Zbigniew Lukaszewski, lights up a memorial candle in the deserted Jewish cemetery of Gombin on Yom Ha'Shoa 4.5.1997.
Zbigniew Lukaszewski Speaks
Zbigniew Lukaszewski, president of the Gombin Land Lovers Association, was interviewed by Leon Zamosc in October 1997.
You want to know about myself, and about the activities of the Gombin Land Lovers Association . . . Well, I was born in Sompolno, Konin, in 1932. At the age of twenty I came to Gombin to work as a high school Polish language and literature teacher. Here I met my wife Henryka, and then I stayed on. I worked for 38 years in the same school. I organized a poetry society and later I became director of the student theater group. I looked after the school newsletter and I wrote articles for regional newspapers regularly. For many years I have been a member of the Cultural Society in Plock.
In 1975 we formed the Gombin Land Lovers Association (GLLA), with the idea of organizing cultural activities and collecting historical materials about Gombin. We gather documents, pictures, and memorabilia about the history of Gombin. We publish articles and brochures, we cooperate with the schools, and we participate in the annual local festival on Polish Independence Day. Since retirement from teaching six years ago, I have been able to devote more time to this work. The GLLA has 35 members, including teachers, technicians, merchants, the librarian, the priest, the mayor and the vice-mayor.
At the GLLA house we have a local history museum. We have organized about fifteen different exhibitions over the last few years. The first exhibition, in 1993, was exclusively devoted to Jewish life in Gombin. Now we are working on a permanent exhibition, part of which will be about the Gombin Jews. Who comes to see these exhibitions? Mostly students from schools in Gombin and neighboring towns. We also get visitors who come from Plock.
In the GLLA we have always recognized that the Jews were an important part of the history of Gombin. For many years I had been collecting books and materials about the Jews . . . I found anthologies of Jewish poetry, including the poems of Rachel Zychlinska from Gombin. On the Jews of the town, the main thing we had was Janusz Szepanski's book about Gombin history, which paid attention to the Jewish community. Four years ago a GLLA member, Jan Borysiak, wrote an article about the deportation of the Gombin Jews for "Jewish Word," a newspaper from Warsaw. But in 1993, when we did the exhibition about the Jews, we were thinking in terms of gathering historical materials. It was only two years ago that we began to think about the restoration of the Jewish cemetery.
At first we thought that it would be better to erect a small fence, since there are not many gravestones left. We were very impressed by the Zychlin cemetery renovation, I went there and visited three times . . . I was ashamed that in Gombin we did not have monuments or plaques about the Jews who lived here. I started to talk with the oldest neighbors, asking about the gravestones... I learned about the sidewalk in Browarna Street . . . But we knew that the renovation would cost money, which we did not have. So we looked for support and approached institutions . . . We tried with the Polish Ministry of Culture, the Jewish Community in Warsaw, the Zwiazek Religijny Wyznania Mojrzeszowego . . . We always received the same answer: they told us that they had no funds for doing this. Finally our friend Zalman Ben Yitzhak, a Gombiner from Israel who for years has been coming to do historical research, told us that an organization of Jewish Gombiners had been created in the United States . . . That was how we learned about you.
Why was I personally interested in the Jews? As president of the GLLA I had to pay attention to the Jews because they had been such an important part of life in Gombin. Also, there were personal losses in my life that made me understand the suffering of the Jews . . . During the war the Germans killed my father and my brother in the camps. Their death makes me feel like the Jews felt. . . it was the same fate of the Jews. My father was caught by the Germans while gathering money for the resistance, and he died in Dachau. My brother fought in the 1944 insurrection in Warsaw, he died in Germany . . . I was a child when all this happened. My mother had died before the war, and when they took my father I was less than eight years old. I was left alone with an older sister who raised me.
It is true that there are no longer any Jews in Gombin today, but the old people are still interested because they remember the Jews. And the young are interested because they do not know about the Jews. You ask me whether they are really curious . . . I can tell you that more than 500 people came to see our exhibition on the Gombin Jews . . . They asked questions... They wanted to know how many Jews were in Gombin, what happened with them, where was the synagogue, where was the cemetery . . . They also asked whether there were any Jewish families left in Gombin.
We are happy that we are cooperating with you in the cemetery renovation. We are convinced that it is important to do this together, Poles and Jews, because it will help us to talk again, and overcome the many bad things that we all know happened in the past. I know that there are some Poles who do not like Jews, and some Jews who do not like Poles . . . so we need to do this. It is like a reconciliation, but we should know that it will take time. There are many examples of collaboration, not only in restoring cemeteries. Kutno, for example, has a friendship link with a town in Israel. We would also like to have a relation with an Israeli town. We need that, because people in Gombin lack contact with other cultures.
You tell me that many Gombiner Jews worry about the possibility that a renovated cemetery will be vandalized. It is true that today in Poland we have vandalism, but this is not something that reflects antisemitism. The problem of vandalism is more general, it is also affecting national monuments and Catholic cemeteries all over the country. The Catholic cemetery here in Gombin has been affected by vandalism . . . there is graffiti on the walls, they have destroyed gravestones, sometimes they overturn candles. This is happening not only in Gombin, but all over Poland . . . It is done by teenagers who pretend that they are anarchists or punks. They want to imitate what vandals do in Germany, France, England . . . It is the same thing that exists all over Europe. Recently in Poznan, the Frederick Chopin monument was destroyed, and today you can see graffiti in every monument and statue in Poland.
What can be done about it? It is very difficult to control, but in Gombin it is not as bad as in other towns, the police is doing a better work. When they catch them, they are punished, they get 48 hours behind bars, and they are taken to court. The best solution is a guard. There is a guard now in the Catholic cemetery: once the renovation is done he could also take care of the Jewish cemetery. Priest Drozdowski will cooperate with this, he has already said that he will talk to people about the need to protect the Jewish cemetery.
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