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[Pages 77-81]

The Beginning of the Zionist Movement

by Louis Philips (Pochekha), Detroit

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Leon Zamosc


Louis Philips (Pochekha)


One cannot look back at the history of Zionism in Gombin without a certain amount of nostalgia. Those were times of faith, hope, and joy.

The Zionist movement developed spontaneously, out of a group of dreamers. In 1909, my brother-in-law Mordechai Schwartzberg moved to Gombin from Plock. The Zionist organization began with his arrival.

My brother-in-law's neighbor was Moishe Glickzeliger. They struck a close friendship from the first day they met. Their group of friends included Abraham Zamosc, Melech Todelis, Melech's younger brother Avremele, Yitzchak Wolfowicz, and many others.

I remember that Yitzchak Wolfowicz made a big impression on me. He was proficient in Hebrew, read a variety of publications and journals, and was also well versed in Polish literature. He was a man with a vast knowledge of literature and culture.

When Mordechai Schwartzberg arrived in Gombin, his place became a centre for scholarship. He was a gentle man, educated in the Torah, who knew how to inspire his listeners with humor and logic. He came from a family of “Eastern Rabbis” (religious Zionists), “Lovers of Zion” (early Zionists), and secular enlightened Jews. His grandfather was the famous Lipno Rabbi Yehuda Leib Schwartzberg, who had been active in the religious Zionist party “Mizrachi”. And his uncle, Sh. B. Schwartzberg, would become the editor of “Ner Hamerkaz” in New York. Mordechai Schwartzberg brought those kinds of spiritual influences to Gombin.

Schwartzberg's perpetually happy neighbor, Moishe Glickzeliger, was a hardworking Jew with polite manners who was always eager to learn about Zionism, Hasidism, and socialism. In his house, Schwartzberg met people with whom he could spiritually identify.

The youngest was Abraham Zamosc, who was a frequent visitor to Schwartzberg's shop. He was an expert in Hebrew literature who interpreted for others the Book of Prophets, the novels of Abraham Mapu, the poetry of Hayim Nahman Bialik, and of course the works of Ahad Ha'am and the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl.

Schwartzberg subscribed to “Ha-Tsfira” (The Epoch) and other newspapers that served as a source of information and education for his listeners. At times, when he was busy dealing with some customer, Zamosc would take over the reading, explaining the brainy materials that filled the pages of “Ha-Tsfira”, such as the essays by Nahum Sokolow and the “Blossoming Letters” of David Frishman, which flowed in impeccable Hebrew prose. Zamosc was clearly in his element, translating the articles in his own fluid style.

Another member of that first Zionist group in Gombin was Melech Tadelis or, as he was called, Yankele's Melech to make sure he was not confused with Melech Tadelis from the Bund defense group.

Melech was very handsome and looked indeed as a prince (the word “melech” means “king”). Everybody loved him and he was always smiling and in a good mood. He never antagonized anyone. When people talked about going to the Land of Israel, he would immediately produce a map that he always carried with him in order to find the perfect spot.

His brother Abraham Tadelis also joined the movement, helping out wherever he could. Both brothers were tall and handsome with black hair, like true children of kings.

Another person in the group of friends was the Talmudist Tamel Menche, a brilliant man who was the son of the hasid Yosef Menche. He felt comfortable in the group but he had his own path towards the Zionist ideal. He liked to quote from the Gemara and always had an appropriate passage concerning the topics that were being discussed. He was a sympathizer of the Zionist movement but he was not active in the organizational work. His response to any suggestion was: “We'll see…”

The group held a meeting in Mordechai Schwartzberg's place to organize a Zionist circle in Gombin. It was decided that every Sabbath they would pray at Moishe Glickzeliger's. They did not want to attract too much attention. That was how the Zionist political organization began in Gombin.

With the growth of the movement and new members, we set out to find a location for our Zionist activities. We illegally bought Shekels, distributed collection boxes, organized celebrations, and distributed Hebrew journals.

Since we could not find a stable place to meet, we used the homes of Schwartzberg and Glickzeliger. Like all the other tenement houses on the market square, they had shops facing the street and the living quarters were in the back. To this day I cannot figure out how we all managed to squeeze in. Glickzeliger's kind wife made sure there were enough places to sit.

