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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Pruzhany Cultural Heritage Card

פּרוזאַני [Yiddish], 
Пружаны [Belorus.],
Prużana [Polish.]
Pružanai [Lithuanian]
Пружаны [Rus.]

Pruzhany [Eng.]

Pruzhany is a town, a district center in Brest region.

The centre of Pruzhany
The centre of Pruzhany (Author: Pivovarchik, Irina)

HISTORICAL AND NATURAL LANDSCAPEDirect link for this paragraph

It is situated on Mukhavets river (Western Bug basin), in 89 km to the north-east from Brest city, 13km from Oranchitsy railway station (Barankivichi – Brest railway direction). A junction of motorways to Brest, Vysokoye, Berioza, Slonim, Kobrin is situated here.

Geographic coordinates          52°33′24″ N. 24°27′52″ E (G) (O) (Я)


Historical and cultural memorials: a chapel (1852), Alexander Nevskiy Cathedral (1866), a church (1878 г.), Rolish RC Church of Holy Virgin Mary Ascension (1883), shop lines (1896 г.), town estate (the 2nd half of the 19th century). Park "Pruzany" is situated in the town — it is a natural memorial of local importance.

The first mention of Pruzhany volost belongs to 1433. According to the most grounded version the name of the town originates from the settlement of Prussians who found shelter in this area escaping from crusaders.  Pruzhany are known starting from 1487 under the name Dobuchin. Up to 1519 it brlonged to Kobrin principality. After the death of Kobrin Prince Ivan Semenovich Pruzhany was transfered to his wife Fedora. In 1519 according to the decision of the Great Lithuanian Prince Sigismund I the Old Pruzhany was granted to marchal V.Kostevich and was included to Kobrin eldership. Starting from 1520 it was a part of Podluaskoye voivodeship and in 1566 the town was included to Brest district and voivodeship. In the 16th century Pruzhany belonged to the queen of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita) Bona and her daughter Anna. In 1589 the town (which was then a big center of trading) obtained the Magdeburg Law and its present day name Pruzhany. Four fairs per year were carried out here. According to the census of 1563 Pruzhany had a population of 1250 people, 7 streets and 278 farms. In the 16th century Pruzhany "Royal Household" existed (including a wooden palace, 2 outbuildings, a stable, a shed, a heating house, a bakery, 4 granaries, a water mill and a garden). On the 3rd of May 1588 the owner of Pruzhany the queen and the princess of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Anna Yagiellonka (widow of Stefan Bathory) who was the owner of Pruzhany after death of her mother (queen Bona Sforza) released the town from county dependence and granted the Magdeburg Law to it alongside with the town Statute, a Seal and an Emblem. A year later on the 6th of May 1589 King of Poland and Great Prince of Lithuania Sigizmund III Vasa confirmed privileges of inhabitants of the town. "For distinctiveness Pruzhany Seal will include depiction of a small wriggling snake with a child stretching hands out of its jaws..." Appearance of a child from jaws of a snake was a symbol of a wakening eternally young power combined with wisdom and world's ability to self-purification renovation. In its content the emblem presented to Pruzhany resembles the emblem of Milan. On its silver field a grass snake is depicted and a baby is appearing up to half out of its jaws.  This resemblance we owe to Anna Yagiellonka who presented this emblem to Pruzhany in commemoration of her mother Bona, the queen of Rzeczpospolita and daughter of duke of Milan Gian Galeazzo Sforza. According to an ancient legend during the 1st crusade the father of Visconti family (first dukes of Milan) killed a betrayer in a duel and possessed his shield where a snake holding a baby in its jaws was depicted. Later this sign became the emblem of Milan and the symbol of power and victory of the city. In the middle 15th century Milan throne alongside with the emblem passed to Sforza dynasty. Up to date Milan has got a different emblem (a red cross on the background of a silver field). Depiction of a snake with a baby is used by ALFA ROMEO Company.

