Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 322

Daris Basarab

POVOD
Road to Siberia

novel

Translation by: Mihai Oprea


2007

Bucharest
2004
www.darisbasarab.com
2

Instead of foreword

I was so fond of solitude that I ended up fearing it! I have desired it


since I was a child, or maybe since forever. Every time I could acquire
it, I stared at the sky, or at its reflection in the water, because I had
always protected my solitude lying under the ravine bank, or, as I liked
to call it, under the monastery, on the Danube bank. Maybe there were
others like me, but I don’t think so, because how could I have found
free seats at the show of solitude if that was the case?! The hardest part
to acquire was time. Yes, yes! Solitude is not easily satisfied. You have
to have time, in order to be alone. You have to search for it, find it, give
yourself to it, forgetting about everyone and everything. Only who
learns to separate from the rest can hope to know solitude. All by
yourself, protected by the steep slope of the ravine, between sky and
water! One day, I tried to evade even more into loneliness. I plunged in
the water, swimming with open eyes – the sky disappeared. Soon, the
power guiding me also disappeared, and at the first gulp of water, a
feeling of terror started to choke me. A sky filled with stars shone in
my head, as if lighting my path toward the riverbank. I lay on the soft
sand and I saw the blue sky. I understood that underwater I had
encountered the darkness, but not the loneliness I was looking for. God,
I spent so many hours between sky and water! It was getting harder for
me as years went by. A solitary teenager easily becomes his fellows’

2
3

target. Adolescence brought with it the ordeal of convenience. I wanted


to be alone, but I was spending my time in society. I was even
considered sociable! With such a pleasure I evaded in my singular
world, leaving the appearance of a mysterious person. I did everything
to defend my reputation, without allowing anyone to pass the boundary
of my loneliness. It wasn’t easy, because it deprived me of the time I
needed so much. The fear that I couldn’t defend my solitude from the
misunderstanding of those around me, gradually brought about a fear
of my much-desired loneliness. I started judging myself, confronting
with others, blaming myself. I knew I wasn’t hiding anything evil in
me; nevertheless I started to elaborate a harsh indictment. I was the
ruthless judge, the innocent accused, the defender of my own person. I
was fond of loneliness in the world of childhood, I kept it hidden in the
depths of my being in the years that followed and I still keep it. By
hiding it, I do nothing but defend it, keeping my best memories
immaculate. Who could I explain the charm of the moments spent
between sky and water, all by myself, gazing at the vastness which the
deceitful horizon binds in a single word – infinity. Why do I like to
leave on my own in the search of sky and waters? Something like this
cannot be explained! This is a part of the small infinity of my soul,
from which my whole being can get through, but where nobody else
can get. No, what I am saying is not poetry! It’s just my life, which I
like to dispose of! I have loved solitude and I can still find this first
love intact in me. Will I have the power not to hide it at least now, at
the finish line? I don’t know. But I know that I should!...

3
4

Every time I try to bring back memories from my childhood I


manage, involuntarily, to unfold a wide variety of feelings, which range
from wonderful to infernal. Along the years, I have striven to recount
from my past only the fairy tale moments of my childhood, to erase
from the pile of memories the darker events and keep in my soul only
the pleasant ones, to revoke any sign of enmity and hatred.
Years went by, not few, but the unrest accompanying every attempt
to travel back in the past still plagues me. Folk ‘wisdom’ says that:
‘you can forgive, but you cannot forget’! Can that be true? If so, why
can’t I myself make this saying a dictum that will bring tranquility on
‘my street’?! To forgive! Maybe if I managed to forget, I would escape
the hatred – one cannot hate in absence of a subject! But oblivion
means amnesia, and amnesia is a disease I cannot wish for.
I was talking about the fairy tale moments of my childhood. Yes,
they existed ever since my early years, in a place blessed by God, but
struck by history! The old Danubian village Smil, situated on the Chilia
branch, between the lakes Ialpug and Catlabug, transformed around
1595, in the citadel of Ismail by the Turkish armies; one of the most
important Danubian ports in the great river’s path to the sea, was the
cradle of my childhood. Around 1929, Ismail was a small town-port
with almost 30.000 inhabitants. The whole county numbered a
population of 224.000 souls, with a more than heterogeneous ethnical
structure – Romanians, Russians, Bulgarians, Gagauz people,
Lipovens, Jews, Germans and others. Each with their own
characteristics, with their own occupations, living in harmony, without
chauvinistic displays, or discriminating assertions. Romanians made up
only 31% of the county’s population, far lesser than the percentage
they occupied in the whole Basarabia, province situated between the
Prut and the Nistru. It was inappropriately named by the Russians,
from the old name of the northern Danubian regions, Moldavian land,
so desired by the Basarabian rulers for its strategic position: the Delta –
access to the sea!
The ethnic harmony could not even be deteriorated by the
unpopular and undiplomatic measures taken by the Romanian

4
5

authorities after the 1918 Unification. Bringing and promoting


opportunist functionaries in administration, especially from the Old
Kingdom, nationalistic attitudes of strangers – displaying, in
institutions, stores, barber’s shops, suggestions like ‘Speak only
Romanian’, avoiding to name locals in administrative positions – all
created a state of confusion, incapable however of affecting the bond of
harmony established by the pragmatism of a peaceful cohabitation.
Mixed marriages were an additional proof of this harmony. The
languages Romanian and Russian, as others, went about in the most
natural of ways, despite restrictions, in private relationships.
Jews and Greeks, even Armenians, brotherly competed in
organizing local commerce or in the world of small craftsmen.
Bulgarians and Gagauz people were established as dauntless vegetable
gardeners, and even niggard, as they were considered, they were
respected for the tidiness that reigned in their villages. The few
Germans who sheltered in the surroundings of Ismail were the
universally accepted symbol of honesty, which they cultivated
especially in the Chetatea Alba county, where alongside Swiss and
French, established themselves through the organization, after the 1817
colonization, of model villages. The Lipovens, wandering because of
their religious beliefs, ultimately settled in the Danube Delta basin,
setting up villages or districts of fishermen, as in the case of Ismail.
Nowhere had I ever encountered such wonderful fish markets! Yes, this
was the secret of the ethnic harmony I have mentioned, a harmony I
have only encountered, on another scale of course, when as a student, I
became acquainted with the region of Banat.
In fact, as a child, I didn’t even get to understand the meaning of
the word ‘ethnic’. Only when I was 16, when after the refuge I stopped
in Transilvania, I came across the word and the political meaning it
had, because of the chauvinism of the minority population and the
equally chauvinistic reaction of the majority from these parts of the
country.
Yes, in 1940, Ismail, the Danube, the Delta, the Nistru bank were
the ‘domains’ where I was born, where I wandered along and across,
where I learnt to love the waters and the sky, where I learnt to love the

5
6

country life, where I learnt to dream. A mixed family. My father,


coming from a family of Moldavians from Piatra Neamtz, where my
great great grandfather was a priest, moved through colonization on the
other side of the river Prut, in a new village, Sararia, near Chetatea
Alba (the Turkish Akerman, transformed by the armies of Baiazid the
Second in 1484). It was the land offered by the Russian Tsar for
colonization, where among Swiss, Germans and French, Moldavians
from beyond the Prut took shelter, oppressed in their own country. The
facilities promised and mostly offered to strangers by Alexander the
First for settling in areas with a reduced demographic density brought
about the exodus of the population from Moldavia, more precise the
peasants. My mother was a trueborn Russian woman, with an eloquent
name – Tzarev – with parents settled in Ismail. It was a happy union,
which founded a large family, in a period filled with the tragedy
brought by the Bolshevik revolution. Four children, two boys and two
girls, among which I was the youngest, benefiting from all the
‘advantages’.
The chief of the archive service at the bishopric of Ismail and
Chetatea Alba, without being a priest, my father managed to secure a
decent life for his family. We were staying in a house, sharing the
property with the family of my mother’s sister, on the street Frumoasa,
the street where the Saint Demeter high school was also situated. An
apartment with three rooms, with a long corridor that lead to the
garden, passing near the other apartment, ensured sufficient comfort for
the family and an unforgettable place for us children. The cheap,
abundant market, allowed a family like ours a plentiful life – the
quantity and quality of food were not a problem.
I was the peaceful child, the obedient child, the spoilt child,
which didn’t hinder me from sneaking to the Danube, at the monastery
ravine and to secretly learn how to swim. The happiest days were
Saturdays and Sundays, not to mention the religious or national
holidays when, two-three families, with rented boats – ‘lotch’, in the
local language – left in search of beautiful places, which today still
seem part of a dream. We used to settle on the right bank of the Chilia
branch, with important supplies of food and drink, with improvised

6
7

tents for shelter, for rest, if there was any time left for something like
that. Skilled Lipovens organized fishing trips and assured the quality of
the fish dishes: ‘uha’, ‘rasol’, fried or grilled fish. What knowledge in
choosing the kind of fish necessary for a proper uha! The unmistakable
flavor of garlic called for the opening of the bottles of wine. But not
any wine!
Although the Stavrovs had a magnificent vineyard, situated on a
ravine of the Danube, some 10 kilometers east of Ismail, they, as well
as the Alexandrovs, our inseparable friends, preferred the wines of
Tulcheanov, a renowned vineyard owner and also the owner of cellars
with endless galleries, placed somewhere at the northern end of the
town. Before holidays, the three family heads, wine tasting masters,
took a carriage and wandered through the most well known wine
cellars, even though, from the very beginning, they knew they will
eventually end up at the same person, the unmatched Tulcheanov.
Because the wines were natural, and the three musketeers didn’t drink
strong alcohol, they could afford to turn these small escapades of
reconnaissance in veritable parties, prelude to what was going to
happen on the Danube bank, or in turn, at each other’s house.
The home – made parties were usually organized at holidays like
Easter, Christmas or New Year’s Eve and lasted for three days and
three nights. They usually started at the Stavrovs, continued at us, and
in the third day, everybody moved at the Alexandrovs. This order was
not random. A tall, protective fence was hiding a garden full of vine,
flowers and fruit trees, which were in turn hiding a large low house, as
well as the specific annexes of a winegrower household. Natural arbors
invited the guests not to lose time and honor the appetizers sprinkled
with wine, a white wine, rather sour, just good, as the host said, to
provoke hunger. Even if Alexandrov didn’t take to this sort of wines,
he respectfully honored the host, leaving his unfailing jokes for desert.
Once this phase was cleared, the spectacle of waste began in a haste
flattering for the hostess. What could this sort of gatherings lack?!
Today, something like that would be qualified as defiance. But in the
Basarabia of those days it was something natural! People were
speaking in a brotherly Russian – Romanian mixture, without reserves,

7
8

without question marks. In this company, my father was in minority,


but his position was supported by the pro-Romanian attitude of the six
children, schooled and attracted by the ‘Moldavian’ language.
Everything was pleasant, everything was normal.
In the already known order, we were next. What was pleasant in
our house was the warmth during the cold winters and the coolness that
invited you inside, in the summer. There was something else extremely
appreciated. Mother was a much-loved host. An accomplished
housewife, she exceeded in bringing offerings to the god Waste. To the
unconcealed happiness of ‘diadia1 Sasha’, the wines exclusively
belonged to Tulcheanov. The turkey roast, decorated with baked
quinces, the turkey’s appearance, prepared as for going to a ball, was
the much tasted specialty of the house. The cakes, the great weakness
of all children – big and small – brought loud praises to the host,
especially because, at the hour the cake was served, a cabernet was also
brought, which we children also appreciated, after the guests’
departure, when we rushed to empty the glasses, imprudently left only
half empty. A spacious living room, with an oval oak table provided a
comfortable accommodation for 12 people.
Finally, the transfer to the Alexandrovs followed, with carriages
ordered beforehand, in a small retinue. At Christmas or New Years’
Eve, carriages were of course replaced by sleds, preferably troikas,
which were making a large detour, in order to take advantage and enjoy
the cold air. I will never forget the monotonous bell jingle or the fear
caused by the idea of a ride on the frozen Danube. The Alexandrovs
had a beautiful house, spacious, with a wonderful yard, in fact a
professionally maintained garden, where the apple trees and pear trees
gave exhibition worthy fruits, under the competent care of this
wonderful man. Ex tsarist officer, cultured, literature lover, he lived on
memories, which he unwound with charm, grasping the attention of the
people around him. Of wasteful nature, in love with life, the life he
managed to miraculously save during the revolution, when in Odessa,
soldiers organized veritable officer hunts, shooting them in the middle
of the street to the delight of the reckless bands, or captured them in
order to throw them from the upper floors of the buildings they

8
9

occupied, tried to forget the past by creating a small-bourgeois life for


himself. Plentiful meals ended with the tasting of the most beautiful
samples of apples or pears, bearing the colors of the rainbow in the
brightness of the light. The ceaseless admiration and praises, invited
my mother to recite.
Favorite authors were Pushkin and Lermontov. Only a child, I
remained amazed listening to these face outs, in which memory and
recitation talent raised rounds of applause. All ended with the singing
of old songs, which followed me far in time, through the beauty of their
words and often through their profound sadness. But above all reigned
‘vecernii zvon2’ where the voice of ‘tanti Dusia’’s bell demanded
silence. At departure, like a rule established during the years, the disk
of the gramophone resounded with Shaliapin’s voice.
In this time, Ismail was in an obvious process of romanianisation,
process without anything hostile to the Russian note prevailing among
the intellectuals. The number of Romanians grew during this time, by
gathering population from Muntenia, Oltenia, Moldavia and even
Transilvania, while the pragmatism of the Russian speakers didn’t
oppose any resistance to this process. These Russian speakers, many of
them belonging to the victims of the revolution, expressed their
attachment to the Kingdom of Romania, which through organization
presented a temporary guarantee against the threat of the spreading red
revolution. In time, the obligation of knowing and using the Romanian
language transformed into a major preoccupation, in pleasure. It was a
gesture of gratitude to the Kingdom of Romania, for the hospitality and
protection it offered. It was a desire to integrate in this new homeland.
These ‘whites’, as they were hatefully named by the bolsheviks,
resorted to name changes, generally through ‘romanianisation’. These
were the first steps, which manifested at a larger scale, at once with the
refuge brought about by the collapse of the German-Romanian front
and the recovery of Basarabia by the soviet troops. Alexandrov became
Alexandru, Stavrov turned into Stavru, Chilrilov into Chirila. This
happened to many, as was the case of Vaniusha Chirilov, our Romanian
so loved in the world of sport. Yes, ethnic harmony, in a Babylonian
structure, made life so pleasant in Basarabia, so beautiful and rich.

9
10

There were also the trips in the Delta, by ferry to Vilcov, the
passing of the Danube at Periprava, renting rooms from Lipovens and
going by boat to the hearth of the Delta, towards “Merheiu Mare” and
“Merheiu Mic”, wonderful natural lakes, paradise to birds and
fishermen alike. Pelican colonies, numbering hundreds of specimens,
offered nature lovers a daily spectacle of feast, at seven in the morning.
Emerging from their reed hideouts, pelicans gathered in the middle of
the lakes, in a compact mass, resembling from the distance a floral
arrangement of white water lilies. Approaching this feast imperceptibly
was a problem that even experimented Lipoven fishermen solved with
difficulty. The boats were silently snuck in the area, through the reed,
toward the bank of the lake. Every noise could alert the colony and
compromise the attempt to closely observe the pelicans. Very skillfully,
in a trip of this kind, the three boats managed to come 25-30 meters
close. The emotion was building up, especially for the children. The
huge white flower, with red reflections, was waving in the morning
breeze. In fact, the movement was the result of the plunging of beaks in
the water, in a rhythm worthy of a ritual. Suddenly we all screamed in
terror! The boatmen, at a sign known only by them, shouted long cries
and began to virtuously row, in the direction of the pelicans. It was an
extraordinary spectacle! The amazed pelicans began to fly all at once,
spreading their wings of an unthinkable span. The noise of the wings,
the inimitable sounds, and the show in mid air offered by these
wonders of nature in their way toward a hiding place, filled my
childhood days with unforgettable memories.
And this was not all. There were also the summer holidays spent
at my father’s parents, at Nea Stefan ‘Nemtzeanu’, nicknamed because
of his origin from Piatra Neamtz, the son of a colonist from the part of
Moldavia on the other side of the Prut, at the Tsar’s calls and promises.
They were tempted by a better life, by a few privileges, and brought
with them, a thing that the almighty rulers of Basarabia failed to
consider, their Romanian soul, and thus the affiliation to a proud and
brave nation, but harshly affected by the injustices of history. These
Moldavian colonists came without fear, because they knew they would
still be living in Moldavia, in the old and proud Moldavia, in the

10
11

wonderful perimeter between the Prut and the Nistru, populated and
organized from its early beginnings by the builders of the Romanian
nation. They were coming home, maybe with the hope that someday
the justice of history will put things on the right path.
He was a good man, this grandfather of mine. Hardworking,
helpful, loved in this village which struggled not to be surpassed by
Shaba, Leipzig, Tarutino or Paris, villages founded by Swiss, German
and French colonists. He quickly became the mayor of the community,
which proved to cost him, later, when Basarabia was occupied by the
soviets. He gathered through his family’s work – he had nine children –
enough land to give each one six hectares, and still keep about fifty for
himself and grandmother. Holidays at the countryside, at the
grandparents, were for me indescribable. Even now, when I peacefully
skim through my memory, I find it hard to describe those wonderful
days.
A neat stable, where only horses bought from the colonists of
Shaba were allowed. Three of my father’s brothers built beautiful
households and although they were each settled at their house, they
worked together with my grandfather. It was more useful. The arrival
of ‘the townsmen’ in the summer holidays was an event treated with
the utmost attention. We were spoilt. I felt like home. I was always near
the horses; I woke up early in the morning in order to go by cart to the
field. I struggled there, I ate there and it was there that I fell asleep with
tiredness. In the evening, on top of the cart, which was full with freshly
mowed hay, I was holding the bridles and the riding rod, which I had
learnt to lash in the air. Beside me rested Azor, a faithful five or six-
year-old shepherd dog, who probably felt that, at Ismail, his brother
Corb was my best friend. Grandmother was always waiting for us with
the table set, and to make my will, she made cheese-dumplings
drowned in cream every evening.
I spent part of these holidays at my father’s sister, who was living
with her family in the small resort of Tuzla, where we usually walked
to Burgaz, or even to Budaki, where the large beaches offered excellent
conditions for sunbaths, swimming in the sea and especially for
children’s games. We often met there with other relatives, who were

11
12

coming straight from Ismail. All was wonderful! What a delightful


childhood!
Which of our children could have even guessed what would
happen?! Maybe our parents and grandparents lived in a certain
restlessness, with their eyes on the Nistru. I say maybe, because such
fears seldom escaped in discussions that could be heard by the ears of
the children. What was happening in the Germany of the ’38 – ’39, did
not bring clouds of anxiety. On the contrary, those who feared only the
danger coming from the East saw in Germany a sort of guarantee, a
force that posed an increasing threat to bolshevism. In this state of
apparent peace, or better said, expectative, the ultimatum from 1940,
regarding Basarabia, had the effect of an explosion from which
Basarabians could truly wake up only after the occupation troops
appeared, waving their rifles in one hand, while in the other, flowers!

1 uncle
2 sound of vesper

Although I was 11, like most of the children in


Basarabia, we were expecting to see the invasion of
some sort of devils, men with horns, or something
similar. When I saw people just like us passing the city
streets, dressed in rubashkas1 with belt, wearing either
Cossack fur caps, or pointed caps on their heads,
cheerful, smiling all the time, helping children on their
small horses, kissing them with passion to the despair of
their mothers, who where running behind the horses to
retrieve their offspring, I was more than confused. I
understood that I had been lied to in school, that nobody
in the house tried to tell us the truth. Were they people

12
13

like us!? The only thing that struck you when you
approached them was the strong soldierly smell,
probably due to the horrible mahorca2 they were
smoking from cigarettes made on the spot, from
newspapers, and not to a negligible degree, to alcohol.
Everyone was consternated, scared at the thought of
tomorrow, at the hardly whispered phrase – pohod na
Sibiri3!
Practically, the Romanian administration took no
measures whatsoever for the eventual evacuation of the
population. Only the elite could leave. Panic reigned in
villages among the more well-off peasants; it also
reigned in cities, among intellectuals in general and also
among ex white officers, escaped form the wrath of the
Bolshevik revolution. The unconcealed fear of the
parents passed on to the children. They were looking at
their uncertain parents, failing however to understand
the seriousness of the situation. People were gathering
in a conspiratorial manner, trying to foresee the possible
consequences of the abandonment act of the Romanian
government.
- Daniil Stepanich, this won’t last, it can’t last. The
treason of those from Bucharest will be repaired by
Germany! The agreement between the Germans and the
Soviets has no value. It is part of Hitler’s strategy.
Germany has an army capable of subduing the whole
world. Anyhow, they can’t rely on ex Russian officers
from the Tsar’s army, capable of organizing the
population. No, it won’t last!
- Alexandr Alexandrovich, I’m afraid that until the
Germans wake up and attack the Soviets, there won’t be
any ex officers, intellectuals, bourgeois. And the Tsar
hoped for help from the West, and look where his trust in
the so-called allies brought him, not to mention the

13
14

naivety with which he regarded the Russian reality. He


clung to the ideas of absolutism, the ill-fated influence of
his wife, tributary to her German heritage. No, Basarabia
will not affect the relations between Hitler and Stalin for
now. Hitler still needs the liberty to grab everything
there is to grab in Central and Eastern Europe! Romania
also can’t escape his intentions. Until a war with Stalin, a
lot of water will flow down the Danube and this is
convenient to Visarionovich, unprepared yet for a big
confrontation. Until then, what a pity, poor Basarabia!
How many people will die or disappear in the Russian
wilderness?! Siberia awaits us, or even better, a bullet in
the back of the head.
- What is up with you people? Don’t forget we are in
Basarabia, desired by all – Romanian, Turks, Russians. All
wanted control of the mouths of the Danube, access to
the sea. The Russians will try, at least at the beginning,
to win the population. Basarabia is a granary, and the
Union is in economic collapse. I don’t think they will
harm the people; they will try to win them, even if
through intimidation. Don’t panic! You’re scaring the
children. Don’t you see they are listening at doors? Good
thing we’re all in one place and Mirchea stayed home.
With his ideas of Hitlerism, I’m surprised he didn’t try to
flee to Romania. And now, I’m afraid he will dive into the
Danube one night. Let’s be patient and wait for the first
measures!
- Leolea, I’m glad you are optimistic. Have you
forgotten how you escaped in 1917 from Odessa? Do
you remember how they treated the officers, the
intellectuals?
- No, Dania, I haven’t forgotten and I never will! It
wasn’t necessary to remind me!

14
15

- Very well, let’s wait and do nothing! Tomorrow I’m


going to the Consistory to see what is going on there
and also in the city. Alexandr Alexandrovich, shall we
drink a Tulcheanov? Leolea, what are you serving as an
appetizer?
- No, Daniil Stepanich, I’m not staying any longer. I’m
going home, I think Dusia is worried. And besides, I have
to tend to Shuric. With these youngsters, you can never
know what they will do next. God forbid! Yes, with these
devils you can never be sure! … Goodbye! We will try to
meet tomorrow somehow.
In the evening, without any warnings, the population
withdrew inside their houses, waiting for what?! The
resolution, which would not be late. Through a
miraculous system of messengers, all the old institutions
got the order to send the administrative personnel to the
city council, at a fixed date and time. Any absence would
have been harshly penalized. These were the first open
threats.
At the Consistory, the headquarters of the Orthodox
Bishopric of Ismail and Chetatea Alba, a neat building
situated in the middle of the town, Daniil Stepanich,
Danila for those at the Bishopric, then the chief of the
archive service, had the surprise to be stopped at the
entrance by a soldier with an aggressive attitude and an
Asian appearance, who made him understand, in a bad
Russian, that the institution was closed.
- You will go tomorrow at Gor-Sovet4! Leave now, go!
- A window opened and a tidier soldier appeared,
displaying an ironic smile.
- No more church and popes! The Soviet power
doesn’t need your lies!
It was probably the hardest blow received by a man
who, without being a priest, faithfully served this

15
16

institution. With his head down, he made his way toward


the place where he hoped to regain the lost peace and
maybe some colleagues. Lying on the Long Boulevard,
which gently ascended from the harbor, passing by the
stadium, engulfing in its path filled with green
vegetation two of the town’s most important churches,
Saint Nicholas’ and Saint Demeter’s, the Sobor5
dominated the town. In the full church, an uncommon
sight for a working day, a restless atmosphere prevailed.
Through the side doors of the altar, priests and deacons
in street clothes went in and out, in an unusual unrest.
The whisper of the voices in the church covered the
agitation which reigned in the altar. Through the door in
the right of the altar the bishop appeared; a handsome
man, still young, known and loved for his eloquence, the
undeclared idol of women. With a simple blessing
gesture, he quenched any sign of whisper and, passing
in front of the central doors of the altar addressed the
crowd.
- Beloved believers, God is putting us today to a
great test. During the night, the building of the
Consistory has been occupied by soldiers and our access
has been forbidden. In the morning, I have been visited
by an officer and a civilian, who advised me to comply
with this measure, because state policy had made this
building the center of an institution dealing with public
order and state security. I think it is useless to say that
this implies the NKVD. I have been asked to move from
my personal home to the monastery near the citadel.
The churches will remain open for the officiating of
current services, but it has been insisted that any
propaganda in favor of religion, made in churches or
outside them by priests, will lead to the imminent
closing of the churches. In other words, we are only left

16
17

with prayers to God, without sermons, without


propagandistic religious manifestations. This is probably
just the beginning. May God watch over you!
At an unseen signal, the whisper broke out again, like
the beginning of a storm. People who didn’t know each
other were hugging and crying, asking each other
questions no one could answer. Some, resigned, or
maybe scared, snuck discretely toward the exit. As to
restore the silence once again, the famous Sobor bell,
renowned for the purity of its sound, but also for its
power – it could be clearly heard as far as Tulchea,
suddenly started to ring at a lively rate. The ringer, a 50
year old peasant, with a Lipoven beard, full of energy
and faith, listening to the bishop’s words decided, on his
own account, to give voice to the big bell, without
further ‘prelude’, to call the whole town to prayer.
Understanding the seriousness of the moment, but
helpless before this proof of faith from one of the oldest
employees of the Sobor, the bishop headed toward the
altar door, calling through a sign the clergy who were
undecidedly waiting behind the rood screen. Surrounded
by priests and deacons, in the sound of the bell that
didn’t cease to ring, like a chorus conductor, he gave the
signal and with a strong bass – baritone voice started,
followed by the whole crowd: Our Father, who art in
Heaven … The atmosphere became sublime! Fear and
misunderstanding, prayer and humility, gave way,
through what miracle?! to courage and revolt. ‘Our
Father’ didn’t sound like a pray, it was an ultimate
request to God! God was summoned to repair the
injustice to which, without doubt, he as well contributed,
even though he had done it to punish, to revive faith.
The apparition of a civilian in the church door,
accompanied by a few soldiers, warlike by the weaponry

17
18

they were displaying, raised a murmur of indignation. It


was the first attitude taken by a disorganized crowd,
gathered by fear, misunderstanding, faith. Making their
way with the butts of machine guns, the group of
antichrists arrived in front of the bishop, demanding him
to send the people home and accompany them to the
Consistory. The united voices of the parishioners,
together with the ceaseless thunders given by the bell
which seemed to call for disobedience, puzzled the
dauntless defender of the new order. Making a sign with
his head, two of the soldiers from the group set out to
search the way to the belfry. After 10-15 minutes, the
bell was silent. The two soldiers came back with the bell-
ringer, overseeing him with the barrels of the machine
guns. The people remained speechless. The agitation
stopped. There was fear on the faces heavy with the
tension which pressed all of them. A blessing gesture
sketched by the bishop in the direction of the bell-ringer,
then a determined step in the same direction and, to the
consternation of the little commandant, with a gentle
but firm hand, His Holiness pushed the two soldiers,
taking the bell-ringer by the arm and joining the group of
clerics in front of the altar, shouted: in the House of God,
I am master! Please leave the church!
- Comrade bishop, you are making a big mistake.
This man has instigated the population to riot with his
bell. You will have to come to the former headquarters of
the Consistory today at two o’clock. Let’s go, boys!
Cries of joy, hugs, kneeling, crosses, lots of crosses,
like the orthodoxies of oriental rites, like pravoslavnics6.
The population in the church was usually
heterogeneous, Russians occupying an important place.
Nevertheless, like at a command, everybody was
speaking Romanian! The ethnic mixture disappeared,

18
19

turning into one nation, a nation feeling Romanian,


hoping Romanian, speaking Romanian. This first
manifestation of solidarity was wonderful, but it was also
the last opposition in front of the oppression. The
destruction machine began to work according to a well
determined plan and the population, frightened by the
traceless ‘disappearances’, bowed their heads in wait of
the hatchet. It was important that the whole population
of Basarabia, regardless the nationality, looked upon this
‘peaceful’ invasions with hatred, contrary to the things
said or written by some or others, from one side of the
Prut, or the other. No, the Soviets were not expected by
any nationality, any social category, to the surprise of
even the oppressors. All they encountered was a hostile
submission in front of which Moscow had to take the
harshest measures.
There were, of course, opportunists who joined the
political police, but these represented only the exception
to the rule. In Ismail, both in towns and villages, this
police, the red devil, as the NKVD was known, using the
most abject methods of intimidation from the very
beginning, managed to demobilize any attempt of
insubordination. The faith of the bishop was rapidly
decided. The presence at the Consistory gave him a
shock. Two sentinels in front of the building, another two
behind the central door, one on each corridor. He was
brought to his former desk, transformed overnight in the
commander’s reception office, a colonel at 35 – 40 years
old. On the wall behind the desk Stalin’s portrait was
hanging. Jesus’ picture had disappeared, the silver
crucifix decorated with gems had disappeared, the
leathered Bible had disappeared, the books in the
bookcase had disappeared. The window was covered by
a red thick velvet curtain. Two spotlights, placed in two

19
20

corners of the room, were shedding a disturbing light


toward the chair in front of the desk.
- You were a little late?!
- My carriage has been requisitioned, as has been the
Consistory building, as far as I can tell. I thought You
guaranteed the freedom of cults by the Constitution!?
What happened to the things I see missing? I would like
to see the offices and the basement archive.
- You won’t be needing all this rubbish! Today you
have made a grave mistake; you have instigated the
population to riot, an undermining of state security. Such
an action will not be tolerated, it will be punished!
Religion is free, but the anticommunist religious
propaganda is not! Lenin said that religion is people’s
opium! Tonight you will be staying with us. You will have
to give some declarations under signature.
- I see no reason for my retention. What happened in
the church was not an organized, subversive action. My
people didn’t know who you were, what was happening,
what was going to happen tomorrow. How can you
accuse them of betrayal!? Who could they betray?! They
are just scared. The people here are faithful and in
unexpected situations they act unexpectedly. They are
scared, and naturally, they gathered to pray. They trust
the church; don’t try to forcefully push them away from
faith! Any prohibition complicates things, doesn’t solve
them.
- Fine, fine, I see you are doing your job with me as
well. Sergey, take comrade bishop downstairs, for
declarations. Please be cooperative, you will make our
job easier. I know you are ‘someone’ in this town, but
that doesn’t grant you a special privileged situation. We
treat everybody the same. You can go!

20
21

Accompanied by Sergey, defeated by grief, the one


who yesterday was obeyed with humility by his beloved
believers, descended the steps that led to the
basement, where the archive of the Bishopric of Ismail
and Chetatea Alba lay. The shelves once filled with
folders had been emptied. A desk, two spotlights, a sort
of armchair, with a belt attached to the back, with cuffs
fixed on the arms and the legs in front. A cold chill
passed through the whole being of the servant of God. In
a side of the room, a sofa covered with cerecloth,
equipped in turn with belts and cuffs. Nearby, on a table
leaned to the wall, there were all sorts of objects,
arranged in a military order: a primus, a gipsy letcon7, a
hammer, a few pairs of pliers, a vice. Near the table,
seated on two chairs, two young men, with an Asian
appearance, without shirts, were playing by rhythmically
straining their biceps. Their looks were bright, but
absent. In the armchair behind the desk, miming
indifference, sat a 45 – 50 year old man, blond with blue
eyes, very blue eyes, melancholic at first sight. The
impeccably clean rubashka ended in a collar with
captain insignia, molded on a body radiating health and
strength.
- Good day, comrade! Have a seat, please! I hope we
will finish what we have to do quickly. Is the light
bothering you?! There, now it’s better. You will have to
write a declaration under signature. At each question I
will dictate, you must answer clearly, without omitting
anything. You know you are charged with the
impairment of state security?! No, it’s not necessary that
you answer. You will write everything on paper. In fact,
we know everything! We just want to make a
confrontation, to get a complete testimony. There is no
sense in denying, in lying.

21
22

- The servants of God do not lie! I shall pray for You.


If you want to set up a new order here, it is not
necessary to intimidate us. Basarabians were
intimidated neither by Tatars, nor by Turks or Russians!
All left as they came. Basarabians fought all of them for
their identity, for the Moldavia whose sons we are. We
‘gave birth’ to Basarabia, a part of the great Moldavia, of
the Great Romania. The others just occupied it.
- I see you are becoming restless. This here is not
church, so don’t preach to us! Let’s get down to
business. First of all, write everything about family,
grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, where you have
been, where you have learnt Russian and why you have
done it, what wealth do you possess, what wealth your
relatives possess, their exact addresses. Don’t omit
anything! After this first part, we will pass on to other
questions, short, exact. Do you smoke? No?! I will
smoke, though.
It was a kind of inauguration of what would become
the ill-fated activity of this institution of repression. All
this setting, starting with the attitude and ending with
the arsenal of objects meant to intimidate, had a well
defined purpose. This influent man had to warn the
population that any attitude aimed against the new
order would be treated with all severity, without mercy.
However, the plan could not be carried out to the end.
An order from above interrupted the interrogatory.
Without any kind of explanations, the bishop was
transferred into another room of the former archive, an
empty room, with no light, with covered windows, better
said walled. No chairs, no sofas, just empty shelves.
After a long wait, spent in continuous movement, the
door opened leaving a dim light in from the corridor. Two
soldiers, sub officers, after all appearances, invited him

22
23

to come back to the investigation room. He had to put


all the papers he had with him on the desk, as well as
the watch and the golden chain, the bishop cross
decorated with gems, some Romanian money, and
finally, the priest frock. Remaining in pants and shirt, he
was led to a car, which left accelerating violently. In the
middle of the night, the car stopped near the Danube
bank, where, a military motorboat was waiting with its
engine started up. Five soldiers, armed to the teeth,
were waiting in the boat. At a sign of his companions, he
got in the motorboat, sat down where he was indicated
and raised his eyes to the sky.
- God! What kind of death awaits me? Do they want
to drown me in the Danube? Why? Does this mean that
all that has been said about them is true!?
- The motorboat moved away from the bank, slowly
advancing into the night. The engine almost at ralenti
died away in the purling of the water. From the unusual
plash, he realized that the motorboat was towing a boat,
a small fishermen lotca. Convinced that the end was
near, conciliated with the faith bestowed by God,
making the well known sign of blessing, he said looking
at the soldiers: May God forgive you and bless you!
Then, standing up, to the surprise of the guards, gazing
at the abandoned harbor and, with the same sign of
blessing, whispered: Goodbye, beloved Ismail!
- Confused by what happened, the cerberi let him
stand, without addressing him any word. What had
happened in their souls? Nobody would ever find out.
Shortly, to his surprise, the bishop realized the
motorboat was nearing the shadow of the other bank of
the Danube, the Romanian side. All of a sudden, the
engine was stopped, the lotca pulled next to the

23
24

motorboat and, without further ado, he saw himself


moved in the boat.
- A little more. Take the paddles and land on the
border. Maybe the Romanian frontier guards won’t shoot
you!? You are forbidden to return to Ismail!
The engine started, and the motorboat made a noisy
detour and disappeared in the night. Confused, shocked
by what had happened, he sat down on the bench in the
middle of the boat; he set up the paddles and left the
boat to the current. He woke up however and pulled the
paddles with blunder, trying to reach land. He felt a
knock, rolled over and heard, near him, very near: Stop!
Stop or I’ll shoot!
Two midges, armed with some long rifles, probably
from the time of the 1916 war, cautiously approached. A
lamp spread light in the direction of the boat stuck in the
bank.
- How many are you? What are you doing here?
- I am alone; I am the bishop of Ismail. God bless you,
my children! Where am I now?
- At Plaur.
- And now, what are you going to do with me? I have
no weapons, no papers, no money.
- We’ll take you to the frontier guard post. From
there, we’ll send you to Tulchea, at the commandment.
What do we do with the boat?
- I don’t know. That is how the Russians brought me,
the Russian frontier guards. Haven’t you heard the
motorboat?
- We have, but we can’t stop them here, or capture
them. We stay hidden and watch over our bank. Come
on, father, let’s go! Don’t try to run! There’s nowhere
you can go.

24
25

- The adventures ended at Tulchea. Priests were


called at the frontier guard commandment and, because
the bishop was very well known, the incredible story was
apparently cleared.
- Your Holiness, the Russians feared to harm you, so
they sent you away. If something had happened, they
would have said you tried to run to Romania! We are
going to have a lot of problems with them. Up until now,
our frontier guards could sleep in peace. Now, things
have changed. This should give us something to think
about!
After a few days of relaxation in Tulchea and a visit to
the Metropolitan Hill in Bucharest, the unbelievable story
of the bishop from Ismail and Chetatea Alba ended, at
his own wish, with a withdrawal at one of the beautiful
monasteries in Bucovina.

1 a kind of blouse used as an uniform


2 a sort of tobacco
3 road to Siberia
4 local council
5 cathedral
6 believers
7 a hammer made of copper used for tinning

25
26

In Ismail, the news of the bishop’s disappearance brought a new


wave of restlessness in the middle of the parishioners. The terrifying
stories about the pogroms and deportations organized by the soviets in
the whole Soviet Union started to spread in secrecy, from home to
home. Speculations were backed up by the fact that, in a number of
days, the bell-ringer had been found hung in the Sobor belfry. Crowd
wisdom whispered: He didn’t commit suicide! He was too good of a
Christian to do something like that! And he was buried in a Christian
way, without explanations, but with the rightful ‘honors’ for a victim of
the antichrists. Three of the most well-known priests of the Bishopric
served at the funeral of the most beloved and unmistakable bell-ringer
of Lower Basarabia. Who wouldn’t remember the ‘preludes’ performed
on the ten bells, which preceded the entry of the ‘Big’ bell!
Soon after the bishop’s disappearance, some rumors made their
way to the ears of the parishioners – the bishop had run away – rumors
first received as an act of diversion, but accepted finally, after the
acknowledgement of the news that the His Holiness was seen in the
Metropolitan Hill. The doubtful ones accepted this explanation as well,
later, when at the return of the Romanian administration in 1941, the
bishop didn’t return. Even the ‘exile’ at the monastery served as an
argument. It was said that in the Synod meeting, unable to bring
tangible proof regarding his ‘expulsion’, he was blamed by the words
of His Holiness: No shepherd leaves his herd! This was just one of the
many examples where honest, brave people were shown in a
compromising light, being directly or indirectly removed from society.
Because at once with the occupation troops, numerous cinovnics1
also came, along with their families, ready to tackle the administrative
issues specific to this phase of the installation of the new order, an
inherent problem occurred, which suffered no delay. Homes for the
newcomers. Thus began the first wave of evacuations, with no choice
after pre-established criteria whatsoever, but after the appearance of the
houses. Mixed commissions of civilians and soldiers started ‘strolls’
through the city and ‘visits’ at residents. While the strolls were made in
the daylight, the visits were carried out during the night, when,
regardless of the bustle arisen, no one dared to look outside, being

26
27

content with saying prayers and thanking God that, this time, the
tragedy avoided them.
The procedure was simple. The visited ones were let to take
things of strict necessity and, invited in vans with no windows, were
sent to exile, or death. It was never known for sure what happened to
these unfortunate people, whose sole guilt was that they owned
pleasant houses. It was the first population transplant process,
russianisation of the newly occupied territories, without any
opposition. In those moments, basarabians, regardless the nationality,
asked themselves: how was that possible?! A simple ultimatum and
Great Romania pointed its eyes down, forgetting the wonderful
writings about Basarabia of people like Ion Nistor or Nicolae Iorga,
forgetting the oaths made in 1918, at the Grand Unification. And there
was something else far from understandable. The passive attitude of
Germany in contradiction with the promises made to Romania by
Hitler! The puzzled people wondered: would it have been possible that
a secret agreement between Stalin and Hitler existed in the non-
aggression pact signed in 1939? Non-aggression with aggressive
consequences? What would come next? Nothing! Said the most,
resigned and disappointed.
- What do you think, Daniil Stepanich? I am Russian and there
are many others like me. But you, Moldavian Romanians, why have
you been betrayed? Romania is a kingdom, Romania wanted to be big,
how come their Majesties failed to realize what it means to surrender
without a fire, without a sacrifice, territories from the body of the
country? And to whom? To the bolsheviks! But this is only the first
step! In a few days, they will be walking through Bucharest, Sofia,
Prague or Warsaw. Who hasn’t dealt with them can’t understand the
danger represented by communism. I am a professional soldier, I have
been in the Tsarist Military Academy, I stopped the fight only when
everything was ruined and I came here with confidence. I have learnt
Romanian, I have learnt to love Romania. What awaits me? A bullet in
the back of my head or a ticket to Siberia. These are your words. If I
hadn’t had a family, I would have known what to do. I would have died
taking a few bezbojnics2 with me. But like this? I have to stand with

27
28

my arms crossed and pray. Their first weapon against us are families!
Poor Dusia, she is worried for me, not for what awaits her!
- My dear, everything you say is true. I have probably never felt
more Romanian in my life and maybe that is why I feel so disappointed
now. My folks came to Basarabia at the call of Alexander the First, I
was born here, I have learnt here, I have founded a family. In 1918 I
was happy that Basarabia was once again, after such a long time, a part
of Romania. My children have grown up and have been taught under
Romanians. Leolea speaks Romanian as if she had been schooled in
Romania. I have relatives on the other side of the Prut. And now? It all
went to waste. One thing I am sure of, these wretched bolsheviks won’t
be taking root around here. The pact with Germany is a hoax. The
Soviets have no army, all they have is a band of infamous anarchists.
Without discipline there is no army! How to fight the Germans? First
of all, they have no officers! Not to mention the armament! You can’t
fight with cavalry and infantry any more. The Russian army fought
with the cross in front of them. Now, what to put beside the flag? The
hammer and sickle?! No, without faith, you cannot attack, nor can you
defend! Our misfortune is that if the Germans are a little late, they
won’t find anyone to set free. Let’s see what Carol is going to do. He is
said to have agreed with Hitler for Basarabia. Unfortunately, things
aren’t too clear in Romania either. Yes, we will certainly be sacrificed,
but our children, those who will escape, will witness the Bolshevik
collapse. I don’t know whether they will find out that I have been a
second lieutenant in the Tsarist army, but I hope this is not going to
happen. I have had enough ‘serving’ the popes, how they like to call
themselves. In your case, things are more complicated. You have
fought against the revolution, you have been wounded, you have
received the Saint George’s order from the Tsar himself. Maybe it
would be better if you left somewhere in the countryside, maybe you
could hide there. How about going to my folks, at Sararia?
- You can’t run away from fate, and besides, you are forgetting
that Nea Stefan owns some land, that he will be declared a kulak
because he has been mayor for so many years? Don’t you know what
they have done in Russia? Maybe it would be better if he came here!?

