Zalman Ben Izhak (Borensztejn),Kibbutz Evron, Israel, March 14th 1997.
This is a report about my visit to Kibbutz Evron, and meeting I had with Zalman Ben Izhak (Borensztein), born in Gombin in 1914 and lives in Kibbutz Evron, Israel. He has dedicated the past 20 years of his life to research about the Historical Jewish Gombin for the period of 1750-1939. I spent a whole Friday with him, conversing and interview the man, fascinated by him, his dedication to the idea, his love to Gombin, his expression, and the endless activities he is being involved with, in his advanced age. He has been a very old friend of my father and mother for tens of years, since they were all born in this small town of Gombin in Poland. He is a very sentimental person, with a wonderful sense of Yiddish humor, very sharp and eager to study. His thrist for knowledge in general is unique. It has been a real experience talking to him and I shall try to share this experience with you.
I came to his modest room in Kibbutz Evron and the whole dinning room was covered with black and white pictures of Gombin from 1900-1930. Streets, building, the synagogue, also the "Aron Hakodesh" inside the synagogue with all the wooden art relieves, Jewish houses (He showed me also a picture of the house of Gostinsky, my mother's house, burnt by the Nazis).
Then he showed me the air photo map of Gombin, which was taken by Zalman, at 1986, from the Polish Security Ministry, which released the military maps to the eyes of the public at that period.
This was the Gombin "welcome" I received , entering his house...
There is one small room which is served as a library only. Hundreds and hundreds of books. Zalman plans to move his studio to a "Security Shelter" they build now for him. He has a big encyclopedia of Poland , 13 volumes and many books also about
the Holocaust and his other subjects of interest.
We started the conversation in him telling me about the tape cassette Leon sent him a while ago. He told me he thought it was an empty cassette, to record Zalman reply to Leon, and only not a long time ago he found out the message of Leon which has been recorded on it and wish to answer your questions.
You referred to the book, already mentioned a few times in the WEB, "Dzieje
Gabina do 1945 R" , doctorate thesis of Janusc Szczepanski, from 1984, ISBN 8302-03917-5.
Zalman gave me information about this book, which he has one copy, out of 2000 copies issued. It contains 328 pages. Szczepanski ignores the problems of the Jewish Community, but is unable to write without mentioning Jewish names or Jewish personalities. In the index appear 108 Jewish names. Gideon Carmi distributed this list which he translated for our Gombin already. But, on each name there is a story in the book, which Zalman can translate to who ever is interested.
More than that, in the book there is a reference, a bibliography note on every story and event.
This reference led Zalman to the Central Polish Archive of Old Certificates in Warsaw. Zalman went to this archive a few times, and once stayed there for 2 months... photo copy, translating, checking for the documents etc. Now he has an archive by its own and is working all the time in translating the documents and commenting on them.
He got a lot of help from the Janucz Korczak Association in Poland, in which he is a n honor member.
Szczepanski has a vast knowledge about the life and history of Gombin and other small towns where Jewish and Polish were mingled.
He has been a teacher in Gombin a few years. His wife is from a village Serbeno, 5 km from Gombin. he is around 52-53, and now plans to write a book about the Jewish life in Gombin...
He doesn't speak English and lives in Putock - about 100 km east of Gombin
- being the director of the Regional Archive there.
The dedication on the book to Zalman is:" "There is not a fixed future... The past is for ever... of 24 hours. What has happened will not repeat. The idea will not repeat itself" Kamil Norwid (a Polish writer).
"To Mr. Zalman, an ex citizen of the Historical Gombin, heatedly I press your hand"... The author Szczepanski."
Now Zalman tells me the story of his visit Gombin in the 5th time. Then he met Mgr. Zbigniewb Lukaszewski, who is not a Gombiner, but lives in Gombin for the past 30 years. He arranged and founded in Gombin an intellectual group and now they work together: the "Gombin Land Lovers Association".
There he made an archive in the most central house in the city. A house with 3 floors which was built in 1809 and belonged to a Jewish family, the house of Channa Stolcman. There are also Jewish important documents in this Archive
which Lukajsewski keeps as an apple of his eye...
Zalman was determined to find genealogical material about his family and
Gombiner people he knows. He researched two Regional Archives, the one in Plock and the one in Wloclawek.
The main efforts were in the research he conducted in the Polish Central Archive of Old Certificates, in Warsaw, in Dluga street nr 6.
Fortunately for us, the Nazis didn't destroy this archive, as it contained also German documents.
