Archive for March 2014

The making of story, The Informant’s Agenda, and thirty plus years of research

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My family history – files, photos and documents on the Mannhalter family tree from Germany, Russia and North America

 

It was the year my father died in 1982 when I began the long journey of researching my paternal family history. When I realized all the resources out there in libraries, genealogy organizations and later on internet sites it opened up a whole new world of things at my fingertips, literally.

My paternal grandfather’s family were a part of the huge mass of immigrants who came over to the U.S. from Russia. My grandfather came from Odessa, Ukraine. As the years progressed and I learned so much about their lives, culture and what they left behind in Russia I had no clue yet or real evidence of their Jewish background because their family was Lutheran when they immigrated in 1889. When I did learn of their Jewish connection and background I was hooked and obsessed with my research.

I began filling up notebooks, buying scores of books and maps, joining German Russian genealogy clubs and visiting libraries and the RLDS Family History centers in my location to get into their exhaustive archives and files. I remember the excitement as I scrolled through their massive microfiche files and cataloged records and  finding a copy of the actual document of my 3x great grandfather’s immigration from Germany into Russia in 1786. I must have scared the other women in that room who filled their days volunteering time at the family history center when I loudly exclaimed,  “I found it. I found my ancestor.”

The rest is all history too as I spent hours pouring over books, maps and resources. Then in May of 1989 my dream came true and I was booked with a tour group to visit Russia. My husband was unable to go with me, so I flew to Moscow alone and hooked up with the tour group when I arrived. We visited Moscow, Kharkov, Kiev, Odessa and finally Leningrad (then named after Vladimir Lenin, and now renamed St. Petersburg). It was an absolute unforgetable and exciting trip. It was during that time, the ‘cold war’ period when Russia and its republics were still under the Communist regime.

But, my  journey did not end with that trip. I still revisit those places if only through the internet sites, maps and resources as I write the chapters of my ongoing story, The Informant’s Agenda and follow Monica on a similar journey as she travels to Russia, Moldova and Ukraine to learn the history of her own family, and that of families like her own. The same excitement (almost) is there as i narrate her story and journey.

Little did we know that Ukraine would make history again with the aggressive action by Russia to take possession of the Crimean region. The history of Russia, Ukraine, and all former Soviet republics is one of turmoil, revolution, dictatorships, destruction and rebuilding.  Now again, the country of Ukraine fight to keep and regain what they have lost to Russia. Their economy suffers while the west decide if, or how it can help. Their plight to keep a government and democracy strong is once again hanging in the balance. Although I will not bring into my story their current story I follow it in the news, and my prayers and thoughts are with them through this time. I hope one day Ukraine will look back on all this as just another chapter in their history that helped strengthen and unify their country in the reformation process.

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Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

Remembering a time in life before computers

There was a time and a place when my whims, moods or spontaneity dictated my day, the things I did or felt, and they were more carefree. But, that was when I was a child, or a teenager with fewer frustrations in life.  But, those days are long gone now that I know what it feels like to be a ‘baby boomer’, a senior watching the days and years pass all too quickly. I now work much harder to keep my brain sharp, my vision and hearing, and know that when I have laid down my car keys at the end of the day I can remember where to find them again the next day. I want to remember that I had my coffee pot filled and readied for the new day; not find water spilling out of its already filled reservoir, and that I remembered to write down appointments on my calendar. The list goes on.

Today, I treasure every memory I can recall, and every place I found serenity or pleasure wishing to return once more just to enjoy it again and savor the moment. I value every new idea my brain can invent or create, every word I can still spell or define, every sunset that merges into twilight and greets a new dawn upon its waking hours. It is another day I anticipate hoping for a clear head, a mug of hot coffee, and a working viable computer before me without crashes, frustrations and long lists of updates to install before my brain crashes and I forget what I was going to write or where I saved my file. I believe writing is one of those things that helps keep my mind sharp, but computers that confuse it. But, during the last full week it was my desktop computer that took the crash, and I had to start over with a clear head, some ingenuity and reload all of my Windows software. It was probably the jumbled up order I ‘arranged’ my docs and files in the first place that threw my trusty old desktop into a confused tailspin. 🙂 But, it is that PC where I do all my ‘creative’ stuff.  But, I will see how my old desktop performs under a newly rebuilt ‘engine’.  I have all the same files and programs on my newer working laptop, but it is my desktop that took the hit, and where I feel the most at home working on.