28
29

Hide somewhere in the outskirts, at some Lipovens. No, it will be


worse in the countryside than in the city. The kolkhoz, my dear Daniil
Stepanich, this diabolical invention, will ruin everything in its path? Do
you know that millions of peasants have been moved to the forests of
Siberia? That families have been separated, husband from wife,
children from parents?! They will bring Asians here, yes, yes, Asians,
Kalmuks or I don’t know what else, very poor and obedient, who will
bring terror to villages. What will they do with the German and French
colonists? Will they dare to touch them knowing Hitler so near? God!
Make Carol the Second choose the right path and hurry! Only his
dictatorial attitude can convince the parties to accept a war of
liberation. I know that Romania is too small to challenge a colossus
without God, but his back is covered by Hitler, God protect him!
Despair and hope, acting chaotically, without a motivated order,
resembled a state of confusion, uncertainty. In the way the soviets were
known to act, time was very precious. Any delay from the side of
Romania and Germany, any extra month could bring disaster on this
God forsaken land. The gathering of the ‘Town Soviet3’ city’s workers
pursued, in the first phase, a selection of ‘scribes’, knowers of Russian
and Romanian languages, to be used at the translation of the documents
from the archive of the old council and the writing of new identity
papers. A few ‘cinovnics’ knowers of the Romanian language, arrived
with the new administration, nobody knows where from, organized a
genuine army of local functionaries, who were to contribute, under
strict supervision, to the ‘actualization’ of personal documents. When
Daniil Stepanich was selected, mainly for his calligraphic abilities, he
was invited to fill in the new identity papers for him and his family. To
his surprise, he found himself with his name russianized.
- My name is not Davidov; I cannot change the name my great
great grandparents left me. I am Moldavian!
- Write as you are told! You have a rather Jewish name and thank
God, we have enough Jews! No, no, write Davidov! I don’t see what’s
wrong with that, it’s a simple translation. Believe me, it will be good
for you!

29
30

It was the first step toward russianization experienced by the son


of Nea Stefan ‘Nemteanu’. In only a few days, people submitted to
more or less open pressure, bowed their heads before these flagrant
violations, some even convinced that it was better this way! There were
however opportunists who weren’t ashamed of crossing the line. A
certain Alexandru Miron, from Thighina, was not satisfied with just the
translation of his last name in Mironov, but insisted that his first name
be Aliosha, instead of Alexandru! Yes, such sad occurrences have
contributed from the very beginning to the process of demographic
statistics resettlement in Basarabia. Because since 1930 no official
census of the population in Basarabia had been made, the existing data
was declared obsolete, being simply replaced with the data from the
new census, made by cinovnics who were instructed in the offices of
the Chisinau headquarters. And all this happened fast, to induce
confusion, to impose a new state of things.
The fear which could be read in the eyes of the natives, their
silence, the opportunism of many, were skillfully backed up by a
constant propaganda – pressures and threats – but also terrorist actions.
Bands controlled by the secret police, formed from undercover
civilians, made up from locals mixed with newcomers, haunted the
villages and the cities spreading terror. They stole, beat, raped,
threatened. The great Pantiosha was not an invention, as it was later
tried to accredit. After 1944, ‘general’ Pintilie, alias Pantioshca, would
bring to Bucharest the spirit of the new age which had crushed
Romania for 45 years. Talking after a time about this russianization
process of last names, my interlocutor replied: Romanians too
romanianized the last names of many Russians in Basarabia!
- There is a difference between what happened with the Russians
in Basarabia under Romanians and what the Soviets are doing with the
Romanian natives. Romanians didn’t force anybody to change their
name! Russians in Basarabia demanded this to lose their trace, from
their fear, turned into paranoia, of Bolsheviks. Don’t forget that name
changes only occurred in the ranks of the intellectuals. In the villages,
this process virtually didn’t take place. Or, who were the Russian
intellectuals? They were the ones exiled here, ex-officers or servants

30
31

from the tsarist regime, persecuted by the proletarian revolution. Yes,


in the villages the peasants proved relentless. They cherished their
origin, as they cherished the land. And if they couldn’t keep the land,
they didn’t give up their name!
The funeral service, made by the three representatives of the
Bishopric, didn’t pass unnoticed. The story with the suicide was
accepted neither by the parishioners, nor by the priests. The hope of the
oppressors that the priests wouldn’t accept to take part at the funeral of
the self-murdered bell-ringer, proved to be false. In the full cemetery,
the burial service had a similar effect to the one at the Sobor, at the
sound of the ‘Big’ bell, ‘Bolishoi’ as the Russians called it. The
reaction of the colonel commander Rishcov was prompt. He didn’t
intervene directly against the participants to the funeral, but decided to
give the ‘instigating priests’ a harsh lesson.
His eyes fell on father Voda, a 40 year old man, dark-haired, tall,
handsome, with a grimy beard, short and trimmed. Known and loved
by the parishioners for his Sunday preaching at the Saint Demeter’s
church, he was also admired for his beautiful wife, a 30 year old
blonde, slender, with deep, black eyes, coquette. This woman turned a
lot of heads in her strolls on the boulevard, holding the hand of a 9 – 10
year old sweet girl. A peaceful family, happy, known by the name ‘Trio
Voda’. They lived in a beautiful vicarage, close to the Saint Demeter’s
church, together with his mother, a refined woman, the widow of a
priest. The ‘visit’ a group of civilians made would brutally end this
admired and loved couple. Being unaware, he in a pair of trousers and
a shirt, she, in a bathrobe, they were taken, under the cover of darkness,
to the Consistory. Brought before the commander, who was standing in
front of his desk, they had to endure minutes of silence, accompanied
by a fixed sharp look and a hardly perceptible smile.
- Well, what now? What has gotten into you to demonstrate that
way? And where? At the cemetery! As far as I know, a self-murderer
shouldn’t be honored with a service, and what a service! Three priests!
This is instigation! And how many innocent people you gathered to
fool! Up until now, I have been understanding, indulgent. And you,
comrade, why don’t you temperate your husband a little? You are

31
32

young; you have a child to raise, yes, yes! … a child! You will have to
give some declarations. Why haven’t you announced us that the bishop
visited you before he left? You knew that this meant treason, that you
couldn’t hide something like this! You will have to write what you
talked about, what decisions you made. Who else is involved in these
subversive actions. Did you know that the bishop managed to reach
Romania? Yes, he fooled us all! What other connections do you have
with him? Everything, absolutely everything! You are liable of high
treason! And this is serious, very serious! Sergey, take them to the
comrade Shevchenko, he knows what he has to do.
The dread in the eyes of the two accused of ‘high treason’
explained their incapacity to react in any way to the aberrant
accusations they were brought. Their beautiful faces metamorphosed. A
profound exhaustion wrinkled their faces. With their shoulders down,
without looking at each other, holding hands tightly, following on the
footsteps of Sergey, they descended the stairs stumbling, on the way to
the inquiry hall.
- Did comrade commander tell you what you have to do? I say we
don’t drawl this. You will write everything you know about the
demonstration at the cemetery, about the bishop’s run, about the other
two priests who served at the cemetery, about all you plotted. Don’t
omit anything! It is useless! We know everything, absolutely
everything! It would be better if we cooperated. This is about state
security. Aliosha, bring two chairs here, in front of me.
- Wait a minute, I don’t understand why you have arrested my
wife?! She wasn’t at the cemetery, in fact, nothing dangerous to the
soviet order happened there. Just that the bell-ringer, a simple, kind
man, was much loved and the people gathered there without being
called. They came to say goodbye, because that is the way we do
around here! About the bishop’s ‘run’ I know absolutely nothing. I
haven’t seen him since the event at Sobor. He hasn’t been at our house,
neither him nor anybody else. Please let her go home. My little girl and
my mother must be very worried. It is the middle of the night!
- I see you do not intend to collaborate. Do you think we are that
stupid? Do you think that if you deny everything, you will be better

32
33

off? Know that you will not leave unless you write all the truth! And
your wife must do the same. When the state security is at stake, we are
not impressed by family tears. Who makes a mistake, must pay!
- But for the love of God, we haven’t done anything; I don’t feel
guilty with anything. This is probably someone’s revenge! Or maybe it
is a set-up?! What good is that to you?
- Enough! You have crossed the line! This is ridiculous! To
accuse me of setting you up. I am forced to change my approach. In
fact, I do not have a lot of time to lose. If we can’t do it this way, we’ll
do it the right way! Boys, move on to bodily search! Here, in front of
me. Enough with the jokes. Please undress, put you clothes down, take
everything off.
- How can you make a woman undress here?! Do you want to
terrorize us? Please call the commander!
- This is a good one! Do you think we have never seen a naked
woman? Or are you ashamed of each other? What commander
comrade?! Here, in this investigation, I am the commander and I am
responsible for what I am doing. Come on boys, don’t be shy!
The two hulks approached the victims, forcing them to stand
straight – him toward the armed armchair, her toward the sofa
decorated with cuffs and belts.
- Come on, take your clothes off!
The priest stood shocked, looking at Silvia, who under the
supervision of the other, dropped the bathrobe in which she was
brought. He shouted like a beast and tried to escape his guard, but
under the blow of a well placed punch in the plexus, collapsed
whimpering. Aliosha, proud of the hit applied, leaned down at the
victim grinning and with a few skilled moves, left father Voda stark
naked. He pushed him in the armchair of torture, fixing his arms and
legs in the cuffs designed for immobilization. After that he fixed his
neck in the belt mounted on the back of the armchair.
- God what have we done wrong?! Please save Silvia from these
barbarians!
- Silvia’s guard, Volodea, couldn’t look away from the beautiful
chest, left naked and powerless. Silvia didn’t dare to open here eyes.

33
34

She knew she wouldn’t survive the humiliation. She was immaculate,
but she couldn’t get over such moments, devoid of humaneness.
- Hey, what are you waiting for? Take off your underpants and get
on the sofa, with your face up. You don’t want to? Fine, let me help
you!
- No, don’t touch me! Son of a bitch.
- With a sudden gesture, she tore up her underpants and tried to
get on the sofa. A tall sofa, like an surgery table. She didn’t manage
and she fell off. When she woke up, she felt pain in her wrists and
ankles. She had been lifted by Volodea and cuffed. She looked toward
the investigator’s office and saw her husband, naked, fixed in the
armchair. She was having the impression it was a nightmare she
couldn’t wake up from. She tried to move and she bit her lips until
blood dripped out. Uselessly, the reality appeared even more terrifying.
- What do you want from us? Say it and we will comply, just
don’t mock us anymore. You are humans, not animals, aren’t you?! You
have a family too. Oh God, I curse you!
- Hey, father, have you changed your mind? Do you want to
confess everything, on paper? What’s the use of forcing us into doing
something we don’t like. What, at least, I don’t like! With the boys it’s
a different thing! They are young, fanatics in their love for the country
and they are capable of doing anything when they are faced with
enemies of the people. What do you say, will you come at the desk and
write? Your wife should be here.
- I have nothing to write, I want to see the commander! You are a
criminal. And if I will write what you want, we will never get out of
here alive. May God punish you, you and your families!
- Fineee! Boys, take care of comrade priest’s wife. Come on,
who’s first? You start, Aliosha!
Aliosha, a bastard specially educated for something like this,
child of a deported family raised in the nurseries of the ministry,
leisurely opened his fly and getting on the sofa, threw himself over the
beautiful body, tense from fear, forcing penetration. A whimper came
from the direction of the armchair.
- God, I curse you!

34
35

The brute acted at his actual brute level. Clamping the breasts
until they turned purple, biting them alternatively, in a maniac rhythm,
forcing penetrations with a diabolical satisfaction, threw desperate
looks at the raped, waiting for the signs so specific to the final point.
He was a virile animal, tough, self-confident, and when, after 20
minutes, he collapsed flat out over the body of the ravished woman, he
shouted: Whore, you are good for nothing!
- Come on, let Volodea, he is more affectionate. Come Volodea,
make her remember you!
The captain stood up, opened a drawer, took out a glove, put it on
his right hand and came near the armchair. What do you say, father?
Does she act like this with you too? Doesn’t she struggle in pleasure? If
not even Aliosha, our stud, hasn’t done it the right way, then I think no
one else can. Or maybe you, father? Maybe you know her secrets!?
What do you say, are you going to perform her number? Tell me and
we’ll move you there.
- You bastard, if you untie me, you will die of my hand.
- Alas! What a man! Let’s see how you react with you manhood!
Shevchenko pushed his gloved hand toward the cuffed body of the
priest and began a diabolical game, clamping and rubbing the testicles
of the victim. He clenched his teeth in pain and, to stifle the cry the
torturer was expecting, bit his tongue to the blood. The blood sprang
sprinkling the colonel’s well ironed rubashka, dripped along the chin,
then, in a thin stream, went down the chest. Furious, the captain
clamped ceaselessly until the body relaxed in a faint.
Meanwhile, the other animal started to instigate the human being
which was hiding in the body of the ravished woman. ‘Tender’ caresses
of the breasts, hardly perceptible kisses of the nipples, caresses of the
thighs, all with the patience of an expert. The brute had another way of
expressing his animality. He was a sentimentalist, as the captain said.
Well-built, he was successful with women and thought he was without
match. Also raised in an orphanage, Volodea was pleased when, in an
investigation, he was put to ‘play’ with a woman, especially if she was
attractive. When he sometimes managed to ‘invent’ a new piece and
received the applause of the boss, his eyes glittered with pride. Being

35
36

able to have fun for free even during work hours! However, his
confidence was put to the test. This young and beautiful woman
remained insensitive at his ‘gentleness’ and that after she had also
remained cold at the stud Aliosha, whose endurance had become
proverbial. He had a little change of tactics, and taking his pants off,
lying himself over the rock still woman, trying more emphasized
kisses, more insistent strokes, simulations of penetration. Feeling he
was turned on too fast, and fearing a failure, he penetrated carefully
and applied the tactics of smooth movements, rare and profound.
Savoring the tenderness of the breasts with his lips, Volodea felt that
something was changing in the woman’s behavior. Her chest began to
quiver, the whole body began to strain, smooth movements of the
abdomen started to rouse him, to provoke him. He quickened the
rhythm of the penetrations, he sucked the nipple of the breast with
delight, without causing it any harm, he raised the pressure in
penetration and, to his great satisfaction, he heard the first suppressed
whines, which rhythmically accompanied his penetration movements.
When the woman’s body started to involuntarily struggle, as a reaction
to the laws of nature, Volodea accelerated his motions, bit the breast
with more liveliness, moved to the mouth of the victim and with a
possessive kiss, entered the phase of the man’s satisfaction. The
woman had been tamed.
Roused by the scene he was excitedly watching, the captain
approached the sofa and smacked Volodea’s naked butt, to the delight,
but also envy of Aliosha. The shock produced by the slap quenched
Volodea’s male upsurge right away and he collapsed softly, but
proudly, on Silvia’s still throbbing body.
Well done, Volodea! You really are a champion! I think you have
put His Holiness’ nose out of joint! Does he really know what a
treasure of a wife he has? I would be surprised. Just look at him! Lying
in the armchair, giving no sign of life. Good, I think now we are going
to get our declarations. If not, we will prepare them a special number.
What do you say, father, have we convinced you? You don’t want to
talk? You don’t have to, all you have to do is write and sign; and after

36
37

that you will definitely have to shut up. You know what would happen
if you spoke? A second round will follow and your daughter will assist.
- You bastard! I would kill my child with my own hands just not
to take part to what we had.
- Fine, if it’s a ball, let the ball begin! Bring comrade Silvia. She
has come to cooperate, hasn’t she Volodea?
- And how! I’ve never seen such a woman!
- Here’s what you have to do to convince your stubborn husband.
At least you had a pleasant experience. He is like a mule! Bend down
and kiss his dick until it comes to life. He is entitled to a little
entertainment, especially after he has seen you moaning with pleasure.
What, you don’t want to?! Haven’t you heard what’s waiting for you if
you annoy me? Do you want your little girl to assist at the parents’
debauchery? Come on, leave the trifles. As so you don’t get bored,
because it might last, Volodea will do you, as they say, from behind.
Come on, bend over and begin! If you are lucky to finish him, you will
be free, and maybe we can pass on to the declarations and go to bed.
Thinking about what had happened, humiliated that she gave in,
making the rape a blind submission to pleasure, with tears in her eyes,
she bent toward the abdomen of her beloved man and with blundering
movements, tried to comply to that psychopath, who had the life of her
daughter in his hands. Meanwhile, Volodea grabbed the woman’s
thighs between his sinewy arms, penetrated her with violence and
continued his job, this time at a livelier pace. Silvia’s healthy body
reacted softly, the straining of the muscles became more intense and to
the despair of her helpless husband, rhythmic moans seemed to
accompany the swings of that infamous athlete. Heavy tears trickled on
the poor priest’s cheek. He knew he couldn’t face his daughter, nor his
wife, or the parishioners. The thought of the only solution, suicide,
crossed his mind for a moment.
Delighted by the scene unfolding before him, the captain
approached to see the results of his improvisation. The reaction of the
priest was void. Disappointed, he turned his armchair, called Aliosha
and unzipping his fly, he brought the Silvia-Volodea couple for a
complete demonstration. Barely standing on her feet, Silvia bent over

37
38

Aliosha, lied down of the boss’ armchair, leaving her body without any
opposition in the hands of Volodea. Because Aliosha’s reaction was
prompt, with her mouth full of sperm, still shaken by the unrestrained
pleasures of her young and healthy body, she straightened, spit the
captain right in his face and collapsed. She woke up on the sofa, fixed
in cuffs. She looked toward the captain’s desk and saw her husband
writing.
- What are you doing there? What are you writing? It’s no use; we
have no right to live!
- No Silvia, our child has done nothing wrong! If I don’t write,
others will. How many would resist to what has happened? I want us to
live, to go somewhere with our daughter and try to forget everything
for her sake. Let me write! Don’t discourage me!
- Very well father, very well. In half an hour we’ll take you home.
Everything is forgotten. We should have avoided everything that has
happened, but you didn’t listen to me. And besides, nothing too serious
has happened. The world is made up of men and women and in the
relations between them; no one knows what is good or bad! It was just
an additional experience. The ugly side of things should be forgotten;
otherwise the consequences can be grave. What happens between the
walls of a state security institution is a state secret! We don’t tell
anyone. Hurry up! Soon, it will be dawn, and we will have to keep you
until it gets dark again. That was exactly what happened.
The declaration advanced slowly, the statements dictated
regarding the involvement of other individuals hindered even the wish
to escape from hell. It was concluded that before the ‘run’, the bishop
and the other two priests who officiated the funeral service of the bell-
ringer were in their house, where they discussed the bishop’s planned
run, the founding of an anticommunist propaganda network,
subordinate to a religious organization from Romania. The declaration
ended with a firm commitment from the part of the signer – I will
communicate in writing any information I obtain regarding the
population’s attitude toward the soviet power and I will divulge the
name of those involved in actions of undermining state security. The
pact with the devil had been made. The price of silence was the child.

38
39

He had to remain a priest in Ismail and to encourage the practice of


confessions. What a horror!
As the dawn came closer, in the room lit by only a desk lamp,
Silvia was released from her ‘waiting’ position and helped down. She
went toward the bathrobe lying on the floor, stood a while with it
pressed to her chest, and made her way, naked as she was, to the desk
where her husband was finishing the declaration, read by the captain
over his shoulder. She took the martyr’s head in her hands, dropping
the bathrobe. A long kiss on the forehead, a few tears trickling on the
tired cheek and a sigh, ended this family scene. As if she had been
woken by her husband’s puzzled look, Silvia hastened to grab the
bathrobe from the floor and wrapped herself in it. Facing away from
the people present, she put on the bathrobe, and then the underpants.
The shoes didn’t seem to belong to her. The swollen feet refused to fit.
The captain shouted short: Sergey, go in the waiting room. Bring water
and bread. See if you have any more salami.
The waiting room was a rather small chamber, with the window
covered by bricks negligently fixed with cement. A faint light came
from a bulb fixed in a socket which appeared buried in the ceiling. A
simple bench, two meters long, lay in the middle of the room. No table,
no chairs. They came in confused, unsure of what was going to happen
next. The door noisily closed behind them. Silence, a threatening
silence kept them from moving. They stood like this for about 15-20
minutes, when the door opened and Sergey appeared, bringing a bucket
with water, a black round two kilogram bread, wrapped in newspaper
and a piece of salami. Sergey put the things he brought on the bench
and left. No words.
- Silvia, let’s sit down on the bench. Do you want to drink some
water? Or to wash your face?
- Wash my face? Why?! It’s not my face that is filthy. Did you see
what they did to me? I can’t believe I’m still living! It hurt dear. You
have never behaved like that!? What hurts and I don’t understand, is
that I think with dread of what happened and still, I wonder, why did I
feel so much pleasure? I have never felt anything like that! In the end I
even let myself kissed on the mouth, instead of biting him, to teach him

39
40

a lesson. No, I didn’t do it, I struggled in pleasure. No, with you it has
never been this way!? Why? What if I get pregnant? What will we do?
I think we will never be able to make love again, maybe not even sleep
together. What are we going to say home?
- My dear, don’t think about what happened, we have to carry a
heavy cross, too heavy for us! You know that I cursed God? I did it and
I feel no regret. What kind of God destroys a family, destroys a servant
of the church? How will I get back to church and become an informer?!
Confess people in order to inform the commander!? No my dear, we
have to run somewhere, somehow! Where? I don’t know. I’ve written
so many lies today, that I’m not going to be able repent all my sins in a
lifetime. Come and lie on the bench. Put your head here and close your
eyes.
- Lie down and rest my head? … No, no! I can’t stand a man next
to me. I’ve had enough! Pain and pleasure!
- Silvia, don’t talk. Let me wet your forehead, the water is cold.
Lie on the bench. I will sit down, lean against the wall.
- How to lie down? Do you want them to tie me up again? No, I
don’t want anymore men! Why didn’t the captain himself love me?
What, am I not beautiful enough for an officer?! Yes, I don’t
understand! What an arrogant man!
- God, stop with the trials! Look what you have done to her! I’ve
served you with love and look where I am now! If you do exist, make
her forget! If not, take her with you!
A sobbing cry gushed out from the chest of the one who didn’t
have the power to see Silvia transformed into a ruin. The day went by
slowly, without anyone opening the door. Nestled in a corner of the
room, with her bathrobe undone, Silvia was caressing her breasts in a
monotonous metronome rhythm. Overwhelmed at the sight of the
scene, without having any notion over the amount of time passed, the
one who had been the kind, beautiful father Paul Voda, went toward the
door and started to knock with his fists. Not receiving any sign from
the other side, he grabbed the bench and with desperate efforts, he hit
the door with this assault ram. After a few successive blows, the door
opened and Sergey entered threateningly with a pistol in his hand.

40
41

- What has gotten into you? Do you want me to cuff you?


- Call the captain! Tell him my wife is having a crisis, a nerve
crisis.
- Nonsense! Throw the water in the bucket over her and she’ll get
over it. In an hour we are going home. This is the order. The captain
has left. Don’t be foolish, you will ruin everything!
In the middle of the night they were shoved into a car, a van
without windows and, in less than ten minutes, left in front of the
vicarage. The lights in the house betokened the wakeful state in which
the priest’s mother spent her night. The girl was sleeping in her room.
- What happened, dear?
- Nothing, mother. All we need now is a bath, a big vodka and a
bed. Go to sleep! We’ll talk tomorrow…

1 functionaries
2 atheists
3 local council

The recently renamed comrade Davidov, installed in a population


evidence office, together with other ten ‘calligraphers’ who became
‘cinovnics’, was overwhelmed by contradictory feelings – between the
apparent peace brought by his election in the job of scribe and the
restlessness brought about by the whispered rumors regarding the
happenings at the Consistory. He too had found out about the
disappearance of the bishop, about the death of the bell-ringer, about
the series of investigations of the church servants. This last issue

41
42

worried him the most. None of the investigated shared the experience
‘gained’ during the visits made at the Consistory. The hospitalization of
father Voda’s wife in the nervous diseases department of the Ismail
hospital raised questions, raised the curiosity of close acquaintances.
The priest’s appearance, once so neat and cheerful, gave birth to all
sorts of speculations. The most extraordinary of rumors spoke of the
misunderstandings arisen in the parochial couple, the family scandals,
jealousy scenes, provoked by the priestess’ behavior.
- Leolea, I don’t know what to think about Paul and Silvia. The
things said about them, especially about her, are absurd. I have never
known a more suitable couple, more balanced, happier. Silvia accused
of infidelity and in such a vulgar manner! Who in God’s name could
have released such rumors? We have come to talk about this at the
office, where the boss encourages all these gossips. Yesterday, I went to
the church to see Paul with my own eyes. He looked terrible! With
tears in his eyes, he told me that Silvia suddenly became ill with
nerves, without any more comments!? When we parted he added in a
low voice: what they have done to our Consistory! I understood he was
there, and maybe Silvia too! God, what is awaits us?!
- Dania, with these devils you can expect anything. Alexandrov
passed by. He was rather gloomy. At the selection of calligraphers he
was assigned watchman of a warehouse which is opening tomorrow at
the Saint Nicholas’ Church! The antichrists! To make the church a
warehouse! What will become of us, of our children? And Mircea, I
have barely convinced him to throw the portrait of Hitler. He told me
that he could cross the Danube swimming, that there are places where
the watch is easy to fool!? You have to talk to him! He wants to hide
with Iuri at their vineyard and wait for a dark night. We must talk to the
Stavrovs. This is madness. We will all pay for this foolishness.
- This boy is crazy! He has always caused me restlessness. Who
does he resemble?! If these bastards catch him, he is lost, and with him
so are we. Today I’ve transformed another ten Romanian names in
Russian names. What is incomprehensible is that the people don’t react
in any way. Scared, they take the new papers and murmur thank you.

42
43

- Like you could have done anything?! I was proud I married a


Romanian and look! I have come from Tzareva to Davidova! The
Romanians too did something like this, but they didn’t seem to force
people. On the contrary, the people demanded to be romanianised, to
lose their trace.
- Where’s Bob?
- He went with George for a bathe in the Danube, if they let them.
You know he is very delighted with the soviet soldiers?! They even let
him touch the weapons. Today he brought babushka Xenia a soldierly
black bread. He was very proud and he said he would get more. Mother
reproved him and told him she isn’t eating bread from the pagans.
- Fine, I’m going to Sergey, to see what this foolishness with the
Danube is about. He went down two quarters on Frumoasa Street, and
stopped in front of the gate covered in vine. He opened it and saw
himself face to face with a young officer who interrogated him with his
look.
- I am looking for the Stavrov family, we are acquaintances.
- They don’t live here anymore, they have moved to their
vineyard. They will work there until the organization of kolkhozes. A
colonel is going to stay here, our commander. Goodbye!
The house had been evicted during the night, when the family
could take, in the car provided, a few personal things, randomly
chosen, in a state of panic, with tears in their eyes. The savings of a
life’s honest work, a true fortune for their aspirations, would fall in the
hands of strangers, without any papers, without any compensation.
Only the silverware – covers, dishes, glass holders, the samovar –
could secure them a decent old age. The Road to Ordeal appeared
mercilessly, as to many others, putting their capacity to understand and
even their faith to a difficult trial.
- Why, God?! Serioja, what have we done wrong?!
- Let it be, Niusea, it’s good they’re letting us stay at our
vineyard. It’s like home. Who knows? Maybe a miracle will happen
and we will get rid of them. God cannot bare these antichrists! Let’s
hope Iuric doesn’t do anything foolish! I fear Mirchea’s ideas, they are
quite crazy! If we can keep the gold coins, we will manage. If the

43
44

kolkhoz is organized, maybe they will let me be keeper!? We must


change the hiding place somewhere outside the vineyard. If they kick
us out from there too, let’s not remain empty handed. With money you
can buy even the devil. Maybe we can pay some frontier guards to let
us pass on the other side. They are very greedy, especially now at the
beginning, I think they would even sell Iosif Visarionovich! Let’s not
grieve and pray to God. It all depends on Him!
The vineyard had a marvelous view of the Danube. It even
stretched on the steep bank. The vines planted in a perfect geometry,
seen from the top of the observation tower, ‘vashca’, in the local
language, looked like an army in demonstration arrangement. The
whole perimeter was planted with fruit trees arranged in three rows –
cherry trees, sweet cherry trees, apricot trees, apple trees, pear trees.
The best quality, grafted and crossed sorts at the suggestion of
Alexandrov, amateur agronomist, some operations done by his own
hand. A cottage with three rooms, with a wide porch, shaded by a roof
which elongated to the outside, with a small annex with a stove for
cooking and an oven for making bread, or cakes, if necessary. A 50
year old man, vigorous, radiating with health and good humor, settled
about the Stavrov family as housekeeper and watchman and spent his
whole life at the vineyard, sleeping in a hut crafted with the talent of a
hobo, in the hereabouts of the watch tower. Two shepherd dogs,
beautiful, vigorous, accompanied the solitary man’s every movement.
He had no family, he had no relatives – at least that was what he said.
He was in love with the vineyard, with the Danube, with the tower
which he lively climbed, admiring for hours the view which unfolded
before his eyes. All you could see were parceled vineyards and
orchards, in a simple and ordered geometry. The Danube, this immense
flow of water, fascinated him. He gathered the daily food from this
water, now calm, then whirling, but always rich in fish.
- What brings you at the vineyard, master, so late in the evening?!
And with luggage? This is a military car, isn’t it?
- We’ll talk later, Vasiliy, let’s take the things inside! The boys are
in a hurry.

44
45

The news that his masters had lost everything, that they would be
staying at the vineyard until the kolkhoz was organized, confused the
poor man, who refused to understand anything.
- Vasiliy we’ve become poor! You are going to have to look for
work elsewhere, you know, we can’t pay you anymore and we don’t
need to keep anyone here anymore. This is the order!? One day they
will send us away from here too. In the tower there will be a soldier, a
frontier guard. I don’t know what else to say!? I think it is better you
go to the village, to the fishermen. They are going to make a
cooperative with the fishermen, there is going to be work fishing, at the
cherhana1. My dear, everything has changed, there is nothing more we
can do.
- Master, what the heck are these Bolsheviks? I’ve heard they
don’t believe in God and they close down the churches!? Well, isn’t
God going to punish them? He is going to curse them; he is going to
curse them! I’m not leaving. I don’t need payment. I’ll work the
vineyard, I’ll fish, we’ll sell some fish for bread, all will be fine!
Where will I go?
- No, Vasiliy, you can’t stay! They will arrest you and us. In town,
bad things are happening. The bishop has disappeared; the Sobor bell-
ringer has been killed. Yes, yes, bad things are happening! Who can,
should run across the Danube. There isn’t going to be a revolution
there! No, my dear, you must leave tomorrow. And don’t tell anyone
about this! Tell them you got angry and you left!
It was hard to explain to a simple man, happy with the life he was
living, things hard to understand. Slowly, rumors about what the
Bolsheviks did after the revolution with officers, with church people,
with intellectuals, with peasants, started to come to shape, to come to
life. Fear was the element which had to be planted in the people and the
new rulers knew how to do it. Fear made people obedient, fear made
people learn to hide their true feelings, to hide the hate. Yes, the hate!
Because the vast majority of the population, regardless the occupation,
the qualification, the nationality, united in silence through hate. The
ethnical solidarity had been once again present in this wonderful
‘Lower Basarabia’. The hope that, in need, the Danube will facilitate

45
46

the exodus toward freedom started to shatter. The pickets of frontier


guards spread along the banks, once so free, of the old river. The
interdiction of bathing in the waters of the Danube, the fishing limited
to only supervised zones, the prohibition of night fishing, the
registration of lotcas and the strict control of their parking at the
residence of the owners, brought about an atmosphere of confusion and
fear. The bewilderment in the mind of the old lipoven fishermen was
nourished by their ‘science’, inherited from passed generations,
regarding fishing. How to limit fishing to only supervised areas,
generally badly chosen?! How to go fishing after eight o’clock?! What
will happen to the fish markets, famous not only in the area, but also
abroad?! These were natural questions, but without answer.
The mouths of the Danube, the Delta, had a status established by
the nature of things, by nature itself. The ecological balance was
followed and respected, running in the blood. How could you infringe
‘matushka2’ nature?! That would mean disrespecting God! Up until
then, life had been peaceful in the middle of this social category.
Fishermen from father to son, working to exhaustion, with households
which, through the care of wives, shone with cleanness. Behind each
house lay the ‘domain’ which ensured the needs of the household, of
the often numerous family. You could find everything there – potatoes,
vegetables, tomatoes, sunflower, corn, pumpkins, melons, and of
course, some fruit trees. The houses, whitewashed every year, both on
the inside and on the outside, with lime, a bright, immaculate white,
blindingly reflected the sunlight, from dawn to twilight. In the
hereabouts of large waters, the pictorial painting of the sunrise and
sunset, always has something special, due to the light refraction
phenomenon, given by the continuous evaporation of water, invisible
to the naked eye, but unmatchable through its presence. If you would
move these people in an arid area, devoid of the great spectacle of
water, the incredible beauty of nature’s phenomena, they would die of
desire, a beautiful desire running in their blood. This was the fate of
those who, rising against the new order, were sent on the road to
deportation, somewhere in the forests of Siberia. The few who did
escape, returning after years of wandering, said it loud and clear: the

46
47

lipoven, the fisherman can only live on the bank of a true river, facing
the silence and the storm, staring lustily at the sunrise and sunset, from
somewhere far, in the middle of the water. Those who died didn’t die of
hard work, cold, or hunger, they died of longing and the fear that they
would never return to their houses, to the lotca.
Things like these were also in Vasiliy’s heart, saying goodbye
from his masters, he didn’t depart on the country road which connected
the vineyards to the villages and town, but descended the ravine and
went down the narrow beach, which stretched 5-6 meters from the edge
of the ravine, as not to see the vineyard anymore, but to be guided by
the calm water, in the direction of the rising sun. And he was gone!
When his body was fished near the cherhana, still intact, no one could
understand how a vigorous man, healthy, capable of swimming across
the Danube could have drowned. He took this secret with him to the
grave. Did he want to die? Maybe! If so, then he had chosen the only
tomb he could have wished for, the water of the Danube, on the one
way road to the sea. The people understood this and respected him.
They threw his body with a boulder tied to his legs, with a small
wooden cross in his hand. He had to remain buried under the waters.

1 fishery
2 mother

The extortion of priest Voda’s signed declaration regarding his


involvement in the conspiracy plotted by the ‘fugitive’ bishop, as well
as the confirmation that the other two priests who officiated the funeral

47
48

of the bell-ringer participated in the plot, provided colonel Rishcov


with the ‘document’ he needed to launch the campaign against the
clergy.
- Captain Shevchenko, bring the priests Ilashcu and Nicolov for
investigation, get what you can from them and pass them on to the
military court. I want a life conviction of hard labor, for both of them.
There are too many priests in Ismail.
- Comrade colonel, what are we going to do about the Voda
family?
- Leave them alone! You can call him from time to time, to
remind him he has pledged to inform us. If he cooperates, we’ll keep
him! What have you heard about his wife? Is she still in the nuthouse?
Send a man to the hospital to find out what the situation is. I don’t want
any complications! If she talks what she shouldn’t, find a way to get rid
of her. Send Volodea, to see if she recognizes him. Tell the doctor, the
chief of the department, that she is a dangerous element and that she
needs to be kept under observation. For the discussion with the doctor,
you should see him in person. Draw his attention that he is obliged to
keep us informed with what is happening with her. How she behaves,
what she says. If she talks too much, suggest him to keep her on
sedatives. After that, see how you can get rid of her.
- Understood. Tonight I’ll send for the two.
That was exactly what he did. After sunset, the car of dread
stopped in front of the house of father Sergiu Nicolov, a dark-eyed
blond man, with a tidy beard, a pleasant man, with a warm tenor voice,
born on Basarabian lands, widower for about ten years. His only child,
a 25 year old boy, was a medical student, in Romania. Provided what
was happening in the town, he was not surprised by the visit and,
without any kind of questions, he got dressed and put himself at the
disposal of the two civilians. The car, after a series of sudden turns,
stopped in front of the house of the young priest Anania Ilashcu. At his
age of 35, he seemed too young for the mission of preacher. Tall, about
6 feet, dark-haired, slender, he looked more like an athlete dressed in a
priest frock. The door was opened by his wife, a very pretty blonde,
about 30 years old; a little puzzled at the sight of the two strangers.

48
49

- Who are you looking for?


- Comrade Ilashcu. Please let us in!
With a firm hand, one of the civilians pushed the door and
stepped inside bluntly. The second remained outside.
- Ananie, you are wanted.
- Good evening, with whom do I have the pleasure?
- Please follow us! You must give us some explanations.
- Fine, fine, but who are you?!
- We are from internal affairs, from state security. Please hurry
up!
- Ileana dear, don’t worry! There has to be a misunderstanding.
I’ll be back as soon as I can. Goodbye!
When the car stopped in front of the Consistory, the two priests
realized it wasn’t a misunderstanding. Looking at each other with
meaning, the two ‘guests’ walked with their hearts pounding with
emotion, in their former institution, where they once felt such at ease.
They were led to the basement, in the so-called waiting room. They sat
down on the bench in the middle of the room, and exchanged looks in
silence.
- What do they want, father Nicolov? Can we consider ourselves
under arrest? My poor wife, what could she be thinking now?
- Because I’m sure the walls have ears, it’s better we stay and
wait patiently.
He looked around curiously, didn’t find any source of ventilation,
he sighed and listened carefully. No noise got through from outside the
room. Beads of sweat started to cover his forehead. He undid the collar
of his priest frock, clothing he never parted from. He knew he was
next. The disappearance of the bishop, the suspicious death of the bell-
ringer, the problems appeared in priest Voda’s family, were as many
question marks as signs of warning. He was glad that his son was
studying in Romania. He didn’t worry too much for himself. He was
overwhelmed by a feeling of regret for his young colleague.
This Anania Ilashcu came from Tighina, from a family of old
Moldavians, people with faith in God, happy to see that this offspring
managed to become a priest, that he was part of the priest corps of the

49
50

Sobor in Ismail, that he settled in his own house, together with Ileana, a
girl also from Tighina, daughter of a priest. He was troubled by the
thought of what would become of this youth, what would become of
the priest class, what would become of the church, worries and
questions without answer. The last news, that the Saint Nicholas’
church had been closed and transformed into a warehouse for
construction materials, made him angry. Suddenly, he contracted,
grabbed the bench with his hands and whispered imperceptibly – my
heart.
- What’s wrong, father Nicolov? Stay calm, I’ll lay something
down.
The young Ilashcu quickly took off his frock and laid it down, he
then grabbed him with his powerful arms and put him down, tipping
the bench over noisily.
- Lie down, be calm and don’t speak.
- In my right pocket I have some pills. Put one in my mouth,
please. Don’t worry, it’s my heart, it’s the lack of air.
Ilashcu rummaged in the pocket of the frock, untied the little box
of pills with shaking hands and put a pill on Nicolov’s purple lips. He
grasped the pill with his lips and moved it under his tongue, remaining
calm after that. After about 2 – 3 minutes, he smiled to his young
colleague and rose on his elbows.
- There, it passed. Help me on the bench. Look what I’ve done to
the frock. It got all dirty. Thank you a lot! I usually manage myself.
There doesn’t seem to be enough air here!
- I’m going to knock at the door, tell them to get us out of here.
- No, no, you mustn’t! Let’s not irritate them too much. They will
have to come to bring us to questioning. Let’s wait a little more.
The waiting lasted for about two hours, when the door opened
and Sergey appeared.
- Comrade Nicolov, let’s go to comrade captain. You will be
staying here a little longer. Let’s go!
The climbing of the stairs brought about a wave of sweat. A cold
thread streamed down his spine and a feeling of exhaustion engulfed
him. He leaned against the wall for a moment, then quickened up his

50
51

steps and caught up with Sergey. Nicolai Nicolaievich Shevchenko


invited him to sit down with a polite gesture, looked at him insistently,
then got up and gave a long sigh.
- What have you done, comrade Nicolov? What were you
thinking?! You are a man with experience, a Russian like us, how come
you let yourself drawn into such a serious, dirty matter?! The thing is
that the one who instigated you is the one who betrayed you! I’ve heard
that the bishop is well-off at Bucharest, and the ones who followed him
remained here to suffer the consequences. Plotting in these
circumstances, means being guilty of high treason and this is punished!
The only way to improve the situation is to cooperate with us during
the inquiry, to admit to the mistake made and to dissociate from the
ones who do us wrong. From the very beginning, I want to make it
clear that we are acquainted with everything that has happened; we
know the names of all the participants, we even have a complete
declaration from one of those involved in the plot. Our only regret is
that the bishop escaped from us, that we let ourselves fooled. In fact, he
fooled everybody. Yes, please don’t resort to lying; it wouldn’t help
you to anything.
- I’ve listened to you carefully and I am bewildered by the
accusations you bring me. What plot are you talking about? Please
don’t mistake me for a child! If you want to blame something on me,
please give up! I am ready to listen to your precise accusations, but I
refuse to listen to some accusing phrases without any cover. This way,
you will not reach any result with me. I can talk, but I can also say
nothing, no matter what you do. I am impressed neither by the cuffs,
nor by the arsenal you display on that table. If you want to condemn
me, do it directly. It is a common practice in the whole world,
unfortunately. The Path of the Cross is not the worse thing that can
happen to a Christian, and I am a good Christian.
- It seems you don’t want to be cooperative!? I do trust however
your wisdom and I invite you to pass on to the writing of a declaration,
in which you will write, under signature, everything that has been
discussed in priest Voda’s house before the bishop’s run, who proposed
the organization of the demonstration at the cemetery under the pretext

51
52

of the bell-ringer’s funeral, who else was present beside priest Ilashcu,
what else was plotted and who is your connection with Romania. This
is going to be an acknowledgement of your guilt and it is going to
weigh a lot at your trial. There’s no sense in being a hero. You would
be a simple political convict and nothing more. Come on, be
understanding and let’s get to work. Be sure that Ilashcu will admit, he
will understand we have problems.
- Your evidence has no value. If you did obtain some declarations
from father Voda, I’m sure you got them using force or intimidation.
Since I haven’t been at the Voda family, it is clear that all this is an
ordinary set-up. If you want to destroy the priest class, do it directly, in
the name of the communist ideology, of the false freedom of faith.
There is no need for a trial, for a show! This way, you will only
manage to dirty your hands, to bring about the hatred of the population.
Both father Voda and father Ilashcu are innocent, and if you will try
them and convict them, you will be committing an ordinary crime.
Both Voda and Ilashcu are remarkably gifted young men. Don’t destroy
them, win their trust. Here, in Basarabia, without the faith in God, you
will never win the people!
- You really charmed me! I can’t believe I’ve wasted so much
time listening to this cheap sermon! Sergey! … Take the comrade away
and come with Ilashcu. We have to hurry.
Back in the waiting room, father Nicolov threw his companion in
suffering a meaningful look, then, without saying a word, he sat down
on the bench, he leaned his elbows on his knees and covered his face
with his hands.
- Come, comrade Ilashcu, comrade captain is waiting for you!
When he entered the investigation room, the young Ilashcu’s eyes
passed over the armchair, the sofa and the table with instruments. He
smiled ironically and addressed the captain.
- This is like the Dark Ages! Are all these things really necessary?
- Don’t worry; this is not about intimidation, or anything else.
Sometimes we are forced to act in ways we don’t like, but in our job
we come across all sorts of individuals, traitors and even criminals,
who don’t understand they should cooperate and try to take it to the

52
53

bitter end. We can’t joke with state security. I like the fact that you are
self-confident. But I would also like to believe that you are a rational
man and that you know how to lose as well. Too bad that at such an
early age you were involved in such a dirty matter, dragged, probably
through lies, by some irresponsible people, like the bishop, or priest
Nicolov. Moreover, the bishop has abandoned you, and what else can I
say about Nicolov. He is the most obvious representative of the old
tsarist order, he is a white in the full meaning of the word. They
dragged you in a serious matter – assault upon state security!
- Let’s make ourselves clear, please! First of all, I want to know
what I am accused of. I can assure you from the very beginning that I
am not guilty with absolutely anything. What assault are you talking
about?
- I would also like to tell you, from the very beginning, that we
are acquainted to everything that has happened, and regarding your
involvement, we even have the declaration of those who plotted with
you.
- Stop it please, with the empty talk! What assault, what plot?!
- You are trying to play it hard. If you will persist in denying
everything, we will confront you with Voda, Nicolov and others.
Unfortunately, we can’t put you face to face with the bishop. He fooled
us all! Maybe you can also tell us something about this mysterious run.
Be more cooperative, it is in the interest of both yourself and your
family.
- I too await the confrontation, Sir captain!
- Don’t call me sir, we are not in Romania!
- You should know that if I call you Sir, it means that I respect
you! Here, this appellative doesn’t mean something pejorative, it
doesn’t mean bourgeois, nor kulak, it is a way of addressing which
implies respect!
- You should get accustomed to our way of respect. As far as the
confrontation is concerned, the time will come! Until then, I need a
declaration in which you will refer concretely, I said concretely, to the
meeting at Voda’s, to the preparation of the demonstration from the
cemetery, to the bishop’s run, to your man in Romania. I want precise

53
54

names. As far as we know, one of the connections is priest Nicolov’s


son himself, the student in Bucharest. A clear declaration places you in
another category of guilt. You are young, it would be a pity. Voda and
Nicolov were cooperative enough, they admitted many things they had
denied at the beginning. In fact, Voda was very cooperative. You could
be condemned even without giving this declaration, but in other
conditions.
- Look here, comrade captain, you are wasting your time with me.
I am young, but I am not naïve. I am willing to suffer all the
consequences.
- Sergey, call the boys!
The boys, respectively Aliosha and Volodea came in joyfully,
hitting the top of their boots with a whip and went toward the sofa of
confessions.
- The comrade refuses to talk, so you will have to be more
convincing than me. Take him!
The two ‘athletes’ approached the young Ilashcu. Aliosha,
smiling foolishly, threw an unexpected punch in the victim’s plexus,
confidently waiting the effect of his hit. Seeing Ilashcu standing,
Aliosha stared his eyes out and threw a second punch in the same
direction. This time, he didn’t come across the strained muscles of the
abdomen, but the clenched fists of his adversary.
- You are well-built, but you don’t have a boxer’s head, my
friend. If we were to fight, you would have long been on the ground.
You want to beat me? You’ll have to hit me from behind.
He didn’t even finish his irony, when he fell struck down by a
punch in the back of his head. Volodea, the author of the surprise
attack, lifted him, serving him on a tray to his playmate. Furious,
Aliosha sent a series of punches in the priest’s exposed abdomen, after
which, with the help of Volodea, undressed the victim and fixed him,
face down, on the sofa of torture.
Shevchenko remained surprised by the beauty of this body.
Dressed in the priest frock, Ilashcu looked thin, almost frail. He had a
well proportioned body, with a perfectly developed musculature, a
harmonious whole.

