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[Page 237]

Notes and Memories

By Israel Tzemach

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

I was born in 1891 and named after my grandfather Israel Oiser who was already deceased, having died at the age of 35 leaving behind a widow, 4 sons and 3 daughters.

My grandmother, Bobbe Gruneh, was left with the heavy burden of making a living in business to support her 7-orphaned children.

She was called Gruneh- Rashes in our town, which was her mother's name. We were known as the grandchildren of Gruneh- Rashes. It appears that my mother's family occupied a respected position, as did that of my father's. Bobbe Gruneh told me that when she was six years old her mother took her by the hand and led her from the old town of Brest to the new town. Each inhabitant of the old town of Brest who had owned a piece of land was allotted the same size of land in the new town. Also in this, according to her, the woman were more accurate then the men. They took off their kerchiefs and with them they measured the length of their plots in the old town, and exactly received the same as measured by the kerchief in the new town. Some had cheated on kerchief lengths and received more.

Apparently everyone claimed that their plot was in the centre of the new city and fights broke out. Also corruption was rife and there were surprises and disappointments. The centre of the city was not actually where the surveyors had set it out, but over time it had moved to the edges of the city, not far from the Mukhavets River. The ancient Jewish cemetery was allocated as a fish market; they dug up the graves and transferred the remains to the new cemetery. I recall that several times after a heavy downpour that the bones of the long dead floated. Cohanim avoided receiving plots of land in that street.

Grandmother Gruneh owned a shop of imported fabrics. I don't know whether she herself had travelled to Germany in her younger days or if someone else was her agent.

She had a lot of trouble with tax collectors - it seems that she was not punctual in paying her taxes as required by law. 'God gave me my life and fortune' she quoted, but the Tsar was not fooled and she was often reported to the authorities for tax evasion. Then several tax officers would come to audit her goods and search for unstamped (untaxed) goods. They would search everywhere -they went into the storerooms where the wood was stored for winter and threw out the wood. Grandmother stood at a distance, trembling and frightened... then a miracle occurred and the investigators suddenly stopped their searching. Had they just taken away one more layer they were have found a treasure trove of textiles without the tax stamps. Grandmother got sick of the importing foreign goods business and sold all her stock and opened up a tavern.

When they opened up the tavern in the cellar of their house the old grandmother Rashe went down from her first floor apartment and stood at the edge of the cellar entrance and said "this bar is a dishonour for me and my family, my feet will never step over the edge of the cellar as long as there is a bar there. I know that you are doing this to make a living and I hope that God will help you to get rid of this business and return to the fabric shops". Thus it happened and grandmother returned to her fabric shop.

When I was 4 years old I began to learn in cheder. One day the rabbi said to look out the window at the funeral procession - "they are taking your great-grandmother Bobbe Rashe for burial." I did not understand what the rabbi meant, only years later when I was older and heard so much praise for my grandmother did I understand the honour of being a grandchild of Gruneh Rashe.

In that thin body was a treasure of wisdom, charity and a refined heart. She knew the Siddur (prayer book) by heart. With closed eyes she would recite all the usual prayers, she also knew the 'slichot' prayers very well and was familiar with the chapters of the Mishnah. In her old age she would secretly wear a small tallis.

I never saw grandmother in her cellar bar -she almost disappeared from all her relatives and acquaintances, not wanting to be seen in these lowly circumstances. She passed on the tasks of serving alcohol to drunks to others.

When my younger brother went abroad to study my grandmother worried terribly that God forbid, he would be 'ruined'. Her grandson had, according to her, lost his Yiddishkeit.