In this museum there are 40-60 employees, all with high education, who are dealing with bibliography about Polish History and all its details. In this Archive there are certificates of a few hundreds years starting from 200 years ago. Each small city
and even a village has a well organized file, with the history about the place, the commercial and economical relationship, Genealogy, Economy, Folklore and other historical aspects.
About Gombin. Zalman found out from the people of this place that he has been the first person out of Poland, to ask about Gombin and its files! Zalman sat there two months twice already, since 1982. And he plans to go again soon...
He chose to concentrate in the Jewish history of Gombin, and found data about the Jewish life and the Jewish professions, commercial dealings , cultural life etc.
Szczepanski book is based on those documents. Zalman went to the original!
He has treasures and treasures of documents, certificates, letters, genealogical sources about Gombin and mainly the history of it before the WW2 and in the 19th century.
He had been active in collecting this archive since 1979, and had contacts already from the times of the Communist regime in Poland. The first time he visited Poland was in 1979 and since than 5 more times. No one has touched this archive and he complains that the Gombiners in Israel were reluctant about it and never treated him seriously.
For example he has a letter from 1828 (...) where the Gombin Jewish Committee complains to the Polish Authorities about not having enough resources to run the Jewish life -
"no budget to run Brith Mila / to manage the Beit Kneset / to fix the Mikve / to keep the "Haders"..."there are 200 families but only 60 families pay their dues. What do they do for living: peddlers in the villages, fixing glass , artisans... they don't bring even small coins only eggs or a small piece of butter..."
I have to tell you I was amazed and find all this fascinating. Our Society was erected y to preserve the heritage of Jewish Gombin but apparently one man already did a lot about it... and it is all in his room in Kibbutz Evron...
He got access to year books of Jews born in Poland, books that have been provided by the Russian Authorities when ruled in Poland - for enlisting the Poles to the Army. He has registrations of birth records of the people of Gombin, but mainly family names and friends whom he has been interested for personal knowledge. A real Genealogical treasure which he gathered. Just for example, he found only through these documents that he himself had a baby brother who died when only 4 months old...
Then we passed the index of Szczepanski book and went over some of the so many Jewish names. He translated to me some of the stories. He also spoke about Genealogy, and the source of the family names of the people in Poland about 100-150 years ago.
I found the name of my grandmother brother: Yehuda Leib Zlotnik, RAV "AVIDA"
in the index. We went to the book and the story about him in the book is that he has been a young Chief Rabbi of Gombin in 1908 when they started the restoration of the Jewish synagogue. He raised the funds needed 1800 zloti and the restoration was completed in 1911.
This is just an example of the fascinating stories in this book.
Another story is about Samulewicz. He was active in Gombin in a Polish underground which operated against the Russian Czar regime and against enlisting Jews to the Russian Army (it was enlisting for 25 years... worse than death... this menace was
one of the main motives of the Jews to run away and leave Poland in the beginning of the century and end of the 19th.). Finally this Samulewicz was caught, together with others and sentenced to death. The death penalty was then changed to life imprisonment in Siberia. Only one survived and returned to Gombin in 1925 (not a Jew).
This Samulewicz belongs to his line of family and one tomb stone still exists of one woman from that family, in the Jewish cemetery of Gombin.
Zalman then told me about his family that two received the order to be enlisted and
run to America in the beginning of the century.
One from his father side: Borensztejn and one from his mother's side: Osowsky. The family descendants in America changed their names to Angel and Zalman lost contact with them.
Another story is about Yacov Tiber. I tell it too, since we hear about the Tiber name again and again recently in our group.
Yacov Tiber, page 139. Like many other young men who couldnít study in Gombin, being too small a city and with limited education institutions, went in 1860 to Lodz, to study a profession. He studied there the special profession of a "zayef" maker of soaps, and returned after two years to Gombin to work in this profession.
The story about Avraham and Icik Holcman (may be my family - but not certain) in page 75. The internal immigration of the Jews to Gombin had a big effect on commerce. In 1794 there were 16 merchants counted in the town. In 1808, after only 14 years, there were already 26 Jews, and 2 German merchants. The strongest men of commerce in Gombin at that period were: Hengerman (German) who had distilleries and Rayfeld - Pharmacy owner. The other biggest merchants in Gombin, were those who dealt with alcohol, (even then...) and owned distilleries in the town. Among them were Izhak Holcman and Haiim Yaacov Holcman.
Zalman then tells me a little about the Jewish History of Gombin as he studied it from this book.
In 1808 there were counted 50% of the city members as Jews. This large percentage can be explained that there has been a Polish decree forbidding the Jews to settle
in the small villages and they cannot develop any commercial business there except agricultural work. To protect the Polish villagers. The truth is that the polish Bourgeois wished to win the competition with the Jewish merchants, and retain
elite rights. So many Jews were compelled to leave the small villages around Gombin and settle in Gombin.
