Archive for January 2014

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XVI (16) Part 2

old Mannhalter pictures and Bible 015

Chapter XVI (16), Part 2

The Journal – Into new hands

“Jacob, I’m sorry to have loaded all this on you. Especially the way it has brought back some sad memories of your time in the ghettos. I did not mean to burden you with this, but…”

“No. Ms. Mengelder, you are not”

“Jacob, you can all me by my first name, Monica.  I don’t have anyone else to trust right now with this information. But, this stuff involves you, your family, what you all went through. If my own grandfather’s family had not gotten out of Russia when they did I believe they would all have suffered the same fate as you and your family.”

Jacob nodded. “Go on.”

“You see, in the back on the last pages there are entries listing crimes committed by Romanian soldiers and German colonists against the Jews during the war. Of atrocities during the Holocaust when they liquidated the ghettos, and ordered the death marches.  ”

“I scanned the contents of the journal and sent them to my online accounts, so I could get them transcribed and translated in English for my family. I had no intentions of making it public or revealing its contents. But, I have documented it all. My cousin, Jeremy back home in the U.S. is more skilled and can do this better than I can. I sent him scanned copies of everything here.”

“But, we’re concerned about a security breach in our e-mail communication while I’ve been here. He’s done some research for me on names mentioned in the last entries and is able to keep his search inquiries more secure. Information he found and the identities of these people have led to some in Moldova with high-profile positions in politics and business.”

“I think there are surviving family members of those who may have changed their names or spelled it differently after the war to maybe hide their identity. I believe your father or the one whose initials are on the last entries knew the names of some of the soldiers and killers responsible for the deaths of those at the ghettos in Odessa and the concentration camps in Transnistria.”

Jacob lifted his reading glasses from the table, put them on and opened the journal turning the pages slowly. He looked up at me with a perplexed expression on his face, “You said you have been followed while here in Moldova? And you think there are others here that know about this journal?”

“Yes, but I can’t be certain. I think someone gained access to my notes a few weeks ago while aboard the train on route from Kharkov to Kiev.  Not many people know the reason I am here, except for the Russian officials contacted. Unfortunately, I am not sure I can trust them. Since I am here on assignment for the U.S. Dept. of Genealogy, History and Research I am required to work with those officials who accompany me and know my itinerary at all times.”

“While here I learned about a man named Ivan Antonescu.”

“Why, he was the man who was involved in my accident. He was very angry, and seemed in an awful hurry that day. If what you say is true, then I think you need to be careful. He has associations with those in the upcoming election campaign for Igor Grigoraui. These men are running Igor’s campaign, the Antonescu brothers, Ivan and Victor. They are Grigoraui’s financial backers. They work with Igor’s campaign manager, Vladimir Krupin to reelect him. These men can be very persuasive. Igor’s opponent running against him wants to open records, make them public and investigate accusations about money laundering, foreign debts, the steel industry, and shipping trade. Things of that nature. Much of the tax revenue in our economy is benefiting the pockets of these men, not the country or people of Moldova. Pridnestrovie is seeking their recognition for independence from Moldova, but Igor’s administration holds them responsible to pay back debt and taxes they owe. The Antonescu brothers own the franchises and conglomerate on most everything, including those in Pridnestrovie, particularly Tiraspol. With Grigoraui in office he will keep the power and influence to run things his way without the people knowing how he really conducts his business in Moldova.”

“Then, if they don’t know anything about the journal or what it contains, what possible reason would they have to be interested in a genealogist from the U.S. working on old census files and immigration documents?” I asked.

“They make it their business to learn what they can about everyone visiting our country. They do not want outsiders, especially reporters learning about their business affairs. With this information (he tapped the journal with his finger) I think they would not want this information known.”

