The first Jews settled down in Chojna (Königsberg in der Neumark at that time) prior to 1351. It is known that they fell victim to persecutions that year. Most probably the pogrom against the local Jews resulted from the bubonic plague (the Black Death), which ravaged Western Europe towards the end of 14th century. The most affected were port cities – the plague reached Gdańsk, from where it spread to Pomorze (Pomerania). Jews were accused of spreading the epidemic, poisoning wells etc. In 1510, following the order passed by Joachim I, Elector of Brandenburg, Jews were expelled from the entire area of the March of Brandenburg (including Chojna).

However, the expulsion order was not strictly obeyed and the Jewish community continued to live in Brandenburg. It is known that at that time Jewish bankers granted loans on interest to margraves as well as to nobility, townsmen or even peasants. The most famous Jewish banker operating in Brandenburg was Lippold ben Judel Chluchim, who was the administrator of the mint of Margrave Joachim II Hector (1505–1571). Following the Margrave’s death, Lippold was accused of embezzlement and witchcraft and was burned on 28 January 1573 after excruciating torture.

Pursuant to the edict of 1 February 1573, passed by Margrave Jan Jerzy, Jews were expelled from the Margraviate again. They fled primarily to Poland, but also to Śląsk (Silesia) and Czechia. Soon afterwards it was found that there was a shortage of efficient traders and bankers, therefore as early as 1575 the same margrave Jan Jerzy granted Jews a five years’ permission to carry out trade, visit fairs and remain within a town for two days. In the years to follow that permission was renewed e.g. in 1593. Right after his succession to the throne, Elector Joachim Fryderyk, at the request of Polish Jews, extended that privilege for another five years, thanks to which the state treasury would get additional 1,000 thalers a year.

The margraves’ policy towards Jews aimed at achieving the maximum profits and limiting the rights of Jewish residents at the same time. On one hand Jews were not allowed to purchase houses and real estate but on the other they could rent dwelling places and stalls in towns. During the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) despite the fact that officially Jews were under the margrave’s protection, a number of them fled from the Margraviate to Poland for fear of demoralized troops.

The turning point in the policy of Brandenburg administration towards Jews was the year 1670, when following the order passed by Emperor Leopold I Jewish residents were expelled from the entire Habsburg Monarchy. It was at that time that Andreas Neumann, a Brandenburg representative in Vienna, was approached by a group of affluent Austrian Jews asking him to speak for them to Fryderyk Wilhelm, called the Great Elector. As a result, on 21 May 1671 the Great Elector passed an edict based on which 50 Jewish families were allowed to settle down in Brandenburg for the period of 20 years. Soon afterwards seven families arrived in the New Margraviate.

Most of the information regarding Chojna Jews during the period from the 15th century to the early 18th century comes from the most outstanding modern era chronicler of Chojna – Augustin Kehrberg (1668–1734). The longer records were submitted in the introduction to his translation of 28 psalms entitled Prophetisch-Poetische Lieder und Gesänge published in 1712 and in chapter 29 of his town chronicle About the local Jewry and how some of them converted to Lutheranism. His account starts with the statement that Jews are referred to as “some type of inhabitants of the Reich and the property of emperor’s treasury” and that ”a few centuries ago they found rescue under the wings of a former Brandenburg and now Prussian eagle”. Kehrberg mentions the first Jew to settle down in Chojna following the year 1671. A few years later, on 13 June 1674, a fire consumed almost all the buildings in Barnkowska Street (German: Bernikowsche Strasse) – today it is part of Chrobrego Street. The only building that survived was inhabited by the Jew. The Chojna chronicler adds that this miracle was ascribed to dark forces because when everything was on fire a cat was seen walking from one gable to another. It could have been a spirit looking after the Jew and his family.

It was not until the 1680s, that a mass influx of Jews started. At that time several families consisting of 8-10 members arrived in the town. In 1690, there were five Jewish families living in Chojna[1.1].

In the first decades of the 18th century, missionary work was conducted in Chojna with a view of encouraging Jews to convert to the Christian religion. Augustin Kehrberg mentions that throughout a ten years’ period only 4 people converted. It was an important religious and social event. The first convert was Vögelchen Elisabeth Wulf, a girl aged 15, who worked for Nathan, a horse trader. As she was ill-treated by her employer, she became a servant at Dr. Praetorius’ house. It is at his house, under the spiritual care of pastor Livius that she decided to change religion. During her baptism, which took place on 22 November 1707, she was given the forenames of Christiana Maria and the new surname of Königsberg. The record in the baptism register says: “She was named Christina so that she remembered that she is Christian, Maria – because she was baptized in St. Mary’s church, and the surname of Königsberg – because she was the first person in this town that converted from Judaism to Christianity”.

