Sam Goldberg – Today is his Yartzheit (Anniversary of his Death) GUEST BLOGGER – SHLOMO GOLDBERG

(Picture on left:  Esther and Sam Goldberg.  Picture on Right: Sam Goldberg)

Dear Reader:  Today is My father-in-law, Sam Goldberg’s Yartzheit – anniversary of his death.  Shlomo, my husband, spoke these words this past Shabbat at Minyan Ohr Chadash.  

In Man’s Search For MeaningViktor Frankl emphasizes the importance of good posture in surviving the Nazi concentration camps. If the guard saw slouching, signaling weakness, the prisoner was beaten, weakening him further, and then she was killed   In the body of this book, Frankl also deals with moral posture, doing the right thing regardless of the circumstances.

This week’s Torah Portion – Nitzvavim, contains the phrase:

28 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

The Torah Portion makes me confront the difference between hidden and the revealed and the obvious; the knowable and the unknowable, the unexamined and the explored.  The revealed things, the public things, require a code of behavior, require that I and others act in a predictable manner.  The secret things are between a person and God, or left to God alone.  How could it be otherwise? What are these secret things? Some are knowledge that is not yet acquired.  Knowledge that we do not (yet) have ways to know, missing techniques. Ideas that are not yet elucidated by science. Some secret things may be unknowable (Heisenberg uncertainty), knowledge may not apply to them. God knows! Some are truths that we are trying to hide. The money or the feelings, that we are trying to hide from others.  The feelings that we are trying to hide from ourselves.

Some of the secrets are ideas that we don’t want to examine.  God decides on their state of revelation. We are often forced to look at these secrets by circumstances.  The verse quoted above says that these are ours.

This week was the birthday of my father-in law, Irwin L Treiger. There was no one more upright than he.  I am honored to have merited marrying his daughter.  Irwin Treiger remained standing through all temptations, always maintaining honesty and fairness.  He made the covenant of his ancestors his priority, supporting Jewish education and Israel

Next week [today] is the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of my father, Sam Goldberg, who survived the Treblinka death camp.  My first memories of my father include seeing him in the bloody butcher’s apron.  Much later, I understand some of the secret of its symbolism.

This is the Shabbat before the yahrzeit of my father (z”l).  I chant the haftorah.  The haftorah comes from Isiah, never easy to grasp. It includes a section from chapter 63 that deals with bloody garments.  A hero emerges, but his clothes are sullied. He has survived alone, relying on himself.  This is my father.

When my father was in Treblinka, in the deepest aloneness, he washed clothes.  Each group was separate.  The clothes of the Germans had no visible stains, but the blood stains, the chimutz, in them could never be removed.  The Ukrainian henchmen’s uniforms showed the blood of their cruelty.  The victim’s gore clung to these raiment’s, the barbarity was evident. The clothes of the Jews, whose blood was spilled like sewage, had to be washed separately, to be recycled for the beneficiaries of the death machine.  My father survived through these bloody clothes.  The blood on the butchers’ apron was a symbol.

These stories that my father told covered more secrets than they revealed – day to day choices, questions of will and honor and survival. These secrets are for God, I have enough with the revealed.

When I was a boy, in part because of his reluctance to talk about the details of this place ( a place dubbed by Vasilly Grossman “Hell”), I feared that he had done terrible things in exchange for his survival. After I organized a meeting of the Treblinka survivors in Israel, I learned that my father was perfectly upright. He had kept his deal with God in the most trying of circumstances.  He had kept the agreement alluded to in the Torah Portion, the deal with those present today and those that are not present; a deal made before he was born and a deal that I try to keep.  He had chosen life.

Shlomo Zelig Goldberg


DP Camp - Sam and Shaya


Gombin – It’s Poetry and Ethnography.

Mordechai pic clouds and sailboats

[photo by Mordechai Treiger – Seattle, Washington – September 13, 2017]


On the green grass,

behind the high mountain,

my sister Chaneh wanders around.

I call her in the nights –

sister mine, come!

She does not answer,

the chestnut trees rustle.

On a cool cloud,

in a blue ship,

my sister Chaneh sails around.

I cali [stet] her in the days –

sister mine, wait!

She does not answer –

and sails away.

But often the mirror weeps.

I look deeply into it.

into the sad eyes

of my sister Chaneh.

Her hair is gray now.

No, that is ash,

white, gray ash

of my sister Chaneh.

