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The German Occupation of Gombin

Translated by Melvyn Wrobelby

Edited by Leon Zamosc

[Not included in the original book]

The following report describes conditions in Gombin during and immediately after the German occupation. It was found in the Warsaw Ghetto Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. The archives were compiled by Emanuel Ringelbaum, a Jewish historian who participated in the Jewish underground Oneg Shabbat. During the Warsaw Ghetto uprising the archives were buried in milk containers and, after the war, a substantial part of the material was recovered and made part of the Jewish Historical Institute's collections. It can be surmised that this particular report was written by one of the Gombin Jewish community leaders who were smuggled to Warsaw in order to elude the Germans' systematic killing of the Jewish and Polish “intelligentsia” of the smaller cities and towns.

 

Gombin, Gostynin county, Warsaw province

The town of Gombin has 6,000 residents. Fifty percent are Jews. As the fighting developed between Warsaw and Lanzig (Lacko) during the first days of September 1939, German airplanes attacked Gombin with regular bombs and firebombs. About 75% of the buildings in the Jewish center of the town were destroyed in the area of the Pieracki and Narutovich streets. Several hundred people died under the rubble. Many of them were people from neighboring cities and towns like Plock, Sierpc, and Rypin. They had come to Gombin in search of refuge from the German invasion. By mid–September there had been direct and indirect attacks on Gombin and, on Sunday September 17 in the afternoon the Germans entered the town. Difficult days were coming for the Jews.

On Thursday, September 21, they ordered all men aged 16 to 65 to concentrate in Pilsudski square at 10 am. The square was surrounded by German soldiers heavily equipped with machine–guns. For six hours we were there, in two large separate groups of Jews and Poles. We waited, afraid and uncertain, not knowing what the outcome would be. At about 2 pm the Germans set ablaze the synagogue, a wooden building with great historical value, and also the Beit Midrash that was on Boznica street. They also put on fire two neighboring streets of the Jewish quarter and also Kilinskiego street. Some old men tried to put off the fire and the women risked their life trying to save the sefer torahs. At 4 pm the men were released and went to watch the smouldering remains of the synagogue and the Beit Midrash.

This took place on the eve of Yom Kippur 5700. The fire was still going on and they attempted to save some of the houses. For trying to do it the Germans started beating them with the butts of their guns and tried to make some Jews jump into the fire. They also forced them to dance and sing, and burned the peyote (sidelocks) of the elderly Jews. Then they started to loot, taking everything from the Jewish stores. There were Poles, underworld types, and also local ethnic Germans doing that. In the days that followed, they issued a decree forbidding the Jews to run their businesses. They confiscated much of the leather goods, flour, sugar, and other products from the stores. And they raided the houses to take people to work, mistreating the Jews in every possible way.

 

Fascimile of the report on conditions in Gombin
(Warsaw Ghetto Archives, Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw)

 

People in all the Jewish organizations in town started to discuss what to do. On October 15, an order came from Gostynin to Abraham Lajb Gips, born in 1878 and President of the Small Business Association and the FolksBank, telling him that he had to form a Judenrat. He had to organize it with seven people from the different organizations in the Kehila.

The Judenrat started to work under the jurisdiction of the municipal authority. They had to supply workers from ages 16 to 60, one day a week. For a while, it seemed that things would get more or less settled, at least in terms of order.

On November 10 and 11, social activists and organizers were arrested in Gombin. Among them was the President of the Kehila and Director of the FolksBank Abraham Zamosc and the director of the Jewish Public School Yitzhak Rembaum, They put them in the school. By the next day, other people who expected to be arrested had left the town and gone to Warsaw, including Abraham Lajb Gips, the organizer of the Gombin Judenrat.

Thanks to the efforts of the Gombiner delegates in Warsaw, Abraham Gibs and Lajb Siekerka, the office of the “Joint” (American Joint Distribution Committee) agreed to organize and open a soup kitchen in Gombin, and also to distribute clothing and medicines to help the Jews. A Help Committee was organized in Gombin to receive the assistance of the “Joint” and explore possibilities for emigration.

On November 2/3, the authority issued the order that the Jews had to wear a Star of David on their clothing. They could not walk on the sidewalks, and they had to take off their hats in the presence of any German soldier. They had to wear the yellow markers on their backs and also on the right side of their breast. Then the S.A. (Sturmabteilung) men started to break into the Jewish homes, beating men and women, regardless of age. They poured cold water on naked bodies, beating with sticks until people fainted. One of the houses they raided was that of Gershon Gezeldman. Despite the screaming and desperate pleas of the mother, two S.S. (Schutzstaffel) men took away the 14 year–old daughter. On the next day she was found dead outside the town.

With these events the Jewish population lived in apprehension, feeling insecure, and the parents of the girl who got beaten and raped had to pay for the burial.

An order was given that the Jews could not be seen after 5 pm buying groceries in Pieracki square. Then, in May 1940, they imposed a collective fine of 20 thousand marks on the Jews, making the Judenrat responsible for collecting the money. Some members of the Judenrat tried to appeal, saying that they would not be able to raise that amount. They were beaten unmercifully.

Because of the looting the Jews lost everything they had. Since they could not afford to buy food or medicines, hunger and typhus broke out. The Germans did that to speed up the deaths among the Jews.

 

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