In 1701, Chojna became part of the newly established Kingdom of Prussia. On 11 March 1812, King Frederic Wilhelm issued the Edict Concerning the Civil Status of the Jews (German: Edikt die Burgerlichen Verhaltnisse der Juden), known as the Emancipation Edict. This document made Jews full rights citizens of the Kingdom of Prussia – from that time on they were referred to as citizens (German: Statsbürger) or natives (German: Inländer). The prerequisite to being granted citizenship was assuming German surnames and forenames and having a command of German. Pursuant to the edict Jews were entitled to settle down freely, to practice their profession, practice religion and purchase real estates. They were allowed to study at universities, hold academic posts and administrative posts (in this case the king’s consent was required) as well as to be enlisted in the army.

Thanks to the Emancipation Edict of 1812 some Jews of Chojna managed to move to larger cities, where a number of them achieved great success. According to the findings of Jacob Jacobson contained in Die Judenbürgerbücher der Stadt Berlin 1809-1851 some rich and influential merchants and entrepreneurs included:

David Levin born on 18 September 1815, son of Leib Bendix Levin, merchant and the owner of the workshop producing women’s clothing; Benjamin Cohn born on 11 July 1844, merchant and shipping agent; Itzig Arendt born on 14 February 1813, son of Salomon Arendt, a merchant from Chojna; Salomon Cohn born on 28 August 1795, a trader in linen products, son of Meyer Salomon Cohn, a leather trader from Chojna; Moses Karo born on 31 July 1820, a merchant and a shipping agent, son of Hirsch Isaak Karo, the Chojna rabbi.
The greatest career made the tailor Hirsch (Herrmann) Gerson, born in Chojna on 28 February 1813, a queen’s supplier, son of Gerson Levin, a merchant from Chojna, later the owner of a clothing business developing with impetus. He established in Berlin a huge clothing centre ("Konfektionshaus") considered the first department store in that city. Gerson was entrusted with making the coronation mantle for king Wilhelm I which can serve as a symbol of Gerson’s status and reflect the Hohenzollern’s attitude toward Jews. Gerson died on 6 December 1861 and was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Berlin.

Throughout the 19th century the Jewish population of Chojna as well as other Pomeranian towns continued to decease. Enterprising Jews were attracted by large industrial and scientific centres, but with time one of the reasons for migration was the birth of anti-Semitism which took on more and more dangerous forms. In 1880, the number of Chojna Jews was 158 and 10 years later only 122[1.1.1]. The local community had their own synagogue (built in 1907), which was located in today’s Szkolna Street (former Judenstrasse – ulica Żydowska - Jewish Street) as well as a cemetery (in today’s Wojska Polskiego Street), established circa 1850.

The Nazi rise to power in Germany made the majority of Jews migrate. In 1933, the Jewish population of Chojna numbered only 31 people[1.1.1]. Beginning from 1933, the post of Chojna mayor was held by a Nazi - Kurt Flöter. During Kristallnacht SA paramilitary groups (Sturmabteilungen der NSDAP) destroyed the synagogue. Only its wall remained intact. During the war the place was converted into a warehouse.

Only a small group of Jews remained in Chojna after the events of Kristallnacht, but their later fate is unknown.

 

Bibliography

  • Königsberg in der Neumark, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust, vol. 2, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), New York (2001), p. 643.
  • K.-D. Alicke, Königsberg (brand. Neumark), Aus der Geschichte jüdischer Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum [online] http://www.jüdische-gemeinden.de/index.php/gemeinden/k-l/2366-koenigsberg-brand-neumark [accessed: 18 March 2020].
  • J. A. Kościelna, Z dziejów Żydów w Königsbergu (1), Gazeta Chojeńska [online], https://www.gazetachojenska.pl/gazeta.php?numer=12-09&temat=7 [accessed: 18 March 2020].
  • J. A. Kościelna, Z dziejów Żydów w Königsbergu (2), Gazeta Chojeńska [online],https://www.gazetachojenska.pl/gazeta.php?numer=12-09&temat=7 [accessed: 18 March 2020.
  • J. A. Kościelna, Z dziejów Żydów w Königsbergu (3), Gazeta Chojeńska [online], https://www.gazetachojenska.pl/gazeta.php?numer=12-09&temat=7 [accessed: 18 March 2020].
  • J. A. Kościelna, Z dziejów Żydów w Königsbergu (4), Gazeta Chojeńska [online], https://www.gazetachojenska.pl/gazeta.php?numer=12-09&temat=7 [accessed: 18 March 2020].
  • J. A. Kościelna, Z dziejów Żydów w Königsbergu (5), Gazeta Chojeńska [online], https://www.gazetachojenska.pl/gazeta.php?numer=12-09&temat=7 [accessed: 18 March 2020].
  • Königsberg in der Neumark, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust, vol. 2, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), New York (2001), p. 643.
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Königsberg in der Neumark, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust, vol. 2, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), New York (2001), p. 643.
  • [1.1.1] [a] [b] Königsberg in der Neumark, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust, vol. 2, S. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), New York (2001), p. 643.