Chapter One


By N. Tzukerman

  1. The Environment

The city of Pruzhany is placed at 52: 33 latitude and 24: 27 longitude over the rivers Mucha and Wietz. These two rivers join their waters giving origin to the Muchawietz River. At that place the river carries little water and it is rather weak. At the length of twelve kilometers it falls only three meters (from one hundred and fifty five to one hundred and fifty two); that means that each kilometer the river falls twenty-five centimeters.

This little difference in height gives the river more the appearance of a pool than of torrential water. The riverbanks are practically not touched, as the strength of the water is too weak to pull up and to drag parts off the banks. That is why the Muchawietz doesn't have geographical accidents along Pruzhany. The weak river-bed (it has of late been regulated in its upper part) does not give any possibility for pushing the stagnant water, and that is why the area surrounding it is so rich. It is because of this, that swamps and bogs are so characteristic in all of the area.

1.1  Forests

The area surrounding Pruzhany today has very few trees, if we don't take into account the ones planted by human being. There are not any great forests in the surroundings radius of ten kilometers. The areas around Pruzhany are similar to a great plain, several kilometers long open to the human eye.

Pruzhany averages 163 meters above sea level, although sometimes the surface is greater or slighter than the average. The environment has changed a lot during the last centuries according to the documents we have and the legends that we listen to in the city.

A great forest covered Pruzhany some centuries ago and was inhabited by hurs (bisons); it was called the “Pushka of Pruzhany”. This fact is strengthened by a document from 1644 when Jewish people got special privileges from the Polish King Vladislav IV. These documents show that the Jews had the right to let the cattle graze at the entrance of the “Pushka of Pruzhany”, the same right the gentiles had. That is why they must share the same responsibilities with the gentiles with regard to the Pushka.

There is a second demonstration and we find it in the “Review of Pushkas and Wondering Animals” by Grihar Vallovich from the year 1559. There we learn that "the range of the forest is from the Pushkas of Pinsk going along Tarakan, Horodetz and Kobrin to the Pushkas of Kobrin, to the side of Hrushawaia between Kobrin and Pruzhany over the river Muchawietz". "It goes between the fields and yards of Shereshov and the village of Wieshna to Shereshov and the “Bieloviezer Pushka” (a very large forest}. From all these details we come to the conclusion that a Pushka covers great areas surrounding towns and shtetls. Pruzhany today is barren of trees that, over the years, completely disappeared.

1.2 The Rivers

Our areas changed a lot because of the rivers. Centuries ago, the Muchawietz was wider and carried a lot of water. A change took place over the centuries. The elder people tell us that they remember the Muchawietz was wider and deeper. Today (1929) they repeat that it was wider in the past. In fact one of the legends is that the Muchawietz was a very big river. Every spring, when the snow melted, the Muchawietz flooded the surroundings. The legends say that an important princess crossed the river; one of her children fell into the water and drowned. From that moment the river was damned and became drier every year.

The importance of the river is stated in the “Review of Kobriner Economy”. There it is said in “Mills on the Muchawietz: at the "backyard" a mill of one wheel; at the back of the city a mill of two wheels, at one mile from the city a mill of two wheels”.

We find these facts in historic documents that show that the Muchawietz also changed in its width and partly in its bed. In a document of “Lithuanian Metrika” (according to M. Balinsky) from year 1473, it was confirmed that the landlord Ivan Semenovich Kobrinski left part of these parcels of land to build a church in Pruzhany (more details will be given later). For the same purpose he also left an island on the river Muchawietz: it says “...that is why we leave an island called Dubowa on the river Mucha (Muchawietz) not far from the town of Slonimtzy, so that some citizens can settle...”. On the island you can get some oats. Today Slomintzy is practically three kilometers away from the Muchawietz.

In spite of this, the great swamps between Slonimtzy and the Muchawietz give us some idea of what the river-bed could have once been. That is why we can accept that the Muchawietz, near Slonimtzy, had at a certain time two different branches. Near Slonimtzy passed the left branch of the river, and, where the two branches joined, the island of Dubowe was created. We must accept that due to the decrease of the left branch of the river near Slonimtzy, it slowly became a marsh. These changes are common in the story of rivers.

From all these facts, it is clear that the actual aspect of the surrounding geography in many details is not at all similar to the picture of the area four or five centuries ago

1.3 Roadways and Paths

Not only has the geography surrounding Pruzhany changed there were also many changes in the roadways and paths that sometimes crossed through Pruzhany, and now they have lost all sense. Today Pruzhany is placed on the side of the railway and does not play any important role in communications. Pruzhany looks different, considering the view of several centuries ago. The street we call Iatke (Market), once was the path through Rozshinoi to Vilna. Through this path the corpse of Queen Barbara (from the Radziwill house), was carried in the 16th century. The second roadway of importance was “Old Seltzer” (today Meshtshanske) that went up to Moscow. Through this roadway passed the Polish king Vladislav IV before the wars against the Cossacks. In this place the same king gave Jewish people certain privileges as a present.

There too Napoleon and his army passed on his way to Moscow, and the Russian czars went traveling to Bieloviezsh or Vilna. That means that Pruzhany was at a certain time the spine of the roads joining different points, which in history played an important role. If we wanted now to try to reconstruct our area in the past, we would have this framework.  All of the terrain within a radius of several kilometers was covered by a forest inhabited by hurs. It was not a safe place as bands of thieves and robbers made their livelihood from people going along these roadways. Through the hurs forest, a wide and deep way crosses the Muchawietz. The ways of prehistoric Pruzhany crosses the Muchawietz.

