About Gombin | HISTORY

A brief history of Jewish life in Gombin and a list of bibliographical resources.

The earliest facts that are known about Gombin (Gabin, in Polish) date from the 14th century, when the area was under the dukes of Azov. Gombin's location on the road from Plock to Lubitz shaped its development as a commercial center for the surrounding agricultural area. In 1437 the Duke of Azov Chaimovit gave to Gombin the status of town. These rights were later confirmed by the Kings of Poland. In the 17th Century, the Swedish War brought much destruction to Gombin, which was abandoned by many of its residents. In 1795, after the third partition of Poland, the town was controlled by Prussia. In 1807 it was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, and from 1815 until the First World War it was part of the territory of the Congress of Poland. Gombin's development resumed in the early 18th Century, as a center of commerce and craftsmanship. A brick factory was established in 1819, and by 1869 there were 3 tanneries in Gombin.

There is no precise information about the beginnings of the Jewish community in Gombin. The first historical evidence can be found in a 1564 list of municipal taxpayers, which includes a few Jewish names. At the time, most of the Jews of Gombin made a living out of petty commerce and artisanal work, while a few were involved in the trade and export of hides. The Christian merchants and artisans opposed the settlement of Jews in Gombin. In 1576, answering to complaints of the Polish shoemakers, King Zigmunt III issued a decree forbidding the Jews to purchase hides from the peasants that lived around the town. They could buy the hides only in the town market, after the end of the morning mass of the Christians. The decree was reaffirmed in 1582 by King Stefan Batory, who added regulations prohibiting Jews from buying milk from the peasants. In 1656, during the Swedish invasion, the Polish military chief S. Tzarneitski accused the Jews of Gombin of cooperating with the enemy, and Polish soldiers went on the rampage against the Jews of the town.

With the renewed development of the town in the early 18th Century, there was some growth of the Jewish community. But the Jews were only allowed to live in some of the streets of the town. In 1710, a wooden synagogue was built in Gombin. In more modern times, the synagogue came to be regarded as a landmark historical building, part of the national cultural heritage that was under special supervision of the Department of Museums of the Polish Ministry of Education. Throughout this time, the Jews of the town continued to make a living out of petty commerce and artisanal work. There were also some tax collectors and a few Jews working in agriculture, mainly as fruit producers who rented land from German colonists. Court documents in Warsaw indicate that in 1690 Christian merchants complained about the Jewish tax collectors Jacob from Gostynin and his son Yiocham from Gombin. Between 1823 and 1862 the Jews of Gombin were restricted to a special section of the town (harevir).

Gombin had an organized Jewish community since the beginning of the 18th Century. Among the distinguished rabbis from this community are Chaim Halevi and Abraham Abele Gombiner who wrote the  Magen Abraham .

Before the First World War, the majority of Jewish children studied in  hedarim . At the turn of the century the heder hametukan, based on modern pedagogic methods, was introduced in Gombin. In 1914, a group of young intellectuals founded a library that had an attached reading room. In 1915 the town was occupied by the Germans, who allowed the residents to organize socially and politically. In the municipal elections of January 1917, the Jewish residents of Gombin won 12 of the 18 seats in the council. In those years, the chief rabbi was Yehuda Zlotnik, a supporter of the Zionist movement. In 1927 he was replaced by Rabbi Nutkowitz.

Between the First and the Second World Wars, most Jews in Gombin continued to make a living from small-scale commerce, peddling, and artisanal work. They owned shops and market stands where they sold cloth, all sorts of small items, hides, shoes, and groceries. Among the 488 artisans and craftsmen of the town, there were 198 Jews representing all the branches of production. In 1935 there were 65 tailors, 15 needleworkers, 25 seamstresses and embroiderers, 7 cap makers, 28 shoemakers, 5 locksmiths, 10 tinshmiths, 4 furniture makers, 4 builders, and 5 barbers. In addition, there were 5 bakers and 14 butchers in the town. Some Jews made a living from transport (carriers and owners of carts). There were Jewish workers employed in the factories of the town, in the tanneries and in shoemaking. Surrounded by pine woods, Gombin has a refreshing athmosphere, and some of the Jews made a living out of services for vacationers. Some resting homes were established, and the grocery business expanded.

By this time, several organizations of mutual help and welfare were active in Gombin. In 1922, 129 artisans created an unified association. Later, chapters of this organization were formed by trades: apparel workers in 1933, tailors and needleworkers in 1935, and also locksmiths, tinsmiths, bakers, and butchers.

In 1922 the merchants created an "Association of Small Merchants" that had 92 members. The year 1927 saw the establishment of a loan cooperative that provided loans to craftsmen and merchants. The capital of the cooperative reached the sum of 10,000 zlotys, providing loans for about 700 Jews every year. In that same year the Popular Bank Cooperative was created, with an initial capital of 17,000 zlotys. In 1931 the associations of craftsmen and merchants created the Bank of Artisans and Small Merchants with an initial capital of 10,000 zlotys.

These institutions were helpful to many of the Jews of Gombin, whose situation worsened as a result of the economic crisis of 1928-1930. However, despite the mutual help, there was crushing poverty among many of the artisans and peddlers of the town. The poor were helped by welfare organizations, among which the most important were the Bread House, founded in 1923 to help the poorest people, and Linat Tzedek, created in 1926 to provide shelter for the homeless and medical help to the needy. The economic crisis and the lack of employment pushed many Jews overseas. Between 1920 and 1935, 47 Jewish families and 127 individuals emigrated from Gombin (3 of these families and 31 individuals went to Palestine).

During the period between the First and the Second World Wars, the Gombin Jews were noted for their social and cultural activism. There were local chapters of all the Jewish parties that existed in Poland at the time. All the different sectors of the Zionist movement were represented: theGeneral ZionistsPoalei ZionMizrahi, and Tzahar. The Zionist Youth Movements had branches in the town: Hashomer Hatzair (since 1922), Hashomer Hadati (since 1937). Many members of these movements went to  kibutzei hakshara . There was also a local chapter ofWIZO, with 35 members. As for the non-Zionist parties, both the Agudat Israel and the Bund were represented in Gombin. All these groups competed for leverage within theKahal. After the 1931 elections, the composition of the Kahal board was as follows: Zionists 3 seats; artisans 4 seats, Agudat Israel 1 seat.

Throughout this period most of the children continued to attend the traditional  hedarim  and the Tilmud Torah that was run by the Kahal. But they also attended the Polish official school. There were evening courses, also supported by the Kahal, in which young workers could learn Hebrew and Jewish history. Attempts to establish modern schools were not successful, as the new schools had to be closed on account of the difficult economic situation of the majority of the Jews. The Tarbut school existed until 1926, and the Agudat Israel school and the Tzisha Children's Home were both closed in 1933. Between the World Wars, two libraries existed in Gombin. The library of the Zionists had about 3,000 books in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish. The library of the Bundists had about 2,700 books. Attached to the Bund library there was a drama and literature group. The main sporting clubs in Gombin were Maccabi (since 1921) and Hapoel (founded in 1935).