æëåø! “ZCHOR”! REMEMBER!

Written by Ada Holtzman Tel Aviv 18/01/98











“Remember our memory”!

This 67 years old postcard was sent by Malka Mann nee Glickzeliger from Gabin, to her friends: my late aunt Rachel Shechter nee Gostinska and the late Shmuel Lushinsky, who were “Khalutzim” (pioneers) already in Palestine, and were among the founders of Kibbutz Ein Hachoresh. It says:

Rememebr our memory! Shmuel, do you remember your shop, and you Rachel, the house of your grandmother? ... Gombin 8/VIII/1930...”

The message has relevance now more than before, and its seginificance is enhanced by the tragedy which occured to our people in the Holocaust.

Gombin for me is a mirror to all lost shtetls in Poland, a symbol, but it is also indeed the place where both my father and mother roots lie deep in the earth, for hundereds of years. Except some few crumbling documents, and old pictures miracoulousely saved, there is no more trace of their living there once upon a time... Not so long ago... Nothing! The tombstones of their ancestors were removed to serve as building materials. At those time, when a life of a Jew worth nothing, they abused the dead as well, removing the holy matzevot, dismanteled the stones of the cemetery fence and built a tank trench in the top side of the Jewish graveyard in Gombin.

Now after the first connecions with the Poles, initiated by Zalman Ben Izhak from Kibbutz Evron Israel, and thanks to the joint efforts of Gombin Jewish Historical and Genealogical Society and Mr. Lukaszewski, president of the local Polish Land Lovers Association of Gabin, the support of Jan Jagielski in the Jewish Insititute in Warsaw and the Nussenbaum Fund, the project of saving the Jewish cemetry is finally being materialized.

Trip in Poland: “Forget-me-not”..."

In September 97, I visited Gombin, Chelmno to help promoting the memorial projects in both places. But I visited other towns in Poland and other cemeteries.

In Grodzisk Mazowiecki near Warsaw, I volunteered, together with mr. Benjamin Yaari and worked in the Jewish cemetery of Grodzisk, trying, sometimes desperately and until our hands bleeded from the effort, to decipher the names, the deceased data and the allegies on the crumbling and broken tombstones which lie in the ground, neglected and menaced by time and vegetaion. A large portion of the cemetery plot is now occupied by a large factory.

After visiting Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Benyamin Yaari (Wald) youth shtet, we headed to to Konin. "Konin - a quest", the book of Theo Richmond is in my mind. Theo Richmond, once Ryczka, was drifted in his longings and desire to commemorate him parents' home town. He left journalism and for some years, devoted his life to interview every living Koniner. The result is a unique, breathtaking book, source of inspiration to me and all who search their family past, be it Konin, Lodz, Kalisz, Klecew or Gombin...

We are now in a typical small town in Poland, but for some, every building and every street, every tree and every path, has meaning, memories, tragedy...

In the catholic church of Konin, according to the diary of Rabbi Aaronson, there are mass graves of the Jewish victims in the notorious Konin concentration camp. The prisoners died of hunger, slavery, torture... Rabbi Aaronson, endangering his own life, put a bottle with the deceased name and vital data, to make the burial as Jewish as possible under the circumstances. There were many Gombiner Jews among the dead buried in the catholic cemetery, including : Tiber Jacob, Tiber Gerszon, Mosze Kot, Fuks Szmuel, Dziedzic Meir Szmuel, Alterman Azriel, Szenboim Abram, Tiber Yechiel Meir, Hodys Izak, Gelbert Nachum, Laski Mosze, Erdberg Mosze, Szczakynski Melech, Bucko Zew, Wruble Sander, Ziger Reuven, Kerber Meir, Maincik Laib and Lipszic Szlomo of blessed memory.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to serach and find the mass graves in the cemetery of Konin, to light a memorial candle and say “Kadish”... I hope in my next trip I shall accomplish that as well, and see if any memorial plaque is erected there and if not, to start an initiative about doing that holy mission as well.

In Krakow Mr. Benjamin Yaari worked for 3 weeks, with the help of youth missions from Israel, indexing, photographing, cleanning, and recording the data form the tombstones. I joined him for the last 2 days and experienced with shock, the difficult, nearly impossible sometimes, task of recording the Hebrew inscriptions on the tombstones which remained in this cemetery, relatively well kept by an active jewish small community of Krakow.

