Archive for the ‘Grigoriopol’ Tag

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XII, ‘Journal Entries’

English: Aquatint print of a Don Cossack.

English: Aquatint print of a Don Cossack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter 12

Journal Entries

After spending that afternoon at the Odessa archives filming, indexing and copying files we headed back to Tiraspol, to a Lutheran parish library for more records, then back to Grigoriopol to Olga’s. Irina dropped me off and left.

The first thing I did was send a priority message to Jeremy telling him to contact our cousin, “Jessie” and could he please send me his e-mail address as I had forgotten it and no longer had it with me. This was mine and Jeremy’s prearranged set up “message alert” to let him know we needed to switch to the alias account for e-mail messages, and attachments. When done, I reviewed and updated files, sent reports, e-mails and blog posts, then noticed the priority icon highlighting the one from him. I opened it last, giving it more time and attention.

[M, – got your files on those journal entries. Sending comments along with the transcriptions. Interesting stuff. Get a big cup of Olga’s ‘sludge’.]

When I had made myself a cup of hot tea, I got comfortable, and read the file comments he’d sent along with the transcriptions. He had transcribed the scanned copies of the more difficult journal entries I needed help on. Each had a date or year and initials at the bottom of each entry.

 Sept. 1868

We work hard to gather in the crop. It is harvest time. The winds are not yielding. There is no mercy in them. The winter will soon be here. The warm sun will soon not shine its heat upon our labors. We must hurry the harvest. We work while our bellies are full, content and store away what we will need to save when we are in want, hungry. We pray the locust swarms will not come this year or find other fodder upon which to feed. Elisabeth gave birth to a beautiful daughter today. Praise His Holy name. We named her Magdalena.    J.M.

Oct. 1884

They rode away as fast as they came, Cossack soldiers riding on fast steeds. It was the Sabbath. They tore through our village with whips and rods, fierce eyes piercing our soul like hot pokers. They held their bottles high with its evil amber fluid, praising the Czar. One mocked me covered in my prayer shawl, laughing, taunting. I stood rooted in fear. He ripped it off me and threw it into the fire burning our barn with our stored grain, then laughed like a demon from hell. My legs could no longer run, my voice no longer could be heard above a whimpered cry to eternal God. The harsh cold winds fed the fires, raging on our threshing floors. Then it swept clean the tracks of the murderous Cossacks as if they had not come. All that remained of their presence was the foul-smelling bottles of their drink. We gathered to mourn our loss. Our village destroyed, our food gone, our horses stolen, our livestock killed, our women violated and our loved ones we bury. Forgive me God. I cannot praise you today.   J.M.

 1885

We cannot help our dear Magdalena. She has recurring nightmares of that day. She wakes, screaming, rolling in pain and anguish. She says she still sees the Cossack’s face, his lascivious look. I too cannot bear to remember the horrid deed to our child. Her belly is distended, full with child of that evil man. I sit in despair and write these words. Eternal God, do you not hear our wailing cries? Where is your mercy to we, your people?   J.M.

 1888

The Czar says we must convert, be baptized and become Russian Orthodox Christians, learn their religion, speak their language, wear the clothes of their people. If we do not obey his commands we will be sent away, work in a labor camp, be exiled. I will do as he says, so I can save my family, keep us together, but it will not save my soul. My soul was dead to our God when he forsook us. David has run away. He refused to serve in the army. We do not know where he has gone. I think he has gone into hiding. They are looking for him and hold us responsible. I feel certain we will face another pogrom, more horrible than any in the past if we cannot get out of Russia.   J.M.

 1925

Rail car doors were pushed open. The empty, black space was cold and dank. The smell of cattle excrement and rot was overwhelming. The Bolsheviks shoved guns at their backs as they pushed and forced them inside. Mothers screamed, their children pulled from their arms. They raped the women, pillaged and set fire to their homes. Stole their horses, drove off the cattle, and sheep. Then beat or shot the men who tried to stop the carnage. I begged for mercy for the Christians. But the Bolsheviks would not listen. They said, ‘There are no Christians in Russia. Only good Soviets.’” A.G.