Her moaning about the matter got louder, she came to me once to ask why Shmuel had gone abroad? To acquire knowledge and learning, I replied. Wisdom and knowledge can be acquired from our own holy books, she replied. When she asked me again, I said to her that some time ago, you were sick and they called the doctor not the rabbi because he had the medical knowledge to cure you, which he learnt from other books, not from the holy books. She replied that the Ram Bam (Maimonides) was a great scholar and a great healer. But also the Ram Bam had studied wisdom and medicine from others, I answered. She asked :”What sort of wisdom is Shmuel learning?.” My reply was engineer. "Why not a doctor?" She stubbornly argued. "What difference does it make, doctor or engineer?" I asked. "The difference, my son, is that when you call a doctor to come to a sick person, he comes and sees a man in pain and troubled. The patient looks into his eyes and wants know what the healer thinks of his condition, and he takes pity on him and promises him a complete recovery. After a while he comes again and sees that he can't heal him as there is a Creator of the Universe in heaven who is healer of the sick and the doctor is only his messenger. Only thus does one become a true believer and a good Jew, observing all the mitzvot. On the other hand, an engineer, what does he do? He busies himself with stones and woods, also his heart becomes hard as stone and wood and he is not a good person."

The jewel of our family was the grandmother's oldest son, my uncle Reb. Michael Rosenberg who was called Reb Michaleh Rashes in our city. From early childhood he distinguished himself in his studies- he was very diligent. Grandmother sent him to the very best teachers - they all praised him highly. Reb Michaleh was the only Chassid in our family; he travelled to the Radziner rabbi. He married the daughter of the rabbi's schochet (ritual slaughterer), Rabbi Gershon Henoch. Before the wedding he was invited to the rabbi's court, where he was welcomed with much respect -they made him sit at the rabbi's table. The rabbi and Michaleh became close - he was much influenced by this.

Rabbi Gershon Henoch was the author of 'Hatchalat' and was known as a great scholar and also had some knowledge of medicines, natural sciences and languages. My uncle Michaleh concluded from this that one could be a great scholar and follower of God, but at the same time not distance yourself from worldly matters. He became interested in technology, natural sciences and knowledge of languages. From Torah alone one cannot make a living, so he became a merchant of confectionery, he would travel to Kiev and Warsaw, and dealt directly with the sweets manufacturers. He was successful in this business for many years.

I remember him between the sacks of sugar at his desk, a thick black cigar always between his long fingers, lost in his thoughts. We did not know whether he was immersed in money matters or if he was pondering some Talmudic matter that he was studying, because after all, Rabbi Gershon Henoch had written an interpretation on the Talmudic tract "Taharot". At night when all were asleep, an hour before midnight, uncle would take a nap, then get up and wash his hands and open the Gemarrah - one could hear the muffled sounds of Gemarrah melody until 3 or 4 in the morning. Also grandmother would arise before midnight from her bed, light the fire, take a stool and open the Siddur, put on her glasses and cry bitter tears over the destruction of the second Temple and the exile into the Diaspora she knew very well the words:' streams of water will fall from my eyes over the destruction of the house of my nation'.

Brest vanished with the fire, my uncle Michaleh returned and went back once more to the confectionery business but was not successful. He became a director of the Commercial Bank, his education and knowledge of economics suited the job but not his appearance as he was dressed in rabbinical garb with a black cap on his head and long side locks. The people around him were bareheaded and clean-shaven, two worlds far apart from each other.

During the W.W.1, my uncle Michael Rosenberg and his family first went to Pinsk then Siedlice where his son in law Yedidiah Rimon (who perished later in a car accident and is buried in Tel-Aviv cemetery) lived. In Siedlice, for the first time in his life, after many appeals from his friends, he agreed to accept the rabbinical chair. However, the Gerrer Chassidim opposed him. Together with all the other refugees that had fled Brest, he returned to Brest and became a director of the People's Bank, a position that he occupied until his death in 1931, at the age of 74.