I wish to quote from a book which was written by a Jewish ex-citizen of Krakow, Miriam Akavia, which summarize all my feelings while visiting Poland, and stress the urgent and most important task we have, in trying to protect and save the Jewish cemetery of Gombin...

"Fresh and strong is still my impression from my last visit in Poland (1988), country where I was born, me and the heroes of my stories.

They came out towards me from deserted yards; from foreign apartments they peeked from shut doors, in which I knew every crack; from old houses they descended down to me on stairways so well known to me, and while I was in the street - they watched me through empty hollow windows. I saw them walking below the shadow of familiar trees in the public parks, or resting on sun bathed benches; their children - and me among them - playing hiding games among the lilac bushes, or hiding behind thick stems of trees. Meeting them was painful, since my longings to them never faded. With trembling hands I wished to touch them, a real touch, but I could not, because they were and were not - because they are gone.

My visits in the Jewish cemeteries were most difficult. Here rouse towards me, not only my beloved, but a whole nation rouse from the depth of earth, from collapsing and crumbling tombs, in entangled jungle of vegetation which was spreading around them. The roots branch out, press and clip around our ancestors' tombs and swallow them. the tombstones rise up and twisted under the pressure of the roots. These tombstones, which were erected on our deceased graves, struggle for their lives...

And they are countless. Hebrew words, not understood by the people of that country but very well understood by us, written upon them. By the hand of an artist they were engraved in the stone, in letters of gold and silver, and they constitute elegies, love poems, praise and prayers, pain and farewell, wisdom and sorrow... and longings for Zion... Grand Jewish tombstones, neglected now and deserted in a foreign land, in a country with no Jews anymore. In Poland.

And the camps. Six millions of our people perished here and never brought to burial. In the land of Poland. And now, in the season of spring, wild flowers flourish around Auschwitz, Treblinka, Chelmno, Meidanek and around the Jewish cemeteries. And among the flowers, one special beautiful small flower is distinct to my eyes, and its color is the same as the color of the skies: “Forget-me-not”. Their growth seems like magic to me! How they grew here, so many - countless - so fresh and nice, in the earth sunk in blood. Their sight filled my heart with gratitude, for growing there, and for having the color of the sky and for having the name: “Forget-me-not”..."

 

Klecew: The victory of oblivion.

Dr. Nowak, the manager of the Konin Regional Museum, which is also in charge of the Chelmno death camp site, came to pick us up, and we spent one full with her.

We had a drive together with a young Polish historian there, Jislew Lurek (to Klecew, a personal gesture for me, as I wanted to see Klecew, and find the house of Lotka, my father’s second wife. Lotka maiden name was Krzywanowski, a respecatable, pious family of Jewish bakers from Klecew.

They took me to the cinema of the city, and here was the Jewish synagogue, before the war. The cinema is closed, we cannot get inside. There is no sign about the previous original role of the hall.

I take photos of old houses near it, and one (found later) is Lotka's house - Mosze Krzywanowski house - Ul. Koninska 7, Klecew... For 58 years Lotka didn't know if the house still stands, with the land around It is still with the old warehouses where the flour was stored. Even one wall is still blackened from a fire, which burnt down the houses around, more than 60 years ago, as Lotka recollects...

There, a family of 12 brothers and sisters, most of them already married with little children, was once living. Lotka is the only one left alive from the whole family, since she left Poland on an illegal ship to Palestine, in July 1939.

The Jews of Klecew were liquidated in the Kazimierz forest nearby, in mass graves, digged before by forced labor Jewish prisoners, forced to jump inside and not even shot.

Then lime was poured on them to burn them alive.

And now, we are heading to the Kazimierz forest. A pastoral landscape spreads in front of our eyes. Beautiful forest is disclosed, and Lurek turns to a side, unpaved road, and stops after 500 mr. Nobody can reach the place without guidance. I am sure also the people of Klecew or Konin, most of them do not know. Dr. Nowak takes her camera and we step out. There, walking on a small path, we reach a Polish shining memorial, with a huge cross of Jesus Christ and polish wordings, engraved in gold. There are also flowers on the ground.

