The name of Chorzele derives from the Proto-Slavic word for a horse: orz or horz. It is also the origin of the name of the Orzyc River and the Chorzele primeval forest covering the surrounding areas. The name “Chorzele” was used for the first time in a donation certificate of 1444 issued by Duke Bolesław IV of Warsaw for the benefit of Wacław from Jaworów. In 1473 the owners of the land – Wacław from Jaworów and a family from Chorzele - exchanged Chorzele with Duke Janusz II of Mazovia for 10 voloks of land in the Zambrów County.
The early 16th century was a period of growth for Chorzele. Th town had 10 inns, a forge, an ore mine and two mills. The number of inhabitants is estimated at about 150 people. In 1529, after the death of the last Piasts, the Duchy of Mazovia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland. Consequently, Chorzele became a royal village being constituing a part of the Ciechanów Land in the Mazovia Province (in the Starostwo of Przasznysz until the end of the 16th century).
Chorzele received the status of a town on 15 May 1542. The charter under the Magdeburg law was issued at the order of King Sigismund the Old in Vilnius. Chorzele received 60 voloks of land and Piotr Goryński from Ojrzanów was granted voytship. The Goryński family subsequently transferred this endowment and other privileges to Wawrzyniec Gadomski, the first historical voyt of Chorzele, exercising power in the town together with lay judges. Starting from 1553, all documents issued by the town authorities were stamped. At the time, the town belonged to Queen Bona, the wife of King Sigismund the Old, who led to the establishment of a parish in 1551. Shortly thereafter, the first church was probably erected in the town [1.1].
Based on the survey of royal estates carried out in 1565, it is known that the town had 792 inhabitants living in 121 houses at the time. Moreover, there were two mills (including a private one), a bog iron forge and a dozen or so breweries. Many town inhabitants were craftsmen. In the first quarter of the 17th century, the town experienced a slow but steady growth, as indicated by the survey of 1617. In the second half of that century, however, Chorzele fell into decline as most of the towns and cities in the Republic of Poland, mainly in the wake of the wars in which the country took part. The marching of the Swedish army during the "Deluge" and troops of Prince Bogusław Radziwiłł, guerilla actions led by Hetman Stefan Czarniecki and the plague of 1657–1661 had a negative influence on the condition of the town. The situation was aggravated by the tragic fires from 1660 to 1663. In 1660 and 1676, the town had 192 and 141 inhabitants respectively. [1.2].
In order to help the town to recover, in 1690 King Jan III Sobieski renewed and confirmed the earlier rights, as well as granted new ones in the scope of the judiciary and trade. He initiated trade fairs, for which Chorzele was known in the neighbourhood until as late as the second half of the 20th century. Those efforts, however, did not initially improve the situation of the town. During the Third Northern War (1700–1721), the Swedish troops commanded by King Charles XII looted Chorzele (in January 1708). Two churches were destroyed at the time: an old wooden parish church in Poświętne and a St. Wojciech's filial church at Ruda Street. In 1712, a new wooden St. Nicolas parish church was built in the place of the destroyed one thanks to money donated by benefactors.
It was as late as at the end of the reign of the Saxon dynasty that Chorzele experienced a slight economic recovery. In 1757, King Augustus III confirmed the earlier privileges, as well as established two other fairs. In 1776, King Stanisław August Poniatowski confirmed once again all the previous privileges and granted Chorzele the right to hold yet another two fairs in order to stimulate trade in the town situated near the border with the Kingdom of Prussia. [1.1.1].
The reign of King Stanisław August was marked by several significant events for Chorzele. First of all, in the years 1768–1771, during the Bar Confederation, Chorzele and the surrounding area were a centre of activities led by the party of the Confederates, in particular Sawa Caliński (1770–1771). The townspeople welcomed the ideas promoted by the Great Sejm. In November 1789, two representatives of Chorzele - Paweł Bączkowski, a landvoyt, and Grzegorz Kwaśniewski, a town councillor, went to the capital city of Poland to attend a meeting of 141 royal towns’ delegates. The inhabitants of Chorzele and surrounding areas participated also in the Kościuszko Uprising (there were numerous insurgent units, e.g. the party of Antonowicz and Kwaśniewski)[1.3].
In 1795, following the third partition of Poland, the town came under Prussian rule. From 1807 to 1815, Chorzele was part of the Duchy of Warsaw. In the years 1806–1807, it saw the marching of Napoleonic troops, commanded, among others, by Marshals Michel Ney Ney and Bersiers and Generals Emmanuel Grouchy, Sahuc, Roget and Machand. On 31 January 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte himself passed through Chorzele on his way to the quarters in the nearby town of Wielbark. After his defeat in the 1812 Russian campaign, the remains of some units of the Great Army followed by Russian troops marched through Chorzele. In 1813, Chorzele came under Russian occupation. After the fall of Napoleon, in 1815, as a result of the Congress of Vienna, the town was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland (Płock Governorate, Przasnysz Country).