54
55

- Hey boys, you have here a swell individual! You have


something to work with. I’m curious to see how he will hold out.
Volodea you have exaggerated a little hitting him in the back of his
head. I hope he will recover! I need his declaration. If necessary, I will
bring his wife too. Pour a little water on his head.
Water wouldn’t have been necessary if Shevchenko had realized
that Ilashcu was awake and listening. He was awake from the moment
when he felt the metallic coldness of the cuffs, but he preferred to win
a little time to organize his thoughts. His head hurt, a deaf pain, hard to
define. He understood he had been hit in the back of his head and he
realized that matters were far more serious than he had anticipated. He
was defiant, knowing it was all a frail setting, that all was built on lie,
that the discrediting of the clergy was tried, to remove it from the
public life. He sincerely thought it was all a bluff with the intention of
intimidation. From the few phrases exchanged by the torturers, he
understood however that it was something more serious, a monstrous
scenario, that he was chosen to be sacrificed. He realized that they
would stop at nothing that they would go to the end. The thought that
Ileana could be brought and subjected to who knows what type of
abuse, horrified him. He had to hold on, to instigate them, to make
them finish him off during the investigation. Yes, they had to be
provoked, incited in their wretched pride.
- Boys, proceed! Aliosha chose the back, Volodea content himself
with the feet. The whips started working. At each snap, a self-defense
reflex strained his muscles, making the pain seem more bearable. Not a
sound, not a whine! After a quarter of an hour, from the back of his
head to his ankles, his body was wrinkled like a freshly raked field. At
the head of his victim, Shevchenko was waiting for a reaction, a sign of
weakness. Ilashcu looked at him with disdain.
- Coward! Untie me and I’ll show you, you and your helpless
comrades. At the end I promise I will bless you for the forgiveness of
your sins.
- Boys, stop and warm the letcon up a little. This bastard thinks
we are in a fight arena.

55
56

Aliosha lit the primus and passed the letcon through the flame.
He brought it near his cheek, and feeling its warmth, did the spitting
test. A light sizzle convinced him everything was in order. Pleased, he
passed the letcon to the captain, who took it smiling with satisfaction.
- You still have time to change your mind, father.
- You are not a man, you villain. Only eunuchs resort to this kind
of pleasures.
Shevchenko approached the victim and passed the letcon along
the spine. The muscles strained, the fists clenched, and a hardly
perceptible whimper came out through the clenched teeth.
- You intellectual impotent, do you think this is the way you will
introduce communism in this Country?
- I don’t know how I will introduce communism here, but until
then I will introduce this letcon in your ass.
A scream tore the room, followed by an overwhelming silence.
- That’s more like it, father! What the heck, you’re human too!
What do you say, do we go on, or do we pass to the desk?
- You will have to kill me to make me write!
Shevchenko moved away from the sofa of torture and approached
the primus. He passed the letcon through the flame a few times and
returned to Ilashcu, pushing it close to his cheek. Instinctively, Ilashcu
turned his head away.
- Don’t be afraid, I won’t disfigure you! You will have to look
good at the trial.
Nicolai Nicolaievich Shevchenko, irritated by his own
powerlessness, slipped the letcon under the right armpit. A scream
came out the mouth of the surprised priest, accompanied by an
unpleasant odor of burn.
- This is more like it, father! So, what do you say, do we write or
do we continue?
Not receiving an answer, the captain made two steps sidewise and
stuck the letcon to the testicles. Another unrestrained scream, followed
by silence. The tension disappeared and the body relaxed in a faint.
- Volodea, pour some water on this bastard!

56
57

Volodea threw a bucket of water over the body of the young


martyr, waiting for his awakening. Not seeing any sign of life, Aliosha
grabbed the victim’s head by the hair and applied a few slaps. Ilashcu’s
head fell like a rock, raising inquiring looks from the investigators.
Shevchenko felt the jugular of the priest and nodded his head in
confirmation.
- Yes, the bastard died! Dress him and take him to the arrest
room. Fire two bullets in his back. I will prepare an official report of
attempt of escape. Aliosha, punch Volodea in the eye. I will record the
aggressiveness of the culprit. Come on, what are you waiting for?
With a well-placed punch, Aliosha sent Volodea to the floor,
causing him a beautiful bruise. Volodea rose humbly and without any
commentary began to undo the cuffs of the deceased. They carefully
dressed the lifeless body and transported it to the arrest room. Two
muffled shots were heard, followed by a sinister silence.
At the sound of the shots, Nicolov throbbed, got up from the
bench and started to walk across the room nervously. A bad feeling
started to press him. He felt something bad had happened, or will
happen. He was worried by the duration of young Ilashcu’s inquiry. He
throbbed at the sound of the key. The hope that he would see Ilashcu
again shattered.
- We are going to comrade captain.
Shevchenko met him with a grave face.
- Sit down comrade Nicolov. Something bad has happened.
Ilashcu attacked Volodea and managed to sneak out of the building, to
run, to escape arrest. Knowing the place well, it was easy for him to
disappear. I didn’t know that as thin as he seemed, he was actually an
athlete, a boxer. Volodea, come and show us what he did to you.
Incredible! He is a dangerous element, he is now wanted. Sergey, you
will go tomorrow to Ilashcu’s wife and announce her that her husband
had escaped from arrest and draw her attention that she has the
obligation to inform us as soon as she finds out anything. Yes, father,
look how we ended up by treating people with gloves.
- And did you get what you wanted from him?

57
58

- Unfortunately, just a verbal confession! This is important too,


especially because it confirms our suppositions. Now we know, once
again, who participated at the meeting at the Voda family and how the
demonstration at the cemetery was organized. You have lied to us
father. You were acquainted to all and you participated actively. There
is one thing we don’t know, that is, who is the intermediary through
which you establish the link with the ones in Romania. Maybe you will
enlighten us, now that everything has come to light. What do you say?
- What can I say? The same thing I’ve told you so many times.
No matter what you want to do to me, I will not participate in this dirty
game. You will not obtain any written declarations from me, in which I
will declare myself guilty, without being, or involve other innocent
people. If I had been involved in something, I would have openly
declared it. I am not a plotter! I ask myself with terror what you have
done to father Ilashcu? What were the two shots which have been
heard in this building?
- You are dreaming, comrade, you are dreaming! What’s worse is
that you are bringing insults to this institution, you are accusing us of
murder. The refusal to make declarations which would help us in the
solving of this case puts you in a very bad situation. With this, our
mission ends. You will be submitted to the military court. Sergey, deal
with citizen Nicolov’s transfer. I will close the file today. We have
Voda’s written declaration, Ilashcu’s verbal testimony, and of course,
the facts. I wish you luck, because you will need a lot of it. You can go!
- May God forgive your mistakes!
Sergey went to the Ilashcu family the next day, dressed in
civilian. When Ileana opened, he presented his identity card and
requested permission to come in. With a grave face, he announced her
that her husband had run from arrest, after he had aggressed his
supervisor, taking advantage of the darkness of the night. Ileana had to
understand the serious situation created and collaborate, for the good of
herself and her husband, providing any information regarding the
fugitive.
- If he turns up, advise him to surrender. He can’t disappear. We
will supervise the house. Goodbye!

58
59

Ileana remained staring at the door through which the civilian,


comrade Sergey, disappeared. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t cry.
Disoriented, she left the house, leaving the door open and went
instinctively on the road which led to the house of the Voda family. She
jumped in Paul’s arms and started to shake.
- What happened Ileana? Calm down and try to speak. Come
inside, I’ll give you a sedative. Try to cry, sit on the couch.
- Paul, don’t leave, please! I don’t want a sedative, I want to talk.
Nani has been arrested, and today they came to announce me he has
escaped, after aggressing one of them. How could Nani aggress them?!
What could they have done to him? What do I do, how do I find out
anything?
- My dear, this story is obvious, it is a stupid invention. You can’t
aggress anyone there, nor can you escape. It’s hard for me to tell you,
but I think something bad has happened. Those are not people, they are
instruments diabolically handled by the system. If they declared him a
fugitive, I’m afraid we will never see him again. Listen, I didn’t want
to tell you, but what you are about to hear may seem from another
world. When they arrested me, they also arrested Silvia. Now, Silvia is
no more, she lives in another world, an unreal world. The doctor
declared her a schizophrenic!? If you see me still living, that’s because
I want to save my daughter. I cursed God in front of them! Yes, yes, I,
priest Paul Voda, cursed God!
With a strangled voice, Paul started to tell her, in rich detail, the
most tragic story Ileana had ever heard. Ileana was looking at Paul
frightened, without daring to interrupt him. When he got to the episode
of Silvia’s hospitalization, Paul burst out sobbing. A deep silence fell in
the room. Ileana came close to Paul and started, almost mechanically,
to caress his hair.
- Ileana, I’ve made a big mistake telling you all this. I signed I
will not tell anything to anyone. If you will talk to anyone about this,
you will put your life in danger. And that of my daughter, of course.
Now, the girl is with my mother, at a sister of hers in Bolgrad. I told
them to go further away, to the north. Maybe they will be able to pass
to Romania. You have exposed yourself by coming to me. I’m sure you

59
60

are being followed. For them, a fugitive means a dead man! You will
have to reconcile yourself to this thought and try to save yourself.
- How can I save myself, Paul? Why save myself? If you are
right, then there is escape neither for me, nor for you. I wouldn’t resist
torture. I’d rather kill myself!
- No, Ileana, you are alone, they can’t blackmail you, you will
only have to make them believe you know nothing. More and more
rumors speak about the imminence of war. The soviets will not resist
against the German war machine. Let’s just hope Carol too will go with
the Germans! This barbarian system must fall! Be brave, Ileana. Maybe
Nani is still alive, who knows?!
- I’m going to start taking some sedatives, to hide how scared I
am. Paul, does anyone else know about this?
- No, Ileana, I haven’t told anyone. The only one who came to see
me was Danila. To put him on guard, I just told him that I made a visit
at the Consistory, that Silvia was with me and since then she got sick. I
was looking terrible when he came and I think he understood this is not
a joke. Do you know they changed his name to Davidov? That in order
to hire him as a calligrapher at population evidence. This is how history
is being rewritten!
- Paul, I’m going, although I’m scared to death. If you visit
Silvia, kiss her for me. What do you say, shouldn’t I visit her?
- No, Ileana, keep her in your memory as you knew her. It would
do you bad. Go in peace and if you want something, pass by the
church. It is simpler to communicate there, at the ‘confession’. Kiss
you and take care! Don’t talk to anyone about what you’ve found out.
Maybe a miracle will happen!
Ileana went unsteadily toward her house, overwhelmed by a
feeling of restlessness, of fear. Stumbling in her own steps, she turned
her head backwards ceaselessly, to make sure she wasn’t followed. The
thought that Nani could have been killed during the inquiry, that she
could share Silvia’s fate, made her feverishly search for solutions in
order to escape from this inferno. The thought of suicide scared her.
She knew that first of all, she had to find out whether Nani was still
alive or not. Paul’s opinion didn’t convince her. How come he was still

60
61

free after all that happened?! It was a complicated question, which


would haunt her for a long time. She should visit Silvia at any cost!
She arrived home exhausted. She found the door open and remembered
she had left it that way. She turned on all the lights in the house,
searched through all the corners, locked the door and lied on a sofa.
She shuddered frightened at the bark of a vagrant dog. She turned off
the lights to observe the windows better in the light of the street.
Thoughts started to run astray, unable to focus on a certain point. Youth
won and a deep sleep immersed her in the silence of the night.

In our house, days passed by in an apparent peace. I say apparent,


because it was in fact an average between the states experienced by the
four categories of age. The children, namely me and my cousin, two
years younger than me, Barby with a y, as my uncle accustomed her
from her childhood years; the children continued their play habits
undisturbed, in the house yard, under the more or less strict supervision
of their grandmother. We got along very well. I liked to talk, she liked
to listen. We gabbled about this and that, we mixed bits of stories with
small lived realities or with fictional events. We had our cats, we had
our dogs, we had our yard with a sand hole, we had our shed which
was hiding all sorts of wonders. And we also had something else, the
hot pies with which grandmother lured us from morning till evening.
The annex where she had her room, the chamber with the oven
for Moldavian sponge cakes and the door which led to the cellar, was
everybody’s landmark. You could find hot pies there, you could find
already washed fruit, there were melons kept cold in the cellar, there
was kvass to quench your thirst. I had plenty of time. I didn’t waste
time with lessons. I learnt easily, I was organized and efficient. I was

61
62

especially happy when my cousin George, whom I admired without


reserve, came looking for me. At his 15 years, he looked like a high
school graduate. Well-built, tall, very kind in his behavior, he bore the
burden of hidden melancholies. At an early age, his father divorced,
unable to get used to the life in Basarabia. He went back to Bucharest,
where he had a fabrics shop and a luxury tailoring workshop. He had
his name, Milescu, but he missed him. He would meet him again after
the ’44 refuge, and sit at the head of his bed during his final moments.
- Bob, how about going for a swim in the Danube?
- Yes, George! Wait till I tell my mom.
- I asked for permission for the both of us. Come on, take your
bathing suit and a towel!
Unfortunately, this happiness didn’t last long. The new order
restrained the bathing in the Danube. It was the first time I felt
something had changed. I can’t say the same about George and my
sister Svetlana, about three weeks younger than her cousin. They got
along wonderfully despite that, in their early childhood, Svetlana
started up a few storms between the two sisters, because of the pleasure
with which the smaller cousin bit the shoulder of her mighty cousin.
Now however, in their teenage world, how they liked to consider
themselves, things got a nuance of conspiratorial affinity.
Like others their age, they looked upon the future with distrust,
the present being usually defined as catastrophic. Svetlana had another
shortcoming; I don’t know from who inherited, she rejected everything
of Russian origin. Angry with the name she got at her christening, she
renamed herself, among family and friends, translating her name into
Luminitza, or shortly, Lulu. She had been refractory to her mother’s
attempts to teach her Russian since she was very young. She
understood, but she refused to speak.
- I don’t like it! This language is very unpleasant.
She was waiting with anxiety for the arrival of autumn, the start
of school. How would she manage? It was announced that the first year
would be consecrated to the study of the Russian language. At once
with the occupants, a large number of professors and teachers also
arrived, even educators, strangers to the most elementary knowledge of

62
63

Romanian language. From the old professors and teachers, only the
ones who had thorough knowledge of the Russian language were
selected. Professors like Popovich, who taught Latin, or Creisin, who
taught Latin and Old Greek, were dismissed, on the grounds that these
subjects had nothing to do with the education of soviet pupils! These
were the first alarm signals which seeded uneasiness in the souls of
both children and parents. The situation of the children whose parents
didn’t have any knowledge of the Russian language was even more
tragic. Terrorized, the children threatened their parents that they would
not go to school. Or, ten years of education were compulsory!
The majority of the adolescents were convinced that the soviet
occupation wouldn’t last, that all will burst like a soap bubble, that
salvation would come from Hitler. The name Antonescu caught the
shape of a savior archangel, the idea that a Hohenzollern couldn’t go
but with the Germans, constituted the support of all speculations. These
dreamy adolescents picked up the hypothesis emitted conspiratorially
in the circles of intellectuals. They imagined themselves heroes,
voluntaries in the army of Great Romania, fighting for the liberation of
the invaded territory. Being in the middle of the problem, they pictured
themselves fighting in the first lines of the events which would follow.
They were, however, only children and they couldn’t perceive the true
weight of things. Taking advantage of the so-called holiday, they
gathered in large groups in the ‘Roses’ park, their favorite place and
officially accepted even by the professors.
Around the kiosk where the great Ivanovich once conducted the
fanfare, boys and girls competed in speaking loudly, in laughing. It was
the first holiday when they were not supervised by teachers, or even by
professors. It was the first holiday when the fanfare wasn’t playing,
when waltz pairs weren’t dancing. Their noisiness was artificial, as
though hiding a drop of mystery.
- What are we going to do, brothers? We can’t accept something
like this! How can we study Russian for a whole year? Are the years in
our lives that worthless? No, we must boycott them, we shouldn’t come
to school! We must deliberate with our professors! What will happen to
them?

63
64

- With or without a boycott, this year is lost. I say we organize a


mass run, find out where we can cross the Danube, or go to the Prut?
- What about our parents? These bastards are capable of
anything! Do you know that people continuously disappear without a
trace? Have you heard about the bishop? Have you heard about priest
Voda? No, don’t rush things! Only if somebody tells on us and we’re in
deep shit. You can’t approach the Danube during the day, and during
the night, they shoot at everything that moves, without warning.
- Let it go, George, stay out of this! I’m scared…
- Lulu, don’t be scared, I’ll only say a few words. Running won’t
work! How many will escape? Ten? Twenty? What about the girls? I
don’t think this is a solution! They talk about sabotages all the time,
they have a fixed idea. Let’s pay them back with the same coin!? But
with a subtle sabotage, let’s learn Russian with difficulty, very very
slowly, what do you say? What can they do? Force us, like I’ve heard
they do at interrogatories? Why should we consider ourselves stupider
then them? We gain time, we have fun, and maybe take up German!
- Hey boys, don’t talk so loud, and you girls, laugh a little, giggle.
Look, there’s someone reading the paper without moving it for half an
hour. Careful! Professor Creisin is coming. Don’t say a word, come on,
laugh!
- Good day children! I see you are having fun! It’s good to see the
near future doesn’t worry you! I’ve come here to say goodbye. I’ve
been announced I can’t be useful to the high school in the new school
year. Latin, Greek, are things of the past, they are small-bourgeois
reminiscences!? I can’t know what you are planning here, behind this
laughter, but I will tell you a few words.
- Non multa sed multum1! We are listening, professor!
- My dears, in 1918, my generation was the one who requested
the joining of this land to Romania. We hardly received the help of
anyone, not even of those from the other side of the Prut! Nevertheless,
it all went well! Now the fate of Basarabia is in the hands of your
generation! These are other times, the conditions are much harder.
Don’t forget Basarabia has been surrendered at an ultimatum, at a bluff,
without a gunfire! Think about what I’ve said, take in consideration the

64
65

fact that we are under soviet occupation, take in consideration the fact
that they have already lost us once, after the revolution from 1917 and
that they have never forgotten this. Don’t put too much hope in others,
rely only on yourselves! God bless you!
- We wish you good health, professor!
- Let’s go, Lulu, things are getting serious!
- Won’t you let me speak a little to Nelu?
- Haven’t you had enough of this cunning Draghich?
- Come on, don’t be mean!
At her 15 years, Lulu was a cute petite girl, without too contoured
shapes, with pony tails, with two grey melancholic eyes, always victim
to contradictory feelings. With a rather fragile health, she had grown up
in ‘daddy’s’ arms, who adored her. She read a lot, everything that fell
in her hands. The top however, was made up by Balzac and Tolstoy.
She met Nelu at a colleague’s birthday party. One year older,
handsome, dark haired with blue eyes, he had a special charm. He
talked a lot, he talked beautifully. He saw her home, he kissed her in a
hurry, and he shouted at her, also in a hurry – I love you! Two children
who didn’t know what they were doing, who didn’t know what they
were saying. Their only confidant was George. George took her out
for walks, George set her up dates.
This time the date didn’t take place. Nelu had gone to accompany
professor Creisin and gone he was. Creisin was arrested, and the
Draghich family was visited at home the same night and declared
missing. The professor had been investigated for three days at the
Consistory and when finally released, he was a human wreck. His hair
was all white and he refused any dialog, even with those at home.
Years had to pass, for this man, the most important representative of
the intellectuals in Ismail, to regain his balance, but not to forget. The
fate of the Draghich family was even more tragic. They were deported.
The parents in Siberia, Nelu in a reeducation camp in Kazakhstan. Five
years later, an uncle of his, benefiting from a certain ‘earned’ position
managed to bring him along to Bucharest. Nelu wasn’t Nelu anymore,
and his uncle, a notorious opportunist, would spread terror among

65
66

people. He was a part of the avant-garde so minutely prepared by the


soviet secret services for Romania.
The traceless disappearance of the Draghich family affected Lulu
in a worrying way. She was scared, she was sad, silent. The only one
with whom she dared to tackle the subject was George, scared himself
by what had happened. It was clear that things wouldn’t stop at Creisin
and Nelu. It was clear they were closely followed. The effect expected
by the oppressors was immediate. The so frequent meetings from the
‘Roses’ park suddenly stopped. The professors gave up any form of
protest; the teenagers remained in their houses, beside their equally
frightened parents. The young high school graduates however,
remained more reckless and in spite of the terror taking hold of the city,
continued to dream of imposing deeds, of running to Romania, of
organizing a Resistance, of becoming partisans overnight. It was pure
utopia.
Totally unprepared for this kind of events, without any kind of
guidance, they displayed themselves, childishly, in victims. And there
was something else. The fear which nestled in the hearts of parents, the
lack of any dialogue on this matter. The first attempts to cross the
Danube swimming resulted in a total disaster. Ten wonderful young
people found their grave in the waters of the Danube, less than ten
meters from the bank, raked by the machine guns of the frontier
guards. From the initially constituted group, two names were missing –
Iuriy Stavrov and my brother, Mirchea, known in his circles under the
nickname of Bodola. The unpredictable happened and saved their lives.
In their nocturnal journey to the Stavrov vineyard, they were arrested
by a frontier guard patrol, detained for 48 hours, for a routine
interrogatory, at a close by frontier post. Because they couldn’t prove
this, their failure to take part to the run attempt would raise suspicion
among their friends programmed for the second lot. It was the reason
why this ‘lot two’ postponed its action sine die2, qualifying the two as
cowards, or even traitors.
The irony was that the initiator and the organizer of operation
‘Danube swim’ was actually Mirchea. The fact that it didn’t succeed
owed to the childish way in which all was prepared, to the naivety and

66
67

the lack of any experience. Only they knew how they could fool the
chain of frontier guards along the bank of the Danube. Mirchea had
graduated from high school and was to join the officer cavalry school
from Sibiu in the autumn. It wasn’t meant to be! The arrival of the
soviets ruined all his plans. He was an intelligent individual, but
stubborn, as his father characterized him. In high school he only learnt
what he liked. He read a lot. Mathematics didn’t interest him at all and
therefore second examinations kept on coming. God, how many
beatings he received from my father! I was his salvation, with my
screams and tears. I was a shy child and very sensitive to everything
which implied violence.
In the first high school years, Mirchea started reading Doxes and
Excentric Clubs3, but as years passed by he turned to good quality
fictional literature and natural science. Accepted in the house of
Creisin, a good friend of his daughter, he benefited from an exceptional
library. He never missed the small parties organized in the professor’s
house, which were often transformed into virtual musical evenings.
The father sang, the daughter sang, Sarkizov sang. In Creisin’s house,
Mirchea had learnt to love classical music. There were also discs with
famous voices. It was there that he had met Lucia, also a high school
graduate, an affectionate and pretty dark-haired girl. They swore
everlasting love to each other, but life would separate them, better said
the war, leaving an ineffaceable mark on him.
Mirchea was a sociable guy, received without reserves in many
families and circles of intellectuals in town. He had an iron health; he
practiced a lot of sport. He had won the swimming competition
‘Crossing of the Danube’, organized by the Saint Demeter high school,
two years in a row. At athletics, he was considered number one in the
high school at long distance races and his love for football earned him
the nickname of Bodola. His main flaw was his almost fanatic
dedication to a newly embraced idea. This is how he came to venerate
Hitler, after he had read by chance, in the year ’39, a few chapters from
Mein Kampf, spread on some fly sheets. That is also how the portrait
of the ‘savior of mankind’ appeared in our house. And that is how the
wish to study the German language appeared.

67
68

His unstable character however, would throw him over the years
in the opposite camp, making him an ardent defender of the communist
ideas. The openly hostile attitude displayed by his former partners in
action left a powerful mark on him. He isolated himself, he decided not
to act but on his own. After the fishing of the ten bodies and the
officiating of the attempt of fraudulent frontier crossing, no one was
willing to believe the story of the 48 hour restraint at the frontier guard
post. How come they were arrested precisely that night? How come
they were released after 48 hours, while in the meantime the ‘hunt’ had
taken place? At the post they were interrogated only after 24 hours,
when the explanation regarding where they were going, the vineyard
where Stavrov’s parents lived, was considered plausible. The
commander of the post knew the Stavrovs and spent many hours at
their vineyard. At home, the relationship between Mirchea and my
father continued to be tense. The only being he got along with, going
up to confidence, was Valeria, the older sister, as she was called, two
years older than him.
She was a beautiful girl, the best of us all. But, this but, which
often withers the beauty of a phrase, left its mark on the course of her
child life, stigmatizing her for the rest of her life. At the age of 4, this
little doll was stricken by fate. Meningitis brought the specter of death
in the house where her voice chirped ceaselessly. At that time,
meningitis was considered an incurable disease. If it didn’t bring death,
then it could stigmatize the existence of the diseased through an
irrecoverable handicap. A chirurgical intervention meant money, a lot
of them. In a town like Ismail, no surgeon ventured to take on this
responsibility. An intervention from a high above person was necessary
in order for an authority of doctor Voinescu’s stature to accept and
come with the first cruise from Galatzi. A family council resolved the
problem of the fee, under very harsh conditions. The mortgaging of the
house was decided in exchange of a loan, burdened with excessive
interests and all sorts of pressing clauses. The hero of the transaction
was the Armenian Ovanes, the town usurer, always posing as the savior
of the common man. Many years had my parents struggled with this
usurer, a time when the house was hanging from a thread.

68
69

Voinescu was expeditious, operating her in the night of his


arrival, assisted by the wonderful man which was doctor Percheac, our
family doctor, who expressed a particular weakness toward Valerica.
The trephination was apparently successful. Only time could tell. It
wasn’t to be. After about a year, a tendency to limp the right leg was
observed. No one paid any attention to this, not even the doctors. The
conclusions were drawn only at seven years old, when the difference
between the two legs could be measured in centimeters. This is how the
ordeal started, which would haunt her throughout her life.
Now, at 21, the difference had stabilized at about 10 centimeters,
and the inferiority complex reached insurmountable proportions. The
girl who adored ‘daddy’ came to manifest her hatred openly. The
tension between the one who had done everything to save ‘the beauty
of the house’, jeopardizing the financial future of two families, and the
one who blamed the parent’s ‘negligence’, became unbearable.
- You should have let me die and not let them experiment their
new methods on me! When I was about to get married you drove Mihai
away, because he didn’t live up to your standards. You called him a
shoemaker when he was actually the owner of a luxury shoe workshop
in Galatzi. I will leave home at the first opportunity, after the matters
with these bastard Russians clear up.
- You are unfair, Valeria! Maybe you will understand things
better, if your mother will confess to you. Until then however, I advise
you not to cross the line. My patience too has limits. As far as you are
concerned, you can leave whenever you want and wherever you want.
All these years, I have suffered beside you. I have suffered because I
have sent you to a vocational school and not to a high school, although
you were an intelligent and talented child. I though I have made the
right choices, and so has your mother. Anyhow, I’ve had enough of
your reproaches. No more! You don’t like it at home, leave! You don’t
like us, forget us! With the soviets here, the breaking up of families is
becoming something fashionable. And that is all! I don’t want to hear
not even one reproach!
Mirchea found Valeria, Val, as he used to call her, on a bench, in
the back of the yard, crying.

69
70

- What’s the matter with you, Val? Have you been quarreling with
dad again? He’s not worth it! I have started to ignore him. This man
will never understand we have grown up. Do you remember how much
he used to beat me? All there is for him is Bob and Lulu. Let me tell
you something instead, which is really serious, at least for me! I told
you I had planned a run. Along the way, I was arrested, together with
Stavrov, by a patrol of frontier guards. They kept us for two days.
Meanwhile, the other ten tried to sneak into the water and swim across
the Danube. They ripped them like rabbits. All ten were fished at the
Vostoc cherhana; they aligned them on the bank of the Danube and
wrote on a board – traitors! The worse thing is that the others, from the
second lot, are accusing me and Iuriy of treason! I came up with the
plan, I organized them, I risked, and the acme of irony, I have come to
be judged by them. Now I know what I have to do. Everything on my
own. We have been very naïve.
- Mirchea, be more cautious! Does George know anything about
this? I don’t think you should involve him as well.
- No, God forbid! He is still a child, although he looks like an
athlete. If I reach Romania, I can go directly to the officer cavalry
school in Sibiu. After that, I’ll see what I’ll do. Maybe I will join the
German army, if they accept me. Our only hope is Hitler, Germany.
The conflict state established between Valeria and father, on one
side, and Mirchea and father, on the other side, brought a note of
tension between the parents as well. Mother bemoaned the quarrels in
the house. Especially because they sometimes took place in front of the
little ones. The hostility installed between father and Valeria affected
her in a particular way. She had suffered terribly alongside Valeria
trying to be as close to her as possible, but she couldn’t agree with the
reproaches thrown without too much discernment. She knew she had a
duty toward Valeria, but she always postponed the moment of a
confession, which would have shed a totally different light upon the
one who in the close circles was considered a model father. She was on
Valeria’s side in the matter of the marriage, but she couldn’t defeat,
what she called, the narrow horizon of her husband. With the coming
of the soviets, all became a matter of the past. Even Valeria’s trip to

70
71

Rimnicu Vilchea, at her friend Claudia, became impossible, which


brought her in this state of irascibility. The most serious problems came
from outside the house.
- Dania, have you visited Paul? How is Silvia?
- Paul is down! Silvia has been declared schizophrenic, and what
beats it all is that she is being followed there too, by an individual from
state security, who is always visiting the chief of the department. Paul
decided to tell me everything that happened at the Consistory.
Unimaginable! Silvia raped, profaned, by two investigators in front of
Paul! He had to sign a declaration and a commitment of informer, to
save Irinel. I didn’t want to tell you, but the image of this destroyed
man who was cursing even God, remained like a stain on my brain. I
know it is dangerous for something like this to be discovered, but I
think it’s even more dangerous to submit blindly to this extermination
machine. Nani Ilashcu hasn’t appeared until now. Paul thinks they have
wiped him out. Nothing is known about Nicolov, too. Last night they
took Drachinski , all three of them. This morning they were emptying
their house. I sit and wait with dread the moment when they will call
me at the Consistory. I’m afraid of Mirchea’s foolishnesses. The
parents of the ten fugitives were called for the identification and the
collecting of the bodies. Maybe the funeral will take place tomorrow.
What will become of this, I don’t know. I think they want to identify
the sympathizers!? I don’t know how to stop Mirchea. You try to talk to
him. I can’t stand his arrogance anymore. Explain to him that he will
endanger the whole family. There is also that ‘clever’ Iuriy! God, what
children we have!
- What if you took Bob and Lulu to the countryside?
- It’s impossible! I didn’t want to alarm you, but I’ve received a
few lines from the village priest. My father has been taken away and
nothing is known about him. It appears that his drunken brother
denounced him for being mayor. After he drank his part of fortune, he
couldn’t bare to see everybody else settled at their houses. Lately, he
was sleeping in ditches. Poor Nea Stefan! Nobody in the village would
have denounced him, he was that loved and respected. Don’t tell the

71
72

children anything. Who knows? Maybe a miracle will save him.


Mother went to my sister at Tuzla.
- Horrible! What are we going to do? They are going to take our
house, I’m sure! A, I almost forgot. They started the census of children,
for registering them in school. The little ones, under school age, must
go to kindergarten. Those of school age, they all lose a year, to learn
Russian. Bob will go in the forth grade, Barbara in the second, and
Lulu and George in the eighth. Mirchea has to take a Russian language
test. If he succeeds, he can opt for a college at the University of
Chisinau. If not, he will serve in the army. With the Russian he knows,
I think he can get off the army. It all depends on him, and you know
what he’s like. Maybe he will choose the lesser evil!
- We must make it clear to him! Going in the army now would be
a total disaster. Moreover, if the war starts, he will be sacrificed in the
first line. I’ve heard that a special unit has settled at Tulcheanov’s.
They have built a tall fence around the vineyards and the cellars. The
area is rigorously guarded. This is not good! What are the Romanians
doing? What’s wrong with the great Carol? Are they going to stay with
their hands folded like in 1918, waiting for everything to start from
here?! God, how they’ve betrayed us! You know that our Jews, who
feared the bolsheviks so much, are starting to see their way through?
They don’t want any war of liberation, because they fear Hitler. They
assert that Hitler is a paranoiac, a sadistic murderer, a racist. For the
soviets, this attitude suits them just fine. I don’t know what will happen
next, but I still put my hope in the wisdom of the Romanians. May God
prove me right!
The news of the father-in-law’s arrest swept my mother away.
The leprosy was spreading! She went to her grandmother to tell her the
news. Although she didn’t get out of the house very often, she was
eager to find out everything new. Despite being faithful, the curses
aimed at the antichrists never ceased. Even in front of the icon, she
asked God for the punishment of hell for these barbarians. She was the
embodiment of goodness. She had six nephews whom she equally
loved. She was the unconditional defender of everybody, no matter the
seriousness of the actions committed. We loved and respected her, we

72
73

gathered around her, young and old, and we asked her to wind
memories. She didn’t have a lot of education, but she had an inborn gift
of storyteller. And she had another gift, she knew how to comfort with
gentle words, well chosen, any grief. Grandfather had died before I was
born, so I made his portrait from her stories, grandmother Xenia’s
stories. I think she loved grandfather a lot, because her evocations were
full of admiration. He had been a carpenter, he had had his own
furniture workshop, he earned good money, they lead a plentiful life.
Grandfather’s sudden death, followed shortly by the loss of his son, of
a young age, 17, drowned in the Danube during a nocturnal escapade,
organized by young people his age, made her suffer, but didn’t bring
her down. She remained the same active believer, the same loving
mother and grandmother. Some neighbors found her nagging, we found
her wonderful.

1 (lat.) not many but much


2 (lat.) without a day
3 adventure magazines

The funeral of the young fugitives took place in a gloomy day. A


nocturnal torrential rain, unusual for that time of the year, had
transformed the unpaved alleys of the cemetery into a swamp. Ten
nailed coffins were spreading an unbearable smell. Less than thirty
people had gathered for the funeral service! Only relatives; no
desperate gestures, no lamentations. As to thwart the plans pursued by
the authorities, tracing the young people involved in the events, the

73
74

young people were the great absents of the inhumation ceremony. A


single priest, actually a monk, the abbot of the Ismail monastery, father
Savatie, officiated the service. At the end, as though exhausted by the
effort made, he requested a moment of silence.
- It is proper that, at the end of a funeral, the priest addresses a
few words to those left, to those grieved. What could I tell you? How
could I encourage you?! I will tell you things that don’t belong to me,
things that I myself have learnt from others and which I have often
reflected upon, in such situations. It is said that death terrifies most of
us. And so it is. What we don’t notice however, is the way children
generally die. Children die keeping serenity on their pure faces.
Children die peacefully, because they do not fear death, because they
do not know what death is. Not even we know what death is, but slaves
to this earthly life, we are afraid to leave it, we are afraid of the
unknown. Zosima, one of Dostoyevsky’s heroes, seeing the serene face
of his son, dead at only eight years old, is overwhelmed by the beauty
of death and regrets he didn’t enjoy it as well. This seems literature, I
know, but it’s not exactly like that. The true believers are people of
great courage! To truly believe in God, you must have the courage to
understand that the earthly life doesn’t give you the possibility to know
God, that the face of God is inaccessible in this passing life; to
understand that death is not a tragedy, it is not an end, that death is a
passing to divinity, the entering in the eternal life beside God. He, who
has the courage to believe, isn’t afraid of death. Only through death,
the divinity reveals, the face of God becomes accessible. May God
receive them in His kingdom, Amen!
Did the people present really manage to listen to the words of
father Savatie? Could they understand the meaning of these
encouraging words? Hard to tell. The grief of the moment lived was
too great. The road to the weakening of faith was, for many of them,
open. How to accept the deaths of innocent young people, who were
just about to enter life? The event frightened the parents, frightened the
adolescents, made the young people more stubborn.
The isolation in which Mirchea found himself was driving him
crazy. He couldn’t find his place, he couldn’t sleep. He was waiting to

74
75

be arrested and it was just this waiting which transformed his life into
an inferno. The news of the Russian language test to get off the army
and go to Chisinau made him think twice. It seemed like an unexpected
solution. To get away from the impossible atmosphere created in
Ismail, to be among students, to try to rehabilitate in a totally new
environment, to search for a solution, even violent, to prove your true
affiliation, there is a list of plausible arguments. He understood that the
run, in the circumstances of the terror installed, was a utopia, a
sacrifice without sense, without glory. The decision to listen to
mother’s advice brought more confusion than happiness in the middle
of the family. The only one who understood the true reasons was
Valeria. The test was relatively easy, and Mirchea’s knowledge of the
Russian language more than sufficient. The medical examination was
also passed successfully.
A single problem remained: Lucia! How could he explain it to
her?! He suspected that she too had heard certain ‘well-meaning’
rumors. The mission was entrusted to Valeria, who had to tell Lucia all
the truth, but only after his departure to Chisinau. That is how it
happened. Mirchea ended up in the hostel of the natural science
college, while Lucia, unacquainted to the Russian language, remained
in Ismail, consumed by the doubts seeded by Mirchea’s former friends
and slave to the everlasting hope, hope that everything was nothing but
a nightmare, a nightmare she would wake up from. Autumn laid a
golden-red nuance throughout parks, on the streets, transforming the
town into an impressionist painting, an image once so dear to
Ismailians. The schools filled up, and so did the kindergartens. Many of
the little ones heard Russian for the first time, amused themselves and
characterized the noise which stirred up, as cackling. What belongs to
the children, belongs to the children! They returned home noisily,
distorting the newly learnt words, in roars of laughter. The satisfaction
of the teachers and of the authorities was big – the children were
playing, but they were also learning. At high school, better said at the
‘desiatiletca’ respectively, the grades five-ten, the situation was not that
bright. The refusal, more or less masked, to dedicate to the study of the
Russian language, gave the new professors something to think about.