The plaque commemorate the victims of WW2. No mention of the Jews!

Dr. Nowak and Lurek tell us than that it is not the end. Then they lead us into the forest itself. We crossed branches, leaves and wild bushes, and finally got to a much smaller memorial surrounded by white pillars. The Polish inscription says that here is a memorial for the Jews murdered by the Hitelrians in 1941-1944. It is a mass grave. We pave our way further deep into the forest, and there is another monument, with the same text.

We return silently to the car and Lurek says there are about 4-5 more such memorials deep inside the forest.

He drove us back to Klecew, and took us to a very nice big football stadium. There is a 10 mm sign on top: " THE STADIUM OF KLECEW ". And here was the Jewish cemetery of Klecew. No sign about it anywhere. And Lurek said that the Germans erased the place completely, used the tombstones for pavements in town (Dr. Nowak has collected some of them and they are now in her Konin Museum), then they gathered all the bones, buried them in one big pit and built a public lavatory on it.

If it won't be Dr. Nowak and Lurek, I would have never guessed, not to speak of a stranger passing by, or a local Pole, coming there often to play or watch the football games, run under the same sun, the same sky which witnessed, not too long ago, such horrible crimes committed against my people and against humanity... No trace and no mark. Gone is history of the Jews of Klecew, and as the last Jew born in Klecew will die, so will the memory of this shtetl die with him.

 

My grandfather Eliahu Holcman.

A few days ago I have received a picture of the fragment of the tombstone of my grandfather:

"Eliahu Holcman, honest and faithful man, son of Zalman". I couldn't identify the name in the picture which was posted in the Internent, so I even had doubts that it is really Eliahu Holcman's tombstone. Apparently, a few years ago, it has been digged from a street by a local building contractor, which kept the fragement in his warehouse. Then came the picture... And I saw very clearly, on top, the name of my grandfather. It is hard for me to describe my feelings when seeing the picture...

Eliahu Holcman was my grandfather, born in 1866 and died and buried in Gombin in 1923. His son and daughter, Meir Holtzman and Channa Bruk were “khalutzim”, (pioneers), who dedicated their whole life to build a better society , “the Kibbutz”, in the new State of Israel and in Palestine before Israel was founded.

7 of his other sons and daughters, with their spouses and their little children were murdered and burnt in the crematoria of Chelmno, by the hands of the accursed Germans in the Holocaust ,1942. Their ashes are spread in the beautiful forest in “Chemno nad Ner”, near Dombia, Poland. Who can believe that behind the beauty of the Polish nature, hidden such horrors, never ever committed against the Jewish people and humanity before.

The fragment of Eliahu Holcman’s tombstone, so neglected, among other fragments , lies now in a Polish warehouse, and could very well be still served as a curb of a street, or in the bottom of a lake, in a Polish yard or dumped in the cement of a bridge in the center of town... Now it has been found and kept, until it will be redeemed and returned to its place. This is the only trace of a whole family. 27 sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters of Eliahu Holcman perished in Chelmno. My father and his sister emigrated to Palestine before the WWII, so 7 children, grandchildren of Eliahu, were born, and new great grand-children were born later. The name "Holcman" survived.

Since birth, we have the moral obligation to respect our ancestors, and do whatever we can to respect their memory. We owe them our lives! Our generation did not have a living grandfather or grandmother, "saba", "savta", “zeide”, “bube”... No one spoilt us and poured us with affection and love. Our "saba" and "savta" ashes fill the soil of that land, we have only old pictures, dreams, and now a broken fragment of a tombstone... which breaks my heart...

 

My grandmother Rasza Holcman, nee Zlotnik

My grandmother, Rasza Holcman, a great woman, deeply rooted in the shtetl, her whole culture, Yiddish, wisdom and humor was all what this Jewish culture has been before so brutally destroyed, is buried in the cemetery of Gombin somewhere, unmarked...

She was born in Plock, to a dynasty of famous rabbis all over Poland She was the widow of Eliahu Holcman, and run a grocery shop herself. She is mentioned in the Polish Business Directory of 1925. The Holcman family managed commerce of fruits and eggs, all over Poland. She was the mind behind the business.

