Nowe Brzesko, like other Polish towns owned by clergy, held the de non tolerandis Iudaeis privilege which prevented Jews from settling within its limits. Nevertheless, one could encounter a few Jewish families just behind the railroad crossings in the town. These Jewish families were occupied with trade. In 1820 the mayor, Targowski, wrote that 16 fairs were held annually and two markets held weekly in the town. At fairs people traded in horses, cattle, pigs, grain, and food. Jews sold goods such as linen.[1.1].

Once restrictions on Jewish settlement in the town were lifted, the first Jewish family settled in Nowe Brzesko in 1862, and more arrived in the town in 1864. A Jewish cemetery was built in 1862.[1.2] Yet a wave of new settlement started only after an imperial decree of 1883 ordering Jews to leave villages and settle in the nearest locality with a police station. However, in case of Nowe Brzesko this process was rather slow, as evidenced by the 1885 census.[1.3] Nowe Brzesko at this time was a poor town without many promising prospects for the future, and consequently many young Jews moved out to live in other towns. According to the 1897 census, Nowe Brzesko was inhabited by 213 Jews.

A sharp increase in the number of Jews in the town occurred during World War I, when 400 refugees arrived in the town from other regions, predominantly Galicia. The number of Jewish inhabitants peaked in 1921 at 457 people. During the interwar period, the number of Jews decreased again to some 200 people.

On 8 June 1918, Symcha Nornberg (d. 2000) was born in Nowe Brzesko. He would go on to become an acknowledged Israeli painter and a Zionist activist.[1.4]

This small and poor Jewish community did not have its own rabbi and had to rely on services offered by the rabbi of Proszowice. Initially both communities belonged to the kehilla in Działoszyce and in the 1920s to the kehilla in Miechów. In the early 1920s  the kehilla in Nowe Brzesko had its own rabbi, Mordka Henoch Spiro. However, he moved to Kraków just three years later, and the Jewish community had to elect a new rabbi. Because of the town’s difficult financial situation, a rabbi from a nearby locality was allowed to commute to the kehilla.[1.5] For lack of other volunteers, Rabbi Spiro agreed to commute from Kraków.[1.6] He received 400zl a year for his service.[1.7] The community had to rent a room for a prayer house due to lack of funds.[1.1.7]

In 1929 the kehilla had 450 members. Apart from Nowe Brzesko it included Gruszków, Igołomia, and Wawrzeńczyce. Fifty-one families paid contributions ranging from 5-60 zlotys.[1.8] Most of the town’s Jews were quite poor and lacked both land and adequate finances. Most of them dealt in small trade and crafts (shoe and dress-making). The wealthiest Jewish citizens were Josek Szmuglewicz – the owner of a board depot, Szulik – a grain trader, and R. Rychter who sold silk fabrics. In addition to these men’s businesses, a bakery of Herszel Birbaum, a slaughterhouse of Dawid Pióro, and grocery stores owned by Cherszel Ickiewicz and Jankiel Szmulewicz operated in the town. In all, 30 Jewish families ran some sort of business before 1939.

The autumn of 1942 saw the extermination of the Jewish community in Nowe Brzesko. In September notices appeared in the village informing about a meeting of all Jews on a specified date in the New Market Square. They could take along only what they were able to carry. The Jews were put into cars and transported to the Miechów ghetto. The old and infirm among them were shot dead on the spot. Two women and a child survived the war hidden under the floor in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Szewczyk in Nowe Brzesko. A few more Jewish families from Nowe Brzesko who took refuge in neighboring localities survived the war.

No traces of the Jews of Nowe Brzesko have survived to date. The building that included the house of prayer was demolished after 1945. The village’s inhabitants used the town’s matzevot (Jewish gravestones) to harden streets, as well as the foundations of new houses. Due to the fact that the cemetery was small, it was located next to fields and was surrounded by only barbed wire. At present, it is impossible to determine its exact location.

Bibliography

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] D. Król (ed.), Legendy i opowieści Ziemi Proszowickiej, Nowe Brzesko 2014
  • [1.2] Nowe Brzesko, International Jewish Cemetery Project [online] https://iajgscemetery.org/eastern-europe/poland/brzesko [Accessed 20 August 2021].
  • [1.3] S. Marcinkowski, Miasta Kielecczyzny. Przemiany społeczno gospodarcze 1815–1869, (1980), 83.
  • [1.4] More: Simcha Nornberg, in: Jewish Virtual Library [online] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/SimchaNornberg.html [Accessed 20 December 2021].
  • [1.5] State Archive in Kraków, Provincial Office in Kraków I classification number 1748, card 49.
  • [1.6] State Archive in Kraków, Provincial Office in Kraków I classification number 1507, card 88
  • [1.7] Archiwum Państwowe w Krakowie, Urząd Wojewódzki Kraków  I, sygn. 1471, k. 17.
  • [1.1.7] Archiwum Państwowe w Krakowie, Urząd Wojewódzki Kraków  I, sygn. 1471, k. 17.
  • [1.8] Archiwum Państwowe w Krakowie, Urząd Wojewódzki Kraków I, sygn. 1471, k. 17.