“I know there are many of the old Germans and Romanian families still living here from the war days. Even if those killers are all deceased now, the people of Moldova would never elect a man to office whose family was guilty of crimes committed against the Jews. Those killers were not all found or brought to justice for their war crimes, and their offspring might do anything to protect their family name. It is a horrible thing to have that known of your family if one was guilty of those crimes; more so if one of them was running for public office.”

“It has been said that much of the money, artifacts and personal belongings of the Jews worth any value was ransacked and confiscated by those killers during the war. Most of it has never been found or reclaimed by their rightful owners. There are also some members of the surviving Jewish families that were in those camps when they were liberated that have not left the old Transnistria. Securing the reelection of Grigoroui to president of Moldova would also secure the future holdings and conglomerate of the Antonescu family. So, there is much at stake for them financially in keeping power.” Jacob stared at the journal for a moment, and then said. “I think perhaps it best that I hide this somewhere where no one can ever find it again.”

Worried that these men could learn what I knew I hoped I had not already exposed Jacob as an accessory to my quite literally antiquated genealogical ‘digs’, but  I was still a reporter, as much as I was an archivist, or historian determined to research what I did not know, report what I had found, and write about what I had learned.

_____________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

Galveston Sunrise

Dawn’s soothing glow heals,

caressing Galveston bay;

the sun’s rays warming

~~~

waves that wash ashore

now a gentle tide, rising

roll back out to sea

~~~

The storm came and took

the lives who sought not to leave

Ike is gone now too.

__________________

Hurricane Ike made landfall on September 14, 2008 at Galveston, Island Texas. It was the third costliest hurricane to the U.S. mainline next to hurricanes Katrina and Ivan. The death toll was 195 with 23 still missing when reported. In October 2009 my husband and I flew down to Galveston to vacation. We rented a car and stayed in the Commodore Hotel on Seawall Blvd. where I took the above photo here and the one used in the story recently posted, The Search (Parts 1 & 2) from our hotel balcony four stories up. We were able to get a good view of the gulf coast through our binoculars and camera lens. While in Galveston for 9 days we walked around town, visited a number of scenic places, toured museums, and drove east and west along the coastline. Wherever we went we could see some of the reconstruction and repair still going on in the aftermath of Ike. The trip and the many photos we took there inspired me to do the story (The Search), and the poem above in honor of those victims who lost their lives, and those never found. The research I did and videos I watched gave me more insight into the massive, unbelievable  strength of these hurricanes. There are some good videos on Youtube of hurricane Ike with incredible footage of the storm as it happened.

________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)


The Search, (Part 2)

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The Search (Part 2)

Brian nodded. His nerves were on edge, the anxiety evident on his face.

“I was working with a relief agency after Ike hit to help look for those unaccounted for. It was so chaotic. The death count was rising and there were so many that did not evacuate, a lot missing. During the following days there were victims being rescued from roof tops, inside demolished buildings, boats, clinging to things washed up.  We found Paul floating on a piece to someone’s beach house. He was taken to a hospital. He couldn’t remember much of anything. He was in shock. No one knew where he lived, where to find any records, family, anything on him. So, he was a mystery to everyone. The agency hooked him up with a therapist and he has been seeing one ever since. I lived alone, worked in Houston, and wanted to help so offered to let him come live with me while he was in recovery. He has tried to get a job, get his footings, but it has been a slow process. He uses the name, Paul.”

Brian nodded. “Maybe, he remembered only his middle name, but couldn’t remember how to spell it… so used the name ‘Paul’ instead, since you said he had some kind of amnesia. Right?” Brian desperately looked for every logical reason to believe ‘Paul’ was Jed. His hands were shaking, and his heart was racing as he tried to prepare himself, in case he was wrong.

“Yes, maybe that’s it.” Billy replied.

Moments later, ‘Paul’ came out. His hair was shorter, his tan had faded away, and he had gained some weight. But, Brian knew without a doubt that the young man who stood before him, looking so confused was his son, Jed. The deep blue eyes that once reflected life and energy showed no response or recognition  to seeing his father. Brian wanted more than anything to embrace him and assure him that everything would be alright, but held back. He did not want to confuse him, so was content with a hand shake.

