Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


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Berezne - guidebook

Ukr. Березне, Yid. בערעזנע

Berezne - guidebook

The city by the Horyn River

The first mention of the settlement dates from 1445, when the Grand Duke Švitrigaila gave it to Dmitr Sanguszko. The Berezne Raion is mentioned in documents from 1552. At that time, the city was the administrative centre. The town was called Jędrzejów, Bereżenka or Bereżne, and in the 19th century, the name Berezne was finally established.

The Jews of Berezne

The first mention of the Jewish community in Berezne dates back to the second half of the 17th century. In 1764, there were 48 Jewish houses; in 1784: 29; and in 1787: 37. The Berezne Qahal was founded in the 18th century. The Jewish community maintained synagogues, educational establishments, a cemetery and a shelter. There was also a society "Linat ha-Tzedek" (Heb. Charity Care).

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jews accounted for 70% of the population of the city. According to data from 1927, Berezne had 2.9 thousand residents (excluding those, who owned plots of land), including Ukrainians: 1.3%, Jews: 93.0%, Poles: 4.3%, and Czechs: 0.6%. Before the war, the Jewish community played an important role in the life of the town. In 1928, out of 21 judges of the Berezne magistrate, 17 were of Jewish origin.


"Chevra Kadisha" [funeral society]

The dynasty

At the beginning of the 19th century, the local landowner (according to a legend, he was jealous of the town of Stolin, which developed thanks to its tzadik and his followers, the Hasidim, who continually flocked to it) invited the Hasidic Rabbi from Pinsk, Jehiel Michele Peczenik (d. 1849). Gave him land and helped build a house. He hoped that the religious activist would attract Jews to Berezne and this would speed up the economic development of the city. So it happened and the Peczenik family has ever since lived in Berezne and started a new Hasidic dynasty there.

The Jewish quarter

Berezne has a well preserved urban structure of a typical shtetl: single-storey wooden and brick houses with wooden porches. At the front of the houses, there were usually shops or workshops and potential clients could enter from the street. When children were married, new rooms were built adjacent to the house. The characteristic features of the houses in the town were high hipped roofs which visually occupied more than a half of the height of the building.

In the 1930s, the Jews of Berezne inhabited the streets: 11 Lystopada, Zamkova, Kopernika, 3 Maya, Korzenievskyego, Pocztova, Joselevycha, and Kilinskyego.

On a map from 1922, there is Shkolna Street, which was small and located in today's Bukhovycha Street. It ran perpendicularly from the central Komisarska Street (now Andriyivska Street) and further, to the then Lipki Street (now Kyivska Street). On this street, there were two synagogues and the house of rabbi.

On 11 Lystopada Street (now Nazaruka Street) in 1934, there was a pharmacy and many craft workshops. On 3 Maya Street (now Andriyivska Street) were the buildings of the club and the reading room. There was also a mill, belonging to one of the families (currently at this point, there is a music school).

 At the market square, there were small shops run by Jews. In total, there were approx. 90 shops. Fairs played an important role in the commercial life of the town.

Fires in Berezne

The synagogue

The Great Synagogue was built in 1910, on a rectangular plan (9 m × 12 m). It had separate small rooms where carpenters, tailors and shoemakers prayed on weekdays. The main hall was used on Shabbat and holidays.

After the war, it housed a registry office. The building is located on Bukhovycha Street 3, but has been completely rebuilt and lost its former character.

Educational and cultural facilities

In 1917, a Tarbut school was founded, where children were taught in Hebrew. The most famous teacher was Yakov Ajzman. There was also the Perec School with Yiddish as language of instruction.

On Pochtova Street, there was the Perec library and on Komisarska Street: a Zionist library. In both of them, in addition to literary works, you could read the current press. The most popular among the Jewish inhabitants of the city were the newspapers "Der Moment" (Yid. The Moment) and "Woliner Shtyme" (Yid. The Voice of Volhynia). There was also a theatre company. Performances took place in the "Link" club, situated on Komisarska Street (the building has been preserved to our times).


Jewish cemeteries were located in the north-west of the city, on the banks of the river. The old cemetery was on the eastern bank. The new one (founded in the 19th century) was on the western bank, next to the Catholic cemetery. According to the memories of witnesses, all matzevahs at this cemetery were wooden and only the central ohel of the famous rabbis was made of brick. The cemetery also became the place of collective burials of the Jews of Berezne shot during World War II. In the 1960s, a park and an artificial lake were constructed there. Cemeteries were flooded and destroyed.

World War II and the Holocaust

In September 1939, the Red Army entered Berezne and in June 1941, the Germans, who set up a ghetto in the center of the city (now a market and a high school with a students' house). Over 3 thousand Jews were detained there. On 25 August 1942, all the inhabitants of the ghetto were brought outside of the city, forced to dig graves and killed by the Einsatzgruppen.

The residents of Berezne remember Doctor Lerner, who lived with his family in a building on the hospital property, on Pilsudzkiego Street (now Kyjivska). In August 1942, to avoid being put in the ghetto, he administered a lethal dose of morphine to his wife and little son, and later to himself. All three were buried in the garden next to the hospital.

Only a handful of people managed to escape from the ghetto. The fugitives hid in the forests until the arrival of the Red Army. To save their lives, they forged identity documents or got baptised; some joined the Soviet partisans.

The grave in the Dendropark

At the end of the 1960s, human remains were found dug out of the ground on the site of the shooting of the Jews of Berezne. It was established that it was done by cemetery hyenas looking for Jewish valuables. In the following years, the site was turned into a dendrological park, which helped stop the practice of digging up graves. At the end of the 1980s, a commemorative plaque was placed there.

Worth seeing

  • National Dendrological Park: in the park there is a place of executions and burials of the Jews of Berezne murdered in 1942; memorial plaque in 2 languages (Ukrainian and Hebrew)

  • National Museum of Local History: building from 1901–1905; in the 1940s and 1950s, in the basement of this building the NKVD had its place of torture, Kyjivska 8

  • Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas (1845)

In the vicinity

Mokvyn (3 km): former Church (19th century)

Zirne (6 km): the Malinsky Palace (19th century)

Sosnove (28 km): Jewish cemetery; site of the execution of approx. 3 thousand Jews (1942)

Hubkov (30 km): ruins of a medieval castle (16th century)

Marynin (34 km): open-air museum; wooden Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration (1801)

Sarny (58 km): monument at the site of the execution of 15 thousand Jews (1942)

Rokitno (75 km): Jewish cemetery (19th century)

Regional Landscape Park "Nadsluchansky" (28 km)


Author: Natalia Trochliuk