 I read Jeremy’s comments at the end of the transcribed entries.

[When families migrated west for immigration into the U.S. I believe they found people more tolerant toward the Jews. There were so many diverse ethnic groups coming over on ships it was a mixture of every nation and color. They just blended into the masses. Unless noted on their passports that they were East European Jews they most likely told officials and everyone they were Protestant since they had been baptized, and officially “converted” before leaving Russia and the ‘Pale of Settlement.’]

I hit the ‘Save’ button and transferred the transcriptions along with Jeremy’s comments into my document folder under a password protected file with the name, ‘Journal Chronicles’. My brain felt as if it was on overload. After reviewing and studying the Cyrillic and Hebrew letters and script from the video and photos of the graves I compared it to initials, birth dates and deaths, period era and village locations. Could it really be the Mengelder family? There was no proof. It was only my ‘theory,’ unproven, yet made me think that what I had found was a chronological record of my own grandfather Jacob’s family history.     

_____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter VIII – Transnistria

THE INFORMANT’S AGENDA

Chapter VIII

Transnistria

Working my way west towards Grigoriopol I kept below the ridge in what looked like a dried up culvert running parallel to the road. When I heard the sound of a car coming I climbed back up towards the road to see if it was Irina’s car. But, instead it was a Tiraspol police car. A wrecker followed close behind. Soon after a late model sedan with tinted windows appeared, all headed towards the accident scene.

Keeping out of sight, I turned and headed back down along the road towards the old German villages of Bergdorf, Neudorf and Gluckstal. Now, renamed Colosova, Carmanova, and Hlinaia during the Soviet era, the former colonies with their attached ‘collective farms’ looked uninhabited, almost ghostly, like the old ghetto near the cemetery.

When I asked Irina earlier that day if we could stop and explore the old settlements she refused my request.

“Why? There aren’t any villagers still living there. So, there is no one around to take us through them. Besides, we don’t have the time,” she said.

“But, it’s a part of the history of this region, and my research of these ethnic groups,” I countered back. Her deliberate excuses to deny me access to these places infuriated me. It also surprised me.

She just adamantly replied, “We can’t. That’s all. It’s not one on our allowed itinerary.”

“And why not? Those are the original villages of the German Russians, aren’t they? Even if no one lives there, can’t we go through them so I can get some video of it?”

“The terrain is too uneven. It’s not safe to drive through there, much less walk around. I am responsible to get you to the places assigned on our itinerary. That is all.”

She was right about that part. The road was full of deep ruts and grooves, looking as if left from old farm tractors or wagons. Irrigation streams had dried up, and a foul odor came from the wells no longer producing adequate water supply.

My bag snagged on something sticking up from the ground. Pieces of old farm plows lay rusting in their own grave, in a pocket of sunken earth. Not to pass up an opportunity I took out my camera again, focusing on the buildings and barns to get some shots. What was still standing looked abandoned, deserted.

A crunching, crackling sound came from behind. My reflexes were keenly acute and aware of any possibility, anymore, ready to react at a second’s notice. Quickly shoving my camera back into my bag, I scanned the ground for something to use to defend myself. Grabbing up a metal rod from the pile of refuse I waited, listening for the quiet irregular steps of someone, near.

Agonizing seconds passed when an old man appeared in the clearing. He stood staring at me, his face weathered and calloused. He was dressed in old dungarees and boots.

“Who are you? What are you doing here”?

Not sure what to say I stood staring back, my nerves on edge, rattled inside my cold, sweating skin.

“I’m sorry sir. I was just looking for a shortcut back to Grigoriopol from the graveyard in Transnistria. I missed my ride back, so cut through here. I thought it was deserted, so…”

He looked down at my bag and the metal rod I held tightly at my side. I could not be certain where he’d come from or how long he stood watching me from behind the trees, or even if he saw me snapping photos.

