Destruction of the Gombin Synagogue

gombin wooden synagogue

History, accounts and images of the famous wooden synagogue of Gombin.

The wooden synagogue of Gombin was built in 1710 and restored in 1893. Despite all the fires that occurred in Gombin, the synagogue was never damaged. A town legend spread that ancient rabbis had blessed the synagogue that it would never burn down. In 1939, however, Nazi officers destroyed the synagogue by setting it and the surrounding Jewish community structured on fire.

Account of the Destruction of the Gombin Synagogue

The Jewish settlement in Gabin was extremely old. The synagogue, also very old, was built of wood in Oriental style. The thick wooden logs, lying one on top of another, were still fresh and in good condition.

Above the synagogue entrance there were two tall turrets, each topped by a flag. The flag on the right turret had the year 1710 imprinted on It and the flag on the left turret had the year 1893 imprinted on It. One can assume that 1710 is the year the synagogue was built and 1893 the year when it was restored. It can thus be established that the synagogue was 231 years old.

The synagogue contained a magnificently carved ark. According to legend, it was designed without the use of any tools, with the craftsman utilizing nothing more than a single carving knife. In the anteroom to the right of the entrance there was a set of shackles once used for religious offenders. There were neck-fetters shaped like two hoops, which were locked around the offender’s neck. The ascent to the bimah consisted of six small steps. On the bimah there was a chair for Elijah the prophet. The six steps were therefore associated with the ‘six steps of the throne’ (I Kings 10:19. The reference here is to a description of King Solomon’s throne).

Inside the synagogue there hung an old brass chandelier, crowned with a Polish eagle. The chandelier hailed from before the time of the first partition of Poland (1772). The eastern wall was covered with old sheets of brass which were engraved with various flowers. There was an ark-covering fashioned from the saddle of a Tartar general, sewn with threads of pure gold. The inscription was deciphered by Dr. Schipper. There were more than fifty Torah scrolls, as well as ancient, antique curtains for the ark.

Next to the synagogue, there was also a beys medresh, built in 1833, which housed five Torah scrolls.

There was a widespread legend in Gabin that ancient rabbis had given the synagogue a blessing that it would never burn down. And in fact, despite all the fires which occurred in town, including many which devoured almost everything, none of them touched the synagogue. Even during the bombing and shooting, during which the synagogue was perforated by bullet holes, it did not catch fire.

The governor’s office forbade any alteration of the synagogue’s appearance, to prevent it from losing its antiquated style. Several Catholic priests even proposed to the Kehilah, in the governor’s name, to have a new synagogue erected and preserve the old one in its current form.

“They” came in on September 9, 1939. They immediately began to persecute the Jews in the most terrible ways. First there were a series of beard-cuttings and of roundups for forced labor during which Jewish men were beaten murderously. Then the Jews were required to pay an enormous fine, house searches were insti- tuted during which they’robbed Jews of all their possessions.

On Thursday, September 21, 1939, the order came for all Jewish men to assemble at the new marketplace. Everyone, needless to say, heeded the command. They were awaited at the market by soldiers who beat them horribly. At the same time, military officers set fire to the synagogue with gasoline. The synagogue, beys medresh and the entire outlying Jewish quarter were consumed by fire. The Torah scrolls had been rescued beforehand and were hidden in the cellar of a brick house. The silver Torah ornaments had also been removed to the iron safe in the Kehilah offices. But both these buildings were totally burned down in the synagogue fire. Thus the Torah scrolls and silver ornaments were also lost.

Several Jews were pushed into the flames by the military officers who set the fire, and were saved from certain death only thanks to a miracle.


Rabbi Shimon Huberband, Jewish Religious and Cultural Life in Poland During the Holocaust(Yeshiva University Press, 1987), pp. 305-307.

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