The beginnings of Jewish settlement in Brzeg are connected to the first influx of Jews to Silesia at the turn of the 14th century. The oldest discovered Jewish tombstone dates back to 1348.

In the 14th century, Jews from Brzeg were persecuted due to their usurious practices. In 1392, all debts of the duke were paid off by Jakub, son of Mojżesz, a Jew from Brzeg. In 1398, the local Jews bought a letter of protection from the duke; it was meant to guarantee their peaceful residence in the town and the right to exercise their professions. Duke Henryk VIII granted the privilege to settle down in the town to a number of Jews; one of them was Muscho, who came to the town with his wife, children and servants. Nonetheless, Jews were expelled from the town in 1401, with the exception of Jacob and Seman von Reichenbach, who on 1 May 1399 had been granted the duke’s protection for the period of six years.

In the 14th century, the Black Death pandemic broke out in Silesia, which in consequence brought about famine and starvation. At that time, inhabitants of many localities would accuse Jews of poisoning wells; in Brzeg, such accusations led to a pogrom of the Jewish population in 1363.

In 1420, a document granting safety to two Jews – Salomon from Brzeg and his son Mosze from Głogów – was issued by the royal authorities. Salomon gave out substantial loans to the royal courts, which made him an influential figure and allowed for him to stay in Brzeg.

The wave of pogroms and expulsions of Jews which stormed through Silesia in 1453 and was caused by fierce sermons of monk John of Capistrano (1386–1456), eventually led to the expulsion of all Jews from Brzeg.

The first record of a cheder existing in Brzeg comes from 1507. It is assumed that the school operated until the expulsion of Jews from Brzeg in 1582 (which also led to the synagogue being burned down.

When Silesia was taken over by German emperors in 1526, Silesian Jews also came under the jurisdiction of the Empire. In the years 1582–1584, Emperor Rudolf II confirmed the former emperor’s edict obliging Jews to leave the ancestral territories of the Habsburgs. By virtue of the document, Jews were expelled from Brzeg in 1582.

In accordance with the Peace of Westphalia (concluded on 24 October 1648) which ended the Thirty Years’ War, landowners were allowed to decide whether they would allow for Jews to settle on their lands. The provisions of the peace treaty were also binding for Upper Silesia. A group of Jews from Biała Prudnicka took advantage of the new regulations and moved to Brzeg in 1650. Ten years later, an independent Jewish community was established in the town; it probably had its own synagogue.

In the second half of the 17th century, Polish Jews maintained trade relations with Silesian Jews. Merchants from Poland would come to fairs held in Wrocław, Brzeg, Nysa and  Opole. They traded in various metal products made of bronze, brass, tin, silver, as well as in grain, leather, spices, exotic fruit, oxen, wax, wool, and books.

During the First Silesian War of 1742, the majority of Silesia fell under the rule of the Kingdom of Prussia (except for Cieszyn Silesia and the Duchy of Troppau). In September 1768, the Prussian authorities forbade Jews to build new cemeteries and synagogues without paying for a special license. Other Prussian decrees allowed Jews to settle down exclusively in villages, where they could legally work as innkeepers, artisans, bakers and leaseholders of breweries. At the time, Jews started to settle in Brzeg once again. In 1782, the town had 140 Jewish inhabitants (3% of the population). In the 1790s, the Hosiery Guild was headed by Zadeck Löbel, a Jew, which demonstrates the emancipation of the Jews from Brzeg. In 1798, a Jewish cemetery was established in Brzeg and soon afterwards, in 1799, a new synagogue was built.

In 1816, the community employed its first rabbi. Historical sources mention that in 1821, the Piast Castle in Brzeg was rented out to a Jew and served as a grain store. In September 1824, a two-form elementary Jewish school was established in the town. In the 19th century a Jewish printing house existed in Brzeg; it printed out calendars and annuals. At the turn of the 20th century, a large wave of migration could be noticed in the Jewish population, with numerous people leaving Brzeg and migrating west.

In 1902, 310 Jews lived in Brzeg, 55 of which owned houses in the town. There were three charity organisations in the town (a society providing support for the poor, a burial society, and women’s league). The constant outflow of Jews from Brzeg continued, leaving the community smaller and smaller. In 1910, Jewish residents made up only 0.9% of the total population. In 1915, the Jewish school was moved to a new building, where it operated until the end of the 1930s.

An anti-Jewish boycott in Brzeg and in entire Germany was carried out on Sunday, 1 April 1933. During the so–called Kristallnacht (9/10 November 1938), the Nazi burned down the synagogue and set fire to the Torah scrolls in public. After these events, many Jews left the town and moved west.

As a part of the Generalplan Ost, Germans deported all Jews from Brzeg in 1940 and placed them in ghettos located in the General Government and in Dąbrowa Basin.

After World War II, the Jewish community of Brzeg was never revived.

 

Bibliography:

  • Borkowski M., Kirmiel A., Włodarczyk T., Śladami Żydów: Dolny Śląsk, Opolszczyzna, Ziemia Lubuska, Warszawa 2008.Brieg, [w:] Jewish Encyclopedia [online] https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3707-brieg [dostęp: 27.03.2020].
  • Brzeg, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust, red. S. Spector, New York 2001.
  • Dziewulski W., Brzeg. Dzieje, gospodarka, kultura, Opole 1975. 
  • Gwóźdź K., Żydzi w okresie Habsburgów, [w: ] Historia Tarnowskich Gór, red. J. Drabina, Tarnowskie Góry 2000.
  • Jaworski W., Żydzi w województwie śląskim w okresie międzywojennym, Katowice 1991, s. 4.
  • Shipper I., Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich, Warszawa 1937.
  • Walerjański D., Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku, „Orbis Interior: pismo muzealno-humanistyczne” 2005, t. 5
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