All his children and grandchildren perished during the time of Hitler. Miraculously, one of his grandchildren survived, he lives in Israel and studies at the SloboDavid Kupchika yeshiva in Bnei Brak - the chain of torah scholarship was not broken. In the house of uncle Michaleh, nothing was spoken of Zionism, except for one daughter who was carried along by the ideals of the leftist Zionists. She would attend Zionist conferences. Her husband was one of the leaders of Mizrachi in his town. Once, I recall there was a discussion about Zionism. My uncle would not participate, but towards the end he declared:" I'll tell you a story. In a village of gentiles there was only a single Jew, a leaseholder (arendar) of the nobleman's land. On the night of Passover the overseer would come in and sit at the Seder and ask that various customs be explained to him. When it came to next year in Jerusalem, the overseer would ask what it meant. The Jew replied, "because we sinned and did not obey God we were exiled and therefore we sit in the Diaspora, until we confess that we sinned and regret our sins, then we will be granted the privilege to be in Jerusalem next year".

Next year the overseer came to the Seder table once more, and again asked the same questions. The Jew replied that we had not obeyed God's mitzvot as we should have, we will make an effort to improve our ways and God blessed be He will help us. The same thing occurred in the third and fourth years, with the same questions and replies until one day the Jew arose and said" God Almighty, I am ashamed in front of this simple overseer - You decide whether next year in Jerusalem!"

In 1914, before the German occupation, I left Brest. A military band played in the municipal gardens. A large army was assembled around the fortress and we were sure that the fortress was impregnable and would not fall to the Germans. However, as the Germans neared the city it's residents did not know what to do, to leave or not to leave the city. The order was to evacuate the city within the next three days. Those who had foreseen what would happen managed to shift their goods and merchandise to Greater Russia in time and thus saved themselves from destitution on foreign soil. The majority of residents left the city with empty hands and headed for Greater Russia.

However, the Russians did not defend the fortress, but instead set fire to the city from all sides and retreated east into Polessie. Many wandered off into neighbouring and further cities such as Minsk, Yekaterinslav and Kharkov. The Brisker Rav, Chaim Soloveitchik settled in Minsk. Rabbi Alter Grosleit told me that when prominent Brest refugees came to see the rabbi with offers of financial help, he replied "I'm not allowed to take a cent from you, if the city of Brest does not exist anymore, then I do not exist as a rabbi, and cannot accept anything". The businessmen and merchants strongly appealed to him saying:" as in the past, you are also in the present our rabbi, and we are the same flock of sheep. All the Brest refugees look to you as our rabbi -in the past, present and future".

After a long dispute, the rabbi agreed to accept income.

Those that had not managed to flee into Greater Russia, because the Germans occupied the whole of Polessie, returned to Brest. I also lived temporarily in Kobryn and was one of the first to return to the empty, destroyed and burnt city of Brest.

I can still remember the fire of 1895 and the second fire of 1901. I remember that my father's house was one of the first destroyed by the fire as it was next door to Bishkowitzes house where the fire broke out and spread to the centre of the city.

These images, which are indelibly etched in my mind, have over time become confused with memories of the First World War destruction; one could not say that the city was entirely destroyed. A few houses were still intact, many just scorched, there were some houses that remained untouched, however, the city had became empty and desolate. I was surrounded on all sides by hungry dogs and cats - I tossed pieces of bread to get rid of them. As I neared our home on Paletzisker Street, I saw that only the frame remained. I went up to the second floor through the remaining staircase - everything was burnt and broken. I then went to the Zionist library that had cost so much work and money to build. The building appeared to be almost whole, the books stood on the shelves as if waiting for someone to come and clean the dust off them. In the middle of the ceiling there was a large hole from an artillery shell. With an ache in my heart I left there and wandered the streets of the deserted city, almost the only person in the deserted city, the only sounds were my footsteps on the bridge echoing my heartbeat. I left the city, travelled to Siedlice and then to Warsaw. In Warsaw we received news about refugees streaming back to Brest and the city slowly beginning to return to normal life, about 2000 had returned but then came a new blow.

An order came from the German headquarters that all residents must leave the city. On a beautiful day, they transported them all to Lukav and the surrounding Polish villages. The excuse for the expulsion that we heard was that he first refugees were caught looting goods that were rolling around in the streets. The German headquarters received complaints about this pillaging and therefore issued an order that only Germans could benefit from this lawlessness.

