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The History of the Brzezany Jewish Community from
the Establishment of the Town till the End of the 19th Century

by Dr. The Late Dr. N.M. Gelber

Translated by Moshe Kutten[1]

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

There is no evidence confirming when and how a Jewish community in our town began. Documents show, however, that in 1530, the year Brzezany received the status of a town, Jews already lived there, trading and taking an active part in its life. Little evidence exists about the life of Jews at this time other than a few tombstones, several hundred years old, and a cemetery in Zwiezyniec Forest, divided into Jewish and Christian sections. This cemetery was constructed for the victims of a pestilence plague that took the life of most of the city inhabitants.

In 1530, based on the Magdeburg Law, the royal courtier Mikolaj of Sieniava [Sieniavski] permitted Sigismund I, King of Poland, to turn Brzezany, then a village, into a town. As a result of the need to establish fortified towns in this region, Sigismund was rather generous with granting such permits to nobility. The permit or privilege to turn Brzezany into a town was granted to Mikolaj of Sieniava in the Sejm held on March 19th, 1530. The privilege states that he was allowed “to establish and create a town out of the village of Brzezany.” In the same privilege, the town's inhabitants were granted permits “to display, buy, sell and trade merchandise and handle all types of businesses.” The roles of the mayor and members of the council were positions of honor and were placed in the hands of wealthy artisans and merchants.

Brzezany included a large Armenian community, most or all of whom were merchants. The supplies for the Greek Catholic Church they erected were all drawn from their own storehouse. But the Armenians could not compete with the local Jewish merchants and most had no choice but to leave the town. Only a few Armenian families stayed in Brzezany. The aforementioned church and the surrounding quarter called Ormianska to testify to the existence of a large Armenian community.

The story of the Armenian community in Brzezany serves as evidence of the existence of a Jewish community there. A document from 1638 mentions the election of a rabbi for three towns: Brzezany, Narajow, and Pszemyslany. It can be assumed that a Jewish community existed before this and that this was not the first rabbi to be elected in our town.

The history of our community resembles that of others in the region over various periods. Nothing worth mentioning is known. The law changed according to changes in the government. Before the Partition, Jews in Poland had complete freedom to manage their own community life and were completely autonomous concerning religion, rituals, and jurisdiction.

In those days, the leadership of the community was in the hands of several privileged families, the town's leadership. They elected the Rabbi and fully controlled anything that had to do with the life of Jews in our town. They collected taxes for the government, divided the tax load among the members of the community as they thought fit, and took care of the poor, education, and ritual. They determined issues of slaughtering, built the first synagogue, and helped build more. There were also smaller synagogues that were built through the contributions of individuals.


Coffins of Sieniawski family's princes, in the fort's church

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The organization of the Jewish community followed the Magdeburg Law. The Jews were defined as a special “Nation” in terms of community administration and had their own courts. They were subject to the mayor only in matters which had to do with the town in general. Thus, obligations such as the defense of the town were divided equally between Jews and Christians. Jews paid the owners of the town taxes for land and houses. A tax to the Catholic Church paid regularly, was also demanded. In addition to the leaders, three more people were elected, who were called “good men.”

The Jewish courts were run by Dayanim (Judges) and chaired by a rabbi. These courts handled all the conflicts between Jews. Their verdicts had to be approved by the community. Rabbis were elected by the community [council] and had to be approved by the owners of the town. The Jewish communities of Narajow and Pszemyslany were managed and controlled by the Brzezany community. The first rabbi, named Yehuda, is mentioned in 1638. Other early rabbis in Brzezany known to us are Rabbi Zvi Hirsch, son of Rabbi [Khaim] of Kolomyja, who served as a rabbi in Brzezany before 1680, the year he was appointed a rabbi in Drohobycz. He was replaced by Rabbi Itzhak Babad, who was married to the daughter of David Bar Itzhak from Zolkiew. Next was elected Rabbi Pinkhas-Mendel, son of Rabbi Asher Potoker. The rabbi who is mentioned after him was Rabbi Tuvia Yekhiel Mikhel Halperin, who, before coming to Brzezany in 1738, served as a rabbi in Belz. He was the son of the Rabbi from Zbararzh, Rabbi Israel Halperin, and the grandson of Rabbi Avraham Halperin, who served as a Rabbi in Dubno.

The community life of Brzezany Jews centered around the synagogue. The first synagogue in Brzezany was built in the 17th century. The second was erected in 1718 near the town gate; its remnants can be seen there to this day. Near the synagogue, there was a school, public bath, hospital, and hostel for poor travelers. Sometime later, east of the synagogue, two Batei Midrash (religious schools) and two prayer houses were built, for the Hassidim (disciples) of Rozlov and the Hassidim of Stratyn.

The town of Brzezany and its community grew stronger from year to year. From its establishment, the inhabitants of Brzezany were divided into 3 “Nations”: 1) Poles and Ruthenians, who were called Christians, 2) Armenians, and 3) Jews. Every “Nation” had its own administration and judicial system. Early on in the history of Brzezany, the rights of Jews were limited. When the quarter known as Adamovka was established, the privilege granted in 1583 by the contemporary owner of Brzezany, Jadwiga of the Tarlow Sieniawski lineage, stated that bars in this part of town could not be leased to Jews. Also, Jews were not allowed to live in the market or purchase lots and houses from Christians. The purchase of real estate by Jews was subject to the approval of the mayor, who made sure that that property was previously owned by Jews or that no Christian wanted to buy that same property. These rules, however, remained theoretical, since Jews bought houses in the market and the vicinity of the church as early as the beginning of the 17th century. This was made possible through special permits, which were issued in the palace accompanied by a recommendation of the Catholic priest.