I am now working on the last few and final chapters of, The Informant’s Agenda, but it will need more writing and  editing before the story is finished  and I can finally look into publishing options, so might be a while before I can post those last few chapters, but for the time being I will work on other material and posts to add in between those chapters. Thank you to those who are following it. The comments and feedback have been so appreciated.

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Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

Posted March 23, 2014 by Joyce in My Writings, Writing

Tagged with ,

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XXI (21), The Czarina Catherine

Chapter XXI (21)

The Czarina Catherine

We entered the high-rise building in downtown Odessa, rode the elevator to the 15th floor and walked down a red carpeted hallway to The Czarina Catherine.

The manager greeted Vasily with a hug, and traditional kiss on each cheek, then directed us to a corner table in front of a large viewing window.

“What a spectacular view from up here.” I said. The sky lit up with the bright lights of Odessa.

Gold hurricane lamps sat on each of the small tables with crisp white tablecloths, porcelain china and crystal wine goblets. Waiters moved effortlessly between with trays of food carrying caviar on slices of toasted baguette bread with cups of thick chowder. Pickled herring appetizers with creamed cucumber and diced tomato filled another plate.

Beet colored glass sconces on the walls provided soft lighting for the intimate atmosphere. Portraits of past Russian czars and Czarina Catharine, and oils of Odessa, the Black Sea, and Ukrainian landmarks lined the walls.

In one corner violinists and stringed instrument musicians played old Cossack and Ukrainian melodies. Dressed in red and gold embellished vests, white ballooned shirts, black, billowing pants and shiny black boots they looked like they had stepped off the pages of a history book.

“The architecture of this building on the outside looks like one from the fifties, or old Soviet era, but the inside is all contemporary. Was it recently remodeled?” I asked.

“Yes. The building is old. It used to be a drab, gray apartment building, but has since been converted over to offices and restaurants except for the remaining remodeled apartments on the top floors above.”

“Back home we have those kind that are restored attic apartments in old warehouses and downtown buildings. They are called Lofts.”

“’Loft’ apartments. Nice concept for an attic room. Those here that would qualify are hardly bigger than a cloak room.”

“Some of those on the east coast have circular stairways winding around and up to the ceiling, taking up a whole floor. Those kind come with a hefty price tag or lease.”

“Impressive.” He nodded as if taking a mental note of everything I said.    

“The paintings and icons on the walls here look much like those I saw in, The Heritage Museum in St. Petersburg on my first trip to Russia.”

“Oh, these are reproductions I assure you, but still come with ‘a hefty price tag.’ I don’t remember seeing on your records when we first met that you visited Russia before this trip. Were you here as a tourist then, or for your job?”

“As a tourist, mostly. Since my family had ancestry from the Ukraine, and my cousin, Jeremy was serving an internship abroad we came over together. We did some local tours to places visited.”

“Interesting. And did you find this time around that the ‘Old Motherland’ was changed?”

The waiter interrupted our conversation to take our dinner order. Vasily gave him our entre and wine choices, speaking in his fluent Ukrainian dialect without needing to refer to the menu. Moments later the waiter returned with the first course: a cup of borscht beet soup with the pickled herring appetizers.

“Yes, drastically. In answer to your question on ‘change.’ With the new democratic government in place, and capitalism and entrepreneurs flourishing, it was as if they had stepped off a set of the middle ages into postmodern times. Such drastic changes of things and places from yesteryear to the new look today. The former, old ‘Gum’ department store looked more like a defunct ‘dime and ten’ store, when I went by there, with it decaying and falling apart.” Then I caught myself, rattling off like a self-righteous critic again from the still great super power of the west.

Vasily lifted his wine glass as if gesturing, “Well. Here’s to change, then”.

Our glasses came together.  “To change.”

“Change did not stop there in Petersburg, and Moscow, but changed all over old ‘Mother Russia’. Even into the Siberian provinces,” he added, with emphasis.

“Yes, I know. So, with all the changes I cannot help but wonder why there are still so many areas closed off from the public. The Moldavians especially are so tight-lipped on subjects like what happened during the Holocaust, and famine of the 1930’s, Bolshevism, Stalin, purges and Lenin eras. I’m still trying to figure out what their problem is with an American wanting to visit some historical sites, and…oops, sorry.”

“I think perhaps that is because people want to move forward, not dwell on the past and so they refuse to discuss what has been only painful, like a wound reopened.”

“But, don’t you think that a wound heals faster when it is cleaned up, exposed to the air, the poisons drawn out, and bandages kept off?”

