In this post I discuss the Brettler Brewery in former Eastern Galicia, now part of western Ukraine. Polish historian Grzegorz Gembala mentions the brewery briefly in his article “History of Beer Brewing in Galicia”.
A shorter version of the article, credited to Greg Gembala, appears in the genealogical and Holocaust memorial site, Kehilalinks. I linked to that version in a recent post.
My link above is to the full-length version, at least as it appears in English. I cannot see a date attributed, but the authorship seems recent.
Snapshot of Brewery Pre-WW I
As set out in each version of his article, Gembala writes:
Kołomyja / Kolomay (Jacob Brettler) — one of the larger breweries, producing 32.6 tsd hl beer in 1912
Hence, 32,600 hectolitres of beer in 1912, for a firm that began in 1890 in Kolomyja, Galicia. This denotes a medium-size brewery by Gembala’s metric.
This also means, larger than the agricultural breweries that issued from the old landed estates, but smaller than more technologically advanced breweries established from the mid-1800s by aristocrats or other wealthy, non-Jews.
As the references below show, Brettler brewed in different periods export, double, dark bock, standard lager, and lower-alcohol beer, similar to the range for other Galician and Polish breweries.
Kolomyja in Galicia
There are many spellings for this city, depending on language and time period. I will use the modern, and Gembala’s preferred spelling, Kolomyja. Variants include Kolomea and Kolomyia.
Kolomyja is located in the Carpathian hills in what was south-eastern Galicia, on the Prut River. From 1772 until 1918 Galicia was a province of the Austrian, later Austro-Hungarian, Empire, except for a period of Russian occupation during WW I. For most of the interwar period it was part of the Polish Republic.
Western Galicia was characterized by significant Polish ethnicity and in general, was Polonised as the term went. The eastern half was mainly Ruthenian, or today Ukrainain. Nonetheless many areas featured a mix of these and yet other ethnicities, especially in the cities.
With WW II, a period of Soviet occupation ensued, and nationalizations and other harsh consequences, especially for Jews. Then came German occupation and terror until 1944. After Russian liberation a Soviet socialist republic was created. Full independence arrived for the Republic of Ukraine in 1991.
Kolomyja and the Jews
Kolomyja had a very substantial Jewish population before WW II, half or nearing that level since the mid-1800s. Non-Jewish citizens comprised ethnic Poles and Ukrainians, with smaller numbers of other ethnicities.
For a good picture of Eastern Galicia in the 19th century with population breakdowns, this essay in Jewish Virtual Library illuminates.
The Nazis sometimes with local participation annihilated almost all these Jews, about 20,000 civilian people. This forever destroyed not just the people but a significant part of the character and pace of the city, which derived from its Jewish component.
Kolomyja was, before WW II, a Jewish cultural, educational, and religious centre of importance. Many Jews were engaged in business including textiles, oil exploration, finance, grain trading and milling, the professions, and both wholesaling and retailing.
Jews figured in the tavern trade, and brewing in Kolomyja was a Jewish business.
Background to Jewish Role in Galician Business Life
This subject has a complex history. In part, and see Gembala’s remarks in the brewing context, it arose from a societal structure influenced by its feudal past, where nobility controlled land worked by the peasantry.
To enhance value from the lands Jews were encouraged to settle and act as intermediaries, managing estates as lessees for often-absent aristocrats or gentry. This provided an economic interface with the volk, the people. An essay by Judith Kalik in the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jewish History is informative for background, among a significant literature in various languages.
The American scholar Glenn Dynner has explained how, despite legal obstacles enacted in the 19th century to reduce the Jewish role in alcohol supply, Jews continued to participate in this sector, in his (2010) paper Legal Fictions: The Survival of Rural Jewish Tavernkeeping in the Kingdom of Poland.
By the late 1800s, in the general economy occupations held by Jews increasingly were performed by Poles and Ukrainians, although until WW I many sectors still reflected a strong Jewish presence.
The growth of the cooperative movement in Ukrainian and Polish-speaking communities is an example, which posed ultimately significant competition to Jewish traders in this sector.
Even before this, prosperity did not reign generally among Jews in Kolomyja. Most Jews eked out a living as craftsmen: eg. cobblers, tailors, carpenters, and potters, or factory workers, peddlers, and shop-owners.
