Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Names

"Just as they say that a war isn't over until the last soldier who died in the war is buried, we also cannot understand history's lesson until we do not comprehend not only the numbers of those were killed, but who those people actually were, because every person has a name." (A quote from Igor Schupak, an archivist associated with this film, in Russian with subtitles, produced by Yad Vashem.)

Once there was a little girl named Genya, from Zhitomir, Ukraine, with a snub-nose and warm, wide eyes. A scar was engraved into her back by a cruel artist, a piece of barbed wire. It was a gift from her mother, who told her that some people probably ran away, and that she should try. It was like being given another birth: her hips, her head passed through the opening, but her shoulder caught and the cruel teeth of this strange womb drew blood.

"When the Germans began to load the Jews onto cars, they killed them in Bogonya, did you hear about that? My mother told me back then, 'Genya', daughter, perhaps you could run away? Look, some people escape if they can, perhaps you can be saved. You know, I was saved by the grace of God. I saw the young people running away and I ran after them. I have a scar from the barbed wire."

Genya ran to her neighbor's house. The woman wondered at how she had survived. When the Germans began to patrol with dogs, and the house next door was blown up, but a cellar was left, she told her to hide there, under the ground. For four days she sat shivering on a filthy cot in a root cellar swimming with rats and surface-water. After four days, she said "...they brought me some food, let it down on a little rope, I said I'd rather be killed by the Germans." Then, "Aunt Vera" brought her to the attic to hide. Genya sat there and remembered living in the ghetto-jail, where she had finished 3rd grade. Genya never finished another grade. There was always someone else's house to paint, someone's floors to wash. She never married, but she always remembered. One day, someone came to her house and was ready to hear her story
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Once upon a time, there was a little girl with a pixie-face, sparkling eyes and cupid's-bow lips. She dreamed of playing the accordion. She did not remember her birthday. She led the cow to pasture and tried not to spoil her only pair of shoes. When she returned to her little hut, her adoptive mother cuffed her on the head, because the crocks were not yet washed.

Once there was a little girl with silver hair, always pulled back from her face into a severe bun until it strained at the skin of her cheeks, with gleaming pixie-eyes and cupid's bow lips drawn on with a red crayon. She said she was born in Kazakhstan. Her passport said she was born in Novosibirsk. She chose not to remember her birthday. She pounded chords into the piano as if it were an accordion, told everyone that she was a concert pianist, and most of them believed her. She mentioned Kazakhstan during the war, and said that when the people were starving, they threw the children into pits and that the earth moved. She desired shiny trinkets and gathered them. She decided to create a golem to defend her and fight for her honor. She needed the golem because of the scar on her head, and because of the children who were not. She wanted children. She must have children, not like the golem or her other son whose wife would not produce children. She could not tell the difference between a golem and a child, but she must get her hands on them and shape them, touch the clay, mold it, squish it between her fingers, be completely malleable.

The little girl was from Zhitomir, Ukraine, where, naturally, as she later asserted, her ancestors had invented the wheel, and they had served royalty a special, translucent gooseberry jam, as green as a jumble of emeralds, and they had baked the lightest, most fantastic cakes that would put a French chef to shame. Her mother was a wise-woman who gathered herbs in the forests, and could heal anyone's wounds but her own. She came from a distinguished line of doctors from Poland who just happened to land in Kazakhstan. She had many names; she invented herself.
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Once upon a time, in the bread-basket of Europe, which had just recently survived a horrific famine, in Zhitomir oblast, where the rich dark peat-bogs served as fuel, fertilizer and foundations, there lived thousands and thousands of people who happened to be Jews. They built houses, schools and synagogues. They studied medicine and the Torah. They cultivated the dark chernozem, fed by the peat-bogs, and split sunflower seeds between their teeth expertly. For these crimes, approximately 75,000 did not deserve what happened to them. 75,000 of these human beings did not survive 1941, 1942, or 1943.

"The most horrifying things was that the bodies of the women and children bore signs of asphyxiation, meaning, they suffocated to death. The Germans were stingy with bullets, so they threw them alive into pits," Natalya Rudnitskaya, from the film above.
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One day, the memory-collectors arrived to gather the stories by the thimble-full, stories that should have been plays, novels and epic tomes, but there were very few precious words to collect, from just a few who had remained to remember the names of the thousands who had perished.

Yad Vashem: Zhitomir Region

"Across Ukraine, over 1.5 million (were killed); during the years when the Soviets were in power, there was no research, no documentation, and no commemoration of the murdered. Since the 1950's, Yad Vashem has tried to recover the names of all 6 million victims. ... But from the Ukraine and on the territory of the former USSR, we currently only have about one third of the victim's names..

..How can one recover the rest of the names? How can one preserve the memory of these people?"

-- Igor Schupak (Yad Vashem)




3 comments:

Fiodor said...

Do you know the extraordinary research work made in Ukraina by Fr. Patrick Desbois about the "bullet shoah" ("shoah par balles")? See www.yahadinunum.org

iuliaflame said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
iuliaflame said...

I wasn't aware of the work, but the importance of it cannot be underscored enough.

I am thankful to you for the link.

En plein air - in memoriam Andrew Bellon

A dreamless sleep falls from the shimmering leaves. --Sappho fragment, tr. Andrew Bellon I changed, thickened, ...

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