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History of Chełmża


Chełmża is situated in the Chełmno land.Because of the advantageous defensive location settlement of some kind has always been present here. Its first traces date back to the last period of the Stone Age (end of Palaeolith). About 10,000 BC groups of reindeer hunters of the so-called Świdrz Wielkie and Lzngbzcame cultures arrived. Considerably later, about 4500 BC the first farmers came to the Chełmno land. The people were of the culture of the engraved ribbon ceramics and their settlement in Chełmża has been discovered. They grew corn, bred cattle, fished and hunted.


In Chełmża and its surroundings traces of settlement of people of other cultures were found, such as the culture of funnel-shaped cups, the culture of the so-called Łużyce and Malbork-Wielbark. The last one is associated with the Goths who came from Scandinavia. Traces of Prussian tribes are also numerous. About the middle of the 7th centurz AD Slavic people of the Goplanie tribe started to come to the region. Under the rule of the first Piast rulers the majority of the Chełmno land, including the village of Łoza, which is currently the town of Chełmża, formed a part of the then established Chełmno castellany. After king Bolesław Krzywousty's death in 1138 and the division of Poland into provinces the Chełmno land, being part of Mazovia, was ruled by the king's son Bolesław IV Kędzierzawy. The attempted conquest of the pagan Prussian tribes in the neighbouring northern Mazovia and the Chełmno land and attempted by Polish rulers brought retaliating raids of the tribes which resulted in great damages for the Chełmno lands.


At the beginning of the 13th century the land came under the control of prince Konrad I Mazowiecki. At this time the Christianisation mission of the pagan Prussian tribes was initiated and run by the missionary Prussian bishop, Chrystian of the Cistercian order. In 1222 prince Konrad bestowed on the bishop numerous estates in the Chełmno area, including Łoza and other villages in the neighbourhood. Six years later, in 1228, in a document issued in Biecz, prince Konrad granted the Chełmno lands to the knights of the Order of the Virgin Mary's Hospital of the German House in Jerusalem. The bestowal concerned a ground of strictly determined limits. Settling the Knights of the Teutonic Order on the Chełmno land was meant as a military support for the Bishops Christianisation mission. But history took quite a different course. In the end the Teutonic Knights took over a considerable part of the Christian lands and in 1243 his missionary bishopric was divided into four dioceses including e.g. the Chełmno diocese. Towards the end of 1245 the Dominican Heidenryk became bishop of that diocese.


The first bishop of Chełmno chose the village Łoza as its residence. On 19th April 1246 the Teutonic Order's Grand Master officially handed over the bishop Heidenryk the due property, i.e. vast estates including Łoza, the lake and adjoining villages. Probably around this time Łoza received its new name, Culmense.


In 1251 it was for the first time chronicled as a city (civitas). In the second half of the 13th century, during the great uprisings of the Prussian tribes, Chełmża also suffered from the war operations. Skomand, chief of the Sudowie tribe, is known to have unsuccessfully besieged the town in 1263 when the diocese was ruled yet by bishop Heidenryk. In July of the same year Chełmża was plundered and partially burned by Henryk Monte, chief of the Nantang tribe. Skoman once again laid the town under siege in 1227 and once again he was unsuccessful. In 1286 the city was damaged by a fire but it considerably expanded during the upcoming years. However, the 15th century wars between Poland and the Teutonic order meant new disaster for the city.


After the battle of Grunwald in 1410 the Polish troops seized Chełmża for a short time. Chełmno bishop Arnold Stapil paid homage to king Władysław Jagiełło. In 1422 Chełmża was captured by troops of the king and was considerably damaged. As a result of the thirteen year war (1454-1466) the city was incorporated in the Polish Kingdom.


At the beginning of the 16th century advocates of the Reformation came to the region. The local Franciscan convent declined. In 1531 a great fire wrecked nearly all the buildings of the town. In 1625 the Franciscan order was once again brought to Chełmża. In 1621 and 1627 the Swedish king Zygmunt III Wasa accompanied by prince Władysław stayed in the city. The Swedish wars between 1655-1660 resulted in great damage for the city.


