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Pruzhany

PRUZHANY

PRUZHANY (Pol. Prużana ), city in Brest district, Belarus. Situated on the road which leads from Brest-Litovsk to Moscow, it was under Polish rule until 1795; in the third partition of Poland it was incorporated into Russia, and in 1919 regained by Poland until 1939. Jews lived in Pruzhany during the middle of the 15th century and around 1450 there was a ḥevra kaddisha which noted its activities in a register. In 1463 the first synagogue (destroyed by fire in 1863) was erected near the center of the Jewish quarter. In 1495 the Jews of Pruzhany were included in the general expulsion of Jews from Lithuania, but they returned after a few years. In 1563 there were 11 Jewish families and 276 Christian families. Both Christians and Jews earned their livelihood primarily from agriculture and livestock, although there were some engaged in commerce and crafts. In 1588 the town was granted autonomous rights according to the *Magdeburg Law. The rights of the Jews were formally drawn up and ratified by Ladislaus iv in 1644 and subsequently, on several occasions, by his successors. According to these rights Jews were authorized to reside in Pruzhany, to practice their religion and freely engage in their occupations. At the close of the 17th century there were 571 Jews (42% of the population); in 1868, during the period of Russian rule, there were 2,575 Jews (61% of the total), and in 1897 there were 5,080 (of a total population of 7,633). By the close of the 19th century the Jewish community enjoyed a vigorous social and cultural life in which all trends and parties were active. During German occupation (1915–1917) Jews were taken for forced labor, and suffered from a typhoid epidemic. In 1921 the Jewish population was 4,152 (about 57% of the total). With the establishment of independent Poland, Jews also participated in the municipal government. In 1927, 16 of the 24 delegates elected to the administration were Jews. In the elections of the Jewish community in 1928, M. Goldfein, a delegate of the merchants, was elected president. There were in town a Jewish orphanage, an old-age home, a Hebrew and Yiddish schools, and a yeshivah; two weeklies were published.

Distinguished rabbis served in the town. At the close of the 16th century, R. Joel *Sirkes, the renowned author of the Baḥ (Bayit Ḥadash), officiated as rabbi and rosh yeshivah for some time. R. *David b. Samuel ha-Levi, author of the Turei Zahav (Taz) also held the rabbinical office for a brief period. Among the last rabbis of the town, one of the most prominent was R. Elijah Feinstein (1842–1929) who was appointed in 1884. Active in the affairs of Polish Jewry, he wrote Sefer Halikhot Eliyahu ("Book of the Demeanors of Elijah," 1932), and a novella on Maimonides which was published in 1929. He was succeeded by his son-in-law R. David Feigenbaum, who perished in the Holocaust.

[Shimshon Leib Kirshenboim]

Holocaust Period and After

Under Soviet rule (1934–41) the Jewish communal bodies were disbanded. Private enterprise was gradually liquidated as merchandise was sold and no new stock made available. Cooperatives were set up for the skilled craftsmen. Educational institutions were reorganized, and a Yiddish-language school set up. The Jewish orphanage was combined with its Christian-run counterpart and placed under the municipality.

On June 27, 1941, after war broke out between Germany and the U.S.S.R., the Germans entered Pruzhany. They immediately exacted a fine from the Jewish community of 500,000 rubles, 2 kg. of gold, and 10 kg. of silver, to be paid within 24 hours. A Judenrat was set up, first chaired by Welwel Schreibman and later by Yiẓḥak Janowicz, which tried to cope with the emergency. The Germans set up a ghetto on Sept. 22, 1941. Workshops were created in the hope that the economic utility of the Jews to the Germans would forestall deportations. The Judenrat combated the decrees against the Jewish inhabitants, gaining the confidence of members of the community. The ghetto swelled when 4,000 Jews were brought in, 2,000 from Bialystok and 2,000 from towns in the vicinity. In the latter half of 1942 an underground resistance organization was formed in the ghetto. Cells were established, arms acquired, and contacts sought with the partisans on the outside. On Jan. 27, 1943, two Jewish partisans approached the Judenrat to strengthen contact with the underground. Germans caught them there by surprise, but with the help of some of the Judenrat members the partisans escaped. The Judenrat was then charged with collaborating with the partisans. The following day the Germans began the deportation of the 10,000 inmates of the ghetto, 2,500 being dispatched daily to *Auschwitz. Within four days the community was destroyed. Some groups of Jews fled to the forests and joined the Jewish partisans who operated in the vicinity. In the late 1960s there was a Jewish population of about 60 (12 families). The former Great Synagogue was turned into an electric power plant. A mass grave of Jewish victims massacred by the Nazis was repeatedly desecrated and a road was built through its site.

[Aharon Weiss]

bibliography:

Pinkes fun Funf Fartilikte Kehiles: Pruzhana, Bereza… (1958), 3–323, 599–690.

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