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Saturday, September 27, 2008

And now, back in time, to Peru! Another volunteer adventure

Two years before my Czernowitz trip, I had gone to Ayacucho, Peru, also on a volunteer trip. And while this trip didn't have quite the emotional impact of the trip to Ukraine, there were also family ties involved.

Max and Carolina, my two children, were both born in Peru, where Loring and I adopted them as infants; Max in 1988, Carolina in 1991.

When we'd decided to adopt, we needed to choose the country we wanted to adopt from. How does one decide from where you want your child to be? For us, actually, the choice was an easy one. We'd travelled to Peru a couple of years earlier, and had fallen in love with the country, its physical beauty, warm people, and rich culture. When the director of the large Boston adoption agency ran down the list of 20 or so countries, I held my breath. Each program had its own restrictions, only a certain religion, no single parents, no one over a certain age, etc. When she got to Peru, she indicated that both parents had to go, and one had to stay for the duration of the process, two to three months. I was elated! Not only did we qualify, but I would get to spend time in the country of my child's birth. What better way to start our lives as parents! And it was wonderful. But that's another story.

After the two adoptions, I'd made several trips back, some with the family, some to buy handcrafts. And now, in 2006, I saw the volunteer trip to Peru that I knew I wanted to take.

It was to Ayacucho, a city in the mountains that had long been off limits to tourists because of terrorist activity. Ayacucho had always intrigued me, because in addition to being the place where Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, had been born, it was also where many of the incredible craftspeople of Peru hailed from. I knew of the Sullca weaving family and also the retablo makers, especially the Jimenez family. They had largely relocated to Lima during the years of violence. This, in addition to my volunteer job working with children, would be my opportunity to meet some of the artisan families, and also, hopefully, to understand the roots and effects of the violence that had plagued Peru for so many years.

My job in Ayacucho involved working with children, as had the other volunteer stints I'd previously done. This was with a social service agency that provided activities, music, crafts, homework help, etc. in the afternoons after school. In the mornings we also worked with kids, some of the same ones and some others, in four different groups. Two groups worked with kids in the markets, the preschool aged children who hung out there while their parents worked in the market stands. Another part of our group worked with children who literally sang for their supper in a fancy outdoor restaurant on a hill overlooking town. The last group, which I chose to be in, worked in the cemetery with children who worked there. In retrospect, it's very interesting that I have actually worked in cemeteries in two of my volunteer projects!

The kids, all boys, who worked in the cemetery, went to school too. Half worked an early shift in the cemetery, half a later shift, around their school schedules. Urchins would be the word to describe them, like something out of Dickens, except they were anything but devious, rather honest and sweet. I was amazed at the lack of competition between them for the few jobs that came their way. Each had a bucket and a rag. When someone entered the cemetery, one boy would approach and ask if the person wanted help to clean his or her relative's grave. In Peru, the graves are built in layers, stacked quite high. You can glimpse a bit of one in the picture above. I will try to find a clearer one to post later. If one's relative's grave is high, you might or might not want to climb the ladder to reach it. This is where the nimble boys come in. They dash up the ladders, replace the flowers in the empty soda bottles, for that is what most people use, and wash the grave with a wet rag.

During the week, business was pretty slow. I am not exactly sure what our role was supposed to be, aside from helping them learn a little English, but it was certainly interesting to be there. We brought games(we are playing dominoes in the picture) but Twister was the big hit. It was incongruous, to say the least, to be playing Twister in a cemetery! The agency with whom we were working had the idea to encourage the children to create microenterprises, for which they had small amounts of money to lend the children. A noble, but far from practical idea. But I did try to pursue it, collecting all our empty plastic bottles and buying crepe paper, sequins, etc. My thought was for the kids to decorate the bottles and sell them for a small amount to the visitors, to be used for flowers rather than the plain soda bottles, which didn't seem particularly aesthetic. I watered down glue and brought paint brushes for them to adhere the materials to the bottles. We spent an afternoon decorating bottles, which the boys then gave to us and to each other. Very sweet, but not much progress toward any microenterprise.

In the afternoons, we worked with the children who came to the center on a drop in basis. Some came sporadically, many came regularly. Among the regulars were a family of boys who were among the singers at the restaurant. Every afternoon, several of the adults played music, mostly guitars, and some of the children sang. There was a girl of about 12, Rosa, who sang very intensely and dramatically, pretending to hold a microphone in her hand. I thought it a bit much. But, after the first week, I found out that there was a singing competition coming up, and that several of the kids from the center were going to participate. The day before the competition, Rosa and the other performers donned traditional costumes for a dress rehearsal, and suddenly the theatrics became understandable.

At the competition, the children participated by age group. There were many children, and it seemed that they were all accompanied by their parents and/or music teachers, except for ours. Yet we had the largest cheering section, with most of the volunteer group and staff from the center. And, incredibly, some of our kids won, including Rosa, and a little boy named Pedro who was one of the restaurant singers.

As Rosa practiced, I had begun to catch some of the words of her song, and realized it was about the times of violence. One line talked about blood running from 5 corners in the streets of a village not far away.When the children in her category performed, they all sang in the same stylized, over dramatic manner that Rosa did, and I realized that this was the traditional style of this ballad type song.

The volunteers later went on a field trip to several towns, including the one Rosa had sung about. Knowing of my interest, our guide took us to the five corners, an actual place, not just a poetic image. It was peaceful, with a nice plaza and several teenagers riding skateboards. How hard to imagine the massacres that had occurred there. Later we drove over a bridge, and our guide told us of mass murders at the river just a decade earlier.

The horror of the violence was that the common people were caught between the terrorists and the military police who were determined to wipe the terrorists out. Many were killed, and many disappeared.I heard several stories from people in town who remembered rampages of either terrorists or military or both, and people being shot or taken away. There is a small museum in Ayacucho dedicated to the memory of those who died. There is a group of mostly women, mothers and wives, like in several other Latin American countries, who continue to push for information about the fate of their loved ones. There was a woman who spearheaded the movement. She was now quite elderly. I spoke to a man at the museum, who told me the woman would be there shortly, and then introduced me to her when she arrived. She was quiet but intense, and seemed to draw other people to her. I felt privileged to meet her. A few weeks later, when I was in Lima with Loring and the kids, there was an exhibit about the years of terrorism at a museum. There, I saw references to, and then photos of, the woman I'd met, and her missing son.

The man I'd met at the museum was a retable maker. Retablos are boxes, sometimes small, sometimes quite large, that are made out of a potato dough whch is painted. They contain a scene, or sometimes several scenes, that are sometimes religious, sometimes secular. Many depict harvest scenes, or sometimes shops like a hatmaker's, for instance. I had discovered them years before in the Lima crafts markets and purchased several then. I'd also met a master retablo maker, Nicario Jimenez, who had a studio in his house in Lima. He made the most incredible retablos, including some that depicted scenes of violence, with bloody details, helicopters hovering overhead, etc. All made out of potato dough. I had hoped to visit him this trip in Lima, but discovered that he had moved to Miami. He'd also been "discovered" and now sold his retablos for large amounts of money, which I'm sure he deserves, but means I couldn't afford them anymore anyway. So I will just treasure the few small ones I have.

But here, in this museum in Ayacucho, was another man who made political retablos. And I hadn't been able to find any other retablo makers in town at all, and the few retablos I saw in the market weren't of very good quality. I don't know if most of the retablists(I think I just made that word up) had moved away from Ayacucho like Nicario Jimenez, or if the craft has mostly died out, or if I just wasn't able to track anyone down. Except for this man, who was flattered at my interest. But he didn't have any retablos available to sell at the time.

There was a crafts museum in Ayacucho, too, but, sadly, it was closed for setting up a new exhibit. The last exhibit had been about Nicario Jimenez!

I did, however, find the workshops of the weavers. Up at the edge of the city was a small square with a couple of crafts shops and several studios of various members of the Sullca family and several other weaver families. All of their rugs were beautiful. I had had a request from a crafts store at home to bring back woven placemats. I gave the order, with details of colors and types of designs, to Norma Sullca, the one woman weaver among the Sullcas. Several days later, she had them ready for me. I purchase several small rugs from her, and several from one of her uncles as well. Another uncle was one of the most renowned Sullca family, and had exhibited various places internationally. One place, in fact, was at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, just 15 minutes from where I live, where he had been artist in residence several years back. His is an amazing three dimensional quality, like waterwalls, or tumbling blocks, almost reminiscent of some Escher works.

I had, I guess, to some extent fulfilled my desire to meet some of the artisans of Ayacucho. And I did also buy several small items from vendors in the marketplace. I sold several, but could only bear to part with one or two of the wallhangings. One was a wedding gift for my friends Sadie and Will.

