The Geography
This page is an overview of the geography of the Brest region and the specific area of interest to the Brest-Belarus Group.

Locating Brest
It is customary practice in Jewish Genealogy to refer to locales by their modern names and political divisions. Brest refers to an administrative region (oblast) of the Republic of Belarus. Brest also refers to the administrative capitol city of the region. These are illustrated in the following graphics:

belarus in europe
The Location of Belarus in Europe


brest region in belarus
Belarus: Brest Region and Brest City


The modern political divisions of the area don't reflect the historic fluidity of these borders. During the approximately 500 years of Jewish presence in this area, governments and boundaries changed many times -- sufficient to baffle all but the most dedicated students of Eastern European history. What about the pre-war Jewish citizens? What was perhaps most important to them is that rights and status granted under one regime might be reversed by the next.

To modern Jews seeking to study their family and community histories, the modern political divisions are important because language, research resources, and methods vary from country to country, and it is in places non-trivial to cross borders. Some of these differences may be uniquely modern; the experiences of your ancestors may have been quite different.

For example, you should be aware that, prior to World War II, much of the area to the north-east, east, and south-east of Brest contained wetlands; pre-war maps show vast areas of swamps and marshes. (Since the war, heroic reclamation efforts have significantly reduced the extend of these wetlands.) Keeping this in mind, be prepared to be surprised by the mobility of people who lived in this region; many of them routinely traveled from village to village for trade, education, medical care, and marriage. Warsaw was a frequent destination. It was not out of the question to travel further.

Initial Geographical Scope of the Brest-Belarus Group
The Brest-Belarus Group started out with its main focus on the city of Brest and a few nearby shtetlekh; most of the information on the site up to late 2008 (that is, Version 1.0 of the site) refers to these. The site also included limited amount of material about a few shtetlekh in outlying areas. Version 1.0 reserved pages for a number of shtetlekh across the region. This is illustrated in the following graphic:

scope of 1.0 website
Geographic Scope of the Version 1.0 Brest-Belarus Group Website

It is natural for Brest to receive primary attention: Brest was an important center for Eastern European Jewish culture and commerce. Nearby towns had natural connections with Brest --it was the closest big city. Through winter, 2008 --through Version 2.0-- of this web site most of the information you'll see here pertains to Brest and nearby localities in Belarus. All of the towns marked on this map were selected for attention, but the site contains little or no information about many of them. The towns for which we have been unable to gather information tended to be at some distance from Brest, and also the three towns now in Poland. The lack of representation is misleading; apparently, there were Jewish populations in a significant number of towns west of Brest, in eastern Poland.

The Practical Area-of-Coverage
The following graphic illustrates the scope of the area covered in Version 1.0:

coverage area with radii
Shtetlekh listed in the Version 1.0 Brest-Belarus Group Website

The significance of these distances is more apparent when major roads, railways, and rivers are added, as in the following graphic, based on 1930's maps of the area:

coverage area with radii
Shtetlekh listed in the Version 1 Brest-Belarus website, with geographic details

Was it possible to travel from Brest to a town off the major paths, say, Porozovo? Yes, of course, there was a network of roads all over the region; no doubt a traveler could reach such points -- but the effort may have significantly discouraged traffic.

Recent experience has shown that it is relatively easy to obtain historical information about Brest. Towns within approximately 50 km are in easy reach of Brest; people come and go between these towns and Brest quite often, and field-trips to Kobryn --for example-- to gather information are practical. Beyond about 100km, the situation is quite different; with the exception of towns on the main travel routes, we hear of very few visitors to these towns. Bronnaya Gora is a special case, as it is the resting place of some 50,000 Jewish victims murdered by the Nazis, most from the Brest Ghetto.


Page Last Updated: 09-Nov-2016