Our small Zionist synagogue did not have a Torah reader. Everyone could stand at the pulpit, but there were a few who truly deserved the honor. It was usually Elie Baron or my father Reuven Pochekha who would stand at the pulpit.

The Zionist movement in Gombin gained momentum. A special episode was the 1911 election of the new Gombin rabbi. The group, led by Mordechai Schwartzberg, actively campaigned to rally as many votes as possible for Rabbi Yehuda Leib Zlotnik, a founder of the Zionist religious party “Mizrahi” who was strongly opposed by the town's Hasidim.

Schwartzberg's home became the general headquarters of the campaign. There were feverish preparations for the debates of the upcoming elections. Rabbi Zlotnik's father-in-law, M. Kalisher from Plock, stayed at the Schwartzberg's place during the elections. It was his dream to see his son-in-law become the rabbi of a progressive town like Gombin.

The election battle was won and Yehuda Leib Zlotnik became the rabbi of Gombin. It was a warm, beautiful summer day when the leading citizens, led by the Zionists, went out to the Plock highway to welcome Rabbi Zlotnik. The group included my father Reuven Pochekha, Mordechai Schwartzberg, Yitzchak Wolfowicz, Isroel Rozen, Henech Zurkowski, Abraham Plonski, Abraham Fried, Shmuel Leib Wolman, and Noach Tajfler. Leibl Drachman and me, who were barely of Bar Mitzvah age, were also there, along with other youngsters who identified with the Zionist ideal.

Until 1911 it was not possible for the Zionists to organize large-scale events and celebrations. Since the activists were not wealthy, we could not afford a house with a large hall. On the other hand, it was not advisable to call the attention of the Czarist regime to our activities.

I suggested to my parents that Hanukkah should be celebrated at our home. My father quickly replied, “By all means, it would be a great honor!”

When I shared the news with the Zionist committee they worried: “How can we ask Pochekha to do this for us? He has business with the Russians. We cannot cause problems for him...” But my father responded: “Prepare for Hanukkah evening and let the first Zionist celebration take place in our house!”

The celebratory evening began with the singing of “Hatikva”. Schwartzberg gave a lecture and there was more singing: “Jerusalem”, “Zion Zion My Holy Land”, Sabbath and holiday songs. Wolf and Chana Green sang a duet and the audience praised them with applause.

Among the youth in the hall, I remember many who already belonged to the Zionist movement or sympathized with the cause: Aron Wajfe, Tzvia the daughter of Leibush the ritual slaughterer, Abba Wolman, Zygmunt Stoltzman, Idel Tiber, Yitzchak Fleishman. Shmuel Leib Wolman, who arrived late, was received with clapping and shouts of “bravo!” He did not belong to the group, but he had great respect for progress and culture.

After the holiday the regular weekdays returned. I went back to my studies and was unable to do much for the organization, but I tried to help out whenever I could.


Activists of the Zionist Organization

Top row, from right to left: Yakob Gazalka (teacher), Abraham Zamosc, Sarah Yesenovicz, Melech Tadelis, Landinski (teacher), Rivka Leah Opatowski
Second row: Abraham Prawda, Motka Chajek, Chaia Libe Karasek, Rivka Frenkel, Yechiel Chajek


The Zionist organization participated in activities for the benefit of the community. Among other things, they helped develop a Savings and Loans operation that became a public institution. Shvartzberg was the bookkeeper and I helped as his assistant. The Savings and Loans bank played an important role in the Jewish life of Gombin. It was a democratic institution that belonged to all social classes including artisans, merchants, and other groups.

The meetings of the board of directors remain fresh in my memory. Every member reacted in his own way when there were decisions to make about loans. For example, I recall the polite tailor Faivel Borenstein, whose eyes would lit up with joy every time that his suggestion to increase a loan was accepted, particularly when the applicant was a fruit seller.

Through my work at the Savings and Loans bank, I learned a great deal about the difficulties of people and their feeling of relief when they were able to collect or borrow some money. With the exception of about fifty families, everyone in Gombin benefited from our support.