Written by Rajzel Zychlinsky, Translated by Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota.[1]


Rajzel Zychlinsky, the author of this poem, was born in Gombin, Poland in 1910 to Mordechai and Dwora.   Mordechai was a gravedigger.  You might imagine that it was hard to support a large family on a gravedigger’s salary, so Mordechai emigrated to America and traveled back and forth to visit.  Dwora didn’t want to move the children to America because she was afraid they would abandon their Judaism. Mordechai died in 1928 in Chicago, never learning the fate of his family during the Holocaust.

Rajzel began to write poetry in 1927 or 1928.  Many of her poems were published in the Yiddish newspaper, Folkscajtung.   Her first volume of poetry was published by Jewish PEN-Club and was titled Lider.   She moved to Warsaw and worked as a bank clerk,  where she met her husband, Isaak Kanter.  They survived the war in the USSR, first in Lviv, then at Isaak’s parents in Kolomyia and later in Kazan.  After the war, they moved back to Poland, living in a Displaced Persons’ Camp in Lower Silesia.  It was there that Rajzel learned that most of her family was murdered in Chelmno and Treblinka.[2]  She and her husband emigrated to America, where she studied literature, English literature, biology and philosophy.  Before she died in 2001, she published four more volumes of poetry.[3]

Gombin[5] is a Polish town, 112 kilometers northwest of Warsaw.  The first traces of Jewish life arose there in the 16th century.  Jews, who were craftsmen and merchants, settled there.  In 1710 they built a wooden synagogue “with a sculpted Ark and Polish crowned eagles on the candle holders inside.”[6]  The synagogue was burned down by the Nazis in 1939.   Over 2,000 Gombin Jews died in the Holocaust, with only 130 surviving.[7]  Besides Rejzl, another of Gombin’s Jews to survive was Adam Czyzewski’s grandmother.  I know Adam because his son, Aleksander, went to the Northwest Yeshiva High School with my son Jack.  When the war broke out, Adam’s grandmother found refuge in a Catholic Convent and was hidden there during the war.

Adam is currently the director of the State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw.  Ethnography is the study of peoples and cultures.  At the museum, he created an exhibit about the Gombin Jewish community, including a 3D replica of the Gombin synagogue, as well as a sukkah and beautiful pieces of Judaica.  I had the honor to see this exhibit when I was in Poland this past April.  As Adam wrote, what now seems like a natural part of the museum and Poland’s history, “would not have been so obvious a few years ago.”[8]

Adam organized a conference on Jewish ethnography in Warsaw in September of 2015. A thick book was published in connection with the conference called: The New Ethnography: Jewish Ethnography and Folkloristics in Poland Before 1945.  It includes academic articles about Jewish ethnography and about Gombin.  For example, Rabbi Michael Shudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, wrote a piece about Rabbi Avraham Gombiner, more commonly known as the Magen Avraham. The Magen Avraham wrote one of the major commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch – the Code of Jewish Law.   The Mogen Avraham (1637-1683) was born in Gombin.[9]  Another beautiful piece, written by Adam Czyzewski, details the project to reconstruct the model of the Synagogue in Gombin. [10]  The New Ethnography also includes an article about Rejzl Zychlinsky and many of her poems are published here.   I was deeply moved.


We go on living on the earth

That has taken our blood to quench its thirst.

There is a green spring coming –

Our bones have been ground up into ash;

We go on living, a few left to say Kaddish.

We eat the bread of the wheat fields,

Drink from a well these days.

The sun is very kind now –

She touches us with her rays.

We pass, leading our children by the hand –

wrecked homes, wrecked walls that mournfully


We pass dead islands of dead childhood years.

Free as a bird the wind careers.

We go on living. The snow begins to fall.

We meet white trees, yes, we see them one and all.

Eyes dark, we drink the dusk; and without words

We speak – to little gray birds.


Buy, buy dear neighbors,

buy this piece of earth.


You will build yourselves a house here,

dig a well,

and under the window a garden will bloom,

no ghost will come to haunt your place.

My mother won’t return from the gas chamber,

nor will her grandchildren appear.

Nor will I ever again be here

with my tear.

I only take a stone –

It used to feel my mother’s feet

In foreign, wanderer nights

it may pillow me asleep.

Thank you, Adam for sharing this with me.

[1] Published in The New Ethnography, Adam Czyzewski, Publisher and Project Director, 7/2015/08/2016.

[2] Id. at 144.

[3] Silent Door; Autumn squares; November sun; & New poems. Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Currently called Gabin.

[6] Szwarmcman-Czarnota, Bella, Rajzel From Gombin.  On Rajzel Zychlinsky’s Poetry, in The New Ethnography at 139-140.

[7] Id. at 141.

[8] Id. at 14.

[9][9] Id. at 131 – 137.

[10] Id. at 162-171.