Thursday, July 03, 2008

4th of July, 1941-2008. BUCOVINA, Romania-Ukraine.

4th July, 1941.
the Russian army which had occupied the then Northern Romanian territory of Bucovina, was in retreat.

On Thursday morning, the word went around the countryside among the peasants that for 24 hours they can do whatever they like to the Jews living among them in that region. One village was called Ciudei (Czudin, in German having been part of the Austrian/Hungarian Empire prior to WW1)now part of the Ukraine and known as Mezhirech'ye. In this village lived my mother's family,- her father, sister and husband and all her friends with whom she had grown up. By then, my mother had moved into the Moldovan part of Romania proper, when she married my father.

The peasantry took advantage of this "window of opportunity" with a vengeance! The bestiality which ensued is described in testimonies of various child-survivors who were hiding at the time, as well as in a book published in 1945 (in Romanian) by Marius Mirca (Ed. GLOB Bucuresti). They plundered the houses after the people fled and huddled in groups around the edge of the village.The Mayor then ordered them to be incarcerated in the prison, perhaps trying to save them out of his better conscience. But by the Saturday afternoon, he ordered the village Church bells to toll, while the Romanian soldiers who had arrived by then shot them all through the grills in the doors of the cells. Those still remaining in the village, were hounded by the villagers, children hurled out of windows after their parents were shot. Everyone helped in the pogrom.

Bodies, many still alive were hurled into makeshift graves. The ground was moving long after they were covered with earth. Out of the 70 families in the village, only 3-4 escaped. Listed in the book among the victims' names was also my aunt's family Schachter.

MAY 2008.

I visited the village with my husband, son and daughter. I wanted to see whether there is any sign, any kind of memorial to show what had happened 60 years earlier in not only that particular village, but right across that part of Bucovina during those fateful few days in 1941.

We crossed the border into Ukraine from Romania, near Suceava. Our driver/guide had warned us that the old Communist corruption was rife over the border and sure enough, on the pretext that our visas were not correct, we had to fork out 20 Euros before they would let us through into the Ukraine.(Romania was now almost fully accepted into the EU, so their overt corruption has stopped!) Even then, we had to promise to be back by 5pm, before the guard was going off-duty,- probably because he wanted another 20Euros to let us out! An hour later, driving through some desolate countryside on narrow roads, we reached the village,- still marked as Ciudei, in Ukrainian.

We had no idea where to look or for what. Our guide asked around a little and someone pointed in the direction behind a large school. We found a simple black plaque on a white-washed pillar, inscribed in Ukrainian.
We were only able to decipher the date, 'July 1941' and the number '643'and understood that this was it! Further few questions to a couple of older women sitting on a bench, elicited a pointed finger towards the playing field behind and the word 'bodies' (in Russian).

We left them to Rest in Peace under that grassy field. I felt a sense of 'closure', because at least there was something, no matter how simple the memorial, to show what had happened in one fateful few days 60years ago.

Our daughter was moved to tears and whispered to me as we were leaving the village,- "this place doesn't look as though it had changed much since those days when Oma was growing up here."

Quite frankly,- I don't think that generation deserves much better,- some still seem to remember what happened, although their parents and grandparents were probably the actual perpetrators and they may only have been kids, witnessing perhaps the atrocities. Do they feel any guilt? Any responsibility to make amends? Probably not,- too busy surviving themselves perhaps.

The horse and carts trundled past, among a few cars and people walking holding their shopping bags. It was a picture from the pre-ww2 era.

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