One of nine siblings, Nachman Gryfenberg was born in Warsaw on 9 October 1907. Nachman’s father, a businessman who sold office supplies, died when Nachman was nine years old. As a consequence Nachman was forced to leave his Cheder studies to supplement the family income. Even though his education was cut short, the Bund soon became his house of learning and he became a self-taught man of considerable knowledge.
In August 1929 he migrated to Brussels with his new bride Rywka Miodowska who he had met in the Bund youth group Yugnt Bund Tsukunft. In Brussels he continued his commitment to Yiddishkeit and remained active in the Bund. By the time the war came to Belgium, Nachman had carved out a successful career for himself as a manufacturer of leather gloves. In 1942 the deadly round-up of Jews in Brussels meant that it was no longer safe for Jews to remain living openly and by the end of 1942, with the assistance of some non Jews, he, his wife and two children went into hiding. By the end of 1944, after Brussels was liberated, the Gryfenberg family was reunited.
Nachman, his wife and children remained in Brussels until 1949. He tried to re-establish himself but the tragic events of the war had left him disillusioned with life in Europe. According to his daughter, Danielle Charak, Europe felt like a cemetery to Nachman and the threat of the Soviet Union and communism made life difficult. The search for a new homeland began. His brother secured papers for Australia, a country that offered refuge and a Yiddish speaking community. Later he obtained visas for Nachman’s family and that of their sister. The Gryfenbergs arrived in Melbourne on 15 May 1949. Nachman tried to work in his trade but with little demand for leather gloves he turned his hand to other things, eventually becoming successful in the shmatte (clothing) business.
Right from the start Nachman’s contacts with the Bund ensured a social and cultural network. He set to work supporting Yiddish life by becoming involved with the Bund and the Kadimah, serving on many of their committees. For some time he served on the committee of the Sholem Aleichem Sunday School, on the Governing Board of the Jewish Welfare Society from 1972-1976 and the Friends of SKIF. He was instrumental in purchasing a property in Dromana for SKIF and later having a house built there for its use.
Nachman was one of the six founding donors for the establishment of a Yiddish day school in Elsternwick, putting out the initial seed money to buy additional property adjacent to the Sholem Aleichem Sunday School. With the establishment of Sholem Aleichem College in 1975, Nachman served as its inaugural president for ten years from 1975-1985. He saw the school expand and he saw this as his greatest contribution to Yiddish communal life in Melbourne.
Nachman passed away on 9 March 1992. He is survived by his two daughters Floris Kalman and Danielle Charak, both of whom have made their own considerable contributions to the furthering of Yiddish.
Source: Questionnaire completed by Danielle Charak (daughter).