The Germans had indeed looted all the treasure from the city. Afterwards, they dismantled entire buildings and whole trainloads of bricks were transported to Germany. Their motive was revenge for the destruction that the Russians had wreaked in the eastern front. The refugees spread out in the Lukov district. Every village took in several families. The German headquarters forced the peasants to provide rooms for the homeless and thus excused themselves.

In 1915 a relief fund was established in Warsaw to help the Brest refugees. The chairman was the well-known banker Raphael Shereshevski whose wife was a Birshtein born in Brest. On this committee was also Yitzchak Radevsky, Avraham Goldberg the editor of the Yiddsh daily newspaper 'Heint', Yaffe and others.

Together with P.Halperin I was sent to Lukav and district to acquaint ourselves with the situation of the refugees and give a report to the relief committee. We travelled through dozens of villages meeting with Brest families everywhere. They were living in peasant huts, under terrible conditions, both physically and morally. They all had the same lament: to take them out of this bog. They saw in us saviours. Regrettably, we could only offer financial assistance and some food. This assistance reached every village and town where the Brest refugees were settled.

Typhus had broken out and took many victims during the German occupation, especially amongst the refugees. It was vital the isolate the sick. We returned to Lukav and requested help from the German headquarters. The Germans sequestered two buildings at each end of the town and there we opened a hospital for the Brest refugees stricken by infectious diseases.

In order to obtain the necessary equipment for the hospital such as beds, linens, etc.,

I was sent to escort two gendarmes to confiscate the necessary items from the residents and within one week, the hospital was functioning. The relief committee for the refugees from Brest operated from 1915 until1921 and was dissolved after the residents returned to the city.

From the distant depths of Russia and Poland, Jews began to stream back to their hometown. Brest was resurrected and the Torah was returned to it's home. They reopened the schools and the yeshivas. The old names such as the Greener Synagogue, the Rabbi Israel Wolf Synagogue regained their past characteristics. New institutions were created according to the need of the times - such as the public schools, and the Tarbut high school.

Brest had been transferred to Poland and its name became Brzesc nad Bugiem - Brest on the River Bug from the former Brest- Litevski. The streets all acquired Polish names. Once again the Brest Jews drank the bitter drops that was their fate and passed from generation to generation

I want to recall a treasured soul, Dr Y.L. Shereshevski, one of the best doctors, and a passionate and dedicated Zionist. He died of a heart attack when he was forced to intervene in a situation where Polish policemen were beating a Brest Jew.

Brest under the short reign of the Poles was a special city. Slowly the Jews accustomed themselves to their new lives. They suffered, they continued to strive and work to secure themselves in their city until they were swallowed up by the savagery of Hitler.

[Page 247]

The Blood Libel

By B. Z. Neumark

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

After the sudden demise of Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, in Iyar 1897, his brother Rabbi Chaim Simcha arrived in Brest from Kovno, an eminent businessman, and a man with a deep and instinctive understanding. He came to organize the affairs of his brother's son, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, who had recently been elevated to the rabbinical chair in Brest.

Several days before Shavuot, an emissary of the great leader and philanthropist Reb Chaim Cohen came to me requesting that I immediately come to him on an urgent matter.

This was on a Thursday at 10p.m. – I believe that Shavuot fell on the following Sunday or Monday that year. I found Reb Chaim in a state of great agitation. He gave me a letter in which it stated that a certain tradesman by the name of Pinchas (Paulus) Meyer was openly admitting in the anti-Semitic newspaper 'The Fatherland' that he had seen with his own eyes how the Jew called Ashkenazi, who was the Rabbi of Biala Podlaska which was in the Brest district, had slaughtered a Christian child and made matzos with it's blood, and that this had been just after Purim and before Passover of 1881. This letter came to Reb Chaim Cohen from an employee of his kerosene business in Vienna, Shabtai Kartoshinski, who was born in Brest and was a relative of mine and a member of the Supporters of Zion.

