Archive for the ‘family history’ Tag

Through the lens of time

Antique Kodak Duaflex IV camera

Antique Kodak Duaflex IV camera with photos of my grandfather and relative


Through the lens of time

 searching to find all but gone.

Slow to come to mind,

the memories grow too dim,

photos I clutch in my hand.

 

Where was this taken?

Whom is it I cannot see?

 It is all I ask

God, you grant this wish for me

and bring back my memory.

____________

Joyce E. Johnson (2015)



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 X, ‘Connecting with Irina’

Chapter Ten

Connecting with Irina

The repeated, Knock! Knock! came again, louder, feeling like a blunt force blow to my eardrums, jarring me out of a semiconscious state of sleep.

The pounding headache and stiff neck reminded me of times I sat confined in an economy class seat during overseas flights, suffering from too little sleep and a caffeine withdrawal. 

Downing a couple of pain relievers I stared back at my reflection in the mirror. My hair needed conditioning, and the honey-gold highlights, a re-do.  Like all else here, it will have to wait until I have the time to go shopping for essential items.  My hazel eyes responded to the ice-cold tap water I splashed on my face. The cucumber moisturizer soothed my sunburned cheeks.

Now, I need some of Olga’s sludge. Sludge, a name I gave Olga’s strong “espresso” coffee, complete with the coarse grounds settled like concrete. Two or more cups of her ‘Turkish brew,’ and I was running on high-octane, its effects lingered leaving me more energized than the robotic bunny in the EverReady battery commercials.

“Just a moment, Olga,” I said, impatiently.

It was becoming routine now with Olga bringing me a tray of her ‘sludge’, Russian rye bread, yogurt, fruit and cream; but, I have to admit, one I looked forward to.

It wasn’t Olga.

“Good morning. I see you made it back, safe and sound.”

“Oh, it’s you, Irina. I thought it was… I mean.  Oh, crap! I’m so not with it today.”

“Apparently not. Well, you better pull yourself together, and quick .” she said.

“Where were you yesterday when I walked out of the cemetery? I tried to make it back in time, but was delayed. I told you before that those things take time, videotaping gravestones. You didn’t have to take off, leaving me stranded out there, alone. It took me hours to get back.”

“And you should know that when I set a limit on time allowed at sites I mean for that to be kept. I won’t hang around for hours to make things convenient for you. I had to get back to town where the cell signal is stronger, and call the consulate to reschedule our appointment. Cell service is undependable that far out. I hope it was well worth your time and effort the inconvenience cost us.”

Ouch! My cheeks and ears felt the sting of her rebuke. 

“It was OK. Just another cemetery with a lot of old stones, but I did manage to extract some good information from it.” I said smiling, enjoying my little metaphor.

“I drove back to look for you, but couldn’t find you. There was an accident on the road that slowed up traffic.”

“Yes, I know. I saw it too. And that reminds me of something else I need to discuss with you. Someone has been tracking me wherever I go around here. Do you know anything about that?”

“What do you mean?”

“Dark blondish hair, scar on his left cheek, medium build, black leather jacket.  Do you know him?”

“No.”

“Well, I think he broke into my compartment while on the train in Ukraine. I am always careful, locking things up. I did some work on my files before shutting down for the night. When I went to use the lavatory at the end of the car,  there was a man hanging around outside my compartment. I think it was the same man. When I came back my door key wouldn’t work and my binder and laptop had been moved or searched. Fortunately, he was unable to access anything important. But, not long ago, you said your officials wanted to “compare  notes” with the U.S. immigration department’s records, census and registration files. Why is that? What do they need to compare?”

Irina let out a sigh. “During the Soviet era there were no archives open to the public to visit or view files. Most records were disorganized, incomplete, lost, or destroyed. As you know files were classified during the ‘cold war’ so people could not look for displaced, deceased, or imprisoned relatives sent to the gulags.”

“Oh? And, what about the records found on the Jews during the Holocaust when your countrymen betrayed the thousands of victims massacred by the Einsatzgruppen SS. Were they just more convenient for Adolf Hitler to find?” I asked,emphatically.

“Yes. That was another unfortunate story when Russia may have turned a blind eye. But, now that we are a democracy and the archives open we have the problem of organizing, and sorting through mounds of files, declassified documents and dossiers of the Russian people as well as those from the former republics. Your system in the U.S. is more organized and thorough. Ours is not, so our officials just want to view the records, update their own, and utilize the same system.”

“And, for your information, while on the subject, our officials do not steal notes or do room searches. Of course, we want our records compared and matched up with those of the U.S. for the benefit of researchers and genealogists. How else could they be of help to those researching online, if there are errors or discrepancies? Only a sleuth steals what he cannot get legally.”

“Maybe that guy is from customs, just wanting to procure legitimate documentation that you have the necessary identification to be here. Just because we are now an independent country doesn’t mean we can trust everyone who enters our country, photographing and videotaping cemetery graves. There are privacy issues. We can’t assume everyone is really who they say they are. Don’t blame me if you fail to find what you are seeking, Monica, or find a flaw in our system here regarding your stay and assignment. We can’t bury our past; Just live with it, and hope we never repeat it. It is not up to me to grant you more than I’m given permission to allow unless first approved by my superior. But, I will speak with him about your requests and see what I can arrange.”

“Alright. Thanks. I would appreciate it, and so would the U.S. Genealogy Dept. of History and Research, and my ‘superior’.”

“Now, hurry up. I’ll wait outside. I promise not to leave you behind this time. We’ll grab some of Olga’s ‘sludge’ and rolls on the way out. We don’t have time for a leisurely breakfast.”