Only two postcards from her remained in the possession of my father. She was a mediator, a judge, a match-maker, a leader... and most of all - she was a "Yiddishe mamma". Her love to her children was endless. I am named after one of her daughters, Golda Itta Bauman...

No one came to lit a candle and put a stone on her grave for 60 years. And she is together with so many of both my mother and father family for hundreds of years... and with thousands of Gombiners from 200-300 years...How can we rest, knowing that their tombstones have been destroyed and their graves were blasphemed.

It is true the dead have stopped to live and feel, but we didn’t and so will our children and grandchildren... We are passing shadows in this world. We have to honor our parents and "Avoteinu" because this what makes us Jewish.

While these lines are written, we just received great news from Gombin. Mr. Lukaszewski informed that all the tombstones served as curb-stones at the Browarna street sidewalk, were removed and are safe in the warehouse. 200 mm of tombstones were replaced by the Polish company, after over 50 years...

For many, it is too late now, and they will never return to Gombin, to cry over their beloved family memebrs’ tombstone, which in anycase was robbed off its grave.

May be Rasza’s tombstone is in the warehouse of the Communal Building Company now?

 

Chelmno: a Memorial to the Jews of Gombin.

About 300 km from Gombin, lest we forget, we should build a memorial to the murdered Jews of Gombin, in Chelmno, right where they were liquidated. Now it is possible to do. Other organizations already did it (like Turek, Belchatow, Brzeziny, Lask, Ozorkow, Dombia).

There, my maternal grandparents were murdered, together with so many of my uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces, my parents’ childhood friends, their comrades in the Zionist Youth Movement “Hashomer Ha’tzayir”, all their acquaintances, friends for life-time, they all perished together in the notorious gas vans of the murderous mad German Nazis, in the killing fields of Chelmno. And they didn’t even spare my great grandfather, 82 years old, Moszyk Gostynski... Now there is a possibility to erect a Memorial, right where it happened, where the names of the Jews of Gombin, who have no other tomb except in our hearts, will be engraved for eternity. More than 50,000 visitors visit the site annually and the memory of Gombin Jews will be there, crying to the sky for ever:

WE REMEMBER THE JEWS OF GOMBIN! WE MOURN FOR EVER! WE ARE STILL HERE...

 

We shall do that memorial monument in order to commemorate the deceased and remember for eternity. It is one of the most important mitzva, ZCHOR!!! REMEMBER!!! We were raised on that value since childhood, here, in the renewed State of Israel. The future lies in the past, and our strongest link to that tragic past is there, in Chelmno, near the flourishing garden beds, filled with the ashes of our beloved ones...

 

Saving the Jewish Cemetery of Gombin

 

We have to do something to avoid the oblivion, to shutter the denial and forgetfulness. We have to try. This is our role. The next generations will not do it for us! We have a chance, and we must take it, with all the support we can get from whoever has a sentiment to the Jews of Gombin and their tragic history.

Three years ago, in the south sea of Korea drowned a Belge ship name "D'ampier". Its captain was an Israeli as about other 18 members of the crew. The rest of the crew was Belge and Filipinos. The Israeli Government, headed by the late Rabin and afterwards Peres, gave 5 million dollars (!!!) for the search of the bodies... Some of them were found and brought to "Kever Israel". ("the tomb of Israel"). The Belge Government didn’t contribute a penny to the searches as well as the Philippines Government. It tells you something about how much the Jewish People value honoring of the dead, because without it there is no respect to the living...

By restoring the cemetery of Gombin we shall not restore a single life, but may restore our own peace of mind, knowing we did what we could to correct the abuse made to the deceased’ memory .

It will also be a symbol to the Poles and the world: there is still Jewish life coming from the ashes, the Jews did not all together perished! From the United States and Canada, Argentina and Uruguay, France and Australia, England and Israel, Panama and Belge will come the message: the Jewish Gombiner is alive and we demand the right to respect our dead, acknowledge our history in Poland, and never forget our beloved people, who were so brutally murdered by the Nazis only for being born Jewish!



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