Archive for the ‘Kiev’ Tag

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 VI – Babi Yar

The Babi Yar Memorial of the 33, 771 Jews massacred on September 29 and 30, 1941 by the German SS in Kiev, Ukraine

The Babi Yar Memorial of the 33, 771 Jews massacred on September 29 and 30, 1941 by the German SS in Kiev, Ukraine

Chapter Six

Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial – Kiev

There was a quiet that prevailed over Babi Yar as people walked slowly to the edge of the sloped grass covering the bowl-shaped field. A lush thick turf filled the deep ravine where over 200,000 Jews were gunned down by Nazi machine guns, their bodies set on fire. A huge granite stone sculpture towered from a platform atop a concrete stairway depicting victims clutching one another in desperation, mothers shielding their babies and children in the throes of death. The monument stood as a memorial to the thousands killed there with no record of their names, or pictures with their faces, their life ending from a spray of bullets, and a plume of smoke rising up into a gray ash sky.

Birch trees graced the outer ring, as if each a declaration to life, and an image of the roots from these beautiful trees sending out new ‘shoots’ across the landscape like little sprouts. The scripture verse  written on a piece of paper left in grandfather Jacob’s Bible came back to me “…there is hope for a tree: if it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water; it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.” Job 14:7-9.

Marble benches placed alongside the walkway like chapel pews held people who sat weeping, some in prayerful pose, others just staring at the sculpture as if seeing a face, or a look they’d seen before.

The images of Holocaust victims killed in death camps, cremated in large ovens, their ashes rising from furnace flues like white dust into the black plumes filled the archives and libraries of media documentaries covering the horrendous events. Thousands more were gassed while cyanide crystals spewed out its poisonous powder through shower heads. Hundreds more left to starve in concentration camps from the Baltic to the Black Sea, from Germany, and east to Siberia would only live on in history, or in the minds of those who were there, but somehow survived. Mass graves with no names or markers, just the remains of its victims filled the grounds across the Russian Steppes and Eastern Europe. Memorials erected like the one here at Babi Yar, in Kiev, Ukraine would never allow one to forget the cost of lives it took to remind us all of a persecuted, suffering people.

My mind reeled with the images. My heart wept for their pain. Where did it all begin? Why no end to their suffering? Where would they find acceptance? A place where peace would reign?

Always migrating, always wandering since the beginning of time, Jews searched for a piece of land to set down roots, build a synagogue, establish a trade or business, raise a family, only to be exiled again to another. Hoping to find a country where prejudice and malice would not be welcome. Where ‘pogrom’ was a foreign word, not one spoken in warning or threat. Where the words, ‘extermination,’ or ‘Final Solution’ would never be real.

For those freed and liberated from death camps after the war Hitler’s Final Solution turned what was meant to be their end into the catalyst that changed their lives.

The world learned of their stories. But, that part of history would never to be repeated, as they declared, “Never again!”

The names of gentiles who wanted to make a difference for the Holocaust survivors and their families became sponsors, contributors and financiers for the memorial project. Their names and a bio were mentioned on the tour guide brochure.

As I turned to leave a guided tour group was just arriving, somber faced, some perusing the material about the memorial in their hand.

Then I noticed a man walking with the group while passing through sun dappled trees lining the path. Sunglasses, camera bag hanging from one shoulder, reading the brochure, blending into the crowd, a face I had seen before. It did not seem like a mere coincidence.

Spotting a café across the street, I hurried over, entered and chose a table across the room. A waiter took my order for a ‘coffee to go.’ My bus schedule showed none leaving or arriving for another two hours. Though I rode a shuttle bus to the memorial site I paid little attention to the schedule for those returning to the hotel. After getting my coffee, I saw a taxi dropping people off across the street and hailed him over. He did a sharp U-turn and I jumped in.

******************

Is it just me, now suspicious of everyone I see? Standing outside my hotel room door, cautious, waiting, listening as if expecting to find one going through my things, my files and laptop.