“This is private property. Please. Come with me. I will lead you back onto the road. Why are you carrying a suitcase if you are visiting the cemetery? Were you planning to stay a while, check in?”          

 OK. This old man has a sense of humor.

“No, sir. Just passing through, visiting.” I said with a nervous laugh. “Actually, I am an archivist from the United States. It is my job to photograph graves and document records and cemetery registries for families, working in connection with the archives here in Russia. I have to carry my cameras and equipment with me while working. The noise startled me. I was…, not sure who you were, so thought…”

“As I told you, this area is private, not open to the public.” he said, glancing at the metal rod I still held.

There was no other alternative but to trust him and follow him out of the brush. Nodding, I replied. “I’m sorry.” Tossing the rod back into the heap pile I let it go, hoping I would not regret my action.

Thinking to direct his attention away from my trespassing I went into my ‘reporter mode,’ hoping to dispel the unease and apprehension.

“Could you tell me a little bit about the history here? In Transnistria? Are there any residents still living in these little towns?” I asked.

“There are a few older ones still around.”

“When were the settlements founded?”

“The late 1700’s.”

“From where did the first colonists come?”

“Germany, Prussia, some from Austria and Wuertemberg.”

“What did they do for a living?”

“Most were farmers. Some worked at other trades.”

“Are you a descendant from one of the first families?”

A long pause followed, before he answered.

“My family was.”

“Were they all ethnic Germans?”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“Well, I’m a historian, an archivist. I want to learn the history of your people for my research. It’s my job.”

He turned to me, with cold, piercing dark eyes. “Our people suffered many things. They do not want foreigners uncovering their… exposing their past.”

Yikes! There’s nothing like getting belted in the gut with a direct comment like that. If he only he knew what I’d ‘uncovered’, ‘exposed’.

“I’m sorry, Sir. I did not mean to pry into your private life, it’s just that…you see my job is to help people in our country – in the United States – to learn about their ancestral families, maybe descendants still living here, get information of their whereabouts, make connections, learn their history, their story, and document it for future generations. That’s what we do.”

“Alright miss. I will tell you a little bit about us, but I will not give you names or allow you to go through here hunting for those still living. People here wish to remain anonymous about their past.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you. Whatever you can share is fine. And I am grateful.”

“In most things, they remained ‘ethnic German’. But, the Russians forced their own dialects and the Czar’s laws on us, even their Russian Orthodox Church. But, the Germans are a strong people. Proud and defiant. Most were thrown into the gulags because they refused to conform.”

“That is very sad. Was your family among those sent away?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“I’m sorry. Do you know what religion they belonged to when they came to Russia?”

“Most were Lutheran, or Catholic.”

“I see. Do you know if there were any Jews who settled here too, when the colonies were founded?” I asked boldly, not wanting to leave any stone unturned. After all, I am getting good at turning ‘stones.’

Another long pause before he answered.

“Yes.”

“I read that the Jews had their own settlements in the Pale, but I just wondered if they had much contact with German colonists. Before, or after World War I.”

“My grandfather told about pious Jews who came from regions in Germany and Prussia when the early colonists came. And others that settled after, migrating here or there. The Orthodox Jews were always so righteous acting with their own set of rules. They built their own synagogues, but were burned to the ground by the Cossacks.”

“How sad. Do you know if the two ethnic groups ever got along? Colonizing and working together?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I was told about German farmers who taught the Jews how to farm, manage their village operations. But, the Jews wouldn’t listen to the Germans. They had their own ways. Then the government stepped in and made them move back into the cities. The rest you probably know, if you’re an ‘archivist'”, he said.     There was more I wanted to know, but sensed he was through sharing things on the subject, so I stopped with the questions.

The sun had gone down, obscured into the horizon’s red, gold blur. The wind calmed. Only the sounds of crickets and night owls could be heard and our steps on the gravel road.

The man struggled with his gait, shuffling along, his limp becoming more noticeable as he walked. Bad knees or hip, maybe.