By the end of the 17th century, 26 Jews lived by the market, 28 in the street leading from the Castle, and 27 in the street leading from the Adamovka Gate. As the town grew so did our community. In 1570 the town included 260 inhabitants, of whom 4 families were Jewish. They were merchants and wine sellers. About 100 years later, in 1672, the traveler Urlikh von Wardokh [Werdum?] passed through Brzezany and described it. According to him, the town then included 500 families, of which 100 were Jewish. In 1682 130 houses were owned by Christians, 10 by Armenians,

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and 55 by Jews.

In 1695 the fortified part of town included 183 citizen-owned houses, of which 75 belonged to Jews. The total number of houses in Brzezany at this time was 404, accommodating 3475 inhabitants. In 1762 there were 125 houses owned by Jews, of which 35 were by the market, 8 by the new market, 4 in the street leading from the Castle, and 3 near the Podhajce Gate. Despite the official rules limiting the purchase of market area property by Jews, by the end of the 18th century, almost all the houses in the market were owned by Jews, most used as hotels and bars.

The most prominent building in Brzezany was the Sieniawski Castle, which was built as a fortress. The members of this noble family, who were, as aforementioned, among the town's founders, took an active part in the life of the Polish State. Coming originally from Granova, in the region of the island Synsk, this family can be traced back to the 12th century. Mikolaj, the founder of Brzezany, played an important role in contemporary political life. He died in 1569 at the age of 77 and was buried in Brzezany.

In the 17th century, during the period of unrest and wars in Poland, Brzezany had its share in the general devastation as it was burned twice. During this period, Poland was invaded by the Swedes, the Russians, and the Tatars. In 1667 Jan Sobieski fought near Brzezany, and a memorial monument was erected in the market to honor him. This period of unrest lasted some 25 years into the 18th century. In the first half of the 18th century, Brzezany's ownership changed hands. From then on it was owned by the Chertoryski family but ceased to be the dwelling place of the town's patrons. Its new owners only visited there occasionally. The daughter of Prince Chertoryski married Prince Lubomirski, and their daughter married Graf Potocki. This is also how Brzezany came to be owned by Stanislaw Potocki.

Jews made their living mostly as merchants and creditors. The main commerce was of corn, flour, wine, and leather. Most of the commerce outside the town was in Jewish hands. In addition, as of the end of the 17th century, all cattle and livestock business was in Jewish hands. Brzezany exported bulls to Silesia and wheat to Danzig, and all this business was in the hands of a few affluent Jews. Small retail businesses gradually shifted into Jewish hands, and in 1695 there was no single Christian shop owner in town. Following the wars with the Kozaks, in the middle of the 17th century, commerce with the East dwindled, and the Polish market was dominated by trade with the West, mainly Germany. These new routes were also largely Jewish. In 1762 there were in Brzezany 5 Jewish merchants who brought goods from Breslau. Their names were Itzhak Sukenik, Yehoshua Davidov, Herschko Sholimovitz, David Keikhinitski and Herschko Sokalski. It should be mentioned, however, that Brzezany Jews were not wealthy.

Following the complaints of some Christian inhabitants that the interest Jewish creditors charged was too high, in 1639, a rule was entered by Jews in the town chronicle stating that no Jew would charge interest greater than one schilling per Gulden. This, however, did not help much. Particularly severe punishments were imposed on Jews who bought stolen goods. The rules regarding this were particularly severe during the 18th century. In the middle of the 18th century, Jews from Zolochiv [Zloczow] bought stolen goods from Brzezany Jews. On December 16th, a verdict was issued, stating that each of the Brzezany Jews involved will receive 30 lashes on the bridge in front of the palace.

Jews were obliged to pay the poll tax. Documents specifying the poll taxes Jews paid in Brzezany in the 18th century are available, which enable us to estimate their numbers. In 1764 there were about 1000 Jews in Brzezany. The Frankist Movement in the mid-18th century left Brzezany unaffected, with one exception.

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The market square


The list of converts dated 1759, after the mass persecution of Frankists in Lviv, includes the name of a 32-year-old woman from Brzezany, Ludvika-Khana.

In 1740, lobbied by the “Council of Four Lands,” the Region Convention was held in Brzezany. This must have been demanded by the government, which wished to regulate the collection of poll tax. This convention included 18 delegates from Zolkiew [Zolkwva], Brody, Khodorow, Yaniv [Janow], Lisky, Tysmenytsya [Tishmenitz], and Stryi. With the help of the Council of Four Lands, the convention in Brzezany reached final regulations regarding the poll tax. In this time, the year 1762, the Jewish cemetery, which was constructed by the Jewish community outside the town's wall, was expanded.

In 1772 Brzezany became a part of the Habsburg Kingdom. This resulted in major changes in the life of Jews there. During the Habsburg regime, the number of inhabitants in Brzezany reached 3000, half of whom were Jews. The Austrian administration introduced drastic changes, flooding the land and its Jews with new rules and regulations. This resulted in nothing but chaos. In time, the Austrian administrators understood that radical changes could not be made at once through rules and manipulations. Brzezany's fate was the same as that of the other towns in Galicia.

On December 6th, 1772 the first manipulation was introduced by Earl Fargan who was in charge of the Jew's census. Rabbis and community leaders were required to present accurate reports about the state of the Jews in their respective communities, including community management, regulations, state of families, state of the property, occupations, and so forth.

