The first mentions of Brzesko go back to the 13th century. Brzesko was a settlement near trade routes leading to Hungary and Russia. Its convenient location fostered the development of crafts. In 1385 the settlement was granted municipal rights. Brzesko was founded pursuant to the Magdeburg law by the Melsztyński family with the permission of Queen Jadwiga[1.1]. In 1386 it was exempted from duties and toll, and consequently became attractive to new settlers who started arriving there in the 14th century from Germany. New citizens were soon assimilated and already in the 15th century German names appeared in the censuses very rarely. In that period its inhabitants made their living from farming, trade and crafts. The town developed steadily, and runaway peasants, hiding in considerable numbers in nearby woods and swamps, were the only danger for merchants traveling through Brzesko.
Initially the town belonged to a magnate family of the Leliwita dynasty from Tarnów. In the 16th century it passed into the hands of the Czerny family, wealthy nobility. The change of the owner resulted in its becoming a commercial and economical center, diminishing its political significance in the life of Malopolska (Lesser Poland) Region. During that period, the town was no different either as regards the size or its structure from other private and royal towns in this part of Poland[1.2].
Only “the Swedish Deluge”[1.3] brought about the decline in the development of Brzesko. In 1655 the town was taken by the Swedes, and two years later it was ravaged by the Transylvanian army of Prince George II Rakoczy – an ally of the Swedes. The town, however, quickly regained its status. In the 18th century it was a center of small business and crafts; numerous guilds came into existence[1.4].
During the Partitions of Poland, Brzesko fell under Austrian rule. Its importance grew at that time. In 1867 the County of Brzesko was established as a result of a reform, and it incorporated also the town of Czchów. Basically, several factors influenced the development of the town. One of them was the erection of a brewery in nearby Okocim, in 1845, by Jan Goetl, Julian Kodrębski and Józef Neuman. Another factor that aided its development was the construction of a railway line of Kraków–Dębica–Lvov in 1856[1.5].
Despite the growth of the town's significance and a steady rise in its population, Brzesko did not manage to avoid calamities. In 1831 it was affected by cholera epidemic, which killed 80 victims. On 25 July, 1904, fire destroyed buildings in the town center.
In 1910 a Permanent Team “Sokół” was organized in Brzesko, and in 1914 it was transformed into a Field Team “Sokół”. Following the army draft in August 1914, its members began preparations for a war with Russia, practicing army drills with firearms.
When Poland regained its independence, Brzesko partly lost its significance. The economic development of the town was hindered; yet several important public buildings were erected: the county's administrative offices, town baths and a health center. However, the most important investment project for the county was the commencement of the construction of a dam and a hydroelectric power station on the River Dunajec in Czchów.
The effects of the breakout of the Second World War were experienced by the inhabitants of Brzesko as early as 5 September 1939, when evacuation trains that were ready for departure were bombed at the station. 44 people died and about 200 were wounded.
The years of the war brought glory to Brzesko's inhabitants who heroically participated in the resistance movement. A secret military organization operating in Brzesko from the beginning of the war was under the orders of the Home Army from 1942[1.6]. The soldiers of the underground took part in many operations in the territory of the whole Brzesko County. They also participated in the operation “Trzeci Most” (Wildhorn III), connected with the delivery of the elements of a V-2 rocket to the Allies in the village of Zabawa, the County of Brzesko. The liberation from the German occupation was brought by the Russian army which entered Brzesko on 19 January, 1945[1.7].
[1.1] Bulikowski Jan, Kronika miasta Brzeska, vol. I, 2005, p. 95.
[1.2] Jedynak M., Porozbiorowe dzieje parafii Brzesko 1487–1772, Praca podyplomowa, maszynopis w Archiwum Diecezjalnym w Tarnowie. Reprint on CD.
[1.3] Swedish Deluge – access at: Wikipedia; http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potop_szwedzki (As of 18 December 2009); http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deluge_(history) (As of 18 December 2009).
[1.4] Bulikowski Jan, Kronika miasta Brzeska, vol. I, 2005, p. 167.
[1.5] Kotra Michał, Porozbiorowe dzieje parafii Brzesko 1772–1945, Tarnów 1983, pp. 67-82.
[1.6] Home Army – access at: Wikipedia; http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armia_Krajowa
[1.7] Bulikowski Jan, Kronika miasta Brzeska, vol. 4, 2005, p. 43.
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