“You’re quite the philosopher with your impressive metaphors. But, to answer your question; there is still a visible scar, while exposed.”

“But, time cannot heal a wound if first there is no reason to cover the scar. And, I think a country cannot move into the future with change if they are not willing to talk about its past, and deal with the things that caused those infected wounds in the first place.”

“Are you philosophizing again, or are we in another debate? It sounds a little familiar, like the conversation we had earlier today.” He said, smiling, keeping a calm exterior.

But, I could see the glint of cold steel in his eyes, and they no longer reminded me of melted chocolate.  And, I realized I had once again fallen into debate and needed to cut the crap, change direction. As deftly as I could, I switched back to the earlier, safer conversation of ‘Odessa’s new look.’

“Odessa has so many beautiful things to see and do, but I have not had much time to get out and visit those things on my ‘to see and do’ list.” I said, hoping to redeem myself, and hoping he would still want to escort me around, if I could only keep my mouth shut while doing so.

“Well, we will change all that. Starting tomorrow I will show you places that are now restored to beautiful malls, museums and shops. And, there are other places I think you will find right up your – how do you Americans say – alley.” He said, holding his wine glass up, then added, “To new ventures.”

“To new ventures.” I repeated.

At times I was ready to chuck all my work back into their musty old file drawers, visit a few more interesting sites, then head back home.

By the time the waiter came out with our next course of the meal, I was thankful to focus only on enjoying my prime rib served with a horseradish sour cream sauce and chopped spinach and potato cheese puff with fresh chives, followed by Creme brulee.

Three hours later after a leisurely walk along the avenue near Odessa’s old opera house and Pushkin’s Square Vasily drove me back to my hotel.          

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To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XX (20), Part 2

Chapter XX (20) Part 2

Vasily

It happened every time someone expressed opinions contrary to my own, and I countered back much like my old college days, when I was on the debate team. It was not really important, anymore whether I had made a point, but that I may not have made a friend. Irina, I knew would have berated me. Grandmother Lisle would have warned me with a gentle rebuke to be respectful. My cousin, Jeremy would have shaken his head, not surprised at my boldness. And my father would have lectured me.

But, Vasily surprised me. His face and expression was hard to read. At first I thought he was angry. He had a right to be, the way I come off speaking whatever is on my mind without first thinking. But, then he laughed. Not sure if he was setting me up, or just testing me, but I felt my face grow red from embarrassment.

“What are you laughing at? Is it something I said, or did?”

“Well, It’s just that… you have a way of pushing the, how do you Americans say? ‘Pushing the envelope?’ Your strong opinions, free speech, all that stuff you Americans do. It is so spontaneous. You get so… well, kind of defensive. It’s gutsy, easier to gauge a person’s reaction to things, especially you Americans. And you’re different.”

Although I believed he did not mean to be hurtful, or condescending by his blunt or honest assessment of my character, I could not help but wonder if he thought me brash.

“Oh, I get it. Well, you have just seen me do a ‘Monica thing.’”

“What is a ‘“Monica thing?”’ he asked, with a confused expression.

“Well, my family calls it a, “Texas Oil gusher.” I gush out like a Texas oil well spilling out on everyone, because I don’t always think before I speak.”

He burst out laughing. “That… is so funny.”

While I stood there wishing we could start all over, he was enjoying the moment at my expense.

He smiled, and put up his hands as if to surrender. “OK. I will admit that I was testing you. It was not fair. It’s not exactly the right way to build ‘diplomatic relations’ with the West is it? Truce?” His smile sent little creases up under his eyes.

“Yes. But please, no more of that. I’d rather you not see me when I get on issues that are…well, debatable.  I can be rather bull-headed.”

“I can believe that.” He smiled. “Let’s get back. I had a few other places I wanted to show you today, but we’re running out of daylight. We can see them tomorrow. We missed lunch too, so instead I’d like to take you out to dinner tonight to a great little place called, The Czarina Catherine where the music is live, the wine old and sweet, and the cuisine authentic. I’ll give you time to get cleaned up and change. Being down in that zemlyanka is dirty. As our engineer would say, it looks like I came away with ‘soil samples’ on me.”

“I can agree on that, and thanks for the dinner offer. It sounds wonderful.”

We started back. He slid a CD into his car stereo, and the sound of Ukrainian jazz filled the car’s interior.

My frequent checking over my shoulder at cars or people behind me was becoming an all too frequent habit here. But, I kept that to myself. For now.

