07.04.2024 | Redaktor

Sukkahs in Brzesko tenement houses

Some years back I used to think that there were hardly any material traces of Jewish presence left in Brzesko. However, over time, it turned out that in addition to the new Jewish cemetery on Czarnowiejska Street, the synagogue and mikvah buildings on today’s Puszkina Street (former Łazienna), the boundaries (and even a piece of the wall) of the old Jewish cemetery on Glowackiego Street are very clearly visible; there are at least 5 visible traces of mezuzahs on the doorframes of Brzesko tenement houses; Yiddish and Hebrew books were found in the town in 2022 and have become part of the permanent exhibition in the Bresko Regional Museum. And couple of months ago I understood, that there exists also something else, although these traces can only be seen in drone photos. But first I need to share a few words about the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Sukkot (סוכות) usually begins in late September/early October, five days after Yom Kippur. This joyous holiday commemorates living in tents (sukkah in Hebrew) during the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. During this holiday, which lasts 7 days, Orthodox Jews live outside in sukkahs under the open sky. The following text is translated from https://teatrnn.pl/leksykon/artykuly/kuczki-w-lublinie/l:

“Followers of Judaism, in remembrance of the Biblical wandering in the desert, should spend the seven-day holiday of Sukkot in a sukkah. Religious regulations for the Sukkot holiday were specified in the Talmud and by Maimonides in the Mishneh-Torah, in the Sukkah chapter. They describe in detail the appearance, construction and rules for building a sukkah: it should stand under the open sky, have at least three walls and be built of plant material; the roof covering should be made of plants such as straw or willow so that “larger stars could be seen through it.”

However, since it is usually a cold and rainy season, the religious tradition has taken a specific form in Poland. In addition to the most popular sukkahs, erected occasionally in backyards, specific to Poland were huts permanently fused to a residential building. Made of wood, less often brick, they took forms similar to a built-in balcony, loggia or porch. However, the element that distinguished a sukkah from an ordinary veranda was the opening roof….

A simple solution for spending seven days a year outdoors was to install a sukkah in the attic of a house by placing a trapdoor in the roof slope. This solution was very often used. An analysis of pre-war photographs of shtetls, especially those from a bird’s-eye view, gives an idea of the popularity of such sukkahs. Few have survived to our time; most often they were removed during the post-war replacement of the roofing.”

It is not by accident that I emphasized the last paragraph of this quote, because it seems that there are quite a few traces of such open-roofed sukkahs left in Brzesko. You can see them in the attached photos, which come from the film “Dov Landau. My Brzesko” by Mateusz Kudla, photos by Łukasz Herod.

Brzesko Market square. You can see possible traces of up to 4 sukkahs on the northern side of the Market Square (that’s where Dov Landau’s family used to live, among others), 1 on the eastern and 4 on the western sides.
In the foreground you can see the roofs of tenement houses on the northern side of the Market Square.
The northern side of the Market Square and the tenement house on the corner of the Market Square and Kościuszko street, which once belonged to mayor Klapholz.
A close-up of Klapholz’s tenement house with a possible construction of a sukkah.
Photo of an abandoned building in the courtyard of the Klapholz’s tenement house, which used to house a photo studio. You can see the glazed terrace, the roof of which is also glazed. This terrace also could have served as a sukkah.
The attic of the tenement house on the corner of the Market Square and Asnyka street could also serve as a sukkah. The building in the center of this photo was built after the war – there used to be a beautiful gate leading to the main Brzesko synagogue in this spot prior to the WWII

My suspicions were confirmed by Brzesko Holocaust survivor Dov Landau: “On Sukkot we used to build a sukkah in the courtyard. We ate in it for 8 days. In our house there was no such an open roof – but it was at my grandfather’s house. Grandpa had a tenement house in the Market Square, there was such an opening on the top of it. We built sukkah ourselves, together with daddy and my brother in the backyard, we used willow branches. And at grandpa’s house there was such an opening in the roof. There were also such houses that had a glass roof on the balcony, on Sukkot they opened it. And these houses with an opening roof – not everybody had them. Only if someone built a house himself, he had something like that close to the kitchen, such an entrance to the roof. They were around the Market Square, those houses that the Jews built themselves, like my grandfather. They were the ones that had a special room close to the kitchen with such a glass roof.”

Dov Landau in Brzesko, 2020

Another Holocaust survivor, Mrs. Berta Bukspan (born in 1929), also remembers the roofs in Brzesko tenement houses being opened on Sukkot.

When looking through the photos of tenement houses around the Brzesko Market Square, I noticed at least 11 such glass slopes, which could have served Brzesko Jews as sukkahs before the war – although, of course, 80 years after the Holocaust it is difficult to be sure of the original purpose of each of these places, especially since most have been rebuilt.

© Anna Brzyska, 2024