A story in the 1897 press in Chicago claimed rather dire conditions for all but a handful of Kolomyja Jews. Together with recurring pogroms (more so in West Galicia) and deteriorating economic prospects, these conditions caused the continual emigration of Jews from Galicia to the New World and Zionist Palestine, starting in the late 1800s.
Some departed for nearer lands, Hungary and Romania among them.
A small percentage of Jews in Kolomyja did acquire wealth. They assisted their compatriots by giving employment, creating loan societies, and funding social and religious causes. This was a vital assist before the era of governmental supports, although labour agitation characterised some industries.
Brettler Family and Brewing
The Brettlers were in the well-off group, with interests in grain milling among other enterprises. There are numerous references to them in a 1957 book published in Israel memorializing Jewish life in Kolomyja, called English Memorial Book of Kolomey. Portions are hyperlinked in the Jewish Generations site. See e.g. at p. 96.
Litman Brettler was an estate lessee. His son Jakub Brettler, described in the Memorial Book as a millionaire, founded the brewery in 1890. In the years leading up to WW I the business evidently was incorporated with other shareholders, including the Seidmann family, whom Gembala described as heirs of the Brettlers.
The 1913 Galicia and Bukovina Business Directory included this entry in the Kolomyja section.
So, three breweries in this period were associated with Kolomyja: Brettler, Stefan Weiss, and Baruch Weiser. They were independently owned but Brettler or heirs later had a connection to Stefan Weiss’ brewery.
A few years earlier, in 1909, this description of the Brettler brewery appeared in a regional compilation of business firms (as translated by Google):
First Kolomeaer Masch.-Dampfbr. by Brettler & Komp., owners Mendel Brettler, Moses Seidmann, Moses Breier and Nathan Baran; Operation of the brewery as a branch of the main office in Kolomea.
Jakub is not mentioned, so must have left the business or passed away by this time.
Surviving Labels and Bottles
The Polish Beer Labels site shows the Brettler name and labels for no less than three localities, Kolomyja, Diatcowce, and Korolowka. The second and third are just a few miles from the first, in effect satellite towns.
This map view shows Kolomyja today and one can see the other two flanking, called here Dyatkovtski and Korolivka.
Pre-1920s embossed Brettler bottles are occasionally offered on auction sites. These are tallish, brown wine-type bottles, see e.g. this Archiwum Allegro listing.
Stefan Weiss aka Stefana Weissa owned the Korolowja brewery from 1894 until 1925, but did not found it. I will deal with his brewery in a further post.
Location of Brettler Brewery
Based on all my reading, before the 1930s, it appears the Brettlers or heirs had only the one brewery in Diatcowce, a few miles north-west of Kolomyja.
The whitewashed factory buildings shown on Brettler labels for Kolomyja (see in Polish Beer Labels), were, I believe, in Diatcowce. Satellite views do not show these buildings, that I can see, they probably were demolished at some point.
If I am wrong and the whitewashed buildings actually stood in Kolomyja, they may still stand, but I don’t think so.*
For obvious reasons Brettler brewery wanted to show its association with Kolomyja, a substantial city compared to the hamlet of Diatcowce. It did this by stating the office was in Kolomyja, and the Diatcowce business, a branch.
The office did certainly exist in Kolomyja, and has survived. It forms part of an elegant block on the main square. You may view it in this site which memorializes Jewish Galicia and Bukovina. The caption identifies the portion that served as offices for the Brettler brewery.
A 1906 advertisement for Brettler Brewery, catalogued in the National Archives of Krakow, taken together with the 1909 business listing, bears out the head office-branch inference.
1930s and WW II
Polish business registries show the Brettler brewery still operating in the 1920s and 30s, but it seems to end before the onset of WW II. I don’t know if descendants of Jakub Brettler survived the Holocaust, it seems unlikely, but I don’t know in fact.
A literal tour d’horizon (2017) may be had of Kolomyja, via YouTube. For some, depending on the perspective, it is a melancholy look.
To see an actual image of Brettler brewery, see our Part II of this post.
Note re images: each image is identified with source linked in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed
*See my caveat in Comments.