Archive for the ‘Moldova’ Tag

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

Chapter XIX (19)

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello?”

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

“What is that, Olga?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have a picture?” she asked incredulously.

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

“Let me see it.”

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

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

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

“Don’t assume anything, Monica.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XVIII (18)

Chapter XVIII (18)

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

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

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

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

“Who is it?”

“Irina.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So? What are you getting at?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The president’s.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

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 XI, Odessa

English: Panorama of Odessa (Ukraine) from the...

English: Panorama of Odessa (Ukraine) from the Black Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter 11

Odessa, Ukraine

We checked in with a receptionist standing behind a circular counter.  Natural sunlight poured in through skylights under the arched dome giving the granite floors and hallways below the feel of a large solarium. Small potted birch trees and fern plants were placed around the spacious ivory and gold pillared foyer. We took the elevator to the second floor and walked down the hallway to room 210. A secretary showed us into an adjoining office.

“Ms. Mengelder, good morning, I’m Vasily Kuznetsov. It is a pleasure to meet you, at last.”

“Thank you.”

“Please, both of you have a seat. Irina, it is good to see you, again.”

“Thank you, Vasily.”

His eyes were the color of chocolate, his hair, a golden hue of Russian Amber, one lock appearing to fall stubbornly over his forehead and skin tone like bronze as if baked in the sun at a Black Sea resort. 

“Ms. Mengelder, I am the liaison in charge of the Consulate of Foreign Affairs Committee. All of your business concerning appointments and itinerary in Ukraine will be approved and granted through our office. May I see your referral and identification papers, please?”

“Of course. I think you will find everything there. As you can see I also have current press credentials.”

“Yes, thank you.” He thumbed through the papers, and then handed all to his secretary standing nearby.

“She will just scan your credentials and visa for our files, and then return them. Now, we have been advised by your agency to afford you all the necessary requirements and courtesy. Of course, we want to be of service to you any way we can. I understand you have visited some places on your itinerary already?”

“Yes. I’m sorry for not making it yesterday, as scheduled. The added delay I know caused you and Irina inconvenience, and I apologize for that. Thank you for arranging another appointment with me.”

“No problem. We are grateful to have the help in updating our records here. They are a mess. Due to the classified status of our archives during the Soviet regime they were never clearly categorized or processed electronically. It is a privilege to work with the U.S. in reorganizing our system. We’ve come a long ways since the old days of record keeping. The new micro digitized technology has now afforded even this once backward country to communicate and transfer information in a way we never imagined.” His smile was engaging, captivating, revealing perfectly straight, white teeth.

“Yes. We have.” The irony in his statement and what I now carried around in secret made more acute the shame and embarrassment I felt, realizing that I would have to find a way to return the journal to where I found it. Once I have the information I need from it.

“Well, how can we help you here?  What will you need?” he asked.

“Well, I have surname lists of those immigrating from Russia and the former Soviet Union during the 1800 s to the 2000 year period entering the U.S. I would like to verify, copy and collect the data in your archives if I may so they can be synced, updated, and made accessible to our researchers, and to yours as well.”

“Yes, I’m sure that can be arranged, as long as you are able to locate them in our mismanaged archives.” he said, with a slight laugh. “Irina will help you in organizing them?” He looked over at Irina, smiling as if seeking her approval.

Irina nodded. “Of course.”

“OK. Thank you. Then in addition, I would like included the records of baptisms, and conversions of ethnic groups from the countries of East Europe, their settlement areas, towns and villages in the ‘Pale of Settlement.’ Here is a list of the founding German colonies I would like data and census records on. And if you have available lists of victims or families of those from your labor prison camps, and the names and victims of those who were re-located to concentration camps and ghettos I would be grateful for those as well. I requested this information earlier, but there was no follow-up. I would like to interview some, if still living, and get their stories on record for our history and research department. We have the names of family members seeking information on missing relatives and family never found or heard from during or after the Holocaust.”