Reb Chaim told me that the first thing to do was to go to the Rabbi, Chaim Soloveitchik, show him the letter and ask him what to do in this matter which was vital to the welfare of all Israel.

We went to the Rabbi and showed him the letter; the Rabbi was very disturbed and called for his uncle, Rabbi Chaim Simcha to ask his advice. After a short meeting the Rabbi said that he would travel to Ostra to investigate the matter at its source. He asked who is actually this Rabbi Ashkenazi and who is his nephew? I pointed out that there were several towns with this name in the districts of Siedlice and Wolyn. He asked, “Where then should I travel to?” It was decided that I should write immediately to the Rabbi of Biala and tell him of this matter. I posted the letter at the railway station where they were open all night for priority mail. Because the letter would reach the Rabbi on the Sabbath, he would not open it that day. Therefore we wrote on a card stating that due to the importance of this letter, the Brisker Rabbi had ordained that he should open it and read it on the Sabbath as it pertained to all of Israel. The Rabbi accepted my advice and dictated to me what to write to the Rabbi of Biala, he himself wrote the postcard ordering that the letter be read at once and that the Rabbi decide what should be done.

The next morning, I went out to investigate and asked of the Bialer Chassidim that were in Brest if any had the surname Ashkenazi and especially if anyone knew of the nephew of the Rabbi who did not behave decently. I searched and I found. I found a youth with the surname Ashkenazi and he told me that in the Biala yeshiva several years ago there had been a youth whom they said was the nephew of the Biala Rabbi. He was a good for nothing in every respect and action. No one could stand him but out of respect for the Rabbi, no harm came to him. On a Sabbath, he hanged himself from a lamp opposite the Holy Ark to take revenge on the Chassidim. When the Shammes (beadle) saw him he let out a great cry and people came running and removed him – barely alive. He was disgraced and deservedly thrown out of the town.

As the weeks and months passed, the youth and his attempt at hanging himself were entirely forgotten. He had vanished as if into the sea. No one knew what had happened to him. Once a message came that he was sitting in prison, but no one was interested in him or his escapades.

In Warsaw, the blood libel of Paulus Meyer against the Rabbi of Biala became known during Shavuot through the anti-Semitic newspaper of Raheling. Immediately they called a meeting of the Jewish Community Council at 26 Guszivoiski St. It was decided to give one thousand roubles to I.l.Peretz who was an employee of the council so that he would go directly to Brest and conduct from there a thorough investigation of the Biala Rabbi and his nephew. He was not to stop in Biala.

At the end of Shavuot I.L.Peretz arrived in Brest, and stayed at the hotel 'Berlin'. In answer to his question of who the young energetic person was, they pointed me out and he immediately came to see me. He told me all that he knew; I in turn gave him all the details of the Kartozinski letter and the consequent letter from Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik to the Biala Rabbi. I advised him that the best thing to do would be for him to go to see one of the leading lights of the city, Rabbi A.L.Feinstein, the noted historian and writer and that he would advise us what to do.

The bad tempered old man Feinstein received Peretz with absolute indifference and asked that he not be bothered with such matters. I advised that Peretz go to Feinstein's rival, the new Gabbeh, Yerucham Schatz. When Schatz would get to hear of Feinstein not acceding to our requests, he would do all in his power to help in this matter, just to irritate his rival. And so it was. Schatz immediately grasped the matter upon hearing of the account of the Bialer Chassidim of the hanging of the nephew of the Biala Rabbi on the Sabbath and that he had once sat in the Brest prison. He asked that we wait a while and immediately went to the Brest Prison. In return for a nice gift that he gave the chief warden of the prison, he received a document stating that Ashkenazi was imprisoned in the Brest prison from March 1881 until September 1881, as he was suspected of revolutionary actions and that he had a connection to the assassin of the Tsar Nicholas 11.

With this document in hand it was left to us to clarify one matter. Was this Paulus Meyer the same as the Askenazi who had sat in the Brest prison in 1881? Paulus Meyer was currently sitting in a Viennese prison (he was arrested on the application of a Dr. Bloch, lawyer for the newspaper Oestriche Wochenschrift).