75
76

The roars of laughter raised by the distortions and the grimaces which
accompanied the pronunciation of Russian words, brought about chaos
in classes. Discipline was just a word thrown in the wind, and the
‘ethnic’ solidarity manifested among the children, raised questions
among the ones put to set up the new order.
The attitude of these children came to confirm the general state of
mind which reigned in the people’s houses, an attitude of rejection, of
hostility. The reports which went to the center generated dispositions
which implied the taking of extreme measures. It is hard to suppose
that these things didn’t reach beyond the Danube or the Prut and that is
why it is harder to understand the attitude of misinformation
manifested by the authorities from Bucharest. The soviets were unsure
of themselves, and the harsh measures through which they were trying
to maintain the order didn’t have effects in the ranks of the population.
A visit made by priest Voda at the hospital where Silvia was being
drugged at command, by the chief of the department himself, an
opportunist like many others, made him forget any caution, forget
about the fate of Irinel.
Silvia, closed in a kind of cell for aggressive people, stark naked,
was dancing in front of an imaginary mirror, caressing her breasts and
thighs and calling Volodea with all the gentleness of her being. Seeing
Paul, she stopped dancing and approached the bars of the cell.
- Paul, my dear, why have you come alone? Where is Volodea?
You have let him show me what true love is and now you are not
bringing him to me? How can you be that cruel? Don’t you love me
anymore? With Volodea I felt what I didn’t think existed. I didn’t even
imagine. God, what a man! When you come with Volodea, ask the
doctor to bring us a double bed, so you can stay beside us.
It was too much for Paul. With the roar of a beast he rushed
outside, running like a madman on the streets. Once home, he took a
cold bath, he dressed in his priest frock and headed toward the church,
for the vesper service. Lately, it was the vesper service that brought the
most believers, especially elderly people. He looked calm; he officiated
a beautiful service and he ended with the whole tragic story, lived at
the inquiry at the Consistory. Everyone was listening astounded.

76
77

Everything seemed belonging to the fantastic, to the absurd. When he


finished, heavy tears wrinkled the cheeks of this so loved man.
- Let’s go to the Town Soviet, let’s go to the Consistory! Let
everyone find out! Let’s gather the young people and do something!
Nothing was done! Sergey, followed by a troop of gunmen,
rushed into the church. In five minutes, the terrified people scattered.
But the rumor about what happened didn’t. It concentrated in the
people’s houses, spreading fear, but also revolt. Voda was handed over
to the hospital, better said, to the chief of the department of nervous
diseases and treated like any dangerous patient suffering from
psychical disease. The rumors regarding the practice of brainwashing
which took place in the nervous diseases hospitals started to catch
shape. The behavior of doctor Mirchescu, newly named Mirchev,
blamable as it already was, took unthinkable proportions in matters of
obedience, of opportunism. The recent promotion as director of the
town hospital and the receiving in subordination of the psychiatric
sanatorium of Bolgrad raised the public opprobrium upon him, together
with the nickname ‘the executioner’.
After the return of the Romanians in Basarabia at the start of the
war and the controversial director’s run in an unknown direction, many
abominable things came to surface. Thus, it was found out that the
sanatorium at Bolgrad had been transformed into a center of
‘treatment’ for political prisoners. The trace of priest Sergiu Nicolov,
declared missing following the inquiries at the Consistory, was also
found there. I use the term Consistory, because it was unanimously
accepted, in order not to use the real name of the institution it was
hiding – the NKVD. The name of that bastard, once again Mirchescu,
would appear in Bucharest, after 1948, struggling among the builders
of the ‘communist Romania’.
Paul woke up to reality only after he saw himself isolated in a cell
for ‘dangerous ones’, similar to the one where Silvia was fading away.
He didn’t react in any way, trying to clear up his thoughts. Only late at
night when the uproar of the groans and shouts of the patients calmed
down a little, he could think about what had happened. The public
confessions he had made at the vesper service, made him feel the full

77
78

taste of revenge. Yes, Silvia was avenged, even though she would have
probably never realized that. But he didn’t care for himself. He
experienced hell on earth, he doubted the very existence of God, he had
cursed Him! What could have been worse?! A sole thought frightened
him, the fate of Irinel. What would happen to her? He hoped for
miracle, as did the whole population.
His mother, together with Irinel, managed to lose her trace after
the Bolgrad event. They didn’t keep in touch at all. He trusted the
vitality of his mother, he knew that one day Irinel would find out all the
truth and will approve of his behavior, irresponsible at first sight. Her
mother had been abused; her mother had been avenged by her father.
The morning found him exhausted. As much health as was hiding in
his youth, the fight with the sedatives was unequal. Drowsy, he found
himself taken by two hulks to the shower room, stripped of his clothes
and pushed under the shower. The shock made him jump out of the
shower, but he was forced back, hit by the pressure of two water jets,
‘well’ directed by the two companions.
- If you want to get out in one piece, stay still under the shower. It
will do you good! It will only last for half an hour.
This started to repeat twice a day – in the morning when he woke
up and in the evening, before the lights went out. Being registered by
Mirchev himself at the particularly aggressive ones, Paul’s life took
place practically only in the cell, behind bars. It was there that the
tranquilizer injections were given to him; it was there that he received
the so-called three meals. No visits, no possibility of communication.
The hardest thing to endure was the almost permanent noise which
reigned in the sector of the ‘dangerous ones’. There were serious cases,
real, which manifested in many ways, disturbing the silence with
wailing, weeping, laughter, shouts. At the hour of the visit Mirchev
paid daily, in a big haste, a thunderous voice could be heard coming
from the back of the corridor with the cells of the dangerous ones.
- I want to be tried! I am not sick, I am a political prisoner. Sir
doctor, you are a criminal!
- What a pity for this man! Young, vigorous, he is a big fellow.
He is obsessed he is politically persecuted. The problem is that he has

78
79

become very aggressive. Take him to the electrotherapy, to see what we


can do for him. Prepare him with a double dose of sedatives, he needs
to be relaxed. I’ll come there too.
- But we’ve done it an hour ago!?
- No problem, it can’t hurt him! It seems he has an organism
which doesn’t respond very well to treatment. What, do you want him
to come out with the bars altogether?!
Paul didn’t react in any way to the look thrown at him by doctor
Mirchev. He had adopted the tactics of ‘submission’, enduring the
‘treatment’ prescribed with stoicism, trying to defeat, through self-
control, the effects of the drugs administered, to deceive the vigilance
of the fiends, in order to avoid the supplementation of the doses
prescribed. He looked absent, weak, void of any occupation. His nights
however, were white. Thoughts overwhelmed him; he fought to put
them in order, to establish a plan of survival. He had to gain time, he
had to escape, to find Irinel, to entrust Silvia to some real specialists.
He spent most of the night praying, asking God forgiveness for the
hesitations showed, begging Him for mercy. He wanted to fight, to
resist, not for himself, but for his loved ones. He had read about the
role of autosuggestion in the defeating of the apparent insurmountable
obstacles, thinking of Silvia, he related to Freud’s psychoanalysis in
treating neurosis through the study of the individual’s subconscious, he
hoped in miracles. The moments of prayer restored his lost inner peace.
The guilt complex in front of God diminished. Early in the morning, a
recovering sleep did its job. He woke up ready to fight, ready for any
humiliation. He had a strategy; he believed in it, he hoped to win.
The news of his hospitalization at nervous diseases didn’t remain
without consequences. The population, apparently docile, lacking the
courage to give a retort to the oppression, reacted in a totally different
way than the local power had expected. After the incident at the Saint
Demeter’s church, when priest Voda had dared to publicly reveal the
way the investigations at the Consistory took place, the anger of the
elders knew no bounds. From the dawn of the day which followed the
priest’s hospitalization, the church was surrounded by a crowd of old
people, with icons in their hands, icons covered in silver, which could

79
80

be found almost everywhere in those places, who raised confusion


among the five-six sentinels, left to guard the sealed church. The
prayers sung in a ceaseless march around the church, reminding of the
Good Friday requiem, paralyzed the reaction of the guards of
Antichrist. Hundreds of believers had gathered, joined by others who
were passing by. Children, teenagers, young people, joined the ranks of
those who dared to organize the procession. The arrival of father
Savatie, the abbot of the monastery from the other side of the old
fortress, put an end to this ad-hoc march, raising a murmur of
satisfaction. The people knelt, put their icons on the ground, lit candles.
‘Our Father who art in heaven…’ ‘Our Father who art in heaven…’.
The crowd repeated piously father Savatie’s words, looking up,
toward the sky. Suddenly, a voice in the crowd started to scan: Father
Voda, father Voda, father Voda…
The crowd, as if brought to reality, took over this refrain all
together, rising on their feet. A voice shouted the incentive: Let’s go to
the hospital, let’s go to the hospital, let’s go to the hospital… The
atmosphere was heating up, taking a threatening turn. The hand raised
by father Savatie to calm down the spirits didn’t reach its purpose. The
crowd continued to shout ceaselessly: Let’s go to the hospital!...
The arrival of colonel Rishcov, followed by ten or twelve
gunmen, raised a certain panic. The people started to bustle, but as
through a conservation instinct, gathered in the same place close to
each other, forming a compact mass. At a signal I don’t know whose,
the people picked up the icons and started to sing again all together
‘Our Father, who art in heaven…’. Rishcov, cautious, demanded a little
silence, asking father Savatie to approach him. The suspicious crowd,
grouped in a circle around the monk, making a protective wall. Rishcov
tried a conciliatory gesture, at which father Savatie, ignoring the
protests of those who wanted to protect him, made his way through the
crowd and stopped in front of the colonel. Rishcov stretched his hand
out friendly, and the monk, making the sign of the cross, said: May
God enlighten you! Rishcov smiled, withdrew his hand, and remained
silent, looking insistently at the crowd. There was a perfect silence.

80
81

- I beg you, for the good of everybody, send the people to their
houses. This is a serious incident, devoid of responsibility, which can
have serious consequences. I personally don’t want to make a big deal
out of this. It wasn’t us who put priest Voda in the hospital; he put
himself in the situation of being isolated. What he told his parishioners,
at the vesper, could cost him more, it could have been considered as an
act of denigration of the soviet power, an instigation. Only the medical
control he was subjected to by doctor Mirchev, whose competence
can’t be doubted, saved him from the firing squad. I repeat the request
of telling the people to scatter. Don’t put me in the situation to take
drastic measures, which would, of course, also affect you. You have a
quarter of an hour at your disposal.
- I too would like not to expose the people to reprisals, but what
is happening at the hospital, in the nervous diseases department, made
its way outside the walls of the hospital and the people have lost any
confidence in the authorities, as well as in your collaborators, who
unfortunately come from the locals. I don’t wish for us to siege the
hospital, I want you to think about what I’ve told you. The population
of this town is docile, it submits itself to the authorities, but can’t bear
being terrorized. Any silence can bring a storm, a typhoon. Why not
prevent it? The church has a great influence over the population and it
would be hard for you to eradicate the faith from the people’s hearts.
Let time decide what is best. Don’t time me, let me speak unhindered,
leave this place, there will be peace, I give you my word.
From the direction of the harbor, ten soldiers on horseback
arrived near the colonel. Things seemed to get more complicated. A
true demonstration of intimidation started. With the help of bridles and
horsewhips, the horsemen managed a true dance of the horses, with
threatening prances. The people started to close up the ranks, stepping
on each other’s feet. Rishcov was looking at the spectacle of horror
smiling ironically.
At a certain moment, someone had the idea of lighting a candle
and raising it above the head. Like a command, a sea of flickering
lights glimmered above the heads of the crowd. An irritated horse
pranced and started a mad gallop downwards, toward the harbor. From

81
82

that moment, no horseman could bridle his horse. The whole troop rode
off on the trail of the scared horse, sweeping everything in its way.
Rishcov didn’t lose his temper and displaying an indulgent smile,
approached father Savatie petrified, as if in a confused state.
- Hey, what do we do? Do you see what it means to leave horses
on the hands of incapables? With such people I have to install the new
order and introduce discipline in the city! What have you decided?
- I maintain my proposition. Leave me alone with these innocent
people and we will avoid an unpleasant situation, which the town
doesn’t need. I guarantee you the closing of this incident, and it’s not a
little. Think of the near future. You can’t rule through force, through
terror. Nowhere in the world did it yield any results! Anyway, you
don’t stand a chance in Basarabia. In the soul of every man on this
earth a history is seeded, a real history, lived by the ancestors, not
written by the historians. There are no nationalities here, there are
Basarabians! You should transplant all of them; replace them with
foreigners in order to have peace.
- If it is necessary, we will! But we’re not talking about this now.
I will retreat, together with my small troop, and you keep your word. If
things come out well, we may talk again, at a glass of vodka. Success!
You will be needing it.
Father Savatie remained perplex! In his mind he didn’t count at
any moment on an agreement with the colonel. Something had
happened, but what? In any case, it couldn’t have been the attitude of
the crowd, nor the ‘boldness’ of his words, or the incident with the
horses. A new attitude of the authorities toward the street
demonstrations, toward the ‘open’ attitudes? New directives from the
center? It was possible, but not reassuring. It was true that you had to
be blind not to see what a gunpowder barrel the population of
Basarabia was turning into. It could also be a new meanness of the
oppressors, who were preparing new forms of intimidation and
punishment for insubordination. The agitation of the crowd brought
him to reality. There was no more time for suppositions; something had
to be done to calm down the people, to avoid causing a catastrophe.

82
83

- Let’s go to the hospital! Let’s go to the hospital! Let’s go to the


hospital!...
- Silence, people! We don’t stand a chance if we use force. You
have heard my conversation with the colonel, at least those of you who
were nearer. You’ve heard what I had to promise. The fact that I’ve
convinced him to retreat, to leave us alone, is already a victory.
Tomorrow I’ll see him at the Consistory to discuss about father Voda.
We can’t attack a hospital. We would make the biggest mistake; we
would give him the opportunity to come into action, his way. We can’t
put the whole population of the town in danger. God is almighty, let’s
wait for a miracle, as it happened today, when Rishcov’s riders ran
away.
- We are coming with you father, we can’t leave you alone!
- No, my dears! If I don’t go alone, we risk provoking a new
incident; we are drawing water to his mill. Now, we will all say ‘Our
Father’ and go home in peace. You have to be very careful not to
instigate the youth. It is the most vulnerable because of the explosive
they are bearing in their chests. Our Father, who art in heaven…
- Our Father, who art in heaven…
- After the prayer was finished, a dead silence engulfed the
church square. The people started to spread out, without words, without
whispers, in a funeral atmosphere.
The Voda episode however, ended tragically. When the following
day father Savatie appeared at the Consistory, Rishcov acquainted him
with the latest event of the night.
- I regret it, I profoundly regret it, but in the case of Voda, there is
nothing more we can do. We had planned to go together to talk to
doctor Mirchev. Unfortunately, Voda hung himself with a rope knitted
from his shirt. That is how they found him this morning.
- It appears that only I have kept my word. I request the
permission to organize a Christian funeral, according to our laws. I
guarantee everything is going to take place in peace, I guarantee with
myself.
- Fine, fine! But I knew that self-murderers don’t benefit from a
funeral service!?

83
84

- We both know that father Voda didn’t commit suicide, and I will
take this ‘sin’ on my part. On the contrary, I won’t be responsible for
the reaction of the parishioners anymore. Peace is more important than
truth, at least in the actual circumstances. It is all I can promise you, it
is all I can do.
- You have convinced me, under one condition – after the funeral,
you will retreat definitively at your monastery; you will not leave it
anymore! I will give dispositions for the releasing of the body. Any
infringement of our agreement will have serious consequences! That
would be all!
The commitment made by the abbot monk seemed over his
powers and nevertheless, the funeral took place according to all the
laws, in an unexpected peace. The words which convinced to silence
were simple.
- Dear people, believers, the most important thing now is
to respect father Voda, not dive headfirst into the
morass of politics!

The rumors, the stories, but especially the disappearances, were


starting to worry the peaceful population of this patriarchal town more
and more. The bad autumn, rainy, untimely, confined the people to
their houses. The streets often seemed deserted. The children were not
playing on the streets anymore, the teenagers and the young people
were taking advantage of every spare moment to gather to chatter,
through one house at a time, apparently safe from the unseen eyes of
the political police. They often found themselves surprised by visitors
in civilian, scattered to their houses, or taken to routine interrogatories.
Nor could the parents bear the isolation, and visited themselves, under

84
85

any pretext, to comment a rumor, a disappearance, or more rarely, news


coming from the other side of the Prut. The people, regardless how
scared and threatened they were, started to confess personal problems,
going even to the description of the way the inquiries at the Consistory
took place.
The impenetrable secrets of the power acquired transparence also
because of the imprudence committed by the architects of the new
order. Proverbial vodka drinkers, usually poor quality vodka, they
sometimes lost control, and overcome by contradictory feelings, they
found themselves talking openly. They bragged with abominable deeds,
or fell in the sin of ‘mea culpa’, when they cried with all their
‘innocence’. This is how a lot of things, misunderstood at first sight,
were found out; this is how ominous intentions were discovered,
sometimes saving lives.
The story of priest Voda’s ‘suicide’ revealed at a glass of vodka as
well. One of the ‘hulks’ from nervous diseases, shaken by the effects of
the alcohol related one evening, to his bar(pub) companions, the cruel
truth.
- I say, that Voda from Saint Demeter’s wasn’t crazy. His wife,
yes! She was dancing stark naked and calling a guy... Volodea. No, the
priest wasn’t crazy. We drove him crazy with cold showers and
injections. One evening, the boss came and told us to give him a bigger
dose of sedatives before he went to bed. After ten minutes he was
already dead. Then we hung him so there wouldn’t be any problems.
It’s better he cracked, he wouldn’t have escaped anyway. He was one
of those, political … If they bring us more of them, I’m running away
from the hospital. If he hadn’t been a priest, I wouldn’t have been
sorry, but like this?! May the curse fall on the director. I can’t sleep at
night anymore.
Of course the news burst out the door of the pub, without waiting
for the closing hour and made its way to people’s houses, queues,
schools, institutions. Rishcov’s office wasn’t avoided either. His fury
knew no bounds.
- Sergey, take the car and the people and wait for the son of a
bitch at the pub exit, somewhere with no witnesses, and deal with him,

85
86

as in a fight between drunks. If he gets away, you are dead! What are
you waiting for?!
- Wouldn’t it be better if we brought him here first? Pour some
more vodka down his throat, throw him in the street and run him over
with the car. A street fight can attract attention.
- Fine, do as you think, only rid me of him today. I’ll talk to the
doctor tomorrow. What reliable people!
The next day, in the morning, when in the middle of the street
which led to the house of the hospital attendant, the crippled body of
the ‘drunk’ was found, no one wondered who the culprit was. Terror
started to sift, like the rain, above the town. The people who let
themselves fooled by the deal between Savatie and Rishcov gathered
young and old, in a march in the direction of the monastery.
The heavy gates of the monastery were open. The crowd rushed
through the fruit trees of the renowned orchard, heading toward the
monastery’s little church. Father Savatie, surrounded by a few other
monks, was kneeling in front of the altar and whispering prayers. They
were praying for the soul of father Voda and for that of the hospital
attendant, who in a moment of drunkenness, but also remorse, had told
the truth.
The term of monastery was probably a little pretentious. It was in
fact a domain of the bishopric, with orchards of fruit trees, with best
quality fruit and a variety which covered the whole productive season.
There were also the vines, table grapes and wine grapes, superior sorts
brought from Cotnari, and more recently, from Shaba. An important
parcel was occupied with vegetables. A stable sheltered a few cows,
another a pair of horses, a wagon and some farming tools.
In the middle of the domain lay a modest building, with a porch,
which housed the rooms, the so-called cells, where the monks without
rank, the workers, lived. In a zone further from the bank of the Danube,
there was a neater building, of an immaculate white, with a porch
decorated with flower pots. The abbot’s office was there, a specially
arranged room for the bishop’s visits, and also the rooms where the
monks of priest rank lived.

86
87

The monastery, which was spreading over an area of about ten


hectares, had a superb view. Situated in the west side of the city, on the
other side of the beach, beyond the heroes’ cemetery and the old
fortress, in a quiet zone, far from the harbor’s agitation, the monastery
rose above the endless flow of the Danube, next to the Romanian post
of frontier guards at Plaur. Up on the 10-15 meter high bank, it was
hiding, at the foot of the ravine, a natural beach, the favorite place of
teenagers. It was there that they gathered to swim, or to learn to swim,
it was there that first loves came into being; it was there that ‘plunder’
incursions in the precincts of the monastery were organized. The
pleasure of ‘stealing’ fruit was unanimously shared, by both young and
old. The vigilance of the few monk-guards had to be deceived, guards
who were wandering in the orchards, threateningly shouting the same
words: I see you! I see you! … or beating a sort of bell board.
It sometimes happened that they got their hands on the less clever
ones and subject them to the supreme punishment. No admonishments,
no threats! The washing of the big bell from the church belfry, until a
clean bronze polish was obtained. You were given buckets, you were
given rags, you were given soap. If they caught two-three, the job
could be done in four-five hours. It had become a title of glory to brag,
this in order to diminish the shame of failure, that you have been
locked up in the tower of the church. In order to prevent such
incursions, which produced losses through the unprofessional way in
which the fruit were ‘collected’, father Savatie sometimes sent baskets
of fruit, as an omen of peace, to the young rulers of the beach, the
beach under the ravine, as it was known throughout the town. The
effect of this kind of gestures could not have been the one expected,
because nothing could replace the pleasure of adventure.
Yes, the monastery had a special place in the hearts of Ismailians.
Neither could the Resurrection services could be forgotten, services
which rouse the interest, not only of the locals, but also of those from
neighboring villages. The crowd invaded the territory of the monastery,
but piously respected these places which had the aura of sanctity. But
as things weren’t normal anymore, neither could the attitude of the
people be a normal one. They were not called here by the thought of

87
88

prayer, or by the peace of the monastery, they wanted to call to account


the one whom they had listened to, who, in the light of the things
happened, had made an agreement with the devil.
The first to enter the small church, stopped confused by the pious
atmosphere which reigned in front of the altar. The pressure of those
from behind however, forced them to come forward. In a few moments,
the space became cramped, and the noise of the disorderly voices
covered the abbot’s attempts to calm down the atmosphere.
- You have sold Father Voda, you have lied to us! You deserve the
same fate as Voda, to be hung! Let’s cut his hair and send him away
from the monastery.
- Let’s cut his hair!... Let’s cut his hair!... Let’s cut his hair!...
Father Savatie’s voice was trying in vain to make itself heard.
Suddenly, a few pairs of hands tried to immobilize him. This big man
with his ebony locks and beard, made an unpredictable gesture, a
pirouette, with his arms stretched sidewise, as a hand mill, leaving a
two meter empty circle around him.
- People, what has gotten into you? How can you blame me of
betrayal? I was lied to, the same way as you were. When we were
confronting with Rishcov and his soldiers, the fate of father Voda had
already been decided. Father Voda had the courage to reveal the truth
about the inquiry at the Consistory knowing the price he would pay.
The agreement with Rishcov couldn’t save father Voda, I made the deal
in order to avoid a greater misfortune, misfortune which would have
affected you as well as your families. Don’t forget that students and
young people had joined us then! The following day I went to see
Rishcov to talk to him about Voda and I found out about his death. I
told him I didn’t believe it. As a reply, he exiled me, if I can say so,
here at the monastery. I am not allowed to leave the monastery
anymore. That is all. I will let you judge the facts as they happened and
judge my actions too. May God enlighten you!
A murmur of confusion filled the little church. The people were
disconcerted, scared. A shout was heard from outside: The soldiers are
coming!... The soldiers are coming!...

88
89

A tomb silence fell over the church. All looks fixed on the abbot.
He made himself room to pass and went outside. It was the second
encounter of the same crowd with the same Rishcov, followed by about
twenty gunmen.
- I see we haven’t understood each other, citizen Savatie! Tell the
people to go home peacefully, so we will avoid taking drastic
measures. I will be merciless! Who doesn’t submit, will be arrested and
tried for the disturbance of public order and the undermining of the
soviet order. You have ten minutes to decide!
- Sir colonel, don’t continue with the threats anymore! It is not
the case. You are on a territory of peace here, of faith, a territory sacred
to the population of this town. The people haven’t gathered here for an
anti-state demonstration, they have gathered without being instigated,
they have gathered to pray for the soul of father Voda and for that of
the hospital attendant. The first died as a martyr, innocent, with the
guilt of serving the church. The second died as a result of remorse.
That is why we are not separating them in our prayers; they are now
one next to another, before God. There is no room in this holy place for
the threat of the army or the police. The constitution which you have
imposed on us, guarantees the religious freedom. We are orthodoxies,
as is the large majority of the nations from the Soviet Union. These
people are not rising against the regime, but against the mistakes
committed by the local ruling organs. Don’t mix religion with politics!
You have nothing to win. There is no need to threaten us. After a
commemoration service, everyone will go home. I too was judged by
them, after I was misled by you. Their judgment is fair and there is no
need for a trial. Take your men and leave the monastery peacefully, as I
respect the order not to leave the monastery. May God guide your
steps! Amen!
- None of my men will leave the monastery until everyone
departs, in silence, in groups of three people at most. From this
moment on, the church is closed, any service is forbidden. The
monastery will be taken over by a collective farm, so prepare for
eviction and for handing over, with all papers in order, of course!

89
90

The murmur, followed by the disorganized agitation of the


people, made Rishcov lose his calm.
- Fire of warning!
A few automatic bursts aimed the sky, making the crowd scatter,
search for shelter among the trees of the orchard around the church.
- People, my beloved believers, please, I beg you, leave the
monastery in silence, go directly to your houses. God will take care of
us and our church.
Frightened by the warning shots, more receptive at the wise
words of the abbot than other times, the people complied to the
colonel’s order and to the abbot’s advice and headed toward the gate of
the monastery. Soon, there was no one from the crowd who had come
to call the abbot to account. A few soldiers hurried to the gate and
locked it, blocking it with its iron bar. Another group of soldiers spread
throughout the orchards, reached the stables and came back armed with
all sorts of tools and ropes. Under the astonished looks of the abbot and
the monks, the operation of conquering the tower began.
Because it was not of great proportions the ‘daring’ expedition
ended in success. A young little soldier, fast as an elf, came out the
belfry and skillfully climbed up until he reached the base of the cross.
From the rope he had carried with him, he made a loop which he lifted
over the cross. He released the rope, which fell all the way to a stained-
glass, beautiful particularly through the naivety of the scene it depicted.
A ladder brought in haste and the problem was solved. The rope
lengthened with parts of a chain, was grabbed by a group of soldiers
and at a sign of the colonel, the ordeal started.
With the eyes full of tears, the kneeling monks were looking
speechlessly at the apocalyptical scene which took place before their
eyes. The cross held up for a while, then leaned slightly toward the
Danube. The soldiers changed the direction of traction, making the
cross straighten, and then lean in the opposite direction. After a few
repeated maneuvers, a crack was heard and the cross came loose, hit
the roof of the church and fell in the direction of the profaners, splitting
the head of the one in front. A moment of horror engulfed the troop and
the fiery colonel.

90
91

- Take him to the car, take him to the hospital!


- He’s dead, comrade colonel… we’d better take him to the unit!?
- You leave him at the unit and come back immediately. You
announce simply: accident, without commentaries!
- Colonel, it’s not an accident, it’s the first punishment sent by
God! You have this young innocent man on your conscience, a child
driven to harm people whose curse came true.
The soldiers were looking speechlessly at the body of their
comrade, bleeding next to the cross stained with blood. The monks
approached the cross, lifted it and entered the church. Nobody was
listening to the protests and threats of the colonel anymore. They
leaned it against the altar table, lined up before the altar, on their knees,
with their faces torn by pain. The abbot raised his arms and eyes,
addressing God.
- Forgive them, God, those who don’t know what they are doing
and are deliberately spreading evil on earth. Forgive our powerlessness
in front of the devil.
This small prayer ritual, improvised under the course of the
events, took place in silence, without any intervention from Rishcov,
who, with all the attempts to save the appearances, was strongly
marked by the incident. The fear seen in the eyes of the young soldiers,
disconcerted him. When father Savatie appeared in the door of the
church, followed by the other monks, Rishcov didn’t have the power to
face his look once again. He turned toward the Danube, and talking to
himself, whispered: Our soldierly life flows just like the water of the
Danube. We float with it, without knowing when a whirlpool is going
to swallow us.
- Don’t take anything from the church, the church is being sealed.
We will leave military watch.
I don’t know how the monastery looks like today, but I do know
that in ’84, when I made a cruise to Periprava by ship, to pass Ismail,
the church of the monastery looked deserted, with the tower devoid of
the symbol of Christian faith, the holy cross, profaned in a time of
affliction, in an absurd attempt to erase the lived, not written history of
Basarabia. It is true that Romanians themselves, in the 1941-1944

91
92

period, didn’t hurry to heal the wounds left by that ill-fated period,
1940-1941, leaving as though intentionally, in a somewhat Polish style,
ruins-memories bearing the inscription ‘do not forget!’.
Although the period was marked by the slogan: ‘all for the front,
all for victory’, slogan which would be revived at once with the
advancing of the Romanian troops westwards, the attitude of the
Romanian authorities toward the suffering endured by Basarabians
under the soviet occupation, toward the human and material losses of
the church in Basarabia, would leave deep traces in the souls of those
who had put so many hopes in Antonescu and Hitler. Nobody was
hurrying with the reparations, everybody was waiting for the outcome
of the war.
The Romanians had surpassed their commitments, Basarabia had
been liberated, but new slogans would appear, like: ‘Transnistria
forever Romanian’ or ‘Romania as far as the Bug’. There is a leap over
time that I make in order to understand certain things, or maybe just
not to understand them. Anyway, true-born Basarabians, not those who
were coming back to feast upon the leading positions, bringing with
them the demagogy of uninterested patriotism, suffered in their own
pride.
The incident at the monastery cleared things up once again. The
direct blunt attack, against the church and its servants, the humiliation
and persecution of intellectuals, the disappearances, the rumors which
were coming from the villages, the apparition of the special unit on the
Tulcheanov domains, proved without doubt, both the intentions and the
methods which would be used in the game of power. The name of
Stalin would bring shivers in the hearts of people. The syntagm ‘pohod
na Sibiri’ was on everyone’s lips.
As bad people expose themselves no matter how much make-up
they use to acquire kindness, the true ‘personality’ of the special unit
chief didn’t take much time to reveal. This time as well, the role of
hazard wasn’t denied. A Jew, tailor, very well-seen in Ismail, happened
to be on the same barricades, in Spain, alongside the new fiend of the
local power. They didn’t meet officially, but life offered him a lot of
details about this mysterious character.

92
93

- Alexandr Alexandrovich, what I’m telling you, I shouldn’t be


telling to anyone. Everybody is talking about the new special unit and
its chief, but no one knows what a villain God has sent upon us. He is a
Jew like me, but he has no faith. He is from Transylvania, more of a
Hungarian than a Jew, but he speaks well Romanian, too. His name is
Altlaender Michael, like he were a German?! In Spain, he went by a
conspiratorial name, Misha Rusu. I didn’t last too long there and I went
home. My brother, who stayed to fight, says I ran away! Why run
away? I went there fooled by him and I came back when I woke up.
How could we, some poor men, have stopped the instauration of
fascism in Spain, when it was backed up by Hitler and Mussolini? It
was the idea of the Russians, of the communists, and the Jews dived
into it like flies into sugar, for fear of the future. When the wagon
broke down in Spain, our Misha left with a group of Russians to the
U.S.S.R. What I know about the disaster I found out from my brother,
who returned to Galatzi. When I saw Misha on the street and I found
out who he is, imagine that! the commander of the special unit, I
recognized him, but he didn’t recognize me. God forbid! If only we
didn’t fall into his hands! God forbid! What I’ve told you, is only for
you. God forbid, don’t tell anyone, or we’ll both get in trouble! When I
returned to Ismail, I told everybody I took care of Itzic, my brother, in
Galatzi. Nobody knows what trouble I’ve gotten myself into. Itzic is at
Galatzi, he can’t come here, he can’t meet him. For me, it would be
best to be able to run to Romania. How is your job going?
- Job you say?! This is no job! It’s mockery? Guard at a materials
warehouse! I think they will fire me. They can’t trust me when things
are shamelessly stolen. And when you think that there was a church
there! God, what has an officer of the Tsar become!
- Alexandr Alexandrovich, don’t tell this not even to friends! God
forbid!
Although this news went about slowly, the frail Jew’s reputation
of ‘tough guy’, trained in the Soviet Union especially for this kind of
‘activities’ in countries like Romania or Hungary, became publicly
known. He had also learnt Russian, but his strange accent, given
especially by the Hungarian language, placed him somewhere in Asia.

93
94

His official name was Mihail Mihailovich Rusev. He had brought an


assistant with him, a certain Nicolovschi Alexandru, captain, who
would write in letters of blood, a page in the history of this town. His
appearance was ugly, but his soul was even uglier. A villain, in the true
meaning of the word. ‘Son of a bitch’, as the locals called him,
translating a phrase currently used in the inquiries at the Consistory. A
couple only hell could come up with!
Alexandrov parted from the talkative tailor lost in thought. He
didn’t like at all to listen to what he had been told, but now he was
obsessed with the question – why particularly me? He couldn’t know
that in fact he was part of the restricted circle of ‘friends’ which this
simple and honest man had made in his heart. He turned his steps,
almost mechanically, toward the house of Daniil Stepanich. What he
had heard worried him so much, that he was feeling the need to relieve
himself. He wasn’t the only one who couldn’t keep a ‘secret’, it was
something common. The people were too pressed by rumors, by
confessions, by fictional stories, to keep it all to themselves, even
though fear usually dictated them such an attitude of isolation. That is
the cause of the nearly conspiratorial character of all discussions, the
need of mutual help, of understanding. In our house, he felt at ease.
Even we children felt good around him. He spoilt the younger
ones with sweets, while for the older ones, he brought books or
gramophone disks. He was generous, he liked children and he knew
how to charm us with all sorts of ‘true’ stories, which we didn’t dare to
question. Through the disks he brought Mirchea, I came in contact, for
the first time, with opera music and I came to love this wonderful
musical instrument which is the human voice. Caruso, Josef Schmidt,
Shaliapin were heard, thanks to him, in our house, at the gramophone
bought by Mirchea, from his personal savings. Even now I can hear
Shaliapin’s voice in my head, singing a sort of drunkenness song, on
Beethoven’s music. The words in Russian, in a perfect rhyme went
something like this: fill the glasses to the top, the drunkenness will
come quicker! For the voice of our little-big Jew from Bucovina,
although I was only a child, I had a genuine veneration. I was capable
of listening to him endlessly, to the despair of Mirchea who had an

94
95

authentic cult for disks, declaring himself the only one authorized to
use the gramophone.
Yes, this Alexandrov was for me and will remain in my memory,
a wonderful man.
- BobachKa, are your parents home?
- Mother yes, father no. Come in, come in!
- How’s school going?
- We are learning Russian. We are singing patriotic songs all
day… ‘Stalin nasha slava boevaia’1… we still don’t have textbooks.
- This will pass too!
- Bob, who are you talking to?
- Mom, diadia Sasha is here!
- Invite him inside!
- Dear Leolea, I met Hershcovich, the tailor, today. He told me
some news and I came by to tell you as well. He was rather scared and
he asked me not to talk to anyone about this, but you know I can’t have
secrets from you. What do you know about Mirchea?
- Not too much. He sent us a note saying he was fine. I’m afraid
he will do something foolish, you know him!
- Dad is coming, I saw him through the window… he looks upset,
I know him!
- O, visitors!?
- I met Hershcovich and I came to tell you fresh news.
- I met him too, I think you came to tell me about the so-called
special unit and that mysterious Jew. Does this man have a gift to
spread secrets! I don’t care who the commander is, I would like to
know what is going on there, or better said, what is prepared for us
there. I’ve received some news from home. It seems they have taken
Nea Stefan, together with a group of kulaks, to a camp near Odessa.
Nothing clear, only the confirmation that his brother, dead drunk, came
with the ones who arrested him and threatened even mother. The poor
woman got scared and went to my sister, at Tuzla. The bastard, after he
drank all he had, he always asked my parents for money.
- Poor Nea Stefan, only the war could liberate him! If only he
wasn’t sent to Siberia! God forbid!

95
96

- That’s what I’m afraid of too. And I’m also afraid of what
Mirchea could do. In Chisinau, he really lost any control! Yesterday
Iura came by. He told us his folks were still fine, but they are afraid of
the day when they will be kicked out of the vineyard, too. They have
some post guards quartered at the vineyard, in tents, young men from
Transnistria. They get along well, Elena Alexandrovna sometimes
makes them a warm meal, and they bring bread and fresh fish. The
passing of the vineyards to the ‘Red Ismail’ kolkhoz will overthrow
them. The fishermen at least, are already ruined. What they get from
the cherhana is enough just not to die from hunger – nothing has
remained of the fish market. I think we will be living only from
memories! A, I don’t know if I’ve told you about Drachinski? They
took all three of them one night, pushed them into a big van where
other voices came from, and gone they were. Nobody found out
anything about their fate. What a wonderful man! So high-spirited,
always playing tricks, an ambulant collection of jokes! I’m afraid he
told some political jokes and someone denounced him. No one escaped
his jokes, but no one got angry with him. The bishop wasn’t spared,
either! One day, he sent the archpriest Popescu to the pharmacy to buy
him an ointment against baldness. Popescu didn’t know a whit of
Russian, didn’t catch the joke and asked the pharmacist, a very nice
Greek, for ‘gamnolina’. Because there were also other people in the
pharmacy, laughter burst out spontaneously. The pharmacist felt
obliged to reveal the joke, and the archpriest, a man with a sense of
humor, narrated everything the following day, at the Consistory, with
all sorts of flourishes. At the end he told Drachinski: My dear,
Romanians translate the word ‘gamno’ either by shit, or in a more
delicate way, by delight. I figure that if gamnolina would serve me for
my baldness, it could serve you for dessert. Of course no one got angry,
and the two friends hugged. Yes, this was our secretary at the
Consistory, who couldn’t stand seeing someone sad or in a bad temper.
His puns were sometimes shocking, but brought good humor around.
What will happen to their Margarita? An extraordinary girl, beautiful,
talented. She played the piano superbly, being the guest of honor at the
musical evenings in the house of Creisin, where together with his

96
97

daughter and Sarchizov, gave veritable cameral, family concerts. I


don’t know anything of Creisin, either. If Mirchea finds out what has
happened, he will be very disheartened. He felt at home in Creisin’s
house. I don’t know, strange things are happening in our town. At least
with the clergy, they treat it as if they want to burry the church, to get it
out of the people’s hearts. Let’s drink something strong! What do you
say, how about a cognac on an empty stomach? I want to feel all its
strength!
- Dania, don’t do something like this! Wait, I’ll fix you
something, you know you have problems with your stomach!
- Daniil Stepanich, I’m starting to be afraid. If they take Shuric in
the army, what will become of him, what will become of us?

1 Stalin is our fighting glory

Ileana woke up frightened by her own scream. She had fallen


asleep after visiting Paul, exhausted by the fear which accompanied her
on the way home. An absurd dream, a nightmare, put an end to the
restful sleep of youth. She was participating as the hangman, at Nani’s
execution. Everything was taking place in a known environment, in the
garden around the house. Nani, with the noose on, was leaning with his
legs on a bench, which she, his dear Ileana, would pull from under him.
When she approached the bench, she came across Nani’s look and
heard him saying: You are with them, too, Ileana?! She stopped
speechless and saw him pushing the bench with his legs, when the
branch which the rope was tied to cracked like a thunder and Nani’s

97
98

body, naked down to his waist, collapsed at her legs, face down. She
bent over him and saw two streams of blood dripping from under his
shoulder blades, on his so well carved back. She uttered a desperate
scream which woke her up to reality. Was it a sign, or only the effect of
what Paul had told her? A state of fear engulfed her, a fear still
unknown, a fear which can only be provoked by the thought of death.
She knew she was over-excited, she knew that the insecurity could lead
her to madness, she felt something extraordinary had to be done.
She went to the kitchen, she lit the small primus used for coffees,
and with shaking moves prepared a big concentrated portion of bitter
coffee. She poured it into a tea cup, added a good drop of cognac and
passed into the living room. She approached the window, and from
behind the pulled curtains, hidden by the darkness of the room, fixed
her look on the sidewalk across the street. Two men, shaking their
hands, were preparing to part. The one who seemed to stay took out
from his chest pocket a little bottle, which he offered to his nocturnal
partner. This one took a gulp, probably of vodka, held out his hand
once again and went away. The one who remained took a few good
gulps himself and slipped the little bottle in his pocket. He took a few
steps, leaned against a tree and fixed his look toward their house. It was
clear, she was being followed.
The question was whether they knew about the visit to Paul, or
whether the story about Nani’s escape wasn’t exactly true. A glitter of
hope arose in her heart, but also a new fear. If Nani escaped, if he
somehow crossed the Danube, then she would become the object of a
permanent observation, maybe of persecutions! The true definition of
the dilemma slipped into her thoughts. Which was the lesser evil?
Nani’s death, or persecution? It was clear that if Nani was living, they
would transform their life into a living hell. Through her, they would
bring him back. According to Paul’s words however, the story about
the escape and the aggression of the guard was a lie! First of all, Nani
wasn’t the man who would expose her. The thought that she had to get
used to the idea that she has lost Nani brought her in a state of despair,
but also fury. The mixture of coffee and cognac put her in a new frame
of mind.

98
99

She, beautiful but frail, Ileana, ‘daddy’s’ girl, totally unprepared


to come up against evil, was starting to weave the thread of revenge.
She had nothing to lose. Without her Nani, life had no sense! Yes, that
was it, revenge! But on whom? How could she ever find out the truth,
how could she know the assassin?! She stepped from the window,
leaving her follower to his fate. She sat on the couch and took another
sip from the liquid which gave her courage and ideas. The night
promised to be long and white. Determined to defeat fear and sleep,
she went after the cognac bottle and put it on the table next to her. She
fell into a deep sleep. When she woke up, it was noon. She looked
through the window and saw a new figure walking back and forth in
front of the house. The head was heavy; the flesh was vibrating as if
she was seized with fever.
She had read about femmes fatales, about seduction, espionage,
murder. As a child, she had admired boy-like girls, with sportive
capabilities, ready to get into fights with boys, capable of imposing
themselves. She had been an obedient little girl who often spent her
free hours standing at the window and looking with desire at the noisy
play of children on their street in Tighina. Now she was in such a need
of a freer education, which would give her more confidence in her own
forces! And now, at her thirty years, she was fearful, she didn’t like
being alone in the house, she was afraid of the dark, she was dependent
on Nani’s presence, on his protection, on his love. They were so in love
as they had been six years ago, when they got married. I think Nani
was the only priest who walked on the street, with his Ileana, holding
hands. People were smiling at them with understanding; the world
loved and admired them. While her childhood was in a warm familial
atmosphere, when everything was all sunny, when she wondered daily
for hours, with ‘daddy’, listening to his stories which fascinated her,
she suffered in her adolescence, bowing before fate without
understanding it, a merciless fate, which took the man she loved most
away from her. Daddy died after a heart attack, in a sunny day, too
sunny maybe for his sick heart. She mourned in her heart for years, a
mourning which was isolating her more and more from the people her
age.

