Translation of Brzostowica Wielka chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Brzostowica Wielka chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume VIII, pages 138-139, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(District of Grodno, region of Bialystok)
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Donated by Karen Shiller
Brzostowica Wielka is located on the route between Grodno and Swislowic [Svisloch] about 30 kilometers west of Wo³kowysk and about 60 kilometers east of Bia³ystock. At first, it was a town under the ownership of Polish noblemen. It received the rights of a city in 1879. At the time of the third partition of Poland in 1795, Brzostowica Wielka was annexed to Russia. At the beginning of the 20th century, its population consisted of Byelorussians, Poles and Jews. During the First World War, Brzostowica Wielka was occupied by the Germans between 1915 and 1918. At the end of the war, following the conclusion of the period of military and political instability, it was included in independent Poland. It was annexed to the Soviet district in accordance with the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement at the outbreak of the Second World War. Brzostowica Wielka was conquered by the Germans at the end of June 1941. It was liberated by the Red Army in July 1944. The Germans murdered about 200 Byelorussian citizens of Brzostowica Wielka, and many others were sent to forced labor in Germany.
We do not know when Jews first settled in Brzostowica Wielka. There were more than 1,000 Jews there during the latter half of the 19th century. In 1878 the Jewish population was 1,127. The Jews earned their livelihoods from small-scale commerce, peddling, and trades. Most of them lived in the area of the market. Most of their houses and shops were burnt down in the great fire of 1883, and only a few saved their property. It is said that during the fire, a childless farmer captured a young Jewish girl from a nearby village. She was only returned to her parents about 13 years later, when she found out about her origins.
At the outbreak of the First World War, several Jews of Brzostowica Wielka were drafted into the army of the Czar. Some of those who remained escaped from Russia in the wake of the retreating army. Not all of them returned to the town after the war. (The Jewish population of 1921 had declined by a third relative to the population at the end of the 19th century.) Local commerce was paralyzed during the time of the German occupation, but the Jews renewed their economic activity after the war with the assistance of the American JOINT and the natives of the community who had immigrated overseas to the American continent. The charitable fund that was set up in Brzostowica Wielka after the war issued low value, interest free loans to the peddlers and tradesmen. Despite the significant assistance, the economic situation of the Jews declined in that era in comparison to previous years. This was especially due to politics of the government, which increased the tax burden on the small-scale independent businessmen (the Jews), and supported Polish efforts. Due to the economic pressure, many Jews searched for relief through emigration, and the community progressively declined.
A chapter of TOZ (the hygiene organization of Polish Jewry) was founded in Brzostowica Wielka in 1926. It provided health services to children. TOZ opened an infirmary in Brzostowica Wielka, maintained a kitchen for children of needy family, sent children to convalescent places, and ran summer camps for children.
During the 1920s and 1930s, several Zionist parties and youth organizations operated in Brzostowica Wielka. Collections for the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod took place. There were 34 paid members of the Zionist organization (shekel payers) at the time of the 17th Zionist Congress of 1932.
During those years, most of the Jewish children in the town studied in the Tarbut Hebrew Zionist School. Parents who could not afford the tuition at Tarbut sent their children to the Polish public school. Jewish children also studied religious studies in cheder outside of school hours. After the war, a Zionist library (named for Y. L. Peretz) opened in Brzostowica Wielka. It contained books in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, and Russian.
Good neighborly relations had always existed between the different ethnic groups of the town. However, after the war, the Polish government settled liberated soldiers in Brzostowica Wielka. They brought anti-Semitism to the town.
When the Red Army entered Brzostowica Wielka in September 1939, Soviet government procedures were imposed. Private shops were confiscated or closed, and government general stores were opened in their place. The tradesmen continued with their work under the rubric of trade cooperatives. All the children of the town, without differentiation by religion or nationality, studied in public school in the Byelorussian language and in accordance with the Soviet curriculum.
With the beginning of the German occupation at the end of June 1941, the Germans, with the help of the local anti-Semites, deported the elderly Jews of Krinki (see entry). The rest of the Jews were all transferred to houses on the Jewish Alleyway. Various decrees were imposed upon them, and they were drafted into forced labor. They too were deported to the Krinki Ghetto in the summer of 1942. On September 2, 1942, all of the residents of the Krinki Ghetto were deported to the Kielbasin bunker camp. The elderly, sick, and women with young children were transported there on wagons, whereas the rest of the Jews marched by foot. The residents of the Kielbasin Camp were occupied in digging moist earth under conditions of crowding, cold, and hunger. The German commander Rintzler and his men acted with cruelty to the Jews and even killed them. Many of the Jews became ill with typhoid fever. On November 14, 1942, the Jews of Brzostowica Wielka, about 500 in number, along with a group of Jews of Krinki, were deported to the Treblinka Death Camp via the nearby railway station of Łosośna.
Yad Vashem Archives M33.703
Government Archives of Grodno, G-247-17/1.
Hatzefira June 13, 1887.
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