Pruzany: reprinted, with updates, from the December, 1995 edition of The Pomerantz Post.
As promised in the last Pomerantz Post, here is a short summary of the history of Pruzana, or Pruzany. This is the Jewish community where our common ancestors, David Charles Pomerantz (c. 1820 - ?) and Miriam Pomerantz (c. 1822 - ?), lived and had their nine children, who make up the nine branches of our Cousins Club.
Located in what was originally the Brisk district of Lithuania, Pruzany is situated on the road leading from Brest-Litovsk to Moscow. (Update of April, 1999: this area is today called Belorussia. Current research indicates that although David was from Pruz'any, the family as a whole may come from an area to the east, northeast of Warsaw. This would include Grodno, which is northwest of Pruzany.)
In the mid-fourteen hundreds, the town was governed by the Lithuanian State Committee. The first synagogue was built in the Jewish quarter in 1463. In 1495, all Jews were expelled from Lithuania. The Jewish people from Pruzany had to leave too, but they returned after a few years or so.
By 1563, there were 22 Jewish families in the town. They earned their livelihood mostly from agriculture and raising livestock, although a few engaged in commerce and crafts. Five year later, the Jews in Pruzany were granted the right to live in accordance with their religious tenets. The first mention of Jewish merchants in the town registry was in 1583.
In 1623, the area was still governed by the Lithuanian State Committee, but in 1644, now under Polish rule, King Wadyslar, in addition, now granted them certain more important rights.
One right was to engage freely in their occupations. Another was to be allowed to buy houses and plots in the market square and town streets. They could now sell wine, ale, mead, and could deal in workshops and trades. They were also exempt from paying taxes on synagogue lands and cemeteries.
Besides having the right to practice their religion, they could now construct synagogues, provided these were not built like Christian churches. However, six years later, King Jan Kazimierz, although he reaffirmed the main privileges, banned the purchase of new land for building synagogues.
By the end of the 17th century, there were 571 Jews and by 1766, those 22 families of a century earlier had grown to 641 Jews more than 40% of the townspeople.
In 1795, Poland was partitioned for the third time and the area was incorporated into Russia. By the turn of the century, Pruzany was a regional center with 1,285 Jews. Interestingly, some of these were Karaites a Jewish sect dating to the 8th century that opposed the Talmud.
The Jewish population continued to grow until, in 1847, there were 2,583 Jews in the district. David and Miriam had been married about five years at this time and had their first child.
Tragedy struck in 1863 when the very first synagogue burned to the ground, but by this time, and through the end of the 19th century, the Pruzany Jewish community enjoyed a vigorous social and cultural life.
The area grew, and by 1921 reached 4,152 despite the emigration of many Jews to the United States. All the children and grandchildren of David and Miriam had come to America by then, except for Philip (Fischel, #1) their eldest; Yudel (#11), Fischels eldest; and Hinde (Hinke, #6) and her eldest, Chiam (#61). (Note: the numbers refer to positions in the Pomerantz Family Tree.)
In 1927, almost 60% of Pruzany was Jewish, and 16 of the 24 delegates elected to the municipal government were Jews. But a major change came with the establishment of the Soviet Union.
Between 1934 1941, Jewish communal bodies were disbanded, cooperatives were established, and educational institutions were reorganized. One interesting note is that a Yiddish language school was begun.
When war broke out between Russia and Germany in June 1941, the Germans took control of the area. They immediately exacted a fine of 500,000 rubles, 2 kilograms of gold and 10 kilograms of silver, to be paid within 24 hours from the Jewish community.
By September 1941, the Germans had set up a Jewish ghetto, and soon all the Jews from the surrounding area were brought in.
Within a few months, a Jewish underground formed a resistance organization in the ghetto. The made contact with the local partisans in the surrounding forests. The organization was soon discovered by the Germans and was disbanded. The deportations to Auschwitz began, and within four days, the Jewish community was destroyed. Some resistance members were able to escape and join the Jewish partisans in the forests.
By the late 1960s, there were only 12 Jewish families left in Pruzany, and the former great synagogue had been turned into an electric power plant.
Note: the above material, excerpted and condensed, was reproduced with the permission of the United Pruzana and Vicinity Relief Committee from their book, "Pinkas Pruzany and Its Vicinity," subtitled, "Chronicale of Six Communities Perished in the Holocaust." The Pinkas, in turn, relies on the Jewish Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Judaica, and Encyclopedia Hebraica.
The two photographs above are believed to be from Pruz'any and were sent to us by Ulrich Koerner of Germany, who writes:
"I think you know which town shows the picture in the attachment! The real photo postcard is from 1916, taken from a German soldier , which was stationed here in WW I. I have a collection of ca. 35 different old cards. So perhaps I am able to contribute your interesting website, which i found accidentally while 'surfing in the net' ! Kind regards from Germany."
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