Jewish Breweries in old Belarus. Part I, Pupko Brewery.

Introduction

It had been my impression that between 1880 and 1980, Jews generally did not engage in commercial brewing, modern Israel apart of course. They were well-represented in brewing science, and in retailing and wholesaling beer, but not in production.

Jewish families did have an important role in hop factoring in Germany until, and apparently even after, the Nazi regime. There was also involvement in distilling in some countries, but these are different businesses.

Certainly, there were exceptions to the no-brewing custom, and I discussed some in earlier posts. But there were few if any in the United Kingdom, one of the great brewing nations. There is some irony here, as in modern times Britain has been among the most tolerant of nations viz. the Jews.

The Briton James Death, in his The Beer of the Bible (1887), wrote that no English brewery was Jewish-owned, despite brewing being a lucrative trade. That may be an exaggeration, as how could he really know? But speaking so categorically in a respectable, indeed learned book tells a certain tale.

I then turned my mind to Eastern Europe, which I had not considered before, initially the Pale of Settlement. This opened my eyes to a different reality about Jews and brewing.

Jewish Brewing in Pale of Settlement

The Pale of Settlement was the western fringe of the Russian Empire where Jews had the right to reside, unlike the rest of Russia with some exceptions. The Pale as a geographical and political  concept emerged at the beginning of the 19th century with the Polish partitions, but vanished with the end of WW I.

The lands comprising the Pale were largely coterminous with the earlier Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, preceded by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Jews had lived continuously in these lands since the 1200s.

Britannica states:

The 1897 Russian census indicated that most of the Jewish population in the empire remained confined to the Pale. Almost 5,000,000 Jews lived within its boundaries, while roughly 200,000 lived elsewhere in European Russia. The majority of Jews lived in towns and townlets, though the largest communities were in the cities of Warsaw, Lódz, Vilna (now Vilnius), and Kishinev (now Chisinau) … The Pale effectively ceased to exist during World War I, when Jews in great numbers fled to the Russian interior to escape invading German forces.

In 1897 Russia’s total population was 125,640,021, see the Russian History Blog.

The image below shows the Pale of Settlement in 1901.

 

 

Grodno (Hrodna), at the western end of modern Belarus, near Poland, is name of both district and town. The Grodno district includes the town of Lida, which birthed the Pupko Brewery in 1876.

In 1910 Russia had 381 breweries, of which 110 were Jewish-owned, hence almost 30%; see pp. 314-315 of the 1911 study Emigration Conditions of Europe, which examined prospects for continued Jewish emigration to the United States.

Poland has a separate table, which shows Jewish capital was employed in 45 breweries, presumably excluding Galicia, a province then of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The total number is not stated.

The percentage of Jewish ownership for Russia, and probably for Poland, was much higher than for other countries, in part reflecting the substantial Jewish population in the Pale. The Report noted many Jewish firms were small, judged by the number of employees and mechanical power utilisation.

Therefore, 30% does not necessarily reflect the production percentage. Some Jewish breweries were sizeable though, winning awards at European exhibitions and gaining more than a local market. Pupko was one.

The Coming of Holocaust

Jewish life in Eastern Europe in that period could be dolorous, not to mention dangerous, due to unrelenting anti-Semitism.The persecutions started (in the modern period) with repeated pogroms in the Russian Empire, e.g. 1881 in Kiev.

Serious outbreaks later occurred in centres of Jewish life such as Kishinev, Odessa, Minsk, Kyiv, and Grodno, with thousands killed and injured and property destroyed.

Anti-Semitic measures, social or governmental, were ratcheted up in the Thirties, Nazi Germany the main example. The animus manifested as well elsewhere in Central and East Europe.

With World War II the Soviets occupied Western Belarus, then part of the Second Polish Republic, joining it to Eastern Belarus under their fief. There followed, deportations of business classes, which included many Jews, to Siberia and elsewhere far East.

The Nazis brought the Holocaust. Almost all Jews in Grodno (the town) and Lida were killed, there or after deportation. Small bands survived who escaped from ghettoes or trains and fought in the forests as partisans.

For Belarus as a whole, there are varying estimates, but the great majority of Jews perished, mostly shot or deported to death camps. Two-thirds of European Jews as a whole were annihilated by the Nazis, sometimes with aid of local auxiliaries – civilian men, women and children.

In the late 1930s in Poland including Western Belarus, Jewish businesses not affected by economic malaise continued to operate until the war, Pupko Brewery included.

Pupko Brewery Resources

As far as I know, no general history of Belarus brewing has been written, apart the obvious language barrier I would face. At least two modern books have been written on Polish beer history, one dealing with the “Borderlands”, or the former eastern provinces removed from Polish sovereignty after WW II.

The latter is Piwo to napój niezbędny by Sławomir Jędrzejewski, published in 2012. It would seem a good resource for those seeking further information. I cannot easily obtain these books, and if I did, language again is a barrier.

