THE HISTORY OF THE BRZEZANY JEWISH COMMUNITY FROM THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE TOWN TILL THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY
by Dr. N.M. Gelber
A translation from Brzezany Memorial Book, 1978, Haifa, Edited by: Menachem
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 active part in its life. Little evidence exists about the life of Jews in this time; a few tombstones, several hundreds years old, and a cemetery in Zwiezyniec Forest, divided into a Jewish and a Christian sections. This cemetery was constructed for the victims of a pestilence plague which took the life of most of the city inhabitants.
In 1530, based on the Magdenburg Law, the royal courtier Mikolaj of Sieniava received from Zigmund I, King of Poland, a permit to turn Brzezany, then a village, into a town. As a result of the need to establish fortified towns in this region, Zigmund 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 is 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 merchandize 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 leave the town. Only a few Armenian families stayed in Brzezany. The aforementioned church and the surrounding quarter called Ormianska testify for the existence of a large Armenian community.
The story of the Armenian community in Brzezany serves as an evidence to 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 well assumed that a Jewish community existed prior to this, and that this was not the first Rabbi to be elected in our town.
The history of our community resembles that of other communities in the region in the various periods. Nothing worth mentioning is known. The law changed according to changes in the government. Prior to the Partition, Jews in Poland had complete freedom to manage their own community life, and were completely autonomous with regard to 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, dividing the tax load among the members of the community as they thought fit, took care of the poor, education and ritual. They determined in issues of slaughtering, built the first synagogue and helped building more. There were also smaller synagogues which were built through contributions of individuals.
The organization of the Jewish community followed the Magdenburg 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 on a regular basis, 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 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 the Kolomyja community 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 Pinchas-Mendel, son of Rabbi Asher Potoker. The Rabbi who is mentioned after him was Rabbi Tuvia Yekhiel Michal Halperin, who, before coming to Brzezany in 1738, served as a Rabbi in Belz. He was the son of the Rabbi from Zbarerz, 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 a 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 Stretin
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 Tarlo Sieniawski lineage, stated that bars in this part of town could not be leased to Jews. Jews also were not allowed to live in the market or purchase lots and houses from Christians. 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 in 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 in 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, 1n 1672, the traveler Urlich von Wardoch 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 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 in the market, 8 in 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 SieniawskCastle, which was built as a fortress. The members of this noble family, who were, as aforementioned, among the founders of the town, took active part in the life 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 important roles in the contemporary political life. He died in 1569 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. In this periods, 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. It’s new owners only visited there occasionally. The daughter of Prince Chertoryski married Prince Lubomirski, and their daughter even married Graf Potocki. This is also how Brzezany came to be owned by Stanislaw Potocki.
Jews made their living mostly as merchants and creditor. The main commerce was of corns, 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 business 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 Keichinitski and Herschko Sokalski. It should be mentioned, however, that Brzezany Jews were not rich.
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 ćäĺá . 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 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 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. The list of converts dated 1759, after the mass persecution of Frankists in Lvov, includes the name of a 32 year old woman from Brzezany, Ludvika-Chana.
In 1740, lobbied by the Four State Council, the Region Convention was held in Brzezany. This must have been demanded by the government, who wished to regulate the collection of poll tax. This convention included 18 delegates from Zolkwva, Brody, Chodorow, Janow, Liski, Tishmenitz and Stari. With the help of the Four State Council, the convention in Brzezany reached final regulations regarding the poll tax. In this time, year 1762, the Jewish cemetery, which was constructed by the Jewish community outside the town’s walls was expanded.
In 1772 Brzezany became a part of the Hapsburg Kingdom. This resulted in major changes in the life of Jews there. During the Hapsburg 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 cannot 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 if 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 property, occupations etc.
With the diminishing of wine and alcohol production and retail, the economical 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 Kreizer 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, endurance 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 that was divided between individuals in the respective communities. Due to the great 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 bad financial situation of the town’s Jews. On April 1780 an 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 security 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 to leave town, and that scared officials in Vienna, who cancelled 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. According to the 1789 census, the ten Jewish communities of 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 in the town 10,899 inhabitants, 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 Ruthenian 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 economical 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 a number of 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 rethe distress experienced by Jews was made in the beginning of the 19th century by Caesar Joseph II. He encouraged Jews to assume agricultural work by reducing the endurance tax for Jewish farmers in 50% and eventually eliminating it altogether.
In 1785, as a result of the Jewish Rules and Regulations, thousands of Jefamilies were left with no source of livelihood. In Aug. 16, 1785 the Caesar ordered his administrators to start settling the Jews in agriculture and farming. In the framework of a programme to settle 1400 Jewish families from Galicia, The community of Brzezany had to designate 10 families, and 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 form Podhajce, 7 from Bursztyn, 3 from Chodorow, 5 from Rozdol, 4 from Szczelisk, 8 from Bubrka, 12 from Rohatin, and 6 form Pszemyslany. The costs of this project were the responsibility of the communities were the settling took place. In 1804 Graf Firstenbuch 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 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, 13,560 acres). In 1902 Jews owned 12% of the real estate in the region (5615 hectares, 13,875 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. 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, compare to 190 in 1906. From the day of its establishment till Dec. 31, 1908, 753 loans for a total amount of 169,956 Crowns were given. Loan association in the Shultse system operated in Brzezany region as well.
In the cultural and educational aspects, Jews experienced great difficulties as well. The Austrian Kingdom, as is well know, tried to “Germanize” the minorities within its territories, including the Jews, and to this end established schools for Jews. Unlike Bohemia and Moravia, this educational policy failed in Galicia, where parents refused to send their children to these schools. According to a 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 Reinenbach 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 Zbaraz to Brzezany. In 1858 there were 5 Jewish students in the high school, and their number increased from year to year, so that 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. 8 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 of 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. 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 Uniforms cancelled. 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 is 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 Brzezany community prior to 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 were expected as well as greater political-economical freedom. Yet, here too, Jews, along with other communities, signed petitions to the Parliament, initiated by the teacher Reitmann 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. Natan 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 Rabbis conventions gathered by the Government. In 1830 a Rabbi convention was summoned to declare the banning of those who challenged the meat and candle tax. 19 Rabbis were summoned, including the Rabbi from Brzezany.
In this period the Magid 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 supreme judicial authority. Despite the pleas of the Brody community leaders, the Magid left Brody and moved to Brzezany. In the winter of 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 Lvov Rabbi, Rabbi Joseph Shaul Natanson, who had served as a Rain Brzezany prior to his appointment as a Rabbi in Lvov. A few days after his first sermon in Brzezany, the Magid caught typhus. He was sick for many years, and through this understood that he should not had left Brody. He vowed to leave Brzezany and return to Brody as soon as he got better, and no pleading on behalf of Brzezany personalitiechanged 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 Joseph 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 Natanzon, head of the Brzezany community and member of the Brody Chambre of Commerce, Baruch Fadenhecht, merchant, B. Ruthenberg and Ester Natanson. Shlomo Natanson also received in 1869 the Civil Privilege (Burger Recht) 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 which took place at this time in the life of the state and its
Jews were not felt in Brzezany, which was not a part in 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.
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