Archive for the ‘Literary fiction’ Category

Self-reflection – Chapter 25 of The Informant’s Agenda

The below story is fiction. It is chapter 25 in the ongoing story, The Informant’s Agenda. You can find chapters 1-25 posted under the heading,  The Informant’s Agenda

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The minutes, hours and days tick on, but one loses track of all under heavy sedation and can seem an eternity has passed making one feel like a part of their life has gone missing. There was a sterile smell, the sound of the soft padding of feet near my bed, and hands adjusting tubes, IVs and monitors. When the bandages were removed from my eyes shapes and shadows moved in and out of my blurred vision like apparitions. My skin was red and blistered. My throat felt as if scraped with glass.

My family, and my supervisor in the U.S. were notified of what had happened. My mumbled pleas to speak to them went unnoticed until I would be, “physically able to talk coherently and process emotionally what happened.” I was told by the ‘doctor in charge’.

“You need rest right now. We’re taking care of everything. You’re getting the best care and attention. Then we’ll be able to assess what you need, and approve visitors and calls.”

Before I was released from the hospital I was put in touch with the American liaison at the U.S. Embassy in Odessa. They arranged for my things at the Ayvazovsky Hotel to be packed up and moved to my new room at an American agent’s home while in recovery. A nurse came in on scheduled visits to check on my recovery process and see to any additional care I needed.

Irina came to visit me twice to give me news and updates on the investigation of the explosion, and to tell me that it was reported that Vasyli’s and the superintendent’s bodies had not been found if they were indeed dead as reports speculated. It was then that I just lost it. I felt as if the train in my dreams had run over me, crushing me. What stared back at me in the mirror was not the ‘Monica Mengelder, archivist from Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.’, but a scarred, frightened woman, broken and alone in a country trying to make sense of what had happened, and why.

My heart ached to be home with my family. In my thoughts I was still sitting with grandmother Lisle at the kitchen table. We’d go through a whole pot of coffee and plate of cookies while looking at old family pictures scattered across the dining room table, some with grandfather Jacob’s sisters siting erect in front of the men on straight back chairs, their dour faces looking like they were constipated or something. Grandmother said whenever she tried to lighten things up with a funny joke or story the two unmarried spinsters hardly smiled.

“It was as if they just sat there with a pained expression on their face, so it was nearly impossible to get them to relax, or even open up, share anything about family secrets.”

“Did it ever work?” I asked.

“Rarely. At times I thought I saw a faint crack in their plaster face, until maybe they thought it was an indiscretion of some kind to loosen their corset strings a little.”

I laughed so hard I had to run to the bathroom to keep from wetting my pants. Too much caffeine that morning.

My tears now met with the energy bar when I thought about the fun we had in the kitchen stirring up a batch of Oatmeal Raisin cookies.

Such a long time ago. I will never have those moments again with her.

My head ached. The dizziness and fatigue returned. There remained just a few pain pills from the prescription provided for me after my release from the hospital.

Newsprint swirled around on the paper before me. Reports of the accident filled space in local, regional, national, even some international issues. It was presumed an “accident,” an “irreversible mistake in judgement…to allow anyone other than construction personnel down in the unpredictable subterranean underground structure before the completed restoration, when there had not been a full inspection…” authorities were quoted to have said. The stories went on, “although the investigation continues, it has not been determined an intentional incident in nature,” but the blame and speculation seemed clearly directed at the superintendent and Vasyli, consulate of Ukraine, Odessa, both, “presumed dead.”

Maybe, if I had not ‘requested’ a tour of the Catacombs Vasyli and the superintendent…. If only I had not…

There is no time for self-reflection. I cannot do anything to bring back Vasyli or the superintendent, if they are… But, what I keep only to myself is not fair to those who deserve to know the truth. And, I know I cannot leave this country knowing what I know if first I did not try to report my findings, or inform the authorities of what I have learned.

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Joyce E. Johnson (2016)

           

 

Emerging – Chapter 24 of The Informant’s Agenda

The Informant’s Agenda

Chapter XXIV (24)

Searing pain in my eyes from the explosion left me incapable of seeing anything or anyone beyond the smoke and debris. Yet, my feet were compelled to take one step at a time.

“The Lord is my shepherd…I shall not…want…” In spite of the oxygen mask I wore I could not contain the sobs that broke as I remembered each word, each verse of the 23rd Psalm, the one I learned as a child and recited to my Sunday school teacher.

My throat felt as if it had been scraped raw. It was difficult to swallow, but with each step feeling my way along I mentally recited it again as if standing before the class.  “He makes me lie down in green pastures…” An image of green pastures on a Nebraska farm where cattle grazed contentedly came to mind. I coughed and felt the sticky bloody mucus make its way up to my lips.

He leads me beside quiet waters.” There was the hiking trail my cousins and I took along the Blue River where the water narrowed in places and we walked across the river on rocks. The water was so still and transparent in places we could count the fish swimming downstream as we sat with our legs dangling over high boulders while fishing.

“He restoreth my soul.”  Tears washed the sting from my eyes when I thought of the time I walked down to the altar in our Lutheran Church to pray and asked Jesus to be  my ‘Shepherd.’ The pastor told us we were like His little lambs following the ‘Shepherd’.

“He guides me in the paths of righteousness.” He spoke about the ‘cost’ of what it meant to ‘follow.’  I knew my faith walk would not be an easy one as I entered college, and hung with kids that partied hard.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” No matter how many times I felt fear and anxiety while here in the former Soviet Union countries I told myself that He was with me wherever I went. And, yet I still went to sleep afraid and dreamed those dreams that came to me each night.

Your rod and your staff; they comfort me.” Though, I kept my bible with me at all times, promising God to read some each night I was too exhausted much of the time from a day of archiving names, documenting records, and photographing cemeteries.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” All those times I  shared meals with Irina, Vasily or ones served by Olga at her Inn I did not know if they were my  ‘enemy’ or ‘friend.’ There were so many strange things that happened during these months that made no sense I continually wondered who it was spying on me.

“You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” Lord, I don’t know if there is anything in my life that seems worthy to be anointed by you, but my cup certainly overflows right now with more than I can handle of bad luck, but I will trust you either way.  I will believe there is going to be good that will come from this, as I follow after you, and dwell in your house, that secret place where you reside in my soul, but I pray that you do not let this stream of bad luck continue if I make it out of here alive.”       

What felt like a nudge came from behind like the arm of someone pushing me. It thrust me upward, forward through a fissure that opened before me.

A rush of sweet, fresh air engulfed my senses. Hands lifted me, wrapping me in what felt like cool, soft sheets under and over my body, and I heard the sounds of sirens and screams everywhere, people yelling, “Over here!

When I drifted off and quiet returned there was a sterile smell and the soft padding of feet, and hands adjusting tubes, IVs and monitors around me in a hospital.