During wars in the middle 17th - the first half of the 18th century the town was heavily destroyed: number of housed decreased 5-fold. In 1776 the town was deprived of the Magdeburg Law. By the end of the 18th century the town was restored. In 1791 its population was 2094 people. In 1795 Pruzhany became a part of Russia: a town, the center of Slonim government, in 1797 it became the center of Lithuania government and in 1801 it was included to Grodno government. In 1845 a new emblem was obtained: a fir tree with a hunting tube hanging on its branches against light brown background. In 1866 Alexander Nevskiy Cathedral was built in the center of Pruzhany. In 1878 the Church of the Holy Transfiguration was built. In 1857 population of the town was 5665 people. According to the census of 1897 population of Pruzhany was 8,208 people including 5,079 Jews (67.5 %). There were 14 minor enterprises, a district school and a two-form parochial school, 6 hospitals, 2 churches, a Polish RC church, a synagogue, several Jewish praying houses. In the 19th - the 1st half of the 20th century Pruzhany is known as a center of pottery.  Abolishment of serfdom significantly contributed to economic development of the town.
During the period of 1921-1939 Pruzhany was a part of Poland (the center of Pruzhany uyezd (district)). In 1921 population of the town was 6,332 people including 4,152 Jews (65.6 %). In 1922 a 7-year "Tarbut" school was opened in Pruzhany. Learning was performed in Hebrew (During 1927/28 learning year this school had 229 pupils and 8 teachers worked in it). Later a 5-year Jewish school TSESHO (Yiddish was the language of learning) and 8-form classic Jewish gymnasium (during 1929/30 it had 163 pupils and 6 teachers and in 1935 it had 116 pupils and 9 teachers). Pruzhany Jewish Community included 2 nursery schools.


On the 15th of January 1940 the town became the center of Pruzhany district of Brest region of Belorussian SSR.

 On the 23rd of June 1941 Pruzhany was occupied by German troops. According to a new administrative-territorial division the town was included to Belostok district (Eastern Prussia). 

Plundering and beatings of Jews were started from the very first days.   Former white guardsmen arrived with occupiers. They performed a grand scale agitation in streets of the town.  Already on the third day of occupation Jewish Community was given an order to give up tableware. Then beds and bed-linen were demanded for military purposes. On the 10th of July 1941 Gestapo men arrived to Pruzhany. They arrested and shot dead 18 Jews (2 km from the town). 

On the 15th of July 1941 occupation authorities announced about the necessity to create a Judenrat consisting of 24 persons. Three days were given for this purpose. For non-compliance with the order 100 Jews were executed. Occupation Authorities got a list of Judenrat members including persons with higher education (attorneys, physicians etc.) but the list wasn't approved. A week later occupation authorities formed a Jewish board which consisted mainly of craftsmen.  In the beginning only 5 persons worked in Judenrat but soon the number of Judenrat employees was increased up to 24 persons. Pruzhany Judenrat consisted of 15 departments. Up to the 27th of January 1943 Pruzhany Judendrat was headed by Itskhah Yanovich. Zeyev Shkreybman was his deputy. The Department of Public Relations was headed by Eleyzer Sheyn (a refugee from Lodz); the Department of relations with German Authorities was headed by Zavel Segal and Shlema Yudevich was the head of Food Department. Abram Breski, a former editor of the Zionist newspaper "Pruzhaner Stayme" was one of members of Judenrat.

 Jewish population of the town was prohibited to use pavements, to live in Dr.Platsevicha Street and 3-go Maya street. 

In July 1941 Jewish population of Pruzhany was ordered to collect 2 kg of gold, 10 kg of silver, 500 thousand rubles, 100 pairs of shoes and fur coats within a day. During the same time Pruzhany Judendrat was addressed by Jewish communities of Shereshevo, Linovo and Malech. They asked for help in paying the contribution. In order to collect the necessary sum Pruzhany Jewish community donated candlesticks and candelabra from the synagogue. Many inhabitants of the town gave their jewelry (rings and brooches).

In August 1941 Jewish population of Pruzhany increased by means of Jewish women and children who were compulsory resettled to the district from inhabited localities Gaynovka and Narevka Malaya where Jewish men were killed.

 On the 25th of September 1941 Jews of Pruzhany were ordered to resettle to ghetto which included streets Dombrovskaya and Kobrinskaya up to bridges as well as street Brestskaya up to street Cherchevskaya and all adjacent streets (up-to-date streets Kobrinskaya, Svobody, Lenina, Kirova, Ostrovskogo, Tormasova).

In October 1941 a decision was taken about creating Jewish town in Pruzhany ("Judenschtadt"). During a period from autumn of 1941 and up to spring of 1942 about 4.5 thousand Jews were resettled to the town from Belostok. Some 2,000 Jews were driven from settlements and towns of western regions of Belarus: these were such towns as Belovezha, Stolbtsy, Noviy Dvor, Kamenets, Zamosty, Berioza, Shershevo, Bluden, Malech, Slonim, Ivatsevichi and surrounding villages.  On the 25th of October 1941 a fence was built around Pruzhany ghetto by forces of its prisoners. A certain part of the ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire.

