Płock before the war filmed by Józef Herman and Norton Keller

The Nobiscum Foundation would like to thank  Susan Keller Mouckley, Sandra Brygart Rodriguez and Arieh Bomzon for presenting us with a copy of the film.

Sandra Brygart Rodriguez’s grandmother, Dwojra Ides Brygart née Bomzon, and Arieh Bomzon’s grandfather, Lejb Bomzon, had a half-sister, Chena Chaja Frydman. Chena married Icek Chaim (Harry) Keller, who was Susan Mouckley’s great grandfather, and they had three children: Josef Herman, Eugenia, and Matthew. After the death of Chena Chaja in 1911, Icek Chaim Keller married Estera Szczawińska née Rotman and they emigrated to the United States in 1913. Herman Keller visited Plock in 1935 and commissioned new tombstones for his mother and his stepmother’s mother Ryfka Rotman neé Kufeld. During this visit, Herman’s grandmother, Jenta Bomzon née Szrajber (her first husband, Abram Frydman who was Chena Chaja’s father, had died) made Herman promise that he would return with his oldest son, Norton, to meet the family when the new tombstones would be dedicated. Herman kept his promise and Herman and Norton visited Plock in July 1937 and filmed their visit.

You can read more about the Bomzon and Brygart families in the family album section: the Bomzon family (link), the Brygart family (link).

Music in the film was presented to us by the Sztetl group: Tomasz Stawiecki (clarinet, bass clarinet) Kacper Szroeder (trumpet, flugelhorn) Piotr Janiec (tuba) Radek Polakowski (accordion, violin) Bartosz Nazaruk (drums).

Below you will find a detailed background text by Arieh Bomzon about his family and the film:

It was the night before Chanukah in 1853 in Płock, Poland when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse and the Chanukah decorations had been hung with care throughout the house. Wolf Szrajber, who was still wearing his skull cap, and his wife, Chana Laja Szrajber née Papiez, settled into their beds for a long winter’s night sleep. However, the encounter which was about to occur on this enchanted evening would not be very different from those which previously occurred on other enchanted evenings: Wolf first threw his skull cap onto Chana Laja’s bed and then asked whether he could retrieve it. Chana Laja acquiesced to his request and on 24 August 1854, Jenta Szrajber was born. The outcomes of some of their earlier nocturnal encounters were the birth of Zelman Ber who was born in 1846, Ryfka Ruchla who was born in 1848, and Fajwel who was born in 1851. Another nocturnal encounter occurred after Jenta’s birth: the birth of Chaja Sura in 1857.

Jenta’s childhood, youth, and adolescence were probably uneventful until she met Abram Frydman, a gingerbread baker (born 14 September 1850 in Stezyca). They married on 17 May 1876, established a gingerbread bakery at 28 Kwiatka Street, and had three children: Chena Chaja (Helena; born 22 October 1877 in Płock), Tauba Ruchla (born 25 December 1878 in Płock), and Brucha Itta (born 29 September 1880 in Płock). Chena Chaja married Icek Chaim (Harry) Keller (born 1878 in Płock, died 1948 in USA) on 14 March 1899 in Płock and they had three children: Josef Herman (born 24 May 1900 in Płock, died 31 January 1967 in USA), Eugenia (Gertrude; born 18 April 1902 in Płock; died May 1984 in USA), and Matys (Matthew; born 31 January 1905 in Płock, died 18 January, 1970 in USA). Tauba Ruchla married Icek Nozyca (born 10 December 1877) and they had three children, Chana Rojza (born 28 January 1903 in Płock), Wolf (born 21 April 1904 in Płock), and Lajbusz (born 19 January 1914 in Płock). Sadly, their third child, Brucha Itta died 17 February 1897 in Płock.

Unfortunately, two other events changed Jenta’s life. First, her oldest daughter, Chena Chaja (Helena) died on 21 January 1911. Following her death, Harry married a widow, Estera Szczawińska née Rotman (born 26 December 1882 in Płock, died 1950 in USA), on 15 March 1915 in Płock allegedly to help him care for his three children. They had two children: Mildred (born 1912, died 1952) and Theresa (Tauba; born 1 April 1913 in Płock, died 26 November 1995 in USA). In 1913, Harry and Ester and their five children emigrated to Springfield, Massachusetts, USA where they had a third child, Paul (born 25 April 1919 in USA, died 29 December 2003 in USA). Second, she became a widow when Abram died in the early 1880s.

When Abram Frydman died, Jenta probably became the sole proprietor of the gingerbread bakery, which was located at 28 Szeroka (Kwiatka) Street. Since the bakery was also her only source of income, Jenta most likely decided to seek a gingerbread baker to manage the bakery. Enter a young gingerbread baker called Izrael Abram Bomzon (born 28 January 1861 in in Płock). In addition to managing the bakery, he presumably began romancing Jenta and was undeterred by her being a widow and seven years older than him. Although Jenta and Izrael Abram lived together as a de facto husband and wife at 30 Szeroka (Kwiatka) Street, Płock, they only registered their marriage with the Płock civil authorities on 22 August 1901 in order to secure their status and rights of their living children: Bajla Sura (Hersz’s twin sister and born first in Płock and Hersz Fajwel Fridman on 14 January 1887), Dwojra Ides (born 21 December, 1889 in Płock), Estera (born 16 April 1891 in Płock), Chawa (Eva; born 22 March 1892 in Płock), Lejb (born 17 May 1893 in Płock) and Brucha (born 21 June 1897; died in 1906 in Płock). They also had a son, Chaim, who was born in 1895 and died in 1896 in Płock. After Izrael Abram’s death in their home on 22 May 1913 at age 52, she moved to 20 Kwiatka Street to live with her daughter, Dwojra Ides, and her husband, Lajzer Brygart.