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To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XX, (20)

Chapter XX (20)

The Zemlyanka

Vasily met me in the hotel lobby the following morning, dressed and ready for our adventure into the ‘bowels of the earth’ as Irina had put it, referring to the Zemlyanka, Russian for ‘dugout’.

It was not difficult to see why he had the attention and affection of so many single women in Odessa with his charismatic charm, easy smile, eyes the color of dark chocolate, and amber-colored hair like polished copper. He had that effect on me as I tried to think of something to say upon our meeting. But, my bumbling attempt at light humor only made me more self-conscious.

“When I went to bed last night I dreamt of rats, lice and fleas crawling around my feet, working up my pant legs as I climbed out, screaming and wishing for the frozen tundra of a Siberian frost.”  

He laughed. “I promise you it won’t be as bad as all that. Actually, the area has been treated with a chemical to avoid that problem when someone is down there, but is not hazardous. It has adequate ventilation. But anytime one goes underground, whether or not it is reinforced in concrete or steel, the earth settles, causing cracks or weakness to the subterranean structure, and more so with these zemlyankas over sixty years old. They are damp and cold inside. I have insulated rain slickers, water bottles and flashlights, even hard hats in my car if we need them. The site we’re going to today is not large, but structurally sound, with a floor to ceiling clearance of seven feet.” He led the way out to his SUV parked in the front entrance of the hotel.

We headed northwest, through Tiraspol, then north towards Vinnitsa skirting the eastern edges of Moldova and Transnistria, into the remote black forests of Ukraine. The drive was long, but relaxing as I listened to Vasily share some of the region’s history. We passed small clapboard and concrete block homes along the roads leading into industrial areas suffering from economic decline.

“There is a stark contrast up here in the north from that of the modern city of Tiraspol.” I said. “Is it better employment opportunities in the cities that draw people away from the small towns?”

“Somewhat, yes. There are successful established Ukrainians living in Tiraspol that employ many of the predominately Romanian and Russian residents up north.”

“What is the ethnicity of Ukrainians living here, now?”

“Well, the majority are a mixture really of all ethnicities. German and Jewish who chose to remain here. But, there are also Russians, Armenians and Turks; I guess kind of like in the U.S. a relative mix of everything and everyone who now calls this country ‘home.’ We are now reentering Ukraine, after switching in and out of Moldova and Pridnestrovie.”

Vasily slowed down, exited the main road and pulled onto a dirt path leading into a dense forest. After another couple of miles or so we came into a clearing that opened up and the Zemlyanka came into view covered in overgrowth and foliage.

“I had an engineer inspect it recently for any signs of unstable areas in the case it collapsed on someone. I’m responsible to check on these things occasionally to make sure they do not become some homeless person’s campsite while trespassing. So, since you asked to see things, “real and unaltered,” I think were your words, I was in a position to honor your request.” He looked over at me and grinned.

“Oh, well thank you then for allowing me the opportunity to see it.”

“My pleasure. It gives us a chance to get better acquainted.”

He handed me one of the insulated slickers, a hard hat and flashlight, then donned his own, and turned on an LED lantern. When I turned on my flashlight Vasily led the way down uneven stone and wood steps into the interior to what looked like an earth cave.

The inside was cold and dank, the earthen floor made of hard packed black soil.

There was evidence of further excavation beyond the interior, but was blocked by large wooden slats pulled across the smaller, narrow opening in the form of a large X preventing further exploration. A warning sign, Держите вне, ‘Keep Out’ was nailed on the boards. A small primitive rusted wood stove leaned to one side. Thick tree limbs four to six inches in diameter stretched across the top and up the sides forming the walls and ceiling to hold back the earth, supporting the structure now covered in overgrowth and moss. Ventilation areas opened up through the earth and wood ceiling to allow for air flow and circulation. But, the walls and ceiling were so insulated from outside noise that our heartbeat and breathing was all we heard in the tightly closed space, the blackness so consuming all we could see was what surrounded us shown only by the light from Vasily’s LED lantern he held aloft, and my flashlight, which I’d handed to him while videotaping the inside.

“This is just incredible, how a group of Jews on the run could escape their captors, their killers, and build something of this sort so fast, moving earth, cutting down trees, transporting it all, a wood stove even, and never know for certain how long they could stay here, before moving on. It is amazing how industrious they were when their lives could be ended at a moment’s notice. According to my research those living in the German occupied territories of the Soviet Union were almost always shot on sight, or rounded up for mass extermination, not usually transported to the death camps, except for those forced to march to Transnistria. I’ve heard survivors’ stories of those who escaped during the relocation from the ghettos. And stories of the horrors that awaited all who didn’t.” I said.