99
100

The Tighina of her childhood, a big borough, with a


heterogeneous population, with an ethnical balance leaning in favor of
the Moldavians, would become the tomb of the loved ones, when
Ileana wasn’t even twenty. Her mother would die of the same illness as
daddy, without being able to see her at her own house, without
knowing the young Ilashcu, her future Nani, the man who would take
her only daughter out of the state of sadness.
Ilashcu, an old family of transnistrian Moldavians, who crossed
the Nistru in the time of Alexander the First, taking advantage of the
population movements which took place in the process of the
colonization of Basarabia, would come in her way through one of its
best representatives. Beautiful, studious, harmoniously developed
thanks to inclinations toward sport, he took on the study of religion and
philosophy from adolescence. He embraced theology, although in his
head the things with and without meaning were clashing. The
appearance of Ileana in his life coincided with his naming at the Ismail
bishopric. He moved leaving behind memories and tombs, in order to
build together, always holding hands, a new world, a world of their
own, filled with love and hope. Now everything had fallen apart. Ileana
felt Nani had left definitively, that her life was over.
A week of isolation, of an obsessive search for a way of revenge,
of observation of those who patrolled in front of the house from behind
the curtains, had the effect of self-encouragement. She had defeated her
sickly fear of loneliness, of darkness. She had to do something, to
interrupt this wakeful state. She freshened up with a shower, drank a
concentrated coffee, put on some makeup, dressed up elegantly and
went out in the street, to the satisfaction of her shadow. She went
toward the Saint Demeter’s Church, to her only friend, Paul. In the
door, she came across the sexton and found out the cruel truth about
what had happened at the hospital, about Paul’s funeral, about the
events at father Savatie’s monastery. She remained speechless, leaned
on the sexton’s arm and started to cry. She refused his invitation to
enter the church, wiped her tears, turned around and, seeing her
follower at 20-30 meters, approached him.

100
101

- Listen here, Mister, go to your boss and tell him I want to talk to
him, to arrange me an audience! If he agrees, come and let me know
and don’t waste your time in front of the windows of my house. I have
no reason and no intention to run. You can leave untroubled.
The shadow remained perplexed! That had definitely never
happened to him. What insolence. Disconcerted, he mumbled a
‘goodbye’, turned around and left in a hurry. Ileana felt she was
wearing boots, not shoes. She didn’t manage to take any steps; she
couldn’t believe she was the one who had talked with the shadow. The
thought that they will arrest her woke her up to reality.
- And what have I solved this way?! I gave myself in, when I was
dreaming of revenge. I think Silvia’s fate awaits me! I’d rather kill
myself!
She hardly tore herself away from the sidewalk which was fixing
her like a magnet and, with slow steps, set out home. She was surprised
that there was no one walking in front of the house. She stopped in
front of the old walnut tree, where Nani had fixed a swing, for her
moments of relaxation, a children’s swing. A vision which lasted only
for a moment made her back off terrified. The two ropes of the swing
merged in one, in the rope of the gallows from her nightmare. She ran
in the house, locked the front door and threw herself on the sofa in the
living room. A sobbing cry shook her; a state of exhaustion
overwhelmed her. When the doorbell rang, she winced as if lashed, not
knowing what to do. Should she open? What if they came to arrest her?
She decided to open, to get it all over with. She realized she had no
chance of fulfilling her desire for revenge and moreover, she didn’t
know anything for sure. What if Nani was still alive? Should she kill
herself with sleeping pills? First of all, she didn’t have the courage to
do it, and second she couldn’t risk sharing Juliet’s fate.
She approached the door fearfully and tried to make out what was
going on in the street. She heard two women voices and calmed down a
little. She opened, keeping the safety chain fixed.
- It’s us, from the church; we have brought you something to eat.
We have found out you have remained alone. We used to confess to
father Ilashcu. Don’t be afraid!

101
102

Ileana loosened the chain and opened the door wide.


- Please come inside, forgive me, I am very scared. Since my
husband disappeared I have been followed permanently.
- We thought you were alone, that in town you can’t find almost
anything and that you don’t have any of the new money. We have
brought you something to eat and a homemade bread. You know, we
live like in the countryside, we have a little of everything, we still don’t
experience the effects of the new regime. We will be coming
constantly, until father Ilashcu returns. We think he is alive, they
couldn’t kill him! He was such a good man! A lot of bad things are
happening in town. Even at the countryside, they have started to take
the more well-off ones, they are kulaks! Do they think that without
these kulaks, life would have been so beautiful in Basarabia? They got
rich through hard and honest work. They are going to ruin everything
good! You should eat everything we have brought you, otherwise you
will die! Look how thin you are! You are beautiful, but too thin! And
the worst days are still to come!
- I thank you a lot! I didn’t expect something like this. I’m living
with the hope that Nani, my husband is alive, although I know what has
happened to father Voda and to his wife. I’ve also found out what has
happened at the monastery! Terrible! To abuse women, priests, to take
down the cross of a church, to make a warehouse from another church,
God, what awaits us?! I thank you once again, but it’s not prudent that
you come to this house anymore! I’m waiting, any moment now, for
them to come and take me.
- They can’t take all of us, Mrs. Ilashcu!? It is said that the war
will start, that the Germans will free us. If they are like the Germans in
Basarabia, then they can’t be bad people, like the Jews are saying! No,
they can’t leave the Germans here in the hands of the antichrists! The
Germans are faithful people!
- It is going to be hard if the war breaks out, but it can’t be worse
than now! Go in good health and, once again, I thank you!
The gesture of the two women, whom she didn’t even know,
impressed Ileana profoundly. This proof of solidarity, manifested in
such troubled times, full of risk, in the end, brought a drop of courage

102
103

and confidence in her heart, tormented by questions and fear. The most
unbearable element was the uncertainty. How could she find out the
truth about Nani? This was the obsessing question. Without this truth,
no plan of revenge, no matter how childish, found its motivation.
The fear of a possible ‘inquiry’, the thought of Silvia, of what
could happen to her, didn’t leave her alone. She went to the drug
cupboard, took the sleeping pills bottle, slipped it into the pocket of her
skirt and started to prepare the food brought. She tried to eat
something, but she didn’t manage. A feeling of panic started to engulf
her. She sat on the couch in the living room, trying to relax. She
realized that she didn’t stand a chance and went to prepare a strong
coffee, thinking: at least I’ll be awake and quarrelsome if necessary.
She returned to the living room with the cup in her shaking hand, she
approached the window. No one was in front of the house. This made
her feel even more anxious. The thought that something was in store
for her overwhelmed her. She sipped from the hot coffee and grimaced.
She had forgotten to put sugar.
- What if they come at night?.. Maybe they won’t even come at
all… maybe they just want to keep me under pressure?... What if they
take me directly to the inquiry room? That would mean the end!
The coffee didn’t have the expected effect. A state of somnolence
overpowered her, making her lie on the couch. A deep sleep then
overcame her, bringing the much desired peace. Once again, youth had
done its job. She woke up rested, relaxed, she marveled that it was ten
in the morning, and to her great surprise she felt a strong hunger. She
prepared something to eat from the food brought the evening before by
the two parishioners, made a coffee and sat down at the kitchen table,
unwashed, as Nani would say. The food did her good, the coffee
animated her and the sun, which was generously shedding light in the
living room, brought a little hope. She warmed up the boiler for the
shower and let herself to the hydro massage made by the drops of water
under pressure. She throbbed at the sound of the door-bell, but she
didn’t give up the pleasure brought by the hot water. The door-bell rang
again, making room for a thought of uneasiness. She put her bathrobe

103
104

on, wrapped her hair in a towel and, with fear in her heart, she
approached the door slowly. A hoarse ‘who is it?’ escaped her throat.
- It’s me, Danila, stay calm!
She opened the door with a shaking hand and invited him in.
- Please excuse me for my appearance; I’ve just come out of the
shower.
- Don’t trouble yourself; I’ve come to bring you something from
the archpriest Popescu. You know that after the bishop’s disappearance,
he’s making the interim. That is what the priests have decided. Here is
some money, not a lot, but it will do you good. The money actually
comes from the parishioners of the Sobor. If there are possibilities, you
will get more. These are the only sources of income of the old
Consistory, which continues to run secretly. Do you have any more
news of Ananie?
- I know nothing of Nani. I want to go to the Consistory, to the
commander. I’ve requested an audience, but I haven’t received an
answer. I don’t know, I fear I’m not going to see him again!? After
what they’ve done with the Voda family, I can’t hope for anything
good! I thank you for coming, although I’m afraid it’s not prudent of
you to come by. I am being followed continuously. Thank father
Popescu. Yesterday, two women came, parishioners of the Sobor and
they brought me all sorts of dainties. How wonderful people can be!
How’s your family doing?
- For the moment, they’re doing fine, if something like that can
be said. They are living with the thought of the inquiry which I’m sure
I won’t escape. I wanted to send everybody to my folks, at the
countryside, but my father has been arrested and taken to a camp, near
Odessa. War has remained the only hope. Fine, I’ll let you to your
business and take good care of yourself. God is almighty! We have to
survive for a few months. At least it is rumored so. The agreement
between the Germans and the soviets is a hoax. How can Hitler agree
with Stalin?! Ok, be prudent! When Ilashcu comes back, he must find
you as beautiful as you are.
The gestures of solidarity made both by unknown people and by
close ones, made Ileana feel she was not alone on this earth. The

104
105

fantasies went astray, she felt stronger, more courageous, ready to go


into battle, any kind of battle, to defy the terrible investigators, to
search, in need, for the small detachments of partisans, which the
authorities themselves mentioned, to do something, something her
Nani would be proud of too. She got dressed, she tidied up and she sat
down to wait. She was convinced they had to appear, take her to the
inquiry. She tried to read, but gave up, not being able to concentrate.
Noon came and nothing happened.
Suddenly, a hope nestled in her heart. Maybe the public revealing
made by Paul, Rishcov’s blunder with the taking down of the cross
from the monastery church and the accident that took place, the more
and more hostile attitude of the population, the lack of food on the
market and not lastly, the rumors regarding the troop movements on the
right bank of the Prut, have changed a little the practices rooted at the
Consistory?! The fact that the ‘shadow’ across the street had
disappeared, strengthened her hopes. Another thought however,
shadowed these newly arisen hopes: if they left her alone, how would
she find anything out about Nani’s faith? Wouldn’t it be better to risk
and go to the commander alone, to try a tough attitude, to ask him
bluntly, or indirectly? All these thoughts were driving her crazy. She
wanted to be tough, to act courageously, but she felt deep inside that
she wasn’t made for something like that, for a fight in which she was a
sure victim. The idea that she would meet unscrupulous criminals,
whose job was the spreading of terror, applying whatever methods they
wanted, without the fear of responsibility, demobilized her.
- God, why am I so helpless, why did my parents educate me for
a fairytale world, why wasn’t I born a boy? And Nani, why didn’t he
try to change me a little, to prepare me for the real life, as we come
across it every day?
Why would Nani have tried to change her, when it was this very
character and her delicate face he had fallen in love with? He loved her
passionately, but also in a rather protective way. He guessed all her
wishes, he fulfilled all of them, even though they were simple childish
caprices, he protected her from evil, he won her day by day, making
her love him, adore him.

105
106

- Where are you, Nani? Come home and defend me, and if you
can’t come, come at night in a dream and teach me what to do! I beg
you to come, because if I find out you are dead, I will come after you!
Tired of so much waiting, of the pressure of the insecurity she
was living in, Ileana went toward the window, stopping behind the
curtains. The street was deserted, lifeless. She passed to the bedroom
and sat down next to the radio, a Hornifon brought by Nani from a
delegation in Bucharest, his Christmas present. She stuck her ear to the
speaker, trying to catch a Romanian station. The jamming of broadcasts
practiced by the new rulers made such auditions impossible. Soviet
patriotic songs were heard everywhere, interminable news bulletins in
Russian, or at the best, Ukrainian songs, which, instead of bringing joy,
brought a trace of sadness in the houses of people, characteristic to the
steppe.
She hardly found Bucharest. A speech of Antonescu was being
broadcasted. A lot of chauvinistic phrases, a lot of praises of the Reich,
references to the excellent relations between Romania and Germany
and not a word about Basarabia and the Romanians on the other side of
the Prut. A single allusion to the excellent training of the Romanian
army and to the maneuvers organized in the Oriental Carpathians. She
turned off the radio and stretched her hand out for the photographs
album. She stopped at the last picture taken at the seaside, at Budachi,
a year before. It was her favorite photo. They were both looking great.
It was a time when the new bathing suits, shocking at their first
appearance, came to point out, where necessary, the beauty of the
human body. Nani was looking like a harmoniously developed athlete,
who was not giving away his true profession. She, beautiful and
delicate in the same time, close to Nani, was unostentatiously
displaying her ‘good-looking’ body, as she was catalogued in the circle
of the ‘competent’ men. It was the photo which probably represented
the harmony of this couple best. Yes, they were beautiful, loved by
those around them, natural in everything they were doing.
I remember the strong impression they made on me, then only
seven years old, their appearance in our house. When I saw her, I
remained staring at her speechless. Mother compelled my attention.

106
107

- Bob, you don’t say hello?!


- I do, hello Madam…
- Bob, you can call me by my first name, Ileana, so we can be
friends. Ok?
- Ok, Ileana!
- I sat down next to her and I didn’t get my eyes of her face.
- Why are you looking at me like that? You want to ask me
something?
- No, I want to tell you something. You are very beautiful and I
want to marry you!
- But Bob, I am already married, to this man here, to Nani.
- That’s alright! You’ll have two husbands.
- But that’s not allowed, a woman can only have one husband.
- Then, Nani should find another wife. My aunt too divorced
George’s father and married Barby’s father.
- Dear Bob, I don’t want to divorce Ileana, I love her very much.
- Then I say we duel, or go to court! Agreed?
- Agreed!
Who would have imagined that only after a few years, this
wonderful couple would have been broken up by those who were
claiming to bring happiness in the world. And what a brake up! Of an
uncommon cruelty, practiced by some irresponsible individuals, in the
name of a doctrine generous in semblance, but utopian in application,
deformed to the absurd by some sick minds.

10

After Mirchea’s departure at Chisinau, the atmosphere in


our house became calmer. At least one of the causes generating
interminable discussions had disappeared. News from him seldom

107
108

came. He was glad to have escaped the nagging from home and the
cold looks of former friends. He bore in him the burden of an unfair
accusation, of a terrible suspicion. He, a traitor! An unhappy incident
and nothing more, had put him in that absurd situation. He was unable
to prove the contrary, and neither could his friend Iura Stavrov. Iura,
not wanting to leave his parents alone in such a critical time, remained
to face the unspoken accusations of his former colleagues and friends,
even with the risk of being taken in the army. He harbored the hope
that, becoming friends with the frontier guards quartered at their
vineyard, he would find a way to set up a run, together with his family.
One way could have been buying their vigilance with gold. The
risk was enormous, but considering the gloomy prospects at the
horizon for the ex-owners, it could have been the only way of avoiding
deportation. He was staying with his parents at the vineyard and was
trying any way of getting close to the small group of frontier guards.
Because their lives weren’t easy, he offered to do them small services,
to bring them culinary dainties prepared by his mother, to call them for
coffee or tea, in the warm atmosphere of the porch.
There were five of them, among which one was the commander
of the ‘point, all of them very young, all with ten grades graduated,
brought from different corners of the soviet empire. Only one, the
commander, was from around Tiraspol, he was speaking Romanian
fairy well and bragged with one of his great grandparents proceeded
from the old colonists across the Prut. As the food provisions of the
Stavrov family started to run low, the boys set to work and even started
to bring themselves all sorts of dainties: vegetables, poultry, flour,
sugar, oil and even coffee, which truly represented a performance for
those days. Fish was also present, fished by the boys, together with
Iuric, as they used to call him.
Life went on. Because a solution for the immediate co-
operativization of the vineyards still wasn’t found, the problem fell in
the charge of the cherhana. That was, for the moment, the luck of the
Stavrovs, left to take care of their own vineyard. Although they were
confined to the perimeter of the vineyard, being practically separated
from the town, from the old friends, at the vineyard they had the

108
109

feeling they were working at their own house, even though the fruits
would be practically taken, entirely, by the co-operative system, right
from the beginning, ruthlessly. The only news from town were
occasionally brought by Iura, who taking advantage by the good
relations established with the group of frontier guards, managed to
sneak in town and make short visits at us or at the Alexandrovs. This is
how the misfortunes which came daily over the once so peaceful town
reached the ears of the Stavrovs.
The only one with who he shared his intention to prepare a run
over the Danube was Shuric, a calm and dreamy boy, with undeclared
literature concerns – he read a lot and tried to gather his thoughts in
prose and poetry. Hearing his friend’s intentions, Shuric turned pale,
brought up the fate of the ten victims of the temerity of age, brought to
his attention the danger to which the parents would be exposed, as well
as the credulity with which Iura was treating the problem of buying the
vigilance of the young frontier guards.
- Iura, how can you trust some young people, brought up, from
their early childhood, in the spirit of a boundless fanaticism toward the
Soviet Union, in schools with a unilateral preparing in the world-wide
victory of socialism, in unconditional atheism, in the spirit of sacrifice
toward Stalin?! Forget it, my dear, abandon this unrealistic dream, wait
for the change which can’t come too late and spare your folks from an
extra misfortune!
This last discussion, better said, warning, didn’t have the effect of
weakening the decision made, but put him on guard, pushed him
toward greater prudence. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to give up the
advantages offered by a dark, rainy autumn. At us, practically not
having with whom to discuss such problems, his visits were limited to
the gathering of information, to the description, jokingly most of the
times, of the situation which his parents had come to, docile servants,
on their own land.
Iura was among the few visitors who rang at our doorbell. The
most frequent however remained Alexandrov. He was more troubled,
more aged even, but always ready to prove his theories regarding

109
110

military strategy, which he directly linked to the imminent outburst of


the war, to the approach of winter.
- The Germans should take advantage of this winter! The
occupation army in Basarabia is practically non-existent. A mob of
anarchists, with officers made in a sloppy way, intoxicated with
chauvinistic slogans, which endorse Stalin more and the homeland less,
some business men, who if they don’t drink all of their payroll, then
they seek to buy gold and silverware for nothing. Yes, Hitler and
Antonescu have a unique opportunity to overthrow them, the winter
being a precious ally in the actual economic circumstances. And there
is something else very important, the unhappy, scared population! Yes,
Daniil Stepanich, let’s pray to God to keep us until the winter!
- Sasha, it all seems logical if we accept that Hitler, in a war like
this, would be interested in the liberation of Basarabia. But the
situation is a little different. Hitler isn’t set out on liberations, he is
obsessed with new conquers, or Basarabia can’t be considered an
objective from this point of view. To conquer Russia, you need to think
even further from the Nistru. Basarabia is Antonescu’s piece, but he is
not the one who will decide when and how the war will start.
Meanwhile, Hitler and Stalin are friends. And that could last some
time. Don’t think Hitler hasn’t learnt anything from Napoleon. He
started like him, but this doesn’t mean that in the case of Russia he will
do the same. I incline to think however, that the war, if it will break
out, it will breakout then, in the summer, when the waters have
retreated, when the roads are dry.
People who not long ago made up pretexts to meet and spend free
moments, to organize festive meals, suddenly destitute of their material
means, but also frightened, locked themselves in their houses, shaking
at every ring at the door. The tension was increasing in each house.
Parents and children didn’t get along anymore; parents didn’t get along
between themselves. The notion of informer had become the
watchword, the epithet which was very easily given, seeding distrust,
suspicion. In the evening, the fear of the vagrants who were haunting
the town, kept the people in their houses.

110
111

The news that Pantiosha’s mounted band had stopped at Ismail,


emphasized the panic in the town even more. After he had haunted
Chetatea Alba and the German villages, from Shaba to Tarutino,
looting, raping and killing, he descended toward Bolgrad, and finally
settled in Ismail. While in the villages, the plunder was limited
especially to food and horses, in towns, things took another turn. They
took interest in the more well-off families; they forcefully moved into
the respective houses at night, took the valuable things which were at
sight, then passing to the ‘search’ of gold. It was the moment when the
wildest terror unleashed. The beating, the torturing, the raping of
daughters in the presence of their parents, the killing of men in the
presence of the family, gave results where there was any trace of gold
hidden. The people warned, put everything on the table from the very
beginning, escaping the acts of violence and humiliation. It was worse
for the ones who had nothing to hide, but had gotten on Pantiosha’s
list. True tragedies happened here, and the inventiveness of the
hysterical ‘commander’ knew no limits.
Many times, the information gathered was the result of small
account settlings, inherent in a psychosis like that which started to
reign in mass. The acme of irony was that this ‘commander’ and his
band acted unhindered, and moreover, they had been seen entering
freely on the domain of the Special Unit. For the inhabitants of Ismail
things became more peaceful no sooner than the winter, when the
presence of the red knights, as they were named, was felt at Chisinau.
Because we weren’t ranked among the potential owners of value, we
escaped this phase of the Calvary too, recording only in our memory,
among many other enormities brought by the soviet liberators, this
shameful episode.
Pantiosha was Basarabian! And, unfortunately, there were many
others like him. Yes, our house was avoided once again. If the adults
were still making some problems regarding what was happening
around them, me and Barby were spared from something like that. At
school, there weren’t any problems, at home we didn’t have much
homework to do. There was a lot of singing at school, a lot of Russian
words were taught quickly, the first hieroglyphs were scribbled. At

111
112

home, we continued to play in the yard or in the shed, as if forgotten by


those who were taken away by the events.
- Bobchic, do you want to see a naked woman?
- What woman?
- Here, close the door of the shed and you’ll see!
I didn’t even have the chance to get to the door, that Barby
undressed from her dress and panties.
- Barby, if somebody comes and sees us, we’ll be in trouble!
- Should someone come, I will already be dressed! There, this is
how a naked woman looks like.
- Well, you are not a woman, you are a child. I don’t want to look
anymore. Come on, get dressed!
- Fine, fine, why do you hurry like that?
- I’m scared!
- Now I want to see how a naked man looks like. Come on; pull
your pants down, quickly while we’re still alone!
- I am not undressing!
- You see how you are? You should be ashamed! You saw, don’t I
have to see as well? Come on, please…
- Ok, but fast.
I pulled my pants down and my underpants, and scared, I pulled
them back on.
- Why did you hurry like that? I didn’t even get to take a good
look. You see how mean you are?
She didn’t get angry; on the contrary, our friendship got
something conspiratorial. We had to keep a secret which we never
revealed. It’s also true that the shed didn’t attract us anymore. It seems
we realized we had done something wrong, something forbidden to
children. The important thing is that we remained the same inseparable
playmates until the war and the refuge separated us forever.
The other two cousins, Luminitza and George, enjoyed a longer
lasting friendship. George followed us in refuge, which permitted us to
remain many years together, until the premature death of Luminitza put
an end to the second great friendship between two cousins. The
disappearance of Nelu Draghich and his family, brought a lot of

112
113

suffering in Luminitza’s so sensitive heart. The thought that she would


never see him again drove her mad. She spoke where she should have,
and especially, where she shouldn’t have, in a very accusing way at the
Russians’ address, placing an equality sign between them and the
soviets, forgetting that even in her family, among the most beloved
beings, there were true Russians, who received such affirmations in a
painful way.
Nelu had been the first boy who had lit the spark of love in her
heart, she was proud of this love, she expressed her feelings toward
him openly, and George was her great confident, her only friend.
George wasn’t himself either. He was a future nonconformist, from his
childhood, without being a rebel, he rejected any manifestation of
‘authority’ no matter where it came from, he was a wanderer enamored
of the banks of the Danube, excessively curious, but discreet, a
dreamer. He dreamt of becoming a journalist, a wandering reporter, of
traveling, of seeing, of writing.
After the event from the ‘Roses’ park, strongly marked by the
disappearance of the Draghich family, he felt for the first time a sign of
regret, the regret that he didn’t answer to his father’s call, who would
have wanted him near, in Bucharest. Everything had been agreed
between parents, but he, full of his age, having just turned 13, had said
a categorical ‘no’.
- Mother, I’m not going to Bucharest! How can I leave the
Danube to stay on the bank of a brook?! Why do I need a step mother?
Who would have guessed then that things would evolve as they
did? He never over fatigued himself with school, but he read a lot for
his age, he learnt to write in the spirit of the reports he devoured, he
savored. He was proud he could take part in the discussions with the
adults. His exceptional memory helped him remember the smallest
details and present them with ease, to the amazement and admiration of
his ‘old’ interlocutors. But now he was confused. First of all, he missed
the newspapers and the magazines. His knowledge of the Russian
language was more than limited. This made him have an attitude totally
different from his colleagues regarding the study of the Russian
language. He had enough reasons of discontent: the Romanian press

113
114

had disappeared, the Danube banks had become inaccessible because


of the frontier guards, the horizon of his dreams had darkened. The
only solution remained running away, only that the tragic end of the ten
fugitives had demonstrated that it wasn’t a children’s play.
Winter was coming; the swimming across the Danube couldn’t be
taken into account anymore. The hope of the ice blocks, which, year by
year, practically blocked the Chilia branch, remained. He thought of
white overalls with a hood, which would keep him away from the
prying looks of the frontier guards. As his mother was a tailoress, he
had to find a pretext for this extravagant desire. He even took up
crawling trainings, which he made on the town stadium. He knew it
would be hard, dangerous, but at 15, and at his character, everything
seemed possible. He was determined to try, but on his own.
In a relatively short time, the new authorities had managed to
inoculate distrust in the population. The recruiting of informers from
the middle of the population wasn’t a surprise anymore. The lack of
experience of those who from various reasons accepted to ‘work’ in
this field, made certain ‘indiscretions’ come to light, indiscretions
which left no room for doubts. For a better job, for a money reward,
there were enough spineless people who would sell their own families.
The system brought by the soviet foreigners, practiced with such
success for so many years in their homeland, started to give results. In
many cases, fear also intervened, the fear for one’s self, or worse, the
fear for the close ones. The majority of the investigations made at the
Consistory didn’t practically have a motivation, but were following a
well-defined purpose, that of frightening and recruiting. The revealing
made by priest Voda brought a major disservice to the torturer organs,
but also filled the people with dread. George’s somewhat precocious
analytic capacity made him understand, before those his age, the cruel
reality and the perspectives which were shaping up at the horizon. For
him, the time of free discussions, of confidences had passed. Not even
Luminitza was imparted the plans of her dreamy cousin.
Meanwhile, Valeria too continued to weave dreams of departure,
anywhere, only to leave home. The animosity between her and her ‘old
man’ grew, to the desperation of her mother. They avoided each other

114
115

outspokenly, and at the first touch, incendiary sparks came out, to my


great bewilderment. I cared too much for both, for partisan thoughts to
appear in my child mind. When I was a kid, Valeria spoilt me, carried
me in her arms, relieved my toothaches. On the other hand, in my
situation of youngest child, I enjoyed a special attention from ‘dad’,
whom I disputed with Lulu. I was maybe the only one in front of which
the two avoided to unbridle, but in a family such things cannot be
masked.
With all the impartiality of the child in me, in my own self I
inclined to accuse Valeria, but without showing it, without intervening,
as I did in the case of Mirchea, when I clang to the ‘damned belt’, as
mother called it. Valeria too dreamt of going to Romania, to Rimnicu
Vilchea, where her best friend Claudia had managed to leave before the
occupation. In her situation however, an adventure couldn’t be taken
into account. The only hope was God, who had to liberate somehow
this territory so desired by one or another.
In all these quarrels which disturbed the peace of the house,
mother was the one who suffered the most. Her resigned attitude,
uncharacteristic to her way of being, I understood much later. She
cared for Valeria in a special way. It was the first child, a wonderful
child, but stricken by fate.
At the end of the year 1916, when she was working at the
railroads, in Odessa, she met at an officers’ ball, a young cadet, newly
sub-lieutenant, a certain Andrei Tihonov, the son of an officer himself.
A blond man with blue eyes, tall, fit, in love with Lermontov, whose
poetry he recited to whoever would listen to him. Lena, as he called
her, ran him close, only that she had Pushkin closer to her heart. They
fell in love and they got married, at their own will, without relatives,
without the consent of parents. His were far, at Petrograd, hers, at
Ismail. They were content with writing each to his own home.
His, people with pretensions of noble origin, hers, modest people.
She was staying as a guest at some people who cared much about her;
he had to stay in the cadets’ barracks, according to the regulations.
Their happy days were Saturdays and Sundays. The only bitterness was
the silence of their parents. The first to break the silence were my

115
116

grandparents who, in a short and clumsy letter, sent them their blessing
and the invitation to come to Ismail to meet each other. It was in
February 1917, when things were already rather troubled, and the
soldiers were confined to barracks. They were content to answer, to
thank them for their understanding and to explain to them, indirectly,
the explosive situation which was reigning in the big cities.
Spring gave fruit to this love. Pregnant, mother panicked, under
the pressure of the events which were quickly happening. From
Petrograd, they hadn’t received any news of goodwill. The tragedy
would come uninvited in the home of the newlyweds. Red October
brought the first news from Petrograd. The father, killed in street fights,
the mother and sister, slaughtered in their house.
- Lena, you must go to Ismail as fast as you can, to save the baby,
to be with your parents. Nothing good will come from what is
happening! Odessa is a big city, with many soldiers and sailors, with
many workers. Only God knows what will happen to us. You are not
safe here. I might not be able to leave the barracks, or we might be sent
somewhere else.
- No Andrei, I’m not leaving anywhere! As long as you are in
Odessa, I’m going to stay here as well. My hosts are very kind-hearted
and they assured me that they would take care of me. Moreover, she is
a midwife! I don’t think the anarchists will succeed. In Petrograd it is
different. There lies the power they seek to destroy. Russia is not going
to remain without a Tsar! If they move you, I promise I will go to my
mother. Until then, take care of yourself, so you can take care of us.
Our child compels you to live! Put your hand here, to see how he’s
moving. It’s like he agrees with me.
- Lena, I feel a hidden fear for the first time. This peasantry of
ours, so obedient and ignored, seems to be transforming in a road roller
which is going to sweep everything away. Our dear Tsar has remained
too far behind, he let himself badly advised. Russia needed a Russian
tsarina, Russian counselors. Deep down in his soul, he is a good man, a
kind Russian. If he hadn’t been that way, he could have long ago
drowned in blood any insubordination movement. He could have given
up a part of his prerogatives; he could have become a wise monarch,

116
117

loved by this wonderful people. If things had been that way, today
Russia would have been a respected country, but also feared. The
Russians are not made to apply German models, Prussian ones or
Austro-Hungarian, to be taught lessons by the French and English. If
you like Beethoven, that doesn’t mean you should forget Tchaikovsky.
Yes Lena, I am afraid, I am afraid of the swamp we’re sinking in. We
have lived for too long under the domination of privileges and we have
forgotten that at the foundation of Russia’s power lie our peasants. It’s
not them who should kneel before the Tsar, but the Tsar should kneel
before them, leading them with wisdom toward a better life, for the
good of Russia. Peter’s dream, to make Russia the greatest power of
the world has collapsed, probably, once and for all. I find it very hard
to leave you, and maybe that is why I talk this and that. I have to go.
Lena! Don’t cry, please! I would be capable of deserting…
It was the first and the last time they talked about such problems,
it was the last time they stayed one in the arms of the other. The
following morning, a terrifying spectacle appeared in front of the eyes
of the peaceful inhabitants of Odessa. In the Great Sobor square,
hundreds of bloody bodies were brought ostentatiously by workers and
soldiers and thrown in hurrays, on the pavement. They were the cadets
of the military school; they were the officers of the coast regiment,
slaughtered during the night by unleashed revolutionaries. Without
epaulets and without boots, they were lying in all sorts of grotesque
positions, those who hadn’t received yet the supreme order to retort to
the crowd of anarchists. For days in a row, a pilgrimage of the relatives
of those killed spread out among the corpses. They were allowed to
watch, but not to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones.
When Lena knelt before the lifeless body of Andrei, she
understood better the meaning of the words said the evening before,
she understood that Andrei would never have a grave, that the being
who was showing more and more signs of life would never have a
father. She should have followed Andrei’s advice; she should have left
to Ismail, to her mother. In the new circumstances, the journey could
not take place under normal conditions. The nightmare from the Sobor
square would repeat itself, this time in another form, when thousands

117
118

of believers, kneeling in front of this holy building, a wonder of


Russian architecture, assisted helplessly, with icons held toward the
sky, to the demolition.
Lena took Andrei’s left hand, on the finger of which the ring,
blessed at this Sobor, on the occasion of their marriage ceremony, was
missing. She held it to her chest and burst into a bitter, but peaceful cry,
without words, without lamentations. She kissed the bloody hand, she
dipped the handkerchief in the blood which was still running from the
back of his head and put it into her purse. She made the sign of the
cross and set out on the bustling streets, without paying attention to
anything around her. When she got home, she collapsed at the door,
raising the confusion of her hosts. The first chapter from her life’s
novel, the Odessa episode, had ended, but it would never be erased
from her memory.
- Lenochca, for you to go home, you must first give up the name
Tihonova. They might follow the families of the killed officers as well.
Do you still have documents with your maiden name? Yes? Very well!
Tear the marriage papers, or leave them here and we’ll hide them
somewhere. Who knows?! Maybe things will settle down and we will
escape from the bolsheviks. You should search for a wagon and go
from village to village. Dress simply and say that you have been a
worker, workwoman, at the railroads, and that you are returning to your
parents, to Ismail, because you don’t have a job in Odessa anymore.
The returning home was an ordeal. The peasants with the help of
who she was sneaking from village to village, didn’t cause her any
problems. The harder part was to sneak through the bands of
anarchists, or to avoid meeting the troops which remained still loyal,
who most of the times opened fire in everything that moved. It was the
hardest period of her life, being convinced she wouldn’t manage to
keep the baby. As all things come to an end, this journey too came to its
end.
The tragic death of Andrei strongly grieved the ones at home.
They were blaming themselves for not sending their ‘blessing’ in time
for the marriage, they were accusing the ‘in-laws’ for not doing it at all,
they were talking about God’s punishment, but they were impatiently

118
119

waiting to become grandparents, which meant a lot for the future


mother. The fact that life is full of surprises was proven once again.
The encounter with her old friend and admirer, Danila, on the
street, would turn the page of a new chapter in the life of the future
mother. Lost from the remains of his regiment, destroyed in the clashes
near Kiev, the former sub-lieutenant, now dressed civilian, was looking
for a place as far as possible from the hotspots, was looking for his
Moldavians, who were dreaming of an independent republic, and why
not, of an approach to Romania. Lena’s story impressed him deeply,
but also made him think. One evening, they found themselves with him
at their doorstep. Grandfather opened.
- Piotr Nicolaievich, I would like to talk to you and Lena, if I
may.
- You probably mean Leolea. Come in, young man!
- The customary tea and dry cakes appeared as through magic on
the oval table in the living room.
- What I am going to tell you may seem improper, improper for
the times we are living, but that is the way life is. I have known Lena
for several years, before her departure at Odessa, we are good friends,
and I have always been in love with her. Lena told me about everything
that happened in Odessa, about the death of Andrei, about the child she
will give birth to in the winter. I would like to marry her, if she accepts
me of course, and if you will give us your blessing. I want to do this
right now, as soon as possible, so at the birth of the child, we can
register him with my name. Times are hard and we don’t need to make
a proper wedding.
- Hm, have you children already talked about this? You, Leolea,
why haven’t you told me anything? I don’t even know this young man!
What do you think about this story, Xenia?
- No father, how could I have talked about something like this?! I
have only told him what has happened to me in Odessa.
- What can I say, Piotr? I am just waking up from my confusion.
Terrible things have happened and who knows what’s next! It’s up to
you to see what these kids want, and especially, who is this gentleman?

119
120

The meeting finished, as they say, nohow. White nights followed


for Lena, and for the grandparents as well.
- How can I marry when I still feel Andrei’s blood on my hands? I
know that Danila loves me, that he wants to do a nice thing, to register
the child with his name, but does he not think I am still mourning
Andrei? And when the child comes, what will he feel for it? And
nevertheless, if I had just a drop of wisdom, I would do this precisely
for the child. How will it grow up without a father? And God, what
times we are living!
- What do you say Xenia Petrovna, what do you think of this
story? How can we consider a wedding, when Andrei isn’t even cold
yet? I don’t understand how Leolea could destroy the marriage
documents? The child would have had a true name, his father’s name,
who tomorrow may be considered a hero! Yes, the times are hard, but
God will not let these infidels win! They are bandits, how could they
rule over the Holy Russia?! The tsarina’s relatives are said to be
preparing to send their armies to save Russia. This revolution doesn’t
suit them either. There are bandits and anarchists at them, too. No, I
don’t know what to say. Some say we don’t even have a Tsar anymore,
that they arrested the whole family and the nobles who were at the
palace. God forbid! If it’s true, then it would better not to be known
that she is the widow of an officer, maybe Leolea is right. She says that
her hosts from Odessa taught her this way. Who knows? Maybe they
know something! They are closer to the sovereignty.
- Piotr, how can she get married? Andrei has just died, and this
Danila doesn’t know our Christian law? Poor Andrei, he isn’t even
going to have a tomb, and the baby will never know who the father
was! God, what times we are living! And these young people! How
easy it is for them to declare the child with what name they want. In
our time, you remained a widow and that was all! What, doesn’t she
have us?!
- But when we will be no more?! Have you thought of that?
Meanwhile, Danila was not troubled by such things. He had
grown up in a family of nine children, he wanted a family with many
children, he was in love with Lena, he couldn’t lose such an

120
121

opportunity. His visits became more frequent, the arguments he was


bringing were backed up by the unfavorable times which fell over the
peaceful population, who didn’t even consider a revolution, customs
began to shake anyhow, pragmatism, under its different shapes, forced
people think differently. That is why they came to marriage, that is how
Valeria was born having a father at her head, that is how Lena
reconciled herself with the idea of keeping the secret until her death.
Danila found himself father overnight and he proved to be over
the years not only a loving husband, but also a special father. Valeria
practically grew up in his arms, and when meningitis put the life of the
child in danger, Danila, the adoptive father, turned out to be a real man!
He didn’t hesitate, with all the verdicts given by the doctors who didn’t
see any salvation, to struggle, to bring a specialist, to risk his house and
that of his sister-in-law, to resort to usurers.
Lena couldn’t forget those days, the happiness which filled them
when the operation was declared a success, the attitude of a father who
was risking everything to save their child. All was going well, Mirchea
was born, the harmony in the family had become proverbial.
Basarabia’s affiliation to The Kingdom of Romania had put an end to
the bolshevik danger. Fate had to want to change things a little for
sadness and uneasiness to enter the house. This time nothing could be
done.
The right leg started to develop differently, and the effects were
felt over the years, when the inferiority complex overpowered Valeria,
when the relations with the family got cold, when undeserved
reproaches were addressed to the parents, and especially to the one
who would have deserved them less. Valeria was starting to harbor a
veritable hate toward her father, raising confusion in mother’s head,
who didn’t dare, however, to set things straight once and for all. Many
years had to pass, for me to understand what was going on in the
family. An indiscretion of George’s mother acquainted Valeria with the
truth. She herself shared it with me. From that moment, Valeria became
even more aggressive in her attitudes toward the one who had always
considered her his daughter, who loved her, who spoilt her, and who
tried, with all his powers, to save her unharmed.

121
122

This hostile attitude of Valeria manifested itself from the years of


her adolescence, as a hard to understand outburst, always put on the
account of the inferiority complex which became stronger with age.
This was the secret which was marking the once so serene figure of
mother, her timid attempts to settle this conflict. There is no doubt I
loved father very much. There was no secret that I was his great
weakness. However, I adored mother, and any cloud in her look always
affected me. She was a special being, she was the unquestionable pillar
of the family, she loved her children without difference, she loved and
respected father. It was a family considered a model at that time, and
mother received, with good reason, the statute of lioness defending her
cubs, as well as the unity of her family. If she didn’t succeed in all, it
wasn’t her fault. Many times, it was the cubs that undermined this
unity, depriving her of the peace that had to accompany her in the
moment of her death.

11

Winter arrived rough, full of hardship, deprived of that festive


atmosphere of Christmas and New Year. The lack of money, the lack of
food, the lack of wood, brought only worries and sadness, a lot of
sadness! Who knew the proverbial wellbeing of Basarabia after the
Unification from 1918, could hardly accept the new state of things. Not
to wait for Christmas, not to prepare for the holidays?! This seemed a
curse which came down over this corner of paradise. The speculation,
the corruption from the middle of the so-called administrative
apparatus, the terror practiced by the political police, the uncertainty of
tomorrow in general, brought about, slowly but surely, a new way of
life, a new relation between people, based on distrust, on envy!

122
123

Opportunists began to appear like mushrooms after the rain. The


notion of informer entered the usual vocabulary. This category
‘covered’ by bastards played an ill-fated role in people’s lives. The
informers were unscrupulous. They denounced everything about
strangers, about friends, or, even worse, about relatives. It seemed
unlikely, but this scourge spread like scab among people, emphasizing
to the absurd the atmosphere of suspicion, of fear. The case in our
family, when grandfather Nea Stefan Nemtzeanu, was given on the
hands of torturers by his own brother, an inveterate alcoholic, cleared
any sign of doubt.
Later on, the hasty departure of the soviets left incontestable
traces, written proofs, denounces signed by ‘honorable’ individuals!
The phenomenon of ‘disappearances’ continued unhindered, people
coming to accept it as a natural calamity, unavoidable. In the past,
curious at everything which was happening around them, the people
started to avoid the sources of information, for fear of challenges. In
the sight of the world, the population was changing. Locals were
disappearing, strangers were appearing. It wasn’t uncommon to wake
up in the morning with other neighbors. People were taken in the
middle of the night, leaving the houses filled with everything necessary
for a household. The newcomers settled in peace, an hour or two after
the departure of the unfortunate ones. Where these people, oppressed
by fate, were taken, it was never known. It was rumored about
deportations in Siberia, about the ‘pre-selection’ camps from the region
of Odessa, about secret places which were hiding common graves.
Recently, rumors started to circulate, more and more strange,
regarding what was happening on the former Tulcheanov domains, the
headquarters of the Special Unit. The peace of the night started to be
disturbed by dog barking and gunshots. What was troubling the
population more was a continuous movement of the sinister black vans,
in the hereabouts of the forbidden zone. It was rumored that some of
the inquired ones from the Consistory were transferred to the phantom
unit. War had to come for the mystery to be revealed in all its atrocity.
What Daniil Stepanaci feared most didn’t spare him.

