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[Page 511]

Economic Organization

The Jewish Population in the 19th Century

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

According to the 1864 census there were 19,302 inhabitants of Brest and 812 houses. By 1889 the population had risen to 41,615 and 2063 houses. The number of Jews was estimated at 27.005. The number of Jews classed by professional categories was: Tradesmen 3464, Merchants (traders) 1235, and Industrial workers 1000.

The two great fires that occurred within a short period in the Jewish quarter –17th May 1895, and the 11th May 1901 destroyed a large part of the city.

According to the mid- 19th century census of 1847 there were the following number of Jews in Brest and the district around Brest:

Community Men Women Total
Brisk D'Lita 3557 4579 8636
Wlodawa 147 225 372
Wysokie Litovsk 780 695 1475
Volchin 328 558 886
Kamenetz Litovsk 645 806 1451
Total of district 5457 6863 12,320

Regarding the relevance of Jews to the development and growth of the city we can learn from the following population 19th century statistics. The number of Jews in Brest in 1881 was: men 3837, women 4066, total 7903. In 1897 the figures were: men 15,033, women 15,575, total 30,608.
The Jews were occupied in the following professions: Tailors, shoemakers, bakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, locksmiths, and stonemasons. The Jewish footwear industry was conducted at all the markets of central Russia and Crimea.

The proportion of Jews to the general pop. In 1897 was:

Place General Pop. Jewish Pop.
Volchin 617 588
Wysokie Lit. 3434 2876
Domachevo 1180 1057
Zamotzche (near Kam. Lit.) 1288 976
Kamenetz Lit. 3569 2722
Malorita 1480 227
Mileitchik 1685 814
Tchernovitchik 1209 481
Tchernigov 678 85

The total count of the Jewish schools and yeshivas was 30. There were 5 libraries, and 8 printing presses. The credit institutions – the Loans and Savings Fund, the Merchant bank, and the Credit Society for Small Traders, all played a significant role in the development of the trade and business of the city and district.

(From the Jewish Encyclopedia St Petersburg 1909).

[Page 513]

The Jewish Community Council (Kehilla)
in Brisk D'Lita

by Sholem Schwartz

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

At the beginning of 1919 a district conference concerning the establishment of Jewish community councils (Kehillas) was held at 12 Topolowa st. This street name was later changed to I.L. Peretz St.) It was decided that the elections to these councils should be democratic and that the Kehillas should be democratic and secular.

Two years later the famous Pilsudski decree was issued which allowed the establishment of religious councils. However, there was not even a religious council established in Brest – the formation was delayed for another 8 years. Only in 1929 did the first election take place due to pressure from the Jewish parties. The elected chairmen of the board were Shlomo Lichtenstein and Avraham Skorbnik from the city council. This board only met very rarely –once a year to determine the budget. The district governor (Voiyevoda) would read out the list for the council administration and Dr. Y. Kagan was nominated on the spot as chairman.

The second Kehilla was entirely different – it began it's activity in 1935.The convening of the administration of the kehilla was much more democratic. The elected head of the kehilla was Chaim Baruch Kwiartowski and the members were: Asher Ashkenazi, David Gitelman, Mattityahu Zablud, Shimon Savshitski, Englender, Meir Feinstein, Kronczek, David Shneider and Sholem Schwarz.

This new Kehilla was not only the representative organ of the community in external affairs, but also a strong influence in the economic and social affairs of the city. It participated with vigour in the battle against anti Semitism. As we know, Poland introduced a law forbidding Jewish ritual slaughtering. Our kehilla conducted a campaign against this law for weeks and collected 15,00 zlotys for the meatworkers who were suffering as a result of this ban.

The popularity of the Kehilla grew and the meetings were attended by 100s of Brest Jews.

Immediately at the outset of this new Kehilla it was determined that the Kehilla would meet 2-3 times weekly, and that this council would be very active. There were various sub committees elected: Finance, Economic, Taxation, and Social Assistance.One of the sub committees was for community welfare, which resolved that:

A. All the social institutions in the city would come under the administration of the Kehilla.

B. The institutions that could not be transferred to the Kehilla at that time would still be supported by the direct involvement of the Kehilla.

C. The assistance given by the Kehilla should be constructive.

The Kehilla achieved a great deal in those difficult times

A special chapter in the activity of the Kehilla occurred when the pogrom took place in Brest on the 13th May 1937. The formation of the OZON party, which often spoke of the destruction of Jews the relationship between Jews and Poles became more strained. Anti- Semitic riots took place in many Polish towns, and anti- Semitic leaflets were distributed amongst the Christian communities.

