Archive for December 2013

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XV – Part 1

Chapter XV (15)

Journal Entries – New Discoveries (Part 1)

That night I stayed up late, researching and reviewing history files I had of the Holocaust and WWII events.  I dug into the journal some more, wanting to see how Jacob’s story compared with information from the entries made on the last pages, during the years up to 1944.  The last entries of the journal were initialed by A.G.  A. G. for Anton Gruenfeld? Was it Jacob’s father? Names of those who died were included. Writing was hurried and clumsy in places as if the author dashed a line or entry, and then stopped, abruptly, but all initialed, A.G. Loose pages of paper, the odds and ends of things written on them were stuffed into the journal when the numbered journal pages filled up.    

There were names recorded with entries describing the atrocities carried out against the Jews in the Odessa ghettos and the deportations to Transnistria. It seemed an obvious conclusion that A.G. knew the killers by name. Jacob had told about those who they knew, lived with even that took part in the mass killings and deportations. [“There were ones who turned their own gun on the Jews and shot them. We were their neighbors, farming together, living side by side.”] Surprisingly the names were legible enough to read although obviously scrawled in haste, or hurried where many of the broken lines and entries showed gaps. Yet, all of it important to its posterity, as if the notes and entries would somehow find its way into the future, while preserving its past.

A thorough search on names of Germans and Moldavians living in the region during the years between 1940-1945 revealed surnames that had been changed or altered.  Another search in the archives of news articles on the men Irina told me about, the ones I saw at the Odessa consulate’s offices. Their names were often mentioned in the news broadcasts describing their involvement in the campaign and endorsement of the recent upcoming presidential election of Igor Grigoroui. The other name, the one responsible for making “substantial contributions to Grigoroui’s re-election campaign”, was Victor Antonescu, his name popping up in the ‘Business’ section, local politics, a man with his hands in many pots, and by the looks of it, many pockets.

Name variations and changes were often the case in history with immigration, census and revision list records in the ever-growing archives and data bases, thus creating the need for a sound-ex name code system. When a name is searched a variation of spellings or different version comes up if the searched name is not valid or documented. But the names I researched were ones better known in the region during the war years, like the name of the Romanian marshal Ion Antonescu who commandeered the Romanian army and gendarmes aiding Hitler and the SS. If people were not moving around a lot or migrating somewhere else there were fewer records with that name listed, so was not usually misspelled on name lists unless written illegibly. But if there was a reason to change the name spelling completely in order to make themselves less visible or exposed for personal reasons, one could change a few letters around, or reverse a couple. Legally the new spelling would be valid and recorded with all official papers and passports showing it spelled that way. No one would have a legitimate reason to question the validity of the new name. The archives and data bases were full of name variations, always confusing genealogists.

Next, I researched the Romanian and German names listed on the last entries of the Journal and those sounding similar with possible variations of people known in this region. For the next few days I made it a priority project, and then sent off e-mails to Jeremy telling him about Jacob’s story and updating him on things I learned.

I could hardly believe I held in my possession an antiquated journal with a history of not just my family, but detailed accounts describing the horrors committed against East European Jews, of ‘racial cleansing.’ How was I going to protect and preserve all that was here? It contained names, dates and recorded deaths of Jews killed by Marshall Ion Antonescu’s Iron Guard, Romanian Gendarmerie collaborators, even German villagers who turned against them.  In essence, the journal was explosive, and felt like a sizzling stick of dynamite in my hands, but there was no safe place to keep it hidden unless I buried it again where I had found it. Or, at least left with someone I could trust.

If I found a connection between the names of those in the journal and the Antonescu brothers, Krupin or Grigoraui I felt I had a link. A reason for one to deliberately change their name to cover crimes from their past, or that of their families’, and take a new identity was enough for one to keep the skeletons in their closet hidden. They would be even more desperate if campaigning for president in a country rebuilding after a horrific past.

My work with the U.S. D G H&R was known to more people than just Irina. Her “superior” (whoever that was) and the Odessa consulate, maybe others, knew of my interest and requests for interviews with Holocaust survivors. Jeremy warned me, I had to be careful what I learned, who I confided in. Now, I may have said too much, talked too freely to someone who was sharing information with someone else. There was no proof that anyone had hacked into my cell phone calls, or password accounts. But, I could not expect to continue background searches without raising curiosity, at least with Irina, who wanted to know everything I did. I have to know if I am being tracked wherever I go, and if they know about the journal. There is only one way to find out.  