“Yes, ma’am!” I said, a bit sarcastically.

She walked out, giving me “thirty minutes” to dress.

When I was ready and loaded my equipment into Irina’s car I noticed a man across the road collecting bags of trash, piling them into his pickup bed where shovels and garden tools were laid.

“Irina. Do you know the man over there by the pickup truck?” I asked.

“Sure. That’s Jacob. He’s a maintenance man who works here in Gregoriopol. Why, is he another one lurking around, spying on you?” she said, laughing.

“Well, no. It’s just that I’ve seen him around town and just wondered who he was. He was the other man in the accident on the road, yesterday. But, I’d still like to know who the man was that I saw while on the train, then at the Babi Yar, in Kiev, then at the accident scene…”

“Monica, I’m sure he’s just an official that wants to be sure you are not a threat to our security, It’s nothing to worry about. You’re becoming paranoid.”

“I don’t think so.”

________________

 To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson  (2013)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter IX, Grigoriopol

Chapter Nine

Grigoriopol

Grigoriopol sits on the border of eastern Moldova and the unrecognized territory of Transnistria. It was geographically a strategic place for me to stay. But, politically it was a controversial site of contention between the two divided regions, home to several ethnic groups of people, the predominant ones being of Romanian, Ukrainian and Russian extraction. The Armenians founded the colony in the 1700 s before the German colonists came, settled in, and then moved on because the two groups could not get along. The Mengelders were part of that first group of Germans.

A café sat on the far end of the street where they serve German, Russian and Romanian cuisine. A newspaper/printing office, convenience store, gas service station, and the small inn were all that remained open, or lit up at 10:40 p.m.

Few residents could speak English, except Olga, the owner and manager of the small inn where I stayed. It was the neon sign above her establishment that I found comforting now as I entered through the front door with my bag, exhausted from hours of walking with little else on my mind but getting safely back to my room at Olga’s.

The snacks from Olga’s trolley cart, and a hot bath helped revive my weary body, but the lure of the journal was too tempting to climb into bed for the much-needed sleep.  Over cups of hot strong tea and magnifying glasses I examined and studied its contents while sitting up in bed.

A soft knock on my door, and I was once again feeling as if caught with ‘forbidden fruit’.

“Yes, who is it?” I asked, quickly stuffing the journal under my pillow,

throwing my robe across my laptop and notebook beside it. When satisfied I’d camouflaged all, I walked to the door, waiting to hear a reply.

“It is I, Ms. Men… gel… der? Olga. I warmed up a bowl of borscht for you. Very sorry to disturb you. Were you out? May I leave you the tray? I saw your light on.”

“Just a moment, Olga.”

When I opened the door, Ms. Levitchi held out the tray showing me her best smile with her crooked, yellowed teeth. Her teased mop of uneven bleached locks, and thick dried slabs of pancake makeup pasted on her plump rouged cheeks showed creases under her eyes and chin where folds of old fat sagged.

Grateful for the hot meal, I replied, “Thank you. It looks wonderful.”

Bidding her a goodnight, I closed and locked the door again, placing the tray on a table and ate the beet soup, and black bread, hungrily.

Now, back to the journal. The script was difficult to read written in old German and Cyrillic. A chronological order of events were recorded, births, marriages, weddings and deaths documented, as well as the happy, sad and some very tragic.  Some where the ink was faded would need strong magnification or deciphering. Initials were used rather than full names, I presumed to keep the writer’s identity secure, different ones used throughout the journal recording families migrating from Wurttemberg, Germany, up into Prussia, then into Bessarabia in the late 1700 s by wagon and later by boat as they crossed the Bug River to Bessarabia, and later the Dniester to new settlements.

Hmm. Similar to what the old man said.

Before I settled in for the night I sent off an email to my cousin, Jeremy telling him about my day, the accident I witnessed, Irina deserting me, and the long walk back. What I did not tell him was the journal I’d found, afraid I might get a lecture from him.

The guilt of what I’d done, taken from one’s grave weighed heavy on my conscience. But, knew it was just a matter of time when I would have to trust him with that information and ask his help in transcribing it once I had scanned it all and sent it to him in an attached file.

After typing some notes and saving all into my laptop account documents I forwarded him copies.

Comments I posted to my web blog, The Quill and Quest were made public to associates and peers. But, other information concerning my assignment here was known only to Irina, the consulate, my family and the U.S. G D H&R in Washington.

When I was done updating my reports and travel log, I sent the attachments to my account back home, then deleted them from my laptop, except for those still on my flash drive which I wore on a chain around my neck. With my passwords changed frequently Jeremy was the only person I trusted and who had access to all. An alias profile and log-in user name helped keep my account secure, preventing anyone else access and learning the identity of sweetpotatopie@Quill&Quest.net.

Nebraska was nine hours behind Moldova’s time zone, so I could not always make direct contact and cell phone signals were not the most reliable on the steppes.  When I made a call there was often sounds of garbled or static interference, disrupting wireless connections.  Calling Jeremy, my supervisor, or anyone from home from outside my room or the inn seemed still the best practice. The signals were better, but it was also more private, away from listening ears.

Finally, I logged in to my Quill and Quest blog, sent comments, logged out, then logged into to my social network accounts leaving nonessential posts there, and logged out. As long as I made contact and commented on what another cousin called “predictable quibble and trivial drivel,” what little my ‘friends’ knew what I did, where I was, the better.

After shutting down my laptop, and the journal put away, my strained eyes, overtaxed brain and aching body succumbed to the exhaustion as I fell into a deep sleep, alone with my thoughts, but not in my dreams, seeing things, places, and faces of people, not all of them friendly.

_______________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

 

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