In this tense atmosphere the following occurred: the young Jewish butcher Tcherbowski stabbed the Polish secret policeman Kendrzara. This was soon followed by a full-blown pogrom incited and instigated by the police. The Poles began robbing and looting the Jewish stores and beating up Jews.

When I went to the Kehilla for advice and guidance in what should be done, I encountered the Polish police instead of the council members. The police were looking for the Jews who had apparently thrown stones at the Christians….

The deputy mayor, Yechiel Mastboim reported that the district governor was in no hurry to stop the pogrom. We immediately organized the Jewish carriers, wagon drivers, and meat workers - and by midday had already formed the first resistance stand. The lawyer Nachman Glovinski, Dr. Sarnake and Yechiel Mastboim the deputy mayor went to the Brest fortress to meet with the Commander of the Polish Military forces there, but did not have any success. Only after a phone call to the central police headquarters in Warsaw were police sent from Warsaw, and by nightfall had put a stop to the pogrom.

An emergency meeting of the Kehilla was convened and resolved to set up an assistance committee for the victims, as there had been great damage inflicted. A delegation from Warsaw hastily arrived: Deputy (Polish parliament member) Zammerstein, Engineer A. Reis, and Dr S. Z. Kahane. It was decided to establish a large relief program.

The Kehilla became even more popular with the Jewish community after the pogrom. However, it's days were numbered. Just before Rosh Hashana 1939, the Germans entered Brest and many of the men were brought to the site of the city council chambers. The German general called for the representatives of the Kehilla: Kwiatkowski, Begun, Ashkenazi, Englender and Schwartz. He demanded that they supply him with a list of Brest Jews who had originated from Germany, also a list of Jewish Communists, and to hand over any arms and ammunition in the possession of Jews.

We replied that there were no Germans at all in Brest, and that the communist party was banned in Poland, so that we knew that there were no members. Regarding the arms we would put out a call to the whole Jewish community. . He demanded 40,000 Zlotys and took Kwaitkowski and Englender as guarantors.

In this way the activity of the Kehilla in Brisk D'lita ended – city and people of the Jewish nation.

[Page 515]

The Census of Jewish Industry
and Trade in Brest 1921

By Engineer K. Lichtenstein

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

The economic activity of the Jews in Brest in the period of the New Polish Republic (1921-1939) becomes clearer if we research the earlier economic situation during the years of the occupation 1915-1918, and the following Polish- Russian border wars 1919-1920.

In 1921 a new epoch arose in the history of Brest. After the treaty of Riga and the establishment of the Polish regime, Brest became part of the Polessie province. The city began to heal the deep wounds and damage inflicted on it by 6 years of war and upheavals.

There are some remaining sources that are relevant to Brest in 1921. After the economic conference held by the American Joint in April-June 1921 for the whole of Poland, a questionnaire/poll concerning industrial enterprises was issued (prepared by Engineer Eliezer Heller). This study served as a guide for the restoration of the Jewish workshops and factories – its' findings consisted of 9 volumes. Volumes 7 and 8 were dedicated to Kressy (the eastern border regions of Poland), including Polessie, Novogrudek, Vilna and Wolyn.

The enterprises researched were owned and managed by Jews, or they actively worked in production – this was done with the intent of refuting the slander and libel against the Polish Jews, claiming that they did not contribute to the economy.

In the Polessie district, research was carried out in the following cities: Brest, Pinsk, Pruzhany, Kobryn and Sarny. From the chapter dealing with Brest alone, we can draw conclusions for the averages for the whole Polessie district, as the figures for the other 4 towns were the same as for Brest.


Table 1: Industry and trade In Brest in 1921 (Figures in %)

Branch Of Industry Percentage of the Enterprises (per 100 enterprises) Percentage of businesses with working - owners, and their relatives Percentage of the salaried employees Percentage of Jewish salaried employees
Stone cement and glass industries 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0
Metal 8.4 6.1 3.8 100.0
Machinery and parts 4.6 3.4 2.3 100.0
Timber 4.6 5.7 4.1 100.0
Leather and Tanning 2.7 3.4 4.0 57.0
Manufacture 1.1 0.8 0.7 100.0
Clothing 49.3 39.6 36.7 98.4
Paper 1.3 0.8 0.3 100.0
Food articles 8.9 22.7 31.9 95.6
Miscellaneous 1.5 2.0 1.7 100.0
Building 12.5 10.1 9.8 97.1
Printing 1.5 1.9 2.0 95.3
Cleaning and maintenance 3.5 3.4 2.7 89.6
TOTALS 100.0 100.0 100.0 95.6

1) Under Leather and Tanneries, there were 4 enterprises with 35 workers, 17 of whom were Jewish.