___________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

Posted December 30, 2013 by Joyce in Fiction, Literary fiction, My Novel

Tagged with , , ,

The Night Before Christmas

Santa Claus

Santa Claus (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)


It was the night before Christmas when asleep in our house

I awoke with the sound of my snoring spouse.

I tried to sleep snuggled down in my bed.

But, it was no use; even covered my head.

So, I went to the kitchen, and put on the kettle,

to brew me some tea, and sit down to settle.

With my cup and a book I headed for my chair.

Then I heard a noise that gave me a scare.

What did I just see? I stopped to stare.

There plopped old Santa sitting astride

a floor full of toys with instructions beside.

A puzzled expression creased his dimpled, flushed face.

He looked so natural by the fireplace.

His round robust frame looked to pop like a cork,

when hearing my steps from the kitchen I came.

With no place to hide, and caught in his folly

he lumbered up getting caught in the holly.

Fallen from the mantle the garland like wreath

fell to his feet with the cookies beneath.

Spread out on the floor lay assorted parts,

nuts and bolts, tools and more.

But, he went to work assembling the toys;

a bicycle, a scooter, and robot for the boys.

A doll house, a tea set he checked off his list,

things my kids said, “Please don’t forget.”

In spite of the sight and comical scene,

He left such a mess I will have to clean.

But, I tiptoed away with my cup of tea

to give old Santa sprawled out by the tree

space to work, for he looked so perplexed.

Now, I vaguely remember falling asleep

curled up in my chair not hearing a peep.

When I woke in the morn on Christmas day

I tried to remember, Did I really see Santa,

Or did I just dream about a jolly old man,

who happened this way? Then I heard my kids squeal

with excitement and say, “Mom! Come see

what Santa brought us today.”

***********

Poem by: Joyce E. Johnson – 2012


Christmases Past

scan0017

I am the little ‘angel’ on the left of the manger, in our church children’s program.

CHRISTMASES PAST

Trees that twinkled with shiny bright bulbs,

multi-colored lights and hanging tinsel.

Coloring books, crayons to pass the time

while waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve.

Baby dolls scented like soft new latex

dressed in pink flannel pajamas.

Red and green ribbon we made into bows

draped from presents placed under the tree.

Sweet confections and peppermint candies,

with peanuts, apples, oranges; all wrapped

given to children in brown paper bags.

Popcorn balls, fudge, and sugar cookies

my parents made for us each year.

Christmas cards filled with tidings and cheer

mailed and received from friends far and near.

New taffeta dresses, black patent leather shoes

for Sunday services before each Christmas.

Soft white angel costumes and halos

I wore in school pageants and nativity programs.

‘Silent Night,’ and traditional carols

we sang under a cold wintry sky

‘Peace and goodwill to all the world,’

Are things I remember from Christmases past.

___________________

Joyce E. Johnson © 2013

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XIV (14), ‘Jacob’s Story,’ continued (Part 4)

Chapter XIV, ‘Jacob’s Story’, continued (Part 4)

“After the war we didn’t know who we could trust again. Evil prevails in those with hate in their heart. It is not just with one kind of people, or one race, but with any. I believe there will always be those who choose to hate for whatever reasons.”

“I saw people who claimed to be Christians, but they betrayed us, or turned us away when we needed help. We were their neighbors, living side by side, but they were unforgiving of Jews who rejected the Messiah they preached about. There were some who turned their own gun on the Jews and shot them. But, there are stories of Jews who were protected and hid from their enemies, fed when hungry, clothed when stripped of their own. Some became martyrs and died alongside Jews when the Nazis came. I was young, but wise beyond my years.”

“Jacob, do you know if any of the collaborators; Romanians or Germans here involved in committing these atrocities were ever caught, or found?”

He shook his head, “No. I think most were never seen again. After the war, there was so much chaos, locating missing people, registering survivors, trying to treat and care for the afflicted I don’t think it was the thing that was foremost on people’s mind, until much later. I think the horrors of the war left everyone traumatized. There was some good that came out of it though like the Zionist movement and the birthing of the state of Israel. Their intelligence agency was born, and an army of trained fighters formed. I know they have hunted for the guilty involved in the deaths of the Jews. But, I don’t know if they have been entirely successful hunting them all down.”

“It seems hard to believe that there could still be any alive somewhere and walking free. How do you deal with all this, even now after so many years? Aren’t you bitter? Don’t you feel hatred for those who killed your family, and left you to die?”

“If I am to be the kind of person called by Messiah’s name to love as he loved, can I carry hate in my heart? He has called us to forgive, as he forgave his enemies. I admit it is difficult at times. But what is to be gained from hating? It is the evil of a darker force that walks among us, trying to destroy all that the Messiah died for. But, He was raised up, resurrected and lives so we would not have to walk through life with those shackles on, but be freed of them. That is the deliverance, the power we have as his children.”

