Jews started to settle in Chorzele at the end of the 18th century. They resided in one of the houses and were manufacturers of cheap and shoddy clothes and leather coats. They dealt with all kinds of trade. In 1811, in the Duchy of Warsaw, an attempt was made to create a Jewish quarter. It was designed to be located in Zduńska Street (33 houses and 12 parcels) and Bagnowo Street (6 houses and 3 parcels). All Jews had to move to that quarter to begin with 1 January 1814. The only exception were: those who possessed a sum of at least 20,000 złoty in cash, had no debts, were bankers or “open and decent merchants”, could read and write in Polish, French or German, sent their children aged 7 or over to public schools and did not differ in clothing from other residents of Chorzele. However, when the French Army was defeated in Russia, the plans to crate the Jewish quarter were cancelled.
In 19th century Jews started to open small industrial works. In the 1830s the Hersz Lerner tannery employed over a dozen workers. Leather of better quality was sold to merchants, whereas the worse type was bought by local shoemakers to produce cheap footwear for local residents. There was a watchmaker – Abram Kahn and a cauldron maker – Lewin Szczuciner in Chorzele.
At the beginning of the 20th century Abram Przysuskier owned the local brewery, Lichtenstejn and company, as well as Sz. Salomon and company possessed mills and D. Berlinka a cereal factory. In the 1930s the brickworks in Przasznysz and Niskie Wielkie were led by Jews from Chorzele: Mendel and Pinchas Przysuskier. Local Jewish merchants profited from the border location of the town. Both legal and illegal trade flourished. Members of the Jewish kehilla in chorzele specialized in illegal trade. They exported wood, poultry, dairy products, dried mushrooms, vegetables, fruit and oats legally. From Germany they imported legally used clothing, and they smuggled coal, silverware, lace, shawls, and precious stones. In the other direction they smuggled, among others, saccharin. The Jews of Chorzele (the Goldsztajn brothers, Elijahu Bejmisz, Heniek Pszenica, Naftali Zabłudowski) also rented the Prussian fish ponds. They went to Prussia each Sunday, fished till Thursday and went back to Chorzele. The Lachower, Gwizd and Nickies families specialized in fish trade on a large scale. All of those families lived in Russia and came to Chorzele only for the most important holidays.
The kehilla was constituted in the 1820s and 1830s. It owned a cemetery and a large, wooden synagogue that could accommodate 960 people (including 220 in gallery). The synagogue was built in the second half of the 19th century There were two batei midrash and a jeshiva established by rabbi Jehuda Lejb Kowalski. In 1859 the mikvah was rebuilt from destruction by fire. Ever since 1820 the community tried to establish a cheder school. Zelman Vogel (from 1822 to 1842), Jankiew Śliwka (from 1842 to 1853) and Natan Morgenstern (1853-1867) taught in that school. It had just one grade. The main teacher (Mełmed) had two assistants (Belfer). The school year was divided into two semesters of six months: the fall-winter semester and the spring-summer semester. The kehilla was led by rabbis: Jehuda Lejb Kowalski (from 1897to 1899, then he left to Włocławek), Rozensztrauch (1901-1912, left to Olkusz), Chaim Mordechaj Brunrot (1912-1916, left to Ciechanów), Mordechaj Chaim Sokołower (1916-1937), Fajncajg (since 1937). The beliefs of rabbi Kowalski, who favored cheder schools reform, largely influenced the modernization of the teaching process. The Chorzele cheders were led by: Ch. Barszcz, Srul Margul, Zelman Berger, Sz. Berger, Szmul Grek, Dawid Boczek and Mordka Fontek. The school of Judel Engel had the best opinion out of all of them before the outbreak of the First World War. A fixed weekly lesson timetable, with subjects taught repeatedly according to the same scheme was the major novelty The Jeshivah of rabbi Kowalski introduced other subjects apart from the religious ones: Hebrew , the history of Israel, Russian, universal history. The Hasidic Jews from Góra Kalwaria, Aleksandrów, Nowomińsk and Sochaczew used their own shtiblech.[1.1]
A Jewish Cooperative Bank was established by rabbi Mosze Arahn in Chorzele prior to the First World War. The board (apart from the creator himself) included: Mordechaj Biran, Aaron Motel Bekerman, Tewie Fater, Mordechaj Mendel Ferberowicz, Mosze Kowal and A. M. Adler. The bank granted loans for small merchants and craftsmen. The list of its leaders included: Mordechaj Mendel Frydnian, Mordechaj Przysuskier and Mosze Szlomo Lwawi. In the beginnings of the 20th century an illegal “Workers Library” was active in the Jewish community, a branch of the Jewish Literary Association from Petersburg. It was founded by Zionists’ supporters: Mosze Lachower, Mosze Nickin, Mordechaj Ajzensztat, Debora Lachower and Lea Lichtensztajn. A self-education circle of the “Chowewej Cijon” organization was established on the initiative of rabbi J. L. Kowalski in 1898. The Zion Association was founded in 1900 and had around 50 active member. It was created by Kowla Jakow Lis, who came from Kowel. The propagation of the national-Jewish idea resulted in the first migrations to Palestine. Mordechaj Ajzensztat, Eliezer Mar-Chaim and Symcha Adler all left Chorzele in 1911. The “Cherwa Torah” organization had its seat in the old bet ha-midrash. The burial brotherhood “Chewra Kadisha” and the “Linas Chacedek” brotherhood helping the poor and the needy dealt with charity.