“Yes. The ones who did get away often found others on the run, and hooked up with partisan groups who built these, or found refuge with sympathetic villagers. There were a lot of them, hundreds actually who made it to a secure place before the end of the war. Some were sympathizers from other ethnic groups that hated the Germans so much they joined up with them. Their inclusion in the Jewish partisan groups often equipped the group as a whole with more knowledge and resources giving them an advantage over their enemy. But, in places where the anti-Semitism was so great the Jews would form ‘Jewish only’ groups to keep out spies or informers from betraying them.”

When I finished videotaping the inside I turned off my camera, and put it away. A feeling of claustrophobic like suffocation and dizziness from the lack of fresh air and sunlight came over me. Not wanting him to think me a wimp, I said nothing as we walked back up the steps to the outside.

Like another historical icon to its past the Zemlyanka would remain untouched, another memorial to those who forged on with the will and courage it took to survive.

As we headed back to his SUV I looked around at the serenity of the forests, thinking about the sad things that happened here.

“These woods seem kind of eerie, quiet even. More so maybe, when the sun doesn’t shine, or shadows merge in around the trees as it goes down. But, I imagine they provided some protection for the partisans when they hid in them, or wherever to evade detection from the Nazis. The thought of frightened, desperate people with nothing to defend themselves, running for cover from a hail of bullets makes me shudder.” The image chilled me as I stood shivering in my jacket.

“Yes. But, imagine their triumph too, when they surprised Nazis with weapons of their own to fight with, watching them go down under the blows of a wooden club made from these trees, or piece of scrap metal shaped into a saber or knife. They took whatever they found, invented new ways to use it, and then learned the skill of survival. Most often they had nothing but the clothes on their backs when they escaped during relocation. It took small victories like that to form an army of commandos.”

“You sound like one who knows it well, or heard it told by ones who lived to tell it.”

“That is true. Their stories were passed down to our generation well before they were made public, or shared with the West. We Ukrainians see it with the perspective of one who understood their will to survive under impossible odds. One cannot just stand there, vulnerable before his attacker waiting to die. He has to be prepared to fight, with the intent on killing him first. If he is going to have to defend himself he better know how to overtake his enemy, under the worst of conditions.”

“True. With that perspective one can relate to the victim running away, cowering in underground bunkers while pursued, or the one courageously facing his attacker. History is a powerful tool, teaching us to be better prepared for things coming after, whether it is political fallout, or wars not yet fought.” I replied.

“Yes, but it’s a new day, and a different generation. As a member of the consulate it is often times necessary to remain neutral on old issues, if it helps to advance us, compete in the global market.  Be more open, focused on raising the standard of our lives, putting behind us the catastrophic disasters and political mistakes of the past in order to move forward in the twenty-first century. It does not benefit us to worry if there will be another Genghis Khan, Lenin, or Stalin rising up.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Simply put, there is sometimes too much written about the lives and crimes of those killers and dictators from the old Russia to feel any redemption, and the right to put it behind us, in order to build a union with equality for everyone.”

“Are you saying that the media should not exercise their right to report on the horrors committed under a deranged lunatic, or the dictatorship that kept your people oppressed, imprisoned under false charges, in constant fear of their lives? What about your revolutions that brought down a socialistic regime so a democracy could be created? Those are events that changed the course of history in Europe and Russia. It grabs the attention of the world, the kind of attention that makes the press want to report it, and the historians and archivists to document it. I think the majority of people in the free world would just hope your elected officials see that those horrors never happen again.”

Vasily’s head jerked back, his dark eyes pinned on mine, his expression sober, I felt certain of one thing: That I had just made a huge mistake once again running off at the mouth.

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To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XIX, (19)

Chapter XIX (19)

Starting from the beginning I told her only what I felt she had a right to know, not where, or from whom I had learned what I knew. My primary intent was to protect Jacob, respect his privacy, and all other sources and contacts I had while here. Information about the journal, its contents, how and where I’d found it I kept from her, also. My own research files I decided would have to be sufficient proof, pulling out my typed up reports and handing them to her. They contained documented names, cross referenced with the original names, dates and details of atrocities committed against the Jews during the years of 1941-1944 in the ghettos of Transnistria and Ukraine by the Romanians and their Iron Guard in charge of carrying out the massacres.