We told Reb Chaim Cohen of all that we had done and requested that he write his employee, Kartozinski, in Vienna asking that he make an effort to obtain a picture of this character. Within 7 days we had our picture - I sent a Chassid named Moshe Pechta to Terespol, seven kilometres from Brest, where the mother of the convert lived. I requested that she come immediately to Brest on the matter of her son who was sitting in a Viennese prison accused of theft. The mother, the Terespoler Rebbitzen, came immediately. The Rebbitzen confirmed that the man in the picture was her son; I went with her to a notary, who witnessed this.

From there I went to Yakov Meier Weinholtz who was an intermediary to the police, and he drew up a protocol (document) testifying to the fact that the mother of Ashkenazi stated that her son had been imprisoned on the 10th March, 1881, not for theft, but for revolutionary activities, and that that suspicions of the Viennese police were unfounded.

I sent the entire material with all the documents to Dr. Bloch in Vienna and he proved to the court that at the very time that this Paulus Meyer claimed that he witnessed his uncle the Bialer rabbi killing a Christian child for religious purposes – he was sitting in the Brest prison. Therefore, it was not only a blood libel that besmirched his uncle, but was against the whole of Israel and consequently deserved the strongest punishment.

These disclosures by Dr. Bloch were recognized as the truth by the court and the convert was sentenced to 6 years prison. Raheling the newspaper editor had received a defeat.

I. L. Peretz was not involved in this operation, but I kept him informed of everything. He spent two weeks in Brest and then returned to Warsaw, after the matter was concluded to the satisfaction of all.

[Page 251]

A Meeting with my Hometown

By I. Finkelstein (New York)

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

At the end of winter the cold is over, the deep snows remained but there is already a whiff of spring in the distance. The train from Warsaw, in which my friend Kleinberg and I had spent the entire night rolling on its floors, arrived in Brest in the early morning. The city was still deep in sleep – only a corner of the sky had begun to lighten and spread over the isolated huts which seemed like orphans in the street. My heart beat feverishly as I saw revealed before me the scene of what remained of my beautiful old hometown. What's more, the more I strolled around the town the more my heart tightened until the tears came to my eyes. Was this my Brisk? Was this the town of such poetic beauty? Of such dreamy tranquility? Its long wide treed streets gave it great charm and beauty. My heart was broken and from its depths there arose on curse on all those who had brought about the destruction of this beautiful city.

In the pain and anguish of observing the city of Brest with its barracks, houses, schools, synagogues which were overflowing with masses of people, young and old all over the grounds of the town, there was only one consoling factor. This was the assistance that was sent from America from my organization the Brisker Hilfsverein, from my American comrades that never forgot their homeland and stretched their warm hands and hearts.

The last rays of the sun danced over the city's church when I went to visit the places where I had spun my youthful dreams, the places that had been full of young people and the heart of the city had pulsated there until early in the morning. Now it was full of ruins casting their fear in the darkness, like tombstones in a cemetery. During the day, pigs roamed around the formerly beautiful and bustling streets. I found only the remains of several streets where frozen branches shivered with cold.

The day was almost over when a strange sensation filled my heart. I took my friend and said to him:” let's look for the street on which my cradle stood, where I grew up and where I once planted a tree. Come with me my friend, to see if the tree is still standing.”

From the tens of streets that we passed on our way, there was not a single building that remained standing on either side of the streets, as if in open fields that had never known been burdened by houses. As the darkening sky drained the last bits of the evening, the shadows of the night lengthened. On the way back I recognized the tree, small when I had planted it in front of our house. The tree had spread out its branches to full width, and it's roots had spread in the empty space around it, but it had also felt the axe of destruction.

Those branches were burnt and the tree remained only as a symbol of the whole community, representing its past growth.

This destroyed part of the city was a horrible experience for us, a curse escaped my lips against the murderers, holding back the tears, I departed the city of Brest which had been turned into a ruin.