Food situation in the ghetto was very difficult: prisoners obtained 200 g of bread and several potatoes per head a day. Problem of housing was also very sharp. The number of prisoners increased and density of inhabitants in each house also grew. According to information presented by Olga Goldfein during winter of 1941/1942 6 thousand of people died of hunger cold and deprivations (out of 18 thousand of prisoners). Occupation authorities continued to execute their policy of plundering Jewish people. On the 3rd of January 1941 confiscation of woolen and fur items was performed.  Photographic cameras, carpets, gramophones etc. were withdrawn. Ghetto prisoners had to collect monetary contribution in amount of 1,250,000 marks. In February 1942 authorities demanded to collect contribution of 10 r/m per head. Judendrat had to pay for poor people. In the result of the three contributions all 9 synagogues were completely plundered. Nazis withdrew not less than 90 silver candlesticks, 45 silver cups, 140 crowns and 9 altars.  Alongside with confiscations and contributions Pruzhany Jewish Community had to give bribes to representatives of German civil and military powers. 

Ghetto prisoners were actively used for performing obligatory works (clearing of snow, turfary works, stubbing, forest clearing at the line of 100 m. along the railway, loading of ammunition, earthworks). Craftsmen were engaged in shoemaking artels, sewing artels and furniture artels.

At the beginning of November 1942 Pruzhany ghetto was surrounded. Prisoners were informed that evacuation would be performed and that not more than 50 kg of luggage could be taken. In Pruzhany ghetto people knew about death of Jewish communities of neighbouring villages and towns and that's why a group of physicians, teachers and attorneys decided to perform a collective suicide. Families of physician. O. Goldfein, physician. Rozenfanz, physician Lika, F. Pomeranz and others came together in Volvel Shkreibman's house. All these people took morphine and opened carbon monoxide. But neighbors saved the physicians and members of their families. Tsvi Nitskin was the only one who died.  During these days of panic and fear 47 prisoners of ghetto performed a suicide.  Soon everyday life in ghetto was renewed. Deportation of Jews was postponed.  Then an order was received an order to perform census of ghetto prisoners and it was determined that 9,976 Jews (6 thousands of local inhabitants and 2 thousands of immigrants) were prisoners in the ghetto.

Young people of Pruzhany ghetto developed plans of opposition and escape. A group of Jews working in the garage and in storehouses found defective rifles and ammunition and started to collect weapons (this group included Altep Fayvushynskiy and Levon Meister). After communication links with partisans were set up more than 20 prisoners carrying weapon escaped from ghetto to the forest. Young men who had no family escaped in groups of 3 persons. Jews from Pruzhany joined S.M. Kirov partisan group.

Son of Sh. Segal (a member of Judenrat) Mordekhay-Ber Segal included to a group of partisans wanted to take a batch of clothes and shoes from Judenrat. In the evening of the 27th of January 1943 during meeting of M.-B.Segal and 2 partisans with members of Judenrat the chief of gestapo arrived to the building of Judenrat. He accused members of Judenrat in relations with partisans and opened fire. In the result of this the guard was killed and two members of Judenrat (D.Rosokovskiy and Z.Shpektor) were wounded. The chairman of the Judenrat, I.Yanovich and other members of Judenrat were arrested. In the morning of the 28th of January 1943 the ghetto was surrounded. Jews were informed that they would be sent for works to Silesia.  Deportation was carried out up to the 31st of January 1943. Jews were permitted to take some belongings with them.   During 4 days people were sent to stations Linovo and Orachintsy where they were loaded to freight trains and sent to concentration camp Auschwiz. About 10 thousand people were transported like this. About 2 thousand people managed to hide in arms dumps but later almost all of them were found and killed. In Pruzhany announcements were made that all barns, attics, cellars and closets should be closed in order Jews avoiding deportation couldn't find a shelter. Penalty for giving shelter to Jews was death for all members of the family. Nevertheless there were people who risked their lives in order to safe Jews. Physician Olga Goldfein was saved by nun Chubak. Ivan, Anna, Alexander and Lidia Pauk were granted the title of Righteous of People of the World for saving teacher Moshe Yudevich and his wife Regina who escaped from Pruzhany ghetto to village Chakhets of Pruzhany district to their friends.

On the 17th of July 1944 Pruzhany was released.  Only some two dozens of Pruzhany Jews managed to survive during the Nazi terror.


