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Editor Manachem Katz, Haifa, April 1978
Dr. Zimerman Jakob chairman
Roth Ozer secretary
BarDawid (Bardowicz) Moshe
Organizing Committee in the United States
Members of the Editorial Board In Israel
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The last Jews of the city of Brzezany were murdered by the Nazi henchmen thirtyfive years ago. Almost a generation's life time had to lapse before the last will of some twelve thousand souls, men, women and children, who were put to death within the town's periphery or sent to outlying deathcamps, could finally be fulfilled.
The names of the Jewish native population of Brzezany and Naraiow will now be committed to print for the sake of future generations. Along with them some nine thousand anonymous souls will be commemorated. They were Jewish refugees from various parts of western Poland who found their temporary and, as it happened, also terminal home here. They shared together with the local community four years of life and its tragic destiny.
The last survivors of Brzezany's Jewish community both in Israel and in the United States have decided to commemorate the martyrs. A committee of former citizens collected over years of unceasing effort a considerable documentation on which the present memorial book is based. I have contributed my own share to the effort of editing, design and printing. As a native of Brzezany and witness and survivor of the Nazi occupation period, I am not only acquainted with the history of my hometown and the martyrology of my community, but was constantly haunted since the end of the war by its tragic memory. I felt it a sacred obligation towards those who perished, a pledge we gave each other, in those dark days: If you survive, remember those who did not. Report to the world. Tell the story of our annihilation and avenge our blood.
Now that these pages are brought to print, I trust that the little I am able to contribute to the commemoration of my community will materialize. I do not think there is further need for introductory notes, neither is it necessary to laud the past of my community and describe the illustrious men who lived in it
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during its four hundred years of existence. All those interested in becoming acquainted with Brzezany and its people will be able to do so in these pages. The reading of it in itself will revive the memory of the past and commemorate all those who only wanted to live to live as Jews.
To all those who helped me and supported my work and assisted in the materialization of this task first and foremost Dr. Eliezer SzaklaiWagszal my thanks and appreciation.
May this book serve as a memorial to the Jewish people and to the community of Brzezany, which fell victim to forces of darkness of Nazi Germany. May this book also serve as an eternal memory to the coming generation a light to our youth which is renewing our existence as a free people in our homeland, and a warning to those of our people dispersed in the diaspora, who have not yet drawn the obvious conclusion from our tragic past.
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In southeast Galicia, about 100 kilometers from the city of Lvov, in the triangle between the cities of Lvov, Stanislovov, and Tarnopol, hidden between trees and forests, close to the river ZlotaLipa, at the edge of a lake, in a low valley, is situated the small town of Brzezany. The town is well known in the wide world thanks to its great Torah scholars whose fame went forth far from its boundaries.
Four roads, running in four different directions from the center connect it with the rest of the world. There is also another connection Brzezany boasts of the railway. Thus Brzezany is the central town of an entire region. A number of villages with a population of one hundred thousand citizens are under its authority. The town itself is divided into five sections: the center and four suburbs. In the northwestern corner of the town rises the Bernadine mount. There, also stands the monastery, an ancient building, big and long. From there one has an unforgettable view of the entire town and its surroundings. One can see, stretching like a mirror, the long lake, framed east and west by mountains and hills. The lake was the source of sustenance and relaxation for the town's
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population. The height of the lake is about 100 meters above the level of the town. A high dam prevents the lake from shedding its waters into the town and flooding it. East of the town, between the two forks of the river stands a big stone structure, a remnant from the 16th century. Originally, this building served as a citadel for the Sieniavsky family, founders of the town. In this antiquated stronghold lived and were buried numerous generations of the Sieniavsky family. the citadel, together with an immense fortune, was handed down from generation to generation. The last member of this renowned family was the famous Graff Potocki, whose palace was in a nearby village Rai.
On the west side of the town was the park. Across the park stood the Polish community center Sokol. At the back of the center stood an old, neglected building, called Reitschule. Close to this forsaken building lay a wide open field which belonged to the fire brigade.
