|Gmina||Brzeg (urban gmina)|
|• Mayor||Jerzy Wrębiak|
|• Total||14.7 km2 (5.7 sq mi)|
|Time zone||CET (UTC+1)|
|• Summer (DST)||CEST (UTC+2)|
Brzeg ([bʐɛk] ( listen); former German name: Brieg) is a town in southwestern Poland with 38,496 inhabitants (2004), situated in Silesia in the Opole Voivodeship on the left bank of the Oder. It is the capital of Brzeg County.
Brzeg was in earlier documents referred to as Civitas Altae Ripae, meaning "city at high banks" of the Oder (Odra) river; its name is derived from the Polish Brzeg (shore). The historian Konstanty Darmot (1841-1895), in his book of the etymology of Silesian localities, states that in a Latin document from 1234, the settlement's name was Visoke breg (Polish: Wysokibrzeg; German: Wissokembreghe) (High Bank).
The town received municipal rights in 1250 from the Wrocław Duke Henry III the White, and was fortified in 1297. From 1311-1675 Brzeg was the capital of a Lower Silesian duchy (Duchy of Brzeg) ruled by the Piast dynasty, a branch of the dukes of Lower Silesia, one of whom built a castle in 1341. Much of Silesia was part of the Kingdom of Bohemia during the Middle Ages. The town was burned by the Hussites in 1428 and soon afterwards rebuilt.
In 1595 Brieg was again fortified by Joachim Frederick of Brieg and Liegnitz. In the Thirty Years' War it suffered greatly; in the War of the Austrian Succession it was heavily bombarded by the Prussian forces; and in 1807 it was captured by Napoleon's army. When Bohemia fell to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526, the town fell under the overlordship of the Habsburgs in their roles of Kings of Bohemia, although it was still ruled locally by the Silesian Piasts. Upon the extinction of the last duke George William of Legnica in 1675, Brieg came under the direct rule of the Habsburgs.
In 1537 the duke Frederick II of Legnica concluded a treaty with Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg, whereby the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg would inherit the duchy upon the extinction of the Silesian Piasts. On the death of George William the last duke in 1675, however, Austria refused to acknowledge the validity of the treaty and annexed the duchies and Frederick the Great of the Kingdom of Prussia used this treaty to justify his claim at the invasion of Silesia during the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740. Brieg and most of Silesia were annexed by Prussia in 1741 during the First Silesian War. In 1807 the town's fortifications were pulled down by Napoleon's army. The Prussian Province of Silesia, and thus Brieg, consequently became part of the German Empire when it was proclaimed in 1871 on the unification of Germany.
During World War II, 60% of Brieg was destroyed and many of the town's inhabitants died during the severe winter of 1944-5 as they fled from the advancing Red Army, in its entire history the war had brought the most severe destruction to the town. Some of the town's population was evacuated by the German Army who moved its population further west into Germany for safety and declared Brieg "Festung Brieg" (Fortification Brieg). After the fall of the town to the Soviets the remaining German population were later subject to harassment and expulsion (see Expulsion of Germans after World War II). After the war, the Potsdam Conference placed Silesia, and thus the town, under Polish administration. Subsequently, Brzeg and Lower Silesia were repopulated by Polish whom Soviets expelled from the eastern part of prewar Poland.
From the late 19th century the then German town of Brieg had expanded into a traditional military garrison town, from 1897 until 1919 it was the home town base to Infantry Regiment No. 157 designated from 1902 the 4th Silesian Infantry Regiment No. 157 (4. Schlesisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 157) of the Royal Prussian Army and respectively the Imperial German Army. In 1914 under the regiment's last peacetime commander Lieutenant General Paul Tiede the regiment began mobilizing for the Western Front at the outbreak of World War I as part of VI Army Corps (VI. Armee-Korps), 12th Division (12. Division), 78th Infantry Brigade (78. Infanterie-Brigade).