My eyes stung from the effects of the gases emitted during the explosion, my skin still burned like that of a very bad sunburn, and my throat was painful and tender, but knew I was making progress. When I was released to go back to my hotel to rest up and recuperate I decided it was time to prepare for my return home to the states. In my heart I knew I was more than ready, anxious even, but I knew too there was still some last-minute things I needed to see to, or people at least I wanted to say ‘goodbye’ to.

Irina came to visit me more than once to give me news and updates on the investigation of the explosion. And also to inform me that Vasily and the superintendent had both died of injuries sustained in the explosion.

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To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Catacombs – Chapter 23 of The Informant’s Agenda

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XXIII (23)

 The Catacombs

Odessa, Ukraine

 “Hi, Vasily. I hope you haven’t been waiting long. I’m sorry I’m a little late.”

He smiled. “No problem. If you’re ready then, we’ll go. We’ve a long day. We’ll be using the headlamps. It’s dark and cold down there.”

“I thought the catacombs were not open to the public. Irina told me they weren’t ready yet, that there’s still work being done in the tunnels.”

“We can get into some parts right now if we go down with the engineer on the project. We’ll be meeting him there.”

Two hours later we descended the narrow passageway deep into the bowels of Odessa’s underground city, and pulled on our headlamps adjusting it to the darkness. An oxygen mask was included. The smell of dampness trapped between centuries old earthen layers of limestone and bedrock filled the interior cavernous tunnels. Compressed clay and mortar filled gaps where water or sand from the Black Sea had seeped through openings leaving its salty residue to merge with the mold.

“Much of this area that is decayed will be sand blasted and redone using a composite of granite and marble, eventually. Electricity will run throughout and plumbing put in. Shops, museums and such will be added in time.”

“Do you wonder if there were any who ever went mad while confined down here under the earth for months or years at a time?” I said.

Vasily nodded. “Possibly. But, it was a fortress designed to shelter them from many things, including their enemies. The alternative was death or captivity. Dating back to the late 1700’s under the reign of Czarina Katherine the Great it would make the Zemlyanka seem like a mere anthill or dugout in comparison. The catacombs are as old as Odessa’s history. Their tentacles stretch for 1,500 miles, the largest and longest on record in the world.” he added.

Our voices seemed to bounce off the walls of the open chambers we entered but when we came through the narrow pass we could hear other voices reverberate through the tunnels we navigated through. We were not alone. Assuming they were the voices of the construction crew Vasily and the engineer did not seem overly concerned we had come so close to encroaching upon their work site.

We continued on, while he told me more of the catacombs’ history.

“Over time leaks and slime deposits from the Black Sea formed the smooth surface on the stone floor beneath giving it that slick, wet finish, so step carefully when coming down into the interior chambers.” He pointed to what looked like hieroglyphic symbols and ancient drawings on the limestone walls. “Early inhabitants of the tunnels used tools to carve pictures leaving their deep impressions for the generations after of the things that went on. All of it tells a story, stories of war, their adversaries and the life they led while in hiding.”

As I stepped from one chamber into another Vasily and the engineer stopped to talk. When I turned back to them to wait for their lead Vasily said, “It’s OK, Monica. I’ll catch up. I just need to speak to the engineer for a moment.”

Nodding, I turned a corner to view another wall. Unaware of any concern, or their conversation I walked through the chamber studying the pictures carved on the walls.

“Oh, this is amazing, all these symbols, drawings and signs. There is one of the Czarina Katherine in a carriage, or troika with a caravan of sorts, wagons following, and Cossack soldiers guarding it.” I mumbled to myself.

It was all so surreal, like De ja vu all over again, the dream I had the night before. The sound of the train with its screeching wheels rolling along the tracks. But, it wasn’t.

It was a hissing sound coming from the direction of a connecting chamber. Then I heard what sounded like an explosion from inside the tunnel and it started filling with a cloudy substance. When I yanked on the oxygen mask and tried to run back towards Vasily and the engineer I could not find them. Walls buckled as if straining under the weight of the earth, large sections broken, lying everywhere.  Scared out of my wits and thinking they might not be able to reach me, or worse that they were caught in the explosion, or cave-in where I’d left them I felt vulnerable and alone in a cloud of sickening fog that smelled like gas.

The dizziness, fatigue and nausea I experienced grew stronger as I braced myself against the walls for support. I screamed for Vasily, the engineer, anyone who could hear, but no one answered or came back. The blackness rushed like a wave, surrounding me. It soon grew quiet, eerily quiet.

There was little I remembered about the turns and passages we came through earlier. Everything happened so fast I could not think clearly, but knew I needed every bit of strength I had left in me to make my way out of there. The tunnels seemed to branch off in all directions and I could not be certain which way to go as I could barely see anything beyond the cloud that smothered what air there was left to breathe. My legs felt heavy, unable to move. My eyes were burning from the gas or smoke emitted in spite of the headlamp and the oxygen mask I wore. My lungs were stinging. Struggling to breathe I yelled again for help. But, no one came. Running my hands along the wall I felt cool air drafts wafting down from fissures nearby and stumbled about following it as I breathed in the fresh salt air and tried to make my way back the way we had come, praying as I went. God, help me. I don’t want to die here. Show me the way to go.

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The above story and characters is fictional, but the Catacombs do exist under the city of Odessa, Ukraine. They hold mysteries and stories as old as the city itself. There is information and images available on Wikipedia and the internet of the catacombs. The above image is one I took from the internet. When I visited the former soviet republics and Russia in 1989 and toured the city of Odessa our tour group was able to see parts of the catacombs open to the public. This  is chapter 23 of, THE INFORMANT’S AGENDA, a novel and work still in progress to be continued as new chapters are drafted and edited. Thank you for following the story if you have been, and for any comments.

Joyce E. Johnson  (2014)

Surrendering (Flash Fiction poetry) for NaPoWriMo, day 24


 

Surrendering
 

By Joyce E. Johnson

 

Billowing clouds of ivory forming in the sky

Lift into the rising dawn, a glow cupped in praise.

Trees, tall and reverent shade the shallow space.

I walk, forcing every step

To give the earth my son, his grave.

Looking up, beseeching to heaven, I cry,

“Why God? Why did you take my baby, my child?”

He answered back.

“I know how you feel.”

“For, I once gave up mine, too. And I will watch over yours.”

“Let me take your sorrow, and I will give you joy.”

“I promise a tomorrow when there will be no more pain.”

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Footnotes: The above book, Flash Fiction is a collection of 100 word short stories and poems written by fifty talented authors for this edition created and edited by Madison Woods, the original founder and creator of the Flash Fiction writers group known as, Friday Fictioneers now under the direction of Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. My flash fiction/poem, SURRENDERING is one of the fifty included in this book which can be found and purchased through Amazon.com. All of my short stories under the ‘Flash Fiction’ category can be found under that heading or under, Friday Fictioneers, many of which are written in a free style poetic form.

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

 

 

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.          

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To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XX (20), Part 2

Chapter XX (20) Part 2

Vasily

It happened every time someone expressed opinions contrary to my own, and I countered back much like my old college days, when I was on the debate team. It was not really important, anymore whether I had made a point, but that I may not have made a friend. Irina, I knew would have berated me. Grandmother Lisle would have warned me with a gentle rebuke to be respectful. My cousin, Jeremy would have shaken his head, not surprised at my boldness. And my father would have lectured me.

