Sam Rafel Collection
Gombin Jewish Historical & Genealogical Society
Footage depicts a 1937 trip to Gombin, Poland (123 km northwest of Warsaw) shot by Sam Rafel. All identifications are from the website of Ada Holtzman, a member of the Gombin Society. The first shot is a grainy, dark interior shot of a crowd of people. This might be the crowd that assembled for Sam Rafel's 1937 visit. He wrote, "the affair took place in the Firemen's Hall, in the presence of three thousand people, virtually the whole Jewish population of Gombin." The quality is much improved in the next scenes, which are street portraits, where Rafel posed people in groups and asked them to walk toward the camera. Although the subjects exhibit a certain stiffness, most of these people smile and seem at ease, probably due to the fact that they were comfortable with Rafel. Many of the people look as if they have dressed up for the occasion of being filmed. Sam Rafel has a habit of panning down to the subject's feet and then back up again. This happens many times throughout the footage.
01:01:36 A crowd in front of a building (some of them Poles?). More people walking toward the camera, including a young boy identified as Icek Wodjdeslawski, and three elderly religious men: Icchak Wisper, Siekerka, and Zychlinski. 01:03:38 A large group of men, women and children (the Bauman family) assemble, smiling, and all walk toward the camera. A man in a suit and tie (Idyl Tadelis) stands amongst a group of smiling children. The camera pans around a group of townspeople; another large group shot in front of a building.
01:06:32 Pan up the Gombin synagogue, which was built in 1710 and would be destroyed by the Germans on Yom Kippur, 1939. More shots of the synagogue.
01:07:59 Scenes in the Jewish cemetery. Translations of tombstones that follow come from Madeleine Isenberg and Ada Holtzman. See notes field for more information. Two men stand beside the gravestone of Avraham Menachem, son of Chaim Yehuda Szacher. 01:08:09 One of the same men stands beside a tombstone reading: Reb Zvi Natan, son of Ze'ev Zolna...Died 75 years...On the Holy Sabbath, 4th Adar II 5692 (13 March 1932). 01:08:43 Tombstone reads: The woman Minka, wife of Chananiah Wojdislawski. Here we are crying for our dear, upright mother Minka, daughter of Aaron Leib Zychlinski. She left sons. Died 1st Cheshvan 5693 (31 October, 1932).01:08:44 Tombstone reads: Shimon Chaim Kalinski...from our hearts the calamity that happened when our father was taken from us. The flory of our heads was taken, Shimon Chaim, son of Yehuda, died 17 Adar II 5679 (March 19, 1919). 01:08:57 Tombstone reads: Malka Rivka, wife of Zvi Yosef Slama, died January 15th, 1905, daughter of Menashe Pas the cohen. In Yiddish: Here lies our dear mother Malka Rivka, who died 60 years old. 01:09:07 Tombstone reads: ...A pious man Jechiel Michael, son of Meir Pioro, died January 15th, 1935. 01:09:16 Tombstone reads: Reb Shmuel Wyrobek, son of Ziskind Z"L, died 6th Tevet 1924 (December 14th, 1924. (MI note: there was no 6th Tevet in 1924). In Yiddish: Here lies my dear husband, our dear father, Shmuel Wyrobek, 60 years old. In memoriam. 01:09:03 Tombstone reads: Reizel, daughter of Zvi Yehuda Buber (?) Died 19th Adar 5660 (or possibly 5640). 01:09:27 Tombstone reads: Our dear and esteemed mother, died in her 88th year, in Heaven she will find her eternal rest, Raizel wife of Szlomo David Keselman, daughter of Ze'ev Pitel, died May 7th, 1935. 01:09:42 Two men identified as the brothers Yankele (left) and Szymon Hodis. They stand beside a tomstone that reads: Mrs. Dvorah, daughter of Aron the Levite...A respected and modest woman. An old woman...84 years old. Left sons and daughters. Dvorah, wife of Avraham Yehuda Hodis. 01:09:45 Tombstone reads: Reb Avraham Yehuda, son of Yitzhak the Levite Hodis, died Tuesday of Parsha Ekev, 21st Av 56??.