All Jews were deported from Chorzele by the Russians during the first weeks of the First World War, due to their supposed pro-German attitudes. Some of them returned, but were deported deep into the Russian Empire, if caught. Fajwisz Szafran shared that fate with a Jewish woman, who returned to rescue the Torah rolls. Many Jews found refuge in Przasnysz. During the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921) the so-called Polish Blue-Army of General Haller was stationed in Chorzele. The army allowed itself many abuses during that period. One day the soldiers begun to chase rabbi Mordechaj Chaim Sokolower just to cut his beard. The rabbi was rescued by a Polish woman Helena Chogan, who, carrying a picture of Jesus in her hands, covered the rabbi. The Jewish population had its representative in the town authorities from November, 1918 till 1939. Some of the Jewish activists, with utmost revolutionary inclinations, supported the Soviets and participated in the newly created authorities, when Chorzele was captured by the Soviet army in 1920. Abraham Michał Adler became the vice-leader of the Local Revolutionary Committee. The actual or just supposed cooperation with the Bolsheviks in the murder of the Polish servicemen taken prisoner after the first Chorzele battle, resulted in over a dozen Jews being sentenced to death after the town was re-captured by the Polish army. For several days following that event the town became stage for anti-Semitic riots. A public two-grade Jewish school was created in the school year 1918/1919. After graduating from the fourth grade pupils continued their education in the fifth grade of the public school. Both schools were merged in 1930.
The most influential organization in the Jewish community between the two World Wars was “Agudas Isroel”. On August 14th and 15th, 1932 a convention of over 200 delegates from the Chiechanow, Makow, Mława, Przasznysz and Pułtusk counties of the “Szlomej Emunej Isroel” organization was held in Chorzele. The participants visited the poultry farm created by the members of “Cejrej Agudas Isroel” at the Rembielin estate near Chorzele (owned by Mosze Ćwikowski). Ben Cjon Sokołower, son of the rabbi, was member of the “Aguda” youth organization. Many of the chalucy Jews emigrated to Palestine – including Fajwisz Szafran, Dawidson and Center. Following the Zionist propaganda efforts around 150 Jews emigrated to Palestine between the two World Wars. In 1935 they founded the Chorzele Compatriot Association in Palestine. Mosze Karmi was elected its leader. The Jewish Credit Cooperative was created in 1920 with 148 members.[1.2]
After the outbreak of the Second World War all Jews, excluding just 3 families, left Chorzele. Some of them returned. The Nazis began to concentrate the Jews from the nearby villages. They were forced to demolish the synagogue, the bet ha-midrash and the mikvah. An open ghetto was created in the Jewish quarter. The inhabitants were gradually sent to other ghettos. There were 450 Chorzele Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. The others were sent to Maków Mazowiecki, Legionowo and Węgrowo. The ghetto was finally eliminated on December 8th, 1941. The remaining inhabitants were deported to the Maków Mazowiecki ghetto, where they remained untill November, 1942. They were then sent to the intermediate camp in Mława, where they awaited transports to extermination camps in Treblinka and Auschwitz.[1.3]
- [1.1] Księga adresowa Polski (wraz z W.M. Gdańskiem) dla handlu, przemysłu, rzemiosł i rolnictwa 1929, Warszawa 1929, p. 1959-1960; Janusz Szczepański, Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX-XX wieku, Wyższa szkoła Humanistyczna imienia Aleksandra Gieysztora w Pułtusku, Pułtusk 2005, passim.
- [1.2] Sefer Kehilah Chorzel, ed. L. Lusz, Tel Awiw 1967, passim; Radosław Waleszczak, Przasnysz i powiat przasnyski w latach 1866-1939. Zarys dziejów, Przasnysz 1999, p. 309; Janusz Szczepański, Społeczność..., passim.
- [1.3] Michał Grynberg, Żydzi w rejencji ciechanowskiej 1939-1942, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe Warszawa 1984, passim; Sefer Kehilah..., passim.