Archive for the ‘Ukraine’ Tag

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.

________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The making of story, The Informant’s Agenda, and thirty plus years of research

HPIM2273_thumb.jpg

My family history – files, photos and documents on the Mannhalter family tree from Germany, Russia and North America

 

It was the year my father died in 1982 when I began the long journey of researching my paternal family history. When I realized all the resources out there in libraries, genealogy organizations and later on internet sites it opened up a whole new world of things at my fingertips, literally.

My paternal grandfather’s family were a part of the huge mass of immigrants who came over to the U.S. from Russia. My grandfather came from Odessa, Ukraine. As the years progressed and I learned so much about their lives, culture and what they left behind in Russia I had no clue yet or real evidence of their Jewish background because their family was Lutheran when they immigrated in 1889. When I did learn of their Jewish connection and background I was hooked and obsessed with my research.

I began filling up notebooks, buying scores of books and maps, joining German Russian genealogy clubs and visiting libraries and the RLDS Family History centers in my location to get into their exhaustive archives and files. I remember the excitement as I scrolled through their massive microfiche files and cataloged records and  finding a copy of the actual document of my 3x great grandfather’s immigration from Germany into Russia in 1786. I must have scared the other women in that room who filled their days volunteering time at the family history center when I loudly exclaimed,  “I found it. I found my ancestor.”

The rest is all history too as I spent hours pouring over books, maps and resources. Then in May of 1989 my dream came true and I was booked with a tour group to visit Russia. My husband was unable to go with me, so I flew to Moscow alone and hooked up with the tour group when I arrived. We visited Moscow, Kharkov, Kiev, Odessa and finally Leningrad (then named after Vladimir Lenin, and now renamed St. Petersburg). It was an absolute unforgetable and exciting trip. It was during that time, the ‘cold war’ period when Russia and its republics were still under the Communist regime.

But, my  journey did not end with that trip. I still revisit those places if only through the internet sites, maps and resources as I write the chapters of my ongoing story, The Informant’s Agenda and follow Monica on a similar journey as she travels to Russia, Moldova and Ukraine to learn the history of her own family, and that of families like her own. The same excitement (almost) is there as i narrate her story and journey.

Little did we know that Ukraine would make history again with the aggressive action by Russia to take possession of the Crimean region. The history of Russia, Ukraine, and all former Soviet republics is one of turmoil, revolution, dictatorships, destruction and rebuilding.  Now again, the country of Ukraine fight to keep and regain what they have lost to Russia. Their economy suffers while the west decide if, or how it can help. Their plight to keep a government and democracy strong is once again hanging in the balance. Although I will not bring into my story their current story I follow it in the news, and my prayers and thoughts are with them through this time. I hope one day Ukraine will look back on all this as just another chapter in their history that helped strengthen and unify their country in the reformation process.

________________

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.          

_________________

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 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 Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XIV, ‘Jacob’s Story’

Unaware I had drawn the stares of others in the café I sat tapping the fork on the rim of the plate, my food untouched, cold, my mind and thoughts thousands of miles away.

“Moni, your grandfather told me about an old journal their family had. A story his father passed down to him. The journal contained information on the family, their thoughts and things about the changes and political upheaval during the czar’s rein. He said they wrote even of the horrid pogroms. The journal stayed behind with family members who could not immigrate.”

“Are there any family members still living in Russia?” I asked her.

“Maybe. I don’t know. But, there was one,” she replied. “A long time ago, in the 1930 s, a woman, by the name of Magdalena. She was your great, great grandfather’s younger sister. The Russian officials told him once that her husband and children perished in the Stalin purges when they rounded up the Christians and political dissidents. They were exiled to Siberia. They were Christianized Germans. All died in the gulags, or prison camps, they were told. The authorities claimed they committed crimes against the state. A letter came once from another German villager telling him she was alive at that time. But they did not allow her to write or contact him. When the family inquired to the authorities about her they claimed they had no information at all except to say they could not locate her. All correspondence stopped after that letter.” Grandma continued.

“After World War II ended and reports of displaced persons and refugees were filed family members sent more inquiries out, this time to the International Red Cross. If she was still alive by the time the Nazis occupied Ukraine and Bessarabia she might not have survived especially then. She would have been perhaps in her seventies then.”

