On June 22, 1941, Hitler broke the non-aggression pact he had made with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union under the code name, Operation Barbarossa. Brest Litovsk was occupied by the Soviets according to the non-aggression pact; it, and by association and proximity Terespol, were the first victims of this invasion, which devastated the population of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. One million Jews alone died in gas chambers and at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen.
A fellow genealogist named Sylvia Fine visited Terespol in 2001, made a video and sent me a copy. She interviewed a town official, name unknown, who said that in 1941-42 there was a ghetto in Terespol, located on Raimonda Street, and that in September 1942 the inhabitants were taken first to Mezrich and then to the concentration camp at Maidanek; I have not been able to find corroborating evidence of this ghetto. The synagogue, which had stood at the corner of Raimonda and Red Cross Streets was destroyed during the war and the site is now the location of a fire station. The Nazis also destroyed the Jewish cemetery. This article describes the ghetto in Miedzyrzec (aka Mezrich) to which Terespol Jews were sent; initially the Jews were deported to Treblinka but by the end of 1942 they were deported to Maidanek.
The particulars and fate of the Brest Ghetto are described in the sections on the Brest Ghetto Passport Archive and the Massacre at Bronaya Gorra.
Brest Litovsk Yizkor (Memorial) Books
Yizkor books were written after World War II by survivors of the Holocaust, to memorialize their towns and the people who had lived in them. They are full of interesting and detailed life about the history of Jewish (and non-Jewish) settlement in all aspects. There are photos of groups of students, club members, athletes, Zionist youth groups, rabbis, and so on. There are lists of those who were killed and where possible, information on how and where they died. All this makes Yizkor books rich sources of information. Most of them were written in Yiddish or Hebrew, some in other languages depending on where the authors lived (for instance, in Spanish, by survivors who went to Argentina). Some were translated, but only since JewishGen.org has been assiduously getting them translated have their riches been available to more of us.
There is no Yizkor book specifically for Terespol; the town is included in those that memorialize Brest Litovsk. Keep in mind that Terespol was essentially a very close suburb of Brest, with quite a lot of going back and forth; in terms of daily life, there was not much distinction between the two. So in reading and learning about Brest, you are necessarily learning about Terespol and the lives of our family.
There are a number of Yizkor books about Brest, which was a major center of Jewish life and learning for several centuries and had once been considered the “capitol” of Jewish Poland and Lithuania, with many famous and important rabbis. You can read the various articles in one of the Brest Yizkor books here.
If you scroll down in that book to “Part Two, Memories and Recollections,” the first article is “My Terespol Between the Two World Wars” and “My School in Terespol,” which give a flavor of Jewish life in Terespol on the eve of the Holocaust. Here you can read personal accounts of the destruction of Jewish life in Brest, including the liquidation of the ghetto in October, 1942 and the mass murder of the 20,000 Jews who had lived and suffered there. I believe I have evidence that among those 20,000 were a number of not-too-distant Goldstein relations, including Sol Goldstein’s older brother Yudel Moshe and his wife Sara, who were quite elderly by then, their son Hersch, and Yudel and Yankiel, two sons of Sol’s sister Tillie and her husband Abus Hersch Brandt. These are only a few of the names that I have found of people who I have strong reason to believe were part of our family.
There is also quite a bit of information about Brest to be found here from the “Brest” entry in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, Volume V (“Pinkas HaKehillot Polin”), published by Yad Vashem. Another hair-raising description of the ghetto and its liquidation appears towards the end.
In all of the Yizkor books there is a great deal of material describing the partisans’ efforts to stymie the Nazis and their collaborators. These first-person narratives are worth reading as an antidote to the despair one can feel about the inexorable factory-scale murder and destruction that took place. It’s also important to note that Yizkor books devote many pages to the history of the town and the area and recount centuries of vibrant life; they are not only about death and destruction. They memorialize not only the martyrs of the Holocaust, but also the life of the towns themselves.