Jewish settelment in Brzesc Kujawski (yiddish: Brisk de Kojawi) dates back to the 16th century although it is possible Jews lived here earlier. It is known that in 1538 Jews were given the right to estate possession, constituted by 15 homes. In 1565 18 homes were registered as well as the house of a shames who served as a synagogue usher. During the Swedish deluge era, the armies of Hetman Czarnecki effectuated pogroms against the Jewish population as a revenge for allegedly cooperating with the invaders. These tragic incidents did not spare Brzesć. Zenon Guldon and Jacek Wijaczka describe in an essay titled "The Jewish population of Greater Poland in the second half of the 17th century" the events as follows "On the 15th of April of 1656 the Polish army eliminated approximately a hundred families in Brześć. Among the murdered, of which 48 are known by name, is rabbi Josua son of Josef. He and the rest were offered a chance to save their lives by receiving christenings, but they turned this proposal down and chose death". In 1674 there were thirty Jews in Brześć.
Certainly the 19th century came to be the "golden age" for Jews in Brześć, just as in other cities. While in 1765 the Jewish population was 164, this figure rose to 678 in 1897. The cornerstone of their income was tailoring and trade. At the outbreak of the Second World War there were 630 citizens of Jewish descent. They were repressed by the nazis. The local synagogue was burnt down. Many people were deported to concentration camps and the estimated 400 remaining where transported to the Lodz getto, from where they furtherly taken to the Chełmno upon Nerem death camp.
The Jewish cemetery in Brzesc Kujawski is situated on today's 11 Listopada street. Up until 1830 it was also a burial ground for Jews from the nearby Wloclawek. The cemetery was fenced, with a wooden pre-burial hut next to the entrance. In 1930 the yard was extended by occupating the acquired neighboring lot. The old and new sections together covered an area of 1 1/2 morgens. The burial yard was destroyed by the nazis. One former citizen of Brzesc Kujawski wrote in a letter to our editor's office. "The cemetery was beautiful, I remember it from my childhood. The gravestones where opulent, mainly made of black marble and almost each was surrounded by iron balustrades. There is not a single trace after it today. It was taken apart by looters following the war, then vandals and thoughtless children had their way with it. After that a swimming pool was built in its place".
text: K. Bielawski
photos: Sławomir Topolewski