“You mean because she was ethnic German? Which put her in danger with the Russians if she sided with the Germans, accused of collaboration and all?” I asked.

Grandmother Lisle paused, sighing deeply, quiet for a while. “Possibly. But, she was probably not safe anywhere over there, particularly with the Germans!”

“Why? Wasn’t she Lutheran like the rest of the family? A “Christianized German,” like you said?”

“No, she was not.”

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

He was perhaps in his late seventies, hunched in the shoulders. His worn work clothes showed the signs of one who was used to the toils of hard labor. He took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead as we walked. His hair was graying, thinning, his skin with sun spots showing age and time spent outdoors.

Our chance encounter was not what I would call a coincidence, but rather one destined  to help enlighten me on family secrets and histories buried here like the graves I documented.

He pointed to an area just down the street where shade trees hung heavy with limbs full of summer’s foliage and grass that grew thick and coarse. A little park nestled in the middle with old swings, slides and empty benches. We walked to one and sat down.

“Jacob, could you tell me what you know about your family? Where they came from? Where they settled”?

He nodded, quiet at first as if collecting his thoughts, then began. “I was born here in Transnistria, in Colosova. My families were farmers. My mother’s name was Raisya, my father was Anton. His family came from Wurttemberg, Germany, originally, but lived in Prussia before they immigrated to Bessarabia”.

“Were they part of the original German Lutheran groups of colonists that settled  here in the early 1800 s”? I asked.

“The Mengelders were German, but they were not Lutheran.”

“Do you know the names of your relatives further back in the Mengelder family?”

“There was Johann, Adam, David, Rueben, Elizabeth, Jacob…” He went on, as he named all those on the Mengelder family graves in Pridnestrovie cemetery.

“My own grandfather’s name was Jacob. He always wanted to be known as just German, although his family were registered as Lutherans on church records. He always said that a ‘good German could be proud of their heritage.’” I said, smiling.

“Ms. Mengelder. I am not sure one can define an ethnic group either ‘good,’ or bad. It is like separating the blacks from whites, like they did in your country before your civil laws changed all that. There are good people to be found in any ethnicity. Just as evil touches all groups, there should be no divisions in race or religious affiliation.”

Jacob’s reply to my comment was like a firm rebuke, leaving me embarrassed over my remark, yet I did not feel the sting of his correction. It made me appreciate his perspective, and I felt admiration for this thought-provoking man.

_____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XIII, Part 2

Map of the Transdnestrian Region

Map of the Transnistrian Region (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

1944 – Transnistria ghetto             

My fingers are stiff, numb from the pain of cold and frost. I don’t know how much longer I can keep the journal, record the things I know and have seen. If caught, I know I will not see my son and wife again. It is for Jacob, Raisa and the rest that I write this and hope one day it is found by someone who will learn the truth. Oh, eternal God, redeemer, Jehovah, cover us with your mercy. Deliver us.   

Our food line today was shorter. The faces of some I saw before, now gone. We are served meager rations of bread with a thin gruel. I saved back some of my bread, eating only a small amount so I could leave more for Jacob. He is running a fever. I fear he has caught the dreaded Typhoid. Like his brother, Joseph, and many others who have already died.

The smell of unwashed, lice infested bodies emaciated in their soiled rags fills my nostrils. Huddled together, bent over, joints stiff from the cold, eyes protruding from dark sockets many look like the walking dead. They will not survive much longer. When I look at them I see myself, a bony protrusion of brittle stick like limbs.

Crudely built cots made from slated wooden crates are pushed together to hold all of us crammed together in the old warehouses. There is no heat. We are given no wood or coal to build a fire to warm us during the winter months. Guards laugh, calling us their “prisoners” and tell us we must serve time for our “indiscretions committed against the Reich’s commander and chief.” I have been assigned to a construction site at their barracks.

We are inspected and closely watched as we are rounded up each morning before dawn, stand in line while they call our numbers, and wait while they check their lists for those now dead or anyone missing. When that is done we are given our ration bowl, devour its contents hungrily, work for hours with no breaks, little protections against the harsh winds and cold, then marched back to our quarters at the end of the day.

