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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.