Well, back again to the actual volunteer project. In the afternoons we planned activities for the kids at the center, much like what I did in Romania two years previous (which adventure I will describe next.) We helped with homework, organized activities to help them learn a bit of English and a bit of geography, and formed a belly dancing club( yes, bellydancing!) One of the volunteers was a young woman originally from Cyprus, who'd been living in London. She bellydanced and decided to teach the kids. She had a Shakira CD with her (this was my introduction to Shakira, the other volunteers were shocked that I didn't know and love her music) and also went hunting in the market for bellydancing music. I was sure there wouldn't be any available in a mountain town in Peru, but I was wrong. So, armed with Shakira and authentic bellydance music, she gathered whichever kids were interested, which was practically everyone, girls and boys alike. I will never forget the sight of 12 and 14 year old boys shimmying and laughing, their school backpacks on their backs. And I will never grow tired of Shakira singing "Hips Don't Lie" which has become one of my favorites.

After the three week project, I met Loring, Max, and Carolina back in Lima. Our friend Marielena, daughter of our adoption lawyer, told us she was getting married, something we did not know before we left home. I gather they had decided suddenly. Falk, who is German, had to leave Peru because his visa was about to expire. So we shifted around our plans in order to be there for the wedding. It was a secular ceremony at a hotel overlooking the city, with sushi, Mari's favorite, as part of the menu. Mari wore a beautiful bright blue dress, which made me wonder if white was as traditional there as in the US. I imagine it is. When Carolina admired her dress,Mari said she could have it for her wedding!

We spent a week in northern Peru, came back to Lima for the wedding, then a week south of Lima in the Ica desert. We stayed in the oasis town of Huacachina. The big event there was riding dune buggies in the desert. Since there is no vegetation at all, it doesn't seem as though it is detrimental to the environment. It was quite a thrill going up and then down these incredible inclines, not usually my cup of tea. But I'll admit I'm glad I did it, and the stark landscape was incredible. We also went to Paracas where there is an enormous bird bird and marine population including penguins, seals, and many kinds of birds. It is apparently one of the most diverse bird environments in the world. A few months afterwards there was a terrible earthquake whose epicenter was right where we had been. I wondered about the car mechanic, the boat operator, the waiters, all the people we'd met, and hoped they'd survived.

In the north we visited various ruins, some of which were still being excavated. Everyone thinks of Machu Picchu, but in fact the country is covered with ruins of various cultures, and more are being discovered all the time. We also visited the city of Cajamarca, famous for being the place where Atahualpa surrendered to Pizarro. (and then was killed by him.)

Peru is so varied, with mountains, desert, jungle, ocean, cities. I've lost track of how many times I have been there, I think it is six. I've seen so much, and yet there is so much I haven't seen. Have never been to the jungle, to the Amazon, where Carolina's birth mother is from. The last we heard, she had been bitten by a snake and was paralysed. We sent some money, haven't heard anything since. It seems hard to conceive of what Olinda's life is like, even before this injury, and especially now. Carolina says she wants to travel there, next summer, and visit her. That would be quite a journey, in every sense. More intense, I would imagine, than my trip to Czernowitz.

One more anecdote: Fifteen years earlier, when wwe were adoptin Carolina, I had met a family of artisans in the marketplace. They were gourd carvers, an intricate art that involves etching designs and then rubbing the gourd with ash to blacken the grooves. The designs done by the young people in the family, who learn the craft from their parents, is often in the form of animals and has a charming naive quality. Those are usually the ones that are available in the US. The ones done by the older people are incredibly detailed and really of museum quality, yet are sold for a pittance in the market. The Garcias, from whom I bought many gourds to bring back to the States, were dirt poor but always smiling. They lived in the market, behind a plastic tarp that separated their living quarters from their stall. There were the parents and three daughters and a son. I always showed their picture when I did programs at schools and had many handicrafts for kids to explore, including the Garcia childrens' animal gourds.

So, fifteen years later, in the same marketplace I suddenly had the urge to locate the Garcias. The market was so different. It had been spiffed up, the ground paved, the stalls more like little shops. I didn't like it nearly as much. The people that worked there were more like shopkeepers, and had a variety of items. I doubted that many of them were the artisans that made the crafts . I didn't see many gourds at all. But then I came across one shop that featured them. And so I asked if they knew the Garcia family. Astonishly, they did, and led me to them.

One of the daughters had her own stall, selling a variety of crafts but no gourds. They don't make them anymore. She remembered me, told me they had an apartment now, and that her mother still had my picture, with baby Carolina and toddler Max! And so, the next day, her mother came, photo in hand. And when Loring and the kids arrived three weeks later, we all took photos together all over again. I promised to send them pictures, now realize I never did. It was an incredible experience to find them 15 years later, and find them thriving. But I feel sad that the skill will now be lost, at least in their family. I wonder how many gourd carvers there are left, and if any young people are learning the craft.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Onto Krakow


I visited Krakow twice, on my way to Czernowitz, and then, two weeks later, I met Loring, Max, and Carolina there. This was the view from my bed(!) at the Hotel Klezmer Hois, where I spent one night. Very funky and fun, Klezmer music every night, and great Jewish food.

On the left, a Klezmer band, playing in front of a church, which I found amusing. On the right, a form of advertising I haven't seen before. She looked extremely bored, despite the Ipod. Yes, Subway has made it to Poland.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

And back to the cemetery

For these photos, I would like to thank Marilena. Although I took them, it was on her camera, after mine no longer worked. Marilena is from Italy, but had been living in Warsaw and studying Polish. She met Marcus there, who is Swiss and was also studying Polish, and they came to the volunteer project together. Marilena said Marcus made her come, but I don't really believe that! They made a very nice couple, yet were apparently going their separate ways after the project.

The first photo gives you an idea of the density of the foliage. The second shows some of the brush accumulated, which was then burned. This was several days worth. When we left there were still large piles, which I hope and trust have also been burned by now.

And this is just one of the many spots I walked past every day, neglected, yes, but also hauntingly beautiful.

I don't have photos of myself at my great grandparents' graves, although Pedro should have them on his camera. I will hopefully get them and post them here. Photos do exist, though, and I had brought them with me. A group from Canada had apparently photo documented the entire cemetery some years ago. Given the size and overgrown state, I find this remarkable. But, as Mimi pointed out, they were here in the fall when the foliage was gone, and they spent a month here. It was actually due to those photos that we were able to locate my family graves. Jasmin, group leader and detective par excellance, noticed that the two were flat topped, where many others were curved. Serveral volunteers were then able to find both Sure and Mortche Glaubach.

I am going to leave Czernowitz now, and take you to Krakow and then Prague. But before I do, I want to make sure I have mentioned all the volunteers: first, Basia, from Poland, and Jasmin from Germany, the two co-leaders, who made a great team. Then Ola, also Polish, Marilena from Italy, Marcus from Switzerland, Shannon from the U.S., Clare from Australia, Pedro from Sweden/Portugal, Sofie from France, who I don't think I have mentioned before now, but one of the sweetest people I've ever met, Katia from Germany, very bright and politically aware (and nice!) and me. That was the official group, to which I have to add Marina, who has offered to maintain my family's graves, Costa, who joined us many days, and Lukash, Ola's high school friend from Poland who decided to come join us the 2nd week. What a great group of people.

I will hopefully post the photos of my great grandparents' graves, once I get them from Pedro! (Pedro?!)

In Sadagura

I give credit for these photos, in Sadagura, to Ola, from Poland, one of the group. By this time my camera was no longer working. Ola is a kind and generous person, and I don't think she will mind my using her pictures! She was very helpful to me in translating, because she speaks Russian, as well as German and English. She and I were partners in handing out fliers: I would mutely put one in front of someone, and she would explain! In the picture listening to the rabbi, are Shannon, the other U.S. volunteer, who is in the Peace Corps in Ukraine, and Clare, who is just 18 and recently graduated from high school. She is from Australia.

Sadagura is where my family actually is from. It is across the Prut River from Czernowitz, was a separate village, but is today a suburb of the city. There was a small graveyard, and I would guess I also have relatives buried there. The rabbi from Czernowitz provided the synagogue van and came with us. He is the one who maintains what he can there.

Sadagura was also the home of the "Wonder Rabbi" (I love the sound of that) in the 19th century,who dispensed advice to Jews and non-Jews alike, was known widely, and is mentioned in various places in literature. He lived in a veritable palace, which is featured on postcards of the time. The building is still there, but in ruins. We were let in by a man who I assume is the caretaker, although the rabbi had said it was too dangerous to go inside. I am glad we did go, but had the sense that it was upsetting for the rabbi to visit.

On the plaza

One day we worked with a local agency to advertise the project,make the public aware of what we were doing, and invite people to join us. The local group had printed fliers, made a large banner with photos of the cemetery, and set up a tent on one of the main plazas. That's four of our group getting ready to distribute the info, late in the afternoon when people were leaving work. We were shy at first, but paired off and handed out fliers, one Russian speaker in each pair. Local people seemed entirely unaccustomed to fliers, and nearly everyone took and read one. We did have several local people join us in the following days, and, I am sure, many who became aware of the project.