But, Vasily surprised me. His face and expression was hard to read. At first I thought he was angry. He had a right to be, the way I come off speaking whatever is on my mind without first thinking. But, then he laughed. Not sure if he was setting me up, or just testing me, but I felt my face grow red from embarrassment.

“What are you laughing at? Is it something I said, or did?”

“Well, It’s just that… you have a way of pushing the, how do you Americans say? ‘Pushing the envelope?’ Your strong opinions, free speech, all that stuff you Americans do. It is so spontaneous. You get so… well, kind of defensive. It’s gutsy, easier to gauge a person’s reaction to things, especially you Americans. And you’re different.”

Although I believed he did not mean to be hurtful, or condescending by his blunt or honest assessment of my character, I could not help but wonder if he thought me brash.

“Oh, I get it. Well, you have just seen me do a ‘Monica thing.’”

“What is a ‘“Monica thing?”’ he asked, with a confused expression.

“Well, my family calls it a, “Texas Oil gusher.” I gush out like a Texas oil well spilling out on everyone, because I don’t always think before I speak.”

He burst out laughing. “That… is so funny.”

While I stood there wishing we could start all over, he was enjoying the moment at my expense.

He smiled, and put up his hands as if to surrender. “OK. I will admit that I was testing you. It was not fair. It’s not exactly the right way to build ‘diplomatic relations’ with the West is it? Truce?” His smile sent little creases up under his eyes.

“Yes. But please, no more of that. I’d rather you not see me when I get on issues that are…well, debatable.  I can be rather bull-headed.”

“I can believe that.” He smiled. “Let’s get back. I had a few other places I wanted to show you today, but we’re running out of daylight. We can see them tomorrow. We missed lunch too, so instead I’d like to take you out to dinner tonight to a great little place called, The Czarina Catherine where the music is live, the wine old and sweet, and the cuisine authentic. I’ll give you time to get cleaned up and change. Being down in that zemlyanka is dirty. As our engineer would say, it looks like I came away with ‘soil samples’ on me.”

“I can agree on that, and thanks for the dinner offer. It sounds wonderful.”

We started back. He slid a CD into his car stereo, and the sound of Ukrainian jazz filled the car’s interior.

My frequent checking over my shoulder at cars or people behind me was becoming an all too frequent habit here. But, I kept that to myself. For now.

________________

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

Tagged with , , , ,

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XVII (17), Part 1

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XVII (17), Part 1

The next few days Irina and I buried ourselves in census records, family registry books in the local parishes, photocopied and updated databases. We were heading back to Grigoriopol from Chisinau when Vasily called me on my cell phone, asking if I would have lunch with him.

“Sounds as if he’s trying to score some points with you.” Irina said, looking at me as I put down my cell phone.

“I doubt it. I’m sure he just wants to make up for all the times I asked to see some things your people say are too classified, or ‘inaccessible.’”

“OK. But, it’s not me that made up the rules. Remember that.” Irina replied.

“Skip it. So, what’s he like?”

“Vasily? He’s divorced. There are women practically throwing themselves at his feet, trying to get his attention. Do you want to join the ranks? I noticed the way you looked at him that day in his office.”

“Why is it that every time…never mind. Any available or single woman would either be blind, celibate, or inclined towards their own gender to not notice him. I just wanted to know a little about him. That’s all.”

Irina laughed. “Oh, I see. So, you just wanted to make sure you’re not starting something with one already attached? You’re one of those who lives by a stringent ‘code of honor.’ Is that it?”

“Something like that. Besides, what good would it do me to get interested in a man here in this country when I live in another, and will be returning to soon.”

“Oh, Monica, you can step off your holy platform. If he only wants to take you to lunch and show you a good time, what’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing. I don’t expect anything more. And, I am not on some ‘holy platform’ as you call it.”

“OK. So, you just have the same set of rules as the ‘religious’ do then. Is that it? I’ve seen Americans that like to party whatever time of day or night. Then there are those who act all righteous, and have ‘convictions’ as they call it, but are hypocrites when they let their hair down. I’ve never met any yet who can call themselves one of the faithful who never fall.”

“Everyone falls, Irina. We all have flaws. You, me, all of us. I have no problem to admitting mine. Thank God, we’re forgiven. And yes, I have  standards.  And while we’re on the subject. I’ve seen Russians whoop it up plenty when they’ve downed a few stiff shots. So, what about you? Which type are you?”

“To answer your question, I am not religious. I have no time for it or desire to acquire it. Sure, I like my Vodka, same as all Russians here. Are we so very different from you Americans who like your beers?”

Here we go again.  

Irina dropped me off at Olga’s Inn and we parted, once again on a note of contention, always butting heads.

After I logged on to my Quill and Quest blog, posted and updated files and reports, sent copies to my alias account I e-mailed Jeremy, my parents, and friends back home, then deleted all from my laptop.

Finally! Now for a long soak.

Submerged in a tub of hot water and bath salts up to my neck, I rested my head against a rolled up towel. It was pure bliss for the short time it lasted. Unaware of anything else except my own breathing I had just dozed off when I heard a noise come from the other room.

Stepping out of the tub and donning my robe, I walked out into the hallway from my hotel room to look for the source, not sure if someone had once again broken into my room. My first thought was that it was a cleaning lady, but I had a, ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign still hanging on my door from that morning.

The house maid’s cart sat parked beside a room two doors down. As I walked past closed doors looking for her I spotted a man coming out of his room.

His expression was one of puzzled fascination as he looked at my bare feet, wrap-a-round robe, and soap film clinging to my long, wet hair.

“Excuse me sir. But, is the housemaid here? Her cart is parked outside your room,” I said, pointing to it. “I need to talk to her.”

“There is no cleaning maid here. Didn’t she leave you a towel? You want to come in and use mine? I’ll share.” he said, smiling.

“No!” I said, and hurried back to my room, locked the door and wasted no time. After I washed and rinsed the soap and shampoo from my hair, got dried and dressed, I began the process of packing up. It was time to check out and relocate to a hotel in Odessa. That was where most of my work was now focused anyway.

That was when I noticed my USB flash drive was missing, certain I had laid it on the bedside table beside my watch before my bath. Nothing else was missing, everything else already packed up. My flash drive I wore on a little chain around my neck. A thorough search of my suitcases and room and the bathroom proved fruitless. It was nowhere to be found. The worst part was remembering what I had left on my flash drive not yet deleted: research files done on the names,  Antonescu, Krupin, and Grigoroui, even Vasily Kuznetsov.

_______________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XVI (16) Part 2

old Mannhalter pictures and Bible 015

Chapter XVI (16), Part 2

The Journal – Into new hands

“Jacob, I’m sorry to have loaded all this on you. Especially the way it has brought back some sad memories of your time in the ghettos. I did not mean to burden you with this, but…”

“No. Ms. Mengelder, you are not”

“Jacob, you can all me by my first name, Monica.  I don’t have anyone else to trust right now with this information. But, this stuff involves you, your family, what you all went through. If my own grandfather’s family had not gotten out of Russia when they did I believe they would all have suffered the same fate as you and your family.”