No! I cannot be this way and do my work here. I have a job, an assignment that requires my total focus and concentration.

With trepidation I turned the key in the lock, opening the door. Everything looked the same, just as I’d left it. Maybe it was I who was changing. Now afraid of my own shadow, a door, a noise. A face I’d seen before.

_________________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

‘Yearning to breathe free’. Friday Fictioneers photo prompt

It has been over nine months since I’ve participated in Friday Fictioneers (due to other priority writing projects and time involved), but often read and comment on other writers’ stories. This week, however I decided to add one into the mix. Friday Fictioneer stories can be found at Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s blog, at http://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/ Because of the current piece of work I am editing and posting chapters of now (a novel, The Informant’s Agenda) this photo prompt seemed appropriate to my writing genre and story theme, so here is my contribution this week for this prompt.  The interesting thing is that although my current novel is fiction, this little story has a lot of truth in it as it is based on factual truths found in my novel. 1) My grandfather Jacob’s family were immigrants from Odessa, Russia, and were German Jews. And after over thirty years of research I am now writing a story similar to their own. And 2) I did visit Russia and cities in Ukraine in 1989 where I visited several cities in my novel, and took the photos below this story of the Babi Yar Jewish Memorial in Kiev, 1989 which is a sad, unforgettable site. Information on the Babi Yar can be found in Wikipedia and elsewhere.  Any comments and feedback are always welcome, and thanks for reading.

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The Babi Yar Memorial of the 33, 771 Jews massacred on September 29 and 30, 1941 by the German SS in Kiev, Ukraine

The Babi Yar Memorial of the            33, 771 Jews massacred on September 29 and 30, 1941 by the German SS in Kiev, Ukraine

  I took the photos above of Babi Yar in 1989 while touring Ukraine, Russia : Joyce E. Johnson (1989)

Below is my story to go with the photos above and submitted for the week’s Friday Fictioneers story.

__________________

I thought of Grandfather Jacob and his family coming ashore in 1889, yearning to ‘breathe free’, to live in a land where ‘pogrom’ and persecution were foreign words, not ones to be feared.

The words of one from the Babi Yar memorial to the thousands of Jews massacred in Kiev came to me.

“My mind reeled with the images. My heart wept for their pain. Where did it all begin? Why no end to their suffering? Where would they find acceptance? A place where peace would reign?”

It seemed fitting to end my journey here upon my return from Ukraine.

____________________

Joyce E. Johnson

ABOARD THE TRANS-SIBERIAN IN COMMUNIST RUSSIA, MAY, 1989

ABOARD THE TRANS-SIBERIAN IN COMMUNIST RUSSIA

A true story

By: Joyce E. Johnson

It was May, 1989 when I made the journey alone, flying from the U.S. into Helsinki, Finland where I changed planes and airlines, finally arriving in Moscow, Russia, and the (now former) Soviet Union. I was commemorating the 100th year anniversary of my paternal grandfather’s immigration into the U.S., through Castle Gardens, New York City, New York in 1889. Known as the Germans from Russia his family were part of the original settlers in South Russia in the late 1700 period who first settled in villages of Bessarabia (now known as Moldova) founded and farmed by the early Germans.

I grew excited, and anxious to visit the city of Odessa and Ukraine, the city and region of his birth and family history. Other cities on my itinerary included Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, and Leningrad, a city then named for the Bolshevik, Vladimir Lenin who birthed and led the revolution for the socialists’ regime of old Motherland, Communist Russia.

During the many years of genealogy research I learned about a country steeped in mystery with a dark past, one with a multitude of hidden secrets covered under layers of propaganda, lies and classified files. Democracy was but a word spoken in anxious moments of feverish excitement among Russians gathering on street corners, expectant, yet still afraid to speak out against the Kremlin and politburo’s party members.

Now, one hundred years later I was living my dream to travel abroad into this massive country. Due to job commitments my husband could not take this trip with me so I traveled alone until meeting up with another group of tourists from the U.S. in Moscow.