The woman with me in the second photo is Agnes, who we'd met a few days earlier and came to join us on the plaza. Pedro had originally met her when he stopped to look at what looked like a swastika graffitied on a wall, and Agnes stopped to talk to him. Agnes, according to Pedro, was Jewish, or had been, but was now a devoted Baptist. I never got to hear more of that story, but would liked to have. Had she been a hidden child? I asked, through Pedro, if she had lost relatives in the Holocaust, and she began to cry. Agnes invited us to dinner at her house, an invitation, unfortunately, that we never had time to accept.
But on this day, she had brought us cans of Coke to drink, even though it seemed as though she was on a very limited income. I was grateful for two reasons, even though I am usually not a Coke drinker, and had Pedro thank her doubly for me. The first reason was just my thirst, on this hot afternoon. The second reason is that I have quite a collection of ordinary items, like soda cans and cereal boxes, at home, from many countries to which I have travelled. I have used these in the past in presentations for elementary school children , focussing on both the similarities and differences between people around the world. More about this at some later point. Suffice it to say now that I have perhaps a dozen suitcases full of various artifacts from many places, to which I can now add a Coke can with writing in Russian. And when I show it to children, I will always think of Agnes. I told her that, through Pedro, and hope she understood.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Here's a couple of views of inside the house. It wasn't fancy, but definitely luxurious by volunteer project standards! We even had sheets and towels, and they cleaned our rooms until we were embarrassed and told them not to.

We cooked for ourselves and ate pretty well, had enough money in our budget to afford plenty of fresh fruit and veggies and cheese and meat for those who were so inclined(about 1/3 of the group was vegetarian.) But on a couple of nights Christian, who along with Mimi was responsible for making this project happen, cooked for us, delicious stuff. And one night, after we'd visited Sadagora and the Wonder Rabbi's Palace, he read to us from literature referring to the Wonder Rabbi, and from poetry by Paul Celan, the famed Czernowitz poet who survived the Holocaust but committed suicide in the 1970's.

Our house

Our house was located on the edge of a beautiful park, one of the largest in the city. It was well used by the people of Czernowitz, from families with children to young couples to old ones.There were several cafes and restaurants within the park. One night I could see a wedding party in one of the restaurants, and was very tempted to walk in. When Mimi Taylor, who helped initiate the project, and her husband were visiting, they invited us one day to one of the cafes and treated the whole group to drinks.

On our end was a carnival, and from the house you could hear the sounds of the roller coaster at night. I really wanted to ride on the bumper boats! One night it was Lukash's birthday, and we decided to go there to celebrate. But we were too late, the Carnival had closed down at 10pm, just a few minutes before we arrived. We never made it back.

The house looked like an old mansion. But it was currently used as a school for deaf children. They were on vacation and the city had arranged for us to use the house.
Both of these pictures are looking back at the house from the edge of the park.


There were beautiful details everywhere you looked.

Scenes of the city

These brightly colored houses were just across from where we were living, and give you an idea of the fairly upscale neighborhood. A beautiful park was virtually outside our door.

Everywhere in downtown Czernowitz there was preparation for the upcoming 600th anniversary celebration in October. Buildings were being painted, and it was interesting to notice the contrast between old and new. In some cases the new color combination were a bit garish, and I preferred the "before" to the "after." But I decided I rather liked this one. I wonder how historically accurate the new colors are. The buildings in Prague are painted in similarly bright color combinations.

Herein lies the proof!

For those who didn't believe I would actually do it!

A fragment

of a stone. I walked past this small piece every day.

Wall of Remembrance

Many stones had fallen and or broken. Right by the entrance stood this wall comprised of broken pieces of graves, which was called the Wall of Remembrance. I read of other cemeteries where this had also been done.

Further into the cemetery

These are a couple of the graves we uncovered during the two weeks. These two show some remnants of color that must once have been bright.

And now for some photos:

Members of the volunteer group working at the cemetery. The earliest graves are from the late 19th century. The most recent I saw were from the 1970's. Some have been maintained. Most were covered by a dense growth of trees and vines.

Friday, September 5, 2008

An interview with my relative

I stumbled upon this just before my trip. My cousin Nick, whose grandmother was my grandmother's sister, had interviewed our cousin Sali, who I had known (as Sarah) when I was a kid. She and her family were "our Israeli cousins" who came to the US in search of a better life, but went back to Israel after several years. Nick interviewed her about 10 years ago. I had never known about her Holocaust history.

Interview with Sali Glaubach Regenstreif, April, 1998

Published in "Rom-Sig News," Vol. 6, No. 4

I was three years old when they sent us to the camps. My mother and I went together. First we had been sent to the ghetto in Czernowitz, but now we were told to pack a few belongings and that, like at Auschwitz, work makes a better life. There I was with my little suitcase, in my white fur coat and my hand muff, and we were sent to Transnistria. When we came back, they wouldn’t even let us in the house. Russian soldiers had taken it over.

When they sent us to the camps, we started walking. They didn’t give us transportation. And we came to the Dnestr River. We had no way to cross, so the people started making rafts out of branches. And my mother carried me on her back. Another woman had a baby who was crying, and it upset one of the soldiers. She was carrying the baby in front of her, so the soldier took his bayonet and ran it through the child and on into the mother, and then he threw them into the water. After that, my mother carried me, but she always carried the suitcase out in front.

The soldiers set out barrels, and we were told to put all jewelry in the barrels. "If we find anyone with jewelry, we will kill you." If people couldn’t get their rings off, they would cut off their own fingers.

The people marched for miles and miles, and Mother got tired and fell. The others kept walking. A Ukrainian woman who was Jewish took us in and put us above the mantle of the fireplace so we could keep warm. But she took from my mother everything.

Then the Germans came with a loudspeaker and told us that all the Jews must get out of town, and that if any Jews were found, the family that was keeping them would be killed. So the lady threw us out at night. She was afraid for her life.

So we started going but we didn’t know where. They didn’t even give us transportation to the camps, and when we got there they gave us nothing – not like in Auschwitz where they gave you soup. Here you had to provide for yourself. And if you wanted transportation to the camps, you had to pay. There was a truck with people on their way to the camps, but they wouldn’t let us get on because we had no money. But an SS officer saved our lives. We were standing outside in the cold, and the officer said, "Junge Frau, warum sind Sie draussen?" [Young woman, why are you outside?] And my mother said, "We have no money, and they told us they had no room." And he said, "You have no money?" And my mother said no. So he said, "Come back in the morning; we’ll have room."

The next morning, the officer told the people in the truck, "You let her up or I’ll take you all down." My mother, all she had left now was a bar of soap. A bar of soap was very valuable. And she offered it to the officer. But he said, "No, you keep it. You need it more than I do." So my mother said, "What then shall I wish you?" And he said, "Wish me well so I shall come back and see my wife and child." So, even there, there was a human being. That SS officer saved my life. He told the driver of the truck, "You stop in Murafa." It was easier than the other camps.

In the camps, there was a little shack where they took out my mother’s teeth. She had beautiful gold caps – it was very fashionable then. They had no Novocain. So the whole war she spent with no teeth.

My mother used to work for the Germans doing their laundry and their black boots. I’ll never forget their black boots. The camp was run mostly by Ukrainians, with a few Germans. And the Ukrainians wanted to show the Germans they were better even than the Germans. When I would cry, if I didn’t feel well, my mother would put her fist in my mouth that I shouldn’t cry because the soldiers didn’t like it. And she would go through the garbage to take out the potato peels to make a soup, and this is how we stayed alive.

Most of the parents in the camp died. So the others made like an orphan home. The children were lying on straw which was used to make a bed. A pair of twins – five years old – died, so a lady brought candles to place by their heads. But the candles started a fire, and most of the children died. I ran out.

One day, there was a man lying and begging for a little water. Someone got him some water but soon he died. My mother put me to sleep on his body so I wouldn’t be on the hard cold floor. In the camps, they were fighting over the bodies and sleeping on them till they began to stink.

My mother was Rosa Halprin. She was born to Leb Halprin and Sure – I don’t know her last name. She was from Kitov near Kolomea. Sure was an orphan by the time she was two years old. She was raised by her Tante Malke [Aunt Malke], who owned a hardware store. Leb was a widower, 50 years old, and they were married when Sure was 12. Imagine such a young girl with the alte kacker. They had ten children, and my mother, Rosa, was the youngest. They all died in the Holocaust except my mother.

My father was Tobias Glaubach. When he was eight, he was apprenticed to a bookbinder, and he worked as a bookbinder all his life. During the war, my father was a Russian soldier. He was taken for five years by the Russians – before they left Czernowitz, they took all the men for the army. After the war, he had been wounded with a bullet in his lung and he was in Siberia. He wrote a letter to the postal worker in Czernowitz to ask about his family. The postal worker said no, his wife and daughter were dead – they never returned from the camps. But later he heard from someone’s wife that we weren’t dead – that we were living in Czernowitz. So he took a train to come back. He had no money to pay for a train, so he rode on the roof for six weeks, all the way from Siberia, and whenever the train would go through a tunnel, he would get black like a Negro from the smoke.