The Poles had already founded their own Savings and Loans bank in Gombin. People referred to it as the “first” bank; ours was the “second”. A member of our board of directors, Abraham Wolfowicz, had many acquaintances and social influence. He managed to convince some wealthy ethnic Germans from around the region to invest money in our Savings and Loans bank. It was a big success that helped us develop the operation. We were proud that people had more trust in the Jewish bank.

The Zionist Savings and Loan bank had directors, administrators, and auditors. They were all devoted to the institution with heart and soul. And they made an important contribution to Jewish communal life in Gombin.

[Pages 82-83]


by Zelig Etinger (Kibbutz Evron, Israel)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Leon Zamosc


A small Jewish town, there were thousands of them. The place where I spent my childhood and youth. My town Gombin… I see you now like through a painting by Marc Chagall. Crooked blue-grey houses, the old cemetery… Green and brown Jews floating in the air.

Poverty, an existence without purpose, without a future. We felt that our lives were becoming more difficult and restricted day by day. We went on walks to the beautiful forests of Gombin. Some of us believed in humanity and a collectivist form of life. Under our arms we carried the book “Flames” by Stanislav Bzshozovski. We saw people joining the nation, unafraid of suffering or sacrifices. We studied the teachings of Ber Borochov, Marx and Herzl about the reality of the Jews. We went out to the people and summoned them: “come, let's go to Zion”.

We organized the youth movements “Hashomer Hatzair” (The Young Guardian) and “Hechalutz” (The Pioneer). We searched for inspiration to escape towards something new, a different way of life. We worked and studied by an oil lamp until late in the night, trying to obtain a better understanding of the world.

Many followed the revolutionary slogans of the communists, and many others the rousing calls of the Bund.

We nourished from the renaissance of Yiddish culture, reading the books of Peretz, Bialik, and Mendele Mocher Sforim. Through them, we found our path to Zionist activism, and later to the Land of Israel.

In the evenings we strolled along the sidewalks of the market square. We gathered around the pump. On one side of the square stood the town hall. We saw the big clock at Spiewak's and the vaulted windows of the stores and tenement houses. A little further down, the beautiful wooden synagogue, pride and joy of our town. The study house, the washhouse, the synagogue street.

Holidays in our town. Yom Kippur, the mystical Kol Nidre, the conscience of the world is trembling. Passover, the beautiful holiday, filled with tradition and alluring melodies mixed with revolutionary tunes, the songs of the pioneers. Exodus from Egypt, liberation, and the most important blessing: “Next Year in Jerusalem”.

A wedding in town. Celebration with jubilant music. People dancing and crying from joy. We should live to be proud of our children… A funeral. Crying and wailing. The long black procession to the cemetery.

The Rebbe comes to town! People are dancing in the street with the Torah. Summer visitors, happiness and misery, old and young, lights and shadows. Merchants, artisans, workshops, libraries, organizations, sports, soccer, dramatic circles…. Who can remember all the details?


“Hechalutz” organization in Gombin


Far away in the forest, the campsites where our big evenings took place, filled with the content of our youthful dreams. Festive meals and songs to bid farewell to those who departed, those who are today in Israel living the life they strove for, a life that is free and proud.

I lay these words, like flowers soaked in tears, on the grave of my town, for those who were closest and dearest to me…

[Pages 84-86]

Hashomer Hatzair

by Abraham Etinger (Kibbutz Kfar Menahem, Israel)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Leon Zamosc


The first groups of “Hashomer Hatzair” (The Young Guardian) began to form in 1923. The majority of the participants were boys from the “Tarbut” school and girls from the Jewish pubic school.

We were Zionist youngsters who organized social and cultural and activities, but we were never completely satisfied. We were always looking for new forms of organization and action.

While we were not fully aware of it at the time, the ideology of “Hashomer Hatzair” and the scouting character of the movement helped us to become self-sufficient.


Seminar-group of “Hashomer Hatzair”

Standing from right: P. Sochaczewski, Y. Lisak, Ch. Zolna. Kneeling: B. Ber, A. Etinger
Seated: M. Glickzeliger, Ch. Zaideman, M. Stupaj, Ch. Kerber


The Plock branch of “Hashomer Hatzair” had a big initial influence on us. Later on, we were in close contact with the branch in Zychlin. In those times, there were many joint activities for groups of neighboring towns, which frequently visited each other.