“I understand. Well, there are some people we will need to confer with regarding these requests, but I will do my best to comply. As you know many or most of those surviving the Holocaust are now deceased themselves or quite elderly unless they were children at the time of liberation. Where is it that you are staying at the present time?”

“At Olga’s Inn in Grigoriopol.”

“Oh, yes. Olga.  She is a gracious host. Is she making your stay comfortable then?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Good. Then, we will be in contact with you on your requests and I will see that the archives and records division has the research permits ready for you by tomorrow. Here is the contact name and number you will need to set up a schedule of sorts for records retrieval. If there are those requested they cannot locate, they would put a ‘watch’ on them. They will have a name and picture I.D. card ready for you when you come in. Just let them know I sent you. It will all be arranged. It has been a real pleasure meeting you Ms. Mengelder. We will be in touch.”

“Thank you.”

His secretary walked back in with my papers and handed them back.

Vasily stood, shook my hand and walked us to the door.

Irina and I headed for the elevator.

“He is something to look at, I have to admit, but certainly gets right down to business. Does he socialize much?” I asked Irina, as we walked back down the hallway towards the elevators.”

“Socialize? You have no idea! He is not only eligible, but one of the most wanted or desirable bachelors in Odessa.”

“Oh? How interesting.”

Irina punched the ‘Down’ button at the elevator. “But, you are right about his business practices, too. He Is also all business. I think the meeting went well and feel hopeful that he… What’s the matter? What are you staring at?”

“Those men standing there at the end of the corridor. That guy with the blond hair, with the other men. Do you know him?”

“Oh, him? That is Ivan Antonescu.”

“And the others?” I asked.

“The one beside him is Victor, his brother who owns and runs the huge conglomerate of businesses and companies in Moldova. He is the financial backer of Igor Grigoraui, the candidate running for reelection of Moldova’s parliament. The other man is Vladimir Krupin, Grigoraui’s campaign manager. Why do you ask?”

“That blond guy, with the scar is the man I told you about, the one that has been showing up everywhere I go.”

“Monica, really. I doubt that it was Ivan whom you think followed you. I don’t think he would have any reason to be stalking a genealogist.” she said, with a snicker.

“Oh? A genealogist isn’t important enough to draw your spooks out of retirement, then?”

“I only meant there could hardly be any need for a genealogist to be watched, or followed, if escorted around by an appointed guide.”

“Because whatever there is to know about them worth learning the ‘guide’ will inform on them?”

“No! Stop with the accusations, Monica. But, I will tell you this much. Whatever an official here finds sensitive enough to report can be easily detected with computer and cell phone surveillance. Then, I think that person will have reason to worry about being watched.”

“OK. I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair.”

Just how secure my e-mails and files were that I sent to Jeremy I did not know.  It  made me think it was time to switch to my ‘alias’ back up account and password, and hope it was not too late.

____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson  (2013)

Posted November 6, 2013 by Joyce in Fiction, Literary fiction, My Novel, WP Longform

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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)

 

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter VII, – Pridnestrovie Cemetery, Transnistria

Chapter Seven

Pridnestrovie Cemetery, Transnistria

The rusted, iron gate was heavy. It barely moved with each push and shove. Tufts of high weeds grew wild around the bottom making my jerking and tugging efforts impossible to gain entrance. After a few good kicks the stubborn relic relented. Creaking, groaning, it yielded, squeaking at the hinges.

When I turned around, Irina was still standing there. Not allowing her a reason to gloat later I just smiled back and gave her a thumb up. She responded by shaking her head.  I’ve met feisty alley cats with better dispositions. Turning back to the gate, I trudged through the weeds and brush. My old Nikes and denim came in handy for these jaunts.