The website of the Alivaria Beer Museum in Minsk is attractive but does not set out historical content. I would think, or hope, the Museum covers Pupko history, and may visit one day.

This said, I have found information elsewhere, which I discuss below.

Brewery Website

We can start with the brewery website as, yes, the brewery still exists, although long out of Pupko hands. The name now is Lidskoe Brewery, with the main brand spelled Lidskae.

Lidskoe is owned by Olvi PLC of Finland, part of a small affiliate group that includes A. Le Coq in Estonia, which has importance in porter history.

The Pupko family was well-known in Lida, whose Jewish population was significant before WW II. During the interbellum period, according to the website Encyclopedia:

In 1921 there were 5,419 Jews (40% of the total population), reaching 6,335 (a third of the total) in 1931.

The percentage of Jews earlier was higher, but emigration was depleting their number. The Sztetl site states that in 1897 the percentage was 68% – presumably supplying a natural market for Pupko.

Elements of the Polish Army and Air Force were based in Lida between the wars, see this Lida entry in Wikipedia. This presence probably assisted the brewery’s fortunes.

The image below shows Lida around 1930 (source: Wikipedia link stated).

 

 

The timeline/infographic in Lidskoe’s website is well-researched and handsomely designed (indeed an inspiration to other breweries to do similar). I will summarize elements, but the full document is indispensable.

It starts by outlining pre-1800s beer and brewing in Belarus. Then it states:

Nosel [Nissan] Zelikovich Pupko, a citizen of Lida, builds a brewery at his own land plot. Long and narrow piece of land, as large as a half of a hockey field, stretches from the Vilenskaya street to the Lideika river. First batch of beer was marked on the factory chimney brickwork: the letters «Founded in 1876» can still be found there. Pupko’s house is located by the street, and the yard contains the factory buildings: double-stored factory with the office and separate buildings of the drying room and fermenting block.

A woodcut-style illustration, clearly a modern rendering, shows a bearded Nosel Pupko with draping black coat and hat in front of the brewery.

The chimney with founding year in patterned brickwork still stands at the brewery, as shown in the website. Other elements of the original structure endure, for example, a set of stairs installed around 1900, made of iron to resist fire. The original site is now much-enlarged and covered with tanks and other accoutrements of modern brewing.

The timeline reproduces a label of the first branded beer, c. 1900, noting:

In 1899 or 1900, the first known label of the factory emerges: «Dinner beer of N. Pupko’s Brewery». It is a cheap, popular beer. … The factory mark — the deer leaning against the barrel — can be found on thirty labels of the factory.

The deer still appears in current labels. An interwar label appears in a label collection at the National Archives in Krakow.

Nosel aka Nissan died in 1900. The brewery had a scale and reputation beyond the typical town brewery in Belarus, and benefitted from new technologies such as steam power.

Pupko was among the larger breweries in Belarus before WW II, although its exact size in the league table is not known to me. It had its own sawmill, no doubt using prime Memel oak for casks, easily available to Lida.

With war and political changes the Pupkos adapted. In WW I they made kvass and a no-alcohol beer, and in the 1920s, a low-alcohol (2%) table beer. I discuss below other beer types made over the brewery’s history.

Historians consulted by the brewery believe a Pupko grandson established a brewery in Umam, Ukraine in the late 1930s, called Bavaria.

The Lida brewery was seized by the Soviets after invading Poland in 1939. The Pupkos then in charge, brothers Mark and Shymon, left. The Germans took over in July 1941 after their invasion. The brewery was not bombed, in order to make beer for the army. The staff was retained, and the Pupko brothers brought back.

The site continues the history of the brewery, below I focus on WW II with reliance as well on additional resources.

Genealogical and Historical Resources

The families and activities of Jews in prewar Lida are reconstructed and memorialised at numerous websites. Most refer to the Pupko brewery, and provide additional information.

Foremost is this page at Kehila, a Jewish genealogical site. Some information was provided by Leon Lauresh, I understand an engineer and historian in Lida who has researched the brewery’s past.

He provided an image of the brewery itself, a painting rendered in 1916. It shows a courtyard surrounded by buildings of various design, the ubiquitous 19th century fire chimney, and what appears a dray and barrels.

Accounts are linked in Polish and Russian, which online translation permits to understand to a point. In 1900 the brewery was left to four sons, Itske, Gersh, Abram, and Meilakh, who continued and expanded the business.

In the early 1930s Meilakh was sole owner and by the advent of WW II, his sons, Mark and Shymon, ran the brewery.

The main (English) part of the site states:

In 1936, 28 workers and 8 technical specialists were employed at the brewery. 40,000 hectoliters of beer [4,200,000 quarts] were produced annually.  Raw materials used in 1936 were 157,3 ò. barley, 950 kg of hop, 87,7 ò. malt.