Zalman reached the part in Leonís tape when Leon asks him clearly what he has been reaching by his research.
Zalman thinks that he gathered only about 5% (!...) of the material there is to discover about Gombin, especially in this Old Certificates Archive in Warsaw.
He told me in the Archive he found colored maps, designed by hand of Gombin from 1801... A lot can be done still and he plans himself to return to Warsaw for more months of research...
The aerial photograph of Gombin
After talking about the book Zalman refers to Leon note that he holds a air photo of Gombin from 1944, obtained from the National Museum in Washington.
Zalman is more than interested to have a copy of this picture if you can send to him.
He also asks if Leon may know how this air photo reached the Washington Museum.
He showed me again the air map from the Polish Defense Ministry, 1:25000.
Talking about geography, he told me that he found out, by the way, that the
stream of Gombin does not reach the Wisely river, as everybody thought, but disappears in the sand...
Then we reach the part when Leon tells about himself and his research in South America and about the Indians. Zalman, in a typical manner, tells me "well, we, the Jewish Gombiners are really similar"... This Yiddish humor, one cannot imitate appears a lot in his talking...
Then Leon asks him what is his other activities.
Zalman tells me about them and I shall report just part of them now.
He devoted many years to conduct a personal historical research about Gombin. As was described before. He loves his hometown with all his heart and concentrates in registration and research of its history from 1800-1939, as described above in details. He knows Gombin very well - every house and piece of land , every tree and every bush... He told me he often dreams about Gombin at nights.
He also studied the Holocaust. He said that he visited all the concentration and death camps known in Europe: in Poland , France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. He traveled by train and reached every place, took pictures, studied every known camp. He even got to A*, in Germany, the famous German Archive which keeps records of 14 million victims. No compensation was or will be given to a survivor if he is not registered there. But they will not let him into this archive which is closed to the Public. 10 European countries keep this archive.
He is also active in the "Lochamei Hagetaot" Museum , in research and guiding special groups. There are 60,000 books (!) in this museum in all languages and 700 films. Nearly nothing about Gombin. Not even the Yizkor book.
The Yizkor book is missing also in Yad Vashem and we decided to do something about it in the nearest future.
Zalman told me there is a big translation efforts to be done.
The Yizkor book have to be sent to these two Institutes. He thinks that there are some errors in the Yizkor book and he is willing to work in translations and amendments to this book.
Zalman has an encyclopedia in Polish, published by the Polish Central Committee to the Hitlerian Crimes 1939-1945", with detailed documentation of over 5000 places, towns and villages, cities, labor and death camps where murders and crimes were committed by the Nazis. We read in page 170 about Gombin:
"Gombin in the Plock region. Ghetto in 1940, closed in April 1942. In the ghetto there have been about 2000 people. In the times of the Ghetto liquidation, 300 people were transported to Gostynin and Konin. All the others were executed and perished in Chelmno."
The books relies on the Polish Committee documents and on the papers which are stored in the Arolsen archive in Germany.
We took a short break and then continued to talk about Zalman other activities.
He studies a lot and active in various circles that deal with Meteorology.
Another part of his activities is the Templers Movement in Israel and in Palestine. The Templers were Germans who acquired lands in the Holy Land in the 19 and 20 Century, in Western Galilee and Haifa region. They still own many properties in Israel. Zalman devotes a lot of time in research of this Movement.
He also wrote about them and their activities in the 2nd WWAR.
He is very busy in Genealogy and Family Roots. He made and discovered his family roots and has dedicated a lot of research to this. In one of the records he found in the regional Archive in Plock, he found out he had another little brother who died when only 4 years old. Zalman never knew all his life about this brother... His original name is Zalman Baruch Borensztejn, named after his grandfatherís father name. He was born on the day of King David death. After consulting with the Rabbi of Gombin, they decided to deduct the name Baruch and add the name David. Since then he was registered and named: Zalman David Borensztejn. Zalman Baruch had a public house (now we would call it "pub") in the Stolcman house. On Sundays, the villagers used to come to the church and to fairs, and the city has been filled with agricultural products. Then they used to fill the public house. The villagers misspelled the name Zalman Baruch and called him "Sham Borek". Zalman grandfather didnít want this public place anymore because he made money from loans. He took part in the war against the Russian Czar and active in the Workers Party. This is just an illustration of what kind of studies and research he conducted.
Zalman also told me a personal story, told to him by my own grandmother Rasza Holcman, story that have been told in the shtetl by heart for a few generations... His great great grandfather, in 1819 was involved together with another brother in a quarrel in the public house with some Poles. During the fight, they killed one Pole... and sat in Prison for many years.
