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A town now in western Ukraine, better known by its traditional Polish name, Brzeżany (also Yid., Berezhan). Brzeżany was originally a village, but it was granted the status of town by the Polish king Sigismund the Old in the sixteenth century. It became part of the Habsburg Empire in 1772.

As a result of the disintegration of the empire and the emergence of independent Poland after World War I, Brzeżany was incorporated into the southeastern Polish borderlands, also referred to as eastern Galicia. It was then absorbed by the Soviet Ukrainian Republic in 1939 and became part of the German-occupied “Distrikt Galizien” in 1941. In 1944, it was again absorbed by the USSR; and then with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it became part of independent Ukraine.

Contemporary Berezhany bears little resemblance to the town that existed before World War II. Almost all of its Polish inhabitants left for Poland in the years 1944–1948; and its Jewish population was annihilated during the Holocaust. In the 1990s the population (numbering about 18,000) consisted almost completely of Ukrainians.

Jews lived in Brzeżany since the sixteenth century, usually constituting the second-largest ethnic group in the town after the Poles. Between 1882 and 1911, the influential halakhist Shalom Mordekhai Shvadron served as rabbi of Berezhany and its district. On the eve of World War I, approximately 4,500 Jews were among its nearly 13,000 inhabitants. Numerous Jewish families fled from Brzeżany as a result of the war, and some never returned. Immigration of Brzeżany’s Jews to the United States had also begun in the late nineteenth century; a Brzeżany landsmanshaft (homeland association) was established in New York. Scores of young Jewish men and women joined Zionist youth movements and settled in Palestine in the interwar years. An association of Jews from Brzeżany has been active in Israel since the 1950s.

Jews constituted one-third of the town’s population in the interwar years, and were prominent in local commerce and in the professions. They also led a very intense community life that centered around the “People’s House,” which included an auditorium of about 500 seats where mass meetings and theater performances were held. Brzeżany’s Jews frequently attended the Great Synagogue and a number of smaller sites of prayer. Although the majority was religious, numerous young Jews from middle-class families attended the local Polish high school. After Brzeżany was occupied by the Soviets in September 1939, a number of local Jews were nominated to administrative positions, but Soviet personnel soon replaced them.

The Jewish population of Brzeżany increased significantly in the years 1939–1941 as a result of the influx of thousands of refugees from the German-occupied parts of Poland. The relatively peaceful coexistence among the three ethnic groups was then badly affected by the Soviet interlude.

The German occupation of the town in early July 1941 was followed by a Ukrainian pogrom. Deportations to the Bełżec death camp and massive killings in the local Jewish Okopisko cemetery followed in the years 1942–1943, with the last roundup occurring on 12 June 1943. When Brzeżany was reoccupied by the Red Army in July 1944, fewer than 100 Jews, including a few children, returned from hiding places. Within a year they left for Poland, most eventually settling in Israel.

Suggested Reading

Menachem Katz, ed., Bz´ez´ani Narayuv veha-sevivah: Toldot kehilot she-neḥrevu (Haifa, 1978); Danuta Dombrovska, Abraham Wein, and Aharon Vais, eds., “Bz´ez´ani / Brzezany,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Polin, vol. 2, Galitsyah ha-mizraḥit, pp. 107–114 (Jerusalem, 1980); Shimon Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany: Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians, 1919–1945 (Bloomington, Ind., 2002).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 885, Congregation Bnei Jacob Anshei Brzezan, Records, 1903-1975.