Irina lifted her eyes from the reports and set them on me with an expression like I had just puked in her coffee, a look of disgust or unbelief; I couldn’t discern which.

“You can’t be serious. Do you realize who you are dealing with in these accusations? Do you know just how serious this is if this is true? I know these men are ruthless in business, and even though there are old rumors to this effect these men protect themselves and come back with what you Americans call a ‘spin’ on things. They have tight control on everything here.”

“Naturally. Considering the kind of people they are one would not expect them to be anything else but. I told you I have trustworthy sources who have helped in this search and can attest to its credibility, but I will not give you their names or contact information. I also have an obligation to report my findings to my own agency in Washington and to those in Israel seeking information on Holocaust collaborators and killers still living.”

When my cell phone rang I looked at the caller’s name, then excused myself and walked into the bathroom.

“Hello?”

“Ms. Mengelder? This is Olga. I received your check-out notice from the desk clerk, but I have something of yours that was found on the floor under the bedside table.”

“What is that, Olga?”

“It is a flash drive I believe. When the maid vacuumed the rugs she found it. Perhaps it fell off the table or bed as you packed. Would you like for me to mail it to you?”

Stunned speechless I did not reply at first trying to think how it could have been ‘found’ on the floor when I knew I had searched everywhere for it before I left.

“Thank you, Olga. I guess I must have missed it when I packed, or it ‘fell’ onto the floor as you suggested. I looked for it, but couldn’t find it. Thank you for calling me to let me know. Yes, I would appreciate it if you could send it to me, but my address and location is only temporary right now. Could you send it to the consulate’s office in Odessa instead, in care of Vasily Kuznetsov? He will see that it is returned to me. Just give me a minute and I will look up the address.”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary Ms. Mengelder. I have it, and will mail it out.”

“Thank you, Olga. Goodbye.” It would be difficult to determine if the files and data on it were hacked or compromised, and learn who, or why someone was playing a game of ‘lost and found’ with me, but felt certain someone had taken it, and now decided to ‘return’ it.

Irina was too busy touching keys on her iPad to notice the interrupted call from Olga when I walked back into the bedroom.

“I’m taking notes for later. I want to do a search on some things for myself,” she said without looking up. “I have my own sources. Who have you told about these files?”

“Those files? No one. But, I have my own sources of information. You and your people were unwilling to provide me with real interviews so I sought out some on my own time. But, since you are the representative assigned to me, and know the ins and outs of your government policies I am letting you see the official reports I have already filed and sent to my own department agency back home. Like I said, I think the information should be sent to authorities not under Grigoroui’s thumb, so they can decide what to do with it.”

“And do you really think they will believe what a genealogist has found in some old records? They’ll think the documents are forged. They will demand to know who your sources are. The names here are people who could be in their eighties or nineties by now, if still living. Just because they have the same surnames as Grigoroui and Antonescu does not mean they are related to them.”

“I realize that, but look at all the similarities in their background family history. I read that Grigoroui’s opponent wants records opened and investigated. So, I’m betting they would just love to have all this poop scoop on Grigoroui and the Antonescu brothers. Do you know what this information would do when hitting the media? Front page articles under bold headlines, television news channels demanding interviews, CNN’s ‘breaking news’ coverage, internet and wire services: all about Grigoroui’s and the Antonescu brothers’ long kept family secrets. Look, Irina, I am not out to win yours or anyone else’s trust or approval here. I went after the truth. That’s all. But, my hope is that it will enlarge the scope of investigation here for the killers responsible in the massacres of the thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Time is running out for finding those old ones to bring them to justice and trial for their war crimes. Israel and the US are still looking for those not yet found.”

“Be careful, Monica. You’re an American archivist, genealogist, free-lance reporter. They’ll call it a ‘conspiracy’ to ruin Grigoroui’s chance for re-election and will have you thrown out of this country on your… butt, if of course you are that lucky to get thrown out and not killed first, or at least arrested for slandering a president in office. Have you considered you might lose your own job and credibility? Do not underestimate them. Those men are the new ‘Iron Guard’ of the old Russia.  Have you told Vasily about this?”

“No. I see him tomorrow. He doesn’t know I’ve moved out of Olga’s and relocated here. I haven’t told him about being followed either. But, now that I have a picture of the one who followed me in Moldova, maybe Vasily can help.”

“You have a picture?” she asked incredulously.

“Yes. One I took at the Chisinau International Airport just to see if I was being watched. But, it worked.” I smiled.

“Let me see it.”

