First mentions about Jews from Bransk come from 1560. It is a notice about Jews who rent seventeen mills in the city. In 1613 appears the information about an inn-keeper named Mosze and his wife Cha. Jews in Bransk administrated inns and mills, they also were engaged in trade. History meander and wars with Sweden caused that Bransk declined, and the number of its inhabitants during two hundred years decreased to 64%. In the end of 18 th century the city started to develop and Jews became to come here. At that time they could not settle down in the borders of the city. They lived in nearby villages and they commuted to work in Bransk. In 1807 Bransk got under Russia government. The list of population showed, that in Bransk lived 156 Jews who constituted 12% of all the citizens. In 1812 Bransk was completely burned and destroyed by Napoleon's army which was retreating from Russia . However, the city was rebuilt. In 1821 the inauguration of the first Bransk synagogue took place. Ten years later the richest Jews from Bransk gave money for building a new synagogue, which became a house of prayer for the city's elite. Later, new synagogues were created, one of which was destined for tailors, and the other for the poor. In the XX century a temple for Chasidim was built.
During the World War II, Bransk came under Soviet occupation. In the middle of November in 1939 the first transport was driven to Siberia , with 113 persons: 94 Poles, 14 Jews and 5 Russians. The occupants confiscated most of the property of the citizens. During the German occupation a ghetto was created. Actually, it was two areas with so called "small ghetto". Together, there were 2.400 people in both these places, including Jews from nearby villages. Both ghettos were put together in 1942. Jews from Bransk were murdered in Treblinka on the 10 th November 1942 . Part of Jews from Bransk survived the nazi occupation. Some sources show that it was about 200 persons. They were Jews hidden by christian families - Bransk was the city of the three religions: Judaism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy. A part of the Jews fighting as partisans also survived.
The Jewish cemetery in Bransk was estabilished in 1820, supposedly in place, where earlier tormentor was executing death sentences. The legend says that during many days after the establishment of the cemetery and after the first funeral a man used to sleep near to the grave - until the second funeral were celebrated. It was because of the Jewish law, which says that it is forbidden to leave alone a dead man (taken from: E. Hoffman - "Shtetl"). Nowadays, it's hard to get to that cemetery. The cemetery is situated beyond the city, near the crossing of the three roads leading to villages of Rudka, Brzeznica and Lubieszcze. Only a small path leads to the graveyard. On the cemetery, except the old graves, there is the collective tomb of three Poles (whose names are mentioned) and sixty seven unnamed Jews. There is a decent statue, which is dedicated to them. There are sixty Jewish graves saved and only few of them stays in the right place. Others were found and brought to the cemetery by the citizens from Bransk: Zbigniew Romaniuk and Mieczyslaw Korzeniewski with his sons: Rafal and Konrad. On the rescued matzevot their previous application is visible - the tombstones were used as a wheels to quern, grinders for knifes or pavements.
There is a book about Jews fom Bransk, "Shtetl" by Eva Hoffman. In 1996 Marian Marzynski made his film titled "Shtetl: A Journey Home". It's a sentimental journey of a Jew from the New York , Natan Kaplan, to the places of his childhood - to Bransk. On his way Kaplan meets Zbigniew Romaniuk, a history teacher, who looks for signs of Jews from Bransk and collects keepsakes about them. He also meets other friendly people.
Text & photos: Artur Cyruk