Lublin is a sizeable city in south-central, eastern Poland, an important centre east of the Vistula River. For 100 years, from 1815, it formed part of the Polish Congress, dominated by Russia to the east. After WW I it became part of the Republic of Poland.
According to a short history of Jewish Lublin in Jewish Virtual Library, as well as a more detailed account in the JewishGen site, Jewish industry in prewar Lublin was not highly developed, a few sectors apart.
Mainly these were tanning, brick manufacture, tobacco, distilling, and brewing. Most Jews were shopkeepers, itinerant vendors, or artisans, especially in furs and tailoring. There was a small professional class: doctors, lawyers, teachers, and similar.
The JewishGen account, drawn from the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, is particularly revealing, showing the long history of restrictions placed on the Jewish community such as heavy taxation and exclusion from property ownership. Nonetheless the community did grow, comprising one-third of Lublin’s population in the 1930s.
One branch of what is now Perla Brewery in Lublin started as the Jelen Brewery,* owned before WW II by Hersz Jojna Zylber. Numerous accounts, including Perla’s history page, date the commencement from 1912.
Other sources, including the cultural and historical website Teatr NN, state distilling was the first business established, with brewing coming later. It states Emil Plage built the distillery. A man called Abramowicz (or variant spelling) features in some accounts as the first owner.
Teatr NN cites this report among its references, a 1990s site study that describes the early distilling and Zylber’s later involvement. The report suggests distilling started even before 1912.
It adds the plant needed investment to re-start production as a result of damage during WW I, which is when Zylber enters the picture, in association with others. Zylber acquired sole ownership in 1925 and made further investment, whence brewing began according to this account.
A good sampling of Jelen labels appears in Polish Beer Labels. The German-language one is clearly from the Nazi period, after Zylber’s expulsion from his property. “Hirsch” means deer, the logo used earlier by Jelen on labels.
In January 1929 Jelen placed this ad in a Jewish-Polish newspaper, Trybuna Akademicka (via National Library of Israel):
Polish blogger Lukacz Czajka has described early Jelen and Zylber distillery history. That distillery was called Kosminek. See his 2014 blogpost, nicely illustrated with period photos and labels.
I should add, the Kosminek distillery was separate from the distilling that preceded brewing at Jelen, in a different location in Lublin. Kosminek was founded by Sender Zylber, Hersz’ father.
Czajka writes that after Zylber’s purchase of Jelen it employed 50 persons and was producing annually 2,000,000 litres, which is 20,000 hl. This is on the smaller side of medium, but the brewery was only recently established, and showed good growth from a standing start.
There was a retrenchment at Jelen in the 1930s due to the adverse economic climate in Poland, a factor I have alluded to in other posts on 1930s brewing in Poland.
Another Czajka blogpost in 2014 included an article written in 1936 by Hersz Zylber himself, on prospects for the brewing industry in Lublin province. It is a good analysis, pointing up the advantages such as easy supply of malt and hops – Lublin is famous for hops – and inexpensive labour, but stressing the need for industry cooperation.
He argued that brewers’ business interests differed depending on the scale of their operation. The form of cooperation proposed is not specified, he seemed to think brewers should better control pricing by wholesalers and retailers, in particular.
The Vetter brewery in Lublin, founded as a lager brewery in the mid-1800s, was the other significant brewer in Lublin. Zylber seemed to aim for some type of cooperative arrangement with Vetter, but details were few.
Hersz Zylber was a prominent business and community figure in Lublin. A biographical entry in the Sztetl site is informative. He was a long-time municipal councillor, and head of the Jewish Community Council.
He was deeply involved in Jewish educational, cultural and religious endeavours, and an important employer in the city.
That the Nazi invasion resulted in the seizure of his enterprises in 1939, and his death in 1942 (from typhus, in a Jewish ghetto), was one of the countless high crimes committed by Hitlerism, not just against one individual, family, and Polish Jewry, but to society at large.
Denouement for Zylber Brewing
Almost all Lublin’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Yet against all odds a son of Hersz survived, named Cadok. He also used the name Stefan Jankowski after 1944. Quite properly once Lublin was liberated in 1944 he sought to recover the family brewery, which during the war had been operated by the Germans.
I have discussed numerous examples of prewar Jewish-owned breweries in East Europe; this is the only instance I can recall where a surviving owner, or heir in this case, actually reclaimed ownership at war’s end.
In the early years following WW II, where Polish private property had been confiscated by Nazi Germany it could be reclaimed by the prewar owner. But concurrently and progressively, trade and industry in Poland were being nationalized by the Communist government, which consolidated its control between 1945 and 1950.
Cadok ran the brewery privately for a few years after Poland’s liberation, but it was taken from him in 1948 by the Communist government. In effect, his family lost the business a second time due to an authoritarian government. Everything he went through made no difference, evidently.
Lukacz Czjaka refers to this episode in his first blogpost mentioned above. Other (Polish) sources discuss it in greater detail, but for my purposes here Czjaka’s crisp formulation serves well (Google translation):
After the outbreak of the war and the Germans deprived the Zylber family of their property in 1939-1944, the brewery was taken over by the German receivership. After the war, in 1944-1946, it was run by HJ Zylber’s son, Cadok Zylber (after the war he changed his name and surname to Stefan Jankowski). From 1946 to 1948 it was under the state administration of the Local Industry Directorate in Lublin, bearing the name of the Steam Brewery and the Gas Water Factory “Jeleń”. In 1948, “Jeleń”, together with the Vetter Brewery, became a part of the Lubelskie Zakłady Piwowarsko Słodowych.
What happened to Cadok after this I do not know.
Perla Brewery Today
The Perla history page gives the arc of both the Jelen and K.R. Vetter breweries, as they were merged in one state enterprise in 1948. It notes that in 1993 a joint stock company was created, resulting therefore in separation from government ownership, or privatization.
The company is now called Perła – Browary Lubelskie S.A, and owns a second brewery as well, in Zwierzyniec. Perla is, further, the largest independently-owned brewery in Poland today, i.e., outside a trans-national group.
The Vetter facility, part of which has been converted to urban apartments, is now used to house the Perla head office. All brewing in Lublin is conducted on the former Jelen site.
Based on exterior photos of the site, the barn-like buildings housing brewing in 1925 seem recognizable today.
In his blog Lukacz Czjaka described a tour of Perla some years ago, informative unto itself. He states little of the original brewery is left, seemingly referring to equipment inside vs. the structure itself. He does say the lounge area is original.
Among the current range is a porter, well-described in the Perla website. An impressive 9.2% abv, it is aged for an equally impressive nine months, showing good pedigree.
Of course, other beers are offered, blonde lagers certainly, but also a bock and honey beer, with good descriptions in the site.
Note re images: source of each image above is described and linked in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*The Apatin Brewery in Serbia has long marketed a Jelen brand. Jelen means deer in both Serbian and Polish. Apatin is owned today by Molson-Coors Beverage Co. There is no connection to the former Jelen Brewery of Lublin, today Perla.