In 1820, the town had 1,203 inhabitants (787 Christians, 391 Jews and 25 inhabitants of other denominations). There were 186 houses, including only one brick house. This testifies to the steady growth of the town based on trade, paricularly in textiles thanks to the establishment of a textile factory during the period of Prussian occupation. Some changes in the status of Chorzele were brought on by the outbreak of the November Uprising. A Security Guard was established in order to protect the town borders. Military reserve forces made up of recruits to the Mobile Guard were called up. In the early spring of 1831, Chorzele was in the background of the operations of the Russian army commanded by General Iwan Dybicz. The town saw the marching and activities of insurgent units of Lieutenant Colonel Bardzki and Lieutenant Michał Godlewski and Captain Józefa Zaliwski. As the uprising was crushed, Chorzele and the surrounding area were pacified by the Russian army. The town come away rather unscathed following the hostilities but 75 inhabitants of Chorzele, half of whom were children, died in a cholera epidemic brought by the Russians. In the years 1831–1863, the town experienced a slow growth. At the time, both its population and the number of craft workshops rose. In 1841, Chorzele was inhabited by about 1700 people. By 1857, the number grew to 1930, including 950 Jews. In 1860, the town had 2,032 residents (1119 were of Jewish origin) [1.1.2].
The January Uprising in the years 1863–1864 also influenced the situation of the border town. Tomaz Kolber, who leased a residence in Dąbrówka Ostrowska, organised insurgent units near Chorzele. Their base was located in the sacred forest of Bogdaniec near Zarąb. On 3 February 1863, he led an attack of a unit of 70-100 insurgents on a customs chamber in Chorzele. After short fighting, the chamber was captured. Following that success, Kolbe crossed the border and occupied a customs chamber station in Flamberg (Opaleniec). On the following day, he seized Janowo and proclaimed the rule of the National Government in the area and a peasants' enfranchisement manifesto. In mid-March, Chorzele was once again seized by the party of Zygmunta Padlewski, who wanted to take over a transport of arms after the defeat in Drążdżew. Padlewski was warmly welcomed in the town although he stayed there only for seven hours. Afterwards, the hostilities were less intense. More common were inspections, searches for arms and check-ups of men.
The town paid a high price for their affiliations with the insurgents. A high tribute was imposed upon its population already during the uprising. In 1869, Chorzele was deprived of the municipal rights. Starting from 1871, Russian was obligatorily used in the voyt's office. The frontier character of the town contributed to its demographic growth. In 1880, the town had 2,883 inhabitants, in 1890 – 2,901, in 1897 – 3,265, in 1905 – 4,000, in 1906 – 4,148, and in 1910 – 5,071. Fairs and markets enabled Chorzele to develop before the First World War into a major centre of internal trade for the neighbouring villages, as well as the borderline of north-east Mazovia. The good condition of the town’s economy is testified by the presence of five windmills, two breweries, forty-eight shops and ten inns at the time. There was even a savings bank functioning in the town under the name "Przyszłość" ("Future"). In Chorzele, a unit of the Russian Army from the 9th Border Guard Brigade with 270 soldiers had permanent quarters to watch the border in the so-called cordons of Zaręba, Sosnówek (Kopijek), Chorzele, Sucha Sosna, Wasiła to Janów [1.1.2].
During the first two years of the First World War, Chorzele passed from hands to hands and was the scene of clashes between the German and Russian armies. After the defeat of the tzar's army commanded by General Aleksander Samsonow in late August 1914, those who survived passed through Chorzele. In early September 1914, the Germans seized the town. From that moment until November 1918, Chorzele was under German occupation. In 1916, the town had 2,651 inhabitants (nearly half less than in 1910). Despite occupation, they undertook various efforts to fight with the invaders. Many of them joined the Polish Legions led by Józef Piłsudski. The Polish Military Organisation was established in the area of the commune. The last months of the war saw the emergence of the Fire Guard, which was the only organised force, which, in September 1918, disarmed a company of the German army, as well as captured three warehouses: of ammunition, food and uniforms. The town was incorporated back into the reborn Republic of Poland. The life of Chorzele changed significantly after the invader built a railway on the line between Ostrołęka and Wielbark; a station was situated within some distance from the town [1.4].