“My Mother cried out to the Christian Messiah to help us, to save us from the soldiers who came for us. That is what changed us, Ms. Mengelder. No baptism, Torah, traditions or prayer shawl would have saved us from them. Out of our desperation we were given eternal life, and placed our trust in the one called Jesus, making him our Messiah. We prayed for deliverance, not just from the Nazis, but also for our soul.”

All I could do was nod my head in silent agreement and thank him for sharing his story. The park was still empty, no children on the playground, no one around to hear, or care what he had shared with me. Only the birds quietly perched on tree limbs as if with respect listened quietly too. We sat for a few moments just listening to the rustle of the trees, soft breezes blowing under a clear blue sky.

It made me shudder to think about the scattered remains and ashes of the thousands who died and suffered at the hands of their enemies, their graves we walked upon, the trees, flowers, parks, buildings and roads built above it all as if declaring that life does indeed go on, and one has to move forward.

It was hard to contain my own emotion, so didn’t even try. It was as if Jacob’s life was being replayed in slow motion before my very eyes like a repeat from a documentary on the History channel. His grandmother Magdalena, the sister to my great, great-grandfather Adam whom my family had tried so hard to locate could now be technically laid to rest, even if there was no grave we could find or visit.

_______________________

This is the end of chapter XIV, but the story will be continued with new chapters posted after Christmas.

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XIV (14), ‘Jacob’s Story,’ continued (Part 3)

Chapter XIV, ‘Jacob’s Story,’ continued (Part 3)

“I was very young when all that happened. But, the faces of the soldiers, the evil things done. Those things I cannot forget, even as I have tried to…they stay with me.”

“We were living in Odessa. The Jews were all confined to the cities during that time. My father would show my brother and me how to garden, plant seeds in tiny plots and teach us what he’d learned from his father. He was educated and trained in Odessa as a doctor, but later lost his medical license to practice when Jews were moved and confined to ghettos. When the ghettos got overcrowded the Jews were transported to other places. It became very unsanitary and people were always ill. So much sickness and hunger. No one cared to help us, or treat the sick. By then there were no seeds of anything to plant. We were just thankful to get food, clothing, and clean water to drink.”

“The Romanians put in charge of the Jews kept us all isolated. Fences were erected and places sealed up. Then the Nazi soldiers came and ordered the liquidation of the ghettos. The Romanian soldiers aided them in helping to carry out the massacres and deportations.”

“My older brother, Joseph died of typhus, like so many others. I got very sick, and my father squeezed out one night through a hole in the wall. He told my mother he was going out to find us food, and medicine. But, he was gone for days. We did not know where he was. We heard shots so thought they had found him, killed him. Then soldiers came for all of us, to transport us to Transnistria. They thought there were others who had escaped, searched everywhere, sealed up everything, and marched us all out of the ghetto with guns to our backs.”

“I was seven when the soldiers came to transport us to the concentration camp in Transnistria.”

“They shot all the sick, the old ones and any who were not strong enough to work. The old and weak ones were the first to be killed, thrown into ditches, or burned alive while crammed and locked into storage sheds. Some were hung up alive by meat hooks. They threw screaming babies and children into the fires until their cries were silenced. Some were  thrown from high windows onto the street, while the mothers were made to watch, wanting to die with them. Many were asphyxiated in mobile vans as they were shoved in and the gas turned on through exhaust pipes.”

“Grandmother Magdalena was one of the old ones that could no longer work. She was about the age I am now when they shot her in the back as she ran screaming into the freezing waters of the Dniester River. I watched as her body jerked violently from the bullets, then went down under the ice floes exploding from machine guns.”

“The younger ones that could work were forced into cattle cars packed so tight they could barely breathe. My mother and I were in that group. She held me up over her shoulders to keep me from being trampled. Many suffocated and died, their bodies all bunched together. We had to step over them to get out. People were fighting for just the air to breath. They could not get out fast enough climbing over the corpses. Those who were not taken by train to Transnistria were forced to march the rest of the way through the icy waters of the Dniester, and frozen steppes in nothing more than the rags they wore, or put on ferries.  People sold or gave away their clothes to anyone in exchange for food. The rest of our time was spent at Transnistria waiting the day when they would kill us all, or leave us to starve to death.”

“What about your mother, and you? Were you together at the camps?”

