Archive for the ‘Odessa’ Tag

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XXI (21), The Czarina Catherine

Chapter XXI (21)

The Czarina Catherine

We entered the high-rise building in downtown Odessa, rode the elevator to the 15th floor and walked down a red carpeted hallway to The Czarina Catherine.

The manager greeted Vasily with a hug, and traditional kiss on each cheek, then directed us to a corner table in front of a large viewing window.

“What a spectacular view from up here.” I said. The sky lit up with the bright lights of Odessa.

Gold hurricane lamps sat on each of the small tables with crisp white tablecloths, porcelain china and crystal wine goblets. Waiters moved effortlessly between with trays of food carrying caviar on slices of toasted baguette bread with cups of thick chowder. Pickled herring appetizers with creamed cucumber and diced tomato filled another plate.

Beet colored glass sconces on the walls provided soft lighting for the intimate atmosphere. Portraits of past Russian czars and Czarina Catharine, and oils of Odessa, the Black Sea, and Ukrainian landmarks lined the walls.

In one corner violinists and stringed instrument musicians played old Cossack and Ukrainian melodies. Dressed in red and gold embellished vests, white ballooned shirts, black, billowing pants and shiny black boots they looked like they had stepped off the pages of a history book.

“The architecture of this building on the outside looks like one from the fifties, or old Soviet era, but the inside is all contemporary. Was it recently remodeled?” I asked.

“Yes. The building is old. It used to be a drab, gray apartment building, but has since been converted over to offices and restaurants except for the remaining remodeled apartments on the top floors above.”

“Back home we have those kind that are restored attic apartments in old warehouses and downtown buildings. They are called Lofts.”

“’Loft’ apartments. Nice concept for an attic room. Those here that would qualify are hardly bigger than a cloak room.”

“Some of those on the east coast have circular stairways winding around and up to the ceiling, taking up a whole floor. Those kind come with a hefty price tag or lease.”

“Impressive.” He nodded as if taking a mental note of everything I said.    

“The paintings and icons on the walls here look much like those I saw in, The Heritage Museum in St. Petersburg on my first trip to Russia.”

“Oh, these are reproductions I assure you, but still come with ‘a hefty price tag.’ I don’t remember seeing on your records when we first met that you visited Russia before this trip. Were you here as a tourist then, or for your job?”

“As a tourist, mostly. Since my family had ancestry from the Ukraine, and my cousin, Jeremy was serving an internship abroad we came over together. We did some local tours to places visited.”

“Interesting. And did you find this time around that the ‘Old Motherland’ was changed?”

The waiter interrupted our conversation to take our dinner order. Vasily gave him our entre and wine choices, speaking in his fluent Ukrainian dialect without needing to refer to the menu. Moments later the waiter returned with the first course: a cup of borscht beet soup with the pickled herring appetizers.

“Yes, drastically. In answer to your question on ‘change.’ With the new democratic government in place, and capitalism and entrepreneurs flourishing, it was as if they had stepped off a set of the middle ages into postmodern times. Such drastic changes of things and places from yesteryear to the new look today. The former, old ‘Gum’ department store looked more like a defunct ‘dime and ten’ store, when I went by there, with it decaying and falling apart.” Then I caught myself, rattling off like a self-righteous critic again from the still great super power of the west.

Vasily lifted his wine glass as if gesturing, “Well. Here’s to change, then”.

Our glasses came together.  “To change.”

“Change did not stop there in Petersburg, and Moscow, but changed all over old ‘Mother Russia’. Even into the Siberian provinces,” he added, with emphasis.

“Yes, I know. So, with all the changes I cannot help but wonder why there are still so many areas closed off from the public. The Moldavians especially are so tight-lipped on subjects like what happened during the Holocaust, and famine of the 1930’s, Bolshevism, Stalin, purges and Lenin eras. I’m still trying to figure out what their problem is with an American wanting to visit some historical sites, and…oops, sorry.”

“I think perhaps that is because people want to move forward, not dwell on the past and so they refuse to discuss what has been only painful, like a wound reopened.”

“But, don’t you think that a wound heals faster when it is cleaned up, exposed to the air, the poisons drawn out, and bandages kept off?”

“You’re quite the philosopher with your impressive metaphors. But, to answer your question; there is still a visible scar, while exposed.”

“But, time cannot heal a wound if first there is no reason to cover the scar. And, I think a country cannot move into the future with change if they are not willing to talk about its past, and deal with the things that caused those infected wounds in the first place.”

