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[Pages 53-59]

The Public Work

 

gom053.jpg

 

By Haim Reifl (Haiml Szacher)

Translated by Clarice Gostinski Horelick

In the subsequent chapter of the memoirs of Haim Reifl, whose name in Gombin was Haiml Szacher, he emphasizes the broad and many-branched activities of Yiddish social institutions between the two world wars.

* * *

My father, Pinchas Szacher, for his entire life, was concerned with good deeds for the community. When I was still a child, he used to take me in the Cheders and Talmud Torahs, the schools, where he occupied himself with the work of raising money for tuition fees for the poor students, and for providing clothing for those who were needy. We also distributed bread with herring among the children, and if it became known that one of the poor children had greater ability to learn, we provided opportunities, so that he could benefit from a higher education.

Besides my father, also active in this assistance-work for poor students were Neta Pelczenmacher and Jecheskel Blacharz.

I mention this here as an introduction to a chapter about social work in our town. Gombiner Jews always had open eyes- and open hearts- to the need of their poor Jewish neighbors, and there was not any one instance when a poor Jewish child or a destitute Jewish family would not benefit from the warmth of their more affluent brothers.

The assistance program was developed in stages. It began in a completely primitive way, when a group of wealthy citizens of Gombin, on their own initiative, took simple steps to help individual children in the time of need. Later, the help became more and more organized. There was a formed a sort of Hachnasat Orchim, a reception area, in a room that was located above the Mikvah, the bathhouse. Much later, in a much larger room that we could already call a hall or a chamber and which was located behind the Bet Midrash, the Study House, there opened a Bikur Cholim, an organization to help the sick. The Bikur Cholim was supported by 40 to 50 Gombiner Jews. The work of the Bikur Cholim consisted in going to sick people in their homes and providing them with food and especially with paying the pharmacist for the necessary medicines.

 

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Children's Home with the teacher Rajzel Zychlinksi

 

The characteristic method was that the needed money was raised in the old and traditional Jewish way: Every Friday, we simply "went to the houses" and Gombiner Jews did not refuse. The doors stayed wide open to those who went around collecting and the collectors were given the charities. A second source of donations were the Nedarim pledges of money, which Jews made in Temple when they were called up to the Torah. There, a portion of the donations were designated for the bikur cholim.

The bikur cholim each year organized a big Kiddush. This was done every Shmini Etzeret, the eighth and last day of Succoth, and they used to invite the "pnay" of the shtetl, (the "VIP" of town) not just all the members, but also the rabbi with the Klay Kodesh.

However, the help-work still bore the form of chance. Because the income was not stable, as they were dependent on the Nedarim donations and from "going to the houses", the distributed aid was not constant but random. It took many years until these goodhearted but amateurish activities took on the semblance of true, planned social work. And the actual year of the establishment of an organized effort was the year 1915.

This was in the first year of the First World War . The war shook the town especially economically. Yesterday's rich men became paupers and yesterday's poor became even poorer. Because of being on the front lines between the Germans and the Russians, Gombin was separated from a great portion of neighboring areas, with which Gombiner traders and artisans were connected. The crisis was now so great that it was not enough to go around "to the houses" and collect for the neediest. It was now necessary to have a larger body, which would concern itself with the needy. The conditions were right for there to be organized the first Gombiner help -institution. which was called Yugent -Hilf Verein, the Youth Assistance League. Among the founders were Melech Tadelis, Aba Wolman, Yossel Jarlicht, and I. The funds of the help-union were at the start raised through assessments which were taken from our own more wealthy citizens, but as soon as the war ended and the wide world opened up, for the first time there began to come help from America.

It is necessary to mention at this time that in the meantime in America there existed the Society of Gombiner Jews and in their evaluations, they gave an accurate prediction that the war would cause an economic upheaval in the shtetl, which would be in need of immediate material help. One of the leaders of the Gombiner landsleit in the United States was my brother Sam Rafel, who, actually, immediately after the war ended, came to Gombin and brought with him a considerable amount of money.

In the meantime in Gombin itself, there was created a committee of Jews whose children before the war immigrated to America. The committee of these Jews was composed of Jecheskel Holcman, Jakob Leib Zychlinski, Hersh Nussan Zolna, Abrahaml Tiber and Pinchus Szacher, my father. The task of this committee was to distribute the money received. A big part of the money went for clothing and food for the most needy.

 

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Feeding of the poor Jewish children
in the Folks School No.2, in Gombin

 

The year 1922 was an especially important date in the society of Jewish Gombin. In this year there came to Gombin from America the much-travelled Gombiner Jew, Abraham Icchak Max, and he not only brought with him a sum of money but also an encouragement that with this money plus a sum which he alone added, we form a self help organization and this turned out to be the establishment of the Folks Bank. In the formation of the Folks Bank were active Abraham Zamosc, Abraham Lejb Gibs, Melech Tedelis, Abrahaml Tiber, my father Pinchus Szacher, Jecheskel Holcman, and others whose names unfortunately I now cannot remember.