“When we got to the camps in Transnistria the children were yanked away from their parents and separated, some never seeing one another again. A soldier pulled me from my mother’s arms and she screamed at him as he hit her repeatedly. I was dragged away. They would not let us say goodbye, hug or anything. She started crying out, “Yeshua, Yeshua!’” His voice broke, trying to hold back sobs as he pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose.

“Finally, when the Russians advanced westward in their pursuit of the German army Transnistria was liberated, and the Germans and Romanians retreated.  The remains of thousands of Jews murdered lay wherever they were killed. We never learned where my brother’s or my father’s bodies were. To prevent the spread of more disease there were mass graves dug, or bodies burned in piles to cleanse the areas. My mother was still alive when the camps were liberated, but her skin hung loose over her thin bones. Her eyes looked sunken in her drawn face. I remember how beautiful she was once…long dark hair, soft clear skin, eyes that laughed when… well, before all that happened.”

____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XIV, (14), Part 2 ‘Jacob’s Story’

Note: The below portion of ‘Jacob’s Story’ is Part two of a lengthy chapter. It will be continued in Part three, maybe four. The entire story, The Informant’s Agenda is fiction, but is based on actual facts and the history of ethnic and German Jews from Russia, and much of my 30+ yrs. of research on my own paternal German family from south Russia.  My story characters and plot are fiction, and were created to better tell their story. I want to thank those who are following the story, or just reading bits or pieces as they visit here and hope you have enjoyed the story. All comments, questions and feedback are always welcome. In between chapters posted here there will be other varied posts of poems, photos, misc. prose and writings with a few Christmas related ones coming up in the next two weeks.

Joyce E. Johnson

______________________

‘Jacob’s Story’, Part two

“I will tell what I know. But, I was very young…when my father died, so…”

 “That will be fine. If you can start from the beginning of their settlement period that will help fill in the gaps of history I don’t have. Do you mind if I run my recorder while we talk?”

“No. I guess that is alright.”

“They came from Prussia, Germany, Wurttemberg, and other East European countries. They were given sections of land to farm by the Czarina, Catherine the Great in the late 1700 s. They first settled in Grigoriopol, but later migrated to villages in Bessarabia, or southwest Russia, a part of what is now known as Moldova. It joined the countries of Ukraine and Poland that was eventually partitioned and divided up between Romania, Prussia and Russia, all a part of the ‘Pale of Settlement.’”

“Was your family Jewish, then?” I asked.

“Yes. The Jews lived near the ethnic German colonists in villages of their own.”

“Has your family always been Jewish, or did they convert at some time?”

“They came here as Jews, but was told the Czar tried to conform them, make them convert to the Orthodox Russian faith. When the new laws were sanctioned the Czar claimed all the Jews and Germans must dress, talk and be educated alike, but neither group liked that. They wanted to keep their own culture, language, and traditions.”

Jacob continued.

“Many Jews converted to the Lutheran religion. When they were baptized, their names were modernized, their traditions, kosher diet, culture, all changed. It was during the “Age of Enlightenment,” when there were a lot of changes and reforms. Others refused to convert and kept to their Orthodox Jewish dress style and laws. They became known as the Hasidic Jews, very devout.  They were targeted by everyone because they were ‘different’. So, the pogroms continued. They were later blamed for all the wrong in the anarchy, for starting the revolution, Bolshevism, even assassinating the Czar.”

“What about your grandmother, Magdalena? Did she convert?”

“No. She did not want to be baptized.  Jews suffered terrible things when the pogroms came. She denounced God and would not believe in the Messiah sent to save us. She said, ‘There is no God that can change those things which we Jews have suffered.’”

“When the Christians talked about their Messiah we did not judge them if they did not judge us. God is the creator of love and does not judge us for our ignorance. When they continued to preach to us, we just continued to listen, patiently, even if we did not want to hear,” he said with a slight smile on his face looking at me.

“The Jews listened to the stories about a ‘Cross of Redemption’ which the Christians spoke about, teaching them from their Bible. Some tried to help the Jews and were kind in their heart, not just in deeds. When the Jews lived in the colonies the Germans taught them how to farm, grow gardens, harvest crops. They told about the Messiah sacrificing his life to save all.”

“But, my grandmother thought one must die first to be worthy of being saved. She said she felt as if she ‘died when the Cossack soldiers came’ and violated her, and said she, ‘lived in a hell that only the Jews could know.’ She could not understand how a man would give his life to die for the sins of all so that all would be reborn if only they believed”.

“The Czar’s laws were made to force restrictions on the Jews that would not convert. They could not own property, attend their synagogues, go to schools or universities, work as agriculturists any more, or reside in their villages. They were forced to move to the large cities. Revision Lists were drawn up forcing taxation, even when they lived in poverty”.

