The Teitel Brewery, or Bracia Tejtel Browar in Polish, provides a compelling example of a pre-WW II, Jewish-owned East European brewery.
A number of reasons explains this. First, 1930s images of the brewery and its last principals, the brothers Zindel and Icok Teitel, survive. So do numerous Teitel labels from the period.
And not least, there is the absorbing book Tehran Children: a Holocaust Refugee Odyssey (2019) by Mikhal Dekel. It describes details of the brewery, which I discuss below, and the family’s fate after the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939.
For a good overall assessment of the book, see Peter Goodman’s review in Good Reads.
Teitel Family and Flight From Terror
Dekel’s father Hannan Teitel was the son of Zindel. “Dekel” is an English rendering of the Hebrew form of Teitel. Mikhal Dekel was raised in Israel but has long resided in New York. She teaches English and Comparative Literature at the City College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She also directs the Rifkind Center for the Humanities and Arts of CCNY.
The Teitels were long-established in Ostrow-Mazowiecka (Ostrow-M.) in north-east Poland, a prominent family with interests in numerous businesses.
The book describes the extraordinary journey that began in September 1939 when Hannen (12), sister Regina (8), their mother Ruchele, Zindel, and a cousin, Emma, fled Ostrow-M. in the wake of the German invasion.
They were seeking refuge from the Nazi terror they knew awaited the Jews in Ostrow-M. Due to various factors, most Jews in the city fled for Soviet territory, many arriving in Bialystock.
But some 500-600 remained in Ostrow-M. On November 11, 1939 all these Jews – men, women and children – were rounded up by the SS and German uniformed police on trumped-up charges of arson, marched out of town and shot in the forest.
Preceding this had been random killings of Jews and terror in the city.
It was one of the first of the organized Nazi massacres of Jewry in wartime Europe. The Nazis exacted, too, a significant toll among the general Polish population, by simple murder, forced labour, and impoverishment by seizing food and crops.
Millions of European refugees, Jews and others, entered the Soviet Union in this period, before Germany invaded Russia. After performing forced labour in freezing north Russia, the Teitels and Emma were allowed to leave Russia when Germany tore up the Nazi-Soviet Pact and invaded the country.
The family made a harrowing journey far south, spending time hungry in desolate way-stations in Soviet Asia, with a respite, no less difficult, in Tehran (whence the book’s title). So hard was the food situation the parents had to place the three children in an orphanage.
In 1943 Hannan, Regina, and Emma, with the help of aid associations, sailed a wending route to Mandatory Palestine, stopping at ports in India, to arrive finally to relative safety.
Ruchele Teitel could not re-join them for many years, and sadly Zindel died in 1949, from TB. The story is heartrending and very well told by Dr. Dekel. It takes in the similar journey of other Jewish children and non-Jewish Polish evacuees fleeing chaos and risk of death in their home-place.
Many died on these treks, or damaged their health from lack of food, exposure, or illness.
Icok stayed with his family in Bialystock, none of whom survived the Nazi takeover of that city. However, some years earlier, his eldest son Ze’ev, or Wolf, had emigrated to Palestine to attend engineering studies, denied him in Poland due to anti-Semitic practices in higher education then. Wolf subsequently stayed in Palestine.
The three children met him after arrival in Palestine, whence began a partial recovery from a long period of trauma.
Hannan later had a career in the Israeli Air Force and died in the early 1990s, not long after a difficult visit to his home-town in Poland, the first he had made since being forced to leave in 1939.
Some Details of the Brewery
I will now summarize information on the brewery, as gleaned from Dr. Dekel’s book with other sources in aid.
The brewery was founded in 1854. The second half of the 1800s was a time of relative prosperity and growth in Ostrow-M. including for the large Jewish population, and the brewery grew with the town.
Before the first Teitel purchased it, it had two successive owners, Euruchim Fiszer and Chaim Bengelsdorf. Their names are recorded (among other places) in this page of the website Polish Beer Labels. Teitels are listed as owners starting in 1904.
The image below is from a webpage of the Museum of the Jews of Bialystok and Region. Numerous labels of the brewery are also shown.
“1885” may refer to the year the building was erected, by Chaim Bengelsdorf, although brewing clearly took place earlier, under the first owner mentioned. It appears the building was rebuilt after lighting struck in the early 1900s.
By the 1930s, Icok and Zindel were running the brewery. They employed some 50 staff, both Jews and Catholic Poles, reflecting the mixed population of Ostrow-M. By my estimate, it was producing perhaps 60,000 hL of beer per annum, a good medium size for the industry in Poland then.
Labour relations were sound. Dr. Dekel names the last brewing supervisor, a Pole called Schwintowsky.
She describes the layout of the brewery, with interesting details including that malt was prepared underground. She refers to stirring of the malt (mashing, I believe) by workmen who sang a characteristic song in German, to count the time.
This and other information on the brewing had been recorded before his death by Wolf Dekel (Teitel) in an unpublished memoir. He had become familiar with the operations of the brewery before departing town and family.
Had war not come it is likely Hannan and Wolf would have been employed in the brewery in time, following their fathers’ footsteps.
Dr. Dekel states the sweet, non-fermented extract was sold as kvass. Icok had graduated from a brewing academy in Munich and was well-regarded for his brewing skill. She also notes that the brewery was planning to export its product to the United States. It was not to be.
I located a print ad for the brewery in the National Archives of Israel. It was placed on June 1, 1928 in Trybuna Akademicka, a Jewish-themed, Polish-language newspaper in Warsaw (centre box ad):
After Brewing Ceased
The Gestapo used the brewery as a jail, to interrogate and torture Jewish and Polish prisoners, many of whom died there. The Germans blew up the buildings when evacuating the town.
Today, a nondescript school stands where the brewery did. A plaque commemorates the Polish patriots killed on the site by the Nazis. When Dr. Dekel visited, some years before the book was finished, there was no mention of the brewery or the Teitel family.
Note re images: images above are 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.
“The Brewery in Ostrow”, Mrs. Chana’cze Tejtel, Chapter of Memorial Book of the Community of Ostrow-Mazowiecka (1960), JewishGen Website. See also the historical and other chapters in this memorial volume, via Table of Contents, top of webpage.
Tejtel Brewery Labels Page, Ostrow-Mazowiecka Website. Also, other pages in this informative website.
William W. Hagen (June 1996),”Before the ‘Final Solution’: Toward a Comparative Analysis of Political Anti-Semitism in Interwar Germany and Poland”, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 68, No. 2, pp. 351-381 (via JSTOR).
Yoav Peled, “The Jewish Minority in Inter-War Poland“, posted to H-Nationalism, Blog of Humanities and Social Sciences Online, January 20, 2020 (see also reply by John Kulczycki).