URBAN PLANNINGDirect link for this paragraph

There are 3 planning districts in the town: south, western and eastern ones. The planning structure is defined by the central axial highways (streets Sovetskaya, Kobrinskaya, Oktabyrskaya) by streets perpendicular to these ones (streets Lenina, R.Shyrmy, Krasnoarmeyskaya) as well as by the curvilinear profile of Mukhavets river. The historical center of the town is situated in the Sovetskaya square where architectural memorials of the 19th century are preserved (shopping lines and Alexander Nevskiy Cathedral). A new administrative and public center of Pruzhany has been formed in streets R.Shyrmy and Sovetskaya. The Council House, the hotel and a living house with shops are distingushed among other buildings. In the central part of the town as well as in centers of the eastern and the northern districts many-storied buildings have been erected. New microdistricts have been created in the northern part of the town as well as in str. Oktabrskaya. The Southern Industrial Zone was formed.



(only existing objects)

A chapel (1852),

Alexander Nevskiy Cathedral (1866),

A church (1878 г.),

Polish RC Church of Holy Virgin Mary Ascension (1883),

Shop lines (1896 г.),

Town estate (the 2nd half of  the 19th century).


MEMORIAL PLACESDirect link for this paragraph

In 1965 an obelisk was set up at the place where Pruzhany Jews, Soviet prisoners of war and underground activists were killed (1 km to north-west from village Slobodka).

In 2005 at the old Jewish cemetery a monument to victims of Holocaust was opened. It was erected with a use of funds collected by people natives of Pruzhany district who now live in Israel as well as with a use of contributions made by a businessman Nickolay Burnos from Saint Petersburg.


INTANGIBLE VALUESDirect link for this paragraph

Famous natives of Pruzhany:

Semen Aronovich Gershgorin (1901-1933) – a Soviet mathematician who worked in the sphere of applied mathematics..

Yakov Lazarevich Yudelevskiy (1868-1957) – a French philosopher and historian, participant of revolutionary movement in Russia, an outstanding socialist revolutionary and a public person.

Sofya Alexandrovna Yanovskaya (born Neymark, 1896-1966) – she is a soviet mathematician, philosopher, teacher, creator of the Soviet School of Philosophy and Mathematics.

 Direct link for this paragraph


Museum-estate "Pruzhany Palace" situated in the restored estate built in style of Modern (architectural memorial of the 19th century).


REFERENCESDirect link for this paragraph

1.           Eberhardt P. Przemiany narodowościowe na Białorusi. – Warszawa, 1994. – S. 68. 

2.           ГАБО. Ф. 59. Оп. 4 Д. 488. Л. 60.

3.           Чёрная книга: В 2 Ч.: Сб., Сост. В. Гроссман, И. Эренбург. Запорожье, 1991. Ч. 1. С. 184-189.

4.           Żbikowski A. U genezy Jedwabnego. Żydzi na Kresach Północno-Wschodnich II Rzeczypospolitej, wrzesień 1939 – lipiec 1941. Warszawa, 2006. S. 340, 346.

5.           Trunk I. Judenrat: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe under Nazi Occupation. – New-York: The Macmillan Company, 1972. – Р. 52.

6.           Harshalom A. Alive From The Ashes. – Milo publishing House Ltd., 1990. – Р. 41-42, 47-51.

7.           Datner S. Eksterminacja ludnosci zydowskiej w okregu bialostockim // Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego w Polsce. – № 60. – 1966. - S. 10, 19-23.

8.           Памяць: Гiст.-дакум. хронiка Пружанскага раёна. – Мн.: БелЭ., 1992. – С. 196, 197, 224.

9.           Памяць: Гiст.-дакум. хронiка Камянецкага раёна / Рэдкал. А.Л. Петрашкевiч i iнш. – Мiнск: Ураджай, 1997. – С. 207.

10.  Розенблат Е. Экономические аспекты Холокоста в Западной Беларуси: система контрибуций, налогообложения и штрафов // Вестник Еврейского университета. История. Культура. Цивилизация. – М. – 2001. – № 5 (23). – С. 119-136.

11.  Cholawski S. The Jews of Bielorussia during World War II. Amsterdam, 1998. P.  167.

12.  Праведники Народов Мира Беларуси / Сост. И.П. Герасимова, А.Л. Шульман. Мн., 2004. С. 132-133.

13.  Ботвинник М. Памятники геноцида евреев Беларуси. – Минск, 2000. – С. 134.

14.  Rozenblat Y., Yelenskaya I. Пружаны // Холокост на территории СССР: Энциклопедия. – М.: Российская политическая энциклопедия (РОССПЭН): Научно-просветительский центр “Холокост”, 2011. – С. 821–822.


Author: Irina Jelenskaya