Jacob nodded. “Go on.”

“You see, in the back on the last pages there are entries listing crimes committed by Romanian soldiers and German colonists against the Jews during the war. Of atrocities during the Holocaust when they liquidated the ghettos, and ordered the death marches.  ”

“I scanned the contents of the journal and sent them to my online accounts, so I could get them transcribed and translated in English for my family. I had no intentions of making it public or revealing its contents. But, I have documented it all. My cousin, Jeremy back home in the U.S. is more skilled and can do this better than I can. I sent him scanned copies of everything here.”

“But, we’re concerned about a security breach in our e-mail communication while I’ve been here. He’s done some research for me on names mentioned in the last entries and is able to keep his search inquiries more secure. Information he found and the identities of these people have led to some in Moldova with high-profile positions in politics and business.”

“I think there are surviving family members of those who may have changed their names or spelled it differently after the war to maybe hide their identity. I believe your father or the one whose initials are on the last entries knew the names of some of the soldiers and killers responsible for the deaths of those at the ghettos in Odessa and the concentration camps in Transnistria.”

Jacob lifted his reading glasses from the table, put them on and opened the journal turning the pages slowly. He looked up at me with a perplexed expression on his face, “You said you have been followed while here in Moldova? And you think there are others here that know about this journal?”

“Yes, but I can’t be certain. I think someone gained access to my notes a few weeks ago while aboard the train on route from Kharkov to Kiev.  Not many people know the reason I am here, except for the Russian officials contacted. Unfortunately, I am not sure I can trust them. Since I am here on assignment for the U.S. Dept. of Genealogy, History and Research I am required to work with those officials who accompany me and know my itinerary at all times.”

“While here I learned about a man named Ivan Antonescu.”

“Why, he was the man who was involved in my accident. He was very angry, and seemed in an awful hurry that day. If what you say is true, then I think you need to be careful. He has associations with those in the upcoming election campaign for Igor Grigoraui. These men are running Igor’s campaign, the Antonescu brothers, Ivan and Victor. They are Grigoraui’s financial backers. They work with Igor’s campaign manager, Vladimir Krupin to reelect him. These men can be very persuasive. Igor’s opponent running against him wants to open records, make them public and investigate accusations about money laundering, foreign debts, the steel industry, and shipping trade. Things of that nature. Much of the tax revenue in our economy is benefiting the pockets of these men, not the country or people of Moldova. Pridnestrovie is seeking their recognition for independence from Moldova, but Igor’s administration holds them responsible to pay back debt and taxes they owe. The Antonescu brothers own the franchises and conglomerate on most everything, including those in Pridnestrovie, particularly Tiraspol. With Grigoraui in office he will keep the power and influence to run things his way without the people knowing how he really conducts his business in Moldova.”

“Then, if they don’t know anything about the journal or what it contains, what possible reason would they have to be interested in a genealogist from the U.S. working on old census files and immigration documents?” I asked.

“They make it their business to learn what they can about everyone visiting our country. They do not want outsiders, especially reporters learning about their business affairs. With this information (he tapped the journal with his finger) I think they would not want this information known.”

“I know there are many of the old Germans and Romanian families still living here from the war days. Even if those killers are all deceased now, the people of Moldova would never elect a man to office whose family was guilty of crimes committed against the Jews. Those killers were not all found or brought to justice for their war crimes, and their offspring might do anything to protect their family name. It is a horrible thing to have that known of your family if one was guilty of those crimes; more so if one of them was running for public office.”

“It has been said that much of the money, artifacts and personal belongings of the Jews worth any value was ransacked and confiscated by those killers during the war. Most of it has never been found or reclaimed by their rightful owners. There are also some members of the surviving Jewish families that were in those camps when they were liberated that have not left the old Transnistria. Securing the reelection of Grigoroui to president of Moldova would also secure the future holdings and conglomerate of the Antonescu family. So, there is much at stake for them financially in keeping power.” Jacob stared at the journal for a moment, and then said. “I think perhaps it best that I hide this somewhere where no one can ever find it again.”

Worried that these men could learn what I knew I hoped I had not already exposed Jacob as an accessory to my quite literally antiquated genealogical ‘digs’, but  I was still a reporter, as much as I was an archivist, or historian determined to research what I did not know, report what I had found, and write about what I had learned.

_____________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Search, (Part 2)

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The Search (Part 2)

Brian nodded. His nerves were on edge, the anxiety evident on his face.

“I was working with a relief agency after Ike hit to help look for those unaccounted for. It was so chaotic. The death count was rising and there were so many that did not evacuate, a lot missing. During the following days there were victims being rescued from roof tops, inside demolished buildings, boats, clinging to things washed up.  We found Paul floating on a piece to someone’s beach house. He was taken to a hospital. He couldn’t remember much of anything. He was in shock. No one knew where he lived, where to find any records, family, anything on him. So, he was a mystery to everyone. The agency hooked him up with a therapist and he has been seeing one ever since. I lived alone, worked in Houston, and wanted to help so offered to let him come live with me while he was in recovery. He has tried to get a job, get his footings, but it has been a slow process. He uses the name, Paul.”

Brian nodded. “Maybe, he remembered only his middle name, but couldn’t remember how to spell it… so used the name ‘Paul’ instead, since you said he had some kind of amnesia. Right?” Brian desperately looked for every logical reason to believe ‘Paul’ was Jed. His hands were shaking, and his heart was racing as he tried to prepare himself, in case he was wrong.

“Yes, maybe that’s it.” Billy replied.

Moments later, ‘Paul’ came out. His hair was shorter, his tan had faded away, and he had gained some weight. But, Brian knew without a doubt that the young man who stood before him, looking so confused was his son, Jed. The deep blue eyes that once reflected life and energy showed no response or recognition  to seeing his father. Brian wanted more than anything to embrace him and assure him that everything would be alright, but held back. He did not want to confuse him, so was content with a hand shake.

“Hi, Paul. My name is Brian Matthews. I…knew you…when you were younger… and thought we could get to know each other… again. I brought some pictures  along for you to see. There are some of you with…your family… one of you and me, and…your…Jenna. Here is one of… Griffin, your dog. What a huge and clumsy mongrel he was. Trying to get him up into the back of the SUV proved almost impossible whenever we took him places. He died later when he got sick and…well, you and him were great pals.” At times Brian caught himself, overcome with emotion,  laughing one moment, wiping a tear the next, remembering Jed and Griffin together.

There was an occasional nod or smile, but Jed said nothing. Brian then pulled out some old toys saved from Jed’s childhood. His eyes would blink or stare, lingering for a moment on something.