With the diminishing of wine and alcohol production and retail, the economic state of Jews worsened. Their appeal to the government to cancel their taxes for 1772-73 due to their financial state was rejected. Compared to the taxes previously imposed by the Polish Government, the Austrian tax load was greater. During the Polish rule, Jews paid 30 Kreuzer poll tax per person. In the first year of the Austrian rule, this was increased to a whole Florin and was enacted on children over one year old. In 1776, instead of the poll tax, the “Tolerance Tax” of 1 Florin per person was imposed, and to this income tax and property tax in the same amount were added.

The division of tax load between the communities was done by the Jewish management and each community allocation was divided among individuals in the respective communities. Due to the heavy tax load, the community of Brzezany failed to keep up with its payments and owed the government increasing amounts of money. In 1780 the government ordered its administrators to foreclose on Jewish income due to their unpaid bills. The community of Brzezany appealed to the government, asking to cancel their debt due to the poor financial situation of the town's Jews. On April 1780, instruction was given in Vienna to investigate the situation and postpone the foreclosure. This lasted till August 1784, when the tax load was reduced. In 1789 the Brzezany community owed 6,210 Florins for security tax, of which only 2,532 were paid. In 1790 the community owed 12,260 Florins for the “Tolerance Tax,” of which 7,442 were paid. In response, the government in Vienna ordered their local administrators to deport all Brzezany Jews who failed to pay their taxes. Had this been enacted, a large number of families would have had to leave town, and that scared officials in Vienna, who canceled the deportation.

In 1785, administrative changes were made in Galicia, which was then divided into 18 regions. Brzezany was declared the capital of the 13th region, which included 8 additional towns.

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According to the 1789 census, the ten Jewish communities of the Brzezany Region included 2574 families.

In 1812, 6200 Jewish families were counted in the Brzezany region, with 24,760 individuals, and in Brzezany alone, 252 families with 1059 individuals.

The 1880 census counted 10,899 inhabitants in the town, divided as follows: Poles - 3749, Ruthenians - 2404, and Jews - 4712 (43.2% of the total population). In 1900 there were 11,443 inhabitants in Brzezany, of whom 4150 were Poles, 2605 Ruthenians, and 4395 Jews (38.4% of the total population). In the entire Brzezany Region, in 1900, there were 95,164 inhabitants, of whom 10,942 were Jews.

At the end of the 18th century, the economic state of Brzezany Jews was extremely difficult. In addition to their debts to the government, current taxes had to be paid, and the situation worsened rapidly. Very few did well, but most lived in great distress and despair, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. Brzezany Jews were involved in several occupations. Among Jews, there were highly skilled artisans, mainly bakers, and tailors. Many traded with yarn, wheat, barley, hay, and straw. Some traded with wood since the town was surrounded by forests. Most Jews in town were retailers.

In the 1820s, there were 18 merchants in town, of whom 17 were Jewish.

An attempt to alleviate the distress experienced by Jews was made at the beginning of the 19th century by Emperor Joseph II. He encouraged Jews to assume agricultural work by reducing the Tolerance Tax for Jewish farmers by 50% and eventually eliminating it altogether.

In 1785, as a result of the Jewish Rules and Regulations, thousands of Jewish families were left with no source of livelihood. On Aug. 16, 1785, the Emperor ordered his administrators to start settling the Jews in agriculture and farming. In the framework of a program to settle 1400 Jewish families from Galicia, the community of Brzezany had to designate 10 families, and in the greater Brzezany region – 69 families. After a while 69 Jewish families settled in 49 farming plots. 10 Brzezany families settled in 5 farming plots. There were 5 settlers from Kozowa, 9 from Pidhaitsi [Podhitza], 7 from Bursztyn, 3 from Khodorow, 5 from Rozdvill [Rozdol], 4 from Steshalisk [Szczelisk], 8 from Bibrka [Bobrka], 12 from Rohatyn, and 6 from Peremyshlyany [Pszemyslany]. The costs of this project were the responsibility of the communities where the settling took place. In 1804 Graf Fuerstenbush announced that the region of Brzezany filled its farm-settling quota.

By 1882, 40 Jewish families in the entire Brzezany region were still settled in agriculture, 24 were supported by the community and 16 were self-supporting. In 1889 Jews owned 11.3% of the real estate in the region of Brzezany (5,487 hectares [13,558 acres]).

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In 1902 Jews owned 12% of the real estate in the region (5615 hectares [3,875 acres]).

In 1889, 19.5% of the forest land in the region was owned by Jews, and in 1902, 15.1%.

The Jewish population in Brzezany needed loan associations. The JCA [Jewish Colonization Association] began operating in Brzezany in 1906 and helped the Jewish population with interest-free loans. In 1908, the membership in the Brzezany association reached 371, compared to 190 in 1906. From the day of its establishment till Dec. 31, 1908, 753 loans for a total amount of 169,956 Crowns [Krones] were given. Loan association in the Schultse system operated in the Brzezany Region as well.

In the cultural and educational aspects, Jews experienced great difficulties as well. The Austrian Kingdom, as is well known, tried to “Germanize” the minorities within its territories, including the Jews, and to this end, established schools for Jews. Unlike in Bohemia and Moravia, this educational policy failed in Galicia, where parents refused to send their children to these schools. According to manipulation by Caesar Joseph II, as of 1789, such schools were established in Galicia, supervised by Hertz Homberg, and the teachers were brought from Bohemia and Moravia. One of the first 48 schools in Galicia was established in Brzezany, and in time there were 100 such schools. A list from 1790 mentions a teacher named Wolf Reinenbakh whose annual salary was 200 Florins. In 1802 teachers in Brzezany earned 900 Florins a year. Schools of this kind operated also in Rohatyn, with the teacher Shlomo Kornfeld, in Rozdol with the teacher Shimon Bland, and in Bubrka with the teacher Aharon Sharf. In most the number of students diminished in time. In 1806, 533 children studied in the Brzezany Region schools. The government decided to eliminate all the Jewish schools, and by an order of Caesar Frantz Joseph I, this decision was enforced that same year.