“Here,” I said, pulling it up on my phone. “But, it is not real focused. I was standing way back in the terminal under a departure screen when I took it.”

“What is he doing there holding up some kind of large folder by a locker?”

“Looking for what he thought I was hiding. I rented it, then stashed some brochures and a newspaper in it.” That was all I was willing to say, and hoped it was enough to satisfy her.

“Don’t assume anything, Monica.”

“I don’t. As a researcher there is one thing I have learned above all: Truth is always supported by facts.”

“What I am saying is if this unravels, and all of it’s true, be careful what you do.”

And the one thing Jeremy told me.”Trust no one but yourself.”  

My cell phone rang again. “Hello? Hi, Vasily. Yes, fine, thank you. And you?  Good. Well, yes, I’m done with archiving and photocopying in Moldova, I think. But, I still have some things to do in Ukraine. Olga’s? No, I checked out and relocated to the Ayvazovsky Hotel in Odessa. It’s closer and a little more convenient for the remainder of my time here. Yes. In the hotel lobby? That would be great. Thanks. I look forward to it. Tomorrow then. Goodbye.”

“He wants to show me some things before going to lunch. He is going to take me to a “zemlyanka,” or dugout used by the Jewish partisans during the war. I have heard about them but didn’t know if they still existed, or where they were located.”

“There were some located in both Ukraine and Moldova.”

“Vasily said to wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes.”

“Well, I don’t think he would consider taking someone through those if there were still any issues with flooding or asphyxiation. The largest one runs under the streets of Odessa. There has since been some work done on it to reinforce the walls and seal up the weakened pipeline that ruptured. Some advocates and historians want it saved and preserved as a memorial site.”

“Sounds more like boots and a gas mask is needed. Doesn’t sound like a place to advertise, or promote on a scenic brochure. But, they sound fascinating. Can’t wait to see it.”

“Yes, I think it would be something you might enjoy poking your nose into.”

_____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XVIII (18)

Chapter XVIII (18)

When I called Irina letting her know I had relocated to Odessa she did not seem surprised, assuming I was just growing tired of Grigoriopol and Olga, and maybe even her. There was more truth in all of that than what I was willing to admit, but just said, “Yes, I thought it a good move since Odessa is closer to some the archives I was inhabiting lately, and felt lured to the big city which is after all a little more exciting.”

She said, “And, of course there is Vasily. I mean with his office being in Odessa too.”

I knew she was baiting me with that remark, but said nothing more on that subject, only mentioned I still had some unfinished business, and information I needed.

So, the knock on the door did not come as a total surprise, much like the rain bursting from the darkening cloud I had been staring at from my window as I drained the last of my coffee from the pot I had sent up with my breakfast order.

“Who is it?”

“Irina.”

Another thing to be thankful for. A peep-hole in the door.

“Hi. Sit down. Have you had breakfast, yet? I could have them bring up another breakfast tray if you haven’t. My treat.”

“No thanks. I’ve already eaten, but the coffee I could use. Now, tell me what is going on, Monica. When I tried reaching you the day I dropped you off at Olga’s you either didn’t get my message, or you disregarded it. So, I called Olga and asked if you were still there. She told me you checked out so suddenly she had no information on your relocation status, just your forwarding number and email address.”

“OK. Yes. I had no choice but to leave and relocate. Irina, I told you someone was following me. But, you never believed me. That night someone broke into my room while I was taking a bath and when I jumped out of the tub to see who it was, or what was going on I later discovered my USB flash drive missing, a little one I wore around my neck. I looked everywhere for it, but it was nowhere around. I had files on it I was working on. Fortunately I had sent on to Washington my earlier work files and documents. But, there were still, well…some personal things on the flash drive. I had to get out of there. Frankly, I was scared. I have no idea who is following me or why…but suspect that someone has hacked into my work files…and things I’ve researched.”

Irina stared at me as if I had grown horns, then sighed and said, “Well, I don’t see how anything I know can help you recover your flash drive, or find out who is following you, or why. But, you seem to find trouble wherever you go.”

“Yes, it appears that way, doesn’t it? But, someone maybe does not like some things I’ve learned while here. Anyway, I was wondering if you could fill me in on some more about the history of Transnistria.”

“I don’t see how that has anything to do with your…troubles, but alright. Do you remember me telling you, that Pridnestrovie, the new name for old Transnistria has been in the process of seeking their independence and recognition as a nation?”

“Yes. I do.”