That is when I saw him. Mueller, a Jew like me, now claiming to be converted and baptized hides behind his altered documents wearing a crisp clean uniform given to him by the Reich’s commander in the Romanian Iron Guard. His pious look fools no one. His heart is as cold and bitter as the soup in the steel drum. They serve him soldiers’ rations, allow him to bathe and use their toilets, and drink their liquor. But, he has betrayed us all, turning in our names, giving them information about our family members, our history, and circumcision. We are all marked for death, because of him. I have seen him staring at me with suspicious eyes when we are marched out, and ordered to report each morning. I worry that he may know what I do, or where I hide as I write this.

Our families once farmed, side by side, breaking ground, planting, cultivating. They celebrated harvests, shared the bounty, and suffered through the bad years, together. We were brothers in spirit, working alongside, believing that one day we would rise up and join others in an insurrection to turn the tide and see a democracy born from this anarchy. But, it is for naught. We are brothers no more. He is free, to live. I am destined to die.

Time is short. I fear I will not be alive much longer, for the things I know and write about will be found.

Oh, my dear Raisa and Jacob. Where did they take you? What have they done to you? Will we ever be together again? I cannot bear to think what they will do to you both if they find me with this.

A.G. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I’d finished my notes and reports I sent off an e-mail to Jeremy marking it ‘priority,’ asking him again to review, translate and do a thorough search on the names.

________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

 

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XI, Odessa

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

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

Chapter 11

Odessa, Ukraine

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

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

“Thank you.”

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

“Thank you, Vasily.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irina nodded. “Of course.”

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

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

“At Olga’s Inn in Grigoriopol.”

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

“Yes, thank you.”

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

“Thank you.”

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

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

Irina and I headed for the elevator.

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

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

“Oh? How interesting.”

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

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

“Oh, him? That is Ivan Antonescu.”

“And the others?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OK. I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair.”

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

____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson  (2013)

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

Tagged with , , , ,

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter VII, Part two, – ‘Discovery’

The Informant’s Agenda

Chapter VII, Part two

Discovery

Pridnestrovie Cemetery, Transnistria, Ukraine

Under layers of paper was an old book bound together with frayed shoelaces.

Brittle black leather binding no longer kept the pages intact, loosened and barely attached to thin threads from the spine when I pulled back the fragile cover. Stain, dirt, and the passing of time had yellowed the thick coarse pages making the handwriting almost illegible, but not impossible for one with keen transcribing skills and knowledge to decipher antiquated rare books. A pair of magnifying glasses from my bag brought the names, dates, and journal logs in closer as I turned carefully the fragile pages.

Oh, my… I can’t believe this! 

Guessing it could be maybe a hundred years old from the looks of the scrawled German script and dated entries I realized there had to be more than one person who recorded information, judging by the name or initials at the end of each entry. It had been remarkably preserved through the years wrapped in paper and protected in the tin. Loose scraps of paper with more notes were stuffed inside the tin, all the journal pages filled up.

The words of grandmother Lisle came back to me, as I sat staring blankly out across the steppes, the journal in my lap. She had a way of teaching us kids things in life using object lessons. One especially, I remember, when I was ten. Her freshly baked batch of Oatmeal Raisin cookies – my favorite – sat cooling on the stove. With no one around, I took one, gobbled it down, then took another, just as she walked in. She always told me, “Moni. First, ask. Don’t just take something, unless you have permission.” She caught me eating the cookies, and reminded me of the rule, “It’s too close to dinner time. Dinner first, then dessert. But, since you have already eaten your cookies, you will not be allowed any with ice cream after dinner.”

Consequently, I went without my dessert after dinner.

The memory was still as fresh as the smell and taste of her cookies. As I sat contemplating whether I should take it, I tried to vindicate myself from the guilt, feeling like a thief.

It is the ultimate treasure! I cannot leave something this valuable behind. It will just rot in the earth, maybe never found, the truth never learned, a story never told. If I can transcribe its contents, it may disclose vital information on the history of this cemetery and its occupants. Maybe it holds the key to some of those padlocked doors, a portal to their world, their era. When I am through with it, scanned and transcribed it all, I will bring it back and return it. No one will ever have to know what I’ve found.

An hour had passed before I realized I was running late. Irina will be livid.

Wrapping the journal up in the paper I placed it back inside the tin and tucked it down into my backpack then patted the soil down around the hole and tried to reposition the gravestone again in its place. It was too heavy, so I gave up trying. After repacking my cameras and notebook I walked out of the cemetery with my bag.

