The Victoria Brewery of Przemysl

Przemysl is another of the Galician cities that came under Polish rule after WW I and the dissolution of the Hapsburg Monarchy. A city (yet another) known by many names, its general history is summarized in a well-referenced Wikipedia entry.

The city, far in the south-east of Poland, was next in importance after Lviv and Krakow in the region.

The account mentions the harsh steps taken by the Soviets in the part of the city they controlled from 1939 under the Nazi-Soviet Pact, until June 1941 when Germany invaded Russia.

The pattern was similar elsewhere where Soviets took control in Poland. For Jews, it meant dissolution of their community organizations, seizure of businesses, and deportation of those deemed inimical to the working class, which frequently targeted business owners.

The fighting during WW I and then the Polish-Ukrainian War left the city enervated, particularly the Jewish community which suffered pogroms and demands for tribute. Przemysl was the scene of an intense struggle during WW I, the Siege of Przemysl, which has been described as the “Stalingrad” of WW I.

In the interwar years, at least one-third of the population remained Jewish although the proportion was declining.

A picture of old Przemysl appears, via Wikipedia Commons, the source includes other fine images from the early 1900s.

An outline of the interwar economy and impacts of anti-Semitism appears in Chapter 5 of the Yizkor (memorial) volume for Przemysl, published in Israel in 1964. The book (translation) is included in the JewishGen genealogical site. It is a valuable resource, as little comparatively is known of these prewar communities, so totally were they destroyed by the Nazis.

The post-war Communist regime essentially maintained the amnesia that resulted. Recently some steps have been taken in Poland, by historians and others, to understand this vital, lost dimension of Polish history.

At the outset of WW II Polish Jews numbered in excess of 3,000,000. They were 10% of the total population. 30% of Warsaw’s population was Jewish. 90% of Poland’s Jews were murdered by Nazis. Many non-Jewish Poles were too, especially teachers, clergy, lawyers, politicians, perhaps 2,000,000.

In the 1930s, a bright spot economically in Przemysl was light industrial facilities. The following quote from Chapter 5 shapes a broader context, for more than just brewing that is:

Other factories included the metal factory “Cyklop,” founded by attorney Dr. L. Peiper and managed by Mr. Klinger; a factory for mechanical toys, “Minerwa,” belonging to the family of Yosef Rinde, a Zionist activist and city councilman; the factory for agricultural machinery belonging to the Honigwachs family; the Pipe family’s button factory; the Langsam family’s furniture and carpentry tools factory; the pharmacist Laufer’s cosmetics factory, “Aya”[13]; the Poller family’s cigarette holder factory; the candle factory established by prolific Zionist activist Mordechai Hacke; a modern cotton gin for linen, belonging to Zionist activist Lipa Galler; the Rebhan family’s “Victoria” beer brewery. There were also dozens of workshops and small factories which operated in the town.

More than half the Jews were in trade (shopkeepers, peddlers and the like), with others in crafts, the professions, factory work, agriculture.

The Victoria brewery, Wiktorja in Polish, or Wiktoria, was actually in Ostrow, a village a couple of miles from Przemysl but part of its district.

Polish blogger Przemyslaw Chorazykiewicz has posted rare images of Victoria brewery from before WW II. He explains its bok beer (bock) was particularly popular. A bottle of bock is pictured but as he explains it is from another brewery, in Medenice, the Kolischer brewery.

The Polish Beer Labels site lists the owners of Victoria starting with the first, Hornik in 1862.* The names are all or mostly Jewish. Its interwar labels include the bok, as well. Most labels state the location as “Przemysl” but one includes “Ostrow” in a compound formulation.

I am not sure of the source used, perhaps one of the Polish beer histories I mentioned earlier. But when I’ve cross-checked the information in Jewish genealogical or other sources, it all rings true (save variations in spelling and small gaps or inconsistencies).

E.g., a 1901 French-origin (Didot-Bottin) world business directory lists “Schiffer” as the brewer in town, see p. 633. This is consistent with Polish Beer Labels, which renders the full name as Mayer Schiffer.

In 1920 ownership changes, a joint stock company is created. As the labels show, after 1920 the owner’s name is omitted, just the Victoria name is used. But he was surnamed Rebhan, as the memorial volume stated.

A 1921 Polish business directory (p. 179, via Polish Library in Lodz) lists A. Rebhan as owner of Victoria Brewery in Przemysl. No other brewery is listed.

Browar Parowy „Wiktoria” A. Rebhan.

A. Rebhan is still listed in the Przemysl section of the 1929 Poland Business Directory (via JewishGen), which, in this case, added “Ostrow” after his name.

The Rebhan family seems to have been prominent in the city, as various of that name are mentioned in the memorial sources, for different occupations or roles. I was not able to learn anything about the family apart this.

The JewishGen site reproduces the entry for Przemysl in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume II. This contains a good history of the city from a Jewish standpoint, and records the dire situation of the community in the 1930s, apart the factories mentioned.

This economic travail resulted from general interwar slump (1920s inflation, 1930s world depression), heavy taxation, anti-Semitic government actions, and the city’s inability to recover its prewar position in the field of military construction and supply. Many Jews had earned a living in that sector, and it substantially dried up between the wars.

People were being squeezed, with many Jews departing for other cities in Poland or outside. One wonders what would have happened had the war not intervened, but anyway it did. It completely and forever destroyed the rich texture of Jewish life in the city and elsewhere in Poland.

One source states that a Victoria building in Przemysl is now inhabited by a club, the Rock club. This is the building, evidently a prewar structure of some elegance that was never a factory.

The same source, a Facebook entry, states the brewery operated during the war, and was state-owned from 1950 until about 1990, still brewing.

I think probably the building housing the club served as the brewery offices, with the plant being outside the city. We saw a similar example earlier in this series.

Much of the city was destroyed by July 1944 when captured by Soviet forces, but some buildings survived. This resulted from heavy bombing by Germany when it invaded Poland, Soviet bombing when the city was captured in 1944, and ongoing fighting to pacify the city.

See Samuel Mitcham’s The German Defeat in the East: 1944-1945 for discussion of the latter stages of the campaign to eject the south German Army including Przemysl’s fall.

The few Jews in hiding then emerged, but were not greeted warmly by the resurgent local community. See details in a chapter from the memorial volume mentioned.

Note re image: image above is from the Wikipedia Commons collection linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*I have drawn attention to this excellent resource. To see labels from a particular town, click on town name from list on the left, and then brewery. Browary Mazowsza is another excellent resource enumerating many websites dealing with historical Polish and other beer labels, coasters, capsules, and bottles. Of Polish Beer Labels (www.polbeerlabels.pl) it notes, “strona Janusza Skrzyniarza – galeria polskich etykiet od piwa sprzed 1945 roku“. It appears therefore the site belongs to Janusza Skrzyniarza.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Victoria Brewery of Przemysl”

  1. A very interesting piece of history about a place that few have even heard of. I remember when reading about the First World War that Przemsyl was the lynchpin of the fighting on the front between Austria-Hungary and Russia and changed hands several times. Now right in the south-eastern corner of present-day Poland next to the border with Ukraine.

    Reply
    • Thanks Peter. I had read of this battle in the research. Although I have mentioned more about WW 2, the Great War had a serious impact on many cities and especially their Jews via depredation by Russian, German, or other armies, or in the fighting just after WW 1 before the Second Republic of Poland took final form. In many cases WW I ended the breweries’ existence right there. I’ll give examples later.

      Reply

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