At the beginning of the 18th century the land of Chełmno saw marches of Saxon, Swedish and Russian armies and troops of the followers of Stanisław Leszczyński. It resulted in the decline of the town. Plague epidemics in 1708-1710 were the last straw. New wars (the 1733-1735 succession wars and the seven year wars from 1756 to 1763) meant successive marches and winter quarters for the troops currently operating in the area. In 1762 a great fire destroyed nearly all of the city.


As a result of the 1st partition of Poland on the 15th September 1772 Chełmża, inhabited then by 600 people, was incorporated in Prussia. As a result of this colonisation action and the flow of Evangelicals to the land 24 per cent of the population was protestant by the end of the 18th century. The Franciscan order was once again liquidated. During the Napolean wars of 1807-1815 Chełmża formed a part of the Warsaw Duchy.


In 1824 the diocese capital was moved from Chełmża to Pelplin. Since 1815 the status of the town was growing as it became a base of commerce and handicraft for the surrounding farmland of rather good soil. In 1831 it had 1200 inhabitants, in 1871 this number had risen to 3000.


During the Springtide of Nations in 1848 Polish patriotism revived which was reflected in the establishment of a circle of the Polish League and the publishing of the paper "Biedaczek" by Julian Prejs in 1849-1850, aimed at Polish readers.
 
In 1866 the Agricultural and Industrial Society was set up. In 1879 a regional court of justice was established in Chełmża. At the same time two banks and a new school arose in the city. It is also noteworthy that the Jews who constituted 8 per cent of the whole population of the town, built a synagogue in 1880. In 1882 works on a building a large sugar plant and a railway junction, meant for the transportation of beets to the plant, started. The population rapidly increased from 3400 in 1880 to 10,600 in 1910.


The year 1869 was special for the culture of Chełmża as then the still functioning church choir "Cecylia" was founded. It was then when a variety of societies arose. However, the outbreak of the First World War put a stop to the development of the city.


As a result of the long war, living conditions in the city considerably worsened. The year 1917 is notorious in the history of Chełmża as it was the time of numerous riots. Patriotic feelings revived and resulted in student demonstrations against the teaching in German. On 8 January 1919 Poles attacked a marching to Chełmża troop of Grenzschutz but were fought off because of the overwhelming enemy forces. In retaliation the Germans shot their cannons a few times, killing 7 people accidentally and then arrested alleged leaders of the attacks.


On the 21st January 1920, by force of the Versailles Treaty, Chełmża was included into Poland. Those inhabitants who opted for Germans were displaced (around 2000 people). As a result the total population comprised 98 per cent of Poles, 1,8 per cent of Germans and 0,2 per cent Jews. During the interbellum a further growth of the population was observed from 10,700 in 1921 to 13,000 in 1939.


Results of the crisis of 1929 were felt by the people of Chełmża through greater unemployment and lower wages. As far as leading political parties were concerned, the National Democratic Party prevailed in the city and, to somewhat a smaller extent, the socialist party led by Stanisław Nehring, MP. At that time the "Gazeta Chełmżyńska" and "Głos Chełmżyński" were issued.


Bronisław Kurzętkowski was mayor of the city from 1920 to 1933 and then was replaced on the office of Wiktor Barwicki in the years 1933-1939. Then, e.g. a park at Maja street 1 was set up, a chapel and a few houses for the unemployed were built. Possibilities of fighting unemployment of the municipal authorities however were greatly insufficient. Just before the outbreak of the war residents of the city were called to give a strong resistance to advancing Germans but the authorities hastily left Chełmża before enemy troops entered the gates. On 6th September 1939 German troops captured Chełmża. People hostile to the Germans were arrested.


Extermination of the Polish population started and because of this the majority of the local residents accepted the third or fourth group of "Volklista". As a result of the repressions the population number decreased from 13,000 to 10,000 in March 1945.


On January 24 1945 the Red Army seized Chełmża and repressions started once again, this time because of the supposed or actual collaboration with the Nazi's. Over 600 people were taken away to Siberia and most of them never returned. Russians also intended to take the sugar plant but a prompt intervention with the Soviet authorities prevented it.


A time of gradual development of the town started. In February 1946 Chełmża had 10,700 inhabitants, in 1980 already 15,000 and today it is inhabited by 15,500 residents.

  • autor: merle&michał, data: 13.07.05

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