Reconstructing Memories - The Gombin Synagogue, 2016:
(12 minutes; mp4 file)

Take a digital tour of the Gombin Synagogue model created by Wojciech Wasilewski, Michał Sroka and their team from historic photographs and architectural drawings. Examine the ancient structure, built in the 18th century, both inside and outside. Enter the sanctuary and hear the haunting voice of a Chazan chanting the Kol Nidre. Climb the stairs to the women’s balcony and imagine our grandmothers.
Gombin was the site of one of the most celebrated wooden synagogues of Poland for more than 200 years. Built in 1710, it was regarded as a landmark historical building, part of the national cultural heritage that was under special supervision of the government's Department of Museums. It stood near the old town square and was burned to the ground by the Nazi army in September 1939. Many historic photos of both the exterior architecture and the interior details exist in archives. An issue of B’nai Gombin (#35), reported on the scale model of the synagogue, painstakingly researched and built by Wojciech Wasilewski; it is permanently installed at the State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw. With financial support from the Gombin Society, Wasilewski, Sroka, and Piotr Opalinski have now created a video tour through the model synagogue. The DVD, “Reconstructing Memories -‐ the Gombin Synagogue 3d Model”, was first shown in both Płock and Gąbin during a conference in 2016. The video tour begins with historic photos from all sides of the synagogue; moves to architectural drawing of the details, and then enters the front doors. The viewer is guided through the details of the model’s interior, showing the beautiful features of the bima (stage) and the aron hakodesh (arc holding the Torah scrolls). The virtual tour takes the viewer up the stairs to the two women’s balconies. The cantorial music of the Avinu Malkenu and the Kol Nidre prayers evokes the last Yom Kippur celebrated in Gombin. The haunting silence that follows, recuperates the feeling of the synagogue after the end of Yom Kippur when the worshipers have returned home for the break-fast and the building is empty. The sound of the wind outside is a chilling anticipating its destruction.

Back to Gombin, 2002: (56 minutes)

Minna Packer’s documentary returns us to the town of Gombin, the shtetl of our families and ancestors, with a group of Gombiners from all over the world. There have no Jews living in Gombin itself since 1942. We see the town as it was in 1998. Participate in the rededication of the Jewish Cemetery and the establishment of a monument to Gombiners killed in the Holocaust at Chełmno. Share the joyful stories and painful memories of survivors, children of Gombiners and the next generation.
Packer skillfully incorporates rare archival footage shot in 1937 by an American born in Gombin with contemporary scenes to tell the story of 50 children of Holocaust survivors who return to their parents' village in Poland. They make friends, unexpectedly, with some of their parents' former neighbors and together they pay homage to their ancestors in this town where Jews and Christians lived together in peace for centuries. We join them at the rededication of the Jewish cemetery, restoring tombstones desecrated and used as road paving; at the placement of a monument to the Jewish victims at Chełmno, the first extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland; and at the Konin slave labor camp's mass grave, where the filmmaker's grandfather is buried. This moving film makes a strong statement about the continuity of life and the need of subsequent generations to remember. (from National Center for Jewish Film). View Film
Visit Minna's website about the making of "Back to Gombin"

The Lilliput; A story of survival, 2002

This uncompleted, new motion picture project is from Minna Packer. The dramatic film is inspired by the true story of a Jewish dwarf in Gombin who miraculously survived the Holocaust. The story tells us a great deal about the relationships between Jews and Poles in pre-war Poland. Clips from the trailer are available.
A review by Ronit Treatman, was published in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, April 20, 2014. “ The Lilliput will illustrate how Abraham Kerber was able to defeat the odds of surviving the war by using his weaknesses as strengths. This dark fairy tale, which is being shot in Gąbin and Łodz, Poland, promises to be one of the most moving new films being produced about the Holocaust. But this is much more than a Holocaust story; it’s a tale about the complex lives in these multicultural communities and about love. “Umchik was a photographer and an ardent Zionist. His best friend was Esther, a Jewish woman who converted to Christianity to marry a gentile. Her family and community disowned her for making this choice, and Abraham remained her only friend. As the war progressed, Umchik and Esther supported and understood each other as no one else could. “When the war was over, Umchik moved to Israel. He settled in Kiryat Tivon, and worked as a journalist and photographer. He died on April 19, 1978, and was buried in Kiryat Tivon. The names of his relatives who perished in the Holocaust were etched on his tombstone. The final inscription reads, “G-d will avenge their blood.” “The script was written by filmmaker, screenwriter and producer Minna Packer. She is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the Pratt Institute, and a Fullbright scholar at the Lodz Film School. She previously directed and produced the documentary Back to Gombin.” View film

Trip to Gombin, Poland 1937: (26 minutes)

Watch the historic footage of this unique home-made film of the Gombin Jewish community taken by Sam Rafel during his return visit to Gombin in 1937. Intended to remind the American Jewish community of the difficult conditions in Poland after the depression, this film has become a major documentary of Jewish life in the Polish shtetl. It can be seen at The U.S. Holocaust Museum, at The State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw, and at the Imperial War Museum in London.
Footage depicts a 1937 trip to Gombin, Poland, shot by Sam Rafel. 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 filmed 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. Some of the subjects are identified at, the website of Ada Holtzman.View Film

Gathering of Gombiner Jews in New York, c1940s: (14 minutes)

This footage from the camera of Sam Rafel shows several gathering of American-Gombiner Jews in New York. The first section shows a group of Jews on the "Hendrick Hudson" boat cruising the Hudson River from New York City to Albany, NY. Women pose for group shots; four women walk towards the camera, recalling the Rafel film from Gombin in 1937. There are segments at outdoor gatherings, large dinner parties, meetings with speakers at the podium, and what might be a clip of Rafel in an office. There is no narration or further explanation.
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 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 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. View Film