Pinkas Pruzany and It's Vicinity


                                                                                              p. 23 - 29


M. Wolansky


The best-known legend about the name of the town of Pruzana goes like this: in the distant past the spot on which the town was established was empty and barren. The river Muchaviec flowed among the many marshes that covered the area. One day, a woman landowner passed through the area holding on to a small child. When she reached the river, a serpent jumped out of the water, snatched the baby from her hand and swallowed it. The mother built a church on the spot in memory of her child. The church drew worshippers to it and very slowly the settlement of Pruzana was established in memory of the founder. This legend was perpetuated in the emblem of the town: a snake swallowing a baby down its throat.

According to a second version, the name of the baby boy or girl was Pruzina and the mother called the church by this name. A third version ignores the name Pruzina and explains the name Pruzana as being like the word "Pozarela" in Byelorussian or "Pozarta" in Polish, which means "swallowed".

The well-known Polish historian Balinski relates a similar story. He recounts that the nurse of the children of landowners in the area dropped a child into the river, which engulfed the child and the spot was called "Pozarla" and later the name was changed to Pruzana. The historian adds that "the story appears to be fabricated." This remark did not prevent the story appearing in the article: "A historical list of the district town of Pruzana" in the book "Urban Settlements in the Russian Empire".


There is also another legend, according to which the area around the present town was wooded and contained several scattered settlements. But the area on which Pruzana was established was empty and barren. It was called "Poroznia" in Byelorussian or "Pruzana" in Polish, which means empty. This name became attached to the settlement that was built.

As the historic documents show, the name Pruzana was given to our city at the end of the 16th century. Until that time, the place was called Dobuczyn like the name of the village which is seven kilometres north-east of the town. There is another legend that explains the change of name from Dobuczyn to Pruzana. In the distant past, the town was situated on the site of this village.


Once, a plague broke out there that killed off many of the local population. e remnant abandoned the place and settled alongside the Muchavietc river nd set up the town of Pruzana there. It is obvious that this story, like the others, has no factual basis, but it is included to show how much the people tried to explain the meaning of the name of the place.


Apparently, the name of Pruzana comes from the Pruzanka stream, which flows in the town's boundary into the Muchaviec. Today, we know about the Wiec stream, which flows from the north and the Mucha from the west and they merge in the town and are called Muchaviec. The Baba stream flows from the lakes and marshes in the east of the town into the left flank of the Muchaviec. There are indications of another stream, which today is a marsh, that flowed from the south-west, crossed present-day Kobrin street, continued to the new cemetery and emerged on the right side of the Muchaviec. Old maps indicate the name of the stream as Lacha. Nobody knows about the Pruzanka stream. Also, the ancients write in the Pruzana divorce-documents  "a town on the Muchaviec river, Pruzanka river and Pizhuvka river and springs...", which shows that Pruzanka river exists. As regards the Pizhuvka, we believe that it is the Baba stream. Maps prior to the First World War record the name "Pizogohtka" instead of Baba. Some or all of the Pruzana streams have changed their names. Lacha in the 16th century was called Polachwa. The "Revizia of the Kobrin Economy" states the Polachwa river. The same source refers to Pruzanka stream.


Since there is no other stream that falls into the Muchaviec, close to Dereczyn, it is obvious that Pruzanka is the Pirhovka or Baba, as it is now known. The version of the GET (Jewish divorce document) that mentions Pruzanka and Pirhuvka in one breath as two separate streams is not understandable. Perhaps, it can be explained away by saying that in the beginning there was the version: "on the river Muchaviec and on the river Pruzsanka". Eventually, the stream was called by its other name and the writers of the GET did not want to omit the old name and for extra validity added the new name.


So much for the name of the town. Now to examine when Pruzana was founded M. Wislauch mentions many sources in his research on the boundaries of the Kobrin district in the 16th century. He proves on the basis of various documents that all the area around the Muchaviec was covered by marshes and virgin forests in the middle of the 14th century. Settlements were most rare. Kobrin was already a town in those days which belonged to the Grand Prince Ulgird. After his death, Kobrin went to his son Roman and a few years later on February 14, 1404, Roman's uncle, the Grand Prince Vitold, confirmed Roman's ownership of Kobrin.

The political-administrative state of Kobrin prior to this time is not known, but at the beginning of the fifteenth century Kobrin existed as an independent principality, of which the Pruzana area formed an integral part. The first historic document that mentions Pruzana belongs to this period. It is the letter of the Grand Prince Zygmunt Kejstutowiez of September 25, 1433 to Jagello about the war with Swidrigello. In his letter, the Grand Prince complains that the inhabitants of Sluck have destroyed the surroundings of Brisk and Kameniec and challenged the areas of Prushanoy, Kabrin....


