Bereza. Fragments of History

Before 1940 this place was known as Bereza-Kartuska, or Kartuz-Bereza. Bereza is the administrative center of the Bereza District, 100 kilometers to the southeast of Brest in the vicinity of the Yaselda river. If you travel by car you should choose the Kobrin-Baranovichi motorway. There are 26,000 citizens in Bereza
The town was mentioned for the first time in 1477 as a village of the Slonim and then Kobrin counties of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It had belonged to the Sapegas since late 16th century.
When I travel in that area I always try to stay for a while in Bereza. It seems a tiny town, but there are so many historic “memos” that come to us from all centuries that you always remain stunned by these discoveries and findings. Yury Bazhenov, the director of the largest Belarusian fish-farm “Selets”, has been my voluntary guide in Bereza for several years now. Yury is a very busy man, but he always tries to find an hour of two to show me something new. He claims he is eager to look back in times to get charged with this ancient energy of the bygone days.
Yury was born and raised in Minsk. He graduated from Kaliningrad Technological Institute, and the first assignment was to go to Russia’s Khanty-Mansiysk to study the fish riches of the north. After years of research and expeditions to the Lower Ob Yury got so homesick that he decided to get back to Belarus. He chose the Bereza District for starters, but this land never let him go…
— We have carp, tench, sterlet and even sturgeon here, Bazhenov tells me. We are thinking about breeding trout.
These are good feasible plans, I guess. In fact, I have no doubt that the hopes of the “Selets” specialists will add another 100 or even 150 tonnes of trout to the 300 tonnes they produce now. We walk around the Bereza area and talk about the fish varieties observed hundreds of years ago and about the solid profits our great-great-grandfathers were making on fish. More than a hundred years ago Adam Kirkor wrote in “Picturesque Russia” “A most habitual image of the Lithuanian landscape is the multitude of white sails with crying sea birds around them. So what we see every spring on every lake in the Pinsk District, covered in fish boats and barques, could have been observed in ancient Lithuania with its thick forests, cut by stack and running waters. The water fee combined with the fish fee accounted for a large part of the annual revenues of local noblemen and the church in this land of lakes and forests. The hidden fish treasures became a prerequisite for water brotherhoods, which have something in common with river and water Cossacks in the lower Dnepr. These unions were quite strong and stable, as fishing was an essential Lithuanian trade at that time (and the key business for this area).
Many fish names have been lost forever, as well as fishes. The names like berzan, uklei, klesch and selyava were once the pride of many state- and privately-owned estates. The large rivers used to have fishery outposts with sluices for vessels in the middle of dams. Smaller rivers were blocked by metal hooks, or grodya, and trawls. The seine nets, burdened with tonnes of fish, were to be dragged ashore with horses. But the most favored fishing game would take place in winter, on ice. It would start in November and continue until March. A special corporation of fishers founded a caste of fishing elders, the only fishermen authorized to fish by dragging the nets. Others were only allowed to fish “standing on their feet.”
If only water could talk! So many stories are kept in the depths of Bereza Lakes — Sporovskoe, Beloe, Chernoe. And the restless Yaselda… The settlements on its banks draw the ancient trade route to the Baltic basin. It seems that when the interstream area got waterlogged, the Baltic region could be reached from the Yaselda via the river Dorogobuzh, Lake Chernoe and then the rivers Ruzhanka, Zelvyanka and Neman. The banks were dotted with ancient towns of Sporovo, Zditovo, Gorbov and Khrisa.
We get back to Bereza after our “water trip” with Yury Bazhenov is over. Right in the middle of the town there is Bereza History Museum of the Revolution, one of the oldest museums in the Brest Region. It is a real mine of information for knowledge seekers. If you should visit Bereza, don’t forget to drop in for some wonderful discovery.
The northwestern part of the town is “decorated” with the ruins of a charterhouse. It had been erected by Italian architects back in the second half of the 17th century. It was demolished several times, during the North War of 1700–1721 and the Napoleonic invasion. You could only try to guess now how impressive the grandeur of the monastery was several centuries ago — with a large library, frater, residential quarters, belfry, a vallum with loopholes for large weapons, hospital and a variety of household outbuildings.
The Peter and Paul Church, built in 1772, stands in Sovetskaya Street. The church had been rebuilt before WWI to widen the naves.
The history of the rest of the town could be studied from memorial boards and communal graves, the monuments that take us back in time to the tragedy of WWII. The war is an endless sea of pain that touched every family in the town. A concentration camp was founded here in Bereza on June 23, just two days into the war. This death camp was closed only when fascists were driven away from Belarus. These morbid reminders of the past awaken poignant images in your head and make your heart beat faster, a sort of history that often makes your heart ache and quiver.

Ales Karlyukevich.
Cards from collection of Vladimir Likhodedov
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