We Remember the Gombiners

Mieszkaucy Gabina: A Book of Gombiner Names
by Jeremy Freedman

I was once engaged in a "memory-business" conversation with a learned and preeminent gentleman of my acquaintance. He told me in excited terms how the "Yizkor Book" of a certain shtetl could be found in a large municipal library in an American City. He had seen reference to it in a catalogue and he was off to the States to inspect it.

I suggested that he didn't have to cross the ocean to see this volume, that there may well be a copy in England or perhaps one could be sent to him. He became irate, how could there be a copy, this was an ancient and holy book, handwritten by generations of Rabbis, Scribes and Scholars. To him, the only puzzle was how the book had escaped the Nazis and why it had ended up in a municipal library, rather than in an Academic or Judaic collection.

Now I was puzzled. I asked him what he thought this Yizkor Book contained. He replied that it held the names of all the Jews who ever died in that Shtetl, that it would have been read aloud, in full, each year on Yom Kippur when Yizkor was recited.

Readers will know that the genre of "Yizkor Books" that developed in USA and Israel after WWII invariably consisted of a collection of essays by survivors, emigrants or their descendants commemorating the destruction of their Shtetl. Whilst the story I have told here is true, and whilst there may have been a communal list of names of the deceased held in Gombin Shul, we do not have any such document today and we would not have expected it to have survived the all- consuming Nazi fires.

But we have something else, courtesy of our friends in Gombin. An ancient index, seemingly compiled in the last few years of the 19th century, listing the names of all the residents of Gombin at the date of compilation, by surname and grouped together into households. The hand that compiled it updated it regularly, as children were born, until 1897. Then fresh hands took over. In 1914 the Imperial Russian (Cyrillic) script was replaced by the Roman alphabet. The very last entries are dated around 1930.

It is important to note that this book contains both Jewish and non-Jewish names. It records the deaths of (particularly) children and young babies, as well as emigration overseas. It has been suggested that its principal purpose was to assist in locating young conscripts for the Tsar's Army. In any event it is an Index, it refers to a fuller tome presumably held elsewhere.

For the genealogists amongst us it is a fascinating record. Unfortunately some initial letters of surnames are excluded (e.g. J., M., Z., G.,) so the Guyers and Zamosces will be disappointed. Moreover, many of the old pages have become torn and damaged, particularly amongst the "T's" and to the detriment of Tybers and Tadelises everywhere. As I write this note the copy is lying on the desk in front of me. I hope to make it available to the Society in the near future, in the meanwhile I would be happy to use it to deal with any genealogical points that may arise.

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