Details are given for brands and mechanization in this period, e.g., the brewery had its own “gas plant” (for carbon dioxide, likely) and power plant. The site also states:

There were branches of the firm [at least bottling plants, as some of the details in labels formerly online showed] in Baranowiczi, Nowogrudok, Hrodno [Grodno], Wilno [Vilnius], Molodeczno, Luninec, Pinsk,  Bereza, & Wolkowysk.

In 1929-1930 the brewery placed box ads in the Warsaw-based, Jewish-themed Trybuna Akademicka, which published mainly in Polish (via National Library of Israel).

 

 

Parowy means steam, to denote a mechanized operation.

A Kehila link states that after Lida was liberated in 1944 a British Royal Air Force party visited the town, on a secret mission. It was inspecting a new Russian YAK fighter. Beer was ordered from the brewery. The Lidskoe chronology mentions this as well.*

The brewery operated until mid-1943 when the remaining Jews in Lida including at the brewery were deported and mostly killed by the Nazis.

Mark and Shymon managed to survive, and departed overseas after the war. A Pupko descendant in Mexico, who ran a chemical plant there, visited Lida in 2005. She met with historians and remaining Jews in town.

I encourage again a review of these sources for a fuller picture.

Brewery Engineer Lochbihler

German soldier Joachim Lochbihler supervised the plant for part of the war. Before the war he was a brewery engineer in Nürnberg, hence the assignment. I believe he was in the Wehrmacht (German Army), not SS although some survivor accounts state SS.

42 people worked in the brewery when he was in charge.

Waitman Wade Beorn, a U.K.-based scholar of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, authored the study Marching Into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus (2014).

He writes, see section linked, that Lochbihler protected Jewish brewery workers from SS roundups, first, by ensuring some workers could live in the brewery, and subsequently (after he left the brewery) by warning staff to join partisans in the forest.

At the war’s end Lochbihler was held in an American POW camp as a suspected war criminal, but was freed upon favourable testimony from Jewish Lida survivors, including the Pupko family.

Jewish Lida memorial sites relate the Lochbihler episode substantially as Beorn does, who relied on survivor accounts. Lochbihler demonstrated a humanity evidently very rare in this context, but something to be noted.

Beers of Pupko and Lidskoe Brewery

Lidskoe has provided a service to beer historians by including on its site archival brands and labels reflecting different eras.

The narrative accompanying is illuminating. The beers evolved over time, as is expected. The main blonde lager produced today dates from 1967.

In the 1940s the main types were Vienna, Pilsener, and Munich beers, apparently developed at a research institute in the mid-30s. When the Soviets took over in 1939 the style names were changed to avoid a “capitalist” connotation.

Beers earlier included a strong, well-hopped “double” beer. A March beer, close to 6% abv, was brewed in the early 1900s and again in the 1940s, but not today.

A “Tsar’s” beer in the Empire period was flavoured with coriander, cinnamon or caramel, which is interesting unto itself. As far as I can tell the Pupkos never brewed a porter.

Today, the extensive line includes porter and stout, a few craft styles, and the Koronet line, expressed as English-style. There is a Koronet light I.P.A. I am not clear if this is top-fermenting.

The vintage labels are atmospheric. One shows a seated man with bottle in one hand, glass in the other, wearing traditional folk costume and headdress. The same image may be seen on eBay currently (see third row).

As a further resource, a striking display of Pupko labels appears in Polish Beer Labels, see here (click on “Lida” in localities on left margin).

Epilogue

My grandparents were mainly from the Pale of Settlement including Grodno. They arrived as young children in Canada before WW I. Due to their families’ foresight and intrepid spirit, but also Canada’s generosity to accept them, I am, in all likelihood, present today to write this.

Until recently though, I knew almost nothing of Grodno or Belarus, or their breweries.

Part II follows below, on Papiermeister brewery.

Note: images above are in each case linked to their original source. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

….

*The RAF has often come up in my brewing research. Mandate Palestine, Iraq, and British Malaya are all examples.

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Jewish Breweries in old Belarus. Part I, Pupko Brewery.”

  1. Until the Nazis came to power, there was at least one Jewish-owned brewery in Berlin, Ignatz Nacher’s Engelhardt-Brauerei, which was the second biggest brewing group in Germany at the time. It also had interests in several other breweries, including Groterjan (also Berlin) which also had Jewish directors.

    Reply
    • Thanks for this, I did not know that. Earlier, I discussed some examples of Jewish-owned breweries in Central Europe. There was Ottakringer in Vienna, Lowenbrau Munich had partial Jewish ownership, and a smaller brewery was owned by a refugee who ended in Mandate Palestine to brew there, as I discussed in that series.

      But in relative terms the proportion owned was very small which is why the Russian Empire and Belarus cases are of such interest.

      I have a new post coming soon, on Papiermeister in Lida.

      Reply

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