Archive for the ‘My Novel’ Category

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XVII (17) Part 2

The Informant’s Agenda

Chapter  XVII (17), Part 2

Relocating

 After changing my password and user name to the next backup one saved I sent Jeremy a message choosing my words carefully knowing he would understand my situation, and  added a priority alert for his immediate attention.

[J. A situation has come up suddenly and I need to delay further contact for a while due to unforeseen circumstances to my already booked schedule. Please wait with replies and responses at this time. Will get back to you at a later time. M.]

 It was past 7:00 p. m. when I called a cab to pick me up, checked out at the desk, paid my bill and left word with the desk clerk that if anything was found in my room I had left behind for them to contact me by e-mail not indicating what I had lost, and then I walked quietly down a dark hallway to the back entrance to wait for my cab.

The driver loaded my luggage and equipment into the trunk just as another car pulled out of the rear parking lot. When we were five or so miles out of Grigoriopol the car once again came into view, three car lengths behind, a black sedan like the one that followed me the day I walked back to Grigoriopol from the cemetery. I could not make out the driver’s face. It was too dark, and the glass tinted.

“Driver, could you take me to the Ayvazovsky Hotel when we get to Odessa?”

“Sure. No problem.”

As we came to the border crossing from Moldova into Ukraine we were stopped at the passport customs kiosk. An officer  checked my passport, visa and ID credentials. The black sedan was right behind us, went through the same check and stayed with us all the way into Odessa until we pulled up to the front entrance to the brightly lit Ayvazovsky. The sedan pulled into a lot across the street and parked. But, the driver remained in the car, the lights turned off.

The cabbie unloaded my bags from the trunk, and then helped the hotel valet load it all onto a luggage cart.

“Thanks for your help.”

“Sure thing. Did you come here alone, into Moldova I mean?” the driver asked.

“Well, I came as far as Moscow with other colleagues, but our business here took us all into different countries, or directions once we landed.”

“Oh. Are you with the media then?”

“No. Not exactly.”

He shrugged. “Just wondered. We still have a lot of old snoops around from the old regime. They make it their business to learn every one else’s. With elections coming up we get a lot of press and media here.”

“Yes, I know. Your country is about to elect a new president aren’t they?”

“Yes. There’s talk that Antonescu hides things from his past and doesn’t want the media…well, nosing around. But, that’s politics, you know? Can’t keep it clean anywhere.”

“True. Does anyone know anything about his past?”

“Oh, there’s some old folks around that knew his family and their background, but Antonescu is a sly ole weasel. Some say he has done a lot for Moldova by creating jobs, helping the economy and all. But, I think he just pays off those to keep quiet, if they know anything. Grigoroui’s opponent wants a real investigation opened that would expose everything, and things on his campaign manager.”

“That’s interesting. How do you know all this, I mean about things hidden in Antonescu’s past?”

“Some of it has been investigated by our own media.  And as a ‘cabbie’ I hear a lot just listening to what’s said from the backseat of a cab.”

“Yes, I’m sure.” I said, smiling. “Well, thank you very much. Here, keep the extra.”

“Thanks. I couldn’t help but notice the car that followed us all the way here from Grigoriopol.” He said, nodding his head in the direction of the parked car across the street in the lot. “But, maybe he just…well, stay safe. Goodnight, miss.”

“Thank you. I will. Goodnight.”

His observance and candid remark sent cold chills down my sweating spine.

After checking in I followed the hotel concierge with my luggage and equipment up to the fourth floor, room # 402, and settled in.

With the door locks secured I dressed for bed, but knew I could not sleep. The hours dragged on keeping me awake and alert to any sounds heard outside my door.

_______________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

Posted February 21, 2014 by Joyce in Fiction, Literary fiction, My Novel, My Writings

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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)

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)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XV (15), Part 2

Chapter XV(15), Part 2

With a cheap lock from a hardware store I took a cab to Chisinau International airport, and rented a locker in the public terminal. After locating the locker, I pulled a large padded manila envelope from my tote bag and placed it inside the locker, making sure I could be seen by anyone watching. Standing by the locker I casually perused through a brochure, and checked calls and messages on my cell phone. Then, I pulled out a compact, smoothed down my hair, and swiped some powder to my nose while looking through the compact mirror at people behind me. After I placed the compact back into my bag, closed up the locker, secured it with the lock, I walked away with the tote bag over my shoulder. The journal and my laptop remained inside my bag with other personal things throughout the charade. The bulky envelop left in the locker contained nothing more than a pile of kiosk brochures and newspapers.

When I got to the end of the corridor I camouflaged myself in a knot of passengers viewing flight arrival and departure schedules from an overhead screen and turned around to look. A man walked to my locker and inserted a small tool into the lock to open it. It was the same man who broke into my compartment on the train to Kiev, the one who had followed me all other times, and the one I saw outside the consulate’s offices in Odessa.

All the while I had my cell phone camera set to video, focused in on my subject, and videotaped him. With no clear recorded sound from that distance I could only imagine what might have been mumbled swear words as I watched his expression and lips moving at finding nothing but the trivial contents I had left behind. He slammed shut the locker door with the lock hanging loose and hurried away. Leaving the journal in a secure locker was out of the question for obvious reasons.

The night before I had deleted reports, pictures, files, search history, and e-mails from my laptop after sending them out, and transferred all over to my secure accounts under an alias name. Copies of all including my finished work files, archival lists, videos and photo files while on assignment were now safely stored in accounts giving only the U.S. D G H&R access to them.

Backup copies too kept on my flash drive I wore around my neck under my shirt were transferred as well. The journal I had already scanned with a copy, all correspondence, and research sent prior to Jeremy. I only hoped I had not waited too long in taking steps to protect all.

Oh, God. I hope I have not screwed things up.  It is too late now to return the journal. I’ll just be followed there, too.  I may have compromised confidential material, and jeopardized my assignment here. What should I do with the information I’ve learned? What now? Who can I trust? Where can I leave the journal. If I’m caught with it…

________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

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 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)

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