123
124

In an Ismailian winter evening, with a severe cold and a strong


wind from the West, Sergey also made his appearance at our house.
- Comrade Davidov, the commander is waiting for you! Please
get dressed!
- Which commander? And who are you, comrade?
- I am the one in the identity card, but you will get to know the
commander at his commandment. Come on, get dressed and let’s not
waste time with questions!
- Rishcov received him kindly, addressed him with Daniil
Stepanovich, and invited him to sit down.
- How is your job going?
- Work is going well, I think, and until now, I haven’t received
any complaints.
- I know, I know, you are appreciated and this pleases me. We
need this kind of people, Daniil Stepanovich! That is why I figured you
could help us too. We don’t know the people, and the people still don’t
trust us enough. On the contrary, we have many enemies; there are a lot
of rumors on our behalf, subversive actions are organized, and many
more. You, Daniil Stepanovich, have a lot of experience in working
with personal documents, as far as I know you have been the chief of
the archive service at a big bishopric, you must know a lot about the
priests with whom you were colleague. I know you weren’t a priest,
but you had to make a living somehow. What I would like you to do, is
to help us find out more about these priests, who, unfortunately, have a
great influence over the population. You could work for us, unofficially
of course, and provide us with some information about certain persons.
Everything is confidential at us, so there is no risk of being discovered.
Moreover, we know that you have been in very good relations with the
families Voda and Ilashcu, with whom we have unfortunately had
problems. We are very interested in what Ilashcu’s wife is doing, whom
we know you have recently visited. And, of course, the archpriest, or
how he is called, Popescu. You have a good command of Russian, so
you could write everything directly. That would be our wish, a simple
collaboration. It would also be good for your family, because we will
take care so that you don’t have any trouble with your job. And there is

124
125

one more problem, very serious in my opinion, the situation of your


son who is studying in Chisinau. We know he was involved in the
organization of the run across the Danube, which unfortunately ended
such tragically, but we consider that it was a foolish act and nothing
more. Otherwise, we have good references from Chisinau. If you think
you can manage, a simple formality is needed, a written commitment,
which will remain at us as a strict secret. What do you say, Daniil
Stepanovich, are you going to do it? As Moldavians say, do we strike
the bargain?
- As far as I understood, you are asking me to become an
informer, or as we Moldavians say, a squeaker, is that right?
- Eh, it’s not like that! Al we ask you is to do your duty toward
the Soviet Union, whose enemy I’m sure you are not. We don’t ask you
to lie; we need simple information to work with. It is a duty toward the
country!
- Comrade colonel, if it is only about simple information, ask me
and if I can, I will answer you on the spot. Why begin to write
information when I don’t know exactly what interests you?! For
something like this, no commitment is needed.
- Fine, Daniil Stepanovich, in this case we have nothing more to
talk about. You will continue the discussions with comrade captain
Shevchenko. Sergey, come and see the comrade to comrade captain.
Tell him to come speak to me.
Descending the stairs with Sergey, Danila, who a short time ago
was chief in that building, felt something strange, hard to explain.
Everything seemed so cold, so unknown. He knew that his turn had
come and that he couldn’t escape from the trap he was set. When he
entered the investigation room, he felt a cold chill down his spine. The
room which was once so familiar to him, resembled a torture chamber
as described in the historical novels set in the Middle Ages. From what
he had talked with Paul and Ileana, and especially, from Paul’s public
confessions at the church, he knew that was not a scenery meant to
impress the ‘guests’. He clenched his fists, trying to keep his calm. He
had to try to act diplomatically, not arrogantly. Something like that
could have never helped with brutes.

125
126

The hulks were standing motionless, staring into vacancy.


Shevchenko entered lively, invited him with a gesture to sit down on
the armchair equipped with cuffs, sat down on the armchair in front of
the desk and turned on the spotlight which was aimed at the victim.
Danila instinctively closed his eyes and turned his head away, grabbing
the armchair with his arms at the same time.
- Please aim the spotlight away! I can’t stand bright light.
- I need this light to follow your reaction to the questions better,
and besides, you are not at the barber’s here to tell him how and what
to do, here I decide. You only have to submit and cooperate to make
things go well and not waste time for nothing!
Danila swallowed his answer and, slowly opening his eyes, tried
to accommodate himself to the stream of light which was flooding his
face.
- I have understood you did not understand what is asked of you.
Probably comrade colonel hasn’t been explicit enough. When we invite
someone here, it means that it is not a game and cooperation is the only
wise solution for the one invited. We need information and we appeal
to all people of good-faith to obtain it. This information helps us verify
ours. If a demonstration is needed, I am at your disposal. For example,
we know that your father has been arrested and that he is being
investigated. He hid the fact that he politicized, that he was mayor, that
he has a kulak fortune. His brother, a man devoted to the new regime,
opened our eyes. I know that your son, the student at Chisinau, took
part in the organization of the swimming across the Danube and that he
got scared in time and gave it up, betraying his fellows. We know, I’m
saying it clearly, that while priest Voda was under investigation, you
visited him, and after Ilashcu’s arrest and his escape, you were at his
wife’s house. Is that enough? I want precise answers at a series of
questions, written answers. This inquiry could be avoided, if you gave
us some informative notes. I want to know what priest Voda told you
about the inquiry and about his wife. I want to know what you were
doing at Ilashcu’s wife and why was priest Popescu looking for you.
What you know about Nicolov, about Savatie. You will remain at
us overnight to decide if you want to collaborate. It is good to know

126
127

that a lot of things depend on this, things regarding your life and that of
your family, of course! I must warn you that we already have a lot of
information about all this, so there would be no use in giving us
evasive answers. For us, it would only be a control, a routine
confrontation, for you however, it would be a control of your sincerity.
- You are telling me about sincerity and you are the first one to
infringe it. If you are sincere, then tell me where my father is now. He
has been taken from his house and without any trial, he has been taken
somewhere. The cause was the declarations of a notorious drunkard, an
alcoholic. Since then, nothing is known about him. He was a loved and
respected man in his village. What can I tell you about the bishop? It is
already known that he was exiled on the other side of the Danube. Two
days ago, his unmistakable voice was heard on radio Bucharest. He
narrated everything as it happened. What could I tell you about father
Voda and his wife? You know as well as I do that he overcame his fear
and talked to his parishioners in the church, narrating everything that
had happened to him here, at the former Consistory, once considered
the home of God’s servants. What could I tell you about the
disappearances of Ilashcu and Nicolov, or about the fate of Savatie?
Nothing! No one knows anything about what happened to them. What
was I looking for at Ilashcu’s wife and at archpriest Popescu’s houses?
From Popescu I took the money collected by the parishioners to help
Ilashcu’s wife. This is how people react around here, christianly, when
someone needs help. I know that I am in danger, me and my family, but
I also know that if I accepted to write only lies about others, the fate of
me and my family wouldn’t change. You have persecuted wonderful
people, who could have been of great use to you. By destroying them,
you have angered the people who loved and respected them. The
church in Basarabia cannot simply be locked with a key, the church is
in the souls of people and that has been for a long time. If you want to
succeed in Basarabia, don’t estrange them, don’t anger them, don’t
make them your enemies. Don’t hunt down the priests! You will need
them for decades to come…
- I see you are all the same. You know how to talk people’s heads
off, you know how to defend your interests, only that you are not in a

127
128

court to plead, you are in an inquiry, about a serious matter, state


security, and we don’t joke with something like that, or let ourselves
charmed by beautiful words. You are accused of possessing
information about hostile individuals which you refuse to pass on to us.
This puts you in the same boat with them! Think about it!
The feeling that all was lost for him, as well as for his family,
brought about a state of panic, something unusual for the balanced way
of the former chief of the church archives. His family was at stake, in
other words everything! Overwhelmed by anxiety, he stretched himself
on the bench in the ‘waiting’ room. He knew there was no solution out
of it. It was a system of terror implementation, as a mean of controlling
the local situation, of defeating the stubbornness of this heterogeneous
population, who contrary to all expectations, was manifesting itself as
an homogenous whole, hard to understand for these indoctrinates of an
utopian system.
When Alexander the First set foot in Basarabia, in 1812, making
himself ruler over the mouths of the Danube, his dream was to build a
road through the Balkans, toward Turkey and old Greece. He needed
this land of Basarbia, its strategic position, its riches. He knew the
heterogeneous aspect of the population, but he didn’t consider
‘correcting’ it through the transplant of populations, through the
removing of the native element. It was an important step toward
Western Europe, which he admired so much due to the education
received, it was a special capacity of understanding the phenomenon of
peaceful cohabitation between nations. Alexander didn’t undertake
deportations, regarding the homogenization at any cost, he started a
daring plan of multiethnic colonization of this land blessed by God,
creating important facilities for colonization. Swiss, Germans, French,
Rutens and Ukrainians, Russians, Bulgarians and Gagauz people, and
even Moldavians, could come. Alexander understood that he couldn’t
count on the Russianization of the territory, and the Moldavians were
part of his plan to expand to the Carpathians and then, to the Lower
Danube. Things were totally different now.
The intentions of the soviet empire were less complicated.
Russianization at any cost, the crushing of any form of resistance!

128
129

Blackmail, crime, deportation were the weapons usually used by the


so-called political police. The stubborn intellectuals, especially the
clergy, had to be destroyed, the well-off had to be destroyed, the hatred
of the population had to be stirred up against the wealthy, the distrust
between the young and the old generation, between the members of the
family, had to be seeded. Corruption and opportunism could flourish
freely! With such thoughts passing his mind, the former church archive
chief was bluntly ‘helped’ into a van and transported to the so well-
known domains of Tulcheanov, respectively to the enigmatic Special
Unit.
It was midnight when he found himself in front of the main
entrance of the famous wine cellars. He knew every corner, from the
exhibition and tasting room to the interminable galleries, once filled
with the giant barrels which were hiding the most exquisite sorts of
wines. How many memories of Alexandrov, Stavrov, the tasting which
preceded the great holidays! Now, the exhibition room had a desk, a
few metallic cupboards, and along the empty walls, a multitude of
digging tools – shovels, pickaxes. There were also buckets and
wheelbarrows. Danila understood that his last road in life would start
here, he thought of Bob and Luminitza, of Leolea, of the absurd
arguments with Valeria, of the capricious Mirchea.
- Would they stop at me, or would they take care of my family
too?
Danila’s thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of a sinister
character, sinister through the ugliness of his face. Soldier, wearing the
marks of a captain, he was hitting the top of his boots, alternatively,
with a leather whip. The ugliness of his face, hard to describe, took
hideous proportions when he tried to display an ‘ironic’ smile. Danila
felt a cold chill. He tried to keep his cool, but he couldn’t stop the
beads of sweat which appeared on his forehead. Later on, he would
find out this was the famous captain Nicolovski Alexandr, secretly
nicknamed ‘son of a bitch’.
- What is the problem Davidov? I’ve heard you don’t want to
cooperate. Many do so, until they arrive here, at us. You still have time
to change your mind, just don’t take too long! Take him to the hut and

129
130

give him working clothes. Starting tomorrow, he will be working at


gallery A. Here, who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat! Is that clear?
- Together with the others, or in isolation? comrade captain.
- With the others, so he can meet his fellow workers. If you want
to tell me something personally, announce yourself at the report.
A paved alley, guarded on one side by the vines and on the other
by the fruit trees orchard, lead to the back of the domain. Strong
spotlights, installed in observation towers, were sweeping, with their
bright light, the whole perimeter of the domain. Two huts, newly built,
were profiling at the end of the alley. They approached the one on the
left. A sentinel at the entrance, another armed soldier circling the hut.
Solid bars at the windows. At the entrance into the hut, a reception
room and guard room. A desk with two pieces, some metallic
cupboards and wide benches along the walls. A single soldier, with a
pistol at his belt, was occupying a sort of armchair behind the desk. At
the newcomer’s entry, he stood up, straightened his rubashka and
smiled tiredly.
- Freshman? Together with the others, or isolation?
- Together with the others, for now!
- Papers and undressing!
He took out some clothes from a cupboard, measured them with
his eyes, grabbed a pair of worn out boots, a pair of socks, a sort of
towel and a piece of house soap.
- Here you go, and take care of them! You won’t get others! You
can dress!
Danila complied silently, trying to hide the repulsion provoked by
the distressing appearance of the clothes received.
- Davidov?! You are a Russian of ours?
- No, I am a Moldavian, but they changed my name at the release
of my passport.
- Fine, fine! That doesn’t change the situation. Let’s go to the
bedroom.
At the playful light of the spotlights, Danila made out a long
room with beds spread along the walls. At the end of the room, a free
bed was shown to him.

130
131

- You will be staying here. You will wake up when the siren
sounds. Behind the hut there is a washstand and the toilet. You will
come back to the bedroom for the call, and then you will go to the
dining hall, for tea. Then, to work. You will get used to it, if you care
for your life.
Alone next to the distributed bed, the respectable gentleman
Daniil Stepanovich, Nea Stefan Nemtzeanu’s Danila, woke up with the
feeling that he was serving a death sentence. He put the soap wrapped
in the towel under his pillow, he took his shoes off and lay down. The
quietness of the bedroom was intriguing him. He tried to make out
something in the scanning of the spotlights, but the movement of light
was confusing him, rather than helping him. A white night, full of dark
thoughts. When the siren gave a few awaking signals, the bedroom
quickly came to life. It was still half-dark and you couldn’t make out
the faces of the fellow sufferers. Were they thieves? Were they
‘political’ convicts? The answer would come in the dining hall. Tired
figures, sad figures, fixing their looks in the bowl with ‘tea’ and the
loaf of black bread, they were doing everything to keep a total silence,
in order not to irritate the supervisor, a young soldier armed with an
automatic weapon and a far from friendly look. Among the diners,
familiar people, some of them very familiar. Danila found himself
seated next to father Nicolov, who threw him a conspiratorial look,
after which he started to stare at the ceiling. In front of him he saw
Hershcovich, the tailor, pale, ringed, with shaking hands, with a kind
look and with a hardly perceptible smile. Danila answered him in the
same discrete way.
In a small town, you have the impression you know everybody.
He felt this in the dining hall, too. At the other end, he saw father
Savatie, peacefully sipping from his bowl of tea. He had lost a lot of
weight, he seemed hunched, he, the vigorous man! At the gathering
command, everybody left their bowls on the table, some of them with
the tea, as well as the scraps of bread untouched, and headed silently
toward the exit. In front of the hut, they aligned on a single row, one
meter one from the other, which made any communication impossible.
Looking toward the other hut, Danila saw a similarly organized group,

131
132

but made up of women. The same silence reigned in the women’s


group, too. Almost simultaneously, the groups set out toward the wine
cellars.
- Danila, do as the rest. There are also villains among us!
Danila throbbed hearing the words which came from behind him,
words which faded in the sound of the boots, but after the accent, he
recognized father Nicolov. A feeling of warmth engulfed him. He was
not alone, and that mattered enormously. While the group of men
numbered around 30-35 people, that of women didn’t top 15. Arriving
in the former wine exhibition room, the men armed themselves with
shovels and pickaxes, and lead by four soldiers armed with automatic
rifles, entered one of the central galleries. The old barrels had
disappeared. The working site was at the end of the gallery. New
galleries were being dug, two on each side, 2 by 2 meters wide. The
progress was rather equal, not more than 8-10 meters. No one could
imagine what these lateral galleries would serve for. Rumors were
whispered about ammunition deposits, about shelters. These whispers
were concealing a trace of hope and were generating all sorts of
speculations. The so much expected war was late and winter was
starting to set in.
The men, using pickaxes and shovels, were working at the four
galleries, at the light of some oil lamps. The removed earth was taken
out of the new galleries by means of buckets. It was then carried by the
group of women, also with buckets, to the surface, and spread among
the vines. It was a hard, exhausting work for the women, but infernal
for the men. The dust from the small galleries, the crowd, the lack of
ventilation, everything, absolutely everything foretold a quick end.
When he exited the gallery, Danila had the surprise, if that could be
called a surprise, to recognize the exhausted, but still beautiful face of
Ileana. Their eyes intersected for a moment, but the glitter in them left
no doubt that they recognized each other. Most of the women were
young, but the work and the conditions they were living in had left a
mark on them.
The old mansion was somewhere in the middle of the orchard. It
was a long building, with a porch in front, with many beautiful rooms,

132
133

representing the apartments of the former owners, as well as a lot of


bedrooms for occasional guests. In the left wing, the former Altlaender
arranged his office and living rooms. In the left wing, the captain
Alexandr Nicolovski was installed. In the bedrooms from the middle,
the eight cerberi, who were responsible with the security of the
commandment area, were installed. Both commander Rusev and
captain Nicolovski also owned a small house in the town each, where
they usually spent Sundays in the middle of the family, as in the case of
Rusev.
Behind the mansion, there were also a few annexes, among which
one was especially drawing the attention of the convicts. The double
door, the covered windows, the lack of any noticeable activity during
the day, the noises which resembled muffled gunfire inside the walls,
sometimes blurred screams; all these were cultivating the already sick
image, of those destined to die. This was actually the investigation
room, equipped by a sick mind, as that of Nicolovski, with all sorts of
instruments and installations of torture, bringing somewhere from past
times, the imprint of the Middle Ages. Nicolovski was a brute who was
posing as an intellectual; an opportunist, a sadist, capable of any vile
deed in order to advance on the scale of ‘values’. He didn’t believe in
anything, not even in the system he was promoting. He wanted power,
the power to subdue innocent people, to subject them to his diabolical
impulses.
The hidden mastermind of all that was happening was, however,
the commander Rusev, or Rusu, or Altlaender, depending on the
circumstances, a political chameleon, a dreamer in his way, who was
hoping to play an important role in his home country, which he
cunningly avoided to name – Romania or Hungary. He was a
circumstance communist, married to a rebel woman from Spain
haunted by communist ideas, a refugee as himself in the U.S.S.R. and
subjected to a regime of special training. Misha, as he was called,
seemed a kind individual, not very talkative, apparently shy. His mind
however, didn’t show signs of shyness. He organized unscrupulous
plans, pursuing from the shadow the realization of his personal
ambitions, the achievement of a high position for him and his

133
134

offspring. He was hoping in the soviet expansion and was weighing


even now, the chances of some countries which were presenting
strategic interest for the Soviet Union. In a way, he was a visionary, not
giving any long term chances to the threatening Germans. He had
delightfully received the mission of organizing a special unit in Ismail,
the most important Danube port controlled by the soviets. His main
role was to crush any resistance against the new order and to
contribute, through any means to Russianization, or better said, to the
deromanianization of this important Basarabian zone, the Danubian
south. He dressed like the officers, but without wearing the signs of
any military rank. The fate of the convicts sent to the political police
for investigation depended on him. He didn’t take part in the inquiries.
This was in the charge of the captain, the ‘son of a bitch’, who was
enjoying Misha’s full trust, choosing inquiry methods at his own will.
Misha only indicated the person who was to be subject to the inquiry.
The captain was helped in his work by a group of five young
hulks, speakers of Romanian, who had their headquarters in a room
next to the investigation hall, with which it was directly linked by a
door upholstered on both sides. The purpose of the inquiries, carried on
under the direct control of captain Nicolovski, was the acquiring of
signed denouncements at the address of certain persons. The fate of
those investigated for this purpose was nonetheless sealed, in spite of
the promises made, and regardless the ‘success’ of the investigation.
They were people destined to liquidation, according to the principle ‘no
witnesses alive’.
All of Rusev’s convicts had previously passed through an
investigation at the Consistory and were representing the group of
stubborn ones who had refused the collaboration with the political
police. The fact that these fate-oppressed people had to disappear from
society gave full scope to the sick, diabolical imagination of the
almighty captain, who together with the five faithful servants, but
equally sick, applied the most incredible methods of torture, the most
perverse methods of humiliation. Always under the influence of
alcohol, these servants of the devil feasted themselves soiling with the
blood of the defenseless victims, savoring the screams or the dread in

134
135

the eyes of those who dared to resist. The faint was the desired
moment, the expected moment, although a brutal awakening to reality
followed, the cold shower.
To amplify the terror provoked by the treatment applied, at the
inquiry of a convict, two or three others were brought to assist at the
show. Often, the screams came out the throats of these ‘spectators’, to
the satisfaction of the captain who was directing the staging, and an
eventual faint was considered the acme of success. This whole system
of torture with witnesses chosen from the ones who were next, was
based on the certainty that ‘no one would leave alive from here’, so
often repeated by the commander of the unit at the short work meetings
with the in subordinate staff. This was the hall of torture reserved to
men. Here, the exasperating endurance of one or another, ended with a
bullet in the back of the head, pleasure reserved for himself by the ‘son
of a bitch’.
For a long time, it was unknown where the bodies of the ones
killed were disappearing. The hasty retreat of the soviets in the summer
of 1941 would reveal the mystery.
The fate of the detained women was a little different from that of
the men. Women who knew inconvenient things for the invaders were
brought. That is how Ileana arrived in this veritable camp of death,
although later, after the liberation, she wouldn’t be granted the
importance deserved because of the ‘reduced scale’ of the martyrdom.
Reduced scale! And that said by the new authorities installed by the
liberation armies. In a way, the history of 1918 was repeating itself.
Behind the army, an army of functions came, of functionaries from the
Old Kingdom, harboring only thoughts of fortune. Yes, women too
were brought in order not to come out anymore, but what was more
serious, they were brought as offerings to the torturers. That is why the
investigation of women was gentler in appearance, but crueler in
reality.
Although Ileana’s fate had been decided at once with that of
Ilashcu, she was the one who rushed the string of events. Convinced
that Nani wasn’t alive anymore, she decided to face the presumed
killers. From what she had found out from Paul, she started to think

135
136

obsessively about Rishcov and Shevchenko. Plans, some more


extraordinary than others, came to her mind, possessed by the idea of
revenge. She didn’t have anyone anymore, she could risk everything!
Unable to afford the luxury of facing both of them, she stopped at
Shevchenko, the one who had directly contributed to the destruction of
the Voda family. She went to the Consistory and asked to see comrade
captain Shevchenko, in order to give a declaration. After a few
minutes, she was lead to the investigation room where, the already
famous captain received her very politely.
- I am glad you came, I am very glad! I have heard you are very
beautiful, but the reality exceeds any imagination. Boys, leave us
alone. Volodea, bring a comfortable chair. The armchair which we use
for a certain type of persons doesn’t suit you. There, Volodea, you can
go. Have a seat, please! I have been told you have a declaration to
make, is that true? Have you found out anything about your husband?
We haven’t traced him. Too bad he ran, maybe all would have ended
well. We aren’t exactly as our enemies describe us. I hope you see that
for yourself.
- In fact, I haven’t come for any declaration. I have come to be
told what happened to my husband. I know too much of what is going
on here to play along in this game. I also know the fact that you
yourself know about my meeting with priest Voda, about his discussion
with the parishioners, about his confessions. I have come of my own
will, knowing what can await me. I am not a brave person; I am not a
fighter, only I know how much this visit costs me psychically. In short,
I want you to tell me first of all what happened to my husband. I want
to know whether he is alive. I am in your hands, so you are not risking
anything. I want the truth!
- You have blushed a little to much. I am convinced your action
costs you a lot, it is something beyond you. You are trying to be tough,
but in fact you are of a delicateness which surpasses even your beauty.
Your husband died! The circumstances don’t matter. All that happened,
happened because of him. You have asked me to be honest and I
couldn’t refuse you. He has also put you in a difficult situation, very
difficult even! I however, don’t consider you a dangerous person; on

136
137

the contrary, I foresee a great chance of collaboration. For that we need


to know each other better, to win our trust. Through the quality I
possess, I can guarantee you that. Do you want a coffee, or some tea?
- No, thank you! I am too troubled by what I have found out. I
want to know where my husband is buried; every man has the right to a
tomb.
- I am sorry I can’t answer your question. Your husband doesn’t
have a tomb. In his attempt to cross the Danube swimming, he was hit
by the bullets of the frontier guards and carried away by the water. It is
all I can tell you. You can consider that the Danube is his tomb, the
tomb he has chosen himself. It is better to avoid the subject. There
would be no sense in suffering because of his thoughtless actions. It is
clear how selfish he was, knowing the fact that not only was he risking,
but he was also involving you in all this political filth.
- And now, what are you planning to do with me?
- It depends only on you! We can be friends, very close even, or
mortal enemies! There is no other way. Choose, but choose now!
- Intimate friends we can never be. I have been contaminated with
a disease which is going to kill me very quickly, but it can also be
passed on very easily. I have nothing more to lose. You can rape me, or
entrust me to your rapists, but the risks are yours. I belong to my
husband and to God!
- Too bad we can’t get along, what you are telling me might be a
bluff, but as one can never know, I am going to hand you to the Special
Unit where, if the bluff is confirmed, you will find out what a terrible
road to death you have chosen! I give you one more night of
meditation. Maybe you will change your mind. Your purse, please!
Ileana handed over her purse, knowing that the chance of an easy
suicide had been wasted. Shevchenko turned the purse upside down,
and kept only the tube with the tablets which were supposed to end
Ileana’s life, then leisurely put the contents of the purse back and called
Volodea.
- Take the comrade to the waiting room! She will be spending the
night with us. I’ll talk to Misha tomorrow and I will send her to him to
take care of her.

137
138

That is how Ileana ended up at the Special Unit, that is how she
signed her sentence by herself, by hurrying.

12

The arrest of Daniil Stepanich totally unbalanced the life in our


family. The young ones didn’t even realize what this thing meant for
the morale of those remained, not to mention for the budget of the
house. The only one who managed to have a job and support the whole
clan was George and Barby’s mother. A talented dressmaker, she came
to be sought by the wives of the new dignitaries, eager for everything
which could satisfy their latent wishes from home.
One day, we were visited by a naval officer, accompanied by two
civilians. The officer, Max Mihailovich Zelicman, the commander of
the military harbor of Ismail, was in search of a home, for him and his
family. Fear took hold of my mother, who understood this was the
second step, after the arrest of the husband, respectively the eviction
from grandmother’s house. The guests asked permission to visit the
whole house, made some measurements, passed in the house of my
aunt, when Zelicman recognized his wife’s dressmaker.
- You live here? Are you two families?
- Yes, me and my family and my sister, Elena Petrovna, with her
family.
- Elena Petrovna, and you also speak Russian so well?
- Yes, I do, it is my tongue, and I have graduated from the
Russian high school. My husband too, although he is a Moldavian, has
a good command of this language. Unfortunately, he couldn’t meet
you, he was arrested and I don’t know anything about him. What are
you going to do, evict us now, in the middle of the winter?

138
139

- No, no, Elena Petrovna, rest assure! I am looking for a house,


but that doesn’t mean I kick people out in the streets and, besides, this
house doesn’t even match the wishes expressed by my wife. We are
temporarily living two steps away from you and if you would like to,
you can visit us together with your sister. My wife would be glad to
have someone to exchange opinions with. Now we will leave you and
don’t worry about this visit.
The civilized attitude of the officer, the lack of intervention in the
discussions from the two civilians, instead of calming down the spirits,
created an atmosphere of uneasiness, of distrust. The things happening
in town were too strange to accept this kind of attitude as normal. The
days which followed would invalidate these fears, at least the ones
connected to the bizarre politeness of Zelicman, commander of the
harbor, with name and features typical for a Jew.
Zelicman’s wife was a beautiful, but ailing woman. A
polidiscopathy often fixed her to her bed or to a specially designed
armchair, depriving her of the happiness of running after her son, a
seven year old boy, playful, longing for affection, but also for play.
Marat, with black and curly hair, a Pushkin from his childhood, hated
arithmetic and memorizing poems. In school, he seemed stubborn, the
teachers blaming the education received in the middle of a ‘well-
placed’ family. It was a superficial judgment, which was drawing Marat
away from school and was making his parents ponder.
The distrust which had entered the houses of locals was a
phenomenon which manifested itself even more strikingly among the
newcomers. They suspected each other, they avoided relationships
between families, they didn’t pay visits to one another. The Zelicmans
too, were leading an isolated life. He, due to the important function he
had, was spending his time in the harbor. He was usually skipping
lunch, enjoying the family atmosphere only in the evenings. Sara
Maximovna, some ten years younger than her husband, ailing, and
often immobilized, couldn’t answer Marat’s calls, contenting herself
with calling him at her side to draw him in the game of school, the only
way of being closer to him and of helping him with his homework.
Marat, on the other hand, wasn’t content with just that. He wanted to

139
140

run, to go for walks. He couldn’t bear standing still, he loved exercise.


What school was offering him was too little. Sitting at his desk was
tiring him, was distracting, in a way, his attention.
The visit which mother together with her sister paid them would
represent a little turning point in our existence, so affected by the
arresting of my father. It happened that she found Marat having a hard
time with arithmetic.
- I don’t know what to do about my Marat!? He doesn’t like
calculations; he doesn’t like mathematics at all. I don’t even think he is
paying too much attention in class. It is true that I don’t have a lot of
teaching talent, but neither does my illness allow me to be more active
with him. Today, we simply got stuck. Elena Petrovna, I’ve heard you
have raised four children; maybe you can give me some advice on what
to do. Those at school always tell me he is spoilt!?
- Sara Maximovna, if you allow me to go with him in another
room for a little while, we will see what the deal is with these tricky
calculations.
- Please, please! Maybe you will be more lucky with this sly!
- Marat, let’s go do the math homework quickly. You know, I
liked mathematics a lot in school and I know a few tricks. Do you want
me to show them to you? Let’s go and if you like it, you will come to
us to do the homework together, ok?
- What tricks can you do? Or do you just want to fool me?!
- No, no, I’m not fooling you, you’ll see!
Mother truly had a special talent of explaining and inspiring
children with confidence. I don’t know what tricks she showed Marat,
but the result was extraordinary! The child joined the game and
managed to actually participate in the solving of that unsolvable
homework.
- Mommy, mommy, I’ve done it, I’ve finished, if you don’t
believe me, ask tanti Leolea! Our teacher is stupid! I would better do
my lessons at home, instead of going to school!
- No, my dear, it is not allowed to miss out from school, but until
you get used to solve them yourself, we will do the lessons together, if
your mommy wants to, of course.

140
141

- How can I not want to, Elena Petrovna! Max, too, will be very
happy! We will pay for the lessons, of course. Maybe you could teach
him how to learn the poetry, which, I don’t know why, he doesn’t like.
- With the greatest pleasure, as long as you don’t have any
trouble!? You know, my husband has been arrested and I don’t know
anything about his fate. It is better you know.
- A, it’s good you’ve told me! I will ask Max to take inquire for
the matter and see what can be done. Yes, yes, we will certainly resolve
it! For Max, Marat is everything. You have made me happy! I thank
you!
If for them Marat was everything, for my mother, the Zelicman
family meant a gleam of hope, some money and food, and above all,
the promise to resolve father’s situation. The fact that Marat accepted a
stranger around him so easily, that he started to take his role of pupil
seriously in a record time, that the Zelicmans weren’t disturbed by the
‘political’ situation of the Davidov family, being preoccupied only by
Marat’s progress, strengthened the relations between our families. An
influent man, through his position in town, Max Mihailovich
immediately set out to work.
He made the first visit at the Consistory, to find out the fate of
citizen Davidov. Rishcov, surprised by this intervention, stammered
and stammered, only to stop at a denunciation which was incriminating
Daniil Stepanovich Davidov in the priests’ plot against the soviet
power.
- Let’s be honest, comrade Rishcov! What plot are you talking
about? I understand that you wish to diminish the church’s influence
over the population, but to make the mistake of considering enemies
those who are and aren’t, this I cannot accept, and I think neither the
ones at headquarters can. Come on, really, tell me what you have done
with him. He is an innocent man, whom I personally might need.
- Well, I couldn’t deal with him and I sent him to the Special
Unit, to comrade Rusev. It would be best you talk to him.
- Good, thank you a lot, and may we meet again!
Zelicman knew Rusev very well from the City Council; he knew
that he was a Jew from Romania, but that he wasn’t proud of his

141
142

nationality. The rumors which were circulating about this ‘Special


Unit’ commander couldn’t comfort him, but he didn’t give up and he
counted on his ability to discuss with ‘colleagues’.
Without many deliberation, he went to the Special Unit, where,
after he presented himself, had the pleasant surprise of being greeted
by the commander Rusev in person.
- What brings you to us, Max Mihailovich? We are in a rather
disreputable place to receive so high-placed visitors. Come if you may,
in my office, let me serve you a special coffee, or eventually a
Grusinian tea!?
- Good day, Mihail Mihailovich, don’t tempt me with special
coffee because I might come more often. Know that this is not an
official visit; I simply have a personal interest. I hope you can help me.
- Anything, for a man like yourself!
They talked about this and that until the hot coffee arrived, when
the door of the cabinet closed. It was only then that the commander
examined Zelicman closely.
- Now we can talk in peace. No one can hear us here.
- This coffee really is good! Mihail Mihailovich, this is about
someone who has been sent to you. As far as I have found out, it isn’t
someone dangerous, a plotter, or something like that. Daniil
Stepanovich Davidov. I am having problems with the school, with my
son Marat. He doesn’t get on well with mathematics, nor with other
subjects. I don’t have time to deal with it, and my wife is sick and
cannot take care of him as necessary. Davidov’s wife on the other hand,
is a very talented instructor, she is a Russian and Marat is progressing
very quickly! I am helping her with this and that, but I can’t risk
bringing the wife of a political convict in my house. I wasn’t hoping to
find such a good solution for Marat, but I was in luck. You have a child
and you know what this means. What do you say?!
- I don’t know what the exact situation of this Davidov is, but if it
isn’t something serious, it can be done. Stay here in the office, and I
will go talk to my assistant, Nicolovski. Without him I can’t do
anything. I hope it isn’t too late! I’ll be right back.

142
143

Rusev interrupted Nicolovski from an inquiry, warned him that it


was about something very important, told him about comrade
Zelicman’s visit and about the interest of this high-placed character for
this Davidov.
- But what does this sailor think; that he can interfere with
business that doesn’t concern him?!
- This is not about interfering, it is about a personal request,
which could do us good one day! It depends on how this individual
looks like. Have you passed him through an inquiry?
- No, not yet. He is working at the galleries, but he didn’t get near
the ones who interest me in a special way. Why drawl it! If you want, I
can bring him to you right now. He doesn’t look too bad yet.
- Fine, send him to my office, but first tell me if you agree that
we make him a liberation form, let’s say, to follow him in freedom.
- Done! This Zelicman was really lucky that we didn’t inquire
him, or we would have had nothing left to free.
- Good, thank you! I’ll be waiting in the office. If you want to
meet Zelicman, you come too.
- It’s better he doesn’t know me! Who knows? Maybe one day, I
will have him as a client!?
When Davidov was removed from the workgroup and taken to a
hot shower, and then to the hut to shave, he felt his legs were giving up
on him. Only when his personal clothes were brought and he was
prompted to hurry, a gleam of hope shone in his eyes tired of
sleeplessness. While he was dressing, he found himself with
Nicolovski next to him.
- Where do you know Zelicman from?
- I have never heard this name before!
- Fine, fine! You will meet him and you will go home with him.
Be careful! All you have seen or heard here is a secret of major
importance! If you blab out any word, you will be accused of high
treason and not even ten Zelicmans will save you! You will go directly
to the commander’s office. I hope we never meet again! The second
time you won’t get away from me! This time you were lucky, really
lucky!

143
144

When he entered the office, he was greeted by Rusev, with a


benevolent smile.
- Comrade Davidov, meet comrade Zelicman, the commander of
the Ismail Harbor, with whom, as a matter of fact, you will be going
home. You will be able to go back to work. They will receive a note
from me. Be careful who you meet and especially, what you say. I wish
you not to come back to us! Good luck!
- Mihail Mihailovich, thank you! I hope I can make this up to
you. Goodbye! Let’s go, Daniil Stepanovich!
On the way home, Zelicman didn’t address a word to the one who
was living moments of total confusion. He only whispered the address
to the driver, after which he immersed himself into silence, a
mysterious silence. The car stopped in front of the house on the
Frumoasa street. Zelicman got off and made a sign to be followed,
hardly hiding a smile filled with satisfaction. He gave a prolong ring at
the door and when Elena Petrovna opened, Zelicman hastily pushed my
father inside, following him closely. He closed the door and breathed
easily.
- Uf! Elena Petrovna, I entrust you with Daniil Stepanovich,
whole and unharmed. ‘All is well that ends well!’ Thank God, the
nightmare is over! Don’t talk anything, neither with the neighbors, nor
with the relatives. He was, let’s say, in the countryside, and that is all!
Daniil Stepanovich, I hope we will get to know each other better. Elena
Petrovna is pure gold for my son Marat. She will tell you personally.
We will meet again at a coffee. In order to be left alone with the house,
you are going to have to host a pair of young people, who would have a
lot to learn from you. He is a young naval captain and his wife is still a
child who needs to be guided. It is necessary that you restrict a little.
This way you will be out of harm’s way. What can you do! That’s life!
I am leaving and I expect you to come by. See you soon!
When the door closed, they threw themselves in each other’s
arms, sobbing.
- Leolea, explain to me what is going on! Where I come from, we
don’t really get out. It is the place of death! From now on, we won’t
say anything about this! It is the price of my freedom! Tell me about

144
145

Zelicman. I don’t quite understand what this man is doing among


them! Where are the children? What do you know about Mirchea?
- The children are at babushka’s. They are very scared because of
you. The people in general, are very scared and are praying to God for
the start of the war. From Mirchea, I’ve received a note in which he is
writing that he is fine. Who knows what he is thinking of! Come on,
let’s go and give them a surprise!
All the children, with the exception of Mirchea, were gathered in
grandmother’s kitchen and were swallowing cheese cakes, freshly out
of the oven. An atmosphere of silence was reigning, which reminded of
the past. Bob and Luminitza rushed dropping their cakes on the floor.
Valeria approached too. George and Barby were waiting their turn,
smiling. Grandmother made a blessing gesture toward the group who
had forgotten all about the cakes. Everybody was weeping, everyone
was talking and laughing. A bit of good came after so much pain! The
one who broke the silence was Barby.
- Uncle Dania, did they beat you badly?
- Why beat me, my dear? Where I went, they don’t beat people!
- Well, weren’t you arrested?
- Nooo… I’ve been away with work. It was fine! I have learnt a
lot there. But why aren’t you inviting me to the pies? Let me sit down a
little. Wow, our babushka makes them good! Makes you eat and eat! It
hasn’t been bad where I went, but it wasn’t better than home!
It was hard to convince with only a few words. All were
grimacing some meaningful smiles, but no one brought up the subject
again. For my folks, a white night followed, filled with fear and
gratitude. Who was this Zelicman and where did he come from? What
did people like Rusev and Nicolovski or Rishcov and Shevchenko
want? How would the ones who would become their guests manage?
Questions after questions, with or without an answer, or with partial
answers, generating suspicions even about some positive deeds or
events.
Around Zelicman however, an aura of kindness was taking shape.
The help given in the case of father, represented the gratitude toward
the influence mother was having upon the education of Marat. This

145
146

child, who was everything for the Zelicman family, with all his curious
behavior, started to change rapidly, started not to fear arithmetic
anymore, to diligently learn poems, to progress in school. In his spare
time, he was desperately looking for me, although there were 4 years
between us. Yes, when all seemed lost, a gleam of light, as
grandmother was saying, appeared, sent by God.
A dark cloud remained, however, among father’s thoughts. He
couldn’t forget the ones he encountered at the Special Unit. He was
permanently thinking about father Nicolov, about abbot Savatie, about
Ileana. He didn’t get to exchange any words with them, but their eyes
met permanently, delivering the message of solidarity and hope.
- What will think the ones who remained there when they find out
I was set free? Usually, the ones who are freed are considered traitors.
What will the people at work think? Tomorrow I must go to work; at
least that is what I’ve been told.
- Don’t think about what happened. The people know you; no one
will accuse you of anything. The war is said to start in spring. Who
knows? Maybe we will escape from this nightmare for good! Try to get
a little sleep.
- I don’t think I can sleep, it would be better if we talk. What is
the deal with this Zelicman?! How come he got involved in a matter so
dirty and dangerous, even for him?! And these tenants he is trying to
put the knife in our throat with?! It’s hard for me to understand
anything!
- Zelicman is a nice Jew, kind-hearted and very attached to his
family. His wife is sick; she has very serious problems with her back
and can’t take care of their child, Marat. We were lucky with my sister,
who makes dresses for madam Zelicman. That is how I got in their
house, that is how I started to help Marat, to everybody’s happiness.
Marat started to manage, and well! Zelicman adores the child and that’s
where it all started from. As not to give them any trouble, I told them
you were arrested and that I didn’t know anything about you. That is
how they decided to get involved in this matter and here is the result! I
understood that he occupies an important position and what he has to
say is important. The tenants were also his idea. He told me that this

146
147

way we will be left alone, that he will take care of that, only so I would
take care of Marat. Marat has grown fond of Bob and he is always
looking for him, and Bob humors him. I was lucky with my love for
mathematics! I also help him a lot with Russian and I get some money
and food, which isn’t a little these days.
- Yes, there are good people among them too! I can’t forget
Ileana’s face! She was tired, sad. What a pity I couldn’t exchange a few
words with her! Father Nicolov whispered to me to stay quiet, at least
at the beginning. There are false convicts among them, informers, but
they weren’t identified yet. I don’t think many will escape from there.
At night, muffled screams could be heard, and even gunshots. Who
knows what is going on in Nicolovski’s inquiry room?! God! It was
enough to see his face to say everything he wanted! Commander
Rusev, with typical Jew features, is a hidden man. You can’t come
across his look. He is always looking in a different direction. He is the
kind of man who is permanently obsessed with something. I wonder,
how could Zelicman convince him to let me go?! Or do they want
something else with me?! With these guys, you can never know!
Anyway, I have to be very prudent. And you, be careful not to say
anything to anyone. It was brought to my attention that all I have heard
or seen is a secret of major importance. It is clear that this is a death
unit, and dead people don’t talk!
- I don’t think they kill the people here, they might organize
deportations. What could they do with the bodies here? You see that
both Nicolov and Savatie are alive. Haven’t you seen Ilashcu?
- No, only Ileana, which makes me think that they have got rid of
Ilashcu. They wouldn’t have brought both of them in the same place.
As they punished Voda, they punished all who troubled them. If the
Germans don’t hurry, I don’t know what will become of us, we can’t
count on the Romanians anymore! If they haven’t done anything at the
ultimatum, they won’t do anything now, only if they are under Hitler’s
wing, if he doesn’t engulf them to!? A, yes, I forgot to tell you that
Hershcovich is there too. He looked really knocked up! What do you
know about Alexandrov, about Stavrov?

147
148

- Nothing! Since they arrested you, Sasha hasn’t been here


anymore, as for the Stavrovs, I can’t find out anything. Iura hasn’t been
here anymore, either.
- God, what disintegration, what pain have these bastards
brought! Whatever happened to the Drachinski family? They
disappeared without a trace! I say we get up, you make me a strong
coffee. The first day of work will be the hardest, from all points of
view! If you call on Zelicman’s house, don’t forget to thank him for
me. It was a miracle what happened! I didn’t believe I would ever get
out of there!
It was a hard day indeed. Inquisitive looks, conspiratorial
whispers, cautious attitudes. He was moved from the administrative
office, to the book keeping. A room with many crowded offices, filled
with files, with apparently discrete people, skillfully handling some
out-of-date abacuses. A terra-cotta stove, overheated, made the
atmosphere in the room hard to endure. Something else was important
however: he was free, he was with his family, he could make a living,
he could hope! There was no more news from my grandfather. It was
clear, his fate was sealed. Who was deported, died deported! He had to
find out something precise about Mirchea. The note sent home with the
words ‘I’m fine’ couldn’t reassure him. After the unsuccessful attempt
of swimming across the Danube, Daniil Stepanovich knew he could
expect anything. The accusations brought by his colleagues couldn’t
leave him unaffected. Mirchea was peppery, proud, but oscillating, full
of unpredictable. He was thinking of paying him an unannounced visit
at Chisinau, but he knew that this could start a new storm in their
relationship. Another idea came to his mind, less risky. To get in touch
with Lucia, convince her to go on a trip to Chisinau, eventually pay her
journey. He had to ask Valeria to get in touch with her, but he was also
scared by the thought of having to resort to her. Not even after his
return from arrest, her attitude had changed. This state of things
saddened him a lot. The once wonderful child had become his most
hectic enemy, driven by who knows what impulses, which even the
factotum of the family, Elena Petrovna, couldn’t retain. Anyhow, he
had to do something; he couldn’t let Mirchea have a head of his own.