“Hi, Paul. My name is Brian Matthews. I…knew you…when you were younger… and thought we could get to know each other… again. I brought some pictures  along for you to see. There are some of you with…your family… one of you and me, and…your…Jenna. Here is one of… Griffin, your dog. What a huge and clumsy mongrel he was. Trying to get him up into the back of the SUV proved almost impossible whenever we took him places. He died later when he got sick and…well, you and him were great pals.” At times Brian caught himself, overcome with emotion,  laughing one moment, wiping a tear the next, remembering Jed and Griffin together.

There was an occasional nod or smile, but Jed said nothing. Brian then pulled out some old toys saved from Jed’s childhood. His eyes would blink or stare, lingering for a moment on something.

When Brian handed him a little U.S. Coastguard Lego’s boat Jed took the boat, instinctively pulled the pieces apart, and tried to reassemble the Lego pieces with the little ‘captain’ inside it. But, the pieces would not fit back together easily. He turned pieces around trying to force them into place, but became impatient throwing it on the floor. “It’s… broken… doesn’t work right.”

Brian smiled. Jed always threw his toys on the floor as a child when he became frustrated playing with Lego’s toys.

“That’s OK. We’ll fix it later.”

Jed blurted out, “It can’t be fixed! Broken… all of it. The water…took it.”

Brian looked over at Billy. He nodded, smiling, his expression hopeful.

“What did the water take, Paul? Where were you? Do you remember?” Brian asked.

Jed shrugged.

Brian handed Jed a little surfboard next. “Do you remember this, Paul?” It was the look in his eyes and the expression on his face that sparked something Brian had not seen before.   A memory?

“Gone. Broken, too. The water came, and took my… me.” He stared down at the floor at the Lego boat lying in pieces. His eyes rested on Brian, staring as if searching for something familiar. “I…it was dark. Storm warnings…the water… I went…took my…board…” Jed held the little surfboard in his hand and began to climb pretend waves up and down gesturing with his hand like a little boy at play. He stopped, looked down again at the boat, quiet, contemplative.

Brian picked up the boat, snapped the pieces slowly, methodically back together as he watched Jed’s face, and handed it back to Jed. “Do you remember a boat like this, Paul? Do you remember getting in one after the storm?”

Jed squinted, furrowed lines forming on his forehead as if trying to form his thoughts.

Brian knew it was a gamble, but, he would take whatever came, even if it was small or painful, and move forward one step at a time. They would get there.

