinka extermination camp. Some of the Miedzyrzec ghetto residents were included in this deportation, which aimed to retain just 1,000 young, male, residents for labour, but because so many found hiding places, this figure was closer to 3,000. After the deportation, the ghetto was again reduced to half its size, what followed was a seven –month period of relative calm, which encouraged a large number of fugitives hiding in the forests or among the local population to enter the ghetto on a voluntary basis. Jews from some 70 different localities resided there. The Judenrat restored a tiny part of its extensive pre-ghetto welfare institutions, which included a sanitation commission and a medical clinic. In late December 1942, German officials from the Trawniki Labour camp established a temporary registration office to recruit Jews for ‘voluntary’ deportation. An SS officer overseeing the road construction workers informed ghetto residents that Trawniki offered the only hope for survival. Some 500 to 550 employees of the brush-making workshop, along with their machinery was sent to Trawniki, were given three days to register for the deportation. Included in the 30 December 1942, deportation ‘Aktion’ were both volunteers and non-volunteers, this included the remaining Jews in Wohyn. The next day, New Years Eve 1942, drunken Security Police members, from Biala Podlaska, ‘celebrated’ the holiday by dragging ghetto residents from their beds and shooting them. Up to 65 people lost their lives, whilst scores more were wounded.
During 1-4 May 1943, members of Reserve Police Battalion 101, Ukrainian SS troops, and member of the Radzyn SS renewed deportations from Miedzyrzec. The Germans and Ukrainians surrounded the ghetto, relied on informants to locate bunkers in the ghetto and demolished walls to uncover hidden Jews. During this ‘Aktion’ on 2 or 3 May 1943, Chaim Foga attacked a German officer by throwing acid in his face. All the Aleksandrowka and Suchowola labour camp inmates were included in this deportation ‘Aktion’. Approximately 3,000 deportees were gassed in the Treblinka death camp, whilst a small group were sent to the Lublin concentration camp. Approximately 200 – 800 Jewish residents were executed at the Jewish cemetery. Among the victims were the Judenrat members and most of the Jewish Police. After the ‘Aktion’ the ghetto was reduced to a couple of streets, most of the residents, approximately 1,500 worked for the office of property liquidation sorting ‘abandoned’ Jewish belongings at the synagogue. Lubicz, a long time informant for the SS, was named the Jewish ‘ghetto commander,’ and he recruited a Jewish Police force. Most survivors blame him for handing over un-registered fugitives to the Gendarmerie, who were then executed by the Germans. Survivor Lejb Goldberg maintains Lubicz suggested the Germans rely on deceit, which left the ghetto residents unprepared for further deportations, which took place on 26 May 1943. The deportees were stripped searched at a railway station barracks, to find any property removed from the synagogue.
That day up to 1,000 Jews arrived half naked at the Lublin concentration camp. Officially, only 300 Jews – a small ghetto clearance squad and the Jewish Police – remained in the Miedzyrzec ghetto, but on 17 or 18 July 1943, the Polish Underground killed two Germans. The Germans claimed the Jews were responsible for the murders. Dreyer a member of the Schutzpolizei unit assigned to Miedzyrzec ordered the ghetto to be liquidated. Some 35 ghetto inmates were killed on the spot, whilst four German policemen transported by trucks another 179 Jews and 3 Polish –Christian suspects to a livestock burial ground in nearby Piaski, where they were shot. Whilst some Jews sought refuge in the forests nearby, or obtained false identities and volunteered for work in the Reich, of the 30,000 Jews who passed through the Miedzyrzec ghetto, only 390 survived the war. After the war Franz Fischer and Wilhelm Trapp, the commander of the Reserve Police Battalion 101, were put on trial in Poland and both were sentenced to death. Trapp was executed in 1948, whilst Fischer was hanged in 1949. Three Jewish men suspected of helping the Germans, but all three fled abroad, two of the men Lubicz and Szymon Tob, who was a former Jewish policemen escaped from prison in 1946. Because Tob disappeared during his trial, a Polish court waited six months before resuming proceedings without him. In January 1949, Tob was sentenced to death in absentia, for revealing to the Gestapo, the hiding places of the Jews in Miedzyrzec, during the deportations.
Sources:The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, USHMM, Indianna University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012 Y. Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka – The Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987
Raul Hilberg, Sonderzuge nach Auschwitz, Dumjahn, Mainz, 1981
Photograph – Tall Trees Archive
© Holocaust Historical Society 2014