The soft glow of street lights in Grigoriopol could be seen from the road.

“I will leave you here to go the rest of the way by yourself. It is not far. Stay on this road and it will take you into town.”

“Thank you for your help and for sharing your story. I’m sorry, but I failed to get your name, sir.”

“It’s not important.”

“Oh. Well, thank you, just the same. Mine is Monica Mengelder.”

He nodded, as if anxious to be rid of me. Then turned, looking back.

“Did you say…Mengelder?” Furrowed eyebrows came together, and his eyes, penetrating with a look of consternation.

“Yes, sir. Monica Mengelder.”

“Well, good night, Ms. Mengelder. It is growing dark. You best be on your way. Please remember in the future, this area is off-limits. It is private property.”

“I will. Thank you.”

He nodded again, then turned around and headed east the way we had come, as I turned west towards the lights of Grigoriopol and Olga’s Inn.

_____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

The Informant’s Agenda – Chapter I

English: A impression from the Donskoy monaste...

THE INFORMANT’S AGENDA”

Transnistria, Moldova

Chapter One

 The car was gone. Not a sound or sign anywhere of Irina. Just a dead, eerie silence. Like the graves I had just left.

After searching the grounds, the road, all where I had walked I pulled out my cell phone and checked for new messages. There were none, so scrolled my directory, punched her number and waited. It went to voicemail, so left a message. “Irina! Where are you? Where did you go? I’m walking back, southwest towards Grigoriopol, the direction we came. Did you go back to town, or look for a potty? Or did you decide it a good time to go for coffee? Look, I’m sorry I took so long. Call me! Please!” My phone showed weak signals, and needed recharging.

 “Ok, Irina, where have you disappeared to? This is not funny.” I said to myself. Thinking out loud was little comfort.

Stay calm. Think. Don’t panic.

A mile further down the road was an old pickup, parked on the shoulder.

Thumping! Clanging!”

What is that?!

The sound came from the direction of the truck.    

Feeling exposed, I moved over to the opposite side of the road. Because of me, I realized we would miss our four-o-clock appointment with the consulate of Odessa.

There was no one in the truck that I could see, but the noise boomed across the otherwise quiet steppes.

Banging! Pounding!” It resonated in my ears, pinging off the side of my brain.

Inquiring from a complete stranger about Irina, or her car did not seem a good idea, so I just walked on, hoping the invisible would not notice me. When I looked back there was only a shadow.

People warned me about traveling alone in this country.

Feeling as if there were eyes on my back at every turn did not help to establish a note of trust or confidence. Some, I think seemed too interested in me. Others stood stone still; looking as if they did not comprehend anything I said.

Experience taught me how to blend in, merge with the masses, not look like a lone duck in a big pond. It was easy to dress like a Russian. But speak like one? Without an accent or fluent dialect I was not very convincing. When I asked questions or needed directions I knew I sounded too much like an American tourist. But, dressed in my most comfortable ‘threads,’ – faded blue jeans, and tee shirts – I looked like everyone else here, except when wearing my red fleece jacket with the, “Go Big Red” logo advertising my alma mater, UN, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Adding to my present predicament was the wheeled backpack I hauled around, loaded with notebooks, laptop, and cameras. Except for the video cams and digitized equipment that went with my job I looked much like a university student in the former Soviet Bloc countries.

A vehicle coming up the road behind me spewed gravel as it got closer.

Finally. It’s about time. Irina?

It was instead a late-model black sedan I’d not seen before. As it neared, the pickup now with its driver behind the wheel rumbled out onto the road veering into the car’s path at an odd angle. Rapid, successive beeps from the car horn came too late.

The sudden contact of metal to metal brought both vehicles to a crashing halt. The left front bumper of the old pickup smashed in the front right door and fender, headlight and trim on the car, leaving broken glass and bits of mangled parts scattered across the road.