Slowly, a word here, a phrase there, a sentence, and things spilled out in pieces like the Lego boat, until Brian and Billy learned what happened to him the day Ike hit. Jed made progress, but still had a long ways to go. He would not be returning to Texas A&M, but instead be coming home to Dallas with Brian where they would find him another therapist who would work with him, hopefully through a complete recovery.

~~~~~~~~~~

It was now September 13, 2009, one year after hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast. Galveston was still under reconstruction and repair, but the conference center was packed for the anniversary memorial service dedicated to those who lost their lives, and those still missing. Brian, Jenna, and Billy sat listening as the families of victims and survivors came forward to share their story, and to thank the members and volunteers of agencies who helped in their rescue. Jed walked to the podium.

“My name is Jedidiah Raul Matthews. A year ago today I took my surfboard and swam out into the sea. I thought I had time before Ike hit to catch a few good waves. I wanted a good ride. But, it soon turned ugly. I had no control. My board flipped me and I was sucked under. The impact and thrust of the waves knocked me around. I tried to hang on, but lost my board. It was gone. Everything was ripped apart, or floating; buildings, houses, even boats. I was alone in an angry sea. I tried to swim back, but couldn’t. The waves carried me further away whenever I tried. Something hard hit me, knocked me out. It was probably my surfboard on its way out to sea.” There was a ripple of laughter heard in the audience. “I grabbed onto something big floating by, and held on, until rescued. Because of a few people in my life who did not give up the search I am here alive to share my story, and to thank them. Thank you Billy, and to all those who helped in my rescue. Thank you dad for… finding me.”

__________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Search


The Search (Part 1)

Galveston Island, Texas, January, 2008

Brian stood on the balcony of the Commodore watching waves roll gently into shore. A seagull perched atop the light pole as if searching for something or someone, too. Two lone silhouettes came into view through his binocular lens as they strolled leisurely along the quiet beach on Seawall Blvd. He adjusted his lens to get a better look, but could see nothing in them that looked familiar.

He’d taken a leave from the company to continue his search. Faces in crowds, shops and hangouts, news reports, phone and address directories, Internet records: all produced nothing that led Brian to believe Jed was still alive, but nothing either had proven him dead. Showing strangers a picture of his son, leaving flyers, talking to those who knew their local clientele came up empty too. Hope diminished each day as time dragged on. Still, he gave every contact his business card with his cell phone number.

It had been months since hurricane Ike hit the gulf coast on September 13. Galveston received the worst damage with the largest number of reported deaths and missing. At times the surf washed up debris on shore that had been swept out to sea during the storm, even the remains of a body as the sea gave up its dead. He’d given the authorities all the information he could, even recent pictures of Jed that would aid them in the search, or identifying his remains if it came to that. One photo showed Jed standing beside his surfboard with the image of a huge orange sun hovering over a turquoise sea and a shark fin protruding up from its depths. Was there one waiting for Jed that day? Or was it the tenacious, unrelenting jaws of the sea that swallowed him, instead?

According to Jed’s friends at Texas A&M he went out alone in the water that night before it came to shore. There had been hurricane warnings and alerts posted for the entire gulf coast days earlier.  Jed didn’t have the sense to get out when evacuations had begun. No one saw him after that day. He was always chasing after the next big wave or adventure. His friends knew when to quit, find shelter or evacuate. But, not Jed. He would swim out, climb the swells to surging, frothy whitecaps, and ride them back to shore. It was to him, “the perfect ride.”

Brian’s thoughts drifted like the incoming tide when his cell phone rang, and he realized he was still holding the binoculars staring at nothing now but the open sea. The sun had risen to its place in the sky, the darkness less pervading. “Hello?”

“Mr. Mathews?” the voice said.

“Yes. Who’s this?”

“My name is Walt Gibbons. I’m a bartender at O’Reilly’s Grill on Seawall Blvd. I wasn’t working when you were in, but saw the flyer you left here. I have a friend who rooms with a guy that looks like the one in the photo of your son…”

“Yes, go on. Do you know him? Where can I find him?”

“I met him once, Billy’s roommate, that is. But don’t know him well. He came in here with Billy when I was working. He said his name was Paul, or something like that. I called Billy and told him about the photo of your son, and asked if it could be him.”

“What did he say?”