When Brian handed him a little U.S. Coastguard Lego’s boat Jed took the boat, instinctively pulled the pieces apart, and tried to reassemble the Lego pieces with the little ‘captain’ inside it. But, the pieces would not fit back together easily. He turned pieces around trying to force them into place, but became impatient throwing it on the floor. “It’s… broken… doesn’t work right.”

Brian smiled. Jed always threw his toys on the floor as a child when he became frustrated playing with Lego’s toys.

“That’s OK. We’ll fix it later.”

Jed blurted out, “It can’t be fixed! Broken… all of it. The water…took it.”

Brian looked over at Billy. He nodded, smiling, his expression hopeful.

“What did the water take, Paul? Where were you? Do you remember?” Brian asked.

Jed shrugged.

Brian handed Jed a little surfboard next. “Do you remember this, Paul?” It was the look in his eyes and the expression on his face that sparked something Brian had not seen before.   A memory?

“Gone. Broken, too. The water came, and took my… me.” He stared down at the floor at the Lego boat lying in pieces. His eyes rested on Brian, staring as if searching for something familiar. “I…it was dark. Storm warnings…the water… I went…took my…board…” Jed held the little surfboard in his hand and began to climb pretend waves up and down gesturing with his hand like a little boy at play. He stopped, looked down again at the boat, quiet, contemplative.

Brian picked up the boat, snapped the pieces slowly, methodically back together as he watched Jed’s face, and handed it back to Jed. “Do you remember a boat like this, Paul? Do you remember getting in one after the storm?”

Jed squinted, furrowed lines forming on his forehead as if trying to form his thoughts.

Brian knew it was a gamble, but, he would take whatever came, even if it was small or painful, and move forward one step at a time. They would get there.

