Thursday, November 16, 2000 • No. 23


„Ein Museum von Euch und für Euch“
Aufbau im Gespräch mit W. Michael Blumenthal

Perfect Families: Pressures of the Holiday Season

A Response to the Confusion in Florida
Ad in the New York Times urges revote in West Palm Beach County

“Die USA ist das politischrückständigste Land”
New Yorker Grüne in der Wahlnacht: Zwischen Frust und Hoffnung

Wahlurnen: Schmetterlinge im Bauch
Impressionen aus Florida

Wer bringt jetzt den Frieden?
Egal wer gewinnt, Amerikas Rolle in der Welt steht auf dem Spiel

Die jüdischen Dimensionen einer Kandidatur
Senator Joseph Lieberman aus rabbinischer Sicht

Gespür für Geschichte
Rudolf Scharping mit dem Human Rights Awardder Anti-Defamation League ausgezeichnet

Allianz kommt an die Wall Street
Deutscher Konzern sucht Übernahme-Kandidaten

Zypora Spaisman – eine lebende Legende
Jiddisches Theater hat ein neues Zentrum

Die jüdische Frage in ihrer Unendlichkeit
Eine Retrospektive über das Werk des Malers R.B. Kitaj in der Marlborough Gallery

Viel zu sehen, nichts zu fühlen
Das Guggenheim Museum zeigt Mode von Armani

Wissenschaftler sind auch Menschen
Michael Apted portraitiert sieben Naturwissenschaftler

Er wusste, wer Hitler war
Drehort New York: John Slade vor der Kamera für den Dokumentarfilm Enemy Aliens

Der Schatz

Ich, das Designund die Weltstadt
„I like NY“ erfunden: Milton Glaser

Der Granatapfelmantel zum Überziehen
Ausstellung für Kinder zeigt Leben biblischer Vorfahren

Wenn die Schwarzen nicht ganz schwarz sind
Screening Prejudice – Eine Filmserie des Education & Humanities-Institutes der Brooklyn Academy of Music

Die Zellen New Yorks
Was man beim Aufzugfahren lernen kann

Siebenundzwanzigverschiedene Apfelschälmaschinen
Die New York Historical Society eröffnete dasHenry Luce III Center

„Amnesie hilft Wunden heilen“
Aufbau im Gespräch mit dem Historiker Dan Diner

Die Macht der Worte
„Deutsche Leitkultur“ – Ein Begriff, viele Interpretationen

Denkmal erinnert an die frühere Synagoge

Taxifahrer mit College-Abschluss
Anthropologin Foner über Vorurteile gegen Immigranten

Auseinandersetzung um Rote Kapelle

Die Revolution kam nicht
Die fast vergessenen Autorinnen der Weltbühne

Ein reiches Leben für die Musik
Gedenken an den Dirigenten Martin Rich

Leah Rabin

Perfect Families: Pressures of the Holiday Season

Depicting a Dialogue Between Jewish Generations from One Polish Town
Minna Packer’s Documentary Back to Gombin

Two New Books Focus on Berlin
Weimar Republic Luminaries Populate a Novel and a History

Education and Continuity
Abraham Geiger Kolleg is inaugurated in Potsdam

A Response to the Confusion in Florida Ad in the New York Times urges revote in West Palm Beach County

Promoting Peace and Tolerance
UNESCO Prizes Awarded to International Figures

Russian Crackdown on Tycoon
Said to Fuel Anti-Semitic Incidents

New Film of The Assistant Premieres at Center for Jewish History
Canadian Directs Malamud’s Best-Known Novel

Gruss und Kuss Veronica at Nassau County Center

Malamud Authority in Italy

Bilder, die die Welt erklären
Wiedereröffnung:International Center for Photography in Midtown


Depicting a Dialogue Between Jewish
Generations from One Polish Town

Minna Packer’s Documentary Back to Gombin


Back to Gombin, a documentary made by Minna Packer and screened in a rough cut for a selected audience at Columbia University on Sunday, explores the need of the children of Holocaust survivors to re-engage with their parents’ past on their own terms.

Gombin, a small town in Central Poland was home to more than two thousand Jews before the war. Of these, 212 survived. Many of these former “Gombiners,” stayed in touch and, having lost most of the members of their extended families, became family for each other. The next generation drew on the internet to continue the tradition and linked 300 families from around the world to form a Gombin Jewish Historical and Genealogical Society. In the summer of 1999, fifty members undertook the return trip to the Polish town that forms the centerpiece of the film.