In 1805 the high school moved from Zbarazh to Brzezany. In 1858 there were 5 Jewish students in the high school, and their number increased from year to year so in 1908, 186 out of the total of 825 students were Jewish.

Due to administrative changes, Brzezany became the capital of the region and the seat of the administration (Starostwo) and the Regional Council. There were also Government offices in Brzezany. Eight more towns, in addition to Brzezany, belonged to this region.

According to the Jewish Rules and Regulations, beginning from May 7th, 1789, a Regional Rabbi (Kreiz-Rabiner) was appointed in every region, while in other places only religious teachers (Religiens Weiser) were allowed. Like the Leaders of the Community, the Rabbi was elected for 3 years, but unlike them, who were elected only by community members who were house owners, Rabbis were elected by all the Jews in the region.

The first Regional Rabbi in Brzezany was Rabbi Natanson. His duty was to supervise religious issues, manage birth, marriage, and death books in German, supervise cantors and others who held religious service positions, declare bans according to instructions of government officials, and take political oaths in the synagogues. The Brzezany Regional Rabbi, who also served as the rabbi in the town of Brzezany, earned 200 Florins annually and received a flat. Apart from this annual salary, he was paid for various services as well as for the registration of births, marriages, and deaths. The rabbi was exempt from community taxes.

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The Religious Teachers in other communities in the Brzezany Region also received annual salaries.

In 1821 the community of Brzezany appealed to the local government stating that it had been brought to their knowledge that some measures had been taken to have the Jewish attire canceled. The community asked to resume their former attire for the following reasons: 1) The Jews were accustomed to it 2) They were too poor to buy new clothes 3) Their overall situation was bad due to the high taxes. The local government did not succeed this time, and an order from Vienna instructed them not to force Jews to change their attire.

No significant changes were detected in the Brzezany community before 1848. As in the rest of Galicia, life took a routine course. In 1847 a convention of community leaders decided to petition the government regarding the dismal situation of the Jews. Since a collective petition was prohibited, it was decided that each of the larger communities would petition separately. Brzezany was not represented in this convention.

There were no serious responses in Brzezany to the 1848 events, where the abolishment of the impoverishing taxes was expected, as well as greater political and -economic freedom. Yet, here too, Jews, along with other communities, signed petitions to the Parliament, initiated by the teacher Reitman of Tarnopol.

The community of Brzezany did not collaborate with the political enterprise led by the Lvov community in 1853, striving to abolish the law from Oct. 2 1853 through which ownership privileges granted to Jews in 1848 were again limited.

Our community was controlled by several privileged families, such as Rappaport, Natanson, Fadenhecht, and Margaliot. In 1896 the community of Brzezany was headed by President Mordekhai Shwadron and his deputy, Meir Lieber. In 1902-12 the community was headed by Dr. Moshe Shenkar, the first Jewish lawyer in Brzezany. The community leadership in 1913 consisted of Mendel Bandler, Chairman and members of the board, Dr. Moshe Shenkar, Dr. Nathan Halperin, Joseph Neimann, Heinrich Sapir, Aba Shomer, and Rabbi Feivish Halperin who was elected to this position in 1911 after the death of the Great Rabbi Shalom Mordekhai Shwadron.

Little is known about our community's life in these years, for the community books were burnt by the Germans and there are no traces of evidence. No evidence of the activity of the rabbis is available either, except that they participated in Regional Rabbinical conventions gathered by the government. In 1830 a rabbinical convention was summoned to declare the banning of those who challenged the meat and candle tax. Nineteen rabbis were summoned, including the Rabbi from Brzezany.

In this period, the Maggid [preacher] of Brody, Shlomo Kluger, was very influential in Brzezany and the surrounding towns. In 1843, Rabbi Shlomo Kluger left his community in Brody and accepted the invitation of the Brzezany community who, in 1845, elected him the head of the rabbinical court. Despite the pleas of the Brody community leaders, the Maggid left Brody and moved to Brzezany. In the month of Adar 5605 (1845), a delegation from Brody arrived in Brzezany and took him back to their town. In Brzezany, he was received with great honor, especially by Rabbi Arie Leibush Natanson, father of the Lviv Rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natanson, who had served as a rabbi in Brzezany before he was appointed a rabbi in Lviv. A few days after his first sermon in Brzezany,

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the Maggid caught typhus. He was sick for many years and through this, understood that he should not have left Brody. He vowed to leave Brzezany and return to Brody as soon as he got better, and no pleading on behalf of Brzezany's prominent people changed his mind. He resided in Brody as a private person, refraining from intruding into the activities of Brody's new Teacher of Justice. His admirers, and especially Rabbi Yosef Natanson, supported him for the rest of his life.

Other facts known from this period are that in 1869 Jews were allowed to buy real estate, and Brzezany Jews asked to be allowed to buy lots, houses, estates, and land. The requests of some Brzezany Jews were acceded to: Shlomo Natanson, head of the Brzezany community and member of the Brody Chambre of Commerce, Baruch Fadenhecht, merchant, B. Rutenberg, and Ester Natanson. Shlomo Natanson also received 1869 the Civil Privilege (Recht des Bürgers) due to his status in the town administration and community.

In 1850 the first Chambers of Commerce and Industry were established in Galicia, one of them in Brody, which included the regions of Zloczow, Tarnopol, Czortkow, and Brzezany. The first president of the Brody Chamber of Commerce was Meir Kalir of Brody. Shlomo Natanson, the head of the Brzezany community, was elected its delegate to the Brody Chamber of Commerce.

