The International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Israel’s leading Center for Holocaust Remembrance, has launched a new educational program dedicated to the topic of the shtetl. To give both students and the general public an idea of how prewar Jewish shtetl life looked, they selected the Jewish community of Gombin. Using images from the 1937 Sam Rafel film of Gombin and material from the Gombin Yizkor Book, they create a powerful and compelling picture of shtetl life. One of the components in the learning environment is an interactive map (based on the map sketched by Wolf Mantzyk) that incorporates segments from Rafel’s film. We are grateful to Dafna Dolinko and Natalie Mandelbaum for their attention to Gombin’s Jewish community; they honor the work of many Gombiners all over the world and the memory of our ancestors who are featured in the program and those who perished in the Holocaust.
Jewish settlement on Gąbin dates to the Middle Ages, and the Jewish Kehila (community) was already established in the 13th Century. That community was destroyed during World War II, but its history lives on. This Master’s Thesis represents the most comprehensive and scholarly historical overview of Jewish Gąbin, with a particular focus on the 20th Century, inter-war period. The original was written in Polish and translated into English by Leon Zamozc.
Watch the historic footage of this unique home-made film of the Gombin Jewish community taken by Sam Rafel during his return visit to Gąbin 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 Gąbin, 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 Gąbin.” 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 www.zchor.org, the website of Ada Holtzman.
Jacob Rothbart provides a thoughtful, warm and complex overview of the life of Jews in Gombin, covering a wide range of topics including demographics, politics, multiculturalism and ethnic conflict, cultural and civic organizations, religious life, schools, and theater. This article was written in Yiddish, translated to English and published in the 1969 Yizkor Book.