Finally, he arrived in Czernowitz and he came to find us. One day, this old man who had no teeth asked me, "Maideleh, du veisst vu die Glaubach voynt?" [Little girl, do you know where the Glaubach’s live?] I was scared. He looked awful without teeth. He had only his Russian army coat and he carried a wooden suitcase. And in the suitcase, he brought me a present. It was two red pomegranates. I had never seen one before.

After the camps, we went back to Czernowitz. And we made a living selling salt to the Russian soldiers. We would scrape paint and mix it with the salt to make it seem there was more, and then wrap it very carefully in paper like it was diamonds. But it was illegal to sell to the soldiers and I would be chased by the police.

Then the Russians told us we all had to leave Czernowitz. They took us to the border and we started walking. We went to Sibiu. One day, I heard someone say there were oranges in Palestine. At that time, if you saw someone with a chicken or an orange, you would ask, "Ver is krank?" [Who is sick?] So one day, at eight years old, I got on the bus to Bucharest. I didn’t tell my parents. And when I got to Bucharest, someone took me to an orphanage. My mother went looking for me everywhere crying. Someone had seen me get on a bus to Bucharest, so my mother went begging for money to get a ticket for the train. My mother left early in the morning. She didn’t speak Romanian, but she had the address of a cousin in Bucharest. When she got there, this cousin didn’t even offer her a glass of water. And when my mother asked her to help her, she said, "I can’t help you to find your daughter, because a lady is coming to do my nails."

I was at an orphanage managed by a rabbi. We stayed in a stall, and there was a horse trough where we could wash ourselves and drink. I was washing some underwear when my mother arrived. She had brought me a present: she brought me five or six dried prunes. I didn’t want to go back with her to Sibiu. I told her I wanted to go to Palestine. So she left me at the orphanage with the rabbi.

The rabbi started getting documents for the children at the orphanage to go to Palestine, but because of the British, the children were being sent to camps in Cyprus instead. Then he heard that the Queen of Holland was adopting 500 kids from different orphanages, and I was one of eighteen from this orphanage who were adopted by the Queen.

A week before I could leave, I had to write my mother, in case she didn’t want me to go. I was now nine years old, and I mailed my postcard at the train station as I was leaving – I didn’t want her to come and get me. By the time she got the postcard, I was in Belgium.

I remember we would stand with our hands out the windows and the American soldiers would throw things into the train. I remember the chocolate and the canned milk. We went to Apeldoorn, and the religious relief organizations provided schools for us. So I started school in Holland in 1946. I had never been in school before.

From the Joint [Distribution Committee], I got clothing and care packages. There was a room with lots of clothes hanging from the walls, and shoes. You could pick whatever you wanted. Some were lucky and found a dollar or some chewing gum in the pockets, or an address of some people who would come to get you. But I wasn’t so lucky. But now whenever I give to the Salvation Army, I put something in the pockets so someone should get it.

I was in Holland from 1946 to 1948. One day the Queen came to visit. She brought everyone a present. I got a shawl from her. Then the British left Palestine. Some people got a ship, the Negba, to take the children to Palestine. But they wouldn’t let any children go who were under twelve because of the war with the Arabs. So overnight we all became twelve.

So I went on a ship and came to Palestine, which was by now Israel, on the 10th of October, 1948. It was during the Succoth holiday. They couldn’t take us off the ship then, so at night they took us on a brown bus with curtains for windows, and on top of the bus lay soldiers with guns. The soldiers were 16 or 17 years old.

How I brought my parents out from Romania to Israel – that is another story. What a twelve-year old child can do.... And in spite of everything, and in spite of Hitler, I have a wonderful family, wonderful children, wonderful grandchildren. This I would want people to know.

An interesting article

The article below was posted on the Czernowitz email list, a group of people with interests and/or connections to the city. I believe I read a much less detailed account of the same reunion in a newspaper a few months before my trip, before the name Czernowitz meant a lot to me.

Menachem Av 11, 5768 · August 12, 2008
For Sixty-Five Years I Thought She was Dead
A Wondrous Reunion
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By Mirish Kiszner

Simon Glasberg never forgot his sister Hilda.
When the Germans entered their home town of
Chernowitz, Romania, she was smuggled into the
Soviet Union. Simon and his family never heard
from her again.
Simon knew that Hitler, may his name be blotted
out, had sought to strip every Jew of his
identity, his individuality. Mass deportation,
mass shootings and mass graves were their modus
operandi. To them, every Jew was a faceless,
nameless victim, unworthy, not only of the breath
of his life, but also of the memory of his name.
But daily, Simon witnessed his father's sorrow,
his mother's anguish. They wouldn't, couldn't,
ever forget her. Hilda's memory etched itself
onto the lives of his parents. Their heart
wrenching sighs filled their home, magnifying
Simon's own bereavement over the precious sister
he once knew.
Yet time has a way of dulling the harshest of
sorrows. Simon got married, built a family, and
the grief receded somewhat, though never quite
Shortly before Rosh Hashana 2006, Simon's nephew,
Dr. Eric Weiner, touched upon those suppressed
memories, bringing them achingly into sharp
focus, once again.
"Did you know that my father had submitted pages
of testimony to Yad Vashem before his death?" he
It took a minute for Simon to comprehend what his nephew was referring to.
"Ah, Yad Vashem!" He said at last. "How we wanted
to perpetuate the memories of Hilda! My lovely
sister, Hilda. Oh, Eric, you know how much my
parents searched for her, do you? We a ll did. We
looked and looked and couldn't find her. How much
they criedS" His voice cracked. The tears flowed.
"You know Eric," he said after he'd collected
himself, "We searched everywhere, even in Israel,
while fighting in the War of Independence, we
didn't forget about Hilda. Young, beautiful
Hilda. But we didn't find a trace of her. My
brother went back to the Ukraine to look for her.
Nothing. She had simply vanishedS"
Would his nephew understand? Could he imagine
what it meant to live with the pain of his
parents, his own pain, for so many years? All the
many years faded away. Simon found himself once
again crouching in a cellar trembling in fear
lest the Nazis discover their hideout. His
parents plan had been to smuggle the family into
the Soviet Union. Hilda had been the first to
leave, the rest were to follow shortly.
They'd never made it though, Simon reflected.
Crossing the borders illegally proved too risky
an undertaking for a family with young children.
Poor, little Hilda. What did she think? Did she
suppose that her family had abandoned her just
like that, with nary a thought about her?
Dr. Weiner cleared his throat, interrupting
Simon's ruminations. "Yad Vashem," he said,
"makes every effort to redeem these victims as
individuals. That's what the pages of testimony
are all about, you see."
"Individuals, yeahS" Simon paused for a moment.
"Eric, no one can undo what was done. No one can
bring my little sister back from the grave. Not
Yad Vashem, not pages of testimony. No one.
Nothing." Again, he lapsed into silence.
Eric spoke again. "Uncle Simon," he said softly. "Hilda is looking for you."
Simon sat up straight. Did he hear him say,
"Hilda is looking for you?" Surely not. It
couldn't be. Was he getting old?
"She's living in Israel. In Ashdod. Uncle Simon,
Hilda's alive." He heard his nephew saying.
Could it be? Should he allow himself to be
tricked into this ruse? No. He didn't want to get
too excited. The disappointment would be too
intense. It wasn't possible. Hilda alive? After
all these years? It's beenSlet's seeSsixty five
years now. It couldn't be. All these thoughts
flashed through his mind, but he said only, "Who
told you?" and his voice was hoarse.
"David Schlik. He tracked me down. He started out
by looking for my father, Karol, but when he
discovered that he's no longer alive, he
contacted the chevra kadisha (burial society) who
gave him my phone number."
David Schlick, David SchlikSDid he know a David
Schlik? He turned the name over in his mind. No
memory of David Schlik came up.
"I don't know him," he said tersely. "Who is he? Does he know me?"
"Uncle Simon, David is Hilda's grandson. I spoke to Hilda's grandson."
Simon's throat went dry. All these years and
Hilda had been alive. He couldn't utter a word.20
Eric put his arm around his uncle. "G-d has many
messengers, Uncle. Apparently, Hilda's grandson
learned that his grandmother's maiden name was
Glasberg. He hit the internet, searching for
family members despite the fact that his
grandmother didn't believe there was any hope for
her family, because she had already looked for
them many years ago.
"You could imagine how shocked he was when the
name of his grandmother: Hilda Glasberg, appeared
on the Yad Vashem database of Shoah Victims'
Names, testifying to her death!"
Slowly the pieces in the puzzle started to become
clear. Hilda having arrived safely to Uzbekistan
waited eagerly for her parents to arrive.
Separation is never easy. Surrounded by chaos in
a foreign country and the cold reality of war,
Hilda had suffered greatly.
When the war was finally over, they were among
the surviving refugees who remained locked behind
the iron curtain that had descended on the Soviet
Union. In spite of, exhaustive searches, Hilda
was unable to cross the borders. As time passed,
Hilda accepted the fact that her entire family
had been killed in the Holocaust.
With no other choice, Hilda relegated her aching
loss into a tight corner of her heart, which she
locked and bolted. She couldn't live otherwise.
The pain was too intense. As a result, she never
spoke about her past with her children.
But G-d has His ways. In a miraculous chain of
events, that corner, dust y with age, was
transformed into indescribable joy.
Just before he died, her brother Karol decided to
submit a page of testimony to Yad Vashem. A
curious grandchild discovered her maiden name and
came across that aforementioned testimony.
Not much later, a very emotional brother and
sister were finally united, after 65 years of

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Back home

Now that I am home, I will attempt to fill in some of the impressions I didn't have time to record before. It will be rather piecemeal, but then, the rest of the blog hasn't been particularly chronological. I hope that hasn't made it too difficult to follow.

When I have recorded as much as I can of this trip, I think I would like to share some of the details of my previous experiences volunteering over the last several years, in Thailand, Romania, France and Peru. Loring says this trip seems like more of an adventure than my other ones. I am not sure that is true, although certainly the personal aspect and discoveries have made it special and significant in ways different from the others. But I am wondering if I just haven't conveyed, to anyone, as much detailabout the other trips as I have of this one, even though it feel like there is so much from Cz. I haven't yet said.

So when I am done telling you about Czernowitz and perhaps some other adventures from my other destinations this trip, I hope you will follow me back in time to some of my other volunteer experiences. Perhaps I might even entice someone to participate in one her or himself!

Well, back to Czernowitz: I recounted some, but not enough, of the Yiddish conference. We attended the opening ceremonies, at a lovely outdoor courtyard of some Jewish center. It was mostly speeches, luckily translated into English. The next night was the first official night. More speeches, and then a performance by an Israeli woman named Ruth Levin. Her father, Leibu Levin, had been from the city. He was a musician and storyteller. Ruth is a singer as well. She performed, in Yiddish of course, so I could not understand a word. She was so dramatic, so passionate, that her performance was extremely stirring, even without knowing what she was singing about. I believe some of the songs were her own, some her father's, some traditional. I recognized one tune and can't stop hearing it now, over two weeks later. But I don't think I could reproduce it outside my own head! Leibu Levin had died in the 1980's. His grandson, Ruth's son, was with her and videotaping the event. I talked to both Ruth and her son a bit.He was about 14, had never met his grandfather. I asked him if he was intersted in music, too. He said he had taken some instrument, I forget now which. But that he was now learning to play the guitar. I wonder if he will carry on the family musical heritage.

At the end of her performance, Ruth showed a video of her father telling a song-story, which again of course I didn't understand. But I was fascinated. His face was amazingly pliant, he reminded me in a way of a more serious Danny Kaye, who I hadn't thought of in years.

I notice that Ruth Levin has posted to the CZ email list extensive info about her father, which I haven't yet had time to read, and I imagine there is other info available about him. I know that he was exiled for many years by the Russians, freed when in his 40's.

On to another incident I had been wanting to recount. In addition to Marina, who I have already mentioned and who volunteered with us for most all of the two weeks, there were several other young local people. One was Costa. He was Jewish, had been born in Czernowitz. I believe his parents had migrated there from elsewhere. He also was a consistent volunteer, although not quite daily as was Marina. Another person I couldn't talk to but was very taken with, just very amiable. He came with us on the visit to the Cz synagogue, where I gather he is a member. (He says he just comes on the holidays.) As we entered, he donned a traditional black hat, like the rabbi's, rather than a yarmulke.There were several there and I guess people had their choice. He looked so cute in it, and that is the image of him that will remain with me.

A couple of days later, in the early evening after work, I was walking thru the downtown and ran into Costa. It was a nice feeling to run into someone I knew, in the street, made me feel like I belonged. Costa tried to say something to me in Russian. I understood not a word. He tried again, much more slowly. That didn't help a bit. Then he said something in German. I only knew that because I understood one word. It was "arbeit".The only reason I know that word is from the wrought iron saying on the gateway at Dachau, and Auschwitz, the ultra-ironic "work makes you free." What were the Nazis thinking when they wrote that? Were they being intentionally, cruelly ironic? Or did that not even occur to them?" So, I understood (I think) that Costa was talking about work, ie. at the cemetery. I decided he must have been saying, see you at work. So I nodded and said,ok, arbeit, a couple of times and we went our separate ways. Of oourse, I might have been entirely wrong.

Another vignette: On the train leaving Lviv, Ukraine at 6 am for Krakow, I shared a compartment with two youngish women. When I entered the train, only one of them was there, and I woke her up. She was Ukrainian, spoke some English, and was very friendly. (I notice I keep saying that about the Ukrainians I met.) She did not mind at all that I had awakened her, helped make room for me and my large suitcase and gave me a boost up onto the middle berth. When I awoke a few hours later, she and another woman were chatting. I never did find out if they had known each other previously, or had met on the train. It sure seemed like they were good friends. But the second woman hadn't been there when I got on the train. Anyway, Ukrainian woman number two was equally friendly, althoush she didn't speak any English. We all got along famously for the many hours of the train ride, with the first woman translating for me and the other. I explained what I had been doing in Czernowitz. And she, the second woman, immediately said she knew about us, had seen us on tv. And she didn't live in Czernowitz. So I guess we were on national, not only local, tv. What a strange feeling, to be told I'd been seen on TV, by a woman on the train!

I don't really know how many tv programs we were on or newspapers we were in. We never did see the newspaper story that we were interviewed for. We did see one tv segment, and at least one other station came and interviewed us at the cemetery. There had been at least 4 tv stations at the press conference at the mayor's office. I am guessing that even the stations that didn't interview us at the cemetery carried the story. So I guess I am a local Czernowitz celebrity! Even in stores we went into in town, when we told people what we were doing, they had already heard about us.

Back to the train for a minute - on the Ukraine-Polish border the train tracks change gauges, I guess it dates back to the Soviet times and not wanting to make transportation too accessible to other countries. So the trains need to stop (for an hour or two) while they switch wheels. (not trains, wheels.) and they do it with all the passengers in the trains. On the way to Ukraine, I wasn't even aware of it, slept thru the whole thing. On the way back, though, it was daytime. They slid a whole series of forklift like things under the train cars, to hold them up while they switched the wheels. And from what I hear, the difference in the gauge is only centimeters.

Because we were there for so long, and you aren't supposed to use the toilets when the trains are in a station (especially while the workers were right there,probably wouldn't be too pleasant for them), my compartment-mates decided they would ask if there was a toilet we could use nearby. I trusted them thru all the banter with the conductors, which I could only guess at, and they sent us down the tracks to the train workers' office and toilet. There, more banter with a bunch more workers, and then each of us took our turn. As we headed back down the tracks to our train, no longer suspended, it began moving, slowly, backwards. There were a few brief panicky movements until we realized they were just separating cars, part of the train to head to Warsaw, the other to Krakow. Actually, if I was going to be stuck somewhere, I wouldn't have minded being in the company of these two jovial women. One of them, the one who spoke English, worked as a maid for a family in the Netherlands, and I think was heading back there. She had a 7 year old daughter who lived with the woman's parents in Ukraine. The daughter's name was Carolina, same name as my daughter. We parted ways, suddenly, in the train station in Krakov, relationship as easily dissolved as it had been made. We wheeled our suitcases off in opposite directions, never even having said goodbye.

Well, that is all the Czernowitz details I can think of at the moment, but I hope there will be more. And I think there are some aspects of our subsequent two weeks in Poland and the Czech Republic that I will also want to recount.

Til then.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Last day

I am in an internet cafe just down the street from our apt. in Prague. This is the last day of our trip, and I don't know how long I will have to write. I will do as much as I can until Loring and the kids come to get me. It is almost noon, and they are still having breakfast. Max and Carolina, that is. Loring has been up and out for hours, climbing hills in this hilly city.

We are staying on Nerudova street, the main way up to the castle from the famous bridge crossing the river from Old Town on the other side. Although a busy street, it is still charming, lots of wonderful architecture as everywhere here. If Nerudova sounds vaguely familiaar, as in Neruda, there is a reason. The famed Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, who was massacred along with many others in Chile in 1972, if I am remembering right, took the name from the famed (here, at least) Czech writer, Jan Neruda. About whom I know nothing, but will try to find some information when I get home. There is a plaque to Jan Neruda across the street from our house, I assume he lived there. There are plaques all over the city, most only in Czech of course. There were a fair number of them in Krakov, as well.

Prague has continued to be interesting, despite the crowds and overabundance of kitshy souveniers. (Ok, I did buy a pair of earrings, from the man that made them.). I am glad we came. The trip has continued to have a Jewish flavor. Not of my doing, really. It is just that some of the major sites, in both Prague and Krakov, are related to Jewish culture. After the castle here, which is massive, almost a village in itself, the Jewish quarter is the next biggest attraction.

Yesterday, after walking around for hours, first all together, then by myself, I had the curious sensation of being disassociated from myself, that my voice didn't sound like my own, that my brain wasn't centered in my body. Then I realized that I had just finished reading Kafka's Metamorhosis that morning, and that this feeling seemed strangely similar to what he experiences when he awakens changed into a cockroach! Hmmm! Actually, I think I was just tired!

Kafka was born and died here, of tuberculosis at only age 41. Several places he lived are here, and he, along with his parents, is buried in the New Jewish cemetery. (As opposed to the old Jewish ceremony, in the middle of the Old Town, which got too full in the late 1700's.) And had I mentioned the Old New Synagogue, the one still in used, which was new, obviously, when it was built, I believe in the 1500's. But they changed its name when later synagogues were built.

Seeing the number of synagogues that did exist in earlier times makes one realze just how large a part of the population the Jews were. On our tour of Czernowitz, by a history teacher who happens to be Jewish, he mentioned that the main street of what used to be the Jewish quarter was called synagogue street, and that there were once over 50 synagogues along it. How could that be? Apparently congregations were smaller then. And why would they all be on one street? Questions to answer at another time.

The last piece of information that I read at the archives in Czernowitz about my great grandmother was that she lived on Synagoguegasse. But I couldn't really understand the German, and wasn't sure if the street was in Czernowitz or in Sadagura. Might there be a Synagogue Street there as well? I am hoping to have more information when Nikola, from the city council there, has time to photograph and I can have someone tranlate.

I expect the family to come by any time, and so just want to mention that this will not be the last posting. I will definitely post some photos after we are home. And hopefully I will be able to go back and fill in some of the experiences that I didn't have time to include up until now.

The plan for today is to climb Petrin Hill, which we can do from our house. Up there, in addition to spectacular views (I have it firsthand, Loring has already climbed it once) are a couple of remnants of a fair in the late 1890's, a tower modelled after the Eiffel, though smaller, and a funhouse mirror kind of thing. After that, I hope to go to a folklore festival including dancers from many places. On the schedule for this afternoon are dancers from here, Prague, and also from Israel. This will actually be the second folklore festival we've come across in two weeks. The other was in Zacopane, where we went for two days from Krakov, renting a car. I don't believe I have even described Zacopane yet. This festival I knew about in advance, when we rented the apt. in Krakow and the owner also had a place in Zacopane. The town is a ski resort, but little did we know that it would be a summer destination as well, absolutely saturated with tourists, although they mostly seemed to be be Polish. We our place was actually about 6 miles outside the city, which was better than staying in town. It was in a little village. But even there, as in the town, there was development construction everywhere, although it seemed as though there was hardly anyplace more to build. As we were leaving town, the line up of traffic going in was at least a mile long, and it wasn't a weekend. It hadn't been that bad when we arrived. But there had been people, lots of them, holding signs saying "pojole" or something like that, which it took us a while to figure out. The word meant rooms. ie. to rent, and I wondered what percentage of the folks holding sings actually found takers.

Isn't there anyplace left that is scenic or of cultural interest that isn't overrun? Well, I guess Chernowitz would fit that category. Part of the reason is that it isn't all that accessible. There are few planes into the small airport there, and otherwise it's a matter of a long train ride or renting a car. I don't wish Czernowitz the amount of tourism that some of these other places have, but it could certainly do with a few more visitors. This October, when the city celebrates its 600th anniversary, would be an interesting time to be there.

I will stop here, for now. Please check back in a few days.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I am still here!

In cyberspace, that is. Geographically, I am now in Prague, after nearly a week in Poland.I hope people haven't given up on checking back, there has just been so much happening, and it hasn't been easy to locate internet cafes, at least not in Krakov. Here, in Prague, there is one conveniently down the street from our apartment, and I hopefully will have time to write at least once more before we head home on the 1st of September. If you are reading this, let me know, it's nice to get the feedback!

This is our second day in Prague. Iwas prepared to be disappointed by the city, I had been told by quite a few, mostly folks in my volunteer group, how over touristed it is. And it is. So perhaps being forwarned was an advantage. I have to say that I feel about Prague the way I do about Machu Picchu, it is overtouristed, yes, but so spectacularly beautiful that it is worth bearing with the crowds. I suppose, though, if I had known Prague at an earlier time, I would feel much more negatively now.

We arrived here very early yesterday morning, so early that we couldn't get into our apt. for several hours. So we sat in a cafe up the street, in a scenic spot, had some breakfast, and it was early enough that the first tour group didn't appear until shortly before we were able to get the key.

Yesterday we just wandered the city. Amazing architecture everywhere. Today we walked through the castle gardens, and then over the river to the Jewish quarter. The Jewish museum consists of several former synagogues, all in a very small area, plus the old Jewish cemetery. The newest graves in this cemetery are older than the oldest ones in Czernowtitz. They are crammed close together, and, according to the guidebook, are stacked about 15 deep. We had trouble comprehending how they would have done that. Each synagogue is beautiful, each has exhibits relating to some part of Jewish history. One concerned the burial society and burial practices, and had paintings, very endearing in a primitive style, of each part of the burial process, ritual bathing, etc. One was of the burial society members having their annual dinner! Part of the exhibit was a collection of ornate silver combs and nail cleaners. I gather that was all part of the ritual preparation of the body. I don't think I have ever seen a silver nail cleaner before.

The most touching section of the museum was an exhibit of drawings by children at the Terezin concentration camp, which is about an hour away from here. There was one woman, a prisoner, who somehow arranged to obtain art materials for children and encouraged them to draw, make collages, etc. to help deal with their situation. She was eventually shipped to Auschwitz, as were most of the children, but left two suitcases and hundreds of pieces of artwork behind. Some of the pieces depicted life at the camp, some life before they were interred, others did pictures depicting crossroads, some had people flying away.

Auschwitz. The word most associated with the terror of the Holocaust. I had both yearned to and dreaded going there. The dread is easy to understand. The yearning is something I have brooded over. I have wanted to go for a long time, and the desire intensified after I was in Nurnberg, Munich, and Dachau several years ago. It is certainly the reason I arranged for us to fly into and visit Krakov. Once I decided to go to Czernowtitz I knew this was also the time to visit Auschwitz.

It is difficult to decide what to write about it. I believe the reason I wanted to visit is to try to come to terms with what had happened in the Holocaust, to try to understand both what happened the victims had to endure, and how the survivors managed to do so, and, most importantly, to try to fathom how people could be driven to commit the awful crimes they did. I fear that if we can't understand it, we can't prevent it from happening again. To me, the worst part is not the murder, but the systematic nature of treatment, torture, and eventual killing of those millions of people. This was carefully thought out, developed, and carried out for years. And that is what I have the hardest time understanding. I have read a number of accounts and memoirs of the Holocaust, but don't feel any closer to understanding what happened than I did when I was thirteen or fourteen and read Ann Frank's Diary, and, a few years later, visited her house in Amsterdam. The more I read, the more I want to read.I brought two Holocaust books with me, and bought two more at Auschwitz. When will I be able to stop? I felt somewhat heartened when I read Eli Wiesel quoted as saying he thought he had read every memoir written on the subject, and the more he read, the less he understood.

The place was, of course, chilling. How could it be otherwise? Max and Carolina seemed equally fascinated, in fact in some places we had to urge them along, because I was afraid we would run out of time to visit Birkenau, a couple of kilometers away. That camp was built when they ran out of room at Auschwitz, and is where the gas chambers and crematoria were, as well as the infamous train tracks where the people were unloaded from the freight cars, and sent either to the barracks or to the gas chambers. About 75 percent went directly to the gas. I can't help but feel they might have been the lucky ones, never to endure the horrors, and in most cases, death, in the camp.

The exhibits at Auschwitz that made the strongest impression on me, and I expect, most, were the collections of items taken from the prisoners. There was a room full of skeins of human hair, one of hair and toothbrushes, one of suitcases. The suitcases were especially poignant because they were nearly all labelled with their owners' names and addresses. These people who believed, or wanted to believe, that they were being shipped east to camps where they would work, but live in decent conditions, and hence took their best possesssions. The hair was made into cloth, and there were samples of the cloth there. I wondered what the cloth was made into, how many people if any knew what they were wearing. I noticed that all the hair in the display was light brown to blond. I am guessing that the Nazis, or the prisoners, for it was they who did all the sorting of the possessions of those who had just been murdered, sorted the hair by color and then made cloth of different colors.

But, and I can't say why, the section of the exhibit that got to me the most was the huge collection of shoes, and I am sure that what was exhibited was only a small part of what was collected. Perhaps it was just the variety of shoes that spoke to the lives of the victims. There were men's shoes, women's shoes, children's shoes, stylish ones, practical ones, well worn ones, new ones. I couldn't tear my eyes away.

The barracks were lined up evenly across the grass. They were so evenly lined up, in fact, that one could look through the windows of one through the next and the next, seemingly infinitely, like looking through facing mirrors. There was almost a kind of beauty in the quiet line up of beds, of toilets, of sinks. I felt a pang of guilt at even thinking there could be beauty in a place where such terrible things had happened. But it was hard to even conceive of what had happened there. I had to make my mind envision the scenes I knew had occurred. Or maybe that was the point, that I didn't want to let myself think that this had really happened.

At Birkenau there are the remains of the gas chambers and ovens. They were bombed by the Germans as the end of the war neared, to cover up their deeds. And, most strikingly, the famous railroad tracks and platform where the passengers disembarked from their horrible journey, were sent either to the right or to the left, and went off to horrors worse than they had already endured or could imagine. We walked along the railroad tracks on our way back to the entrance gate, with the famous, and cruelly ironic, slogan, arbeit mach frei, work makes you free. I later felt like it was a desecration to walk along the tracks, although many visitors did.

I can understand the appeal that a charismatic leader can have over young, like the Hitler youth, and the older as well. I can understand, to a degree, blind rage leading to murder. I can understand, to an extent, not being able to break away from following orders. What I cannot understand is how people can continue to torture, degrade, and murder people over a period of years, the continous cruelty and debased behavior. I know there are Holocaust study programs, I know there must be people who have studied this at length and written about the pschology of mass murder. CAn anyone suggest some readings to help me understand<

I know that visiting Auschwitz, and Dachau as well, is an experience that will never leave me. I hope it is something my children will also never forget.

I amn

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Her email is I think! It's Tetyana Tatarchuk. Please copy me if you cntact her.

Goodbye Ukraine

Once again I am at the train station in Lviv, between trains, on my way back to Krakow. Marcus and Marielena from the volunteer group are here, too, also headed to Poland, but Warsaw, where they both have been living and where they met each other. Marcus is Swiss, Marielena Italian. I never had a chance to introduce the group, a bunch of dedicated and interesting people. Perhaps at some point further down the line, although that might feel too strange. It's been a series of goodbyes since yesterday afternoon, always difficult after living and working with people so closely.

But right now I want to bring up the issue of continuance of clearing and maintenence of the cemetery, which I see has been discussed quite a bit on the Cz list. First of all, it is very gratifiying to see all the attention our project has gotten, from people in the city, the press, and people with strong connections to and opinions about the project. I do not disagree with the people who brought up the issue of maintenence, etc. We discussed this as a group repeatedly, with Mimi and before and after she was there.

Hopefully, the cemetery staff and the city will continue to support the work. The staff does do some maintence, worked wonderfully well together with us, and hopefully will stay motivated. There is still so much more to clear. There is already talk about a bigger volunteer project involving both local and international volunteers.

I would hope, but can't say, that the cemetery staff is familiar with how to treat the roots. I have to say that all this discussion about roots makes me very happy, because what I spent most of the two weeks doing, while others were felling branches and entire trees, was to sit by a grave and pull the tenacious roots, following them to the source, which was sometimes a grave or two away. So I feel now that my work is validated, even though I didn't product the large quantities of brush that most of the others were hauling day after day.

This project has generated so much interest, it is amazing, and I hope and think the energy is there to have it continue. I think it would be helpful to have people who have family in the cemetery express their appreciation to Tetanya, who has the mayor's ear. I will see if I can locate her email address before I sign off, otherwise I will post it here later. And perhaps there is a way for people who will be visiting Cz in October to meet her. She was as impressed with our work as we were her helpfulness. I think she'd be impressed by the number of people who care about the cemetery. Also, for some reason, the Jewish community here (I mean there, as I am now gone) did not seem aware of the project, which puzzles me (and them.) But they now plan to have a group of students work there, hopefully on a regular basis.

To all of you who had requests to locate graves, information, etc. whose requests I was not able to fulfill, I am sorry. I would really liked to have, but there were two problems, dealing with the extremely overgrown condition of most of the cemetery, and also time. We were kept so busy by both the work and all the activities that were planned for us and that we were invited to, that there wasn't time to try to track down info.

I may continue on with more details of the sojourn, as I have time. And I will certainly write about our visits to Krakow, Auschwitz, and Prague in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, Czernowitz has become a permanent part of my existence.


I ended the last post rather quickly, as I was just aabout out of time and should actually stop writing now. I have to get back home and finish packing and head off to the station.

But there are a couple of details I realized I should mention before I lose track of them. First, I just wanted to describe the feeling of holding the ledger books and finding my relative's names. I think it effected me more strongly than finding the graves. First, I didn't know the info existed so it was even more of a surprise. There was also something about reading the names, written in this elegant script, that made these people feel even more real to me. One, Sure, was from the distant past, and someone whose name I never even knew until a month ago. The others were relatives I had personally know, written in a beautiful script, in a place so far away from where and when I had known them.

I also wanted to relate a touching offer that was made to me by Marina, the young student who's been working with us. This afternoon at the cemetery, she said, with one of the volunteers translating, that she would like to keep my great grandparents' graves clean for me, if that was all right, and that she would send me pictures. They may have not gotten along, and divorced ( I sure hope there's a way to find more about that) but they will be cared for together in perpetuity. Well, for a couple of years, anyway.

Time to say goodbye to Czernowitz. I am not ready. Maybe I will come back.

Please check in again. I wll write more from Poland and the Czech Republic.

Feeling melancholy

I am actuallly feeling melancholy and elated at the same time, if that is possible. The project is over. It is 7:30 pm and I leave Czernowitz tonight, in about 3 hours, on an overnight train back to Krakow, where Loring, Max, and Carolina should have arrived by now, or will in a little while. It's hard to keep track of time zones. Actually, it's hard to keep track of days!

The last couple of days have been very intense. Let me try to recount some of what has happened, and then if there is time I will backtrack and tell you some more about the Yiddish confernce and some of our other adventures.

But I also just wanted to say thank you, to all my friends old and new who have been reading this and leaving me comments. And also all the people on the Czernowitz list who have been commenting on the project. I have never been involved in a volunteer project that has gotten so much attention, publicity, and support. It's really gratifying, and I really do believe, more than I did just a few days ago, that this project can take root(pun intended) and grow.

Although I had given up a few days ago on finding my great grandparent's graves, we actually did find them, yesterday. One of the volunteers, Pedro, suggested that the group try to search. I had mixed feelings, didn't want to divert the group's energies, but of course wanted very much to try. So Basha and Jasmin, our intrepid group leaders, Pedro, Katya, Marina, and I set out to parcel 43. Marina is a young woman, a student, from Czernowitz, who came to join us on one of the first days and pretty much became a member of the group. She is a happy, energetic person who is just a delight to be around, even though we can hardly speak a word to each other. Jasmin, a true detective, said right away that we should approach the lot from the other side, as that was the way the stones faced. We did, and everyone entered the dense foliage. In not more than a couple of minutes, Marina found Mortche's grave! It took us (in fairness, I should say them, I was terrified of getting the nettle reaction again. just after it had subsided. )So I stayed at Mortche's grave (Nick, FYI, that is the spelling on the grave) until they shouted to say they had found Sure's, not far away. I can't even describe my emotions, it was almost more shock than anything else. Sure's did not have any date of death on it. Pedro, although he isn't Jewish, reads Hebrew, so he was able to read the first part, and Katya read the German at the bottom.

Earlier that day, just before lunch, Pedro mentioned that he had found, or been led to, the mass grave of 900 Jews that we had heard about one of our first days but somehow never pursued finding. Pedro had asked the woman who we think is the wife of the chain saw operator, without whom we never would have been able to accomplish much. And she brought him there. (Pedro speaks Russian, too, as well as English, Swedish and Portuguese.

The mass tomb hit me emotionally more than most anything I've ever read or heard about the Holocaust. First of all, just to be at the spot, right near we had been working for two weeks, was chilling. Also, I had recently read Daniel Mendllson's book, Lost, about his search for a family of his relatives that had died, and his description of their death's is very similar to what had happened here, a large group of Jews led to a hole in a cemetery and then shot. The most terrible detail, which had been relayed by the woman to Pedro, was the recollection of a local woman, still alive and a child at the time, who remembers the earth moving for several days afterwards by those who had been buried alive. This is something I have read about before, in other places, but it is so much real to stand in the place it happened and hear someone's personal recollection, even third hand.

So, these are some of the events of yesterday. On a lighter note, we went out to dinner at a local restaurant since it was the last night we would all be together. The only real traditional food we'd had before was the meal we were served outdoors at the summer camp we visited in the mountains the first week. I had stuffed cabbage, but stuffed with mushrooms and sour cream, delicious. They also served them stuffed with meat and rice, the way I am used to. Several people had potato pancakes, some with meat inside.

I would hardly believe that a day could be more intense than yesterday, but let me tell you what happened today. Tetyana, who works in the mayor's office and is in charge of public relations and I guess international affairs, had arranged for me to go the state archives with a colleague of hers, Nikola, who I believe is on the city council ( he doesn't speak much English, but just exudes helpfulness!) He is also a professor of international relations at the University. Nikola had brought along a student of his, Elvira, to translate. I have to just pause a minute and thank Tetyana, (Tetyana, I hope you are reading this!) who has gone above and beyond to help our group, arranging press conferences, excursions, and more and has really made our stay a pleasure.

Anyway, Tetyana brought me by bus to the archives and delivered me into the hands of Nikola and Elvira. We walked up three flight of stairs in a rather dingy building, then discovered it was the wrong staircase, had to descent and reascend another one. It was dark and musty smelling, and I had to laught, it seemed like a comedy of errors. We eventually found the right office. had to fill out all kinds of paperwork. I gave them dates of births and deaths and marriages where I had athem. Nikola warned me not to expect much, that perhaps one out of ten people ever found anything on their relatives.

The woman came out bearing several large old ledgers. We started to look for any listings of any relatives. Can you believe that within five minutes the name Sure Ester Glaubach just jumped out at me. I was absolutely floored. Nikola photographed the page, then had to leave. He told me that if we found anything else, he would come back later and photograph that.

The office closed for lunch at 1pm, and I also awanted to get to the cemetery for at least part of the last day. We were also expecting a goup of Jewish students to help for the afternoon. We have all been amazed by the number of young people who have come, some for a day, some repeatedly, over the last two weeks. Most of them seem to have heard about us on TV. (Tetyana had arranged a press conference at city hall and all 4 tv stations came) and several of them came out to the cemetery and interviewed us afterwards. They all seemed to want to interview me, because of my family connection to the city and the cemetery. So I probably was on at least one station, although the one tv report we saw didn't use me talking.

Well, back to the archives... I apologize for rambling, there's just so much to recount and I am trying to relate as much as I can. Just before 1 o'clock, when we had to leave, we located the birth records of my aunt Klara, my mother's sister, who was left behind by her parents until they could get her or send for her. (which turned out to be 16 years later. ) I decided I need to come back after going to the cemetery, which we did. Elvira had kindly offered me her help for the whole afternoon. We went back, and, unbelievably, found records for my grandmother's cousin, Regina Erdmann, who I knew as I child and into my 20's, and remember very fondlly. The amazing thing was that I just came accross her name as I was scanning pages for Glaubach, not even looking her her name. So I have left those ledgers for Nikola to photograph and translate. Sure, my great grandmother, is the only one I have some actual details about. She died in 1918, (so what happened to Clara until 1927? and what about the story that Sure wanted Clara to stay with her until she died?) I also got her address, 18 Synagogue st,. (but not sure if theat was Sadagura or CZ. ) Most remarkably, though, is the fact that she was divorced!

Monday, August 18, 2008

so much to tell, so little time!

This is a short post from a couple of days ago that I only had time to save as a draft before the computer shut down. Much more in next post.

It's hard to believe this project is almost over. i just don't have enough time to relate even all the highlights. Only 15 minutes today til the internet cafe closes at 10. so will squeeze in what I can.

We just came from the openng ceremonies of the Centenary Yiddish Conference, held in the Marble Hall of the university, a spectacular three story high room with painted ceilings, huge chandelier, etc. Person after person made speeches. The ones who spoke in Russian or Ukrainian were translated into eEnglish, but the ones who spoke in Yiddish weren't. Which makes sense, but made it hard for me to understand anything. The German speakers in our group understood most everything, as Yiddish is quite close to German.

This is the 100th anniversary of the first Yiddish Confersnce held here in 1908. I wonder what the world Yiddish speaking population now is compared to then.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A day of culture

Let me first pick up where I left off with the story of my aunt Clara, and then relate some of the incidents of the last few days.

My aunt came back here to Czernowitz, in I believe 1938 or 1939, according to my cousin to break off a relationship with a man, according to my mother, to marry him. In any case she met my uncle Murray, did break up with the other man, and Clara and Murray married. She went back to New York without him to arrange the papers, and he followed, apparently in one of the last ships to leave with people fleeing Hitler. My Uncle got a message while on the ship that my cousin, Sandra, had been born. Murray said that Clara saved his life, and that all his family was lost. I wonder about the other man, if he survived.

Back to present day Cernowitz - I did go searching for the graves of Mortke Glaubach and Sure Jers Glaubach, my great-grandparents, a few days ago. That turned into more of an adventure than I had bargained for. i was able to figure out where the graves should be, but getting there was another thing. I walked into the jungle confidently, sickle in hand, and was able to get to perhaps 10 graves and determine that they weren't the right ones. The I found myself totally entangled in vines. it was impossible t o take more than a couple of steps without hacking away, taking another step or two, and hacking away again.It took me about ten minutes to disentangle myself, but felt like an hour. Worst of all, I was covered with nettle stings on my arms. On other days, it had just been a few areas and the stinging went away fairly quickly. This turned int more of an allergic reaction, huge welts that both stung and itched. It lasted a couple of days, but luckily has almost disappeared overnight last night. No fun.

I think that is going to be the end of my searching for relatives' stones, mine or other peoples. i am not sure how disappointed I am to not locate them. It would have been nice to find them, certainly, and I wonder how i would have felt if I did. I am disappointed, but don't feel devasted. I don't really feel that this was my major motivation in coming.

On Friday afternoon we went, with bus and driver donated by the one remaining synagogue here, to Sadagura, now actually a part of Czernowitz, but formerly a separate community on the other side of the Prut river. The Czernowitz rabbi came with us. There is another cemetery there, also neglected but much smaller, and a tiny building that I don't believe is a synagogue, but which protects a few graves that it is built upon. And, we went to the site of the Palace of the Wonder Rabbi! This rabbi was renowned in the 19th century for his wisdom and advice, which he dispensed to Jews and non-Jews alike. He was widely famous, and is mentioned in literature by various writers. His house was a virtual palace. It was used in Soviet times as some kind of factory, now is abandoned, fenced in, and in ruins. The rabbi said it wasn't possible to go in, but a man came over with a key and let us in. I thought that perhaps the rabbi felt it was too defiled and painful to look at, but that may be just my own projecting onto the situation. The rabbi himself was quite a character, as far as i could tell from his gestures and a few things that were translated. He of course was dressed in black with a long beard, and made lots of Tevye-esque gestures. When someone mentioned the International Yiddish Conference that was beginning here today, he shrugged and said something to the effect that those weren't really Jews! But it all seemed quite good humored.

The Yiddish conference, on the annivrsary and on the same site as the one 100 years ago, begans this afternoon. We went to the opening. Several people spoke, and some were tranlated into English, what a treat! They were mostly the Russian and Ukranian speakers. The man who spoke the longest spoke in Yiddish, and he wasn't translated, probably because the translator didn't speak yiddish, or maybe because most people did speak Yiddish. There are a lot of speakers over the next week, from all over the world. including one from Cambridge, USA and one from Waltham USA. If some are speaking in ENglish, perhaps I will go. They said that out of respect for the victims of the recent flooding and the Russia-Georgia conflict, they were cancelling the two Klezmer concerts. But they are keeping a concert tomorrow night of Yiddish music from here, i believe, and I got to speak to the woman, who is from Israel, a bit. I really look forward to that. I have not been successful in tracking down any traditional music, Jewish or otherwise, or much at all in th way of crafts. There is a crafts market in a town about 60 km. from here, but that is a 2 hour 2 bus ride, and I couln't find anyone who wanted to come with me today.

So I went to the local art museum this morning, from which I wasn't expecting much, and which was a total treasure. I took my time through the first two rooms, which looked like medieval Christian iconography, but were actually done in the 19th century. If I had realized what lie ahead, I probably would have skipped those rooms. Although there was one large mural depicting Judgement Day, at which you had to peer closely because it had darkened, that was alone worth visiting in. It was Bruegel-like in its detail and grotesque quaalities. There were scenes of all kinds of brutality, and a multitude of devils with horns and spears and glowing red eyes. And then, side by side, a group of Hasidic looking men in traditional black hats and coats, and a group of frightened looking naked people all herded together. Obviously, this painting, done in the 1800's had no connection to the Holocaust, but in my current situation I couldn't help but make the association. And i did wonder what the significance was of the Hasidim. Couldn't find anyone to explain.

There were also absolutely wonderful woodcuts, a small room of them by a man, a Jew, named LeonKopelman, who died in 1982. And some really lovely paintings, landscapes and portraits. And upstairs, a whole floor of handicrafts, mostly embroidered clothing and painted eggs, cases and cases of them. I think i could have sat there, surrounded by them, for quite a while.

This morning, on the way downtown, I took a walk through the market, always an intersting thing to do. One small impression - a young woman sampling a bit of yoogurt by having the seller spoon a bit onto her hand, which she then licked, then trying a couple more from different vendors before deciding. The yogurt was all in reused soda and water bottles.

I will continue with events and impressions as soon as I find the time, hopefully tomorrow.