Changes that took place at this time in the life of the state and its Jews were not felt in Brzezany, which was not a part of the Enlightenment Movement and did not introduce changes in education and social organizations as was the case with Tarnopol, Brody, and Zolkiew, which were actively involved in the Enlightenment Movement in Galicia. Single individuals who were influenced by the Enlightenment Movement were active in Brzezany, but they worked secretly, and there is no evidence of their influence on the town's youth.


The clock tower, 17th century. The high school on the 2nd floor
The photograph is from before World War I


Translator's Note:
  1. Based on a translation that appeared in https://www.oocities.org/brzezany/ Return

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From the End of the 19th Century until 1920

by Dr. E. Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

We do not have detailed information about the life of the Jews in that period. It was also hard to define the exact time when the influence of the Enlightenment Movement on the Jews in the city began. However, we know that it started in the second half of the 19th century.

We can only say for sure that even though the city was not an isolated island, the Enlightenment wave was late arriving by tens of years compared to the other cities in the area, such as Lviv, Zolochiv, and Brody. On the other hand, Hassidism did affect Brzezany's Jews. It won many hearts. Several Hassidic currents left their mark on the city's Jews: Rozhin Hassidim (from the courts of Chortkov, Husiatyn, and Kopychyntsi), Belz, Stratyn, Zhydachiv, and others.

The number of Mitnagdim [people who oppose Hassidism] was large. There were also noncommitted house owners. We heard many stories about the wars between the various Hassidic courts and between the followers of one court to another - a real civil war between brothers in the same family. At the same time, we did not hear about any struggle between the Mitnagdim to Hassidim.

In the last years of the 19th century until the First World War, the two camps united in their fight against the influence of the Enlightenment Movement, which spread fast and captured the hearts of the youth.

Favorable conditions prevailed in our city that encouraged a fast spread. A high school existed in Brzezany, where our youth encountered students from other places who came to study in our school. The latter helped spread the enlightenment spirit. The university also opened its gates to anybody who wished to further their study, including Jews. Yeshiva students studied in secret - hiding (in the attic), where they made their first steps toward enlightenment. There were cases where the father caught his son reading and punished him severely.

The old R' Shtreizand told me that he was sitting, one day, in the attic holding a book. “Fortunately,” his father found out and came up to him with a stick and beat him until he took the “Dybbuk” or the devil out of him. The beatings caused him to be sick for several months, but they helped “save” him from the devil's claws. His study friend continued his studies and “got hurt.” He finished his studies at the university, becoming a lawyer and a “nonbeliever.” That friend was Dr. Shenkar, who, over time, became the leader of our community.

Many youths who did not have the financial means to study in school had to acquire their knowledge from books without the help of a teacher. They came out of the “Kheder” and could not finish their studies. They studied and knew a lot but did not possess a graduation certificate. They could not secure a decent job, so they had to make a miserable living as private teachers. Some of them were Yekhezkel Goldberg (Khezkeli), Shaul Boneh, Peltz, Kipnis, and others.

The Enlightened in our city went in two distinct directions. Some students became perverted, abandoned their Jewish roots, and even converted. Others were assimilators who remained within the Jewish community. Many of them were not interested in Jewish affairs. Yet, some of the assimilators who remained

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Jewish in heart and soul, dedicated themselves to problems faced by the Jews, devoted from their free time to the advancement of the [enlightenment's] culture among the Jews, stood by the Jews in time of need, and searched for ways to resolve all the problems and hardships faced by the Jews in our city.

There are only some hints about the participation of the Jews in political life in that period. However, due to the general political situation in the area, we could clearly describe the political life of the Jews in that period until the Second World War.

The Polish-Ukrainian conflict flared-up and even intensified. The competition for economic and cultural positions of a religious and national background commenced. That was one of the problems of the domestic policy of the Austrian government. The government supported the Ruthenians against the Poles and tried to introduce German as the spoken language. The Jews were not recognized as a separate nation and were counted as Poles, Ukrainians, or Germans. The Jews, both the Haredi and the Enlightened, split. Some supported the Poles (many Jews, such as Dr. Shenkar, participated actively in the Polish revolt and fought side by side with the Poles). A substantial number of the Haredi Jews and the Enlightened people supported the Austrian government. These were the officials, teachers, judges, and others. Two languages, Polish and German, competed with each other in the Jewish street. The intelligentsia mostly spoke Polish or German and the masses spoke Yiddish and learned German. The dispute between the two camps intensified from one day to another, climaxing before the First World War during the election of the Austrian parliament (1907).

The Jews were already partially organized, and their candidate was the Zionist, Dr. Rappaport. Opposite him ran the Polish candidate, Dulema. Most assimilators and the Hassidim supported Dulemba, each for their own reasons. The Zionists (there was already a strong and organized Zionist movement in our city), in collaboration with the Ruthenian voters, fought for the Jewish candidate. Others wrote about that tough contest and its results. I would not repeat it. I would only want to emphasize the effect of the election on the Jews in our city. I am sure that even those who supported the Polish candidate, even if they did not admit it, were not at peace with their choice. This election pushed [the Jews], to a considerable extent, towards Jewish nationalism, and Zionism had won many hearts and followers.

The First World War erupted in 1914. A period that lasted about 6 years (although the war lasted only 4 years) commenced. That War brought with it far-reaching changes in communal life as well as in the individual. Following the War, a period began, which was not only the continuation but also the result of the First World War. That period lasted less than two decades, but it was rich with critical and revolutionary events that directly induced the Second World War. For us, that period brought the destruction and total annihilation of Jewish life in our city. We, who survived, witnessed these events. We saw the turn of events and the deterioration of the political life in that period with our own eyes until what happened - happened.