From this source, it is obvious that "Prushanoy" refers to the administrative district around the settlement which is called the area of Pruzana. Does this mean that the settlement that should have existed in the centre of that area was called by that name? We do not find any contradiction of this hypothesis anywhere. On the other hand, we see even in modern times that administrative districts are not exactly called after the name of the settlement in which the administrative authorities are situated.


That same Prince Roman, the owner of Kobrin, as mentioned above, starts the princely family of Kobrinsky. Roman's son, Semen Kobrinsky, took an active part in the fighting of those days and was defeated, losing part of his estates, including Kobrin. As a result of later peace treaties, he got Kobrin back. The principality, including the Pruzana district, passed to his son Ivan Semenowicz Kobrinsky, who is regarded as the founder of our town. There is a document of Prince Ivan in the documents of the "Lithuanian metrica" about the first church in Pruzana (Dobuczyn), which he founded. The document was written in Byelorussian. The prince says he decided to build a church called Birth of the Son of God and contributes one-tenth of his yard in Dobuczyn, one-tenth of winter and annual crops for the priest and his successors. Also he donates land to build a home for the priest and his men close to the church, not far from the Jewish prayer house. He grants three voloks for ploughing land and Dubowa island for piling up haystacks, all tax free, and a wine factory for home consumption and an inn. The priest may ground 15 barrels at Dobuczyn mills without payment.


Thus, the date of the foundation of the town cannot be determined. This document does not provide us with any date. But it can be said with certainty that the town was founded before the time of Prince Ivan Kobrinsky because in the afore-mentioned document there is reference "to the town that was founded," indicating that it had been established not long before. On the other hand, it should be assumed that this "foundation" was of a merely formal nature. In fact, there was a settlement, which when founded was called Dobuczyn (or Dobuczyny). It had the character of a town with fields and streets, as indicated by the document, and was apparently quite well populated. In those days, a town was generally like a village. Self-rule was out of the question and self jurisdiction. The inhabitants were under the jurisdiction of the district officer. The mayor was called a Wojt, who was elected by the inhabitants, and his powers were very limited. His job was apparently to look after the town seal and privilege charters box. The inhabitants of the towns, like those of the villages, got their living from the land, 'workshops, and trade. Markets and fairs were held very rarely, because even the smallest farm supplied its own needs. It was only in the 16th century that cities were organised on the German pattern. The Magdeburg rights were established and the town became different from the village.


The foundation of the town meant nothing more than the provision of a town name for a settlement. There must have been a considerable number of Jews for they already had a synagogue. This fact confirms our hypothesis that a Jewish settlement already existed there in 1450 and a Hevra Kadisha was in operation. In 1863, after the fire when the old synagogue (shul) was burnt down, it was said there was an inscription in the synagogue which indicated it was about four hundred years old. Assuming that the inscription was accurate, it meant that the synagogue existed in 1463 and Prince Kobrinsky's document refered to the synagogue that was burnt down in 1863. The document supplies evidence that a synagogue existed in 1473 and that there was a big or small community. If one considers that settlements in those days did not grow up in a few years and the population did not increase very rapidly, then 1450 appears a realistic date.

A later document leads us to reconsider the accuracy of this date. In 1563, the State Comptroller (Revisor) Dimitri Sapieha carried out a census in three towns (Kobrin, Dobuczyn and Horodec) and 98 villages, which belonged to the economy of Kobrin. According to the census data, there were 11 houses of Jews. The twelfth house was a synagogue. The comptroller counted the names of the 11 home-owners. If this number is accepted as the number of Jewish families in 1563, then our assumption about a considerable Jewish population 113 years earlier must arouse many doubts. However, the above evidence leads us to further conclusions.


Inspector Sapieha was mainly interested in the size of the land area the Jews possessed and in the taxes that were paid for these areas. He had not intended to count the overall number of families. It can therefore be assumed that two or more families were living in every house. Furthermore, Jewish families could live in Gentile homes. If the number of families is multiplied by the number of persons in the family, then a considerable Jewish population existed. It is not out of the question that the Dobuczyn kehila included Jews from nearby villages and public houses on the roadsides.


Another fact that could explain the small number of Jews in 1563 is that Prince Alexander expelled the Jews from all the Lithuanian principalities in 1495. It could be that his expulsion affected the Dobuczyn community and during the sixty years after the Jews were permitted to return to Lithuania, the Jewish settlement did not manage to grow. In any event, there is no evidence against our view that the history of the Jewish settlement in our town began, in fact, in the fifteenth century.