These are the materials he write and work on his family roots.
Zalman studies the History of Eretz Israel in the 19 century. He participates in various circles and study in many local research institutions.
He is a certified Guide for Israel pilgrimage and still leads groups, mainly
from Poland. He teaches in two departments in Haifa University, about the
History of Western Galilee, to its various periods since the Pre History till the end of World War 2. Prof. Brunhaker from Cologne University came to visit him in his Kibbutz to study. Zalman findings in the field of Kibbutz Evron from the Prehistoric periods are amazing and he published a few articles in Popular Science magazines.
He is also a principle activist in the Janucz Korcak Association in Warsaw
and leads groups sent to Israel by this Association.
Another field of his activities is Acquiring Land.
He is a member of the Board for Preservation of Historical Sites and devotes a lot of time for studies in this field too.
Zalman is also has another hobby for tens of years: Philately. He manages a circle in the Western Galilee of people with this hobby.
Personal note, Gombiners...
We took a break and went to have lunch in the Kibbutz Dinning Room, once my Kibbutz, where I spent 20 of my first years... I met many old friends, elders and young. Zalman has been over 60 years in this Kibbutz. There are other five Gombiners in this Kibbutz, all still alive. One of them is Shmulik Golan, who changed his name and was Glickzeliger in Gombin. I met him and we talked about Yochevet Laks. I met Izik Zaliszinsky, whose relatives also were related to Gombin. All very close friends of my family for tens of years. I have a picture of all the five Gombiners with Sam Rafael, who visited them in the 60ís when he was in Israel. It was very exciting to meet them and talk to them all, since I havenít visited it for quite some time. (My father moved to another Kibbutz in 1974).
I talked with Zalman about many Kibbutz members and then we talked about Gombiners abroad. He visited the States long time ago and told me he was very warmly greeted by many, the Frenkels, Wruble, Ben Guyer and others.
Then we talked about Blawat family, and my search for Yosek Blawat Ďs children. He told me he visited him in 1954. He accommodated him in his apartment in Paris, and was an exceptionally nice and kind person. He thinks he died but the children still live. He told me the Blawat House still stands in the central square of Gombin. A wooden house of over 100 years old
We reached the discussion about the Israeli Gombiners. Zalman said there are no activities here and the old organization doesnít nearly do anything anymore, except the annual remembrance meeting in Beit Gombin in Tel Aviv. A lot can be done in this field as well.
After nice lunch we went back and continued our interview.
The cemetery of Gombin.
Zalman starts with historical background. He says there are no accurate records about the beginning of the Jewish life in Gombin. The book of Szczepanski is the best literature about the history of Gombin. Gombin as a place of settlement, is known since 1215 in Poland. It was about 100-350 dunams, a village or a fortress. With the big movements of the Jews, after the Spanish deportation, started an immigration to the east part of Europe. Among the places where the Jews settled in Poland, was also Gombin.
The number of the Jews in these cities grew more and more until there were pogroms and certain economic and social classes pushed the Jews out. Other reasons were the wars on the land of Poland. The worst was the Polish war against the Swedish invaders in the 17th century . Gombin was totally burnt down. There was also plagues in the 60ís and 70ís of this century and the Jewish community diminished. There are testimonies that there was Jewish active community already than, and it suffered a lot from these disasters.
From Gombin came the famous Rabbi, known in his Cabalistic writings and also a Jewish philosopher: "Magen Abraham". His name was Abraham, Abele Ben Haiim Halevy who lived from 1637 until 1683. He was a "Posek Halacha" - Jewish law decider, also outside the borders of Poland. He was a survivor of parents who were murdered by the Kozaks. He was forced to run away from Gombin and became the chief Rabbi of Kalisz. Zalman, when he has been in Kibbutz Hakhshara in Kalisz in the 30ís, saw in the Offices of the Jewish Community the picture of the "Rabbi from Gombin", and this was the Rabbi, "Magen Abraham".
In the 18th century there are already Jewish people with financial resources., who give loans for living. The synagogue was erected in 1710. It is all in Szczepanski book, also the Yudaika encyclopedia, part 7, page 766-767 tells the story. In the same year, 13 of the richest jews of Gombin gave an enormous loan of 585 zloty to the local priest.
With the developing life of the Jewish town, developed (if one may call a cemetery "developed") the cemetery of Gombin. There were beautiful and styled tomb stones, over 350 years!
