Jewish gymnasium (high school) students, Brody, Austrian Empire (now in Ukraine), 1906. (YIVO)

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A town in present-day Ukraine, about 80 kilometers northeast of L’viv (Pol., Lwów). Brody (Yid., Brod) was founded at the ford over the Styr River (bród is Polish for ford) in 1586 by Stefan Żółkiewski. Jewish settlement began at the end of the sixteenth century and the local kehilah was subordinated to that of Lwów. In the early seventeenth century, an imposing masonry synagogue was built, generally referred to as Brody’s “old fortress synagogue.”

By 1643, there were 43 Jewish dwellings in the town. Jews were active as traders, customs collectors, small-scale bankers, and artisans. Brody was also the location of an important horse fair. In 1648, there were some 400 Jewish families living in the town. It was devastated during the period after the Khmel’nyts’kyi uprising but recovered rapidly in the second half of the seventeenth century.

In 1664, the Brody kehilah (along with that of Żółkiew) became independent of Lwów and began to play an important role in the Council of the Land of Ruthenia, in which it obtained two of seven seats. Dov Babad, the Brody delegate, was elected parnas (chair) of the Ruthenian Provincial Council in 1740. In 1699, Jakub Sobieski, the town’s owner, granted Jews a privilege allowing them to live in any part of the town, to engage in all branches of commerce and crafts, and to distill beer, brandy, and mead in return for an annual payment. Jewish communal buildings, including the poorhouse (hekdesh) and the homes of the rabbi and cantor, were exempted from taxation. Jews became the leading merchant group in the town, displacing the previously dominant Armenians. The town itself passed into the hands of the Potocki family, who supported Jewish commercial activity with substantial credits and compelled merchants on their estates to attend the Brody fairs.

Studio portrait of Leyzer Rosenfeld, wearing a kapote, a coat characteristically worn by traditional Jews, Brody, Austrian Empire (now in Ukraine), ca. 1890s. (YIVO)

In 1742, the bishop of Luts’k (Łuck) compelled the Jews of Brody to participate in public religious disputations in the synagogue as part of his unsuccessful missionary efforts. The kehilah was home to an outstanding group of kabbalists who studied and prayed in their own kloyz.

In addition to the mystics and scholars of the kloyz, numerous accomplished rabbis, often members of distinguished families such as Bavad, Heilperin, Horowitz, and Katzenellenbogen, led the Brody community in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For example, in 1736 Ya‘akov (Yukl) ben Me’ir Horowitz moved from Bolechów to take up the rabbinate in Brody, remaining there until 1747. He was likely accompanied by his learned daughter, known as Leah Horovitz. Brody’s Jews strongly opposed the Frankists and excommunicated them in 1756. A rabbinical assembly that convened there in 1772 pronounced a similar ban against the incipient Hasidic movement, and the writings of the early Hasidim were burnt. By that point, the town was the largest Jewish settlement in PolandLithuania, with well more than 7,000 Jews.

In 1772, Brody was incorporated into Austria. The Jewish population now numbered about 8,900, somewhat more than half the total of the town. By 1826, it had grown to 16,300 (89%). The town’s prosperity in these years resulted from its location near the Austrian–Russian frontier, and in 1779 it was given the status of a free port through which goods for export could pass without duty. Brody’s economy began to decline in 1848 when the new railway line to Odessa bypassed it. Its status as a free port was abolished in 1880. Many local Jewish wholesale merchants moved to other cities, notably Odessa, where they founded a synagogue (the Brody Shul).

Children and staff eating lunch at a summer camp sponsored by TOZ (Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia Ludności Żydowskiej w Polsce; Society for Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish Population in Poland), Brody, Poland (now in Ukraine), 1938. (YIVO)

In the nineteenth century, Brody was a major Jewish intellectual center, one of the strongholds of the Galician Haskalah, and the home of some very distinguished and scholarly rabbinic defenders of orthodoxy. Among these, the outstanding figure was Shelomoh ben Yehudah Kluger. He was the author of some 30 published works and many more that have remained in manuscript. Kluger led the Brody traditionalists for more than 50 years before his death in 1869. In 1815, the community opened a Realschule in which German was the language of instruction. Numerous publishing houses were established. Among Brody’s maskilim were Naḥman Krochmal, Menaḥem Mendel Lefin, Ya‘akov Shemu’el Bick, Yitsḥak Erter, and, later, Yehoshu‘a Heshel Schorr, who edited the Hebrew periodical He-Ḥaluts between 1852 and 1889. The weekly ‘Ivri anokhi, one of the main vehicles of the Galician Haskalah, was published in Brody between 1865 and 1890. Perhaps the greatest literary figure to emerge from the town was the Austrian Jewish writer Joseph Roth (1894–1939). It was also the birthplace of the historian Natan Mikha’el Gelber (1891–1966) and of Dov Sadan (1902–1989).

As a border town, Brody often served as a point of assembly for masses of Jews intending to move to America or Western Europe. By May 1882, for instance, there were 12,000 refugees in Brody. After the establishment of the semiconstitutional system in Austria in the 1860s, Brody always returned Jewish deputies to the parliament in Vienna. From the late nineteenth century, the town was a stronghold of Galician Zionism. In 1907, the president of the Galician Zionists, Adolf Stand, was elected, but he lost his seat in the election of 1911 to the assimilationist Heinrich Kolischer, who had the support of government authorities.

Ticket to a concert by “the famous Rovno cantor” Mordkhe Shvartsenberg in the “Butchers’ Synagogue,” Brody (now in Ukraine), n.d. (YIVO)

After World War I, Brody became a part of the new Polish state. Its economic decline caused its population to fall to about 10,900 by 1921, of whom 7,202 were Jews. By 1939, Jews made up approximately 10,000 of its 18,000 inhabitants. Communal life flourished, but the town remained depressed economically.

Brody was incorporated into the Soviet Union in September 1939. Shortly after the German invasion in the summer of 1941, a group of 250 intellectuals was shot near the Jewish cemetery, and 5,200 Jews were deported to their deaths in Bełżec. The remaining 6,500 Jews were confined in a ghetto in January 1942 and were later joined (in September 1942) by some 3,000 refugees from neighboring towns and villages. The bulk of those in the ghetto were deported to their deaths in Bełżec in September and November 1942. The ghetto and the adjacent labor camp were finally liquidated in May 1943 when the surviving 2,500 Jews were deported to Majdanek. Some resistance did develop in the ghetto, and the group established contact with partisans in the surrounding forests. The Nazis attempted to destroy the Great Synagogue in 1943. They were unable to do so, and although the building is no longer usable, parts of it are still standing. No Jewish community was reconstituted after the end of the war.

Suggested Reading

Nathan Michael Gelber, ‘Arim ve-imahot be-Yisra’el, ed. Judah Leib Maimon, vol. 6, Brodi (Jerusalem, 1955); Aviv Melzer, Ner tamid: Yizkor li-Brodi; Sefer zikaron li-kehilat Brodi u-sevivatah (Jerusalem, 1994) in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English; Dawid Wurm, Z zagadień dziejówych żydostwa brodzkiego za czasów dawnej Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, do 1772 r. (Warsaw, 1935).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 406, Alliance Israélite Universelle, Records, 1868-1930s.