The Kabrinsky dynasty came to an end with Prince Ivan. After his death, all his estates passed over to his brother-in-law Waelaw Kostewicz-a Catholic. In 1522, Kostewicz founded a Catholic church in Pruzana (on the spot where the Prowoslawic church is situated, on the corner of Pacewicz and Szersuv Str.). After his death, all his property passed over to Queen Bonna of Poland, who renovated the church in 1534 and granted it extensive areas. According to Balinsky, Dobuczyn was already at this time called Pruzana. However, later documents exist showing our town still having its former name. We hereby provide the content of interesting documents mentioning the name of our town.


A royal order issued on January 23, 1554 to Stanislaw Palishawsky, who served as director of the economy of Kobrin and Dobuczyn, instructed him together with the emissary of Queen Bonna to explain to the Catholics of Dobuczyn that they must pay "Kaliada" fees to Mazmus the priest and instead of the tithe that was customary in those times to give the Catholic priests a sack of grain from every vloka of fields.


The verdict in the trial of the priest Timofey Feodorowicz of the "Holy Ghost" Church in Pruzana against the inhabitants Nicolai Zubawsky and Jan Stavasky etc., which forbade the farmers, who brought their carts to the Christmas and St. Spas fairs, to trade outside the church. The inhabitants argued that the commerce disrupted church prayers. They also brought the orders of royal inspectors which said that commerce should be conducted in the market place, not close to the church. The verdict ruled in favour of the inhabitants.


August 7, 1560. Faybush Ben Yosef, a Jewish resident of Kobrin was the renter of the Kobrin and Dobuczyn beer factories and had to pay 10 grush per head in Kobrin and 20 grush per head in Dobuczyn.


April 23, 1562. The trial in the affair of the Brisk Jew Pesach Ben Isaac against the royal marshal Jaroslaw Matwejewicz about the lease of the Dobuczyn public house and other places was postponed because the marshal was sent to war by royal order.


November 23, 1562. David Ben Shmuel and Avraham Dlugacz on the one hand and Yosef Ben Shalom on the other agreed to carry out the verdict of agreed arbitrators in the dispute over the renting of customs (mita-payment for goods) in Grodno, Kobrin and Pruzana.


1563. The `Revizia' of the Kobrin economy mentioned above always uses the name Dobuczyn. The document refers to the following streets: Market square, the street by the estate, Kobrin, Chwatker, Zaharui and Dereczyn. February 15, 1583. Mordechai Ben Yaacov, a Pruzana Jew, transported goat skins to Lublin. Lev ben Natan also transported goat skins to Lublin. March 4, 1583. Eliyahu Ben Haim, a Pruzana Jew, transported goods to Lublin: steel, plums, "Moreby" weave, karazaya, figs, raisins, pepper, vegetable oil and rice in four carts.

After the death of King Stephen Batari (1586), his wife Anna Jagellonka, the daughter of Queen Bonna, received the estates of Kobrin and Pruzana as her widow's property. In 1588, she granted privileges to the town, under which Pruzana recieves the rights of Magdeburg and really receives the status of a town.

The rights of Magdeburg granted the town autonomy. An elected council handled the town's affairs, headed first by a Wojt and later by a Mayor. The town had its own judiciary and was no longer dependent upon the Starosta. The town determined its taxes, fairs and market days, etc.


Pruzana also received an emblem of a seal together with the privilege. The emblem showed a blue serpent holding a baby on its tongue, on a silver background, topped by a crown. Later, the colours changed: a brown serpent on a green background. As previously mentioned, one legend relates that a baby was swallowed by a serpent. The truth is that the emblem is not the outcome of the legend; on the contrary, the legend was created on the basis of the emblem. Anna Jagellonka, who granted the privileges, did not introduce a new emblem for the city, but gave it her family one, the emblem of the Italian counts of Storza as her mother emanated from this family.

On December 18, 1615, the Brisk register recorded a complaint of the priest Christof Dybowsky against the Pruzana town executive. The priest complained that on the day determined for discussion of his claim against farmers who insulted him by sitting on church land, many inhabitants burst into the municipality, made a disturbance and came to blows. The judges dispersed without hearing his complaint.


The earliest documents bearing the seal of the town that have been preserved date from the years 1750-1796. The seal is stamped without colour on the paper and has a Latin inscription around the emblem: "Sigillum Urbis Pruzan(a)ensis". Later, the Pruzana town seal was dependent on the political conditions and it changed forms (see pictures), but in 1925 the municipality resumed the old emblem, which is still in use at present.



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