Międzyrzec Podlaski is a town situated in the northern part of Lublin Province, 99 km (62 miles) north of Lublin and about 140 km (86 miles) east of Warsaw. Międzyrzec settlement was probably established before 1174. It is mentioned in the historical sources from 1390, when Abraham Chamiec received the Międzyrzec settlement from King Władysław Jagiełło. The town was probably founded around 1434.
Jews began to settle in Międzyrzec Podlaski, a town located near an important trade route connecting Brest to Warsaw since 1520. 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.
By the end of the 17thcentury, 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 the interwar period, the Jewish population constituted the largest ethno-religious group in the town (approximately 65 percent of the population).
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. 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. 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 1943 . 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.
ROUTE: The tour starts in Warsaw with car transfer to Międzyrzec Podlaski, walk around the town, visit to the former ghetto area, the site of the Great synagogue, the Jewish hospital and the cemetery (must be confirmed in advance). Return to Warsaw. Optional lunch en route possible (not included in the tour fee).