1944 – Transnistria ghetto
My fingers are stiff, numb from the pain of cold and frost. I don’t know how much longer I can keep the journal, record the things I know and have seen. If caught, I know I will not see my son and wife again. It is for Jacob, Raisa and the rest that I write this and hope one day it is found by someone who will learn the truth. Oh, eternal God, redeemer, Jehovah, cover us with your mercy. Deliver us.
Our food line today was shorter. The faces of some I saw before, now gone. We are served meager rations of bread with a thin gruel. I saved back some of my bread, eating only a small amount so I could leave more for Jacob. He is running a fever. I fear he has caught the dreaded Typhoid. Like his brother, Joseph, and many others who have already died.
The smell of unwashed, lice infested bodies emaciated in their soiled rags fills my nostrils. Huddled together, bent over, joints stiff from the cold, eyes protruding from dark sockets many look like the walking dead. They will not survive much longer. When I look at them I see myself, a bony protrusion of brittle stick like limbs.
Crudely built cots made from slated wooden crates are pushed together to hold all of us crammed together in the old warehouses. There is no heat. We are given no wood or coal to build a fire to warm us during the winter months. Guards laugh, calling us their “prisoners” and tell us we must serve time for our “indiscretions committed against the Reich’s commander and chief.” I have been assigned to a construction site at their barracks.
We are inspected and closely watched as we are rounded up each morning before dawn, stand in line while they call our numbers, and wait while they check their lists for those now dead or anyone missing. When that is done we are given our ration bowl, devour its contents hungrily, work for hours with no breaks, little protections against the harsh winds and cold, then marched back to our quarters at the end of the day.
That is when I saw him. Mueller, a Jew like me, now claiming to be converted and baptized hides behind his altered documents wearing a crisp clean uniform given to him by the Reich’s commander in the Romanian Iron Guard. His pious look fools no one. His heart is as cold and bitter as the soup in the steel drum. They serve him soldiers’ rations, allow him to bathe and use their toilets, and drink their liquor. But, he has betrayed us all, turning in our names, giving them information about our family members, our history, and circumcision. We are all marked for death, because of him. I have seen him staring at me with suspicious eyes when we are marched out, and ordered to report each morning. I worry that he may know what I do, or where I hide as I write this.
Our families once farmed, side by side, breaking ground, planting, cultivating. They celebrated harvests, shared the bounty, and suffered through the bad years, together. We were brothers in spirit, working alongside, believing that one day we would rise up and join others in an insurrection to turn the tide and see a democracy born from this anarchy. But, it is for naught. We are brothers no more. He is free, to live. I am destined to die.
Time is short. I fear I will not be alive much longer, for the things I know and write about will be found.
Oh, my dear Raisa and Jacob. Where did they take you? What have they done to you? Will we ever be together again? I cannot bear to think what they will do to you both if they find me with this.
When I’d finished my notes and reports I sent off an e-mail to Jeremy marking it ‘priority,’ asking him again to review, translate and do a thorough search on the names.
To be continued…
Joyce E. Johnson (2013)