2) Under Food articles were included 3 Tobacco factories with 159 workers –156 of whom were Jewish.

95.6% were employed in the manufacturing industries. The figures show that in reality the production industries in Brest were entirely in Jewish hands, except for the leather industry where 57% of the workers were Jewish.

The total number of enterprises, and the total number of workers, Jews and non-Jews, are shown in Table 2, including statistics for the whole of the Polessie district. From the column of owner-workers and their relatives the true number of Brest Jews emerges – 35.8% are proprietors, 14.4% are their relatives. These figures were less than those for the whole of the Polessie district, which were 38.4% and 18.3% respectively. This smaller figure is explained by the direct participation of owner-workers and their families in the production work.

At the same time the number of salaried employees in Brest was 53.8%, which was higher than the rest of the district that totaled 43.3%. This shows more markedly that small factories and workshops had been founded in Brest and the emergence of a working-class – was distinctly stronger than the smaller towns and villages in the district.

We can reach the same conclusion from analyzing the columns “Enterprises with employed workers (Brest)“, in the general statistics for Polessie. For every 100 enterprises in the district, only 50 were salaried workers (1228 to 726). In Brest the figure was 100 to 111 (323 to 359). This shows that for every 100 workshops that employed only the owner and his family – in Brest there were double as many paid employees in contrast to the rest of the district. Table 2 also shows the principal trades and branches of production in Brest according to the number of employees.


Table 2: Industry and Trade in Brest in 1921

Manufacturing Branches Enterprises Employees (According to the season for each trade)
Active and non-active Active Non active Owner-workers, their families and paid workers Owners Family members in the enterprise Salaried Workers
Salaried workers Without salary workers   Overall number % of all employed in the trade Overall number % of all employed in the trade Jews Non Jews
Overall number % of all employed in the trade Men Women Children under 15 Overall number % of all employed in the trade Men Women Children under 15
Stone, cement and glass industries 1 0 1 0 1 1 100.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Metal 60 24 33 3 119 57 47.9 22 18.5 40 33.6 36 0 4 0 0 0 0 0
Machinery and parts 33 17 16 0 66 33 50.0 9 13.6 24 36.4 24 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Timber 33 15 16 2 112 65 58.0 3 2.7 44 39.3 44 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Leather and Tanning 19 11 7 1 66 16 24.2 8 12.1 24 36.4 23 1 0 18 27.3 18 0 0
Manufacture 8 3 4 1 16 7 43.8 2 12.5 7 43.8 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
Clothing 350 193 148 9 778 339 43.6 52 6.7 381 49.0 281 90 10 6 0.8 5 5 1
Paper 9 2 6 1 15 7 46.7 5 33.3 3 20.0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Food articles 63 32 25 6 444 51 11.5 56 12.6 322 72.5 218 94 10 15 3.4 13 2 0
Miscellaneous 11 6 3 2 39 11 28.2 10 25.6 18 46.2 17 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Building 88 29 55 4 198 80 40.4 15 7.6 100 50.5 98 0 2 3 1.5 3 0 0
Printing 11 7 4 0 38 10 26.3 7 18.4 20 52.7 19 1 0 1 2.6 1 0 0
Cleaning and maintenance 25 20 5 0 67 24 35.8 14 20.9 26 38.8 20 5 1 3 4.5 2 1 0
Total of all branches in Brest 711 359 323 29 1929 701 35.5 203 10.4 1009 51.5 788 194 27 46 2.3 42 3 1
Figures for all of Polessie District 2028 726 1228 74 5299 2033 38.4 972 18.3 2222 41.9 1635 509 78 72 1.4 66 5 1

According to the poll:

The clothing industry was 49.2% of total industry, and employed 39.7% of all employees.

Food production 8.8% and 22.6%.

Building industry 12.35% and 10.1%.

Metal Industry 8.4% and 6.0%

Timber 4.6% and 5.7%.