Slowly, a word here, a phrase there, a sentence, and things spilled out in pieces like the Lego boat, until Brian and Billy learned what happened to him the day Ike hit. Jed made progress, but still had a long ways to go. He would not be returning to Texas A&M, but instead be coming home to Dallas with Brian where they would find him another therapist who would work with him, hopefully through a complete recovery.

~~~~~~~~~~

It was now September 13, 2009, one year after hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast. Galveston was still under reconstruction and repair, but the conference center was packed for the anniversary memorial service dedicated to those who lost their lives, and those still missing. Brian, Jenna, and Billy sat listening as the families of victims and survivors came forward to share their story, and to thank the members and volunteers of agencies who helped in their rescue. Jed walked to the podium.

“My name is Jedidiah Raul Matthews. A year ago today I took my surfboard and swam out into the sea. I thought I had time before Ike hit to catch a few good waves. I wanted a good ride. But, it soon turned ugly. I had no control. My board flipped me and I was sucked under. The impact and thrust of the waves knocked me around. I tried to hang on, but lost my board. It was gone. Everything was ripped apart, or floating; buildings, houses, even boats. I was alone in an angry sea. I tried to swim back, but couldn’t. The waves carried me further away whenever I tried. Something hard hit me, knocked me out. It was probably my surfboard on its way out to sea.” There was a ripple of laughter heard in the audience. “I grabbed onto something big floating by, and held on, until rescued. Because of a few people in my life who did not give up the search I am here alive to share my story, and to thank them. Thank you Billy, and to all those who helped in my rescue. Thank you dad for… finding me.”

__________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Search


The Search (Part 1)

Galveston Island, Texas, January, 2008

Brian stood on the balcony of the Commodore watching waves roll gently into shore. A seagull perched atop the light pole as if searching for something or someone, too. Two lone silhouettes came into view through his binocular lens as they strolled leisurely along the quiet beach on Seawall Blvd. He adjusted his lens to get a better look, but could see nothing in them that looked familiar.

He’d taken a leave from the company to continue his search. Faces in crowds, shops and hangouts, news reports, phone and address directories, Internet records: all produced nothing that led Brian to believe Jed was still alive, but nothing either had proven him dead. Showing strangers a picture of his son, leaving flyers, talking to those who knew their local clientele came up empty too. Hope diminished each day as time dragged on. Still, he gave every contact his business card with his cell phone number.

It had been months since hurricane Ike hit the gulf coast on September 13. Galveston received the worst damage with the largest number of reported deaths and missing. At times the surf washed up debris on shore that had been swept out to sea during the storm, even the remains of a body as the sea gave up its dead. He’d given the authorities all the information he could, even recent pictures of Jed that would aid them in the search, or identifying his remains if it came to that. One photo showed Jed standing beside his surfboard with the image of a huge orange sun hovering over a turquoise sea and a shark fin protruding up from its depths. Was there one waiting for Jed that day? Or was it the tenacious, unrelenting jaws of the sea that swallowed him, instead?

According to Jed’s friends at Texas A&M he went out alone in the water that night before it came to shore. There had been hurricane warnings and alerts posted for the entire gulf coast days earlier.  Jed didn’t have the sense to get out when evacuations had begun. No one saw him after that day. He was always chasing after the next big wave or adventure. His friends knew when to quit, find shelter or evacuate. But, not Jed. He would swim out, climb the swells to surging, frothy whitecaps, and ride them back to shore. It was to him, “the perfect ride.”

Brian’s thoughts drifted like the incoming tide when his cell phone rang, and he realized he was still holding the binoculars staring at nothing now but the open sea. The sun had risen to its place in the sky, the darkness less pervading. “Hello?”

“Mr. Mathews?” the voice said.

“Yes. Who’s this?”

“My name is Walt Gibbons. I’m a bartender at O’Reilly’s Grill on Seawall Blvd. I wasn’t working when you were in, but saw the flyer you left here. I have a friend who rooms with a guy that looks like the one in the photo of your son…”

“Yes, go on. Do you know him? Where can I find him?”

“I met him once, Billy’s roommate, that is. But don’t know him well. He came in here with Billy when I was working. He said his name was Paul, or something like that. I called Billy and told him about the photo of your son, and asked if it could be him.”

“What did he say?”

“Billy said Paul doesn’t talk much about that day, can’t remember it, or anything before that, where he lived, or what he did; says he doesn’t talk about his past, or having any family. Kind of weird. I have to admit at first I was kind of suspicious of you when I heard that. I mean, who would just forget things about themselves like that, you know? I wondered if he was running from someone or scared. But, then Billy told me something else about Paul…”

“What? What did he say?”

“Well, it was about him having suffered some kind of amnesia or concussion during the storm.”

“How did Billy meet him?”

“Billy has an apartment in Houston, but came down after the hurricane as a volunteer to help with recovery and locate the missing. Paul was one of those found after the storm.”

Brian hurriedly scribbled down the address and phone number Walt gave him. When he called the number, “Billy” answered. Brian identified himself, told him about the search for his missing son, and a meeting was arranged.

He pulled into a parking lot at the address given him. He knew better than to get his hopes up, and be disappointed again. He had photos, even some sentimental things of Jed’s with him. He picked up the backpack and walked up a flight of steps to the second floor entrance of the apartment building and walked down to # 9, and buzzed the apartment.

Billy answered the door. “Come in Mr. Matthews. I don’t know if Paul is your son, but when you told me a little about him and his obsession for surfing, things made more sense. He’s in his room watching TV. But, before I get him I think you should know some things, first. Have a seat.”

___________________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

Note: I am breaking up my usual posting schedule for the continued story, The Informant’s Agenda to introduce this new fiction story I have recently completed which will be posted in three parts. It gives readers an opportunity to read some newly created material. This story, ‘The Search’ is fiction, my characters and plot all fiction as well. But Hurricane Ike was real, one of the costliest ones to hit the Gulf Coast in lives and property lost, next of course to Katrina. The above photo is one I took while on a vacation to Galveston Island, Texas in October, 2009.

The Informant’s Agenda will return with the next chapter following the postings of the story, The Search. I welcome all feedback and comments on either and all my fiction and posts and helps me to know what my readers are enjoying, what they are not, what kinds of posts they like best, whether it be fiction, poetry, photos or prose, or any other comments to things posted on my blog. Thanks all for reading, commenting and following. All is appreciated.

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XVI, (16) Part 1

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Chapter XVI (16)

The Journal – Into new hands (Part 1)

The house was not far, this side of Hlinaia, a small concrete block style, old, but appeared recently painted. The yard looked as if maintained on a regular basis. 

There was no response to my knocks on the front door. When I noticed his truck parked in the gravel driveway I knocked again, harder, and waited.

Floor boards creaked under slow, halting steps. The door opened.

“Ms. Mengelder? What a surprise. Come in. Did you come to ask more questions of me?” he said, smiling.

In spite of the tragedies he’d suffered it was his dry wit one could appreciate.

“Jacob, I’m sorry I appeared like a relentless press hound on your heels that day.  But, I do have an important issue to discuss with you if you have time to talk.”

“Of course. Come in. Have a seat. I’ll make us some hot tea. Or is it just that flavored coffee you drink like so many Americans? With whipped cream or fancy swirls on the top?”

“Oh, you mean Starbucks?” I laughed. Yes, we love our Starbucks. But, I love tea too, if you want to go to the bother. Thank you. I would like that.”

His furnishings were simple, old, but comfortable, his house clean. He filled a brass urn with water and crushed tea leaves. The urn was an antique like those from Middle Eastern countries.

“Is that a real samovar, Jacob? I’ve seen pictures of ones once used in the Russian Empire, from down in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, I think? I read they brew the best tea.”

“Yes, it was a cast off left over from things salvaged after the war when things were found and reclaimed by the Soviet state. When the republics won their independence they allowed Jewish war refugees to come and claim things once stolen by the Nazis. I had nothing left from my childhood saved or found. When I found that it reminded me of one my grandmother used before we were… so much was never found or reclaimed by the owners, so went into storage for surviving Jews who could come and claim things they wanted or needed. There is much history to those old things. Oh. I’m prattling on like the old relic I am. So, what can I help you with? You had something to discuss”?

“Yes.” I said, laughing. “Well, I was hoping you could tell me where the graves of the Mengelders are located that you told me about earlier. The ones before the war of course. I’ve been looking for them, but…have not located any yet, unless they were among those I could not read or decipher.  That’s why it was so incredible the way we met and I learned of your story, and the way we’re connected through the Mengelder line.”

“Well, I don’t know where all the Mengelders graves are, but some of the older ones are scattered in cemeteries here and there wherever their village churches sectioned off plots of ground in the 1800s, or where they settled and colonized.”

“Well,  my own grandmother told me a story about how the Mengelder ancestors in old Russia kept a journal of all the events and dates of things that happened in their lives, and some of the horrible things that happened to them. When they immigrated they could not bring it out of Russia, so it was left here with the next generation to keep going. Do you know anything about a family journal?”