In the groups, we read the “Memorial Book” to remember those who had fallen in the Land of Israel. We learned and discussed Jewish history, organized a variety of scouting exercises and games, and there was a lot of singing and dancing. Everybody loved the plays. I remember our first performance as a new organization: we presented “To the far-away land” by Jacob Pat.

In 1925 we formally joined the central organization of “Hashomer Hatzair” in Poland and we absorbed “Guard Trumpeldor”, another group that had been recently created in Gombin. Our core initial group grew and we began to organize new younger groups following the model of the organization.

One of the difficulties we had to face was finding an appropriate place for our activities. That was not an issue during the summer, since Gombin was blessed with forests and our activities could take place in the open, close to nature. The problem was during the winter, when everything had to be done indoors. We did not have the money and government permit that were required to rent a place. Somehow, however, we eventually managed. Our first place was a house near the forest, close to the German cement factory.

I recall with nostalgia our passionate discussions about redeeming the Jewish nation, about the problems of the world, about justice and injustice…. The debates invariably ended with cheery dancing and heartfelt singing by the boys and girls.

Most of our members were children from working families and everybody wanted to learn. “Hashomer Hatzair” was much more than scouting and games. There was a lot of self-teaching, individually and in groups, and we spent a lot of time reading and studying until the late summer hours by an oil lamp during the winter nights. We were interested in social relationships, in the individual and group aspects of the Jewish question, and in the plight of Jewish workers and all the workers in the world. Most of all, we dreamed about our future collective life as kibbutz members in the Land of Israel.

The ambitions of our founding group grew as we started to prepare for “aliyah” (emigration to the Land of Israel). The first stage was “hachshara” (preparatory agricultural training). The first group left for Dombrovitze. When they returned they brought with them new words, ideas, and practical experiences, which served as a model for the younger members.

In the summer we organized camping colonies. We left our small, cramped homes and spent a couple of weeks in the forest or by the Vistula river. Days and nights were filled with scouting activities and games, group talks, singing and dancing. Everything was planned and organized by the groups of youngsters themselves. They spent the entire year preparing for the summer camping colony, organizing gatherings and fundraising events. When summer arrived, everyone was there, despite the fact that many parents worried about their children going away on their own, without adult care or supervision.


A group of “Hashomer Hatzair”

First row from right: M. Zaideman, F. Bibergal, Woideslawski
Second row: Makower, G. Gelbart (Zaideman), F. Bol, D. Tiber
Standing: E. Zaideman, G. Rusak (from Plock), M. Gelbart


A big day in town was when we returned from the camping colony. Younger and older scouts marched through the streets, refreshed and bronzed by the summer sun.

The conditions in Gombin were not good. The situation of Polish Jewry was difficult and hopeless. Still, in our clubhouse the youngsters were joyful, always playing and singing. We organized literary evenings, ideological discussions, recreational activities, summer strolls in the countryside and winter walks through the snow covered pine trees.

The growth of the “Hashomer Hatzair” energized Zionist activism in Gombin. We raised funds for the Jewish National Fund and worked together with “Hechalutz” (The Pioneer) and other young Zionist groups.

In 1929 the older group left for agricultural training. Brimming with pride and devotion, the younger members replaced them at the helm of the organization. They were able to continue the work of the older instructors because they had received preparation on how to educate children and run the activities of the movement.


A group of “Hashomer Hatzair”


The first cohort of “Hashomer Hatzair” pioneers left to the Land of Israel in 1930. The group was small because of the lack of visa permits.

Our organization continued to grow. The small lions became older. At our ceremonial gatherings we lined up by groups and divisions, wearing our scout uniforms, flying our colourful pennants, and singing the anthem of the movement “Tehezaknah”. We were convinced that we would achieve the ideal of our dreams - “aliyah” to the Land of Israel.

Many of us were able to emigrate before the war. But many more stayed behind. They went the way of martyrs, in pain and suffering, unable to fulfill their life's ideal.

Today one can find “Hashomer Hatzair” pioneers from Gombin in various kibbutzim, cities and villages in Israel. Some of the comrades that survived the Shoah ended up in various other countries. They all carry with them the memories from our beautiful youthful years in Gombin.