Governments fell apart, and new governments replaced them. Regimes collapsed, and new ones were established in their place. A new kind of regime in Eastern Europe – the Communist regime, made an effort to widen its influence throughout the world, particularly in neighboring Poland. The economic crisis brought economic destruction to most of the countries. Its effect was also felt in our city. These were the indirect factors that affected our period and created it. For us, the revival of independent Poland was the most important and pronounced factor that changed our way of life. New Poland enacted new laws and issued new decrees, most of which were directed against us, and what they failed to enshrine in law, they practically brought into our lives.

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As in the rest of Poland, we Jews constituted a significant majority. The Jews constituted 30% of the population, and in terms of quality – the vast majority of the professional intelligentsia: Jews were lawyers, teachers, physicians, judges, and so forth. The trade was entirely in Jewish hands. Poland's government took all measures it had at its disposal, even if they were against the law, to change the situation to benefit the Poles.

We should not forget to mention one important factor, a familiar factor under a new cover – antisemitism, which intensified during that period to alarming proportions – up to pogroms. That was under the influence of the country located west of Poland, which made its mark on the steps taken by our government and the behavior of individuals toward the Jews. I will explain that, by introducing facts, in my continued description of the lives of the Jews in our city.

The city population, at that period, was about 14 thousand. The Poles were about half, 30% were Jews, and the rest were Ukrainians. The rule in the city was in the hands of a mayor and a committee of 8 members, elected by a 48-member council. The council members were elected in a secret democratic election. All the city residents eligible to vote participated in the election. The committee members were, according to an agreement, four Poles, two Jews, and two Ukrainians. The council consisted of 24 Poles, 16 Jews, and 8 Ukrainians.

The following were the Jewish members of the council in 1930:

Dr. Ravitz Yaakov – lawyer
Dr. Falk Bernard – a physician
Horovitz David – high school teacher
Rosenberg Leib – merchant
Friedman Immanuel – merchant
Bihen Aharon – merchant
Riger Oskar – merchant
Bilig Shimon – tailor
  Dr. Goldshlag Dr. – lawyer
Dr. Grossman Carol – lawyer
Tadnier Wilhelm – judge
Lebel Moshe – merchant
Mitelman Ya'akov – merchant
Reikhshtein Shlomo – merchant
Shtark Barukh – merchant
Freier David – merchant

The following people were elected to the committee: Dr. Grossman and Riger Oskar.

The local authorities were liberal toward the Jews throughout all of those years. However, no Jew was accepted to work for the municipality except one – Dr. Pomerantz, who served as the municipal physician because there were no other candidates. The officials, Leon Lopater and Ogenia Kesselrovna were remnants from before the war. Several Jews, all of them artisans, served as firefighters. All of them were volunteers.

[Page 31]

Members of the municipal council in 1930
The 16 Jews are concentrated on the right side

[Page 32]

The First World War. The Years 1914 – 1920

In July 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia. I was about 10 years old when I read an advertisement about the war declaration and general mobilization. Naively, I did not understand the magnitude of the disaster hidden in the wording of that ad. The enlistment began two days later on the 9th of Av. Tens of thousands came to town from the neighboring villages with their escorts to enlist. Others came to shop. Among those who enlisted, there was a substantial percentage of Jewish youth. Twenty to thirty-five years olds were recruited first. A year later, all men ages 18 -50 were recruited.

Our city was situated not far from the Russian border and passed from one hand to another several times during the war. The front itself passed through the city twice, near the Zlota-Lypa River. For the first time in 1915 for several months and the second time in 1916 for the whole year. Many Jews left the city and escaped westward.

The remaining Jews witnessed the war operations, retreats, attacks, and

counter-attacks. The population suffered tremendously from those operations. The way of life of the residents totally changed. During the war, there was no Torah and no schooling. Also, when the father, the head of the family was in the army, there was no income or upkeep. Everything got neglected and partially ruined. There was no trace of the days before the war. There was also no hope that things would change soon.

Besides the war activities, we suffered from attacks by neighboring peasants. They took advantage of the lack of rule in the city (between the retreat of one army and the entry of the other), came to town with axes and sacks for looting and robbery, broke into shops and apartments, and took everything, without interruption, that came into their hands.

Two big fires erupted during the war and burnt most of the houses in the city. The first was in 1915 when the Russians set the flour mill on fire on Saturday night after the “Havdalah.” I saw the Russians, with my own eyes, pouring kerosene into the wooden warehouse that bordered our house, and setting it on fire.

The fire spread fast from north to south, engulfing houses in the city's center. A large part of the Jewish homes was burnt and destroyed.

The second fire occurred in the summer of 1918, the day before the holiday of “Shavuot,” at noon. The fire erupted and engulfed most of the houses in the city at once. The following is how it happened:

Following the revolution in Russia and the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk, at the end of 1917, hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war returned from Austria. Wretched, sick, and in tatters, they dragged themselves through the countryside. They died from the night's cold, hunger, and contagious diseases. The city residents tried to help them as much as they could. They erected kitchens, cooked light meals, and distributed the food among them. The government erected a few disinfection stations and

bathhouses outside the city close to the train station. The structures

were all covered with tar paper. On the day of the big fire, a hot water boiler exploded in one of the bathhouses. Flames took hold of all the structures. Black smoke covered the sky, and a strong wind pushed the smoke and pieces of burning tar paper from the east to the northwest. Before we had the time to comprehend how serious the situation was the fire broke out in many locations in the city's center and its suburbs.