At the end of World War I the garrison barracks at Brieg remained for some years after without a stationed military regiment. The Imperial German Army Air Arm (Luftstreitkräfte) military aerodrome (Fliegerhorst) found in nearby Grüningen was furthermore dismantled and destroyed as part of the Treaty of Versailles. It was not until 4 August 1930 that the 5th Squadron of Cavalry Regiment No. 8 (5. Schwadron Reiterregiments Nr. 8) of the German Reichswehr arrived in Brieg from Breslau-Carlowitz, other cavalry squadrons from Militsch and Oels followed shortly after. This resulted in the garrison's Tiede-Barracks (named after Generalleutnant Paul Tiede) located in Moltke-, Sedan-, Roon- und Bismarckstraße requiring some alterations to accommodate the new arrival of horse-cavalry residents. It was from Brieg garrison, the German Cavalry Captain (Rittmeister) Konrad Freiherr von Wangenheim became famous for securing a Gold medal win at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin for the German equestrian team whilst suffering with a broken collarbone. In 1933 an airfield located in nearby Hermsdorf was also new built and thereby a much larger military aerodrome established. The new aerodrome was occupied by Flight Reconnaissance Group 113 (Fliegeraufklärungsgruppe 113).
Soldiers and officers of all ranks from Brieg garrison have fought in all theaters of war on land, at sea and in the air during World War I and World War II. A return home to their garrison town was bestowed to very few men for short periods, most never saw their old home garrison town again. Countless soldiers from Brieg garrison were killed in action or wounded and thousands shared the same fate as others as displaced persons.
As the town was situated on the commercial route to Wrotizla, in which a colony of Jews had long resided, Jews settled there about 1324. The Jewish community of Brieg had its separate place of worship from early times. In 1358 Jews lent money to local noblemen and the duke of Brieg, Ludwig I, who granted the Jews freedom of movement in the duchy in that year. In the 14th century the Jews of Brieg were persecuted on account of their usurious practices; one outbreak of such violence occurred in 1362. In 1392 it was claimed that all debts of the duke had been discharged by the payments to a Jew of Brieg (Jacob, the son of Moses), of a certificate of indebtedness. In 1398 the Brieg Jews bought a letter of protection from the duke, whereby they were guaranteed the peaceful possession of their privileges. But in 1401 they were driven from the city, except Jacob and Seman von Reichenbach, who had received a patent of protection from the duke's council for six years from May 1, 1399. In 1423, duke Ludwig II granted the Jews rights of residence on payment of an annual tax of 20 gulden, but they were expelled from the duchies of Brieg and Liegnitz in 1453 as a result of the inflammatory preachings of the Franciscan John Capistrano. Solomo, a capitalist, lent large sums of money to royal houses in the 15th century. In the 16th century, one of the local Jews served as a physician to the duke of Brieg.
With the decline of Breslau as a trade center, the Jews of Brieg became little more than an isolated community; and in modern times they shared the lot of the other Silesian Jews. They carried on insignificant trade operations as a rule. The conquest of Silesia by Frederick the Great brought but slight change in their condition.
A synagogue was built in Brieg in 1799, and a rabbi was first appointed in 1816. The Jewish population numbered 156 in 1785; 376 in 1843; 282 in 1913; 255 in 1933; and 123 in 1939. In the Kristallnacht pogroms of 1938 the interior of the synagogue was completely demolished and the Torah scrolls publicly burned; numerous shops were ransacked. The community was not reestablished after the Holocaust.
Brzeg is located at the crossroads of the National Road (northbound to Namysłów and Kępno; southbound to Wiązów and Strzelin) and the National Road (westbound to Oława, Wrocław, Bolesławiec and Zgorzelec; eastbound to Opole, Strzelce Opolskie, Bytom, Kraków, Tarnów, Jarosław and Korczowa. The interchange to the Motorway (Węzeł Przylesie) is located 14 km south of Brzeg.
Brzeg has well developed railway and bus transportation services. The PKP Brzeg railway station is operated by PKP Intercity and Przewozy Regionalne. The town has direct connections to Opole, Wrocław, Kraków, Warszawa, Katowice, Poznań, Szczecin, Zielona Góra, Lublin, Kielce, Przemyśl, Zamość, Nysa, and other cities. The Brzeg bus service is operated by PKS Brzeg, with ten bus lines around the town and Gmina Brzeg. The important routes are to Wrocław, Opole, Grodków, Namysłów, Nysa, Karpacz, Strzelin, Wiązów, and others. On Sunday, there is a special route to Szklarska Poręba.
Brzeg is twinned with:
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