2. The Settlements

The way through the Pushka was dense and not safe at all. That is why settlements were established every 40 or 50 kilometers,. These settlements were rest spots for travelers. The distance between one and another could not be very large, as this distance -50/60 km. - was equal to about a one day’s travel. They were not only a place for travelers to rest but also for refuge in case of danger. This means that they could be safe with regards to their lives and their belongings. That is why the settlements were chosen in places with natural protection. Mountains and rivers always helped in case of robbery as they made it difficult for robbers to access. Places, naturally protected, always attracted the first nomad human beings, who settled there and planted seeds for later settlements. That is why we must look for the reasons for these settlements, in natural conditions that give the first inhabitants of prehistoric Pruzhany the possibility of shelter in case of danger.

As we have previously said, Pruzhany is situated where the Mucha and the Wietz rivers join. In this joint there is a great piece of land with the appearance of a triangle with an arrowhead to the east, and surrounded by water on the three sides .If we accept the supposition that the Muchawietz was large and deep, the two rivers -the Mucha and the Wietz- gave assurance to what was in the area of the triangle from three sides: north, south and east (see the drawing). In this way, the place was safe from three sides and was adequate for a settlement.

Besides the natural environment, the place had to be fortified by the inhabitants. These protections were built from the materials that were found in great quantities nearby. Of course in our area the fortifications were made of wood as the place was rich in this material.

In all these settlements, the defense forces, supported by landlords or kings, were permanently established; they were the owners of the land and were obviously interested in it. The ways were assured so as to benefit the travelers and to get tolls from highways and bridges.

We must accept that the first inhabitants that settled where Pruzhany is today were in the "yard"(see map) and ruled by the landlord. These fortress places grew up and became large settlements: towns and villages (shetetlech). So as to prove the truth of the previous hypothesis we must think that the first settlement was on the triangle between the Mucha and the Wietz .We must find there the signs that could have survived from the past. These signs must be the remains of buildings from the period or at least they must be registered in old documents. No physical signs were found that demonstrate this theory of those early settlements. We probably cannot find them as we think that fortified stone walls were not built and that is why there is not evidence registered. In spite of that, you can support the previous hypothesis with some other facts we can consider.

The street that runs along the Mucha and that now has the name of “Budkewitsha” was previously called “Zumkova” (later we will see an etymological explanation of this).  Because of this, we can suppose that this street took us to the "yard" and for that may be the reason for its name. Second support for the hypothesis derived from the previously mentioned document “Lithuanian Metrika ” from the year 1473. It says: ”...the land surrounding the church of the wide street, the way Seltzer, that is on the second end of the river Mucha (Muchawietz) ........ passed along the backstreet of the yard that goes to the kennels and had a second side from the Jewish school".

From these documents, it is clear that between the Mucha and the Seltzer Road the kennels were found and the street was called “Street behind the yard”. In the text this street is stated with the name “Zadvornaia”. This is the same "closed" street (Zamkova) and it was not changed from a Polish to a Belarussian name (The hypothesis is that the name Zamkova comes from the fact that the street was “blind “, as it had no way out, and in comes from the word "Zamknieta" (closed). This does not leave us any doubt at all. This means it was a street taking us to the “closing point” (it is the point where both rivers "close" to form one.) around which grew the settlement.

The Jews stayed there after the settlement was created. The majority of Jewish population were owners of inns or made handicrafts. Although they were strongly joined to the yard, the Jewish settlement did not enter into it, and they looked for places naturally protected. As time passed Jews settled down near roads because their sources of income were from the travelers.

The oldest points of Jewish settlement is the crossroad between the now called Iatke Street, limited by the Muchawietz on one side, and the other side with the Old Seltzer Road (see the drawing). In this place Jews felt safe from the east by the “closure”, and from the west and the north with the Muchawietz. The only open way left was the Seltzer Road. The most important point of protection was the Muchawietz as the biggest threats were from that side. There, crossing the Muchawietz were the large forests of hurs that stretched out to Rozshinoi and from that Pushka could come the robbers.

One statement in the previously mentioned document is that it was there precisely where the old Jewish settlements were. There, the Bet Medresh (a place for Jewish religious studies)is mentioned. Without any doubt it is the place were the yard of the synagogue is located now (see photo). Because the Bet Medresh was always located in the Jewish place of residence, it is also there that we find the beginning of the settlement.

Because of this, we conclude that the first non-Jewish settlements were in the “fork” (the image we have of the two branches of the river) between the Mucha and the Wietz. The first inhabitants lived round the "yard" and under the landlords rule. He was, by the way, the owner of the land . The later settlements of Jewish and non-Jewish people were near the ways not far from the "yard". In this way, and little by little the settlement grew up and in its development became a town.



The map was figured out according to different sources during the already mentioned period. The streets that existed at that time were registered with the names of the period. The principal streets of today are dotted.

Where we register the “SELTZER ROAD" it is now called “MESHTANSKE" or “OLD SELTZER WAY”. The way “ROZSHINOIER” is called today “IATKE” street. (today they are not used as ways because of the construction of new roads).

The streets “Behind the Kennels", was the previous ZADVORNAIA, then ZAMKOWA and now BUDKEVITSHA. The church in the map was in the place now called “ROLNIK”.

The BET MEDRESH was where today is the synagogue's yard. The cemetery is in the same place as it is today. Now it is inside the city and in old days it was outside.

The rectangular dotted lined in black were houses belonging to Jewish people. The non Jewish population was concentrated in the surroundings of the "yard" and the church, and because of their great number they are not included in this diagram.

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