A favourable location on the trade route leading to Wrocław made Brzeg an attractive location for Jewish settlers. The first reference to Jews dates back as early as 1324 and states that they were persecuted for usury. Brzeg is therefore one of the oldest Jewish settlements in Silesia. Although Jews were not viewed favourably by townspeople, the duke supported them as it benefited significantly from their presence in the town. In 1392 Jakub, the son Brzeg Jew Mojżesz, paid all the duke’s debts. Rulers knew how to repay favours - in return in 1398 Jakub could count on the magnate’s protection in the form of a special protection letter. In the letter, he guaranteed that Jews were allowed not only to live in Brzeg but to perform their professions as well. However, Jews had to pay their dues for these privileges. There were more of the privileged ones. One of them was Muscho, a Jewish usurer to whom Duke Henry VIII granted the privilege to settle down in Brzeg with his wife, children and servants[1.1]. Usury practices and strong economic competition resulted in an unfavourable attitude of the Christian community towards Jews. Such mood was also influenced by the anti-Semitism of Franciscan Jan Kapistran, who was active in Silesia at that time. In 1401, Jews were expelled from the town for about 200 years. However, they did not disappear from Brzeg completely. In the 16th and 17th centuries Jewish merchants came to the town for numerous market days and fairs. Brzeg was a leading Silesian commercial town at that time, with fairs held four times a year - on the Holy Trinity, St. Jacob, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Nicolas days. Wroclaw and Brzeg were the main cities to which Jewish merchants drove oxen bought in Wallachia, Podole and Red Ruthenia[1.2]. Jews also traded bronze and brass products, as well as tin, silver, grain, leather, spices, tropical fruits, oxen, wax, wool and books. In the mid-18th century, subsequent Prussian regulations permitted Jews to settle down only in villages and perform the professions of innkeepers, craftsmen, bakers and lessees of breweries owned by manor houses. At that period Jews settled down in Brzeg again. In 1782, there were already 140 of them in the town (3% of the total population). At the end of the 18th century they must have been considerably emancipated as evidenced by the fact that Jew Zadeck Löbel chaired the stocking-makers’ guild in the 1790s[1.1.1]. In 1810, 305 Jews lived in Brzeg, making up 4.3% of the total population. The Jewish society kept growing and the first rabbi was employed four years later. It also gained increasingly stronger economic position - a record has been preserved in the archival resources stating that the Piast dynasty castle in Brzeg was leased by a Jew in 1821 for grain storage. In 1882, 426 Jews lived in Brzeg, making up 4.5% of the total population. In the 19th century, a Jewish printing house in Brzeg published calendars and annals. In 1902, the town was inhabited by 310 Jews, of whom 55 owned houses[1.3]. The turn of the centuries was marked by significant emigration of Jews to bigger and more attractive western cities, as was the case in other Silesian towns.

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] M. Borkowski, A. Kirmiel, T. Włodarczyk, Śladami Żydów: Dolny Śląsk, Opolszczyzna, Ziemia Lubuska (In the Footsteps of Jews: Lower Silesia, Opole Region and Lubusz Land), Warsaw, 2008, p. 108
  • [1.2] Schiper I., Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich (The History of Jewish Trade on the Territories of Poland), Centrala Związku Kupców, Warsaw, 1937, p. 44
  • [1.1.1] M. Borkowski, A. Kirmiel, T. Włodarczyk, Śladami Żydów: Dolny Śląsk, Opolszczyzna, Ziemia Lubuska (In the Footsteps of Jews: Lower Silesia, Opole Region and Lubusz Land), Warsaw, 2008, p. 108
  • [1.3] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3707-brieg