With the journal I had no doubt that whatever wealth of information and history it held it would maybe help in answering some questions I’d had since coming here. What really happened with the German Jewish groups that settled in these parts? Did they go into hiding during the Holocaust? Were they discovered? Are there any still living?

It was all I could think about, all I could focus on right now, not worry about whether I was wrong in taking the journal.

Delving into the pages of history here was like entering a long, black tunnel. A dark, cold place to be, but the only way through, to find a way out. Feeling drawn to that tunnel now, I entered it, not knowing where it would lead, determined not to turn back.

____________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter V, – The Trans-Siberian

Chapter V

The Trans-Siberian –Kharkiv Station

Passengers lined up on the boarding platform to the Express line as it sat belching steam into gray skies over Ukraine. On another rail yard rested a train retired from its former days looking like an ancient black dragon stretching way beyond the tracks from the Kharkiv station,

It was its history and monumental iconic past that lured me to choose this mode of travel to Kiev, made all the more enticing after taking the guided tour of the famed first class cars used during the Czars’ reign.

Pictures of Czar Nickolas and other historic figures from the Russian empire hung on wood panels. The Romanovs, dictators, politburo and Soviet party bigwigs, the rich and famous, all of them given their place of importance hung on a sort of ‘hall of fame,’ in spacious stately cars. Beds with thick plump mattresses and pillows lay under down quilts and coverlets. Upholstered chairs in deep red damask tapestry sat near heavy wood tables with French porcelain tea service sets and a gleaming samovar. Side bars were stocked with vodka filled crystal decanters, and silver ice buckets. Lit wall sconces accented the draped windows framed in matching red velvet like the upholstery, with tassels and pulls. White crisp linens hung from polished brass towel rods near a built-in lavatory. The first class cars were turned into a museum, open to the public now.  Tour guides, dressed as stewards welcomed the public  to view what once was off-limits to all but the elite class.

A porter led me to car #7303, third one down, and compartment # 9. One man stood alongside the aisle, his face turned towards a window, occasionally glancing back at those passing through.  No one seemed to notice or care about the lone passenger with no bag.

“May I see your key please, miss? I wish to make sure it is the one assigned to you, and fits the lock to your compartment.” he said.

“Yes, of course.” I handed him the key given me at check-in. The door opened. A tray on the small table held packets of sugar,  ‘espresso’, tea bags, napkins and a menu. A little basket with complimentary toiletries was laid beside it. Travel brochures were arranged in a rack on the wall.

“There you go, miss. Enjoy your stay while aboard The Trans-Siberian. If there is anything you need please ring the call button here.” he said, pointing to a small button on the paneled wall inside the compartment.  A steward will come along shortly and check on your comfort. If you wish to place a meal order, or would like to eat in the dining car, and make a reservation you may let him know then. If you need any assistance in any way, please let us know.”

“Thank you. I will.”

Locking my compartment door after he left I settled in and unpacked only what I needed for my one night stay, then pulled out my notes and laptop. A half hour passed before the train whistle blew and began its slow pull away from the station heading northwest towards Kiev, picking up speed as it drew further away from Kharkiv.

As promised, a steward came by and took my “dinner order.” I picked from the menu, and asked for black coffee. Before shutting my door I noticed the ‘no bag’ passenger in the aisle leaning against the window, his face hidden behind a newspaper.

Three hours later I had finished dinner, returned the tray to the steward, sent some emails and worked on files. Ready to turn in for the night, I shut down my laptop, stuffed my notebook, maps and research files into my bag, and set it down beside my luggage. Grabbing my purse and a small bag, I locked my door on my way out, and headed down to the end of the car, to the lavatory.

After standing in line for what seemed a good twenty minutes the lavatory was free. With its unsanitary conditions I hurried my time spent there, thankful to get out and back to my compartment. The man by the window was gone.

I inserted my key into the lock. It got stuck, became lodged, but I managed to yank it free. Bending down to peer through the lock, I noticed the bent ragged, edges around its opening. Did I do that? After repeated tries it finally opened, and I quickly relocked it once inside, not sure by now if it was ever really locked.