[Page 33]

It was a hot day, and the wells dried up. The fire raged. Fires broke out in different places. People ran around like crazy. Tension intensified when the returning prisoners, who pretended to help, mingled among the people, purposely causing disorder and panic, and then began looting. That made it more difficult for people to fight the fire. Everyone remained in their place, guarding their apartments and property. People stood idly by the flames, which consumed their homes unhindered.

Help came from Lviv only after three days. Nothing remained for the helpers to do except to determine that three-quarters of the city – houses, warehouses, and properties – were already burnt, and the rest, whatever survived, was impossible to save for lack of proper tools. In the meantime, our people recouped, took the rescue operation into their own hands, and salvaged whatever they could.

Following the fire, the residents began to build up from the ruins with all the means available. They built temporary apartments, put in them the belongings they managed to salvage from the raging fire, and began everything from the ground up. We have already gotten used to these situations - standing and watching how the toil of years of work is destroyed, not shedding a tear, buckling up, rolling up our sleeves, and starting over until the next disaster.

The World War ended for a large part of the world's population, but for us, the war continued. The Poles and the Ukrainians fought for years over the ownership of Eastern Galitsia [Galicia?], and we, the Jews, were the scapegoats between them.

The Ukrainians, who ruled the eastern areas, seized power over the city. It is difficult to speak about a regime that was never elected. Every city and every district became the deciding and executing power on its own. Our youth, known for their sense of justice, welcomed the establishment of the Ukrainian state and tried to insert itself into that life. Some even joined the Ukrainian army and fought alongside them. We, in the youth movements, continued to meet for discussion and study Hebrew. We were only limited in the freedom of movement outside the city. The central regime promised to give autonomy to the Jews, but the officialdom and the military objected to that. They only gave the Jews the freedom to defend themselves. The Jewish “militia” was formed, and the [local authorities] gave it the weapons and a blue and white band for the sleeve. We were proud to receive that.

The economic situation was dismal. The limited commerce, which was until then in the hands of the Jews, fell out of their hands at once. The Ukrainians tried to take control of all aspects of life, although they were not ready or capable of doing so. They did not have the proper people with experience and knowledge in managing a state.

The life of that state was short. It was hard to say how the state would have developed if the Ukrainians remained in power. That time remained in my memory as a period with a sense of “today” without a “tomorrow,” a foggy insecure future, and an unpleasant episode in a life filled with the events of those days.

In the spring of 1919, the Poles received help from the outside and began attacking the Ukrainians. They slowly conquered one city after another and wiped out the young state before it had the time to fortify itself.

We suffered before from regime changes, but none of the past events can be compared to that period. The Polish army, under the command of General Jozef Haller, excelled in its brutality against the Jews during their campaign against the Ukrainians. They conducted pogroms and justified them by claiming that the Jews tended to side with the Ukrainians and hated the Poles. The Polish soldiers acquired a derogatory name for themselves “Haller'chiks,” for their abuse and pogroms against the Jews: a pogrom in the city of Lviv, murderous beatings, chopping of beards, rapes, and hurried-up trials of innocent people.


A Jewish soldier in the Austrian army
(Mendel David and his son Itzkhak)

[Page 34]

Jews were caught daily for forced labor, to humiliate them in the eyes of the Gentiles, or just to take revenge. In addition, they were beaten during work. I recall a story that occurred in our city:

The monument of the Polish king Jan Sobieski was located in the center of the city. The Ukrainians took down the statue and threw it on the ground by its base. When the “Haller'chiks” entered the city, they caught Jews, beat them, laid them down at the monument, and made a “staircase” from the bodies. One of the Jews was forced to take the statute, climb up on top of the people on the ground, and put the statue back in its place. That was one of the scenes that occurred daily, an addition to the dreadful economic situation of the Jews during more than five years of war.

The cultural life was halted. We did not have any meetings or gatherings, and the entire operation of the youth movement ceased. Fortunately, that situation did not last long. The army left the city, and power was transferred to civilian hands. That brought some relief if not easement and betterment.

The experienced Jews began to reorganize their life. It was not easy. They encountered difficulties introduced by the Polish officialdom and difficulties due to monetary instability and irregular transportation (the need to travel by cart coupled with the lack of security on the roads). Nevertheless, everybody made an effort, gathered their strength, and began building their nest with the hope that, this time, it would be long-lived.

A year later, until the following summer, we breathed a sigh of relief. After all the impoverishment we had to endure, the regime decided to return to a more normal life. We overcame the difficulties we encountered, one step at a time. The youth also reorganized more vigorously and established the “HeKhalutz” youth movement. It also progressed one step forward when the first group of pioneers went out on a dangerous and circuitous way toward the future “Jewish State.”

Against all our calculations and hopes for permanent peace, the Poles began with their new offensive eastward in their wish to expand their borders and annex the entire area of Ukraine. They reached the area near Kyiv. The Soviets organized themselves and opened with a counter-offensive, which took place during June, July, and August. The Soviets reached the Polish capital, Warsaw. During that operation, our city fell into the hands of the Soviets. They remained in it for four weeks. That period was etched in my memory as being different. This time, there were no attacks on the Jews, beatings, or forced labor. It was, however, a period of anarchy. All routine life stopped. The shops were closed, and there was no trade. The farmers did not bring their produce to the city, learning ceased, and the offices closed. There was no policing and nobody to complain to. In one word – “anarchy.” It was like you owned everything and nothing. The army ran around to find food, which was nowhere to be found. The soldiers were torn and worn, dressed in tattered clothing, half civilian and half military. There was no robbery carried out by individuals since the regime confiscated everything for the common good. Everything in the hands of the Jews, whatever they managed to accumulate in the previous year, went to the state.

Gatherings were called in the center of the city, outside, where enthusiastic speeches were given, describing the paradise on earth that we would experience soon. No more poor or rich people. Everybody is equal before the law.