The center of the town ran symmetrically. Its central building was the Town Hall. It was a big square building, surrounded by a spacious yard. It consisted of two floors with a tower in the center. In the tower was set a clock, visible from all four sides of the town. The tower also bore the crest of Graff Potocki, a five angled cross. Surrounding the base of the Town Hall, as well as in the courtyard, there were many stores. Most of them belonged to Jewish storekeepers. The second floor of the Town Hall served as a high school. Further west, between the houses stood the Greek Catholic church. Behind it was the Armenian's church and toward the south stood the Catholic church. Close to the south side of the Catholic church stood the statue of Jan Sobieski. On two sides, north and east were platforms which served as parking spaces for the horses and wagons, belonging to the farmers. Part of this plot was set for the local drivers and porters. All the houses in the center of the town, contained stores or bar rooms, owned mostly by Jews.
Further north, there was another market, the NoviRynek. This market was much smaller and more neglected than the market in the center of town. Zbozova street connected both. On the east side of the street stood the two floor Jewish community center which was built after the First World Wr. Northeast and south of the commercial center extended a number of streets and alleys. On both sides of these streets stood small dilapidated houses. This was the residential section of the poorer Jewish population of the town. On the south side of this quarter stood the big synagogue, a beautiful well decorated structure which was constructed in the 18th century. On the way to this synagogue, there were two study houses, as well as a number of Hassidic houses of worship. Nearby stood the community bath house, the Jewish hospital, the dilapidated oldpeople's home and several other institutions owned by the Jewish community.
West of the business center was the most beautiful part of the town. Here stood magnificent homes, there were also a number of beautiful villas. Between the gardens and the homes, towards the southwest the street Raiska winds. Here, on this street were the cemeteries, the Jewish on right side of the street and the Christian on the left.
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Brzezany was founded in the year 1530. The royal courtier Mikolai Sieniawa was given permission by the Polish King Sigmund the First, to change the village Brzezany into a township. The history of the Jewish community of Brzezany is tied to the history and development of the town. The town's population reached 260 souls in the year 1570, including four Jewish families who were engaged in trade. One hundred years later, in 1672, the town's population reached 500 families. Among these were one hundred Jewish families. Thus the number of Jews in our town continued to increase throughout the years.
In the seventeenth century Brzezany burned twice. These distressing events continued to plague the town until the first quarter of the eighteenth century. In the year 1772 Brzezany, together with the rest of Galicia, passed into the hands of the Austrian government. In the 19th century Brzezany became the center of the offices for the entire district, called the Starostwo. The majority of the Polish section of the population were employees in government offices, the Ukrainians were farmers, while the commerce lay in the hands of the Jews. The respective occupation of these three people partly changed in the latter generation. Jews became doctors, lawyers, teachers, judges and officials, while commerce fell into the hands of the Polish and Ukrainians. The Poles and the Jews inhabited the town proper, while the Ukrainians lived in nearby villages. As a result of the first World War, the Ukrainians seized the rule of Galicia in the fall of 1918, however, in the spring of 1919, the Poles captured city after city, thus putting an end to the young Ukrainian state. Shortly thereafter, there was also a war between the Poles and Soviet Russia which lasted for a number of
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months and ended in a peace treaty. The Jewish population suffered most severely during that War. The town of Brzezany was burned twice, and the possessions of the Jewish population were plundered. Those years were decisively negative and tragic for the Jewish community.
The two decades after the First World War filled with chaotic and disorderly events which resulted in the Second World War which for us Jews brought destruction and annihilation.
This is a brief chronological review of the history of that time.
The Jewish Community
Jewish community organization was established according to the Magdeburg code of laws. At the head of the community stood the administrators. In addition to the administrators, three good persons were elected. They had their own court which was under the authority of religious judges (Dayanim) headed by the Rabbi, and their judgements and decisions had to be ratified by the community leaders. The life of the community was centered around the synagogue. The first synagogue was already in existence in the 17th century.
Near the synagogue were a school, a bathhouse, a hospital and a lodging house for poor transients. The Rabbi was chosen by the Jewish community and had to be authorized by the rulers of the town. The community administrators collected taxes from the citizens of the town. They cared for the poor, the education of the children and for the religious services. They had authority over the slaughter house, they supervised the burial society and the great synagogue.
The Habsburgs brought about cognizant changes in the lives of the Jews. They flooded them with instructions and enactments. First of all they levied high taxes. The government also limited the production of intoxicating drinks. In the cultural field it strove to Germanize the Jewish minority. First the Jews were given German family names, then they established government schools for the Jews. They also placed a head Rabbi of the entire district.