[Page 253]

Between the Two World Wars

By Dr. S. Orchov

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

For a person whose cradle stood in the former Jewish city of Brest, it is very difficult to speak of a Brest that does not exist anymore. The chain which was forged by over one thousand years of Jewish habitation has been torn apart and will never be mended.

The source from which Brisk D'Lita obtained its strength was the completeness of its Jewish life, which reigned there. The local folk who lived in this part of the world were not capable of assimilating the Jewish population into their midst and the Jews had surpassed them in knowledge and culture. For these same reasons there was not an especially strong pressure by the Russians or the Poles as they were minorities compared to the White Russians and Lithuanians. It seems to me that there was no other such a city in all the corners of the Diaspora where the Jewish inhabitants were free from the pressures of the outside world.

Over the generations there existed in Brest various communal schools and aid organizations. Refuges for the poor and houses of learning. These institutions changed over time according to the needs of the times, but never ceased existing.

The same applied to its financial institutions. Brest did not excel in conspicuous wealth, but was always a place of profitable revenues. The town sat on a crossroads between White Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. Situated on the shores of two rivers on which floated the timber trade to the Baltic Sea, a railway junction and a large fortress.

The military headquarters was in reality an obstacle to the development of the city. The abundance of timber that was to be found in the district could have been the basis for a large industry for the town if not for the baleful eyes of the military commander at the fortress. It was forbidden in Brest to build buildings over two storeys high and also large industrial chimneys, and as a consequence it was not possible to build modern industries. The residential areas were restricted by a ring of forts and railway lines limiting the spread of the city in various directions.

On the other hand, the military garrison was the source of income for tens of thousands of families in Brest and surroundings: merchants, couriers, businessmen, tradesmen and artisans. There were many that learned their trades in Brest and then obtained responsible positions in other places. Builders, sub-contractors and tradesmen from Brest were later in demand all over the nation. Nevertheless, as a result of its military significance, the citizens of Brest saw it as a handicap to the city's development, geographic expansion, and improvement of its cultural and economic situation.

The fortress was damaged during World War 1. As fate would have it, many homes were destroyed as well as the commercial center. To tell the truth, this destruction was not as large as that caused in the conflict during the exchange of power between the Russians and the Poles. The new Polish governing power had no intention of rebuilding the ruins of the city after the war.

These new rulers of Brest would give not loans to the returning survivors. They sucked the last dregs out of their minorities, especially the Jews. They introduced a heavy tax system and created discrimination in the distribution of jobs and work allocations. If you were to glance at a map of Poland regarding taxation a strange image is projected in front of your eyes. The eastern regions that were dominated by minorities took first place – their masses were impoverished, their agricultural and urban industries had been destroyed – the closer one went west, the smaller was the taxation burden. As to any support for the community, loans, purchase of merchandise for the government's needs, the budget was mainly allocated to the western part of Poland which had suffered much less during the war.

This policy was not limited to economic matters. The new governing powers in Brest did not look favorably upon any of the Jewish organizations. Even the activity of the Joint was not to their liking, although it would bring foreign currency to the government coffers. There was an incident with the police chief, he was asked to issue a permit to a branch of the Zionist movement that had sprung up. He got angry and said: ”you've got a rabbi here, what else do you want, organizations? Only we create these and no others!”

This police official and his association, in time, changed their speech but not their attitudes.

The new Jewish and Hebrew schools were created by Jewish monies and did not get any official or municipal support. On the other hand, the government opened special schools for Jewish children that were only in the Polish language. They found it only right that the Jews would have to go begging, but most important to them was that the Jews should speak Polish.

No wonder that the Brest Jews of which many had returned from Russia after the war, had no illusions of a better future under the Poles. Many left the city and wandered far away. At that time there was a large emigration to Eretz Israel, where the number of Brest Jews was estimated to be 2000. Many went to France, Canada, Latin America and the United States in the tens of thousands.

Jewish Soldiers Brest 1919


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