The truck driver got out and ambled over to the sedan to survey the damage. The red pickup, rusty and dented looked no worse than before.

But, the car was a mangled mess of twisted metal and glass. The windshield shattered into innumerable tiny pieces spilling out over the hood. The air bag appeared to release on impact. Hands clawed at the inflatable device compressing it as if wedged in a vice. Soon after, the driver’s side door was pushed open and a man stepped out. He pulled off his dark glasses, massaged his nose and forehead, then began to curse and swear with words recognized in any language. He was dressed in blue jeans, black shirt and leather jacket. Something about him looked familiar. Then, I remembered where and when I’d seen him.

Watching it all from where I stood, I felt vulnerable, unsure what to do.

It was difficult to hear the exchange between them. But, there was no mistaking the anger of the sedan’s driver. When finished with his ranting, he pulled out a cell phone from his pocket.

Jumping down into a weedy embankment I pulled my wheeled bag down behind me hoping neither man would notice, or care, that their only witness was hurrying away from the scene of an accident.

The truck driver wore wrinkled worn pants cuffed an inch or so above old boots, a red plaid flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up on long lanky arms. Tall, with thinning gray hair he didn’t look injured, but rather agile for an older man.

Like a frightened rabbit I turned and headed down along the road on the uneven terrain. It was awkward with my bag, but I wanted only to get back to Grigoriopol, to my room at Olga’s Inn.

The road forked ahead about a half mile. When Irina and I came down the road earlier, I paid little attention to the turns she made as we traveled east into Transnistria. We’d headed northeast when we passed through old Colosova Village, before pulling into the cemetery grounds past the former collective farms. Now, they looked all but abandoned. Dry, barren fields, weeds growing wild, nothing graded: all looked like it had not seen a plow or grader in decades. No legible road signs or identifying marks remained.

My bag was bulkier now, with my discovery.

 Irina reminded me we had no time to spare. But, I protested.

“Monica, we don’t have time for another cemetery this morning. We can’t be late for our 4:00 appointment at the consulate’s office. We need to allow time to get back to Grigoriopol for you to change, unless you want to walk in smelling like the ground under those graves.”

“I know, but, I need more time to look for those on my lists, and photograph the graves. Can’t we reschedule the appointment?”

“Maybe. They just don’t want us to deviate from our itinerary. That is, if you want to get into the archives when they’re open for research. Besides, I am responsible for keeping us on schedule and for any changes made. As the official representative assigned to you I have to log in the places we go, the dates and times, and fill out reports for my superiors.”

“I would just like to look through this one cemetery. I will not be long. You can wait in the car, if you like. I’ll meet you back there in an hour or so. I promise.” I told her.

She sighed, looking clearly upset with me, checked the time on her watch, nodded and replied. “OK. I’ll spare you an hour. But, that’s all. And, remember that other section beside it is closed, fenced off and boarded up. You can’t be trespassing over there.”

“OK. Just the cemetery grounds, then.”

It was my job as an archivist to videotape, note and photograph what was here. But, I was determined to search once more for their graves. Her constant, annoying presence got on my nerves, so I just walked away with her waiting impatiently by the car, then headed for the old, iron gate.

Now, as the air turned colder, and graying clouds moved in, covering the late afternoon sun I realized I had placed myself, and maybe my assignment here in jeopardy.

Winds kicked up refuse blowing it across the Russian steppes. “And, here I stand, alone out on a dirt road with a map and compass looking for a way back to town.” I said aloud, again talking to myself.

As I trudged on with my cumbersome bag, my thoughts drifted back years earlier to

another place, another time, another gravesite when I stood with my family mourning our loss.

There was never a thought I would be the genealogist type, as I had no interest, experience or, ambition for such a job.

Then I read his letter, left for me. “Monica. It is not the erected monument of the deceased that is important, but the legacy they leave behind of the unseen that matters. It is what we can share with the next generation, and preserve what is found in those having lived before us.”

 It was his request that I preserve ours, and my promise to him to honor it.

__________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

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