After photographing the entrance, I worked my way back. Records claimed the cemetery dated back to the 1700 s. Rows of headstones leaned to one side, tilted, barely standing, like tired old soldiers standing for inspection. Chipped, cracked, and peeling they settled heavily in the ground. Their dull gray color blended with the dull gray sky.  No good walking path between rows remained, nor a single flower, living plant, or blade of grass visible. But there was litter, everywhere. Pieces of trash lay scattered where wind gusts carried it across the Russian steppes with a ferocious anger. Broken pieces of glass I assumed were beer bottles poked up through the weeds with aluminum cans crushed or twisted, mixed in with all. Much of the debris was caught in the fence that ran along the east side of the cemetery where the section of abandoned, boarded up buildings remained.

Forging through to the gravestones, objects crunching beneath my feet I looked at names and dates, comparing Cyrillic and Hebrew inscriptions. Broken and chipped corner pieces from old gravestones stuck up from the ground with sharp edges.

I should have worn boots, heavy ones to protect my ankles from all this junk.

After searching the front and middle rows, I headed towards the back into the latter time period of the 19th century, those from the 1800 s, into the Bolshevik and Soviet era of early 1900 s.

Each stone held a story, a history. But, who would ever learn of it? Were there any who would even care?  

My job was tedious at times. Still, I hoped my work would contribute to the archives, adding to what had already been learned and enlighten me on things not yet documented.

Irina, my guide, interpreter, travel companion, driver, and whatever other role she was assigned to fill was ethnic Russian. She was knowledgeable on the history of the Russian empire, former Soviet republics, fluent in several languages and dialects with transcribing skills. Knowledgeable of Russia’s past and present political regimes, she was not afraid to speak her mind about anything. In the old regime her mouth would have been her own undoing. In their now democratic government, however she was just another voice in the choir, and no one raised their hackles if someone sang a different tune.

But, when I asked them to arrange a meeting for me with surviving victims of the Holocaust, or their families they told me they did not have, “listings or knowledge of them or their whereabouts. People move around, relocate, change address, and are not required to leave forwarding addresses for those wanting to find them,” they said.

The customs agent at Sheremetyevo International Airport was right about one thing: that I would run into problems seeking after things too “sensitive” to some. But, who? Survivors of the Holocaust and Gulag wanted to share their stories. Agencies and advocates representing ‘Human Rights’ violations still fought the bureaucracy  to get the full story on things that went on, not all of it declassified.  It was my agency that used their own resources to learn of Lyudmila’s whereabouts, and pushed the request through in arranging my meeting with her when I placed an overseas call to Washington D.C. with what I hoped was a secure connection. They insisted on the consulate’s full cooperation allowing me to visit her.

There was only so much Irina could do for me if she herself did not have clearance to get such information, or arrange interviews with some in Moldova. As a researcher and archivist I knew there were untold stories behind those padlocked doors and it was my job and intent to find a way through.

Harsh winds, bitter cold winters, the elements of time and erosion took its toll on the ground settling around the gravestones as they leaned or listed to one side. The markings had become so indistinct they seemed to blur into the background. There was barely anything worth documenting, but between my still shots and my video I swept my cameras across every row, every stone, and beyond covering the camp and its surroundings. Refuse that lay scattered around the grounds seemed to just blend in with all else.

But, it was a rusted piece of metal that protruded up from under a tilted gravestone that suddenly got my attention. Setting down my cameras I squatted down, and like a dog retrieving a buried bone raked away the dirt surface with my hands until it was loosened and pulled free from the ground. Brushing off the caked on dirt I turned over what appeared to be an old metal tin so deteriorated over time, the lid was sealed shut. Using a piece of broken stone nearby I worked the lid. Like the iron gate to the cemetery it was nearly impossible to open. The thought of it holding someone’s ashes made me shudder.

Trying to avoid the sharp jagged edges I managed to loosen one side a mere fraction. Then, I went to work on the opposite side, running the stone along under the edges pushing up, doing the same on the other two sides turning it until the lid worked loose. Slowly, afraid at what I might find inside I lifted the lid.

Not ashes.  But…what is this?     

