Mordechaj (Markus) Dawid Brandstatter was born in a tenement house in the Brzesko Market Square in 1842. He was the son of a wealthy merchant, Chaskel Brandstatter. He attended rabbi Landau’s cheder, and later studied with the rabbi in Limanowa. In 1858 he married Sprinze Dawid, daughter of Abraham and Golda, born in 1839, and moved to Tarnów.
Mordechaj Dawid’s parents lived in Brzesko until the end of their lives. Mother, Feigel Brandstatter née Goldklang, died on March 15, 1881 at the age of 73. She was the daughter of Abusz and Sara Goldklang from Nowy Sącz. Father, Chaskel Brandstatter, son of Moses and Gitla Brandstatter, Brzesko merchants, died seven years later on February 17, 1888. Matzeva of Chaskel Brandstatter has survived at the Brzesko Jewish cemetery.
Mordechaj Dawid Brandstatter was initially engaged in Talmudic studies, and then focused on economic activity. He became interested in the Jewish Enlightenment movement and in the 1870s, he started writing stories in Hebrew. He had a significant influence on the development of Hebrew-language literature. His stories were translated into several languages, including Yiddish, English and Russian, and in the years 1910-1913 three volumes of his works were published in Warsaw. He died and was buried in Tarnów in 1928.
Mordechaj Dawid and Sprinze Brandstatter had 15 children, two of whom died as infants. The future writer and poet Roman Brandstatter was the son of Mordechaj Dawid’s tenth child, Eliezer.
In 1930, on the second anniversary of Mordechaj Dawid’s death, his grandson Roman Brandstatter wrote an article for “Nowy Dziennik”, in which he describes life in 19th century Brzesko and his grandfather:
“A tiny Galician town from the first half of the 19th century. A few winding, narrow streets, market square, creaking well and tiny, shabby houses.
This is Brzesko, or actually Brygiel.
On weekdays, the market square is crowded with local peasants and Jews. Heavy boots shuffle in dark puddles, horses rustle with their hooves in loose straw spread over the ground. However, on Friday evenings, golden lights of tallow candles burn in low windows, casting bright streaks of faint glow into the dark depths of the streets. Singing of praying Jews flows slowly from the synagogue. On Saturdays, residents leave the city, go into wide fields to breathe some fresh air. The high sky of the Subcarpathian region shines with a clean ambiance above the plowed ground. The lark flies trembling over the furrow, and a narrow stream of dripping water gurgles in the grassy trenches…
It’s nice to go for a walk in the silence of a warm, suburban afternoon after a busy week.
And then again a working day, and again Saturday.
Time flows slowly in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Hours measured by the old clock in a gray tenement house in the Market Square also pass by slowly.
It is a tenement house of Chaskel Brandstatter, a rich and educated merchant.
Life was flowing happily in a patriarchal atmosphere in that house at the Market square… Chaskel delivered goods to the manor. He was doing well and lived in great prosperity.
On February 14, 1842, son Mordechaj Dawid was born to him. His childhood was calm and uneventful. What could disturb the blessed peace in a tiny Galician town?
However, Brzesko had its sensations.
In 1848, the Russian army under the command of Suvorov went through Brzesko to Hungary. For two days, Moscow regiments and caravans dragged through the narrow streets of Brzesko. Jews were afraid of pogroms. Shops got closed. Mother held little Mordechaj in her arms, looking through the shutters of a closed shop at the Cossack troops stretching along the street …
These are my grandfather’s first memories.
Then came the years of study, Bethhamidrash, Talmud and Gemara. My grandfather took his first lessons from a local teacher, Feiwel Landau. Then he studied (as he used to say) at the “university” in Limanowa with a local rabbi. My grandfather’s father wished his son to become a rabbi. However, my grandfather was not happy with such a choice. He saw different goals ahead of him, different intentions for the future. He was already regularly reading a Hebrew literary newspaper.
Then suddenly, after returning from Limanowa, the mother told her astonished son that he had to go to Tarnów right away, so that to meet his bride. Grandfather, then a 15-year-old boy, obeyed. In Tarnów he got engaged to the daughter of a wealthy local merchant, Dawid. He hadn’t previously known his fiancée. When he begged his mother to show him his future wife, she replied: Why do you want to see her? You just need to trust me.
After the wedding, my grandfather moved to Tarnów.
From that time on, news started coming to Brzesko about a strange, extremely gifted man who could become a rabbi, but didn’t want it. He was said to be learning German, studying German and French literature, reading Goethe and Schiller, going to Vienna and even writing stories in Hebrew, the holy language!
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, terrible news fell on the quiet town:
Mordechaj Dawid Brandstaetter, the pride of Brzesko, the son of the righteous hasid Chaskel, shaved off his sidelocks, trimmed his beard and was no longer wearing his frock coat!
The town turned sad:
Apikores !!! “
(From the article “The town of Mordechaj Dawid Brandstatter” by Roman Brandstatter published in “Nowy dziennik” on June 2, 1930; translated by Anna Brzyska; the full text of the article in Polish can be found at: https://jbc.bj.uj.edu.pl/dlibra/publication/113239/edition/105884/content)
© Anna Brzyska, 2021