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[Pages 49-52]

Second Part:

Between the Two World Wars

 

The Social and Cultural Life

 

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By M. Guyer

Translated by Clarice Gostinsky Horelick

Edited by Ada Holtzman

These articles were translated by Clarice Gostinsky Horelick to honor the memory of her Frenkiel family from Gombin
who lost their lives in the Holocaust: Shloime, Mendel, Cirl, Laitsche, their spouses and children.
In Gombin, during the last few years before the First World War, there dominated a mood of apathy. After the experiences of 1905, in Gombin just as in other cities and little towns, there ruled voices of resignation. In these times of general passivity, only the small Zionist and Bundist groups did any political work.

The start of the First World War brought long months and years of need and hunger. Everything, which we had built and created, immediately in the first days of the war, went up in smoke. On the 2nd of August 1914 the Germans were already in Gombin and with very little interruption stayed there until the end of the war. On the 11th of November they instituted a civil government and they appointed as mayor-burgermeister the owner of a clothing store, Schneider, a German.

Despite both the need for and the shortages of basic material goods, Jewish Gombin striven after knowledge; and the thirst for social and cultural work continually grew. We, before the outbreak of the war, had appealed to the Mefitzey Haskala in St. Petersburg, they should obtain permission from the Czarist power for us to open a legal library. In the meantime, however, the war erupted and contact with St. Petersburg was broken. At the end of the war, the Mayor Schneider, gave this very permission.

Yet, at the time when we received permission we did not have either a place or any money. In the past we had had only a small and half-legal library, which circulated books once a week. Later, during the war, we had packed these books into crates and had hidden them.

Now, after securing permission from Schneider, we found a space in Poznanski's house, a three-storied building which stood in the middle of the town square. We rented the second floor, took apart the walls, and made from the separate rooms a large hall, which could accommodate two hundred people. Inside we made a backdrop with a pretty curtain, which German soldiers painted for us, and Abba Wolman arranged the lighting with gas lamps because there was not yet any electric lighting in Gombin at this time.

From now on we had a place where we could organize lectures and performances. At that time we also created a second facility for a library. The difficulty however was that Gombin had only a small intelligentsia. A number of the wealthier young men and women who could afford a higher education moved away to the bigger cities. However, we made use of a number of them, after they came back from the Gymnasium or the higher learning institutions, to give lectures for organized audiences. There also were created separate Bundist circles, which held scientific and educational courses.

 

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The Bundist Children's Home
Teachers: from right, Sonia Cemelinski-Nowogrodska; Channa Celemelinski (left)

 

The widespread thirst for knowledge of our Gombiner young people made it quite easy to raise money, and we bought almost 2000 books. We numbered and catalogued them and started to lend them out to be read. We elected a multi-party committee of five members- three Bundists and two Zionists, and they recruited a group of young people to check out the books.

The opening of the library brought in a new life. Adults and children came to the library. When the work of setting up the library and the lending of the books was completed and routine, we began to think about the use of the large hall. We organized a “drama society” and we had a number of capable talented directors, for example Weislicz, Domb, and others. With great success we produced Urial Acosta, Chashe the Orphan, and dramas by Sholem Asch, Pshibishevski, Tshechov, and Andreiv. We also from time to time arranged for concerts.

A big attraction were the open readings, to which we brought famous speakers- like Israel Lichtensztejn, Wiktor Szulman, N. Szafran, M. Kasher, and many others. The young people received the lectures with great enthusiasm. The culture-work was done communally, but besides this the separate organizations also arranged their own political and educational activities. At the end of the 19th year (1919) there already existed in Gombin two separate libraries, a Zionist and a Bundist.

In the time of the First World War we organized a concert garden, and in 1917 we had with us the teacher Sonia Nowogrodzka, (who later was killed by the Nazis.) The political groups during this time grew stronger and involved an even larger number of Gombiner Jews. When the war ended and the Poles had a new and independent Poland they decided to institute city governments. It was decided that also Gombin would have a town council (shtat-rat) with twelve councilmen from the Christian population and twelve from the Jewish. Of the twelve elected Jewish councilmen eight were “citizens” and four Bundists.

 

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Jewish folk-school with the teachers
Kalmus, Sztokhammer, 1924

 

One of the consequences of the war was a shortage of food; and the assignment of the special appropriations committee was to bring from the surrounding larger towns- flour, potatoes, fat, and other foodstuffs. When the war with the Bolshviks broke out the Polish government arrested the four Bundist Councilmen- Melech Tadelis, Sztokhammer, Abraham Tiber, and Icchak Mosze Chaja (Guyer). Because of the growing terror of the Polish might, a number of the leaders were forced to escape. I was one of them and I together with my family ran away to America. On October 17, 1920 we arrived in Detroit to join my brother.

But the groundwork for Jewish cultural and social work in Gombin was already laid and cultivated. During the whole time, until the outbreak of the Second World War, we stayed in constant contact with the colleagues and friends in our town. The political and cultural activities flourished greatly and became more numerous. Yiddish Gombin became one of the points to which prominent Jewish political leaders and speakers were drawn. Lectures and discussions, concerts, and artistic presentations were organized. The young people thirsted for knowledge and the Jewish organizations from all political complexions concerned themselves that this thirst for knowledge and the hunger for social activity would not be stilled. Like all over, as in the hundreds of Yiddish cities and towns in Poland, Gombin was pulled along by the great stream of culture-activities which enriched anyone who wanted intellectual freedom. There were those who called Gombin by the name of “Little-Warsaw” so intense was the Jewish social life.

It lasted this way until the outbreak of the Second World War when over the Jews of all Poland there descended the Nazi Angel of Death.

 

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The teacher Sonia Czemelinska (center)
when she was freed from prison in Gombin
Near her sits comrade Emanuel Nowogrodzki

 

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