Tombstones from the old Jewish Cemetery in Gombin. The tombstones were removed from the streets of Gombin and returned to the cemetery by the Gombin Society and the Nussenbaum Foundation, in the form of a Lapidarium, August 1999.

PINCHAS CHAJA Z"L - (Gombin Poland 1930-1938)

... Chaja
Died Adar I 7, 5698 (8 February 1938)
Here lies our beloved child (Yiddish)
Died when only 8 years old

Little Pinchas with sister Chawa

Bernie Guyer (born, Berish Chaja) writes... 13.9.99

The Matzeva of Pinchas Chaja (1930-1938), Gombin:

You know, that I was in a state of shock when you read out the name Pinchas Chaja as we rode in the bus to Gombin. Jane heard it first andcomprehended immediately that it was my brother, whom I had never known. I couldn't react. This was a name, in name only, up to thatpoint. Pinchas was the face of a small boy in several family photos from Gombin, and a story of the survival of our family. Until your words came over the loud-speaker, this was not a person to me.

Jane and I went to the cemetery as soon as we could that day we arrived in Gombin. We missed much of the festivities, i.e. speeches, that occurred in the town. We went by ourselves and searched the matzevot for the one. When I laid my hand on that stone, I felt as if I were touching the brother I had never known. He would be in his late 60's now. Let me tell you the story.

My mother, Chana Ryzman (Rissman), and my father, Simcha (Sydney) Chaja- from Sannyik (Sanniki)- were married in Gombin in 1929. My mother always told us what a handsome man he was and how she pursued him. By the time they were married, all of my father's older brothers had left Sannyik to emigrate to Uruguay to start a new life. Eventually they took over their parents, my grandfather, Berish and grandmother, Kaile.

My parents went to live in Sannyik in 1930. The registry book of Gombin notes my mother leaving the town that year. Pinchas was born in 1930 and my sister, Chava [Evelyn] in 1932.

In 1937, my father left his wife and 2 small children in Poland to go to Uruguay and start a new life. The plan was for him to work for 3 years and then bring them over. My mother moved back to Gombin where her father, Manele Ryzman, gave her a room in their house on Kilinskeigo Street. The house is no longer standing.

Pinchas became ill in 1938. There's no telling what the illness was. The story is that he suffered an injury during play and had pain in a leg and fever. It could have been an osteomyelitis. He died in hospital in Plock (on February 8, 1938), and my mother smuggled the body out of the hospital and returned to Gombin where the child was buried in the cemetery. Before going on the trip to Gombin, I asked my older sister, Evelyn, if she had any memories of Gombin. She told that the only memory was the funeral of her brother. She wasn't allowed to attend, but remembers standing in front of the house and watching the procession

The period after the death of Pinchas was very hard for my mother. She went to the cemetery every morning, and her father had to go bring her back.

When word of the death reached my father he was distraught and immediately sent word that my mother and sister must come to join him in Montevideo. Money was sent, papers arranged and, they left Gombin by bus, for Warsaw, in the winter of 1939. Evelyn was then 6 years old and remembers that it was cold. Benny Guyer helped them in Warsaw to get to the train to Danzig, and from there to London. My mother and sister were stuck in London at the Jewish shelter for nearly 6 months before the formalities and the right ship were available to take them to Uruguay. It was the last passenger ship to leave before the outbreak of war. Evelyn remembers that war was declared while they were still at sea and that the windows of the ship had to be blacked out. They arrived safely in Uruguay where they lived through the war. I was born there in 1942, and the whole family came to Detroit in 1945, where my mother's oldest brother, Moishe Rissman (born in Gombin in 1893), was awealthy man and sponsored them. My younger sister, Marilyn (named for Manele) was born in Detroit in 1948.

So you can see that the story of Pinchas' death is the story of the survival of our family. Without the sense of urgency that his death caused, my mother and sister would have remained in Gombin to perish with the rest of her family- my grandfather Manele, his second wife, their daughter Zelda and my mother's sister Nacha and her husband-presumably at Chelmno.

The second day in Gombin, Jane and I decided to make a rubbing of the stone. We went to a small shop and bought some brown wrapping paper and some children's wax crayons. Then, in the drizzling rain, we made a stone rubbing at the monument. That rubbing we brought to the family in Detroit. It was like bringing our brother home.

The reactions have been fascinating. First, my older sister Evelyn connected emotionally with the older brother whom she had known. She has always carried a small photo of the two of them taken when he was about 5 and she 3 years old. I gave her the small bottle of soil that others had collected from the cemetery. Others in the family were very moved by the whole story, some to tears, others just amazed. I believe my sisters and a group of family members will go to Gombin for the next visit to the town and the memorial.

My mother had a very different reaction. She loved hearing about Gombin, but as an elderly woman, she couldn't quite connect with it all. She looked at our photos and kept asking, "there are no Jews left?" as if she had never fully comprehended the enormity of the destruction. It seems hardly possible.

We read the rubbing of the matzeva together. She doesn't read Hebrew, so we both read the Yiddish. She immediately cleared up a mystery for us. Excuse the transliteration, but the matzeva reads "du reht undzer leeb kind, Pinchas, gesht elter 8 yor" The word "gesht" is a shortened version of "geshtorben" So the inscription reads, "here rests our beloved child, Pinchas, died [at just] older [than] 8 years."

My mother had never seen the matzeva. She left Gombin before the first anniversary of the death. Her father had promised her that he would put up a matzeva in the child's honor. She never had any word about it. We've never discussed whether it even existed. Now we have it with us. She passed her old hands over the letters of the rubbing. Jane saw in

her face some sense of its meaning. But my mother said nothing. I asked her what the matzeva meant to her. Her reply was simply that she was 94 years old and that it all happened a long time ago. Our interpretation of her reaction is that the death of that child must already be sealed in her heart. She has lost so many more since then- her husband of more than 50 years and even two grandchildren. She has outlived everyone of her own generation. The emotions she feels are hers and none of us can ever fully know them.

The return of the memory of Pinchas doesn't appear to have the same meaning to her as it does to me, Evelyn, and Marilyn. For us it is very emotional. To me, I feel as though I found my brother.

As miraculous as it seems, our Pinchas survived Hitler's attempt to destroy all signs of Jewish life in Poland. Thanks to you and your efforts we now have at least a small tangible piece of our Pinchas back!

One can only feel it was destined "besheret" that Jane and I should have made this trip to Poland with the so many wonderful "Gombiners" from the Gombin Society. My mother didn't really want us to go. It was destined that of all the thousand matzevot in that cemetery, one of the few to survive in an identifiable state was that of Pinchas. It was destined that you were there to do your work of finding the "universe behind each name." And, of course, it was "besheart" that we should be on that bus riding together to Gombin when you announced the name and we were the only ones who could bring that name to life! As Evelyn said, "that stone survived so that we could find it!"

This is a very important story for our family. My own three children (Samuel, Nathan and Kate) were home for Rosh Hashanah this week and we told the story again and again. I've spoken to my mother and my sisters. We are deeply appreciative of your work on Gombin. In honor of this event, we will make a financial contribution to the work that Minna Packer is doing to document the Gombin experience in her film.

Shanah Tovah. Bless you for your work and dedication. We will see each other again! Jane and I and my sisters and mother and all of our families embrace you.


Bernie Guyer (born, Berish Chaja)

Chelmno, 16 August 1999: Jane Guyer, Ada Holtzman, Bernie Guyer and Yosef Luszynski

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