Film clips from
an earlier visit

Another return had been recorded on film sixty-three years earlier. In 1937, Sam Rafel, a former Gombiner who had immigrated to the United States, returned to his hometown for a visit with a 16mm camera and filmed a cheerful population of old and young willing to serve as subjects of his silent documentary. He also recorded the magnificent 300-year-old wooden synagogue, admired throughout Poland. By interposing clips from this earlier return at various points in her film, Packer not only achieves a poignant contrast to the present-day town totally devoid of Jews, but is also able to suggest the longing of generations cut off from the culture that made them who they are.
The trip to Poland is more than the visual focus of the film—Packer depicts it as the catalyst that opened crucial areas of discussion between young and old, parents and children, Jews and Poles. Not all of the Gombiner “elders” agreed with the interest of the next generation in re-connecting to the town, but for many of the younger people it felt like such a necessity they decided to proceed, nonetheless. The effort to return began with the realization that the gravestones of Gombin’s Jewish cemetery had been dispersed. When the former Gombiners contacted officials in the Polish town, they found them willing to cooperate in an attempt at a reconstruction of the cemetery. Money was then raised by the former citizens through contributions and foundations, including the Nussenbaum Foundation, which funds reclamations of Jewish cemeteries in Poland.
Work began in 1997 and the highlight of the return journey was to be the re-dedication. In addition, a monument was to be unveiled at the site of the Chelmno concentration camp dedicated to the many Gombiners who met their death there.
For each member of the group who came to Gombin, there were revelations that made their family history more real and palpable than ever before. For one man, it was the discovery of the tombstone of an eight-year-old brother, whose death had impelled the family to leave the
town at the end of the the thirties and so, in essence, saved their lives. For another, it was meeting a survivor who had known her father and learning more about his escape than he had ever been able to tell her. For Minna Packer, the revelation of the beauty of the surrounding countryside, brought home to her how good life might have been there.
One of the surprising results of the journey was the second generations’s recognition of the Polish strain in Jewish culture, a recognition too painful for the survivors to admit to “We were there for hundreds of years,” Packer says. “We were a diverse culture, religious and assimilated—how can it not have affected us.” As another commentator puts it “We are more Polish than we like to admit, and they are more Jewish than they like to admit.”
Although, the trip was a positive experience for the participants, it proceeded under the shadow of past suffering and Packer makes sure to intersperse the events of the visit, with the harrowing recollections of survivors back home. Talking to the townspeople also led to some new disturbing revelations about the Nazi occupation. And, among themselves, the Gombiners began to worry that their newly constituted cemetery might be defaced, despite the fact that the locals had been friendly and welcoming. But some took the long view—having come so far was sufficient achievement in itself.
A visit to Warsaw concluded the journey. Packer filmed this side trip to bring out the Jewish life that, on a small but growing scale, exists once more in Poland. Some of its more vital manifestations can be seen in the capital city.
Film viewers are treated to an eloquent speech by Gebert Kostek, an editor of the Polish-Jewish periodical Midrasz, emphasizing that Sinai, and not the Shoah must be the source of Jewish identity. The continuity of that identity is confirmed by Helesi Lieberman, head of the successful new Jewish school in Warsaw – the Marosha School – sponsored by the Lauder Foundation.

Void when parents
refused to speak

The second and third generations have the last word in the film. Many speak of the void that persisted in their lives when parents refused to speak of the past, a past they had already intimated from hidden documents and photographs.
Others mention the eerie feelings that their parents had identified too closely with their childhoods and teen-age years, trying to make up for a youth they never had. In one particularly touching moment, a young woman speaks of what she discovered about her father in Gombin at the site of his grave in New Jersey. He could not share his past with her, but she had found peace in discovering it for herself.
A member of the third generation, the nineteen-year old Columbia University student Noam Lupu, returned to Gombin with both his grandmother, a survivor, and his mother. Young as he is, he is as impelled as any of his elders to pursue his history.
As editor of the Gombin newsletter, he wrote that the film – for which he was instrumental in raising funds – is intended to show “the forces and passions that drove second-and third-generations to rebuild something they had never experienced, but, somehow, nonetheless,needed.” Minna Packer, the daughter of a Gombiner, herself, eloquently succeeds in this task.


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