The cemetery, he said, nearly disappeared , except 5-10 tombstones. After the burning of the Jewish synagogue on Yom Kippur in September 1939, they forced Jewish and Polish labor to remove stones from the cemetery. They also forced Polish and Jewish workers to remove and dismantle the big Catholic Church, brick after brick. Zalman tells me that one of the rare tomb stone still standing in the cemetery is of his uncle family: Samulewicz - it is of a woman, death: 1924. Probably the reason for not removing it is that it was written in Polish and not in Hebrew.
Zalman showed me pictures of the tombstones he took.
On the Samulewicz tomb stone is written: "Here lies the body of our beloved wife and our love. Her life extinguished on 3.4.1924 and she lived 60 years. Her memory be honored for eternity"
There is another stone that Zalman identified very clearly in Hebrew letters: Melech Tadelis, but it is more destroyed. Melech Tadelis is also mentioned in the Szczepanskiís book. There are other parts of broken stones. Parts of the stones were used for pavement in a nearby street Garvarska. The subscriptions are in the ground. He doesnít know about tomb stones near the bridge. He tells me that there were some limitations in the Communist Regime and people were afraid to speak and testify. Today it is more open and free and more chances to get information from the local Poles. There are antique oak trees for a few hundred years. Zalman recommendation is to fence part of the synagogue with three or more trees.
He also told me about the German trench, built inside the graveyard. I was appalled to hear that, and he told me that it is nothing in comparison to the other crimes that the Nazis committed.
He talked to me about the legal situation and that it is considered to be a holy place, and cannot be touched by anybody. As for the other legal aspects, he said that he sent Noam all the papers he got. He worked with Lukaszewski for a long time about the project, and what was brought up in the Bnei Gombin issue, was a result of these efforts. He wish from the depth of his heart that we shall move forward, from where he started and will do the restoration...
The Memorial in Chelmno
Zalman has a heavy book in Polish, issued by the Polish Government Committee of the Nazi Crimes Research. In this book there are records of all the crimes and places of death of the Poles and the Jews on the land of Poland in WW2. Chelmno has been whipped off by the Germans, to hide their crimes. And in spite of that there were still testimonies found.
Zalman said that there were rumors that even one crematorium was found and is still kept by Poles from the surrounding villages...
There are no lists of the Chelmno victims, as the Germans erased the camp. Yad Vashem have no lists as they keep the lists found from Germans documents.
Zalman showed me a note that was found nearby the death camp:
in Polish. This note is now on a big 30 meter board, which you see when you enter the Chelmno site.
Zalman showed me a book, written by Janusz Gulczynski, one of the employees in the Chelmno Management in Konin. Zalman also met this man, who is relatively young. His book is: "Oboz Smierci w Chelmno nad Nerem" - "Death camp, Chelmno near the stream". There are limited lists in the book but may be the lists exist in the Konin Archive. Zalman suggests to check and contact the site management, which deals also, in a national Polish level with other subjects of Jewish matters from the region.
Yad Vashem have very limited number of lists, from the Nazis. No lists are of the 300,000 Jewish victims killed in Chelmno nad Nerem. But the Management of Chelmno in Konin might have lists!
It is situated in a rural estate. 30 devoted people are working there in documentation and other projects. Their address is:
Dr. Lucja Pawlicka-Nowak Dyrektor
Muzeum Okiegowne w Koninie
ul. Muzealna 6
Some of the employees are: Maciej Labe, Kiesowviczka Pani Ewa, Janucz Gulczycki, author of the above mentioned book.
Zalman thinks a Memorial could be erected there for a few reasons:
a) Logistically it is easy to accomplish. He showed me pictures of the place. Chelmno is very large place and has endless space.
b) It will be visited by thousands all around the year.
c) The site is kept.
d) The Jewish Organization of Wolcawek has erected a memorial
there! We could follow their example.
e) The Museum is dealing also with Jewish cemeteries restoration
and they restore the cemetery of Turek! They remove the tombstones, one after the other, from the pavements where they were put by the Nazis, back to the cemetery.
f) It has a management, dedicated and favorable to the Jewish people and their tragedy.
In the end of our meeting, Zalman told me a story he heard from a Polish woman in Gombin. When the Russians released Poland and entered Gombin, there was among them a Jewish soldier, may be originally from Gombin. He looked for folk deutche... but they all run away from the city.
The only one he found was one old woman, name FOSS. He went to her house, on Pluck street near the river and killed her on the spot, in revenge...
It was already 17:00, and eve of Shabbat. We had to finish our long conversation, but I felt like we just begun and a lot more to be told...
The man is a living encyclopedia for the life and history of Jewish Gombin. He is working on translations of many documents and the treasures of our parents home town history will be revealed. It is a "holy" work and our Society will have all the documents in the future.
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