“Back to Gombin” Again, Remembering Ada
By Meredith Nelson
As Gombiners plan a 2018 trip to Poland, its excitement and anticipation are tempered. It’s hard to imagine such a journey without Ada Holtzman. September 29th marked the yahrzeit of Ada’s death.
“Ada was larger than life,” said Mindy Prosperi, one of untold numbers of people who discovered their families with Ada’s help. “She was the soul of so much of the work we’ve done. Even people who just called up desperate for information, could always rely on her. She changed their lives.”
Ada’s indefatigable research on Jewish life in Gombin and throughout Eastern Europe was done in devotion to the memory of her parents, Meir and Rivka Holtzman who escaped from Europe on the Colorado in an illegal boatlift of Jews to Palestine in July of 1939. Two months later, the Nazis overtook Gombin, burning the landmark synagogue to the ground. Of Gombin’s Jews who lived through the initial brutality, the able-bodied were conscripted into the Konin work camp, with others sent to their deaths at Chełmno.
Meir Holtzman- a zealous socialist, Zionist, and a leader in the Hashomer Hatzair movement- became a founder of Kibbutz Evron in Israel, where Ada grew up and is now laid to rest. Her mother died too young, in 1969; Ada’s website, www.zchor.org, is dedicated to the beloved Rivka. Before his death in 1998, Meir translated his memoirs and parts of the Gombin Yizkor Book from Yiddish to Hebrew.
Ada considered it one of her most sacred duties, as caretaker of Beit Gombin in Tel Aviv, to honor the dead, meticulously preserving a memorial wall there composed of plaques with the names of Gombiners who perished in the Shoah. Once a year she held a candle-lighting remembrance of the Holocaust, attended by Gombiners from Israel and sometimes from more far-flung places, including Poland, Australia, the United States, and South America.
Moshe Lewenberg from Rishon LeZion, a longtime friend of Ada’s, recalls one of those nights. A striking woman walked in for the ceremony. She had a harrowing story of narrow escape from Gombin during the war, including being rescued and hidden by a non-Jewish woman. When he learned that her name was Wolfovich, Moshe was stunned. He knew the name well from stories of his own mother, whose life in Gombin was one of poverty, hardship and sometimes misery. One day his mother had polished the floors of an opulent home—to her a palace—near the fashionable town square of Gombin. It belonged to the Wolfoviches, one of the wealthiest families in Gombin. Across a chasm of time, in Tel Aviv, the woman lit a candle, and Wolfovich, Lewenberg, Holtzman, united in remembrance as they might never have back in Gombin, across a chasm of social class.
In 1999, on the grounds of Chełmno, before a gathering of Gombin descendants, Ada stated: “Only about 50 years ago, they did not distinguish between Left and Right, between secular and observant, between Hasidim and people of the intelligentsia, between the simple men and the great rabbis. There, everybody with Jewish blood in his veins shared a common fate. But as one survivor once said, ‘What we need is not one day to remember, but one day to forget.”
Throughout her tireless commitment to Jewish genealogy, Holocaust memorial, and resurrecting the stories of our Polish town, Ada never ceased repeating her well-known mantras: “We remember!” and “Never forget.” We remember, Ada, whom we will never forget.