Jews started to settle in Brok at the end of the 18th century, after the Third Partition of Poland. The first Jewish settlers arrived to the town from Płock. In the 19th century, local Jewish bakers were well known for their matzot, which was even transported to Warsaw and Łódź.
Brok soon started to develop as a summer resort, which gave Jews plenty of opportunities to improve their economic situation. They owned kosher restaurants, dealt in trade and crafts, and rented orchards.
In his guide to Puszcza Kamieniecka and Puszcza Biała, Lechosław Herz wrote about Jews in Brok as follows:
The existence of a Jewish community in the town surely gave it a sense of uniqueness. The first summer visitors considered Jewish traditions an attraction and would attentively watch Jews standing at the river bank, shaking their sins off into the flowing water. The ritual took place on the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which was celebrated during the first two days of the month of Tishri, usually around September. The first day of the holiday was also known as the Feast of Trumpets. The sound of mutton horns could be heard throughout the town and religious Jews would symbolically cleanse themselves of their sins[refr:|See: Herz L., Puszcze Kamieniecka i Biała. Przewodnik krajoznawczy w formie opowieści napisany, a po magicznych i egzotycznych miejscach znanych i nieznanych prowadzący, Pruszków 2005.]].
In the 1840s, a wooden synagogue and a mikveh were built on the corner of the current Pułtuska and Strażacka Streets. The first rabbi of Brok was Abraham Jehuda Lejb Kozak from Wyszogród. He was a member of the Hasidic dynasty from Kock (Yiddish: Kotsk). In 1852, the authorities granted a plot of land for the creation of a cemetery to the Jewish community of Brok. Several dozen matzevot have survived to this day. There were also three beth midrashes in the town. The first rabbi was later succeeded by: Nachman Szmuel Jakub (1908), Szmuel Icchak Miadasar (1925), and Jakob Meir Pomeranz, the last rabbi of Brok, who eventually migrated to Israel.
In June 1855, the authorities of the Płock Governorate issued a request to the Government Commission for Internal and Spiritual Affairs, asking for permission to create a synagogue district in Brok. The document included some interesting pieces of information:
The town of Brok in the Ostrołęka County, with 687 Jewish inhabitants, and the Governmental Municipality of Brok, with 56 Jewish people living in eight villages, both belong to the synagogue district of Ostrowa, located 1.5 miles from the town of Brok and 2.5 miles from several remote villages […] Thanks to voluntary donations, they finalised the following proceedings:
- Bought a plot of land and used it to build a synagogue along with living quarters for a rabbi,
- On the same plot, built a building holding bath houses for men and for women, fully equipped with copper machinery […]
- Arranged a cemetery on the area of 900 square fathoms […]
- Made plans to build or buy […] a house for the chazan, the shkolnik, and poor fellow Jews (...).
The Government Commission for Internal and Spiritual Affairs accepted the request. The expenditure and income from the synagogue district started to be recorded on 1 January 1856. During the years 1856–1860, it was as follows:
I. Permanent income:
A. From temporary leases:
- From leasing the house – 10 rubles in silver
- Income from reading Torah scrolls – 20 rubles in silver.
B. Contributions: Contributions from townsmen – 120 rubles in silver and 50 kopeks. II. Non-permanent income: From cemetery tax on bodies of the deceased – 3 rubles in silver, 45 kopeks.
Total: 153 rubles in silver and 95 kopeks.
I. On salaries:
- For deputy lower rabbi – 75 rubles in silver.
- For the shkolnik – 7 rubles in silver and 50 kopeks.
- For the chazan – 15 rubles in silver.
- For the cashier – 7 rubles in silver and 69 kopeks.
- For the assessor of the Denominations’ Section – 1 ruble in silver and 80 kopeks.
II. On office supplies and stationery:
- For the mayor – 3 rubles in silver.
- For the synagogue supervision – 3 rubles in silver.
III. On taxes – 14 rubles in silver and 62 kopeks.
IV. On various expenses:
- Purchasing wood for heating in the synagogue and the hospital, paying for light in the synagogue, buying Fruit of a Godly Tree – 7 rubles in silver and 50 kopeks.
- Salaries for gravediggers – 7 rubles in silver and 50 kopeks.
- Funds at the disposal of the Gubernatorial Government – 3 rubles in silver and 89 kopeks.
Total: 153 rubles in silver and 95 kopeks.”[1.1].
Various religious organisations operated in Brok: Linas Ha-Cedek (providing care for the poor and ill), Hachnasat Orchim (providing care for orphans), and Kupat Gemilut Chasadim (giving interest-free loans)[1.2].
In 1921, Brok had 873 Jewish inhabitants. During the interwar period, the Zionist movement started to gain a lot of popularity in the town. There was a section of the Mizrachi operating there, as well as various youth organisations such as the leftist Hashomer Hatsair, the religious Hashomer Hadati and the revisionist Betar. In 1938, a hachshara centre (agricultural programme in preparation for leaving for Palestine) opened in Brok. A small group of the Jewish youth were involved in the activities of the Bund and the illegal Communist Party of Poland.
Most Jewish boys attended cheders, while the Beit Yakov school provided education for girls. In the interwar period, many Jews attended Polish public schools.
German forces entered Brok on 8 September 1939. Most wooden buildings in the town (including the synagogue) were burned down. Many people died in the fire, among them 40 Jews. Some Jewish people who tried to flee the town were caught and chased until they reached Ostrowa Mazowiecka and Komorówka. After two weeks, however, they returned to Brok. During the German occupation of the town, persecution of Jews and mass executions were an everyday occurrence. About one third of all Jewish inhabitants of Brok fled to areas controlled by the Soviet Union, where they were murdered after the German army took control over the area. In 1942, Germans sent all of the Jews who still remained in Brok to the extermination camp in Treblinka.
It is estimated that about 300 Jews from Brok survived WWII.
In 1945, a wave of murders on Jewish people swept through numerous Polish towns. One of those killings took place in Brok. According to Welw Szczuczyner, a group of armed men assaulted him and his roommate, Zarember, during the night of 18 to 19 June 1945. The Jewish men owned a Luger pistol and thus were able to defend themselves from the attackers. One of the aggressors died on the spot, and the other, due to serious injuries, died the very next day. Szczuczyner claimed that the assault was performed by members of the National Armed Forces[1.3].
Brok, [in:] Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, vol. IV [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_poland/pol4_00151.html [accessed: 21.04.2021].
Brok [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, New York 2001, p. 202.
Herz L., Puszcze Kamieniecka i Biała. Przewodnik krajoznawczy w formie opowieści napisany, a po magicznych i egzotycznych miejscach znanych i nieznanych prowadzący, Pruszków 2005.
Mironczuk J., Żydzi w powiecie ostrołęckim do I wojny światowej, Ostrołęka 2011.
Młynarczuk E., Brokowscy Żydzi wpisani w dzieje miasta – historia [online] http://archiwumbiblioteka.brok.pl/index.php/spotkania-z-ciekawymi-ludzmi/59-brokowscy-zydzi-wpisani-w-dzieje-miasta-historia [accessed: 21.04.2021].
Piekarski D., Miasteczko Brok [w:] Rocznik Mazowiecki, v. XXVII 2015-2016, Warszawa 2016
- [1.1] Mironczuk J., Żydzi w powiecie ostrołęckim do I wojny światowej, Ostrołęka 2011.
- [1.2] Brok, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, vol. IV [online] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_poland/pol4_00151.html [Accessed: 21.10.2014].
- [1.3] Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute, Accounts. Testimonies of rescued Jews, ref. 301/741, Account of W. Szczuczyner.