Kfar Menachem, Erev Rosh Hashanah, September 1946

[Pages 87-88]

Leaving to the Land of Israel

by Bella Tiber-Tzifris

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Leon Zamosc


After three periods of training in agricultural camps, the time has finally come for me to fulfill my dream. Today is July 26 1939. I leave my parents' home and my small town.

I go out on our home's balcony to look around for the last time, to see the town and everything that is close and dear to me.

It is a bright summer morning. The sun is already high and its golden rays shine on the beautiful synagogue of Gombin. The synagogue, surrounded by colorful summer flowers, has stood for hundreds of years. At that holy spot, many generations of our family have prayed. As kids, we had heard the cantor chant Kol Nidre, the blowing of the shofar, and the Hakafot of Simchat Torah. The old synagogue is the pride of the Jews of Gombin.

My father and sister call out to me: “It's getting late, hurry up or we'll be late!” I take in the surroundings with all my senses. The house where I grew up, and the town that was so friendly and known for its hospitality.

I'm leaving home…

Surrounded by my family, friends and neighbors, we approach the market square. Today we are leaving Gombin. We are a group of pioneers on our way to the Land of Israel. A large crowd has gathered in the square. We see our families, friends, childhood buddies, and old Jews in long black coats wrapped in prayer shawls after morning prayers. “Where are you children going?” they ask. “To the Land of Israel,” we reply. “Travel in good health and be successful! Send our regards to the holy land and the holy city of Jerusalem…”

We say our goodbyes. We cannot tear ourselves away from one another… Everybody has tears in their eyes… The truck is already moving, we are leaving Gombin.

The last kisses and hugs from my dear ones, who knows if we will ever see each other again…

The last words: “Travel in good health! Write! Stay healthy!”

I take my last look at our house, at the streets, at and the pump in the middle of the market square, at everything... We are off.

Through the window, with tearful eyes I see our town of Gombin for the last time. Jews in black hats, the Jewish children, the streets where every stone is familiar to me. We pass city hall, the Jewish school where I received my education. It seems to me that I can hear the school bell, the shouting and laughing of the Jewish children, the voices of their caring teachers…


Abraham Tiber, community worker and secretary of the Gemilat Hesed Kasse


The truck moves on. We are crossing the Christian neighborhood. Jewish women with jugs of milk keep waving at us: “God is with you, travel in good health!” I see the top of the church. Slowly, slowly we leave our town Gombin. The last contours disappear… My heart is grieving, the tears are streaming down my cheeks, I cannot utter a word.

On that day, I saw my unforgettable family and all those dear to me for the last time.

[Pages 89-90]

The Jewish Library

by Sidney Guyer (Simcha Chaja), Detroit

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Leon Zamosc


Sidney Guyer


At the beginning of the 20th century a group of boys and girls who were active in the revolutionary movement laid the foundation for a Jewish library in Gombin. They knew well that, in those times, opening a library was a very important deed. They also knew that they would have to face material and political difficulties, but they deeply believed in their dream and made it happen.

They began to collect books, but they soon realized that this would not be enough. There were problems to solve. The biggest problem was: where do we keep the books? And how do we get money to buy new ones? Luckily, the sons and daughters of some well-to-do families liked the idea. They worked hard raising money at various events. Some went to collect bones from the butchers, then sold the bones and saved the money to buy books.

This continued for a few years. Another issue came up: where should we hide the books? Some parents did not allow their children to bring books to their homes because, in those days, many books were forbidden by the authorities or considered “non-Kosher” by the Jews. Therefore, it was necessary to permanently move the books from one place to another. This would change as a result of the First World War, when the Germans chased out the Russians. What had been previously forbidden was now permitted, and we eventually received permission to open a Jewish library in Gombin.

Now the question was: where would the library be located?

A shoemaker by the name of Hersh Mantchik lived on Kutno Street. He was called the “Kutner shoemaker”. There was also the tailors' workshop of Chaim Lurie, where Yosef Laski was a partner. They gave permission to open the library at their place. At that time, I was working as a tailor apprentice at Chaim Lurie's workshop.