148
149

And there was something else Danila, the man of the popes, had
to do. He had to warn archpriest Popescu. It was clear that the
authorities meant harm to the clergy, and Popescu appeared to be
imprudent in his actions. The same evening, he called on the Sobor,
entered through the door behind the altar, reserved for the priests and
stopped in the canonicals room, waiting for somebody to appear. After
a little waiting, the sexton appeared, accompanied by the archpriest.
The sexton didn’t hide his surprise, throwing the former chief archivist
a look full of distrust. Popescu however, rushed to Danila and hugged
him warmly.
- How are you, my dear? Good to see you healthy! What have
they done to you, dear?
- They didn’t get to do anything. A fortunate event, if I can call it
that, got me out of hell. But it would be better if I saw you off home; I
feel the need for air!
- Fine dear, we will go right now, although you shouldn’t avoid
our sexton, he is a reliable man, only that he is very prudent and he
doesn’t trust anyone anymore, especially those who disappear and then
reappear. In the actual circumstances, we can’t reproach him something
like that. They managed to seed distrust among us and I must admit
that they know how to wield this weapon very well! Let’s go, Danila!
On the way, Danila acquainted him with the things which were
happening at the Consistory and at the Special Unit. Popescu was
happy to find out that Nicolov and Savatie were still alive, but he
shuddered at the thought that Ileana was also there. He told him the
incredible story with Zelicman, but didn’t express optimism regarding
his liberation, sharing his fear that all could be a masquerade to cover
their true intentions. He knew he would be followed and probably
inquired once again.
- It’s not certain, my dear. They are corrupt and make favors
among themselves, which don’t actually cost them anything. Even if
we will get rid of them, we might never find out the truth about what
they did, and especially about how they did it. There are terrible
rumors regarding the communist practices. The things said by Paul are
the pure truth! A few days ago, one evening, I came across a young

149
150

man, civilian, wearing a cap over his eyes, who asked me to confess
him. I grew suspicious and asked him why he didn’t take his cap off
when he entered the church. He told me he was afraid of being
recognized. He was talking with a typical transnistrian accent and was
begging me with his eyes. I thought it was a challenge, but as I
couldn’t refuse a confession, I accepted. He told me that he was from a
Moldavian village near Tiraspol, that he was raised by his grandmother
with faith in God; that he had to hide this, and that when he was taken
in the army, he was detailed to internal affairs, a special school. There,
he was trained for commando actions, for antiterrorism. He also did a
course of ‘investigators’ where he learned live, all sorts of methods for
treating the ones who were inquired, and also the specific methods
applied to women. I brought to his attention that he was in a confession
and if there was something on his soul, he could speak without fear,
this being indispensable for unburdening from sins and asking God for
forgiveness. He hesitated, and then continued.
- Of course I have sinned, and I might have to sin again. I had the
bad luck of being dragged into this dreadful activity and I don’t know
how I could get away. If my folks knew, I think they would kill me
with their own hands! They are honest and faithful people. Yes, at us
the people are faithful, even though they are hiding. At the inquiries I
am used by a mad commander at the torturing of the arrested, to make
them confess to things they have no idea of, to sign declarations against
some people who they don’t even know, or, worse, against relatives.
This is the system, this is what we have been taught. I have done
horrible things; I have seen people die because of the torture. I have
abused women; I have raped, one by one, daughters in front of their
parents, or wives in front of their husbands. There are a lot of us who
are doing this at orders. The last one who died because of the torture
was one Ilashcu. When I heard he was a priest, I couldn’t find peace!
The boss tortured him, with the hot letcon. When he saw he had died,
he gave an order to shoot two bullets in his back and to write in the
official report that he tried to run away. I don’t know what they did
with his body. Father, pray for me. I can’t tell you my name, but God
knows it! I think I will desert, but I don’t have many chances to escape.

150
151

I don’t want to die so young. Pray a lot for me! Don’t be afraid of me!
Today my bosses are missing, and my other colleagues are all drunk.
The alcohol is the only thing that helps us! Take good care of yourself!
They have something against priests and professors. Know that we all
have civilian clothes for when we go out in town. Thank you for
listening to me. Forget all I have told you!
- Yes, my dear Danila, I should have forgotten everything, as the
rule of the confession goes, but this rule cannot be applied but in
normal times, or that is not the case anymore. We must join forces,
inform each other, try to survive. I am a man of the church, but I
nevertheless join the ones who are waiting for the war! We are living a
nightmare which is overwhelming us and they know this and know
how to take advantage of it. I don’t really trust the Germans either, but
I hope that Antonescu receives Basarabia as a gift for the submission
he is displaying toward Hitler! Now let’s part. If something occurs, I
will send the sexton to call you. Take care of yourself! You might be
followed. We will see each other as seldom as possible. We can also
communicate through other trustworthy persons. If someone from my
part comes, he will salute you with the phrase ‘Praise the Lord!’ If I
somehow disappear, the password is out!
Danila slowly set out to his house, making all sort of detours. He
entered the ‘Roses’ park and, protected by the rich vegetation,
examined the street where he came from. He calmed down seeing that
nobody was following him and resumed his journey, thinking of the
young man’s confession. If that was a set-up, then they were displaying
an uncommon cynicism. The young man had related the atrocities
which were taking place in the inquiries at the Consistory, even
pronouncing the names of the victims and confirming Ilashcu’s murder.
Was it Rishcov’s game to put Popescu to a direct test? It was possible,
considering that he was actually taking the place of the ‘fugitive’
bishop. They were dirty and the fate of the church was sealed. He
arrived home at twilight and saw uneasiness in the eyes of mother.
- Why are you so late? We even have guests. The young people
who will be living at us. I have even prepared the girls’ bedroom for
them. Valeria and Luminitza will be sleeping with grandmother. The

151
152

young people who came, they are very nice, he a handsome man, she a
blonde little girl, very pretty, who says she is twenty, but she doesn’t
look more than seventeen. Come on inside, so they don’t say we are
plotting who knows what!
They entered the living room, where the future tenants, didn’t
cease to praise the white cherry confiture. The young family Batalov,
he Alexei Ivanovici, she Clavdia Nicolaevna, simply Clava, beaming
with youth and high-spirit, were bringing a note of hope in the house,
in an almost lugubrious atmosphere. It was the second proof that even
among the newcomers, people could be found, and not beasts as they
were generally considered because of the authorities’ behavior. The
young people seemed happy that they were going to live in the middle
of a family about which Zelicman, Alexei’s idol, had made only
superlative remarks. The reception my mother organized for them
backed up the boss’ words and Clava asked the permission to address
them with ‘tanti Leolea’ and ‘uncle Dania’.
The premises of a cohabitation, inconceivable until the other day,
were positive. An unhappy event, the arrest of father and a chance, the
visit of a man like Zelicman, set things straight. The days which
followed, would confirm this. Alexei was working a lot, was coming
home late in the evening, when he had to listen to Clava bragging
about what she had learnt from tanti Leolea. In matters of
housekeeping, Clava was an innocent child. She couldn’t cook, she
couldn’t wash, she couldn’t iron. Won by Valeria’s skill, she started
working with diligence. She wanted to charm her beloved husband
with her ability. She seconded Valeria at washing and ironing, and tanti
Leolea at cooking! One day she ventured to go alone to the market and
buy a chicken, which eventually turned out to be an old hen. As nobody
was home, she got to work. She appealed to George to cut off the head
of the chicken and retreated in the kitchen full of enthusiasm. All had
to be done before mother came back from the Zelicman family. She
washed the chicken, whole as it was, introduced it in a pot with water
and put the pot on the fire. After all started to boil, she tested the
tenderness of the chicken from time to time with a fork and prepared a
pair of scissors. After about a couple of hours of boiling, she took the

152
153

chicken out, leaving the juice in the pot, for soup. She cooled the
chicken in order to be able to maneuver it, and prepared for
‘trimming’! All seemed to go well, except for the bad smell which
didn’t make you think to chicken soup. She shrugged her shoulders in
misunderstanding; she opened the window to aerate and got to work.
The trimming of the chicken proved to be much more difficult than she
had imagined. Moreover, the smell was making her sick.
- What if I’m pregnant! That would be terrible! I don’t want to
have a child yet.
Salvation came with the appearance of Valeria and mother.
- Tanti Leolea, it’s so good you came! I wanted to make a surprise
for Alexei and look what happened!
- Clavachca, we have to do these things together once, then you
can set a hand to surprises untroubled. You have to scald the chicken,
to tear its feathers off, to cut it, to clean it of its bowels and everything
that is bad and then you can pass to cook it.
- And what do we do now? Throw everything away?!
- Yes, at the first surprise, we might risk to disappoint the loved
ones. Tomorrow we will do this together. For today, we have enough
food for everybody. Maybe we will make a cake, what do you say?
- Yes, I want to learn, just don’t tell Alexei, please! If he finds
out, I won’t get away from his jokes, especially because in his house,
the cooking was very delicious.
- Don’t worry! At your age, I didn’t know a lot either. All has to
be learnt with patience!
The cohabitation didn’t raise any problems, except for the
crowdedness which was reigning in our house. The winter found Clava
a housewife, full of ideas and good-humor. She became close to us all,
even to Luminitza, whose attitudes toward everything connected to the
soviets and the Russian language, didn’t leave room for any doubts.
Lucia, also present in our house rather often, answering to the request
of uncle Danila, left to Chisinau from where she returned only with the
happiness of having seen Mirchea, but without any information
regarding his intentions. The only thing he expressed rather laconically

153
154

was the belief that spring would bring liberation. He was still in the
phase when his trust in Hitler was unshaken.
The presence of soviet tenants in our house made the visits of
those who once never hesitated to come uninvited, scarce. That was the
charm of the friendship which tied as in a bouquet of flowers without
thorns, a handful of families. The only one who was still showing signs
of life, now and then, was Alexandrov, who was waiting for my father
to get off work and saw him off to his house. He didn’t believe in
Zelicmans, he didn’t believe in Batalovs. He knew, as a former tsarist
officer, combatant wounded in the fights for protecting the Tsar, that
his days were numbered. For him, the bolshevism, the soviet power,
the humanitarian communism, were words which were hiding a
gloomy future for the whole humanity. However, he had a blind
confidence in his good friend, Daniil Stepanich, whose fate he was
worried about. He was also wise and he avoided any discussions
regarding his friend’s period of detention, knowing that these things
were better not talked about.

13

Winter is a beautiful, but harsh season in Ismail. Severe cold,


snow, a lot of snow, blizzard, ice on the Danube, even an ice bridge.
The winter was prepared from the summer. Jams, compotes, wood. A
lot of wood! Everything was carefully, but also pleasantly prepared,
with the thoughts at the holidays – Christmas, New Year, Epiphany.
They were official holidays, free days, there was faith. It was probably
the season most loved by the children, eager to bathe in the snow. The
preparing of Christmas, the finding of a tree, which couldn’t be but as
tall as the ceiling, the preparing of the gifts, the buying of new globes

154
155

and tinsels, in order not to be recognized by the young ones, a


multitude of occupations for everybody of all ages. Every man, no
matter how poor, entered the vertigo of these preparations. In order to
make Christmas, the needy people indebted themselves. The shops
filled with all sorts of goodies, prices were cut down, the sale reached
unimaginable proportions. Commerce was commerce!
One was plucked by the sleeve to enter the shop, to buy
something, even on debt. We, the older ones, entered into the game of
the adults as not to deconspire the truth about Santa Claus in front of
the ‘young ones’, and keep this mystery atmosphere in the family
intact. Many of the ‘young ones’, already in the possession of the truth,
piously kept the secret, as not to disappoint the parents. The torrent
from the East had to come, an ultimatum with no reaction of rejection
had to be swallowed, in order for all this to collapse as after an
earthquake.
The representatives of the new order knew what they had to do.
From the very beginning, tradition, faith, had to be stricken. At any
cost. They did it using crime in the most unimaginable of ways. In a
few months, they created an atmosphere of fear, distrust in their own
values, using terror as their primary weapon. The Christmas of 1940
was put to the index. Practically, everything was done for this holiday
to be compromised. The sale of Christmas trees was prohibited until
the date of December 29th, the sale of globes and toys specific to
Christmas was forbidden; in the kindergartens the very soul of the
children was bluntly aggressed, introducing Jack Frost in the place of
Santa Claus. As the adolescents and young people in the schools were
harder to aggress, the parents were aggressed at their workplaces,
threat being used directly.
In the atmosphere of poverty which was rapidly taking over, the
effects foreseen by the new order matched the expectations. Few
people in church, silence in the people’s houses, without a Christmas
tree, to the confusion of the children, without guests. The only ones
who didn’t worry about the tree were the ones of old rite, who were
hoping to keep the trees of Jack Frost for their two week late
Christmas. Christmas Eve without a tree! Christmas Eve without the

155
156

gathering of the family clan! How could the young ones understand
something like this?! Not even the newcomers understood it. They
knew from their grandparents or parents what these holidays once
meant, they were hoping to find here, at us, manifestations which
would quench their curiosity.
On Christmas Eve, Clava was gone all day long. In the evening,
we came across her and Alexei, loaded with all sort of packets, rushing
into the big room, searching with their sight the Christmas tree which
they had heard couldn’t miss. Congratulations, hugs and a question
which we didn’t expect.
- Where is the tree? Hasn’t Santa come yet?!
- Clavachca, this year our Santa got lost. But how do you know
he was supposed to come?
- Tanti Leolea, me, as well as Alexei, know a lot from our
grandparents. I will tell you a secret, that only my grandmother and my
mother know. When I was four, my grandmother took me to a church
in a little miserable village and baptized me. Father doesn’t even know.
She also gave me a beautiful present, a necklace with a little golden
cross, which she is keeping, so that father doesn’t find out. There are a
lot of things my grandmother taught me. She is an extraordinary
woman. Maybe she will come visit us someday. She was the one who
actually brought me up. My parents were too busy with work. I thought
we were going to see a real Christmas here. We understand what is
going on and we are sorry. Know that there are still many faithful
people at us, but of course, they don’t show themselves. Grandmother
is convinced things will change.
- you don’t even know what surprise you gave us. I must admit
that we are still very afraid.
- You shouldn’t be afraid of us. We feel like home here and we
also learn a lot of things. We must be grateful to commander Zelicman,
who brought us here. He is a wonderful man, as is his family. He asked
us to wish you happy holidays and tell you he regrets not being able to
pay you a visit. He unofficially gave Alexei a leave of absence. And
now, please, open the presents! It’s not much, but it’s from the heart.
S’prazdnicom!, as we say.

156
157

- Thank you, ! I don’t even know what to say. Your behavior is


more than a surprise. I have a little surprise too, a dinner like mother
used to make, and at the end a chocolate cake. I’m happy Alexei could
also come home.
The table was filled with all sorts of goodies, whose existence
Basarabians started to forget.
- Uncle Dania, for you, Alexei’s boss sent a French cognac,
Napoleon. He has his sources, unknown to everybody. From us, a
Russian vodka.
- After all that happened to me, I didn’t think I would spend
Christmas home and also get presents. I will go take out some bottles
of old wine. I keep them in a special niche, in the cellar. They are
Tulceanov wines. I’ll be right back.
It was an unusual evening for those times, an evening in the
family. The most impressed were the young tenants. Warmth,
happiness, peace in the family. Not an allusion, from no one, to the
hard times which came over this patriarchal town. A sole shadow, well
dissimulated, haunted the souls of my parents. No news about
Mirchea’s fate, involved, it seemed, in a students’ action of protest.
Rumors were circulating that in Chisinau, a group of students,
revolted because of the interdiction against the sale of Christmas trees,
made an incursion in an area known only by them and returned with a
few wagons filled with the so wished-for trees. In the dawn of
Christmas Eve, settled in the central square of Chisinau, they started to
distribute trees to those who happened to be around. For free, of
course! Before the soldiers woke up, both the trees and the reckless
authors of this original protest had disappeared. The students’ solidarity
impeded the investigators from finding out who the authors were, but
the investigations continued and fear was seizing the culprits.
Mirchea’s silence was a proof of his state of mind, which was making
the parents’ worry take proportions. There remained the hope that
Mirchea would take advantage of the winter holiday and come home,
but judging by his character, the chances were minimal.
That is what happened. Mirchea simply disappeared from college,
giving the authorities a reason to include him on the list of culprits and

157
158

to start looking for him. On New Year’s Eve, we received the visit of a
civilian who straightforwardly told father that Mirchea was guilty with
the organization of a subversive action and was hiding. The warning
was simple and stereotype – he had to be found from where he was
hiding and denounced, as not to involve the rest of the family. It was a
blow for my parents, who didn’t doubt the truthfulness of the things
alleged by the ‘man of law’.
- Where look for him, Leolea dear? How warn him? First of all,
our every step will be followed.
That is what happened. From the next day on, on the sidewalk
from the other side of the street, the supervisor appeared, shifted every
six hours. He was walking looking ostentatiously toward the windows
of our house. Our young tenants also noticed, but had a personal
interpretation of this fact. For them it was a usual thing. Working in the
military navy, Alexei was used to the various methods of stalking,
either at work, either on the street, on his way home, or everywhere. At
work, he knew he was being followed, but he couldn’t tell who his
shadow was, the informer. The most he could do was guess. He was
prudent, he knew what could be said and what not, he refrained from
enjoying political jokes. The shadow, or better said the shadows in
front of the house, he accounted to himself, to the Davidov family and
even to his commander, Zelicman. It wasn’t possible that Zelicman’s
act of intervening for the liberation of diadia Sasha didn’t raise
suspicion among those put to set up and maintain the newly installed
order.
Men like Rusev and Nicolovski couldn’t not discredit someone
who had the insolence to intervene before them. In order to draw the
attention of the observers, as Alexei liked to call them, as little as
possible, the main entrance, paradnaia, as it was called, from the
Frumoasa street was given up, the gate on the Saint Demeter street,
which lead into the yard of the house, being used with discretion.
Alexandrov was advised to cut down on his visits, and Iura Stavrov, to
give them up completely. In fact, Mirchea was sought after at the
Stavrovs’ vineyard, too. As the young tenants spent the New Year at a

158
159

restaurant of naval officers, the Christmas tree and the party of


welcoming New Year were given up.
In the first day of 1941, we met with father’s brother, uncle
Vasile, who taking advantage of the holiday atmosphere, left the village
unnoticed, and came to Ismail, to acquaint his older brother, Danila,
with the events at home. Escaped through a miracle from a set-up
organized by the chief of the Suhoy Liman camp near Odessa,
Bacauanu Mihai, a 45 year old peasant, from Sararia, after weeks of
wandering, arrived in his native village, at his wife and two children,
left alone after his deportation. Imprudent, he got in touch with a few
villagers, among which Nea Stefan’s Vasile, bringing him the
confirmation of my grandfather’s death. This thing had been rumored,
but nothing precise was known. Bacauanu’s imprudence cost him his
life in tragic circumstances. Caught home by the agents of the NKVD,
he was executed in the yard of his own house, in front of the terrified
family.
His story frightened Vasile who set out on foot, to his brother,
Danila. The over one hundred kilometers he traveled on foot, or with
occasion wagons, embittered him more than exhausted him. At his
almost 40 years, he was a well-built man, vigorous and healthy. He felt
the need of taking, to his favorite brother Danila, the truth about their
father’s death, deported by the occupation forces, just after their
settlement in Basarabia.
Mihai Bacauanu was part of the group of the first arrested, the
only heir of a considerable fortune for those times – 50 hectares of
arable land. The so-called convoy was formed at Cetatea Alba. About
two hundred villagers, arrested in the villages of the former Cetatea
Alba county, left in a column, on foot, under the guard of horsemen
armed with automatic weapons and knouts, yes, knouts! like in times
considered long gone, and led in the night, on detoured roads, to
Palanca, in order to cross the Nistru. During the day, they stood in
secluded places, as not to draw the attention of the population. That is
how they passed Maiac, they passed Mirnii, on the road to Odessa, so
that at one time to turn right, toward the sea, through an arid area,
settling in the end in the hereabouts of a village as miserable as the

159
160

name it was bearing: Suhoy Liman, meaning dry haven. That was
exactly how the area was, a transit camp for those who were to be
sorted for the great ‘pohod na Sibiri’.
Huts improvised on a perfectly flat surface, devoid of vegetation.
Three fences made from wire, barbed wire, at a distance of five meters
one from another, observation towers equipped with machine guns and
a fold filled with superb canine specimens, ensured the security of
1000 – 1500 ‘political’ convicts. Two fountains of great depth, ready to
drain at any time, assured the water necessity of the colony, as it was
called, under the strict supervision of permanent sentinels. The water
was distributed once a day, in rations of half a liter, this operation
taking up a considerable part of the day. In fact, nobody was working
there, everybody was staying, was waiting. Now and then, groups of
convicts were taken out of the perimeter, at a distance of two
kilometers, in order to dig deeper pits, under the pretext of searching
for new water sources. The work was hard, the earth was hard, and the
tools were few and worn. It was work nonetheless, and the ones chosen
considered themselves lucky.
It was called a transit camp because, about every ten days, a
committee of civilians arrived, at the head of which there was a colonel
in uniform. It was the sorting committee. Not all would take the road of
deportation. Groups of 20 – 25 convicts were taken to work, from
where they didn’t come back anymore. The official version was that
they were sent somewhere else. Those remained in the camp realized
however the cruel truth. The bursts of gunfire which could be heard a
few miles away left no room for doubt. That is what happened with
Mihai Bacauanu too, who found himself in a group of ‘chosen ones’,
together with Nea Stefan Nemtzeanu and other fellow villagers. They
knew that was the end. On the road of Golgota, they started to pray in a
loud voice, to the exasperation of their escorts. This time they were
followed, at a short distance, by the members of the committee, headed
by the colonel.
- Today I am going to offer you a special entertainment. I don’t
know whether you have ever hunted people!? Did I say people?! No,

160
161

these are not people! They endanger the very existence of the Soviet
Union! Slaves to the savage capitalism, as Lenin named it.
These words were unmasked later, after the outburst of the war,
when a member of the committee, tormented by remorse, surrendered
to the Romanian army, in the fights for the liberation of Odessa.
Once at the working place, the colonel explained to the convicts
what they had to do.
At the first revolver fire, you run to freedom. Who escapes, is
free. At the second fire, you will be followed by us and by the dogs and
you will be shot at. There will be no wounded, so don’t collapse at the
first bullet that hits you. You were condemned to death anyway, for
attempt upon state security. This way, you are given a chance, the
chance of luck!
Dread could be read on the faces convicts to death, a shameful
death, unimaginable. An indescribable murmur, a hard to control
agitation. Angered, the colonel gave the first signal. Everyone went in a
different direction. The committee, in turn surprised, was manifesting
in disorder. Taking advantage of this state of panic, on one hand, and
the confusion stirred up in the heads of the ones in the committee on
the other hand, Mihai rolled behind a pile of earth, in one of the pits
dug by the convicts. The disorderly run of the convicts, the tense wait
of the second signal, served him as a screen. When after a hard to
define time, the second fire was heard, the committee, the guards, with
the dogs still in leash, set out in the pursuit of the convicts. The first
gunshots started. Frightened screams mixed with yells of satisfaction
could be heard. People fell biting the dust, desperately trying to rise.
The ones caught up by the blood-thirsty hunters were helped to die
with a bullet in the back of the head.
Madness took hold of these villains, they tasted the pleasure of
almightiness and, as to have more fun, they let the fugitives go further
and, releasing the hounds, they followed them at a gunfire distance.
The massacre was total. When the gunfire ceased, as if afraid by what
had happened, the committee and the guards stopped, not daring to
look each other in the eyes. All were waiting for the decision of the
colonel. No one even thought about any escapee. On an open field,

161
162

something like that wasn’t possible. The colonel addressed the soldiers
from his guard.
- Gather the dogs and let’s return to base. Take two wagons,
collect the bodies and bury them in one of the pits prepared. Fill it up
and level it. I don’t want to hear any comments! This is what happens
to those who organize a run. Let’s go!
It was Mihai’s second fortunate moment. Because all of them left
directly toward the camp, he was allowed to get out of the pit, and
crawling as not to be seen from a distance, he set out northward, going
away from the scene of the crime. When he considered he was far
enough, he looked for a more secluded pit and nestled in it waiting for
the night to set. At one moment, the distant bark of the guard dogs
made his blood run cold.
- What if they counted the dead and set out in search of the
missing one? What should I do? Stay put, or try to go further away? I
risk being spotted from distance. I should better stay put.
That is how Mihai Bacauanu escaped from the inferno, keeping a
terrible pain in his soul, a memory of dread. His only thought was to
see his family again and warn the close ones upon the danger that was
in store for them. With this thought he snuck, very slowly, to the
village, where he told his relatives and some trustworthy friends the
nightmare he lived. That is how uncle Vasile found out about the way
grandfather died, that is how he decided to go to Ismail, to his brother
Danila. He cared much for Danila, he wished to ask his advice. He
wanted to leave Sararia, but he didn’t know how to do it.
- My dear Vasile, I think running away might rush things, you
might get caught, ruin your family. In the current situation it is wiser to
pretend you don’t know anything. Don’t tell anything to anyone, not
even to mother. You would kill her and you would put everyone in
danger. Tell Ananie the same thing. You know how impulsive and
brave he is. I’m always worried about him. He has something of my
Mirchea.
- Danila, I don’t want to stay too long, and I wouldn’t like to be
seen by these soviet tenants either. I don’t trust anybody anymore. It’s

162
163

better we go in your mother in law’s room, or even better, in the shed.


No one comes there. I will leave after it gets dark.
- How to stay in the shed, brother?! Our tenants are trustworthy
people. Alexei’s boss saved me. In front of our house there is
permanently someone following us. Our luck is that he doesn’t stay at
the corner to see the gate on Saint Demeter. You were very inspired to
come in that way. I too have a lot to tell you. A lot happened in Ismail
and a lot happened to me. All hope is in the war, in Antonescu and
Hitler. What is bad, is that the people have started to lose their faith in
God!
The news of grandfather’s death, and especially the
circumstances in which it took place, overthrew the atmosphere which
was already reigning in our house. The grief was so great, that father
couldn’t bear it anymore and shared it with us, the children. We cried a
lot, and especially in secret. For me, grandfather was a special person, I
loved him a lot, as he in turn loved his nephews. At my age, hearing
such a terrible thing would remain an incurable trauma for a long time.
Even now, after so many years, the feeling of tireless hatred persists at
the address of those who, in the name of a utopian ideology trampled
on human dignity, spreading only pain and soiling with innocent blood
the land of Basarabia.
Forgiving is said to be Christianly. No matter how good of a
Christian I would be, I cannot put this percept into practice. I cannot
forgive, as I cannot forget. And there is something else. I spoke of a
utopian ideology. This ideology was trampled on by the ones who
preached it themselves, from the first days of the bolshevik revolution.
And that is how it remained. The right to power, the right to subjugate,
were the only ideology.
At night, in secret, uncle Vasile left our house, leaving us with the
certitude that we will not see him again. Days of bitterness, of worry,
followed. Worried in turn, were our young tenants, Zelicman was also
worried. The rumors regarding the movement of Romanian troops at
the Prut and in Dobrogea, as well as the presence of motorized German
troops in the Oriental Carpathians, couldn’t be ignored by the soviet
occupants, especially by their leaders. Alexei didn’t hide his worry and

163
164

suggested Clava to go to her parents. The same thing was suggested by


Zelicman to his wife. They knew what would happen in the case of an
armed conflict. Professional officers, they were aware of the soviet
army’s weakness, and more then ever, of the population’s hostility.
Clava resorted to tanti Leolea’s power of persuasion. In her naivety, she
told her everything she talked about with Alexei.
- Tanti Leolea, talk to Alexei and tell him I am not going to leave
him alone here, not even if I see Hitler at the door. Up to now, we have
been told that the Red Army is the most powerful army in the world
and, all of a sudden, my husband wants to frighten me, to send me to
my mother’s!? Like that, overnight, we are not invincible anymore?!
When Molotov gave the ultimatum, no one dared to lift a finger. And
now, war hasn’t even been declared yet, and my husband tells me to
pack and go to mother. Wonderful, what can I say! What do you say? Is
there going to be war? And Zelicman as well. He wants to send his
wife and Marat back. Sara Maximovna doesn’t even want to hear about
it. She said she has just got used to this place and that she likes it here.
- , I am the last person in the position to give you advice in such a
complicated matter. What do I know about politics and politicians,
about war? We don’t have a radio, we don’t listen to foreign stations,
and with our neighbors or acquaintances we don’t even dare to talk
about something like this. You know what we have been through, and
only God knows what would have become of us if Zelicman hadn’t
shown up, if you hadn’t shown up. It was like a shield sent by God. I
am not afraid of telling you the truth. Every war brings only
misfortune. What advice could I give you? Let’s see if tomorrow Sara
Maximovna tells me anything. I know she doesn’t avoid talking to me.
Let’s be a little patient, because the war isn’t going to start tonight!?
- Fine tanti Leolea, but to be honest with you I don’t want to go
back home anymore. Here it is different, no more this and that! We’ll
talk again tomorrow evening. Anyway, if Alexei brings up the subject,
don’t encourage him. He is so scared because of me, that he would
send me away even by post, if he could.

164
165

Zelicman was also seized with panic and was searching for
arguments to convince Sara to listen to his advice. The main argument
was Marat.
- You know, Sara dear, what a war would mean for the civilian
population, for a child?! And where? In a country occupied by us, with
people that hate us and would butcher us if they could. For them we are
ordinary invaders, criminals. It is not about people like the Davidovs.
They have a special wisdom, but that doesn’t mean they agree with the
Soviet Power. Daniil Stepanovich confessed to me that his father was
deported. He doesn’t have any news from him. That is what we have
managed to do here and we still want to feel safe. Antonescu spoke
yesterday evening at the radio. He spoke of the degree of preparation of
the Romanian army, of Basarabia, Romanian land. I pity their army, but
do you think they would speak to the wind like this, if they didn’t have
their backs covered by Hitler? Hitler needs the Romanian oil and
cannon fodder. We, we hurried to interfere where it wasn’t our
business. To keep the mouths of the Danube, you have to be powerful,
and our army is equipped like in the First World War. This is the reality,
not that trumpeted forth by irresponsible politicians, who have never
been on a battlefield treaded by tanks and defended by bayonet. That is
what awaits us and that is why I would like you to understand the
situation and think about Marat.
- You are scaring me even more when you talk like this. It’s like
you are telling me that you must die in Ismail, and I must run with the
child, save myself. Why save myself? Don’t you understand that
without you our life would be senseless?!
- Fine, Sara dear, let’s see what I find out and we will decide
together. Anyway, if the war starts, the authorities will pass to the
forced evacuation of all soviet citizens, I am talking about those who
came here from our great Soviet Union. Let’s wait and see what has to
be done.
- And with Batalov’s shadows, what do you intend to do? Don’t
forget he is your trusted man and maybe you too are targeted.
- Not maybe, I am surely targeted. I don’t realize yet if it’s
Rishcov’s doing, or Nicolovski’s. Rusev is a Jew nevertheless, and I

165
166

don’t think he wants to bother me. He could have refused me in the


case of Davidov, but he was very willing to help. For his right hand
however, I can’t guarantee. He didn’t even show up at Daniil
Stepanovich’s liberation. I know, from reliable sources, that he is a
villain, a sadist. I will talk to Rishcov nevertheless. I’ll go now, I can’t
be away for long. You can counsel with Elena Petrovna, she is a wise
woman and she inspires me confidence. Kiss Marat. I don’t want to
wake him.
The discussion between Sara and Elena Petrovna was roughly of
the same nature and content as the one with Clava. The situation was
too delicate. What advice could be given? Zelicman was the only one
in the position to weigh the reality, as it was, not as one or another
wanted it. Anyway, Sara was very worried, for Max, for Marat and of
course, for her. Marat on the other hand, was behaving better and
better, he had become sociable, he was doing very well at arithmetic,
he was looking for my and Barby’s society. He liked to play in our
yard, he winded himself into grandmother’s good graces bringing her
all sorts of goodies, like for children. Accustomed to all sorts of high
quality sweets, Greek, English or Swiss products, marketed on a large
scale before the occupation, we remained surprised when we tasted the
chocolate sweets, produced by the Russians. Even now I can almost
feel the great taste of the chocolates, filled with coffee cream, having a
swan on the label. This is also how they were named. Yes, in their
proverbial poverty, they knew how to produce special quality things for
children.
Grandmother had gotten over the time when all the strangers
were antichrists, tools of the devil. A crucial moment in this attitude
change was when she found out that in the Soviet Union, the country of
the Red Devil, as Stalin was named, the elders were fighting for the
preservation of faith, christening children in secret. She accepted the
presence of Clava and Alexei, even in her sanctuary, that enchanted
kitchen, so sought after by everyone in the house.
14

166
167

After Davidov’s liberation, Nicolovski came off with an


obsession. He couldn’t forgive the involvement of that Jew, in matters
that didn’t concern him. In his business, he didn’t accept relations of
‘mutual assistance’, of mutual services. What obligations did he have
toward Zelicman? None! With Rusev it was different. He was a Jew
too, and their solidarity was well-known. He had to submit to the
request of his commander, it was a generally accepted rule, but that
didn’t mean he swallowed it without being bothered. It remained like
an obsession. He had to find out what was the deal with this Zelicman,
how he became the commander of a strategic military port, what was
this whole story with Davidov. Why this strange interest for a stranger,
what was this relationship actually hiding?
Something had to be done, had to be found out at the bottom of
this problem, a case had to be created, which beside a personal
satisfaction, could also bring him a change of the statute he enjoyed in
the oppressing system. He didn’t accept to have too many superiors
above him, and by no means of Rusev’s stature. But, he still needed
Rusev, better said, his relations. In the Zelicman case he had to work
on his own, but discretely.
The only one who could help him was Shevchenko, who disposed
of the means and personnel for surveillance. In addition, Shevchenko
had, due to his position, the attribute of following, arresting and
inquiring. Yes, for Nicolovski, Shevchenko was the ideal man to hand
him this stinking Jew on a tray. The visit he paid captain Shevchenko
ended in a total success. He too was surprised to find out about the
liberation of Davidov, and he too felt offended in his own pride. He
knew about Zelicman’s intervention, but he didn’t expect such an
affront from the part of Rusev. When a man is sent to the Special Unit,
his fate is sealed. Or Rusev could have done at least that, contact him
and ask for his opinion.
- The heck with it! These Jews will be the end of us! As soon as
two of them meet, a business comes out. Who knows what they have
planned?!
- Help me! Batalov, Davidov’s tenant and Zelicman’s favorite
subaltern, must also be followed. I don’t have men for something like

167
168

this and I don’t have the right to organize surveillances either. Prudence
is needed nonetheless, because cadres of the army are involved. The
cover is that the surveillance of the Davidov family is called for. Our
luck is that Batalov is staying at them, and Zelicman doesn’t step aside
from appearing with them, moreover, he is entrusting his child to them
to be tutored.
- Not a worry! The Davidov family, who are having trouble with
their son in Chisinau, as well as with Davidov’s father, can be followed
in the sight of everybody. The other two, I know how to deal with
them. I would really like to see Zelicman here, inquired properly and
then transferred to you. Tell me, what is it with these rumors about the
imminence of an armed attack from the part of the Germans and the
Romanians?
- If we were to listen to the rumors, we should scuttle away. The
misfortune is that if they take us unexpectedly, it will be hard to erase
certain traces. If we were to retreat even strategically, we would have
to raze everything to the earth. I hope we are prepared for something
like that. If it isn’t so, we will hear a lot about us on the radio stations.
But let’s not think about that and exterminate as many as we can from
those who wouldn’t hesitate to hang us at the first occasion. Good!
We’ve understood each other and I thank you!
- See that you don’t give yourself away in front of Rusev. I can’t
find out at all who this guy has behind him. But you can never know
where trouble comes from. Good! We’ll talk about it, and without
involving Rishcov. He seems to be in good relations with my boss,
with Rishcov.
The conversation with Shevchenko filled the ruthless Nicolovski
with hope. Who entered in his sight, could consider himself lost. At the
Unit, things went by themselves. Rusev was staying out of his
business, and his team was body and soul at his discretion. His great
problem was the complex he was bearing, namely his ugliness. Women
were his great weakness, but the women with whom he had relations
were part of his victims. He was very pretentious, he didn’t content
himself but with beautiful women, who, if refused to submit to his very
fanciful wishes, as not to call them perverse, were given to the group of

168
169

‘investigators’, who had the job to avenge their boss’ failure; and the
boys knew their job very well.
Since he saw Ileana, he remained with a fixed idea – to win her
with kindness, with promises, with presents, to make her give herself to
him with all the splendor of her body. Her face was paralyzing him. He
had found out from Shevchenko how recalcitrant she was, obsessed
with revenge for the murder of her husband. She was thinking of
speculating this aspect. The story with the incurable disease which her
body was hiding appeared to him, from the very beginning, as a bluff.
He could verify this story, giving her on the hand of one of the studs in
the team, but the desire to be her only possessor, stopped him and
saved Ileana too, whom the team fixed their eyes on from the first day.
He drew the attention of the boys to leave her alone and not undertake
anything without his knowledge. It was an order, and his orders were
piously respected. He had the intention of acting with patience. He
wanted her, but he didn’t want to use force. He needed this satisfaction,
especially after Shevchenko’s failure.
The visit at Shevchenko had the expected effect. This is how our
family found itself put under permanent observation, this is how Clava
found herself with a shadow who was accompanying her through town,
discretely, but not discretely enough to be unnoticed, this is how some
signs appeared at the Harbor Master’s Office, that something new had
appeared around Zelicman and Batalov. Nothing palpable, but present
nevertheless. This disturbed the commander and made him take
attitude. He paid Rishcov a visit and started to question him directly,
without beating around the bush. Rishcov appeared sincerely surprised
and promised to investigate and take the measures imposed.
- If Shevchenko did this of his own will, he will answer to me. If
he was suggested by someone above, I will find out, although
something like this would be very very unusual. It would be an act of
undermining toward me and not only would that disturb me, but it
would warn me. We might be in the same situation! Anyhow, I will
keep you informed. We are passing through a critical period and we
can expect everything. We will talk again.

169
170

After Zelicman’s departure, Rishcov remained in thought. Neither


did he like Zelicman, because of the attitude with which he got
involved in matters that were none of his business, but he couldn’t
agree with Shevchenko either, who for some time started to act on his
own. A thought worked him however and he couldn’t not be worried.
What if Shevchenko was actually put to prepare his disembarking?
What if they wanted to do Zelicman harm using as a pretext his relation
with the Davidov family and especially his intervention for Davidov’s
liberation? At the Special Unit, only people who were to be deported,
hospitalized at nervous diseases or liquidated on the spot, arrived. How
to set free such an individual, who was condemned, who saw what
shouldn’t have been seen and passed on, who refused any collaboration
and worked with the majority of the ones destined for liquidation, his
former colleagues from the Bishopric? Yes, Zelicman did it with his
own hand, and took the young Batalov with him. Moreover, Rishcov
had something else against Jews.
- How come they only get in leading positions?
- Are you talking to yourself, boss?
- It was you, Shevchenko? I got a visit and a complaint. Zelicman
is angry because he feels followed, both directly and indirectly. He was
referring to the Davidov family and to the Batalovs. Batalov’s wife
complained that she is being followed throughout the town, and in
front of her house, the shadows are patrolling day and night. What has
gotten into you to put them under surveillance, and on sight?
- Nicolovski asked me. He can’t get along with the thought that
this little Jew is involving in their business and that he managed to fool
Rusev too to set Davidov free. He is convinced that Zelicman isn’t
clean. I couldn’t refuse him, especially because I sent Davidov to them.
Besides, Davidov has seen there things that mustn’t be divulged. It is
the first time something like this happens.
- Fine, fine! But you could have warned me. You know very well
that we can’t get involved in the surveillance of a superior officer,
without a special approval. To hell with them, Zelicman and all the
others! We don’t work for Nicolovski, and if Rusev did what he did, it
means that he feels covered. Next time Nicolovski comes with

170
171

something like this, send him to me. Tomorrow you might put me
under surveillance too.
Shevchenko left Rishcov’s office smiling, but seething with fury.
He understood that the ‘open’ surveillance of Davidov’s house had to
stop. He thought about paying Nicolovski a visit, but he gave it up.
- Who am I to give him an account of what orders I received, or
what I am going to do?! I will fob him off until he gets bored.
He descended in the inquiry room, opened a paper case with
‘emergencies’ written on it, he skimmed through the list with the ones
put under surveillance and stopped at the name of the construction
materials warehouse chief from the Saint Nicholas’ church. He read
aloud: Alexandr Alexandrovich Alexandrov, ex-officer in the Tsar’s
army, decorated with Saint George’s order.
- Look how the things add up! Alexandrov is a good friend of
Davidov. This Hershcovich had to appear for us to find out the truth
about Alexandrov’s past! A white officer! And Hershcovich! To come
across Rusev here, just when he thought that the ‘save Spain’ episode
was definitely out of his life. Rusev considers him a traitor and the
accidental encounter on the street, in Ismail, when the little tailor
turned his frightened look away hurriedly, filled him with a sincere
happiness. In that moment, Hershcovich’s fate was sealed.
- Yes, yes! Alexandrov must be put against wall!
Meanwhile, life at the Special Unit was following its ‘normal’
course. The convicted men and women were receiving food for
survival, working hard in the same time at the digging of galleries.
While the men were suffocating because of the dust and the lack of any
ventilation, the women were breaking their backs carrying the
dislocated earth, outside the cellar, with the help of buckets. There
were also the systematic interrogatories, led by Nicolovski himself, at
which Rusev never practically participated. It seldom happened that he
entered the inquisitorial investigation hall, shunning the desperate
looks of the ones subjected to the so-called routine interrogatory. His
eyes were always nailed to the ground, he exchanged a few whispered
words with Nicolovski and he left slowly, as a shadow at the playful
appearance of a cloud. They were however relaxation moments for the

171
172

ones inquired, the activity of the whole team stopping as at a command


at once with his presence.
The convicts generally avoided any kind of contact between
them, from fear of the infiltrated informers. It was hard to discover
them, it was imprudent to speak. A psychosis of distrust installed itself
among these oppressed by fate, a general distrust. People who knew
and liked each other in the conditions of a normal life, were suspecting
each other, avoiding each other, probably refusing, from an instinct of
self-preservation, the idea that all of them were there to disappear, one
way or another. Their fate was sealed and the inquiries didn’t find their
place but in the mind of the torturers, whose purpose there, in the
Special Unit, was to exterminate.
The inquiry room was actually a torture room. The cynicism with
which they were trying to leave the impression that they examined
every case in part, planting in them the hope of an elucidation of the
case and of liberation, of freeing from charges, was the proof of the
sadism seeded in them. The torture applied to innocent people, taking
unimaginable forms, intoxicated these bastards. Nothing instigated
them more than the capacity of some to resist to pain and humiliation.
From the group of men, two were the ones who managed to drive them
out of their wits. They were priest Nicolov and the abbot of the Ismail
monastery, Savatie. Considering that for this type of people, death
couldn’t be the harshest punishment, Nicolovski sent them, in a
pathetic physical state, to the nervous diseases sanatorium near
Bolgrad, in the charge of doctor Mirchev. The road-roller of war didn’t
leave sufficient time to erase the traces of those who were ‘treated’
there. The alternation between sedatives and stimulants, administrated
in large doses, made the interned ones realize the cruel truth, become
conscious of every moment from the way of this Golgota. Where did
this cruelty come from, from the part of people who had families
themselves, I can never understand, as I cannot understand their
naivety. How come they didn’t realize that their fate too was sealed? It
was normal that they, in turn, would disappear. The system couldn’t
allow the witnesses to remain alive. And the documents found, and the
confessions of those who escaped, proved this more than enough.