Four weeks passed, leaving behind a strange dream and unpleasant results for us, the Jews.

[Page 35]

The Poles blamed us for collaborating with the Soviets. For that purpose, they tied the word “Jew” with the word “Communist.” “Commune Jews” they called us, and that served as an excuse for them to abuse us at every opportunity. They conducted trials for innocent people, invited others for interrogation or to testify, and released them after profanities and beatings.

At last, the wars stopped. As a whole, those years were one big negative for us. Our men fell in battles, died from hunger and diseases, their property confiscated or destroyed, and the atmosphere around them was very hostile. Most of the Jews who left the city during the war never returned. Those who remained tried to rebuild their life without any hope for the future.


The Zamek [Castle] before WW I (built in the 16th century)

[Page 36]

The Community Committee

A decisive change occurred in the days of the renewed Polish rule following the First World War. The law decreed personal, secret, and democratic elections. Every Jew in town who reached the age of 18 could participate. The first elections were held in 1928, according to the laws, and 8 members were elected:

Dr. Goldshlag – the head of the committee
Lebel Moshe
Riger Oscar
Grossman Carol
Rosenberg Leib
Avraham-Yehuda Wilner
Mitelman Ya'akov
Tauber Hersh

They were the activists of the community in the city. Some of them were also elected to the municipal council.

According to the law, elections were held every four years. The following election year was 1932. Changes took place in those elections. For the first time, the craftsmen actively participated in the elections and two of their representatives were elected: Dr. Pomerantz and Korn - the photographer. Another change: Barukh Shtark replaced Tauber, and Mitelman was replaced by Immanuel Friedman. The following people remained: Dr. Goldshlag – the head of the committee, Leib Rosenberg, Oscar Riger, and Avraham-Yehuda Vilner.

The last elections were held again four years later, in 1936. A vigorous battle commenced among several factors: the Zionist, unaffiliated house owners, and a personal candidate – the lawyer Somer David. Eight members were elected:

Dr. Klarer, a Zionist - head of the committee
Lawyer David Somer
Ginsberg David
Fogelman Shimshon
Dr. Grossman Carol
Ross Israel
Bernstein Leizer
Korn Ya'akov - photographer
Shvartz Moshe - a shoemaker

That committee served until the break of the Second World War. The activity of that committee ceased during the days of the Soviet regime and renewed only during the Natzi conquest. This administrative body automatically became the central part of the “Judenrat,” representing the community toward the Nazi regime. That was the last committee. During its days, the community was annihilated, and its people perished.

[Page 37]

Towards the Change

I will start with the words told by R' Shalom Mordekhai Shvadron ZTz”l when emissaries went to him and offered him to move from Buchach to our city to serve as a rabbi. He responded to them: “I am happy with this offer since Brzezany is acclaimed in its Jewish community, where world-renowned geniuses served in it as rabbis. There are house owners in the city [who can support a yeshiva] and great disciples-scholars. You can count on Rabbi Shvadron.” Indeed, we had a large Yeshiva in the city. Batie HaMidrash were filled with god-fearing people knowledgeable of the Torah. The melodies of the Torah learners were not silenced even during the night. From our city, renowned scholars and rabbis went out to all corners of the world. It is enough to mention Rabbi Yosef-Shaul Natanson, a native of Brzezany, and later on the rabbi in Lviv, Rabbi Kluger, the Maggid from Brody, who served for some time in our city, Rabbi Schmelkes Itzkhak who moved to Przemyśl [Pshemishl], and Gaon Rabbi Shalom-Mordekhai Shvadron. [We should also mention] the rabbis: Rabbi Dr. Margaliot Shmuel Hirsh, the city rabbi of Firenze, a rabbi, and a researcher - Dr. Yehuda Bergman, the rabbi of the city of Berlin, Rabbi Meirson, the rabbi of Vienna, and Rabbi Berdovitz of Meidling. They were all natives of our city who learned the Torah and culture from the springs of the Torah's greats in our town.

Not only rabbis but even regular homeowners sat down day and night in Batei HaMidrash, debated a Sugiya [“A passage from the Talmud”], and studied a page of Gemarah with Tosafot and other commentaries.

The R' Avraham Tonis z”l once told me how his grandmother woke him and several other youths when she went early at dawn to open her grocery store with the following words: “Wake up lazy people! My husband, Moshe-Nathan, has been in the Beit HaMidrash for quite some time now. Wake up to study the Torah!”

My grandfather woke up early in the morning to give a Talmud lesson to the youths without getting paid. The Torah did not serve as an axe to grind for them. They did it in the name of the Heavens and the love of teaching the Torah.

The change came only in the second half of the 19th century when a few youths left the benches in the yeshiva and turned to general studies. They became lawyers, judges, teachers, physicians, and officials. In 1887 there were 14 lawyers in our city, 12 of them were Jewish. In the beginning, their influence in the Jewish street was not felt. As aforementioned, some left Judaism or assimilated, while others did not forget their source, the knowledge they acquired in childhood, and remained involved with their heart and soul in Jewish culture and Jewish life. They affected the youth education in pour town.

That was a period of awakening and organization and of looking for new ways in the nation's life as well as in culture and Hebrew literacy. Hebrew language monthly and weekly journals such as “HaMevaser” [The Heralder], “HeKhalutz” [The Pioneer], “HaMaggid” [The Preacher], and others. It is very difficult the describe the effect of that literature on the people of our city. The nation was resurrected. Not only the professional intelligentsia but also the homeowners were aroused and organized into a national movement. The Zionist Movement in all its factions, a Hebrew school, and youth movements were established.


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