“Well, there has been feuding and an ongoing conflict between Moldova and Pridnestrovie ever since the 1992 war for independence. Some Moldavians want to keep control of Pridnestrovie, and will try preventing their official recognition for independence if they can. There are many Germans still living in the new Pridnestrovie. The ones in Tiraspol, their capitol have become quite prosperous and successful. The Moldavians want to take back that territory claiming Pridnestrovie owes them huge amounts in taxes. By the way, wasn’t your family from that region, of old Transnistria?”

“I don’t remember telling you where my family was from.” I said, so surprised by her question I knew she could see it on my face.

“Yes, but as you probably know you were well vetted by the Russian officials before being allowed into the country to gain access to our archives. You must know they would have learned all of that information on you beforehand, don’t you?”

The implications and her comment made me wonder just what all they really knew about me, frightening as it was. “OK. I suppose so. Yes, they are from the former Gluckstal German colonies in Transnistria.”

“Well, there are people in Moldova that will stop at nothing to get what they are after. Not all of these people are in the same ‘ball park,’ or ‘playing field’ as you Americans say. Some want reform and change, but there are others who want to run the country with an iron fist like the old dictatorships of the former Soviet Union. They want control in everything, especially the economy. I believe the people of Pridnestrovie are honest people wanting reform and a democracy. But, there are strong factions in Moldova who will try to stop that because they lose all control over the country’s economy and markets that the Germans have built up and made successful.”

“Would there be any reason for any of those people to want access to Holocaust research files and documents, or follow me around to see where I go?”

“It’s possible. The politics in old Transnistria are very unsettling right now, and you have to be careful what you step in if you get my meaning. The people who are presently in power in Moldova are from the original Romanian extraction.”

“So? What are you getting at?”

“OK. As you know, it was the Romanians that collaborated with the German SS and Nazis during World War II when much of the ‘Final Solution’ was carried out, and the thousands killed on the steppes of Russia.”

“Yes, I know about all of that, but why are the Romanians ‘feuding’ now with the Germans in old Transnistria? Weren’t most of those Germans Evangelical Lutherans or Catholics? Isn’t there a lot of Catholics or Protestant Romanians in Moldova? Wouldn’t they be like on the same ‘team,’ to use another metaphor?” I asked.

“No. The Germans who are so successful in Pridnestrovie right now are not just German, Monica. They are descendants from some of the original German Jewish settlers. Some come from the families of victims, or survivors of the Holocaust. It does not matter whether they converted, or not to the Lutheran religion. Whatever they believe now, they are still Jewish to the Moldavians.  We’re talking about families that go way back. There is still a lot of animosity and anti-Semitism here. Do you see my point?”

“Yes.” I nodded slowly, the realization settling now like the Siberian frost.

“Is that the reason I was not given prior permission to interview your elderly citizens about their families and relatives in the Holocaust? Because someone in charge prevented me learning about their past links with the massacres? I asked ahead of time to have appointments set up for me to interview those that could relate their stories. I thought those things were also supposed to be part of the new reforms, but was not given access to the lists of names and addresses of those people.”

“I don’t know, nor have any control over that, Monica. I made your requests known to the consulate of Moldova, that’s all. Sensitive issues like the Holocaust are things they keep quiet about, particularly the massacres in Transnistria and Ukraine. Russia and its former Soviet republics have a very dark past. People can’t forget – especially the old ones – those things, the massacres, gulags, all of it. It can make a big difference on Election Day for someone running for president, or a position in parliament if the candidate, or a family member was guilty of crimes committed against the people. Those candidates want that past buried, like the dead at the cemeteries.”

“Who is it at the Moldavian consulate’s office that decides if a press release is allowed, or not, on something of such sensitive material?” I asked.

“The president’s.”

“And the candidate running this time around?” I asked.

“Igor Grigoraui, the current president who is running for re-election.”

“How did he get elected so easily the first time?”

Another sigh. “I think people did not know as much about him as they know now, like the way he does things, runs the country, the way he wants control of the Transnistria region and its people. The things reported about him may have hurt his chances for re-election.”

“So. Igor Grigoraui is the current president, up for reelection. And he has control of the consulate, what the press is allowed to report, who, or what they have access to?”

“Exactly. Monica, you had better tell me what is going on. What have you dug up on him?”

Dug up?’ Oh, just an old journal .If you only knew, Irina.

With a long sigh, I refilled our coffee cups. This is going to take a while.

“OK. But, please be patient, and don’t interrupt me until you hear all of it.”

_________________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

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