“Billy said Paul doesn’t talk much about that day, can’t remember it, or anything before that, where he lived, or what he did; says he doesn’t talk about his past, or having any family. Kind of weird. I have to admit at first I was kind of suspicious of you when I heard that. I mean, who would just forget things about themselves like that, you know? I wondered if he was running from someone or scared. But, then Billy told me something else about Paul…”

“What? What did he say?”

“Well, it was about him having suffered some kind of amnesia or concussion during the storm.”

“How did Billy meet him?”

“Billy has an apartment in Houston, but came down after the hurricane as a volunteer to help with recovery and locate the missing. Paul was one of those found after the storm.”

Brian hurriedly scribbled down the address and phone number Walt gave him. When he called the number, “Billy” answered. Brian identified himself, told him about the search for his missing son, and a meeting was arranged.

He pulled into a parking lot at the address given him. He knew better than to get his hopes up, and be disappointed again. He had photos, even some sentimental things of Jed’s with him. He picked up the backpack and walked up a flight of steps to the second floor entrance of the apartment building and walked down to # 9, and buzzed the apartment.

Billy answered the door. “Come in Mr. Matthews. I don’t know if Paul is your son, but when you told me a little about him and his obsession for surfing, things made more sense. He’s in his room watching TV. But, before I get him I think you should know some things, first. Have a seat.”

___________________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

Note: I am breaking up my usual posting schedule for the continued story, The Informant’s Agenda to introduce this new fiction story I have recently completed which will be posted in three parts. It gives readers an opportunity to read some newly created material. This story, ‘The Search’ is fiction, my characters and plot all fiction as well. But Hurricane Ike was real, one of the costliest ones to hit the Gulf Coast in lives and property lost, next of course to Katrina. The above photo is one I took while on a vacation to Galveston Island, Texas in October, 2009.

The Informant’s Agenda will return with the next chapter following the postings of the story, The Search. I welcome all feedback and comments on either and all my fiction and posts and helps me to know what my readers are enjoying, what they are not, what kinds of posts they like best, whether it be fiction, poetry, photos or prose, or any other comments to things posted on my blog. Thanks all for reading, commenting and following. All is appreciated.

Reflections on life

A summit is reached

only by climbing what once

looked impossible

_____________

The above photo was taken on a trip several years ago on the way to Yellowstone Nat’l Park in Wyoming.  This is the Grand Teton Range. We took the trip in June and was surprised to find so much fresh snow on the peaks there. When we got to Yellowstone Nat’l Park there was several feet of snow in places so hampered our driving and hiking into places usually accessible. When we drove out of the park a few days later it was snowing heavily again and we got into a blizzard on our way further north as we headed for Glacier Nat’l Park in Montana. They had a lot of new snow there also, but we were able to hike and walk on trails open and drier. It was cold and wintry like through the whole trip.

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XVI, (16) Part 1

old Mannhalter pictures and Bible 015

Chapter XVI (16)

The Journal – Into new hands (Part 1)

The house was not far, this side of Hlinaia, a small concrete block style, old, but appeared recently painted. The yard looked as if maintained on a regular basis. 

There was no response to my knocks on the front door. When I noticed his truck parked in the gravel driveway I knocked again, harder, and waited.

Floor boards creaked under slow, halting steps. The door opened.

“Ms. Mengelder? What a surprise. Come in. Did you come to ask more questions of me?” he said, smiling.

In spite of the tragedies he’d suffered it was his dry wit one could appreciate.

“Jacob, I’m sorry I appeared like a relentless press hound on your heels that day.  But, I do have an important issue to discuss with you if you have time to talk.”

“Of course. Come in. Have a seat. I’ll make us some hot tea. Or is it just that flavored coffee you drink like so many Americans? With whipped cream or fancy swirls on the top?”

“Oh, you mean Starbucks?” I laughed. Yes, we love our Starbucks. But, I love tea too, if you want to go to the bother. Thank you. I would like that.”

His furnishings were simple, old, but comfortable, his house clean. He filled a brass urn with water and crushed tea leaves. The urn was an antique like those from Middle Eastern countries.

“Is that a real samovar, Jacob? I’ve seen pictures of ones once used in the Russian Empire, from down in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, I think? I read they brew the best tea.”

“Yes, it was a cast off left over from things salvaged after the war when things were found and reclaimed by the Soviet state. When the republics won their independence they allowed Jewish war refugees to come and claim things once stolen by the Nazis. I had nothing left from my childhood saved or found. When I found that it reminded me of one my grandmother used before we were… so much was never found or reclaimed by the owners, so went into storage for surviving Jews who could come and claim things they wanted or needed. There is much history to those old things. Oh. I’m prattling on like the old relic I am. So, what can I help you with? You had something to discuss”?