My laptop was closed, still in shutdown mode.  I checked my equipment, files, and personal things and could see nothing taken. And yet, things looked different somehow, as if moved. Am I just paranoid, or has someone broken into my compartment? Sometimes it felt as if there were eyes watching me wherever I went. Eyes that bore into my back from unseen places were like an unwelcomed shadow. A face in a crowd, on the metro, or a passenger on the Trans-Siberian could blend in like all the rest, all heading the same direction. Though my work files were all protected in password accounts, it was my family research notes and old photos I carried that were more personal and accessible that I worried about.  Still, it appeared there was nothing stolen.  There was no proof that anyone had broken in, except for a jammed door lock that just hours earlier worked fine when the steward tried it, so shrugged it off and went to bed.

My body had not fully adjusted to the time zones after jet lag, days earlier, and my sleep was sporadic. When it came, so did the dreams. The steppes were filled with graves. Names flashed before me, obscured in Cyrillic, Hebrew and German script on white slab stones, all of them with a face as the train sped by. The train slowed, and I saw my own, with my name in large bold letters, MONICA MENGELDER.  Pushing hard against the stone, clawing at it, I struggled to get free. It was my whimpering cry that woke me. Shaken, frightened, I realized it was only the white pillow I squeezed, tightly between my hands. My face, was bathed in sweat, my body felt cold, and my heart was pounding as I sat up in bed and looked out the window at the sun coming up over the eastern skies. The monotonous rhythm of the train’s rolling wheels reminded me just how alone I felt.

______________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

Note: The above photo is not mine. It is one from internet images. Although Monica is a fictional character and her story fiction, I have ridden the Trans-Siberian railway between Kharkov and Kiev, in 1989 and had my own experience on the train. That story can be found here under, ‘ Aboard the Trans-Siberian in Communist Russia, May, 1989’, posted on April 1, 2013.

‘Yearning to breathe free’. Friday Fictioneers photo prompt

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

____________________________

 

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

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

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

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

__________________

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

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

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

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

____________________

Joyce E. Johnson

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter IV – Lyudmila

scan0012

The above photo is one of mine. It is actually not a photo of Kharkiv, but one of Odessa, Ukraine I took when I traveled to those cities in Ukraine in 1989. I did not have a good picture of Kharkiv to fit this particular scene and chapter so chose to use this photo. Another note concerning the name and spelling of the town of Kharkiv. The old spelling in Russian was Kharkov, but the newer and correct version and spelling is Kharkiv in the Ukrainian. I have used both spellings at times, but is technically correct spelled Kharkiv.

Chapter Four (Part I)

Lyudmila

Kharkiv, Ukraine

With the interest in family histories and popularity of genealogy clubs and organizations the national archives and data bases became burdened with files and information on the migration and immigration of ethnic groups. Documented stories recounted the immigrants’ trek and journey, across continents by train, or boat. Upon their immigration to North America those affording first or second class passage came, declaring all their possessions aboard in trunks, stowed away in the hold of the ship while they were shown to cabins, or quarters stacked with bunks.

Enduring hunger, and inclement weather those less fortunate traveled thousands of miles from all directions, across open terrain, rugged mountains, or through raging rivers by foot, wagon or whatever mode they could afford, often stopping and staying for weeks or months at a time to rest or replenish their provisions before reaching their port of embarkation. Hamburg, Germany, and Liverpool, England became inundated with refugees, and transients waiting to board a ship bound for American shores. Carrying all they owned the weary and destitute trudged up ramps with cloth bundles tied together, thrown over their backs, and then proceeded down dark steps into steerage. Families with children, vulnerable, and trusting, small hands clutching tightly to a parent huddled together in the hold of a ship, rocked violently by lurching waves. Infectious disease consumed hungrily its victims, like the passengers who snatched up their food. Meager rations were passed through the lines as hands received their measured portions. None was wasted. None was sanitized. Weary from their long journey they stood waiting to be processed through the lines only to find themselves turned away, or deported once they reached their port of entry. Because of the failure to pass the physical examination, on entrance to the U.S. many were not allowed beyond the arrival gates.  With no financial means, sponsorship or assistance to support their existence, once registered, or some other technicality unacceptable to immigration officials, they returned to their country of origin.

After World War I, and during the heightened regulations of the Bolshevik period the rate of immigration from Russia was reduced considerably when Stalin and the Communist regime clamped down on ethnic groups, sending thousands to the gulags and work camps on the frozen Siberian frontier. Thousands more starved during the Holodomor famines in the 1920’s – 1930’s when collectivization farms ruled a tightly controlled market of goods and products produced solely by the German colonists.