“Yes. I think my father kept one, wrote things down, before he was killed. He taught me how to read and write at an early age, because the schools then did not allow Jewish children to attend. He told me how important it was to keep a record of things for our family. When the camps were liberated, I began writing in one, also. It was a way of healing… therapeutic to write down my thoughts and feelings. I would have nightmares about the war.. .”

As he talked he shared more about the way the Jews dealt with things in the aftermath of the war, rebuilding their lives, looking for lost and deceased relatives.

There was no subtle way to approach the subject of the journal, and confess how I came to possess it, and what I’d found in it. Confirmation was needed to prove my suspicions of those mentioned by name in the journal and their involvement in the Jewish massacres during the war. Jacob was the only person I trusted.

“Jacob, when I was at the Pridnestrovie Cemetery a few days ago I noticed one of the stones was leaning, crooked. When I tried to straighten it I found something buried under it. When I dug around the base of the grave I pulled this out. I don’t think the grave I found this under is one belonging to the Mengelder family, just one chosen at random to bury it.”

“After I found it I sat down beside the graves, and started reading. I was afraid the pages would tear, it is so old, but it was wrapped up in this tin, which helped preserve it, I think.”

“I missed my ride back to town with Irina. She had driven off before I got back to her car, so I had to walk back to town alone and that was what I was doing when I saw your truck that day on the road, and witnessed your accident with that man. I’m sorry about not stopping though to see if you needed any help. There was no excuse for my deliberate avoidance. I just wanted to get back to town quickly before it got dark. When I tried a short cut walking through some of the old village of Colosova, I got lost and stumbled upon an old man there who led me back onto the road, to Grigoriopol.”

“I did not want to risk losing the journal, or having it stolen. I have been followed at times and am worried that if it was known that I have it I would be in trouble and have to explain how I came to have it. Since it is so old, it is a rare and valuable book, irreplaceable, like an antique. Much of it is in old German script, which was easier for me to transcribe. I got all of it transcribed and documented, but only for our family. No one else, except my cousin knows about the journal or its contents. At least not to my knowledge. That is why I need to trust someone else with it now. Jacob, do you think this journal could be the one your father had before he was killed?”

His expression looked as if he had gone into shock. Finally, he nodded, caressing the ancient book as if afraid it would disintegrate in his hands while doing so. He looked up at me, with tears in his eyes. “If this is my father’s journal – the one I remember – then it is a treasure you have found.” he said.

“Yes, it is. But, there is something else about it, too. It contains names and sensitive information I think involving people during the war. Do you know if he had it on him the day he disappeared when he did not come home?”

“I’m not sure. He said he was going to go out and look for food and medicine. But, maybe he went to the cemetery instead, and buried the journal there. He was gone for a very long time. He slipped out under a hole in the wall he had made, and promised us he would be back. I was very sick, running a fever. There was Typhoid in our ghetto. I waited, watched for him, but…” he said, taking his handkerchief, and wiping away tears. “He never returned.”

______________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XV (15), Part 2

Chapter XV(15), Part 2

With a cheap lock from a hardware store I took a cab to Chisinau International airport, and rented a locker in the public terminal. After locating the locker, I pulled a large padded manila envelope from my tote bag and placed it inside the locker, making sure I could be seen by anyone watching. Standing by the locker I casually perused through a brochure, and checked calls and messages on my cell phone. Then, I pulled out a compact, smoothed down my hair, and swiped some powder to my nose while looking through the compact mirror at people behind me. After I placed the compact back into my bag, closed up the locker, secured it with the lock, I walked away with the tote bag over my shoulder. The journal and my laptop remained inside my bag with other personal things throughout the charade. The bulky envelop left in the locker contained nothing more than a pile of kiosk brochures and newspapers.

When I got to the end of the corridor I camouflaged myself in a knot of passengers viewing flight arrival and departure schedules from an overhead screen and turned around to look. A man walked to my locker and inserted a small tool into the lock to open it. It was the same man who broke into my compartment on the train to Kiev, the one who had followed me all other times, and the one I saw outside the consulate’s offices in Odessa.

All the while I had my cell phone camera set to video, focused in on my subject, and videotaped him. With no clear recorded sound from that distance I could only imagine what might have been mumbled swear words as I watched his expression and lips moving at finding nothing but the trivial contents I had left behind. He slammed shut the locker door with the lock hanging loose and hurried away. Leaving the journal in a secure locker was out of the question for obvious reasons.

The night before I had deleted reports, pictures, files, search history, and e-mails from my laptop after sending them out, and transferred all over to my secure accounts under an alias name. Copies of all including my finished work files, archival lists, videos and photo files while on assignment were now safely stored in accounts giving only the U.S. D G H&R access to them.

Backup copies too kept on my flash drive I wore around my neck under my shirt were transferred as well. The journal I had already scanned with a copy, all correspondence, and research sent prior to Jeremy. I only hoped I had not waited too long in taking steps to protect all.

Oh, God. I hope I have not screwed things up.  It is too late now to return the journal. I’ll just be followed there, too.  I may have compromised confidential material, and jeopardized my assignment here. What should I do with the information I’ve learned? What now? Who can I trust? Where can I leave the journal. If I’m caught with it…

________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XV – Part 1

Chapter XV (15)

Journal Entries – New Discoveries (Part 1)

That night I stayed up late, researching and reviewing history files I had of the Holocaust and WWII events.  I dug into the journal some more, wanting to see how Jacob’s story compared with information from the entries made on the last pages, during the years up to 1944.  The last entries of the journal were initialed by A.G.  A. G. for Anton Gruenfeld? Was it Jacob’s father? Names of those who died were included. Writing was hurried and clumsy in places as if the author dashed a line or entry, and then stopped, abruptly, but all initialed, A.G. Loose pages of paper, the odds and ends of things written on them were stuffed into the journal when the numbered journal pages filled up.    

There were names recorded with entries describing the atrocities carried out against the Jews in the Odessa ghettos and the deportations to Transnistria. It seemed an obvious conclusion that A.G. knew the killers by name. Jacob had told about those who they knew, lived with even that took part in the mass killings and deportations. [“There were ones who turned their own gun on the Jews and shot them. We were their neighbors, farming together, living side by side.”] Surprisingly the names were legible enough to read although obviously scrawled in haste, or hurried where many of the broken lines and entries showed gaps. Yet, all of it important to its posterity, as if the notes and entries would somehow find its way into the future, while preserving its past.

A thorough search on names of Germans and Moldavians living in the region during the years between 1940-1945 revealed surnames that had been changed or altered.  Another search in the archives of news articles on the men Irina told me about, the ones I saw at the Odessa consulate’s offices. Their names were often mentioned in the news broadcasts describing their involvement in the campaign and endorsement of the recent upcoming presidential election of Igor Grigoroui. The other name, the one responsible for making “substantial contributions to Grigoroui’s re-election campaign”, was Victor Antonescu, his name popping up in the ‘Business’ section, local politics, a man with his hands in many pots, and by the looks of it, many pockets.

Name variations and changes were often the case in history with immigration, census and revision list records in the ever-growing archives and data bases, thus creating the need for a sound-ex name code system. When a name is searched a variation of spellings or different version comes up if the searched name is not valid or documented. But the names I researched were ones better known in the region during the war years, like the name of the Romanian marshal Ion Antonescu who commandeered the Romanian army and gendarmes aiding Hitler and the SS. If people were not moving around a lot or migrating somewhere else there were fewer records with that name listed, so was not usually misspelled on name lists unless written illegibly. But if there was a reason to change the name spelling completely in order to make themselves less visible or exposed for personal reasons, one could change a few letters around, or reverse a couple. Legally the new spelling would be valid and recorded with all official papers and passports showing it spelled that way. No one would have a legitimate reason to question the validity of the new name. The archives and data bases were full of name variations, always confusing genealogists.

Next, I researched the Romanian and German names listed on the last entries of the Journal and those sounding similar with possible variations of people known in this region. For the next few days I made it a priority project, and then sent off e-mails to Jeremy telling him about Jacob’s story and updating him on things I learned.

I could hardly believe I held in my possession an antiquated journal with a history of not just my family, but detailed accounts describing the horrors committed against East European Jews, of ‘racial cleansing.’ How was I going to protect and preserve all that was here? It contained names, dates and recorded deaths of Jews killed by Marshall Ion Antonescu’s Iron Guard, Romanian Gendarmerie collaborators, even German villagers who turned against them.  In essence, the journal was explosive, and felt like a sizzling stick of dynamite in my hands, but there was no safe place to keep it hidden unless I buried it again where I had found it. Or, at least left with someone I could trust.