“Yes.” I said, laughing. “Well, I was hoping you could tell me where the graves of the Mengelders are located that you told me about earlier. The ones before the war of course. I’ve been looking for them, but…have not located any yet, unless they were among those I could not read or decipher.  That’s why it was so incredible the way we met and I learned of your story, and the way we’re connected through the Mengelder line.”

“Well, I don’t know where all the Mengelders graves are, but some of the older ones are scattered in cemeteries here and there wherever their village churches sectioned off plots of ground in the 1800s, or where they settled and colonized.”

“Well,  my own grandmother told me a story about how the Mengelder ancestors in old Russia kept a journal of all the events and dates of things that happened in their lives, and some of the horrible things that happened to them. When they immigrated they could not bring it out of Russia, so it was left here with the next generation to keep going. Do you know anything about a family journal?”

“Yes. I think my father kept one, wrote things down, before he was killed. He taught me how to read and write at an early age, because the schools then did not allow Jewish children to attend. He told me how important it was to keep a record of things for our family. When the camps were liberated, I began writing in one, also. It was a way of healing… therapeutic to write down my thoughts and feelings. I would have nightmares about the war.. .”

As he talked he shared more about the way the Jews dealt with things in the aftermath of the war, rebuilding their lives, looking for lost and deceased relatives.

There was no subtle way to approach the subject of the journal, and confess how I came to possess it, and what I’d found in it. Confirmation was needed to prove my suspicions of those mentioned by name in the journal and their involvement in the Jewish massacres during the war. Jacob was the only person I trusted.

“Jacob, when I was at the Pridnestrovie Cemetery a few days ago I noticed one of the stones was leaning, crooked. When I tried to straighten it I found something buried under it. When I dug around the base of the grave I pulled this out. I don’t think the grave I found this under is one belonging to the Mengelder family, just one chosen at random to bury it.”

“After I found it I sat down beside the graves, and started reading. I was afraid the pages would tear, it is so old, but it was wrapped up in this tin, which helped preserve it, I think.”

“I missed my ride back to town with Irina. She had driven off before I got back to her car, so I had to walk back to town alone and that was what I was doing when I saw your truck that day on the road, and witnessed your accident with that man. I’m sorry about not stopping though to see if you needed any help. There was no excuse for my deliberate avoidance. I just wanted to get back to town quickly before it got dark. When I tried a short cut walking through some of the old village of Colosova, I got lost and stumbled upon an old man there who led me back onto the road, to Grigoriopol.”

“I did not want to risk losing the journal, or having it stolen. I have been followed at times and am worried that if it was known that I have it I would be in trouble and have to explain how I came to have it. Since it is so old, it is a rare and valuable book, irreplaceable, like an antique. Much of it is in old German script, which was easier for me to transcribe. I got all of it transcribed and documented, but only for our family. No one else, except my cousin knows about the journal or its contents. At least not to my knowledge. That is why I need to trust someone else with it now. Jacob, do you think this journal could be the one your father had before he was killed?”

His expression looked as if he had gone into shock. Finally, he nodded, caressing the ancient book as if afraid it would disintegrate in his hands while doing so. He looked up at me, with tears in his eyes. “If this is my father’s journal – the one I remember – then it is a treasure you have found.” he said.

“Yes, it is. But, there is something else about it, too. It contains names and sensitive information I think involving people during the war. Do you know if he had it on him the day he disappeared when he did not come home?”

“I’m not sure. He said he was going to go out and look for food and medicine. But, maybe he went to the cemetery instead, and buried the journal there. He was gone for a very long time. He slipped out under a hole in the wall he had made, and promised us he would be back. I was very sick, running a fever. There was Typhoid in our ghetto. I waited, watched for him, but…” he said, taking his handkerchief, and wiping away tears. “He never returned.”

______________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

Bridging what divides

A bridge connects what

divides by separation

bringing unity

_________

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

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