Shots of poorly dressed men (perhaps to illustrate's Rafel's point about poverty in Gombin?). The quality of the footage deteriorates shortly after this scene. People gather in a wooded setting.
01:12:02 The quality improves. More portraits. A young couple; two women in front of a wooden building. Another large group assembles. An older woman and a young girl get up from their seats on a bench and walk in lockstep toward the camera. Again in a wooded area, adults and children stand around. One child holds a ball. 01:14:00 A crying blond toddler stands on the elevated base of a well pump. Jewish scouts in uniforms (boys and girls) march down a cobblestone road. A man holding a baby smiles at the camera. Two older women (sisters?) walk arm -in-arm toward the camera, laughing. A man in a white shirt and suspenders is identified as "Hershele Luszynski, father of Szmuel...among the founders of Kibbutz Ein Hachorech, Israel." Shots of women and children in a sunny courtyard in front of a building.
01:17:02 A crowd in front of the town's Catholic church, which was also destroyed by the Germans. A group of people standing and seated in front of a house. One of the men in the group is identified as Hershele Zolna. More shots of this group, then the camera pans up to take in the deteriorating roof of one of the houses. More shots of people; a group of boys holding a covered container of some kind. Adults stand still looking at the camera while children crowd around to get into the shot. 01:21:02 Quality worsens again; children dancing. An old woman with glasses and a black shawl. A man with a cane, wearing a World War I-era Polish military uniform. 01:21:45 A man identified as Avrumele Tyber, secretary of the Free Loan Bank. Children and adults in a clearing in the woods. Hammocks hang from trees. A group of girls with their arms around each other skip toward the camera. 01:23:30 Stalls in a market, identified as Thursday's market. Crowds of people. More portraits. Men constructing a fence. Two men standing beside a car are identified as Dawid and his father Szymon Hodys. Mania Segal is one of the women standing in front of a building. A woman in a print dress is identified as Chana Friedman. She stands with her husband Zalma Boruch and an older woman.
Print-outs of the IDs from Ada Holtzman's website (as of July 2005) are available in the Film and Video department's files. Thanks to Ada Holtzman and Madeline Isenberg. Madeline Isenberg is an expert on reading tombstones and her email address is available from Film and Video staff.
Biography / History:
Sam Rafel, the son of a tailor, left Gombin, Poland in 1913 at the age of 17 and immigrated to New York. He planned for his move to be temporary, but what little savings he had managed to accrue was lost when the bank he used went bankrupt. He eventually became active in efforts to aid both Gombin Jews in the US and those who remained in Poland. He went back to Gombin first in 1930, then with his wife in 1937, when he shot this film. On both occasions he took with him sizeable amounts of money that he had raised for the Gombin Jewish community. Later, Mr. Rafel screened this film on many occasions in the United States and Israel, hoping to expose the poverty in which the Gombiner Jews lived as well as the anti-Semitism of the Polish government. He led the effort to provide relief in Gombin and, after the Holocaust, helped to resettle survivors and establish a Gombiner House in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The Jews of Gombin were concentrated into a ghetto by the Germans in early 1940. During the first half of 1941, they began to be rounded up and sent to labor camps in Konin, Endziov, and Hohenzaltz. Many of those ended up in Auschwitz. On May 12, 1942, the Nazis liquidated the Gombin ghetto and deported the remaining Jews to Chelmno. 212 of the approximately 2300 pre-war Jewish population survived. Source: Pinkas Hakehilot, Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities. Poland, Volume 4: Warsaw and its Region. Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1989.
2005.26.1 The footage was shot on 16mm film by Sam Rafel. Mr. Rafel's descendants donated the film to the Gombin Jewish Historical and Genealogical Society. The Gombin Jewish Historical and Genealogical Society had the film digitally restored by October Films and donated it to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in January 2005. The film was also donated to other cultural institutions in earlier years, including Yad Vashem and the Imperial War Museum.
JEWISH LIFE (PRE-WAR)
Gombin Jewish Historical & Genealogical Society
16mm; DigiBeta; Betacam SP; VHS
01:00:00 - 01:25:47
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of the Gombin Jewish Historical and Genealogical Society