Another separate volume deals with the number enterprises and the amount of paid employees – this means the small Jewish tradesmen – the tailors, bootmakers, carpenters, locksmiths, blacksmiths, weavers, builders, etc. As a rule they generally worked by themselves, and in the high seasons their wives and families would help with the work. The role of these small businesses in every trade very distinct. The ratio according to trades is shown in %. %: Building, cement and glass -100%. Metal industry – 58%. Machinery and parts – 48%. Timber - 52%. Leather and tanning - 57%. Clothing - 43%. Paper – 75%. Food articles – 44%. Mixed – 29%. Building – 65%. Printing –36%. Cleaning and maitenance –20%.

These figures show how high the level of self-employment was, that is, tradesmen in their own small workshops and factories. The weakest economically were those who could not employ one worker, even in their busy season. This research was done according to the work seasons and for each trade separately. The figures show evidence of the difficult and miserable economic situation, in spite of the productive role that the Jewish population played. They also show the number of employees in every trade. The total of column 1 gives the percentage of paid workers. The majority of the salaried workers - 68.6% worked in the two classic Jewish trades, characteristic of all the Jewish neighborhoods in Eastern Europe – clothing and food.

In the metal, machinery and chemical industries the percentage was negligible. We can see that even on the subject of the production of the Jewish economy in Brest, it was a “Diaspora Economy'. In hindsight we can see that the results of the poll in Brest was the same as for the entire Polessie district, and even the same as those for all the border regions of Poland. The average number of employees, according to the industry and trade is given in Table 3. Study of the figures show clearly that the main manufacturing was produced in the small factories and workshops (except for food production, but three tobacco factories with 159 employees were included in this industry). The average number of paid workers was no more than three to an enterprise, and in a “Jewish trade” like clothing, even less than two workers. In the last three columns of Table 3, one can see the percentage of women and children under 15 of the Jewish workers. Amongst the paid workers it is clear that the food, clothing and manufacturing trades account for 25% of the total number of employed females. However, women did not work at all in the heavy work such as metal, timber, and building trades. In contrast we should remark on the relatively high number of children employed in the metal trades – 10%.

All these figures of the poll conducted by the Joint and relevant to Brest were Tables A and A1 published in Volumes 7-8.

Some statistics for the whole of the Polessie district which covered the five cities where this poll was conducted, are also relevant to Brest, one can accept that the differences are insignificant.


Table 3: Industry and trade in Brest in 1921 (Absolute and average)

Manufacturing Branches Average number of salaried workers
Average count of workers in an enterprise Average count of workers in an enterprise ( Only with salaried workers) Men Women Children under 15
Stone, cement and glass industries 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Metal 0.7 1.7 90.0 0.0 10.0
Machinery and parts 0.7 1.4 100.0 0.0 0.0
Timber 1.4 2.9 100.0 0.0 0.0
Leather and Tanning 2.3 3.8 95.8 4.2 0.0
Manufacture 1.0 2.3 71.4 28.6 0.0
Clothing 1.1 2.0 73.7 23.6 2.7
Paper 0.4 1.3 100.0 0.0 0.0
Food articles 5.9 10.5 67.7 29.2 3.1
Mixed 2.0 3.0 94.5 5.5 0.0
Building 1.2 3.6 98.9 0.0 2.0
Printing 1.9 3.0 95.0 5.0 0.0
Cleaning and maintenance. 1.2 1.4 96.9 19.2 3.9
Total for all trades in Brest 1.5 3.0 78.0 19.3 2.7
Total for Polessie district 1.2 3.2 73.5 22.9 3.6

Divided into 2 groups: A. Those that already existed before W.W.1
B. Those that came into being after 1st July 1914

Until this census (1921) 74.8% belonged to group A, and 25.2% belonged to group B in the Polessie district. In 1921 33.1% of workers worked in pre –war enterprises. The average count of the workers in 1921 in the pre-war enterprises in the district was 1.1% as contrasted with 3.2% in 1914. This estimate applies to both the Jewish and non- Jewish workers, but the number of Jewish workers fell comparatively more compared to that of 1914, up to 23.9%

Enterprises that had been founded during the war employed 28% of the general work force. At the time of this poll (1921), Jewish workers made up 96.5% of the total workforce in these enterprises. The statistics show that trade and industry fell to one third of the production levels before the war. The Jewish worker in 1921 had lost 75% of their employment opportunities as compared to 1914. The facts are that despite the reduction of the population in Brest due to the occupation and expulsion, and although there were new work places established between 1915-1920, industry and trades were unable to provide full employment, and the unemployment rate in Brest at the end of the war was very significant.

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