Moishe Orbach
“The Rabbi's grandson”,
library and workers' union secretary


I helped carrying boxes of books and building the shelves. Other helpers included Hanoch Goldshmidt, Yitzchak Moishe Chaja, Sh. Adler, Tadelis, Bracha Wolman, Sh. Sochazevski, and many others whose names I no longer remember.

The Jewish library was a great success. The number of readers quickly increased and very soon the space in the two workshops became too small for the library's activities. A larger, more appropriate place was needed. This dream was also realized when the library was moved to a large brick building on the main Market Square.

The new location was bright and nice. It was no longer just a lending library - there was also a reading room where everyone felt at home. There were pictures of Yiddish writers hanging on the walls, and the tables were always full of readers. The book collection continued to grow.


The board of directors of the choir at the library
Standing at right: Choir master Leyzer Finkelstein


In time, the library became the most important cultural institution of Gombin. It hosted a variety of community activities, lectures, meetings, and fundraising events. It was also the home of the drama circle and other cultural groups of the town.

I continued to help as an active member of the library until my departure for America.

[Pages 91-93]

The Drama Circle

by Sidney Guyer (Chaja)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Leon Zamosc

At the turn of the 20th century, Yiddish theatre was very popular in Polish cities and towns. In Gombin, a drama circle was founded by a group of talented people who were active at the library. Eventually, the Jewish drama circle of Gombin became the most popular amateur theatrical group in the region.


The board of directors of the first Drama Circle, 1910

Seated from right: Yosl Szklower, Hershl Luschinski, director Chaim Lurie, Yitzchak Moishe Chaja-Guyer, Leybl Drachman
Standing: Hanoch Goldshmidt


At first, the group faced difficulties. The library hall, for example, was not large and comfortable enough for the growing audience. However, the dedication of the founders and participants allowed them to overcome the difficulties and, in time, the drama circle achieved important accomplishments.

The group's theatrical director was Chaim Lurie. He was very talented, always brilliant in the many roles that he played. He taught evening classes in Gombin, and he was always helping others to develop their acting skills.


The drama circle: director Chaim Lurie playing King Lear


Hershl Tajfeld gave a lot of his time to the drama circle, together with Yitzkhak Moishe Chaja and his wife Bracha, who left for America in the 1920s. For many years, Hanoch Goldshmidt was responsible for the technical aspects of stage and sound. I learned a lot from him. Hershl Luschinski, a well-to-do Gombiner, provided financial help.

Naturally, not everything went smoothly. There were parents who did not like the idea of their children becoming actors. Chana Zychlinska had that problem with her father. She was very talented but her father was opposed from the beginning. He would storm in from behind the scenes and make a scandal. At first he succeeded, but in the end she came back and for many years brightened the amateur group with her talents. She later married Yosl Celemensky who was a prompter as well as a good performer in the drama circle.

Now our town had a group of youngsters who were attracted to the theatre and did not want to wait for the holidays to perform. They wanted to have a stable theatre that performed regularly.


Theatre POLONIA, Gombin
Program in Yiddish and Polish, Saturday May 9, 1927: It's Hard to be a Jew


The move from the library to a larger new location energized the drama circle. Our group was in contact with theater groups from other towns. We would visit them and they would come visit us. One of our most talented actors was Sh. Laski, a great character performer. Other very talented members were: Hershl Karo, Mendl Frenkel, and Lazar Finkelstein who had a beautiful voice. He later organized a choir within the drama circle. By occupation, he was a tailor, but his singing vocation prevailed and he eventually became a famous cantor in Poland and Germany.


The Drama Circle Youth at the Library

First from right: Director P. Zandman
Standing: Hanoch Goldshmidt


Other active members of the drama circle were: Yakov Celemensky, Lipek Maydat, Moishe Wolman, Hinda Schwartz, Rude Gostynska, Chaja Wrubel, Chatzkel Hodys, Moishe Orbach, Zelda Tajfeld, Moishe Chaja… It is impossible for me to pay tribute to all those who helped with the plays, with the technical work, and with their support and encouragement. But one thing can be said: the Gombin drama circle was one of the most prized cultural gems of our town and it continued to be very active until the war. Eventually, however, the storm that hovered over Poland would not spare anything. The star of the drama circle, like every other light of Jewish existence in Gombin, would be ruthlessly extinguished by the Nazi murderers.


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