____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

The Informant’s Agenda – Chapter III, – Passport Please

English: Departures schedule table in the Sher...

English: Departures schedule table in the Sheremetyevo-2 (code SVO) airport. Moscow, Russia. Русский: Табло вылетов международного аэропорта Шереметьево-2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter III

Passport Please

 Sheremetyevo International Airport

Moscow, Russia

With a courteous smile, but steely eyes the ‘customs agent’ continued.

“Have you been assigned a translator, guide or driver while in Ukraine and Moldova?” he asked.

“Only in Moldova.”

“Are you fluent in Russian, Ukrainian or Romanian dialects?”

 “I can speak German, and a little Ukrainian.”

“And where have you attended school, Ms. Mengelder?”

“I graduated from UN, University of Nebraska in Lincoln.”

“How long have you been employed for the U.S. Genealogy Department of History and Research?”

“Only a few months.”

“What is your purpose for working in Ukraine and Moldova?”

“It is where I have focused my research, and study on ethnic groups who settled there, so chose to do part of my assignment there.”

“Part of your ‘assignment”?

“Yes, our team went first to Germany and Austria.”

“What exactly are the duties of your ‘assignment’ while in Ukraine and Moldova?”

“I am working with my agency in the U.S. on genealogy projects to enlarge and update our records and databases for our researchers and genealogists who use them for their family research. I will be visiting the records division of archives in each country, doing some micro-filming and photographing cemeteries.”

“And you hold current press credentials?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And has your government made contact, and received permission with the officials in each country to allow you access to these records and archives?”

“Yes. It was prearranged.”

There was a long pause before the agent asked another question, after typing.

“Do you have people, or contacts that you plan to see or meet with when arriving in Moldova?”

“Only my guide and translator. She is the one assigned to me through the consulate in Odessa, Ukraine, and the only one I will be working with besides him.”

“And these two you will be working with. The guide assigned to you in Moldova, and the Odessa Consulate? What are their names, please?”

“Irina Suvorov and Vasily Kuznetsov.”

The official typed some more. The back of his laptop was all I saw as he made notes, glancing down often to refer to my papers. When finished he stood up to see me out.

“I see. Please have a seat in the adjoining room Ms. Mengelder while we make contact with the consulate and guide you will be working with. We will get back with you shortly.” he said.

Taking a seat where I was directed I got out my e-reader and opened it to the page in the book I’d started earlier but had not finished. But, I could not help feeling anxious or nervous over his line of questioning.

When I came in with a team of archivists I did not expect to be interrogated, or asked what would be, “just a few questions” with a ‘customs agent.’ All the members of my team had already been checked and processed through without a hitch. All of them had left on their flights to their assigned destinations into other former Russian provinces.

Thinking back, I knew I had answered his questions truthfully enough without giving him any unnecessary information, or reason to doubt my story.

There was nothing to do but wait until I was free to report to the departure gate for my flight to Kharkov, so passed the time watching passengers check in for flights to gates on either side. The waiting area thinned out. Some stood in front of terminal arrival and departure screens, or checked bags. Some stopped at kiosks to look at brochures or schedules. Others stood in line while waiting to purchase tickets or make reservations.  At times it seemed as if there was one who watched everyone else with nothing to do. Like it was before their old regime dissolved and their democratic government was formed.

After what seemed like an hour or more the ‘customs agent’ came out of his office carrying my passport, visas and identification papers. His face showed no expression, either way.

“OK, Ms. Mengelder, your story checked out. Your free to proceed to your gate for departure. I would like to caution you though, about your time in Moldova and Ukraine to be careful while on your ‘assignment,’ pursuing your stories or interviews. Please consider this helpful advice during your travels. Have a good flight and safe trip.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said, puzzled over his comment, wondering what he meant, as I headed over to my departure gate.

__________________

To be continued

Joyce E. Johnson

Posted September 1, 2013 by Joyce in Fiction, My Novel

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