Most of the traveling we did between cities in the Ukraine was by the Russian airline Aeroflot, but due to a change of plans on our itinerary we took a Trans-Siberian train from Kharkov to Kiev.

My roommate Betty said. “Oh. That trip will take all night. We’ll lose time, and have to sleep on a crowded car.”

I tried to be optimistic and adventurous, and said, “That’s great! This will be exciting. I love trains. We can see the country side and enjoy the ride.”

Betty and I were assigned to share a compartment of four beds with an older, married, Jewish couple.

I noticed the Russian people staring as we waited to board the train. I smiled at them wishing we were allowed to speak to them or communicate in some way. I knew no Russian except for a few words I had learned in haste while studying my guidebook. Only our Russian guide Sasha and escorts knew English, so communication was difficult. It was also forbidden between Russians and American, except through a host.

I trudged with baggage to the train, an icon to their past. I anticipated with excitement the adventure ahead. The large, steel, black monster sat hissing, ready. The smells of live chickens in crates, stale produce, coal and the thick, hot layers of old fuel oil permeated through the rank rail yard as we longed for fresh air.

I tried to imagine who the train might have carried, famed or regal inside its cars. Transfixed with the thought of what it represented to Russia’s past, I climbed aboard with the rest of our group and we were ushered down the aisle of its cold, dark interior. While being shown to our sleeper compartment, I heard the slow chug of engines as it moved slowly out of the railway station.

It was past midnight when I later awoke. Looking out through the dirty glass window, I saw the dark silhouette and shapes of sleeping villages as we sped by. A faint glow of light peered through windows of small houses near the tracks.

I climbed out of my bottom bunk bed to use the restroom at the end of our passenger car. I quietly went to open our compartment door to step out into the aisle trying not to disturb the others.

The door would not open. I tried without success to unlock it, fiddling with the handle and lock. My attempts to unlatch it woke the others. They got up and tried also, but it would not open. Their eyes and faces showed fear, anger. I hoped mine did not.

As our train sped through the Russian Steppes, I sat down and prayed while my traveling companions yelled and screamed for help.

“Help. We’re locked in. Open the door! Somebody!” They each frantically pulled and yanked on the door latch. They were terrified we’d been deliberately locked in.

I chose to remain calm, encouraging them. “They will come. Stay calm.” I said.

We learned while on the trip a lot of things malfunctioned in this country, as their hotel facilities, equipment and transportation modes still operated as if in pre-world war II times. The Soviet Union was decades behind the West in every conceivable way.

We knew that the KGB and uniformed guards were our constant shadow everywhere we went from city to city. A man stood watch just outside our compartment when we boarded, so I knew he heard all our distress and took note of all that went on. Had he been the one to lock us in, or was the door latch only broken and jammed, making it difficult to open? We did not know, but our mind was spent with the possibilities of how this happened, and why.

Our tour guide held all our visas and passports. They were not allowed back until the time of our departure from Russia. Every place, location, hotel and transportation mode provided for us was arranged by their own In-tourist KGB travel bureau and all under the watchful eyes of discrete escorts that carefully blended into the background.

Soon, we heard those on the other side of our compartment working the latch and lock to get it opened. There was much confusion and chatter that followed about why or who might be responsible, if indeed someone was.

When we were finally freed from our compartment, and coming into the Kiev Trans-Siberian station I saw the sun rising, declaring a new day. I hoped it would be better than the night just spent in a compartment we could not be freed from.

When I arrived back home to the U.S. there was a little American flag flying outside the front door of our house. My husband had placed it there to welcome me home, never knowing anything about what went on while I traveled in Communist Russia thousands of miles apart. Mailed postcards I sent home to my family from Ukraine did not arrive home in my mailbox until ten days after my return. Three weeks after I returned home I wrote my story, submitted it to the Times Call Longmont, CO. newspaper, and it was given a full-page with my submitted photos. The picture above is one of the newspaper copies I still keep.

The trip was one I will never forget, one I will always remember, and one I have never regretted taking.

_____________________

Joyce E. Johnson

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