“Are you philosophizing again, or are we in another debate? It sounds a little familiar, like the conversation we had earlier today.” He said, smiling, keeping a calm exterior.

But, I could see the glint of cold steel in his eyes, and they no longer reminded me of melted chocolate.  And, I realized I had once again fallen into debate and needed to cut the crap, change direction. As deftly as I could, I switched back to the earlier, safer conversation of ‘Odessa’s new look.’

“Odessa has so many beautiful things to see and do, but I have not had much time to get out and visit those things on my ‘to see and do’ list.” I said, hoping to redeem myself, and hoping he would still want to escort me around, if I could only keep my mouth shut while doing so.

“Well, we will change all that. Starting tomorrow I will show you places that are now restored to beautiful malls, museums and shops. And, there are other places I think you will find right up your – how do you Americans say – alley.” He said, holding his wine glass up, then added, “To new ventures.”

“To new ventures.” I repeated.

At times I was ready to chuck all my work back into their musty old file drawers, visit a few more interesting sites, then head back home.

By the time the waiter came out with our next course of the meal, I was thankful to focus only on enjoying my prime rib served with a horseradish sour cream sauce and chopped spinach and potato cheese puff with fresh chives, followed by Creme brulee.

Three hours later after a leisurely walk along the avenue near Odessa’s old opera house and Pushkin’s Square Vasily drove me back to my hotel.          

_________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XX, (20)

Chapter XX (20)

The Zemlyanka

Vasily met me in the hotel lobby the following morning, dressed and ready for our adventure into the ‘bowels of the earth’ as Irina had put it, referring to the Zemlyanka, Russian for ‘dugout’.

It was not difficult to see why he had the attention and affection of so many single women in Odessa with his charismatic charm, easy smile, eyes the color of dark chocolate, and amber-colored hair like polished copper. He had that effect on me as I tried to think of something to say upon our meeting. But, my bumbling attempt at light humor only made me more self-conscious.

“When I went to bed last night I dreamt of rats, lice and fleas crawling around my feet, working up my pant legs as I climbed out, screaming and wishing for the frozen tundra of a Siberian frost.”  

He laughed. “I promise you it won’t be as bad as all that. Actually, the area has been treated with a chemical to avoid that problem when someone is down there, but is not hazardous. It has adequate ventilation. But anytime one goes underground, whether or not it is reinforced in concrete or steel, the earth settles, causing cracks or weakness to the subterranean structure, and more so with these zemlyankas over sixty years old. They are damp and cold inside. I have insulated rain slickers, water bottles and flashlights, even hard hats in my car if we need them. The site we’re going to today is not large, but structurally sound, with a floor to ceiling clearance of seven feet.” He led the way out to his SUV parked in the front entrance of the hotel.

We headed northwest, through Tiraspol, then north towards Vinnitsa skirting the eastern edges of Moldova and Transnistria, into the remote black forests of Ukraine. The drive was long, but relaxing as I listened to Vasily share some of the region’s history. We passed small clapboard and concrete block homes along the roads leading into industrial areas suffering from economic decline.

“There is a stark contrast up here in the north from that of the modern city of Tiraspol.” I said. “Is it better employment opportunities in the cities that draw people away from the small towns?”

“Somewhat, yes. There are successful established Ukrainians living in Tiraspol that employ many of the predominately Romanian and Russian residents up north.”

“What is the ethnicity of Ukrainians living here, now?”

“Well, the majority are a mixture really of all ethnicities. German and Jewish who chose to remain here. But, there are also Russians, Armenians and Turks; I guess kind of like in the U.S. a relative mix of everything and everyone who now calls this country ‘home.’ We are now reentering Ukraine, after switching in and out of Moldova and Pridnestrovie.”

Vasily slowed down, exited the main road and pulled onto a dirt path leading into a dense forest. After another couple of miles or so we came into a clearing that opened up and the Zemlyanka came into view covered in overgrowth and foliage.

“I had an engineer inspect it recently for any signs of unstable areas in the case it collapsed on someone. I’m responsible to check on these things occasionally to make sure they do not become some homeless person’s campsite while trespassing. So, since you asked to see things, “real and unaltered,” I think were your words, I was in a position to honor your request.” He looked over at me and grinned.

“Oh, well thank you then for allowing me the opportunity to see it.”

“My pleasure. It gives us a chance to get better acquainted.”

He handed me one of the insulated slickers, a hard hat and flashlight, then donned his own, and turned on an LED lantern. When I turned on my flashlight Vasily led the way down uneven stone and wood steps into the interior to what looked like an earth cave.

