Jews of old Kalush
I have been discussing Jewish-owned breweries in pre-war Central and East Europe. There were quite a few, of different sizes.
One was in Kalush, as it is now called, a city in Western Ukraine, but first some notes on Jewish families and commerce in the city, as it was then.
The Geni site offers a crisp outline, stating:
KALUSH (Pol. Kalusz), city in Ivano-Frankovsk (Stanislavov) district in southwestern Ukraine, formerly within Poland; in 1772 it passed to Austria, reverting to Poland in 1919, and was within the U.S.S.R. from 1939 to 1991 when Ukraine gained independence.
The Kalush entry at Google Maps indicates the location, in the Carpathian foothills (via Google Maps):
“Austria” before World War I denoted the Hapsburg Empire, aka the Dual Monarchy, which foundered in defeat in 1918. Kalush was in Galicia, a province of the Empire just as Czechia (Bohemia) was although it would stretch a point to say Galician lager shared the fame of Bohemia’s.
In 19th century Kalush, Jews traded in salt, lumber, and hides, and were active in industry, education, and the professions. They built many synagogues and schools. From a majority in 1880, the city’s Jewish component declined to a still-substantial one-third in 1939.
The loss was due in good part to severe depredations by Russian troops during World War I. Yet, nothing would match the Nazi ferocity that killed almost every Jewish man, woman and child in Kalush by 1943.
An image in Wikipedia Commons shows the Kalush market square before 1914:
If there was a golden time for the Jewish people in Kalush, it was then. Certainly the town’s brewery reached its apogee in Emperor Franz Joseph I’s Galicia.
Memories of the Brewery
A Holocaust survivor raised in Kalush, Tsufyah Shpilmen, recalled pleasant days in the compound of the brewery. The family’s home was there, due to her father’s position with the firm.
Shpilmen recounted her girlhood memories for the Kalush Yizkor (memorial) volume published in Israel in 1980. Portions are reproduced in the JewishGen site, where I found them. The site memorializes vanished pre-war Jewish life in Europe.
She wrote (translation by Deborah Schultz):
Before I left Kalush, our family lived in “Browar,” the beer brewery. There Father worked as a directorate official. After our house was destroyed by fire in the First World War, we received an apartment in the domain of the factory. The two owners, Aba Milshtein and Leibtshah Shpindel, I see in my imagination as if they were standing before me. The chief and older of them had grey hair. They were both always wearing black suits; in their hands, Tyrolean walking sticks. When they grew very old, administration of the factory passed to their children: Zelig Milshtein and his son Mosheleh, and Leibtshah’s grandson, Shlomoh.
… Kalush, the town of my birth, the place where all my dear ones were destroyed, will not pull out of my memory. My heart is gripped each time I think about what happened there.
Remarkably, a period image on Facebook shows one of the owners she so vividly recalled, carrying his Tyrolean walking stick.
The image appears at 1:14-1:15 in a video uploaded to its Facebook page by the brewery.
The brewery still exists, in other words.
See middle video, second row, under “All Videos”. The brewery this man did much to create is now called Kalush Brewery.
Some Brewery History
Creditably, the brewery has posted a fairly detailed history on its website. In part it states (Google translation):
1870 The owners of the Kalusha brewery and distillery were private individuals – the Milstein, Schlinder and Weissman families, who owned the brewery until the beginning of World War II. They improved the equipment at the brewery and significantly increased the production of low-alcohol beverages. About 150 workers from local burghers, mostly residents of the villages of Khotyn and Pidhirka, as well as Zahirya, worked at the prestigious enterprise. According to statistics, more than 20,000 hectoliters of good quality beer were produced here annually. If necessary, the plant could double the production of low-alcohol beverage and increase its production to 45 thousand hectoliters. The brewery owned its own houses, had beer warehouses and a turbine for 100 horsepower …
Brewing occurred onsite even earlier, 1565 is now taken as the earliest year for this, but the real growth and expansion dates from 1870.
Apart the brewery’s Facebook page, further historical information is set out in this Ukraine webpage, a clearing house for Ukraine brewing information.
A short account of the brewery in the Sztetl memorial site adds that ahead of World War I, production reached some 40,000 hl per year.
By comparison, an enterprise such as Poland’s Okocim Brewery, well-known then and now, was much larger: in 1911 it produced 380,000 hl per annum.
The Kalush brewery was in a different category, a successful but smaller-size, regional concern, which mainly supplied its area and contributed to the local economy.
In 1890 the owners added a maltings, which is still used today.
Before World War II the brewery was called Mühlstein, Spindel & Weissman. Weissman died in 1915 and the others continued. The owners’ names are variously spelled in different sources, but there is no doubt of the persons intended.
Tsufya Shpilmen refers in her account to the brewery turbine, which allowed homes on the compound to have electric light and hot water. These were luxuries then, the town as a whole was not electrified until some years later.
The brewery suspended activity during the First World War but recommenced operations between the wars. In 1934 it advertised in the Echo, a Polish weekly published in Stanislawow, another town in Galicia. The brewery had a presence there, perhaps a warehouse.
Export, Dubbel, and Czarne (likely porter-style) beers are shown above, a range typical of many breweries in Poland and further East before 1939.
The excellent Polish Beer Labels site includes a fine set of interwar labels. As well, an early brewery label is shown in the Sztetl site, with a sample invoice.
The fate of the pre-1939 principals is not mentioned in these sources, or others to my knowledge. It seems unlikely they survived the Holocaust, but I don’t know for certain.
The Modern Brewery
Today, the brewery makes a wide range including a craft line. Some of the old names continue, Export for example. Indeed there is a range of Export labels, atmospheric and cleverly named.
The brewery’s labels and artwork show sophistication of design and execution. Further examples can be seen in the Ukraine sources cited in these notes.
In another video posted by the brewery to Facebook, the words “In Galicia” appear after the brewery name – a conscious attempt to link to the past.
The brewery is independently owned by interests based in Kyiv, Ukraine, formerly Kiev. Currently a Kalush-based management company operates the brewery for the owner.
The owner modernized and upgraded the plant after acquiring the site in 2012. Details are described in the website of the Ukraine solicitors who assisted with the purchase.
New equipment was installed, including apparently the cylindro-conical fermenters shown. Yet, the pitched-roof building exteriors seem much the same as 100 years ago.
All beer is carbonated naturally with aging of between 25 and 60 days, according to this source mentioned above.
The Jewish Past
In Kalush today there is some interest to know the history of the brewery, and of long-disappeared Jewry in the city.
In November 2017 journalist Marta Onyskiv of Kalush News recalled this past in a short but affecting piece, enhanced by evocative images. It mentions some of the brewery history, even the Shpilmen account.
Some observers consider that in Ukraine, and elsewhere in East Europe today, a kind of historical amnesia attends the former significant Jewish presence and its importance there. The Kalush News article is perhaps a harbinger of change in this regard.
Note re images: the source of each image is linked in the text above. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.