A decisive change took place 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 last elections to the Jewish community Council were in 1936. Eight persons were elected with Dr. Klarer as its presiding officer. This administrative body became automatically active during the rule of the Nazis as the Council of the Jews, Judenrat.
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The Economic Situation
In Brzezany and surroundings there were no natural resources or industries of any kind. There were a handful of wealthy people such as owners of estates, possessors of flour mills and lumber dealers. The middle class was predominantly composed of physicians, lawyers and merchants. A lower class consisted of small traders, artisans and cart drivers who worked very hard from morning till night, but still needed financial aid. Quite a sizable portion of the Jewish community lived on welfare. It is therefore easy to understand the reason for the massive Jewish emigration in the late 19th and early 20th century. Multitudes left in order to find their fortunes in distant America. Of course, this emigration brought relief but it also caused many tragedies. A great number of emigrant husbands left their wives and children without any material aid and disappeared without leaving a trace.
The various wars which took place in the year 1914 1920 had an ill effect on the Jews of our town. Many Jews left Brzezany forever. Most of the Jewish homes were destroyed, the possessions of the Jewish community were robbed and the sources of livelihood were completely ruined. Merchants who returned after the wars reopened their stores, each one according to his ability. Soldiers who returned from the armies and youth that grew up during the war years and had no opportunity to acquire a trade, now turned their attention to business. The number of merchants grew more than this economy could support. The merchants organized themselves into a merchant's unions. Mr. Jacob Mittelman was elected as its president.
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A very small number of Jews served as judges, and there were also a few high school teachers. Among the professionals of the town were six Jewish physicians. There were physicians who left our town to search of more suitable places of work. There were also doctors who completed their course of studies, but received no license to practice medicine.
There were about forty lawyers thanks to the district court. Some of these lawyers eked out a scant living from their profession. There were also a number of engineers who completed their course of studies but could not find any work in the field. Most of the druggists couldn't find any work either. A fair portion of them left the town. The same fate met the young teachers. All of them faced a hopeless future. The situation of the artisans and craftsmen failed to improve after the First World War, in many instances their lot became even worse. For the working youth there were no prospects of even finding employment in our town. They organized themselves in various youth movements and waited for Aliyah to Israel.
Religion and Culture
Renowned Torah scholars lived in Brzezany. Rabbis went forth from here into all parts of the world. It is sufficient to mention Rabbi Joseph Saul Nathanson, Rabbi Kluger, the magid (preacher) from Brod Rabbi Isaac Shmelkes and Rabbi Shulem Mordechai Hacohen Shwadron. Also Rabbis Margolis, Jehuda Bergman and rabbi Meirson studied and drank from the fountains of Torah in our town. The Hassidic movement captured many hearts. Various currents of Hassidim impressed their stamps on the Jews of our town, among them were the house of Rishin, Belz, Stratin, Zydachow. The second half of the 19th century witnessed the period of enlightening, the search for new ways and ideas. It caused a complete change in the cultural life of the Jewish community. Some of the local Jews started reading monthly and weekly literary publications in Hebrew, such as the Halutz (pioneer), the Magid, the Mevaser and others.
Part of the youth remained loyal to traditional Judaism, with the synagogue as their center, while others organized themselves into the various factions of the Zionist movement with the Hebrew school as their center.
Prior to the period of enlightenment and even after it, the Jewish town administrators attended to the cultural life of the community. They synagogue continued to serve as the center of all cultural and spiritual life. In the synagogue Jews gathered to study Torah, and to participate in prayer and worship. In the synagogue they celebrated their holy days, they preached their sermons, they exchanged informations and made decisions. Their joy or, God forbid, their sorrow found their expression in the synagogue. The Hassidim centered their spiritual activities around their Klezlach (small houses of worship). Architect Menachem Katz describes in this book the main synagogue of Brzezany, as well as the smaller prayer houses. I'll only mention their names.