The Folks Bank was supported not only by the money which was received from the Gombiner Jews in America, but a certain sum was added by the American Joint, which was active in Poland.

The Folks Bank played a big role in the life of the Gombiner Jews between both the world wars. The task of the Folks Bank was to give out loans. This was the big advantage of the important and useful institution. The Folks Bank however gave out the loans only to those who could put forth substantial guarantees of repayment and those who were capable of paying the certain percent for the loan. The result was that, those who benefited from the Folks Bank were only a specific and small category of the population, the most important group being the merchants.

 

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Formation of the Gombin Shpur and Lie-Kasse from the year 1913
From right to left, top row: Abraham Zamosc, Melech Tadelis, Leo Philips Foczcha
Middle row: Fajwel Borenstein, Hirsz Jakob Wrobel, Szmuel Kraut,
Mosze Glikzeliger, Abraham Szlomo Plonski, Abraham Fried, Yankel Hodes;

bottom row: Henich Zorkawski, Mordchai Szwarcberg, Noah Teifeld,
Abraham Wolfowisz, Israel Rozen, Josef Gibs
;
Bottom left: Leibel Drachman

 

This however did not ease the question of the other Jews, of the poor and of the artisans whwere not capable to fulfil the bankıconditions. Theryear 1913 another thing happened which was again a quite important date in Gombiner social life. There was founded a Handicrafts Union, which needed to look after the professional and material interests of the artisans: tailors, shoemakers, bakers, hat-makers and poor Jews. In organizing the handwork Union were active Chaim Luria, Meir Laski, Wolf Laski, Zalman Bol, Herszel Finkel, Jona Bibergal, and I.

The Handwork Union, however useful its activities, could not fill all the needs of its members. The Union useful in straightening out disagreements and in concerning itself with the improvement of the conditions for the working people. It however in many instances was deficient in giving financial help. As result of the Folks- Bankıs inability to fulfill the needs of the community, because of aforementioned conditions, there was born a thought that we needed to form a second, a separate bank, for the artisans and less fortunate, and poor Jews. And the thought became a reality.

This was in the year 1927 - and also this date is an important one of Jewish Gombin from between the two world wars. In that year there came from America the Gombiner landsleit, Szoiman with his wife, who had also like every other earlier American-Gombiner visitor, brought a certain sum of money. At that time in the house of Jecheskel Holcman came about the founding assembly of a Gmilot Chasadim Bank.

The founders of the Gmilot Chasadim were Abrahaml Tiber, Haim Leib Bornstein, Icchak Szikorka, Abraham Chaim Wrobel, and Pinhas Szacher. The goal of the Gmilot Chasadim Bank was first of all to borrow money entirely without any percent and besides you could pay back the borrowed money over time. From the beginning the loans were small, but with time they began little by little to get bigger. Before the Second World War the bank gave out loans of 300 zloties, which was a very nice sum in those times.

The Gmilot Chasadim also, just like the Folks Bank, took its funds from money which flowed from the American Gombiner Society and from the funds of the Joint.

 In the year 1930, when my father died, I was inducted into the committee in his place.

The committee of the Gmilot Chasadim fund held a meeting every week. I want to here, in this very short overview of Jewish societal activities in Gombin, to mention the members of the last committee from the Gmilot Hasidim fund: A. Tiber, Szekarka, Bornstein, Wrobel , Haim Lurie, Mair Laski, Hersz Madera and Chaim Szacher.

 The committee stayed in constant contact with America and every two months sent a report to New York. Secretaries were Abrahamale Tiber and Meir Zeideman, an honorable, dedicated and loyal Jew, who did not want any reward or pay for his work.

 

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Meeting of the Gmilot Chasadim Bank in Gombin in the year 1921
Seated from the right: M. Zeidman, H.N. Zolna, Pinchus Szacher, A Tiber, Szekarka, S. Reifl,
Delegate from America, S. Borenstein, M. Celemenski, H. Holcman;
Standing: S. Holcman, F. I Finkelsztein, Bauman, A. H. Wrobel, M. Laski

 

The social work in Gombin was very developed. Considering that our town was small and was almost isolated from the surrounding towns and cities, yet it could serve like an example, and a standard, for every history writer concerned with the theme of the shtetl - of a Jewish community in which every one was closely tied with the other and closely interested in the other. The most important point was that we did not live for oneself, but we lived also for the other person, that every Jew was a part of the total. These few words which I have written and in which I have just mentioned the philanthropic work in Yiddish Gombin were not more than a small portion of the whole and many years' work. The last war, the great tragedy, made an end to Gombin, to the living Jews and also to the documents. The fire in the town also destroyed the books, the acts, and the notes from all the social institutions.

These few lines should remind us of the historical works of the Gombiner Jewish community activists. It should also in this manner uphold the memory of that which was such a lively endeavor of the Gombiner Jews and which was dealt out the same miserable fate as the entire community.

 

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A group of the Relief Activists with a messenger
from America, Abraham Max (née Manczyk)

 

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