When the dissolution of the communist regime came in 1990 it opened the door for thousands of German and Russian dissidents to leave,  immigrating west into Europe, North America, north into the Canadian provinces, or south into the countries of Brazil and Argentina, many coming out of incarceration, or exile.

For surviving Jews of the Holocaust still in East Europe and Russia it allowed those remaining to immigrate to Israel. With the changes and newly independent former Soviet bloc countries it opened up opportunity and access to family and ethnic histories, census records, and immigration files. The search for missing relatives and locations of surviving family members was now possible through participating international archives and databases.

The pressure placed on local government officials gave reporters opportunities to tour the gulags and speak with guards of the former KGB on the incarceration or release of those kept as political prisoners. Their records were made accessible.

It was in Kharkiv where I met Lyudmila and heard her story.

Like thousands of others she was unable to immigrate to America because she got caught up in the ‘sweep of injustice,’ a term used to describe the period when Joseph Stalin swept up millions in the U.S.S.R. for all termed ‘disloyal to the party,’ or unfaithful in serving the ‘Motherland.’ of Russia. Thousands were executed. Thousands more were sent off to labor camps. Few survived the camps. Those who did were relocated to homes where they could live out their lives in relative comfort.

My agency in the U.S.  learned of Lyudmila’s existence and where she was relocated upon release, but when contacting the Ukrainian official in Kharkiv to arrange my visit with Lyudmila they told me that her, “health was not good, that she was not a strong woman to sit through an interview.”

Using my reporter instincts and prowess I protested, promising to be careful to not tire her. They finally agreed.

My taxi pulled up in front of an old, white-washed concrete block building, in need of paint and patching on places where walls were chipped, or pitted from its exterior finish. Located within a section of old Kharkiv early residential city limits, it looked like a former clinic, or small hospital converted to a nursing home with as few staff members as needed to run the place and look after their elderly residents. After showing them my identification papers, passport and press card needed for permission to interview they let me in.

The woman was frail, her voice weak, her sight, failing. Her birth record listed her born in 1922, her age now, 90.

The nurse made her comfortable, propping her up in a worn, upholstered chair, then sat a container with water, and a glass on a small table beside her.

When I was given permission I clipped a tiny microphone to Lyudmila’s gown, then positioned a video cam on a tripod by her chair, and checked her image on the display screen. When satisfied with its position I turned it to, ‘record’ and sat down in another chair facing her. The nurse gave her some water through a straw, then took a seat near her, waiting for me to begin.

_______________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson

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

English: Departures schedule table in the Sher...

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

Chapter III

Passport Please

 Sheremetyevo International Airport

Moscow, Russia

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

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

“Only in Moldova.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Only a few months.”

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

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

“Part of your ‘assignment”?

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

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

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

“And you hold current press credentials?”

“Yes, sir.”

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

“Yes. It was prearranged.”

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

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

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

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

“Irina Suvorov and Vasily Kuznetsov.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________

To be continued

Joyce E. Johnson

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

Tagged with , , , , , ,

The Daily Post Writing Challenge, The Devil is in the Details

I guessed him to be about five feet, eleven inches, with chocolate-brown eyes that drew me in. I could not help but stare. A lock of hair, the color of bronze fell stubbornly over his forehead. A man with skin color like Russian Amber, as if he soaked up the sun at Odessa’s Black Sea Resort Club had me wondering how many women he had trailing in his wake.

His English, although fluent enough to understand left me asking him to repeat things. It was I who was embarrassed, trying to focus on the interview. His ancestry was Russian. His dialect was Ukrainian. And his dark pinstriped suit, impeccable.  At the age of thirty-eight with a PhD in political science and cultural studies from the University of Odessa, Russia, one did not question his credentials or qualifications to the appointment as Consulate of Domestic and Foreign Affairs in Ukraine.

His charm was electrifying, irresistible even to those who disagreed with him, or criticized his work ethics. Could I trust him to advise me? As handsome as he was, his manner refined, polished and practiced I held back.  What was behind that teasing – almost sexy – smile? I was a novice at this kind of business, a thirty-one year old single woman, an American in a foreign country. I was his guest. He was my sponsor.

_________________________

Joyce E. Johnson

%d bloggers like this: