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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

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!

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