The testimonials below collect various descriptions of Bircza and the members of its society are an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of the Bircza qehīllāh (community) and can be divided into three sections. The personal recollections include testimonials from survivors from Bircza and town residents, the modern descriptions consist mostly of comments by researchers and visitors to the area, and the historical and official accounts contain scholarly reporting, statements by various governmental and non-profit organisations, and other third-party remarks on Bircza and its area. The index on the right may help you browse through the testimonials. If you or anyone you know, are from (or have visited) the Bircza area, please contact me. Any information would be gladly appreciated in this effort to preserve forever the memory of the Bircza pre-1941 Jewish community.
official and other descriptions
Apologies; this section has yet to be completed.
The goal of the IAJGS International Jewish Cemetery Project is documentation of every Jewish burial site in the world. Its information is supplied by and managed by volunteers and can be viewed through the main website at http://www.iajgs.org/cemetery/.
The specific page on Bircza, which includes information from various sources on the town, its Jewish population, and the cemetery can be found here. According to the IJCP, the Bircza Jewish cemetery was probably established around the turn of the Nineteenth Century and today contains no more than one hundred gravestones, the majority of which are broken, dating from 1804 to the early Twentieth Century. Many of the gravestones were taken during the Nazi occupation to construct a bridge over the San River. The cemetery has been neglected ever since the death of its elderly caretaker.
This section is coming soon (transcription of the Polish and English translation). To view the two-page section (in Polish), click here (PDF).
Wikipedia is an online open-source encyclopædia, which can be edited by anyone. As a result, one must treat its contents with some caution. The English-language Wikipedia entry on Bircza is very brief and essentially states only that Bircza is located approximately 24 kilometres (15 miles) south-west of of Przemyśl and 51 km (32 mi) south-east of the regional capital Rzeszów and has today a population of one thousand. (See the entry here.)
Destroyed entirely during the Holocaust,
only the foundations of the synagogue remain.
The Polish-language entries on Bircza and its environs are far more substantive, noting that Bircza consists of eight sections: Miasto, Błonie, Żeń, Wygon, Kamienna Górka, Dwór, Targowica, and Mielnicze, with a tributary of the San River, the Stupnica flowing through the village. The first historical mention of Bircza dates to the year 1188; Bircza was the seat of a district office subject to Sanok from 1850 to 1876, when it was incorporated into the Dobromil district and became the seat of Bircza county, covering 15 square miles and 52 322 inhabitants in ninety six villages. An old trade route from Sanok leads to the market in the centre of the city, before heading east towards the local castle. At a junction, the road cross with another one heading north to Przemyśl or south to Kamienna Górka.
The former home of the rabbi of Bircza.
Bircza comprised three ethnic districts from its founding until 1941: (1) Polish—east of the market, with a church downtown; (2) Ruthenian (Ukranian)—west and south of the market, also with a church downtown ‘on the hill’; and (3) Jewish—north of the market, with the synagogue to which was added the rabbi’s house and the miqvah. Poles and Ruthenians buried their dead around their churches before the creation of a communal cemetery (the Old Cemetery) in the late Eighteenth Century (the New Cemetery was formed in 1945). The founding of the Jewish cemetery is uncertain, but the oldest inscription reads 1808. Jews are first mentioned in Bircza in 1570. The rabbi of Bircza during the mid-Nineteenth Century was Shmuel Shapiro (1831–1893), the son of the saint Elimelekh of Dynów. 528 Jews lived in Bircza by 1870, increasing to 2063, at which time they comprised 50.7% of the total population, increasing to 54% by 1921.
Following the Nazi occupation, a ghetto was established in Bircza, where all of the area’s Jews were concentrated. In July 1942, more than 800 Jews from the ghetto were executed at Kamienna Górka, with the rest sent to the extermination camp at Belzec. The Bircza synagogue was destroyed entirely during the Holocaust, leaving only the foundations upon which a private residence was partially constructed. The rabbi’s house and the miqvah are still standing. Another synagogue on Wałowa Street, built in the Nineteenth Century, served as a hardware store and storage site for the municipality following the Holocaust. In 2005, following the collapse of its roof, the authorities decided to demolish the building.
The Nineteenth-Century miqvah is one of the
few Jewish structures to survive the Holocaust.
The Jewish cemetery, located next to the new municipal cemetery, is today closed and neglected. It occupies about one hectare on the south side of a hill, fenced in by a wall on the western side, which borders the New Cemetery. The Korzonka Stream runs along its southern boundary. Around twenty gravestones, made of sandstone, remain, with the oldest dating to 1806. The remainder were used by the Nazis to pave streets in Bircza and to strengthen bridge abutments over the San River.
1589: 49 houses; 245 inhabitants.
1785: 200 Roman Catholics, 140 Greek Orthodox, 160 Jews
1840: 272 Greek Orthodox (no other data)
1859: 239 Greek Orthodox (no other data)
1879: 339 Greek Orthodox (no other data)
1890: 989 Jews, 715 Roman Catholics, 291 Greek Orthodox
1921: 247 houses; 1929 inhabitants—1038 Jews, 590 Roman Catholics, 297 Greek Orthodox
1926: 421 Greek Orthodox (no other data)
1929: 1929 inhabitants
1938: 372 Greek Orthodox (no other data)
1939: 1150 Jews, 770 Roman Catholics, 370 Greek Orthodox
1944: 800 Poles, 260 Ukrainians
1997: 1127 inhabitants
2006: 1075 inhabitants
(The above has been loosely translated from the following Wikipedia.pl entries: Bircza; Synagoga w Birczy; Synagoga w Birczy przy ulicy Wałowej; Cmentarz żydowski w Birczy; and Mykwa w Birczy.)
This description is taken from a Hebrew book on Jewish communities in Eastern Europe available at Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem. To view the document (in Hebrew), click here (PDF).
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