Brest is a bigger city than Pinsk and that’s why it will have two parts: one about the city and the other about its people. In this part, we’ll take a look at pre-war residents of Brest, which for a short period of time became the capital of the Polesie Voivodeship in interwar Poland.

Same as in previous material about Pinsk all of the photos are provided by the National Digital Archive of Poland. Let’s thank them for that.


The concentration of politics in the first part of the previous century was incredible and it would be logical to start with it.

Here we have a message of the Ukrainian Hetman Commissioner in Brest to the residents of the Podlasie region. Year not specified, only the event — the First World War.

I may be wrong, but, apparently, this letter dates back to the times of the Ukrainian State which was under the protectorate of the German Empire and existed between 29 April and 14 December 1918. That state had territorial claims to the southern part of modern Belarus from Brest to Homiel.

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A loose translation of the letter:

“Both Podlasie and the Chełm Lands are finally returned to mother Ukraine.

It’s a great day and our freedom is coming to you under the guardianship of the allied Germans.

<…> Appointed by the German Emperor the Hetman of Ukraine fairly rules now and goes hand in hand with the German army. There will be peace and a return to our faith in Ukraine.

The state religion in Ukraine will be our old Orthodox faith <…>. <…>

Poles are done. As I see it — all Polish schools will be closed and soon there will be an end to the Catholic priests. We’re strong now because Germans are with us and we won’t give up the power.”

Several points are of particular interest. It is written in Polish, which means that people living in the south of today’s Belarus could at least read in Polish. That’s strange since Polonization of this region was carried out in 1921–1939 and in 1918 Poland only regained its independence from the Russian Empire.

Next, the emphasis is made on the ‘liberation’ from Polish schools and priests. No single word about improving the economic situation but specifically the ‘return to the Orthodoxy’. Therefore, we can assume that exactly these things were important for the then inhabitants of Podlasie. Another interesting fact: hundred years ago the Ukrainian State considered Podlasie its territory whose inhabitants would be happy to see themselves as part of Ukraine.

But let’s not go too much into history. Nothing happened to the Poles and here we have 16 July 1922. The first Marshal and head of Poland Józef Piłsudski awards veterans of the former Siberian Brigade on the second anniversary of returning to Poland.

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On this collage, we have four portraits. The first is of Sylwester Czosnowski who was a composer, conductor and the head of a music school in Brest. The second is of Stanisław Downarowicz who was the head of the Polesie Voivodeship from 1922 to 1924. Next, we have two mayors of Brest: Mieczysław Wężyk and Franciszek Kolbusz. The first was mayor in the 30s, the second was from 1938 to 1939. Kolbusz was the last mayor of Brest during times of the Second Polish Republic.

Notice the second and third portraits. It’s still popular to take such photos among government officials in some countries, despite the fact that we have computers and all paperwork is going online.

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Welcoming of Ignacy Mościcki, President of Poland, in Brest, July 1928. What an impressive car!

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And here we have another anti-German rally in the city, only now in Brest. There was one in Pinsk on 28 September 1930 after the German Minister Gottfried Treviranus hinted at the revision of the Polish borders, which in Poland was interpreted as a threat of war. The demonstration in Brest was in mid-October on 12 October 1930. Unfortunately, we can’t see the banners but we see that Brest had plenty of cyclists.

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A bit of Russian heritage: a Suvorov monument with a bicycle and a tombstone of a Russian General who died in 1831. Photo shot on 14 November 1930.

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Speaking of Russian heritage: here we have a great example of getting rid of it in independent Poland. The photo of the obelisk was made in Warsaw. The obelisk itself was dedicated to the completion of the highway to Brest. Apparently, such monuments were popular in the previous century — a monument for the same reason was erected in Pinsk.

On the left photo, we have the original monument: the Russian eagle at the top and the engravement saying ‘By the will of Alexander I’. On the right photo, the eagle is gone same as the words about the Russian czar and on 29 November 1935 a plaque was added.

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Let’s enjoy the scenery: bridge on the Bug river within the Fortress, 1930

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Participants of the Brest—Warsaw trip from the Warsaw Academic Rowing Union resting on the Ahinski canal, September 1931

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Them again. Take a look at the sail attached to the oar that reminds a carpet in its pattern. Also, check out the ‘sneakers’ of the bystanders — they do look like the modern Converse.

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And this is the Dažynki festival! I myself didn’t know that it was held in Belarus before it gained independence after the collapse of the USSR in the 90s. But, actually, they were held in Western Belarus during the Second Polish Republic.

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National costumes, wreaths, organizations — not much has changed.

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Notice the bare feet. There’s a feeling that people are of a short height, but it may be due to the perspective. In any case, living conditions were tough and it has a direct effect on a person’s height. Even today Belarusians and Poles are quite short.

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A wreath of the representatives from Janono. I’ll assume that it is today’s Janaŭ in Belarus.

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Mowers

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Local politicians and spectators of the festival

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In general, the interwar period in Europe seems overly militarized. Here we have, for example, the representatives of the local branch of the Association of Shooters at the festival.

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Can’t run away from politics. Assembly of the Sejm (Parliament) in Warsaw on 26 and 27 January 1931. The Brest trials were discussed in the Parliament. They got their name from the Brest Fortress where many arrested Polish politicians were imprisoned in a military prison. The conditions in the prison were tough.

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A here we have an interesting museum exhibit. By looking at such things you realize how different our world is today compared with the past. This is a model of an armored car which was proposed by servicemen to Józef Piłsudski on 19 March 1932 in Brest.

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The opening of the monument to those killed in the First World War

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Decorated barracks for the 3 May Constitution Day, 3 May 1932

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Elementary school students during sewing lessons, 1925–1939

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The ‘Revenge’ school play by Aleksander Fredro, May 1934. Cool costumes! I didn’t have such at my school.

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Students of a private elementary school of the Union of Polish Teachers in costumes, 25 May 1933. Some boys and girls look bored, some are having fun, some are sad. It’s hard to believe that this is the generation that will bear the burden of the Second World War in a couple of years.

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The opening of the rowing season in Brest, May 1935

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In the interwar period, skiers looked like soldiers while today they look like a Christmas tree in their colorful jackets and pants.

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Group photo of the participants of the fencing championship, May 1935

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Here’s how the firefighters in Brest looked like

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Writer Maria Rodziewiczówna in front of her house in Hrušjevo with teachers and pupils from Brest, 1937

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That’s it for now. In pre-war Brest, there was a place for politics, sports, shows, and excursions to the countryside. At the same time, politics had a strong influence on society. As we know, it didn’t end well for Europe.

The second part about Brest will be calmer — a walk around the city. In the meantime, you can take a look at Pinsk when it was part of Poland. What a beautiful city to the East from Brest!

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Stefan Vanli

Editor

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