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Synagogues of the Town
The Large Synagogue
The large synagogue was built in 1718 and was renovated at the end of the 19th century. It was an imposing, beautiful edifice. This central building around which the life of the entire Jewish community was centered. Laws, judgements, decrees, fines, holidays, births, deaths filled this holy place. So it was until the Soviet occupation of the town in 1939 when the synagogue was turned into a shelter for refugees. Afterwards it was turned by the Soviets into a grain storehouse. The Nazi oppressors who came afterwards did not change the functions of the structure. It continued to serve as a storage place even after the entry of the Red Army in 1944. The building is standing to this day. 2) The newly built Synagogue stood close to the left side of the big synagogue. Jews who worshipped in this synagogue were mostly from wealthy and middle class families. This house of worship was also undamaged from the wars and under the rule of the soviets it served as a grain storehouse.
The Cantor's Synagogue
The Cantor's synagogue, in the corner of Zygmuntovska and Skoina streets, in which Rabbi Nathanson prayed and preached, remained completely desolate and forsaken.
Reb Yudels Synagogue
Reb Yudels Synagogue stood at the corner of Lvovska and Tarnopolska streets. This was a very popular synagogue. It was wide open for everyone. It never lacked a quorum for a prayer service. This house of worship was burned down and utterly destroyed.
The Tschortkower Klois
The Chrotkover Klois belonged to the Hassidim, followers of the Rabbi from Chortkow. This was a 2 floor building. The upper floor contained the section for women worshippers and stood near to the house of Rabbi Gaon Mordechai Hachohen Shwadron, the Rabbi of the town. The synagogue was completely destroyed in the First World War. Part of it was later reconstructed, but it was eventually destroyed.
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The Jair Synagogue
The Jair Synagogue on Tarnopolska street was broken open and plundered and thus it remained.
Rabbi Mendele Synagogue
The Rabbi Menele Synagogue located on Strazacka street was burned down during the bombardment of the Nazis.
The Old Stretiner Klois
The Old Streiner Klois which was located near the renovated synagogue was turned into a grain storehouse during the rule of the Soviets.
The Rozler Klois
The Rozler Klois which was situated on the northwest side of the Big Synagogue became ruined and forsaken.
The Potiker Kleizel
The Potiker Kleizel which was housed in Reb Jidels Synagogue was destroyed. Destroyed and burned down during the Nazi bombardment, it was the Kleizel of the tailors, the porters worship place, the prayer quarters of Rabbi Seide Halperin, the prayer quarter of the Mizrachi and another synagogue called YadHaruzim.
The People's Center The National House
The People's Home was an important property of the Jewish community of Brzezany. Dr. Falk and his wealthy family provided the funds for the erection of this spacious structure on Zboshova street. The People's Home was more impressive than any other structure in the surroundings. This beautiful institution was dedicated in April 1930 to serve the needs of the community and was registered as the property of the Orphan Home. The building contained two halls. The large hall which could accommodate 500 persons
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served mainly for important meetings and community events. The Dramatic circle staged its performances here. The Nazi oppressors made use of this hall as a detention place for the Jewish population before their deportation to concentration camps. During Soviet rule it was turned into a cinema. The People's Center is perhaps the only reminder of Jewish cultural life in our town. This lonely monument is a reminder that Jews lived here.
Z.K.S. The Jewish Sport Club
Jewish Sport Club was founded by a small group of youths in 1922. Its first activity was to organize a football team. They began without any financial means, but before long they were successful. In 1929 this team participated in regional games and advanced to league A. Mr. Josef Maiblum was elected president of the Sport Club and Mr. Josef Lebers, vice president.
The Musical Dramatic Circle
In innovation, during the period of enlightenment was the appearance of theatrical groups in our town. There were performances in Hebrew as well as in Yiddish. The Yiddish spectacles were staged by local performers. Most active in these performances was Mr. Bialer, brotherinlaw of Shlomo Redlich. Besides the performances staged by the local actors, there came to our town, professional theatrical groups, who staged dramas by Goldfaden, Gordin and others. Those active in the musicaldramatic circle after the First World War were S. Redlich, BarDawid and Segal and the majority of the young people in our town were centered around it.
Alongside the Dramatic Circle was founded a library, the largest in our town. It contained books in three languages: Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish. There was also an orchestra. Two wellknown families in our town appeared in musical performances on festive occasions the Kurtzs and the Gutenplans. They also gave violin and clarinet lessons.
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