The inside was cold and dank, the earthen floor made of hard packed black soil.

There was evidence of further excavation beyond the interior, but was blocked by large wooden slats pulled across the smaller, narrow opening in the form of a large X preventing further exploration. A warning sign, Держите вне, ‘Keep Out’ was nailed on the boards. A small primitive rusted wood stove leaned to one side. Thick tree limbs four to six inches in diameter stretched across the top and up the sides forming the walls and ceiling to hold back the earth, supporting the structure now covered in overgrowth and moss. Ventilation areas opened up through the earth and wood ceiling to allow for air flow and circulation. But, the walls and ceiling were so insulated from outside noise that our heartbeat and breathing was all we heard in the tightly closed space, the blackness so consuming all we could see was what surrounded us shown only by the light from Vasily’s LED lantern he held aloft, and my flashlight, which I’d handed to him while videotaping the inside.

“This is just incredible, how a group of Jews on the run could escape their captors, their killers, and build something of this sort so fast, moving earth, cutting down trees, transporting it all, a wood stove even, and never know for certain how long they could stay here, before moving on. It is amazing how industrious they were when their lives could be ended at a moment’s notice. According to my research those living in the German occupied territories of the Soviet Union were almost always shot on sight, or rounded up for mass extermination, not usually transported to the death camps, except for those forced to march to Transnistria. I’ve heard survivors’ stories of those who escaped during the relocation from the ghettos. And stories of the horrors that awaited all who didn’t.” I said.

“Yes. The ones who did get away often found others on the run, and hooked up with partisan groups who built these, or found refuge with sympathetic villagers. There were a lot of them, hundreds actually who made it to a secure place before the end of the war. Some were sympathizers from other ethnic groups that hated the Germans so much they joined up with them. Their inclusion in the Jewish partisan groups often equipped the group as a whole with more knowledge and resources giving them an advantage over their enemy. But, in places where the anti-Semitism was so great the Jews would form ‘Jewish only’ groups to keep out spies or informers from betraying them.”

When I finished videotaping the inside I turned off my camera, and put it away. A feeling of claustrophobic like suffocation and dizziness from the lack of fresh air and sunlight came over me. Not wanting him to think me a wimp, I said nothing as we walked back up the steps to the outside.

Like another historical icon to its past the Zemlyanka would remain untouched, another memorial to those who forged on with the will and courage it took to survive.

As we headed back to his SUV I looked around at the serenity of the forests, thinking about the sad things that happened here.

“These woods seem kind of eerie, quiet even. More so maybe, when the sun doesn’t shine, or shadows merge in around the trees as it goes down. But, I imagine they provided some protection for the partisans when they hid in them, or wherever to evade detection from the Nazis. The thought of frightened, desperate people with nothing to defend themselves, running for cover from a hail of bullets makes me shudder.” The image chilled me as I stood shivering in my jacket.

“Yes. But, imagine their triumph too, when they surprised Nazis with weapons of their own to fight with, watching them go down under the blows of a wooden club made from these trees, or piece of scrap metal shaped into a saber or knife. They took whatever they found, invented new ways to use it, and then learned the skill of survival. Most often they had nothing but the clothes on their backs when they escaped during relocation. It took small victories like that to form an army of commandos.”

“You sound like one who knows it well, or heard it told by ones who lived to tell it.”

“That is true. Their stories were passed down to our generation well before they were made public, or shared with the West. We Ukrainians see it with the perspective of one who understood their will to survive under impossible odds. One cannot just stand there, vulnerable before his attacker waiting to die. He has to be prepared to fight, with the intent on killing him first. If he is going to have to defend himself he better know how to overtake his enemy, under the worst of conditions.”

“True. With that perspective one can relate to the victim running away, cowering in underground bunkers while pursued, or the one courageously facing his attacker. History is a powerful tool, teaching us to be better prepared for things coming after, whether it is political fallout, or wars not yet fought.” I replied.

“Yes, but it’s a new day, and a different generation. As a member of the consulate it is often times necessary to remain neutral on old issues, if it helps to advance us, compete in the global market.  Be more open, focused on raising the standard of our lives, putting behind us the catastrophic disasters and political mistakes of the past in order to move forward in the twenty-first century. It does not benefit us to worry if there will be another Genghis Khan, Lenin, or Stalin rising up.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Simply put, there is sometimes too much written about the lives and crimes of those killers and dictators from the old Russia to feel any redemption, and the right to put it behind us, in order to build a union with equality for everyone.”