Bajla Bomzon married Moszek Baruch Ejzenman, tailor and a trader, on 14 April 1907 and they had eight children: Chana Laja (born 19 April 1909 in Płock), Estera Malka (born 1 April 1910 in Płock), Chaja (born 20 May 1912 in Płock), Iska (born 6 June 1913 in Płock), Lajzer (born 20 June 1915), Hinda Ruchla (born 18 March 1917 in Płock), Berek (born 22 September 1919 in Płock), and Perla (born 4 January 1921 in Płock). The family lived at 19 Bielska Street. In 1916, Moszek began working in the Jewish quarter in Warsaw and the children frequently visited and stayed with him in Warsaw. Bajla worked in the Brygart’s candy and gingerbread manufacturing company and she continued to work there after their marriage broke down. Chana, the oldest daughter, married Abram Mordka Łotenberg on 2 September 1928 and then migrated to Buenos Aires, Argentine. Their emigration was part of an emigration of Jews from Płock to Buenos Aires which started after World War One. Three of Chana’s siblings, Iska, Lajzer (Leon), and Berek (Bernardo) also emigrated to Buenos Aires.

Dwojra Ides Bomzon married Lajzer Brygart on 23 February 1913, and they had four children: Ruchla Laja (Rushka; born 8 October 1916 in Płock), Iska (Irka; born 3 March 1919 in Płock), Szmyl Szlojma (Sam; born 4 July 1920 in Płock), and Chanka (born 16 March 1927 in Płock). In 1919, Lejzor and Dwojra Ides bought a property at 20 Kwiatka Street in Płock in which they lived until the outbreak of war in 1939. After Izrael Abram’s death, Lajzer became the bakery’s manager. He also modernized and expanded the bakery to include the sales of colonial goods and other consumer goods such as sugar, rice, coffee, tea, cocoa, and tobacco which were imported from England using Dwojra’s sister, Chawa (Eva), who lived in London, as the agent. Ruchla, the oldest daughter, married Izrael Hilel Fryderson (Friderson; born 14 January 1914 in Warsaw) on 8 October 1938.

Estera Bomzon married Josef Hersz Cynamon (born 1886) on 27 January 1914, and they had four children: Izrael Abram (born 28 September 1914 in Płock), Chana (3 January born 1917 in Płock), Lajzer (born 24 October 1922 in Płock), and Ruchel (born 14 June 1926 in Płock). Josef was a trader and the family lived at 28 Szeroka (Kwiatka) Street.

Chawa (Eva) Bomzon left Płock in 1910 to live in London, England, to join her boyfriend, Zvi Wagner who she married and with whom she had four children. Nathan, Eva’s brother, also emigrated to England and was killed when he was knocked of his bicycle in the early 1920s.

Lejb Bomzon married Tauba Żeleźniak (born 1 April 1898 and daughter of Chaim Josef and Chana née Motyl) on 10 May 1917 and they had three children: Izrael Abram (Julius; born 7 February 1918 in Płock), Icek Jakub (Kuba; born 10 January 1922 in Płock) and Chana (10 June born 1926 in Płock). Lejb Bomzon was a baker and confectioner, who worked in Brygart bakery and his family lived at 33 Bielska Street.

After Harry and Ester Keller and their children left Płock, one can assume that they regularly corresponded with members of Jenta’s and the Rotman family. Through this correspondence, Harry was informed that Chena Chaja’s (Helena’s) gravestone had deteriorated and a new gravestone was needed. Since he was unable to travel, his oldest son, Herman, traveled to Płock in 1935 in order to commission the new gravestone. While in Płock, Herman’s grandmother, Jenta, made him promise that he would return with his oldest son, Norton, (born 12 March 1923 in USA) when the new gravestone was to be dedicated.

The return trip occurred in July-August 1937 and coincided with the World Fair in Paris, France and Zionist Conference in Basle, Switzerland. Herman and Norton documented their entire trip with a movie camera and the film was developed on their return to the USA. The section which was filmed in Płock, comprises scenes of the New Market Square (Nowy Rynek), the gathering of Jenta’s family and some members of the Rotman family in the café of the Artistic Club of Płock, located on the Tum Hill on the banks of the Vistula River, and Norton frolicking with members of Brygart family in a river pool, which was located in the Radziwie district of Płock. At the time of filming, Herman and Norton and the other members of the Keller family in the USA could not foresee that their family in Płock would be decimated when the German army began its occupation of Płock in 1939. Of the family members who appeared in the movie, Samek Brygart, Sandra’s father, and Izrael Abram (Julius) Bomzon, Arieh’s father, survived the Holocaust. All other family members who appeared in this section perished in the Holocaust.

The return visit to Płock generated great excitement for Jenta and her family, as well as members of the Rotman family, as evidenced by the smiling faces of those family members who participated at the joyous family gathering on the Tum Hill and the exuberant and vivacious behavior of Norton’s cousins at the pool. These scenes also convey a message of contentment and satisfaction with life without concern for their future, their fate, and their destiny. Accordingly, this section has become a valuable legacy for the survivors and those family members who left Płock before the Holocaust and their descendants: the doomed individuals who appear in the movie are no longer anonymous but are vital and vibrant named persons in a close-knit family.

Arieh Bomzon