Under a decree of 14 February 1919, Chorzele regained its former status of a town. Before its reconstruction started, however, it saw yet another war. On 6 August 1920, Chorzele was invaded by the Bolsheviks. Their 16-day-long occupation of the town ended in a big tragedy. On 22 August, Chorzele was liberated by the soldiers of the 1st Siberian Infantry Regiment of the Siberian Brigade. The task of those soldiers was to stop the retreat of the units of the 3rd Cavalry Corpse led by Gaya Gay, a Bolshevik commander known for his cruelty and lack of mercy. A lack of reconnaissance of the enemy forced the 1st Siberian Infantry Regiment to face much stronger units. A battle that continued for almost all of 23 August ended in the retreat of the Polish forces. Those soldiers who did not manage to evacuate were tormented to death by the Bolsheviks. They were all buried in the local parish cemetery. [1.5].
In independent Poland, on the 130th anniversary of the Racławice Battle in April 1924, a monument of Tadeusz Kościuszko was unveiled on the marketplace. In the same year, a seven-grade common school directed by Władysław Burdyński was established. In 1930, President Ignacy Mościcki visited the town. Various social organisations emerged and developed in Chorzele: Strzelec, Association of Women's Civic Assistance, Agricultural Club, Polish Red Cross, Voluntary Fire Brigade, Polish Scouting Association or Polish Teachers' Union. In 1932, a new fire station was opened. Considering the lack of space in the previous building, efforts to build a new school were initiated in 1935. The building, whose patron became Marshal Józef Piłsudski, was commissioned on 1 September 1938. In the interwar period, the town had 3,032 inhabitants in 1931 and 3,800 residents soon before the outbreak of the war. At the time, Chorzele was the seat of a notary's office and magistrates' court, Border Guard station, state police station and pharmacy. Medical services were also provided in the town.
On 1 September 1939, the German army invaded Chorzele. The Germans immediately imposed their rules upon the town. In October, an open ghetto was established for Jewish families from the town. The last Jews left Chorzele on 8 December 1941; they were transported to Maków, from where they were sent to the extermination camps in Treblinka and Auschwitz. In the years 1940–1943, the Germans reconstructed the traffic routes in the town and built a concrete bridge upon the Orzyc River. Using forced laborers and Jews from the labour camp, they built a so-called motorway – a tract to Przasnysz via Rycice and Świniary. 270 people, 54% out of whom were children, were deported from the town. In the years 1939–1945, 67 people died different deaths: 39 of them died in camps, were killed or executed. Polish people started to establish resistance organisations as early as in the beginning of occupation. In late 1939, a mission of the Defenders of Polish Corps (liquidated by the Germans in the spring of 1940) was established. Other organisations active in the town included the Union of Armed Struggle and Secret Teachers' Organisation.
On 20 January 1945, units of the Red Army invaded the town. Following occupation and hostilities, the population of Chorzele decreased to 2,659 inhabitants (spring 1945). Efforts to rebuilt the town were undertaken immediately. In March of the same year, a local primary school resumed its operation. It was attended by 600 children. A motor mill, windmill and two oil mills were set up. Most inhabitants made their living from agriculture, In 1946, there were only 2,187 inhabitants in the town. In the meantime, some of them emigrated to the so-called Recovered Territories. The population of Chorzele by the 1980s was as follows: 1,946 – 2,187 inhabitants, 1950 – 1,933, 1960 – 2,141, 1970 – 2,443, 1974 – 2,609, 1978 – 2,481. It has never returned to the state from before the Second World War, let alone the early 20th century. [1.6].
- [1.1] Chorzele, [in:] Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich, vol. 1, ed. F. Sulimierski, W. Walewski, Warszawa 1880, p. 634.
- [1.2] Historia, Urząd Miasta i Gminy w Chorzelach [online] http://www.chorzele.pl/index.php/historia [accessed: 19.11.2014].
- [1.1.1] Chorzele, [in:] Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich, vol. 1, ed. F. Sulimierski, W. Walewski, Warszawa 1880, p. 634.
- [1.3] Szerzej: R. Waleszczak, Chorzele – zarys dziejów, Chorzele – Ostrołęka 1992.
- [1.1.2] [a] [b] Historia, Urząd Miasta i Gminy w Chorzelach [online] http://www.chorzele.pl/index.php/historia [accessed: 19.11.2014].
- [1.4] Kwiatek J., Lijewski T., Leksykon miast polskich, Warszawa 1998, p. 94.
- [1.5] Szerzej: Waleszczak R., Chorzele – zarys dziejów, Chorzele – Ostrołęka 1992.
- [1.6] Tekst na podstawie: Historia, Urząd Miasta i Gminy w Chorzelach [online] http://www.chorzele.pl/index.php/historia [accessed: 19.11.2014].