If I found a connection between the names of those in the journal and the Antonescu brothers, Krupin or Grigoraui I felt I had a link. A reason for one to deliberately change their name to cover crimes from their past, or that of their families’, and take a new identity was enough for one to keep the skeletons in their closet hidden. They would be even more desperate if campaigning for president in a country rebuilding after a horrific past.

My work with the U.S. D G H&R was known to more people than just Irina. Her “superior” (whoever that was) and the Odessa consulate, maybe others, knew of my interest and requests for interviews with Holocaust survivors. Jeremy warned me, I had to be careful what I learned, who I confided in. Now, I may have said too much, talked too freely to someone who was sharing information with someone else. There was no proof that anyone had hacked into my cell phone calls, or password accounts. But, I could not expect to continue background searches without raising curiosity, at least with Irina, who wanted to know everything I did. I have to know if I am being tracked wherever I go, and if they know about the journal. There is only one way to find out.  

___________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

Posted December 30, 2013 by Joyce in Fiction, Literary fiction, My Novel

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The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XIV (14), ‘Jacob’s Story,’ continued (Part 4)

Chapter XIV, ‘Jacob’s Story’, continued (Part 4)

“After the war we didn’t know who we could trust again. Evil prevails in those with hate in their heart. It is not just with one kind of people, or one race, but with any. I believe there will always be those who choose to hate for whatever reasons.”

“I saw people who claimed to be Christians, but they betrayed us, or turned us away when we needed help. We were their neighbors, living side by side, but they were unforgiving of Jews who rejected the Messiah they preached about. There were some who turned their own gun on the Jews and shot them. But, there are stories of Jews who were protected and hid from their enemies, fed when hungry, clothed when stripped of their own. Some became martyrs and died alongside Jews when the Nazis came. I was young, but wise beyond my years.”

“Jacob, do you know if any of the collaborators; Romanians or Germans here involved in committing these atrocities were ever caught, or found?”

He shook his head, “No. I think most were never seen again. After the war, there was so much chaos, locating missing people, registering survivors, trying to treat and care for the afflicted I don’t think it was the thing that was foremost on people’s mind, until much later. I think the horrors of the war left everyone traumatized. There was some good that came out of it though like the Zionist movement and the birthing of the state of Israel. Their intelligence agency was born, and an army of trained fighters formed. I know they have hunted for the guilty involved in the deaths of the Jews. But, I don’t know if they have been entirely successful hunting them all down.”

“It seems hard to believe that there could still be any alive somewhere and walking free. How do you deal with all this, even now after so many years? Aren’t you bitter? Don’t you feel hatred for those who killed your family, and left you to die?”

“If I am to be the kind of person called by Messiah’s name to love as he loved, can I carry hate in my heart? He has called us to forgive, as he forgave his enemies. I admit it is difficult at times. But what is to be gained from hating? It is the evil of a darker force that walks among us, trying to destroy all that the Messiah died for. But, He was raised up, resurrected and lives so we would not have to walk through life with those shackles on, but be freed of them. That is the deliverance, the power we have as his children.”

“My Mother cried out to the Christian Messiah to help us, to save us from the soldiers who came for us. That is what changed us, Ms. Mengelder. No baptism, Torah, traditions or prayer shawl would have saved us from them. Out of our desperation we were given eternal life, and placed our trust in the one called Jesus, making him our Messiah. We prayed for deliverance, not just from the Nazis, but also for our soul.”

All I could do was nod my head in silent agreement and thank him for sharing his story. The park was still empty, no children on the playground, no one around to hear, or care what he had shared with me. Only the birds quietly perched on tree limbs as if with respect listened quietly too. We sat for a few moments just listening to the rustle of the trees, soft breezes blowing under a clear blue sky.

It made me shudder to think about the scattered remains and ashes of the thousands who died and suffered at the hands of their enemies, their graves we walked upon, the trees, flowers, parks, buildings and roads built above it all as if declaring that life does indeed go on, and one has to move forward.

It was hard to contain my own emotion, so didn’t even try. It was as if Jacob’s life was being replayed in slow motion before my very eyes like a repeat from a documentary on the History channel. His grandmother Magdalena, the sister to my great, great-grandfather Adam whom my family had tried so hard to locate could now be technically laid to rest, even if there was no grave we could find or visit.

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This is the end of chapter XIV, but the story will be continued with new chapters posted after Christmas.

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

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.”

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To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XIV, (14), Part 2 ‘Jacob’s Story’

Note: The below portion of ‘Jacob’s Story’ is Part two of a lengthy chapter. It will be continued in Part three, maybe four. The entire story, The Informant’s Agenda is fiction, but is based on actual facts and the history of ethnic and German Jews from Russia, and much of my 30+ yrs. of research on my own paternal German family from south Russia.  My story characters and plot are fiction, and were created to better tell their story. I want to thank those who are following the story, or just reading bits or pieces as they visit here and hope you have enjoyed the story. All comments, questions and feedback are always welcome. In between chapters posted here there will be other varied posts of poems, photos, misc. prose and writings with a few Christmas related ones coming up in the next two weeks.

Joyce E. Johnson

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‘Jacob’s Story’, Part two

“I will tell what I know. But, I was very young…when my father died, so…”

 “That will be fine. If you can start from the beginning of their settlement period that will help fill in the gaps of history I don’t have. Do you mind if I run my recorder while we talk?”

“No. I guess that is alright.”

“They came from Prussia, Germany, Wurttemberg, and other East European countries. They were given sections of land to farm by the Czarina, Catherine the Great in the late 1700 s. They first settled in Grigoriopol, but later migrated to villages in Bessarabia, or southwest Russia, a part of what is now known as Moldova. It joined the countries of Ukraine and Poland that was eventually partitioned and divided up between Romania, Prussia and Russia, all a part of the ‘Pale of Settlement.’”

“Was your family Jewish, then?” I asked.

“Yes. The Jews lived near the ethnic German colonists in villages of their own.”

“Has your family always been Jewish, or did they convert at some time?”

“They came here as Jews, but was told the Czar tried to conform them, make them convert to the Orthodox Russian faith. When the new laws were sanctioned the Czar claimed all the Jews and Germans must dress, talk and be educated alike, but neither group liked that. They wanted to keep their own culture, language, and traditions.”

Jacob continued.

“Many Jews converted to the Lutheran religion. When they were baptized, their names were modernized, their traditions, kosher diet, culture, all changed. It was during the “Age of Enlightenment,” when there were a lot of changes and reforms. Others refused to convert and kept to their Orthodox Jewish dress style and laws. They became known as the Hasidic Jews, very devout.  They were targeted by everyone because they were ‘different’. So, the pogroms continued. They were later blamed for all the wrong in the anarchy, for starting the revolution, Bolshevism, even assassinating the Czar.”

“What about your grandmother, Magdalena? Did she convert?”

“No. She did not want to be baptized.  Jews suffered terrible things when the pogroms came. She denounced God and would not believe in the Messiah sent to save us. She said, ‘There is no God that can change those things which we Jews have suffered.’”

“When the Christians talked about their Messiah we did not judge them if they did not judge us. God is the creator of love and does not judge us for our ignorance. When they continued to preach to us, we just continued to listen, patiently, even if we did not want to hear,” he said with a slight smile on his face looking at me.

“The Jews listened to the stories about a ‘Cross of Redemption’ which the Christians spoke about, teaching them from their Bible. Some tried to help the Jews and were kind in their heart, not just in deeds. When the Jews lived in the colonies the Germans taught them how to farm, grow gardens, harvest crops. They told about the Messiah sacrificing his life to save all.”

“But, my grandmother thought one must die first to be worthy of being saved. She said she felt as if she ‘died when the Cossack soldiers came’ and violated her, and said she, ‘lived in a hell that only the Jews could know.’ She could not understand how a man would give his life to die for the sins of all so that all would be reborn if only they believed”.

“The Czar’s laws were made to force restrictions on the Jews that would not convert. They could not own property, attend their synagogues, go to schools or universities, work as agriculturists any more, or reside in their villages. They were forced to move to the large cities. Revision Lists were drawn up forcing taxation, even when they lived in poverty”.

“It seemed at the time all the Jews were getting baptized so they could be like all the other Germans who were much better off. But they were really not much better off when the Bolsheviks came to power because even the Christian Germans were being taken away to Siberian prison camps by the train loads and most starved to death or were executed. That included Jews who were baptized if they became Christians. The Soviets took away all our freedom, our faiths and right to worship and closed down the churches and synagogues. It did not matter if you were Jew, Gentile or Christian. They all were taken away. Our family was spared that, though. I don’t know why. Maybe, because they still outwardly lived like Jews, because they were not Christians. But we were not spared later when worse horrors came”.

______________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

 

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