“It seemed at the time all the Jews were getting baptized so they could be like all the other Germans who were much better off. But they were really not much better off when the Bolsheviks came to power because even the Christian Germans were being taken away to Siberian prison camps by the train loads and most starved to death or were executed. That included Jews who were baptized if they became Christians. The Soviets took away all our freedom, our faiths and right to worship and closed down the churches and synagogues. It did not matter if you were Jew, Gentile or Christian. They all were taken away. Our family was spared that, though. I don’t know why. Maybe, because they still outwardly lived like Jews, because they were not Christians. But we were not spared later when worse horrors came”.

______________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

 

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XIV, ‘Jacob’s Story’

Unaware I had drawn the stares of others in the café I sat tapping the fork on the rim of the plate, my food untouched, cold, my mind and thoughts thousands of miles away.

“Moni, your grandfather told me about an old journal their family had. A story his father passed down to him. The journal contained information on the family, their thoughts and things about the changes and political upheaval during the czar’s rein. He said they wrote even of the horrid pogroms. The journal stayed behind with family members who could not immigrate.”

“Are there any family members still living in Russia?” I asked her.

“Maybe. I don’t know. But, there was one,” she replied. “A long time ago, in the 1930 s, a woman, by the name of Magdalena. She was your great, great grandfather’s younger sister. The Russian officials told him once that her husband and children perished in the Stalin purges when they rounded up the Christians and political dissidents. They were exiled to Siberia. They were Christianized Germans. All died in the gulags, or prison camps, they were told. The authorities claimed they committed crimes against the state. A letter came once from another German villager telling him she was alive at that time. But they did not allow her to write or contact him. When the family inquired to the authorities about her they claimed they had no information at all except to say they could not locate her. All correspondence stopped after that letter.” Grandma continued.

“After World War II ended and reports of displaced persons and refugees were filed family members sent more inquiries out, this time to the International Red Cross. If she was still alive by the time the Nazis occupied Ukraine and Bessarabia she might not have survived especially then. She would have been perhaps in her seventies then.”

“You mean because she was ethnic German? Which put her in danger with the Russians if she sided with the Germans, accused of collaboration and all?” I asked.

Grandmother Lisle paused, sighing deeply, quiet for a while. “Possibly. But, she was probably not safe anywhere over there, particularly with the Germans!”

“Why? Wasn’t she Lutheran like the rest of the family? A “Christianized German,” like you said?”

“No, she was not.”

**************

He was perhaps in his late seventies, hunched in the shoulders. His worn work clothes showed the signs of one who was used to the toils of hard labor. He took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead as we walked. His hair was graying, thinning, his skin with sun spots showing age and time spent outdoors.

Our chance encounter was not what I would call a coincidence, but rather one destined  to help enlighten me on family secrets and histories buried here like the graves I documented.

He pointed to an area just down the street where shade trees hung heavy with limbs full of summer’s foliage and grass that grew thick and coarse. A little park nestled in the middle with old swings, slides and empty benches. We walked to one and sat down.

“Jacob, could you tell me what you know about your family? Where they came from? Where they settled”?

He nodded, quiet at first as if collecting his thoughts, then began. “I was born here in Transnistria, in Colosova. My families were farmers. My mother’s name was Raisya, my father was Anton. His family came from Wurttemberg, Germany, originally, but lived in Prussia before they immigrated to Bessarabia”.

“Were they part of the original German Lutheran groups of colonists that settled  here in the early 1800 s”? I asked.

“The Mengelders were German, but they were not Lutheran.”

“Do you know the names of your relatives further back in the Mengelder family?”

“There was Johann, Adam, David, Rueben, Elizabeth, Jacob…” He went on, as he named all those on the Mengelder family graves in Pridnestrovie cemetery.

“My own grandfather’s name was Jacob. He always wanted to be known as just German, although his family were registered as Lutherans on church records. He always said that a ‘good German could be proud of their heritage.’” I said, smiling.

“Ms. Mengelder. I am not sure one can define an ethnic group either ‘good,’ or bad. It is like separating the blacks from whites, like they did in your country before your civil laws changed all that. There are good people to be found in any ethnicity. Just as evil touches all groups, there should be no divisions in race or religious affiliation.”

Jacob’s reply to my comment was like a firm rebuke, leaving me embarrassed over my remark, yet I did not feel the sting of his correction. It made me appreciate his perspective, and I felt admiration for this thought-provoking man.

_____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

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