“Are you saying that the media should not exercise their right to report on the horrors committed under a deranged lunatic, or the dictatorship that kept your people oppressed, imprisoned under false charges, in constant fear of their lives? What about your revolutions that brought down a socialistic regime so a democracy could be created? Those are events that changed the course of history in Europe and Russia. It grabs the attention of the world, the kind of attention that makes the press want to report it, and the historians and archivists to document it. I think the majority of people in the free world would just hope your elected officials see that those horrors never happen again.”

Vasily’s head jerked back, his dark eyes pinned on mine, his expression sober, I felt certain of one thing: That I had just made a huge mistake once again running off at the mouth.

_________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

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 XIV (14), ‘Jacob’s Story,’ continued (Part 3)

Chapter XIV, ‘Jacob’s Story,’ continued (Part 3)

“I was very young when all that happened. But, the faces of the soldiers, the evil things done. Those things I cannot forget, even as I have tried to…they stay with me.”

“We were living in Odessa. The Jews were all confined to the cities during that time. My father would show my brother and me how to garden, plant seeds in tiny plots and teach us what he’d learned from his father. He was educated and trained in Odessa as a doctor, but later lost his medical license to practice when Jews were moved and confined to ghettos. When the ghettos got overcrowded the Jews were transported to other places. It became very unsanitary and people were always ill. So much sickness and hunger. No one cared to help us, or treat the sick. By then there were no seeds of anything to plant. We were just thankful to get food, clothing, and clean water to drink.”

“The Romanians put in charge of the Jews kept us all isolated. Fences were erected and places sealed up. Then the Nazi soldiers came and ordered the liquidation of the ghettos. The Romanian soldiers aided them in helping to carry out the massacres and deportations.”

“My older brother, Joseph died of typhus, like so many others. I got very sick, and my father squeezed out one night through a hole in the wall. He told my mother he was going out to find us food, and medicine. But, he was gone for days. We did not know where he was. We heard shots so thought they had found him, killed him. Then soldiers came for all of us, to transport us to Transnistria. They thought there were others who had escaped, searched everywhere, sealed up everything, and marched us all out of the ghetto with guns to our backs.”

“I was seven when the soldiers came to transport us to the concentration camp in Transnistria.”

“They shot all the sick, the old ones and any who were not strong enough to work. The old and weak ones were the first to be killed, thrown into ditches, or burned alive while crammed and locked into storage sheds. Some were hung up alive by meat hooks. They threw screaming babies and children into the fires until their cries were silenced. Some were  thrown from high windows onto the street, while the mothers were made to watch, wanting to die with them. Many were asphyxiated in mobile vans as they were shoved in and the gas turned on through exhaust pipes.”

“Grandmother Magdalena was one of the old ones that could no longer work. She was about the age I am now when they shot her in the back as she ran screaming into the freezing waters of the Dniester River. I watched as her body jerked violently from the bullets, then went down under the ice floes exploding from machine guns.”

“The younger ones that could work were forced into cattle cars packed so tight they could barely breathe. My mother and I were in that group. She held me up over her shoulders to keep me from being trampled. Many suffocated and died, their bodies all bunched together. We had to step over them to get out. People were fighting for just the air to breath. They could not get out fast enough climbing over the corpses. Those who were not taken by train to Transnistria were forced to march the rest of the way through the icy waters of the Dniester, and frozen steppes in nothing more than the rags they wore, or put on ferries.  People sold or gave away their clothes to anyone in exchange for food. The rest of our time was spent at Transnistria waiting the day when they would kill us all, or leave us to starve to death.”

“What about your mother, and you? Were you together at the camps?”

“When we got to the camps in Transnistria the children were yanked away from their parents and separated, some never seeing one another again. A soldier pulled me from my mother’s arms and she screamed at him as he hit her repeatedly. I was dragged away. They would not let us say goodbye, hug or anything. She started crying out, “Yeshua, Yeshua!’” His voice broke, trying to hold back sobs as he pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose.

“Finally, when the Russians advanced westward in their pursuit of the German army Transnistria was liberated, and the Germans and Romanians retreated.  The remains of thousands of Jews murdered lay wherever they were killed. We never learned where my brother’s or my father’s bodies were. To prevent the spread of more disease there were mass graves dug, or bodies burned in piles to cleanse the areas. My mother was still alive when the camps were liberated, but her skin hung loose over her thin bones. Her eyes looked sunken in her drawn face. I remember how beautiful she was once…long dark hair, soft clear skin, eyes that laughed when… well, before all that happened.”

____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

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)

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