Re: Brest-Litovsk, Russia Fires of 1802 to 1836 #belarus

Jenni Buch

I am in the middle of translating the Brisk D'lita Yizkor book >from Yiddish
to English - it is a 710
page collection of historical, anecdotal and personal memoirs - divided into
sections- such as the Old town of Brest, Personalities, Holocaust etc.
There are numerous mentions of fires, but none of fires being deliberately
lit in order to move the city to it's new position west... these are the
references to this period and moving the city westwards >from the Yizchor


The year Tav Kuf Zadik Alef (1830) (fear and panic in the city),saw great
changes in the situation of our city, Brest. This was due to a great tragedy
which was unleashed in the country of Poland – war and insurrection broke
out. The Poles rebelled against the Russian Tsar, who increasingly spread
his domination over them since the partition of Poland decided at the
Congress of Vienna in 1815. The city of Brest, located at the gates of
Poland, was besieged and the inhabitants began building fortresses and
barracks which were surrounded by high earthworks with deep canals so that
they could defend themselves against the Poles who had mobilised their last
forces to try and take the town.
A year later, when the fighting had subsided, an edict was issued by Tsar
Nicholai ordering that the town, which sat between wide rivers and lakes, be
rebuilt and strengthened. A large fortress was built with large buildings
housing munition stores and factories, and barracks for housing the
garrisons. In order to make space for this fortress an order was issued to
demolish and raze the houses that had stood there previously, so that in
their place, a high wall with a gate in the middle of the town stood there,
and high earthworks were built up around the town. When the builders began
their work a proportion of the inhabitants left their houses
and moved to the new houses which were being built inside the city. These
places were called suburbs which the government had bought in order to
resettle the population. One of these areas was a large suburb to the west,
which was called Kobryner Forshtadt or the New City, and to the south a
smaller area which was called, Volyner Forshtadt. The whole town was called
Brest D’Lita or Brest – Litevski.
The year 1835, was the year of the great fire, in which God’s wrath was
poured over the old town, which was consumed by fire, on the holy Sabbath,
the fire became a blaze which consumed several streets in the centre of the
city. About 500 houses were destroyed and the frightened residents rushed to
find shelter and build new houses in the grounds of the new city. In order
to provide shelter and protection, they rushed the building works with all
their strengths, and within two years, in 1837, it was completed. The new
town stood in all its’ beauty, and tens of thousands of people filled it’s
streets – large good quality stops were created, and the commerce and trade
returned to normal and Brest once again became a joyous city. In the old
town were the ruins of the burnt houses, which were demolished one by one,
no memory of them was left. At the same time as the new buildings were
growing in the new town, the town’s rates and taxes increased five-fold.
Also at this same time the government built storehouses for military
equipment and uniforms. They also built barracks and residences for their
employees. They built a beautiful and magnificent railway station. The
houses that were built for the town’s inhabitants were built on town land,
so that the town spread to a village called Trishin, creating a new suburb
called Horodek (small town in Russian).
As was the fate of all the residents houses, so followed the fate of the
synagogues, which had been partially burnt down, partially vandalised, and
then destroyed. These were rebuilt in the new city, and given the same names
as the old ones, according to the size of their congregations, which
multiplied and grew in the new city. This large city attracted masses who
streamed to it >from all the corners of the land to settle there.....


The Great Synagogue.

In the year of 1793, after the partition of Poland, Brest fell into the
hands of the Russians.
Then Brest- Litovsk came into a new and difficult period. The ruling powers
decided to build a fortress in the city.
The orders to build this fortress and to move the town to a new suburb,
Korbyner Forshtadt,
were decreed in 1837. Under these edicts, the government were to pay the
full value of the property assets that were in private ownership, so an
assessors’ office was established.
The order of moving the houses in order to build the fortress, was
established according to the street plan. It was also forbidden to bury the
dead in the old town’s cemetery.
The committee set aside an area for burials in the new town, which later
became Spitalna street, the intention being that the new town would be
established away >from this area..
After the plans for the new town were finished by a competent authority, it
became obvious that the area allocated for the new cemetery (people were
already buried there) had become developed with small factories, so they
were forced to move the cemetery to another area.
The Jewish community received a certain sum as compensation for the old
synagogue and decided to build a new synagogue. The plans were presented to
the military authorities at the fortress and >from there it was sent to the
‘Supreme Power’. After personally inspecting the plans and not liking them,
the Tsar wrote the following remarks with a pencil, saying: ‘not beautiful,
the synagogue should be built according to the Viennese design’.
The Tsar’s wishes were presented to the head of the kahal, and the Jewish
community sent a man to Vienna to design a synagogue based on the Great
Synagogue of Vienna. The Viennese architect prepared plans which were
adorned with artistic drawings of men and women in the grounds of the
synagogue. The men wore shtreimls (fur hats) and the women wore wigs in the
style of the orthodox Viennese Jews. The plans were delivered to the office
at the fortress and endorsed as being in accordance with the wishes of the
Tsar. This is the story of the Brest –Litovsk synagogue being built in the
“style of the Great Synagogue of Vienna”.
The historic synagogue in the old city was built in the time of Saul Wahl,
in its’ lobby on the wall was a white marble plaque about one metre in
length, which read : ” to the memory of the Gaon (genius) Saul Wahl, under
whose patronage and generosity this synagogue was built in the year ….
During the transfer of the holy vessels >from the old synagogue to the new
one, they tore this plaque off the wall and rebuilt it in the lobby of the
new synagogue, also in the rebuilding of the plaques, words such as the year
were missing, so they just inserted dots ….
Opposite the white marble plaque there was a black marble tablet with the
This Synagogue was built according to the plans and under the supervision of
Tsar Nicholai 1st. The building of the synagogue in the new Brest lasted
several years before it blossomed into a large building in an open space in
the centre of the town. Especially beautiful and precious were the synagogue
ornaments `, which were crafted in 1882 when Arye Lieb Feinstein, author of
the book ‘Ir Tefilla’ (City of Prayer) was the Gabbeh.
The terrible fire, which broke out in the town on the 4th May 1895,
destroyed half the city – 45 souls perished by fire or suffocation. But the
fire did not spare the beautiful Great Synagogue of which only four walls
remained; also the historic plaque of Saul Wahl was destroyed. The synagogue
was rebuilt in 1896, but it was not as beautiful as before. During the
German occupation of 1915-1918, the synagogue was also badly damaged, thanks
to the dedication of the Gabbehs, the synagogue was restored and surpassed
the earlier building....

These are the only references to this period but there is not mention of
burning the town so that the townsfolk would shift -they had no choice.

The Tzar took a personal interest in the design of the new synagogue
(destroyed by fire in 1895)
The townsfolk were given new plots of land to match what they owned... it is
mentioned that women would measure their plot size with their head scarfs !!
The townsfolk were also compensated for the relocation and rebuilding...
This caused alot of argument and dissention -the Russian officials were also
open to corruption as to who got what and where...
THe one article that I have translated about fires in Brest was written in
1901 by Nachum Sokolov (the famous Zionist) and deals with the 2 Great Fires
of 1895 and 1901 - the first destroyed half the city, the second (6 years
later to the day!! ) destroyed the other half.... the committee set up
investigate the fire of 1901 recommended that all buildings be built of
brick/stone, this happened with public buildings, but not private homes...
Brest houses were mainly built of timber, and people burnt wood and kerosene
for heating - thus the numerous fires...
Jenni Buch,
Melbourne Australia
Coordinator Brest and district research group.

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