172
173

Those who didn’t commit suicide because of the remorse, or


didn’t die of natural death, took in turn the road of victims. They were
tortured and ‘treated’ by other scatter-brained, other tools of the devil.
The sudden disappearance of Nicolov and Savatie, both priests,
known, loved, uninvolved in politics, raised the level of anxiety in the
ranks of the convicts at the Special Unit. Beside the worry for their
own person, something new started to pass through their eyes, a sort of
compassion for the ones around them. Their looks didn’t shun each
other anymore, they started to look for opportunities to get close to
each other, to talk in a whisper. The fear of the informers spread among
them started to diminish. The solidarity in front of the merciless fate
came into being. Solidarity is something special. Solidarity gives you
confidence, gives birth to hope. Women are said to be more resistant
than men in difficult conditions, to accommodate themselves easier to
hardship, to accept compromise easier. Judging by the fact that the
percent of the women who came back from deportation is much greater
than that of men, this opinion seems to be justified. I know that this
idea was brought by the Germans too, following the statistics made
after the war. This is valid if the data refers to the identical conditions
of survival, to a similar treatment.
This couldn’t be true in the case of the Unit of sad memory, of the
Special Unit from Ismail, and, I tend to believe, from anywhere else. In
the sick mind of people like Shevchenko or Nicolovski an idea took
root, that women could serve as relaxation material for their boys, as
torture material for the men brought to assist at the abuse of their own
wives, as a perverse entertainment material for themselves. Women
very carefully chosen; were arrested together with their husbands, were
brought serious accusations, like the undermining of the state order, or
high treason, so they could be abused or forced to submit to their
beastly lusts.
It all started in Rishcov’s office, where the arrested pairs, under
the appearance of a benevolent attitude, were accused of all sorts of
absurd acts, regarding state security, and of course, advised to take the
responsibility for the accusations brought. As all these couples knew
they were innocent, they sought to deny their guilt, convinced that it

173
174

was an error or, at most, a malevolent denounce, without cover. The


first threats followed, the military court was mentioned, high treason
was mentioned. They were advised to admit, in order to benefit from
extenuating circumstances during the trial. In some cases, the
frightened people accepted the accusations brought in written
declarations, or at the suggestion of the commander, involved other
persons as well, whom most of the times they didn’t even know.
Regardless of the result obtained, they were sent to Shevchenko, to the
proper investigation, being submitted to an inhuman treatment, which
satisfied the perverse desires of this psychopath captain.
Rishcov wasn’t a womanizer. His sole obsession was to get as
high as possible, to make himself feared. Why he was accepting the
absurd ideas of his subaltern, was incomprehensible. He knew
Shevchenko’s perverse character, he despised him, but he needed him
in the achievement of the tasks received from above regarding the local
population. This population had to be decimated and frightened. It was
a task he was determined to bring to an end. Some considered him a
pervert as well, but of another nature. The pervert who rejoiced himself
at the perverseness of others, the pervert at the keyhole. He knew
everything that was going on during the so-called inquiries in
Shevchenko’s office, being informed in detail by Sergey, the
connection man between the two offices, with unrestricted access, and
as a result, a neutral spectator most of the times to what was happening.
He knew about the good relations between Shevchenko and
Nicolovski, he knew about the arrangements they had in matters of
women, but because of the fear they were inspiring him, he knew he
had to encourage their psychopathic impulses.
The first flagrant case of bestiality was the ‘inquiry’ of the Voda
family. Rishcov wasn’t disturbed by the way the inquiry took place, on
the contrary, it can be said that he savored Sergey’s accounts. On the
other hand, he was bothered by Shevchenko’s stupidity, who,
intoxicated with his success, set the two unfortunate ones free, sure of
himself, sure of the effects of the inquiry. What came out, proved him
right, and in the same time gave him the right to scold the captain.
From that moment on, the sexy parties entertainment continued,

174
175

married couples being inquired, or even worse, daughter-father, but no


one else was freed.
After the end of the ‘inquiries’, which could last for a few days,
the victims, according to the agreement, were delivered to Nicolovski,
for the final phase and the erasing of traces. At the special unit,
Nicolovski enjoyed the same understanding from Rusev’s part as his
friend Shevchenko did from Rishcov’s part. Rusev had two missions to
accomplish – the liquidation of victims and the creation of
unscrupulous executants. He had found in Nicolovski an ideal model
and he wasn’t disturbed at all by his fantasies in the realization of his
purposes. He knew he was dealing with a sexually obsessed person, he
knew about his inferiority complex caused by his ugliness, he knew
about the orgies organized during the so-called inquiries, he knew
about the boys who submitted to him blindly. These things didn’t
disturb him. He was disturbed however by his friendship with
Shevchenko, whose hate toward the Jews was unconcealed, paranoiac.
Women didn’t interest Rusev, so much the less the ones sent for
liquidation. What Rusev didn’t know was the fact that these
unfortunate ones, as well as their husbands or fathers, weren’t part of
the category of people’s enemies, they were the object of the ‘private’
desires of two psychopaths, who obtained their merchandise using the
two institutions of dread. It was the prize they offered themselves with
power granted by themselves. That is why I am saying that the women
were subjected to a regime totally different from that of the men, and
the opinion that women are more resistant then men, in those
circumstances, doesn’t have any justification. Beside the hardship all
the convicts of this small camp were subjected to, beside the physical
maltreatment everyone was subjected to, regardless the sex, the women
were morally aggressed. They had to satisfy the bestial desires, of an
unimaginable perverseness, of the torturers, as part of inquiries that had
no sense, at once with the entry through the gate of the Special Unit.
Who was sent to this unit, wasn’t sent to be inquired, to be extorted an
incriminatory declaration. They were sent to be liquidated. How? This
remained up to the Unit.

175
176

If the men were still ‘inquired’, that was because this was part of
the liquidation program – malnutrition, exhausting work and
inquisitorial inquiries, in which torture took forms hard to imagine for
a normal mind. The women had to participate at the orgies of the team
lead by Nicolovski, with alcohol to the full, with group sex, group rape
actually, with the obliging of women to sexual perversions. The
stubborn ones got something else extra – the presence of their husbands
or fathers. While the women were abused, they had to assist helplessly,
immobilized with cuffs or hanging head down, with the legs fixed in
special cuffs, at the ends of ropes tied to the ceiling. The women
endured such a treatment very little. Exhausted, they were transferred
to the Sanatorium of nervous diseases and liquidated through the
injection of lethal substances. This was the reason why the group of
women had to be renewed with fresh merchandise, a job done by
Shevchenko.
When the group of women Ileana was part of arrived, Nicolovski
had a totally unusual reaction. Seeing her beautiful face, her slim
woman body, Nicolovski felt a special thrill. He didn’t see a convict
with a special destination, he saw a woman! From the very beginning,
he drew Rusev’s attention that it was a case which interested him
personally and that he wanted a free hand. Rusev shrugged his
shoulders, murmuring ‘do what you want’ and smiled with meaning.
He liked to see his subaltern subjugated by personal problems. He
knew very well the complex Nicolovski suffered from, a thing which
he despised, but which he knew how to use. Nicolovski started to bestir
himself in the search of the best way of approaching Ileana, of reaching
his goal – her acceptance of a relationship based on harmony and not
violence. For him this thing was essential. He was fed up with the
hatred in the eyes of the raped women. He wanted to wake in them, in
one of them, a warm feeling, of love.
As not to reveal his tactic, in the first days of detention, he
subjected her to the general regime applied to women. Ileana started to
work shoulder to shoulder with her comrades in suffering, carrying the
earth removed by the men from the new galleries. She was trying not to
infringe in any way the dispositions in force, shunning even the looks

176
177

of the ones around her. She imposed a harsh self-control on herself,


which she could never brag about. She came across known figures –
Savatie, Nicolov, Danila, but she managed to refrain, closing her eyes
for a moment and clenching her teeth. She was desperate. The dream of
revenge seemed to remain just a dream. She had understood that this
was the final point.
A fear of death took hold of her whole being. She was afraid of
being treated like Silvia, of going crazy. A way of suicidal had to be
found, before she would become a defenseless victim. She had found
out from Paul what she could expect. A way would have been hunger
strike. She had enough of sleeplessness as it was. Frail as she was, it
was impossible to resist too much. She decided to work hard, to
exhaust her organism. She started to lose weight rapidly. Nicolovski,
who was following her from a distance, understood the tactic employed
and decided to begin operation. He gave the order for her to be brought
in the inquiry room. He got rid of his companions and offered her a
seat. Ileana sat down and looked around at the room decorated with all
sorts of torture instruments. A cold chill passed through her body
weakened by sleeplessness and hunger.
- What do you think about our base? Have you accommodated?
- What base? It is an extermination camp and nothing more! Have
I accommodated? How could I have accommodated?! I have lost
everything which could be lost. I have lost my love, I have lost
freedom, I have lost the right to defend against unfair, absurd
accusations. How to accommodate, at my age, with the thought of
death?! No, I haven’t accommodated! I have simply given up…
- You are judging us too harshly. Who told you we are a unit of
death? We finish the preliminary investigations made by Rishcov and
Shevchenko. We don’t have preconceived ideas. If innocence is
proven, the respective person is as free as the birds of the sky. I know
we still aren’t loved here, but we have to accomplish a mission toward
the Soviet Union and toward humanity. We don’t enjoy being obliged
to be harsh, but we can’t let ourselves sabotaged or hunted round
corners. Your husband died of a natural death, of a heart attack. The
version with the attempt of escape, was invented by Shevchenko, so as

177
178

tendentious interpretations would be avoided. I know exactly how


things happened and I have no interest in inventing versions to excuse
the investigator. However, there is one thing you must know, your
husband refused any collaboration which would lead to the elucidation
of certain events, doing himself harm without being the case. The result
is that he harmed you as well. His behavior wasn’t courage; it was a
manifestation of egoism. That Shevchenko sometimes screws it up, it is
well-known. People make mistakes, but let’s not forget what a
disagreeable job he has.
- Yes, if it can be called a job!? My husband died innocent, and I
have decided to avenge him, no matter the cost. I’m saying it honestly,
openly, because I’m not afraid of anything, not even death. If I don’t
manage to take my revenge on this psychopath Shevchenko, it won’t
be my fault anymore, but of the fate which will stop the hand of
vengeance. Do you know why I am here? Did they tell you that too? I
refused to become his mistress. He was so offended, that he didn’t even
give me on the hands of his subalterns, as he did with Silvia Voda. He
sent me here for the supreme torture. He didn’t want to soil his hands
with my blood, as he did with Nani. I know I have been sent here to be
abused and liquidated. If you don’t hurry to do it, I will die of hunger
and sleeplessness. It can’t last too long, and I am prepared.
- I think you loved your husband a lot. He was a lucky man.
Although he lived a little, he could enjoy in life everything it has got
more beautiful. To be loved by a woman so beautiful, so noble, so
devoted! I haven’t known something like this. I know I have an ugly
face, hideous, as the ones who don’t know to look inside the soul of a
man say. But is beauty an absolute notion? A human being, superior, as
we like to think, is something complex, which can’t unveil just through
what is in sight. Goya’s figures seem ugly, hideous, at first sight, but
are they less human than the ones left by Rafael, for example? Is
Leonardo’s Mona Lisa a model of feminine beauty, in the current sense
of the word? I don’t think so! Leonardo painted her for what he saw
inside her, an interior expressed through a simple smile, defined so
simplistically as enigmatic. It is a subject that concerns me, because I
look how I look. But I have diverted from the subject. No, I am not an

178
179

ordinary liquidator, as I am called. I am in a continuous fight with the


enemy, who is stalking me, who doesn’t forgive, who refuses to
understand me. Life is a war, and here we really are in war, an
undeclared war, and that’s why, so much harder to fight. Ileana, if your
husband was innocent, which is what I even incline to believe, you
don’t have to cling yourself to something impossible to accomplish,
revenge. I am telling you from the very beginning, there is no way you
can do it. Not even if you were free, you wouldn’t find it at hand. You
are not made for something like this. You must live; defeat the
misfortune which came upon you, take advantage of the gifts nature
endowed you with and enjoy life. I am not the devil talked about. I am
just a man who loves life and who would like to be able to enjoy it.
Why I got close to you, I don’t know! I do know however that if you
wanted, I could help you get over this period and even try to get you
out of this so-called inferno. You want to take revenge on Shevchenko?
I understand and maybe, in a way, I could help you. But for that, you
have to trust me. First of all, you will have to give up the idea of
suicide. It is hard here, the food is bad, the work is hard, but for
survival, a little willpower is needed, love of life. If it is necessary,
even some compromises. I don’t wish you harm, I don’t want to inquire
you, to extort declarations from you, to ask you for information. I just
want to do something good, so that I can feel better at least once. I
know you find something like this hard to believe, but nothing is
stopping you to try. We’ll make an armistice. You start to fight for life,
to eat and sleep, and I, in this period of non-aggression, will make your
work easier, moving you to cleaning, in my office and in my room. You
don’t risk anything. At most, meaningful looks from the part of those
around you. They will say that you have made an alliance with the
devil, that you are my mistress, but they won’t be able to prove
anything, because nothing from all this will be true. But it seems I’ve
talked too much. You look very tired. Wait a moment, I will be right
back.
Nicolovski disappeared behind the door which led to the room of
his ‘helpers’. He returned after about ten minutes with two big cups of
steaming coffee. Ileana, overcame by weakness, was sleeping on the

179
180

chair, as peaceful as a child. The tiredness seemed to emphasize the


beautiful traits of her face. Nicolovski put the cups of coffee on the
table and approached the convict who had faced him without restraint.
He tried a gesture of stroking the hair hanging down her back, but he
pulled his hand hastily, afraid that his gesture could ruin the whole
scenario prepared and taken to the end with such patience. He sat on
the armchair, sipped from the cup of warm coffee and fixed his eyes on
the woman who had managed, without her will, to captivate him. He
was delighted that Shevchenko hadn’t managed in his attempt to have
her. He smiled satisfied and set out to make plans for the future. Ileana
had to be gained, not forced.
- Have you woken up? Here is a warm and sweet coffee waiting
for you. It will do you good. Do you want some biscuits?
- No, thank you, I will just drink the coffee.
Ileana tried to approach the table, but collapsed on the chair
helpless. Nicolovski rushed to help her, then brought her the cup of
coffee. Ileana grabbed the warm cup with shaking hands and, like in a
ritual, started to drink, savoring every sip. She felt she was revived.
The hatred in her eyes alleviated and she sketched a thankful smile.
- If I were a painter, I would immortalize not only a beautiful
smile, but also a wonderful face. But unfortunately, I’m not skilled at
painting and this moment will fade away as many in my dreams. From
tomorrow on you will be moved from your workplace, as I suggested
you. You have to promise me that you will give up the hunger strike.
Life must be lived at any cost! I know people who have survived in
unimaginable conditions, getting over the past, accepting the present
and dreaming of the future. Now go directly to the bedroom. I will give
an order that you be accompanied and left alone. I hope you will take
my advice. We will talk again tomorrow. Come on, go!
- Thank you for the coffee, it was good, and sweet, as I like it.

180
181

15

January 1941 proved to be very harsh. Severe cold, a lot of


snow, wind, ice blocks on the Danube. The lack of firewood, once
plentiful in the people’s houses, emphasized the general misery. The
nationalization of commerce, the expensiveness, the lack of the most
elementary products, spurred on the speculation. The thievery, the open
corruption, the disorganization of agriculture through the setting up of
kolkhozes, were promising an unusually hard year. The undeclared
slogan which was leading the people’s lives was: every man should
manage as he can. The daily difficulties which were affecting the lives
of honest people managed to drew their attention from the true
problems which were threatening their very being. The arrests, the
inquiries, the disappearances were starting to be a part of the everyday
life, not stirring group reactions anymore. Everyone was retreating in
his cage, which seldom went beyond the limits of the family. The virus
of distrust had entered deep in the people’s hearts. Their only hope was
in God, but even that was being kept well-hidden.
There were a few those who were displaying their faith by going
to church. Not even the funerals respected the inherited ritual. The
funeral carriage didn’t stop in front of the house, the workplace, the
neighborhood church. It went directly to the cemetery, without the
short parting services being officiated, where acquaintances, neighbors,
colleagues participated. The elderly ones endured these violations of
the local customs with difficulty, cursing in their minds the antichrist
foreigners. The bells of the churches didn’t sound to announce the
vesper services or the holidays, once respected with sanctity. The
children where secretly baptized, and the religious marriage
ceremonies were made behind closed doors. The majority of young
people were giving up the religious marriage ceremony, as to avoid the
trouble at the workplace. The fight against the church, against religion
was generally led through all sorts of restrictions.
The first to receive the baptism of fire in this fight were the
children in kindergarten. They were directly explained there that there

181
182

was no God, that it was all a story, that heaven, hell, saints, or angels
didn’t exist. The priests were presented like liars, who were collecting
money from the people so that they would live in prosperity, without
working. What happened in a kindergarten is anecdotic, but the event
took place, to the despair of parents and especially grandparents.
An educator at a children’s nursery didn’t serve them the
otherwise poor breakfast one day. The children asked for food, at
which the comrade told them to pray to God to send them food. The
children, accustomed to prayers from home, took action in all their
naivety. As the result was null, the educator explained to them: you see
there is no God?! Do you see it’s all a lie?! Now look at comrade
Stalin’s portrait and ask him too. He is our daddy and he takes care of
us all. Try! The children, hungry, took the advice and the miracle
happened. The door of the classroom opened and a few persons from
the nursery personnel appeared carrying trays filled with dainties. The
children started to applaud.
- Well, do you see who takes care of you? Do you see who you
have to listen to and love? God didn’t listen to you, because God
doesn’t exist!
A clever five or six year old boy, expressing confusion, or
disagreement, rose and said: comrade educator, we couldn’t talk to God
because there isn’t any icon in our classroom. Home, we have one in
every room. The educator, caught on the wrong foot, grumbled
something, shouted a ‘sit down!’ and told them to eat and listen to her.
Today something like this seems unlikely, but who lived in those
times, knows that such occurrences were common. Yes, little children
were the first victims of the reeducation process. This was not possible
at the level of the adolescents, of the young people set out in life. For
them there were restrictions, interdictions, intimidation.
It was harder in villages. Our peasant was tied to the family, to
the land, to the faith in God. The peasant didn’t give up the spiritual
values seeded from generation to generation. The law before which
they bow, is the law left by their ancestors. The arresting of priests, the
sealing of churches, or their turning into warehouses, couldn’t shake
the faith of the simple man, from the countryside. On Sundays, the

182
183

villagers, armed with icons, gathered around the village church,


kneeling and praying. At the level of villages, the militia didn’t impose
its authority yet from this point of view. They were too busy with the
issues regarding collectivization, the gathering of cattle, carts and
harnesses, in the newly organized kolkhozes. Taking the peasant off the
course of his customs brought great prejudices to the rural economy,
with all the implications inherent over the general economic situation.
Those who refused to submit to the collectivization paid this
insubordination dearly.
They were taken away and gone they were. They perished from
cold in Siberia, or exhausted by the hard work in the coal mines.
Isolated cases of survivors brought, over the years, the testimony of
this form of genocide. The only thing which couldn’t be subdued was
hope.
Spring was the deadline the townspeople and the villagers fixed
for the fulfillment of this hope. Everyone was thinking the same – in
spring, after the melting, the war will start. News was coming from
across the Danube, from across the Prut, some more encouraging than
the others, but also naïve, regarding the imminence of the liberation
war, of the war against communism. All hopes were directed toward
Antonescu, the only one who openly faced Carol the Second in 1940,
accusing him that he surrendered Basarabia and the North of Bucovina
without any resistance. The fact that not long after Carol the Second
entrusted the power to him saying: ‘You are a patriot. I cannot entrust
the country in such moments to anyone except for you’, made
Antonescu the representative of the liberation aspirations of
Basarabians. There was also the sympathy he was enjoying from the
part of Hitler, although since September 1940, Romania had declared
itself nonbelligerent, with all its adhering to the Axe.
The rumors which were feeding the Basarabians’ hope were,
naturally, contradictory. Depending on their content, the people’s hopes
were oscillating between confidence and despair. That was the case for
example in the spring of 1941, when Romania refused to participate in
the German campaign against Yugoslavia and Greece. The treason of

183
184

the national interest was mentioned, the loss of any chance to


participate at the liberation war alongside Germany, with partner rights.
The actual participation of the majority of ‘true’ Basarabians,
regardless the nationality, to the feeding of the liberty dream, proved
once again the proverbial solidarity of the population in Basarbia,
inspiring the foreigners with a feeling of fear and raising the fury of the
soviet authorities to unimaginable heights.
The reaction of the repression organs didn’t take long to appear.
The nocturnal arrests, the inquiries with a fatal end, the deportations,
took proportions. The role of informers grew, as did the fear of them.
The activity of the nervous diseases department from the central
hospital, doubled by that of the mental diseases sanatorium near
Bolgrad, became of public notoriety. It was hard to hide the truth.
Doctor Mirchev received the nickname ‘the red vampire’. The so-
called hospitalized ones were pushed, through adequate ‘treatment’,
toward madness, or directly toward death. There were cases of resistant
people, true phenomena, who fought the drugs, deceived the vigilance
of the ‘medical’ personnel, escaped by running away. Their testimonies
opened the eyes of many naïve people, brought the truth to light.
If for intellectuals, the inquiries and hospitalizations were
particularly kept in store, for the villagers, considered a useful
workforce, deportations were reserved. In the midst of winter, the
villagers were selected, torn away from their families, organized in
columns, and under the supervision of horsemen, well dressed, but also
well ‘trained’, took the one way road of deportation. When they
reached Palanca, on the Nistru, they kissed the beloved earth and
headed toward the bridge. On the other side, the endlessness lay.
The beginning of the year 1941 brought a lot of pain in the
houses of Basarabians. It seemed that the rumors which were feeding
the hopes of the locals, were also bringing a state of restlessness in the
hearts of the occupants. They were starting to believe in the possibility
of the outburst of the war with Germany. They were starting to believe
that they wouldn’t be able to face the German army, that they would
have to go home, to leave this so coveted land. The repression organs
intensified their activity. It was whispered about the imminence of

184
185

massive deportations, about the intention of destroying everything, of


setting everything on fire. In these circumstances, Rishcov thought
about distinguishing himself, erasing the eventual traces.
There was still a lot to do from what he had intended since his
naming in the job. He knew this job could be the trampoline of his life.
After a field work visit, he established a plan for the deportation, this
time with the family altogether, of the Romanian, German, French
peasants, even though the latter were rather few in the former Ismail
county. He got in touch with his homologue at Cetatea Alba and they
organized together a plan of action. Anyhow, the Germans and French
had to be deported discretely, as not to provoke Hitler’s fury, with who
the pact of non-aggression was still in force. As their intention was to
make these small enclaves of welfare disappear, it was about important
localities like Shaba, Tarutino, Paris, Leipzig, they chose a land in the
proximity of Shaba, on the bank of the Nistru lagoon, where to
organize a point of concentration and then sending of the convoys
toward Palanca, for the crossing of the Nistru. With the wish of
recovering the goods of these renowned householders, the ones chosen
for moving could withdraw from the newly founded collective farms
their wagons and horses, in order to travel in ‘civilized’ conditions
toward their brothers on the Volga, also moved, a long time ago, in
Kazakhstan or Siberia. In the idea that they won’t be able to avoid a
war with Germany, they were trying to punish these colonists, for their
‘capitalist’ origin.
As for the Romanian peasants, men, women and children, armed
only with bundles, they were led on foot, toward the camp near Sarata,
from where they followed the road already known by many, the road
with no return, to Palanca, and then to Suhoy Liman. Those who fell
exhausted, were taken out of the column, liquidated with a bullet in the
back of the head and buried in the field, in pits dug by their comrades
in suffering themselves. That is how the plains of Basarabia and of
Transnistria were strewn with graves, by nobody known. Caught in this
problem, Rishcov entrusted Shevhcenko with Ismail. As the ones who
had taken refuge in Basarabia, running out of the way of the soviet
power, among which many white officers, were concentrated especially

185
186

in cities, the ‘attention’ turned toward them. For them however, the
matter of deportation couldn’t be considered. They had to be punished
on the spot, liquidated, as the stubborn Romanian intellectuals who
refused ‘collaboration’.
Shevchenko got in touch with Rusev and Nicolovski and they set
out to work. A few things were found out about the atrocities
happening in Shevchenko’s inquiry office, but the number of those
inquired and disappeared could be estimated. The fact that some even
died on the torture table of the sadistic investigator, or were transferred
to the Special Unit, is of no importance. The inquiries organized by
Nicolovski with Rusev’s knowledge, were no gentler than those of
Shevchenko, and who didn’t die of his hand, died either at the Special
Unit, either at the nervous diseases Sanatorium. At Rishcov’s
suggestion, on the list of Shevchenko’s priorities, there were two
names, Silvia and Alexandrov.
With all the misfortunes which came over Silvia, the
schizophrenic declared and supervised by doctor Mirchev himself, this
woman was obsessing the investigator. Her physical endurance
intrigued him, even with the ‘medicinal’ treatment she was being
applied.
- Volodea, this Silvia has to be terminated. I don’t trust what
Mirchev is doing. Let’s do an experiment. Go to the hospital and try to
talk to her, to see if she recognizes you, if her madness isn’t something
else than we believe. She is said to have remained obsessed with you
and to have no clue that her husband died. Tomorrow I want you to
report to me. Don’t tell her who you are. Appear in front of her and
wait for the reaction.
- Understood!
- Sergey, tomorrow you will bring Alexandrov here. You will take
him directly from the church where he is working, at the end of the
shift. You will put a seal on the warehouse. You will keep him a night
in isolation and then you will bring him here.
Volodea went to the hospital at Mirchev and asked to be left alone
with Silvia.

186
187

- Aren’t you afraid of being alone with her? She is generally weak
because of the drugs, but she can also become violent. You can’t even
imagine what a woman can do if she has an attack of nerves. She will
tear you to pieces before you can say knife.
- Leave it to me. Nothing is going to happen. I want to see her in
a separate room, with no witnesses.
- Well at the door however, there will be a man of ours. If
something happens, shout. If she gets nervous, leave her alone. If
something needs to be done, we will deal with it.
Volodea entered the room shown, smiling hardly perceptible. He
was more than curious. He remembered the way he managed to take
her out of her passivity, to make her react like a normal woman, in
normal conditions, not of rape. He had felt the whole splendor of the
woman who was lying in this particularly beautiful exemplar, but filled
with hatred and fear. He had defeated her in rather absurd
circumstances. He had felt a special satisfaction then. The
appreciations brought by Shevchenko placed him on an orbit superior
to that he was generally revolving together with Aliosha.
He was surprised. He wasn’t expecting to recognize her after the
treatment she was subjected to. Naked, Silvia was looking at him
smiling. Her beautiful eyes, bright, didn’t give away by any means the
state of sickness. A little thinner maybe, but with the same harmonious
body line, Silvia approached Volodea, caressed his cheek and told him
whispering:
- Paul, why haven’t you come anymore? And why are you
dressed? Don’t you want to make love? What’s wrong with you? Don’t
you love me anymore? Is it true that Ileana moved to us? What will
Irinel say?
Volodea throbbed. It was obvious that Silvia had gone mad after
what had happened during the inquiry. He experienced a feeling of fear
and maybe for the first time in his life he felt guilty. Silvia stuck to
him, kissed him on the mouth, caressed his hair and started to undo the
buttons from his rubashka. Volodea took her hands and started to kiss
them.

187
188

- Silvia, how can I not love you?! What is this story with Ileana?!
We can’t make love here, it is a hospital, and you are a little sick. I will
take you home soon and everything will be fine again. Trust your Paul,
and only yours. Irinel is sending you kisses and is waiting for you. I
have to leave now, but I will be back as soon as I can. Be good and do
what the doctors say and don’t walk naked like this anymore.
- Why not undress? No one sees me here. The people here are
crazy and they don’t understand anything. I like to dance naked in front
of the mirrors. You know, where I’m staying, the walls are made of
mirrors. Who could understand how wonderful it is to live free, without
prejudices?! I am glad the story with Ileana is an invention. It couldn’t
be different! Ileana is a decent woman and moreover she is my friend.
Go, my dear Paul, and don’t leave me here for a long time. I don’t like
the doctor, the chief. He is always looking at me in a strange way, as if
he wants to undress me. That’s why when he comes, I dress quickly. He
is an unbearable person. Come on, go and kiss Irinel.
Volodea left the room depressed. When the doctor asked him
what he thought, he answered shortly:
- She is crazy, but she is not violent. She took me for her
husband. She talked to me as if I was her Paul. I don’t think she
represents a problem for us.
- Yes, I myself saw that she didn’t recover. It’s better this way.
We’ll leave her alone. She can’t recover, especially because the
treatment continues. Salute comrade Shevchenko from my part and tell
him not to worry.
Volodea felt the need to drink something, to get drunk. For the
first time, he felt a bitter taste, understanding that he too contributed to
the misfortune of this woman. He was overcome with disgust toward
what he was put to do, and an unknown feeling of mercy toward this
beautiful, practically innocent woman engulfed him. He entered into a
more secluded tavern and asked for vodka. He emptied the first glass
breathlessly, asked for another one, and staring at the ceiling, he
thought of Shevchenko. He saw him in another light, going through the
images of what was happening in their inquiry office.

188
189

Being an orphan, he had been brought up and schooled in the


units of the internal affairs ministry and trained in the direction of
special activities. He was convinced that what he was doing was in the
service of his country, for its defense in the fight against the enemies of
the people. Shevchenko had offered them the occasion to have fun as
well, which for some young and vigorous young people wasn’t
negligible. They were devoted to this commander body and soul. When
they did a ‘good job’ they impatiently waited for the reaction of the
commander, savoring his praises. That is what happened in the case of
the inquiry of the Voda couple. Disturbed, without understanding why,
by his encounter with Silvia, at a glass of vodka he started to think, to
split hairs, to ask himself. He remembered his childhood, the years
when his parents were living, his grandfather’s ‘big mouth’, who didn’t
cease to curse the bezbojnics who were pushing Russia on the verge of
ruin.
They turned Russia into a country of extermination camps, a
country sold to the devil.
He thought that maybe it was precisely this type of activities his
grandfather was referring to, people like Shevchenko, people like him,
like Aliosha, like others. The case of Silvia was starting to obsess him.
He had had fun; he had managed to prove his qualities, to gain the
admiration of his boss, to feel powerful. Nevertheless, he couldn’t
forget the look she threw at him after she got down from the sofa of
torture. There was too much scorn in it for him not to realize that he
had only managed to rape her. And now, the confusion in her mind, the
gentleness of her behavior toward the one she thought to be her
husband, were coming to stir him again, but from a totally different
point of view. Silvia had managed in her madness to make him see her
as a beautiful woman, to want her, to feel guilty, not to wish for her
death.
- If the war starts, I will ask to be sent to the front. Shevchenko is
a villain who has made me an even greater villain. Good that my
parents aren’t alive anymore! And my grandfather?! Well if my
grandfather was still alive, I think he would have hung me with his
own hands.

189
190

- Do you want something else to drink?


- No, why?
- I thought I heard you say something…
- Fine, give me a double vodka. Here is the money so I can leave.
Although he had drunk pretty much, Volodea was more awake
than ever. He set out toward the Consistory, passing for the first time
through the ‘Roses’ Park. A group of boys and girls were laughing,
spreading a contagious joyfulness around them. He looked at them with
envy. At his appearance, the laughter stopped, as if to draw his
attention that he was an intruder. He shrugged his shoulders
indifferently and continued his way. However, this incident intrigued
him.
- We have gone low! The people are as afraid of us as they are of
the devil.
In front of Shevchenko, he controlled his attitude and without
going into details told him:
- She is completely mad! She mistook me for her husband. She
thinks he is still alive and he is cheating on her with Ileana, Ilashcu’s
wife. The doctor told me not to worry about her. He is continuing with
the treatment. She represents no interest to us.
- You are too young in our profession to draw conclusions!
Against us, even the dead speak, if we don’t take care of them. I’ve
seen madmen who, to a certain extent, are more normal than us and
give us trouble. The whole story with her madness, the so-called
schizophrenia, might be a deliberate action, which is hiding the
obsession of revenge. Silvia is of a different type than Ileana, who
threatened us directly with revenge. Silvia left this office perfectly
healthy, lucid, spitting me directly in the face. Her swoon, her
overnight madness, didn’t convince me. I’m surprised by Mirchev!
What has gotten into him not to finish her off?! I’ve agreed with him!
The sooner, the better for us! These are agitated times and if we will
have to leave, we can’t leave any traces. Learn, son! You have chosen a
hard job with great responsibility.
Volodea set out slowly to the bedroom. He was troubled, without
understanding the reason of this state. Silvia’s face had imprinted itself

190
191

upon his mind and he couldn’t rid himself of this image. That wasn’t
how he had imagined the sight of a mad woman looked like. She was
serene, affectionate, confident. He knew she was crazy, but the bound
between normal and abnormal was indefinite. In fact, what he was
doing during the inquiries was something normal?! Why was it that
after such scenes they had vodka at their discretion? Was it that in the
words of his grandfather a grain of truth lay? In such a system, what
would happen to him if he took a wrong step? Surprised by such
thoughts, he got angry for good. He opened the cupboard and took a
bottle of the never-failing vodka. He took a big gulp and he lay on his
bed. He fell asleep fast and he plunged into a deep sleep. Youth and
vodka had done their job.
Shevchenko also remained lost in thoughts. Volodea’s empty
words disappointed him. He had expected spicier information. He had
sent Silvia to Mirchev as to get revenge on her for the arrogance with
which she spit on him. He hadn’t thought at any moment that she was
crazy. If she had no idea about what was happening to her, what was
the point in keeping her alive?! This was no revenge. He was hoping
that she would stir up some spicy scandals through her beauty,
involving either the sanitary personnel, or the patients around her.
Knowing Mirchev as a notorious womanizer as well, ready to get
involved with anything which had a woman’s face, he had counted on
his help. No, something wasn’t in order! He had to see her personally
and decide what had to be done. He saw Alexandrov’s file on the table
and called Sergey.
- Have you prepared Alexandrov’s arrest?
- It’s complicated, comrade captain. Alexandrov has suffered a
heart attack and is hospitalized at internal diseases. It seems he is in a
critical state!
- The hell with it! I want Alexandrov alive, as well as all the
white officers. I don’t want him to die in a hospital. We can find out a
lot of names from him. Go to the hospital now, talk to the department
chief and tell him Alexandrov has to be saved. Tell him whatever
passes your mind. I want him alive! When I hear about white officers, I
see red!

191
192

Shevchenko became as gloomy as a child. He hadn’t expected


such a bad day. He felt guilty for the negligence with which he had
treated the two cases. After the failure with Ileana, he wasn’t willing to
lose once again.
- Would Nicolovski punish her properly? The stupid! She could
have lived like a queen! For some time, of course, until she
disappeared.
This thought made him smile sarcastically. He felt tough and he
wasn’t willing to make any mistakes in his plans. He wasn’t too happy
with Rishcov. A man who wasn’t capable of assisting to an inquiry, had
nothing to do in the position he was occupying. If he had managed to
do some cleaning, he had done it on his own. The greatest cleaning he
had managed to do in the ranks of the clergy, which wasn’t little. The
ranks of the intellectuals too had been thinned out through veritable
decimations, done simply, randomly. The ones in education were the
most targeted. Yes, Shevchenko was feeling tough and he had in mind
strengthening his position with Nicolovski’s help. Each of them had an
issue – Rishcov and respectively, Rusev.
Both of them were thinking of speculating the opportunity
created by the Ismail military port commander, the navy officer Max
Mihailovich Zelicman, a Jew like Rusev, who dared to intervene for the
liberation of a convict from a place where nobody had been declared
not guilty. That some were transferred at the bolgradian sanatorium, it
was entirely different. This ‘transfer’ too was part of the Calvary, of the
road of death. The Davidov case, Davidescu according to the papers in
his personal file, could and had to constitute the guillotine for
Zelicman. Davidov’s refusal had to cost him his life, by no means
absolve him of any guilt. He was suspecting that Zelicman had a strong
support, but he also knew that the ‘resolution’ of such a case meant for
him an extra chance, the chance to rise in the eyes of those for whom
he was working.
Shevchenko’s sick mind set out to work. The problem was to find
a plausible reason to request the approbation for the starting of an
investigation. He had the experience of a similar case and he knew it
wasn’t going to be easy. The circumstances however, were favorable.

192
193

The war seemed inevitable, and in such circumstances, any mistake,


any trifle could be used as an argument. The way in which Zelicman
had settled his subaltern in Davidov’s house was far from negligible.
Instead of obtaining an order of eviction against the Davidov family, he
arranged a repartition with a tenant statute. A family of an officer
tenant at the family of a political convict!? If he resolved the Zelicman
case, Davidov was to come back where he had escaped as through a
miracle – the Special Unit.
Pleased with the fact that the bustle in his head was starting to
settle down, Shevchenko opened the desk door, took out a bottle of
vodka and drank lustily from the elixir. He felt the pleasant burn of the
magic liquid and plunged into the armchair, refusing any other thought.
He was pleased. Once the dice was thrown, he could set out to work.
- What is it Sergey?
- We have a problem. Volodea got dead drunk and made a terrible
racket in the bedroom. We had to immobilize him and put him into
isolation. Good thing he didn’t use his weapon. Anyway, Aliosha got it
badly.
- Leave him two days without food and without water, and then I
will talk to him. It seems the visit at the hospital didn’t do him good.
The event with Volodea reminded him of Silvia. He felt
something was not in order and he decided not to postpone the visit
planned at the hospital.

16

The bad news started to pour in our house. Mirchea’s


disappearance, which didn’t actually surprise anybody, was followed
by that regarding Alexandrov’s hospitalization, with a heart attack
diagnosis. The chief of the internal diseases department, doctor

193
194

Percheac, received him in his characteristic style, jokingly. Alexandrov


was not the man to be afraid of disease, but hearing that it was about
his heart, he shuddered at the thought that Dusia could remain alone.
He couldn’t count on Shuric. He could be taken in the army at any
time, or taken to a reeducation ‘school’, without being able to contact
the family.
- What do you say doctor? Is it complicated?
- Rest assured, Alexandr Alexandrovich! You are not the man to
die from a trifle. Yes, yes! Listen to me, it’s a trifle! Stay still at rest
and tomorrow I will take you in my cabinet and clarify things. Shuric
also came to me and I hope I calmed him down. The following day
Percheac took Alexandrov in the cabinet and when they remained
alone, he told him:
- It’s nothing serious. I’m telling you with all the responsibility
and friendship. On the other hand, something else is worrying me.
Yesterday evening a guy from the Consistory visited me, inquired for
your condition and told me I had to make you healthy as fast as
possible. I had the inspiration to tell him you are not feeling good and
that there are faint chances of you surviving. They are naïve! I
understood from the very beginning that they want you whole. It is
clear that they will arrest you. It’s not the first case when we are asked
to save people. Unfortunately, I even know what happened to them. So
from today on, from this moment, take the appearance of a sick man,
scared, worried for the fate of your family. I will keep Shuric informed.
Everyone will know that you are dying, and my attempts to save you
will be put on the account of our friendship, which isn’t a secret for
anyone. I will give you some sedatives so that you will look weaker. I
am not going to play into their hands. It won’t be long until we escape
from them. The war is at the door. Anyhow, Mirchev hasn’t got
involved in my business yet. He has somebody seriously sick at me and
he is counting on my competence.
After the consultation in the cabinet, Percheac discretely
announced the fatal diagnosis; he prepared an atmosphere of funeral in
the middle of the family and promised the ‘interested’ ones that he
would do everything possible to set afoot this so important patient.

194
195

Alexandrov easily entered in the role, especially that the things found
out made him behave ‘properly’ even without sedatives. He was
scared. He knew that they tracked him, that they found out he was a
white officer. For those, there was no escape. They as well as their
families were exterminated. He was profoundly moved by Percheac’s
gesture. He had taken an enormous risk. To save a white officer, meant
to commit suicide. He thought about the poor Hrshcovich. Maybe he
was the one who gave them the information. He was known to be
arrested by Shevchenko’s men and after an inquiry by the book,
transferred to Rusev, at his request. He had recognized him in the street
and he didn’t give up until he gave him on Nicolovski’s hands.
Alexandrov had to be inquired, made to confess and to divulge the
names of other ex-officers.
Before calling on Mirchev, Shevchenko paid Percheac a visit.
- Well, how is our patient feeling?
- Which patient, comrade captain?
- Only one interests me. Alexandrov, and I want him healthy as
fast as possible.
- Yes! He has to be an important character, since you take a
personal interest. Alexandrov is not doing well! I don’t even want to
tell those at home. He suffered a heart attack; the ones at home didn’t
realize his condition and brought him too late. First of all, they
struggled to lay him in bed, they forced him to move as he shouldn’t
have, what’s more they let him get up, go to work. Their only excuse is
that they didn’t have such cases in the family. The second crisis
overpowered him entirely. Anyhow, I’m trying to set him afoot. Only a
miracle could save him.
- Fine comrade doctor; don’t forget I need this miracle!
Alexandrov was a good collaborator and he didn’t end his mission yet.
I will pass here again. I am going to Mirchev now.
Mirchev had found out about Shevchenko’s presence in the
hospital and was waiting for him in his cabinet.
- How are you doctor? How are your patients doing? I passed by
Percheac to see what one Alexandrov was doing. It seems he is dying.

195
196

This disturbs me. I needed one like him some more. Do you think I can
trust Percheac? What if there is a set-up in the wind?
- Percheac? He is a very good and conscientious doctor. If his
greatest enemy was hospitalized, he would take care of him better than
he would take care of the others. I too have someone at him and it
seems he does wonders. Of course, you can’t talk to him like you talk
to me, but in medical problems you can count on his competence one
hundred percent. He is a curious guy, a romantic, who doesn’t live
down on earth.
- Please follow this case nonetheless. I want to be sure I am not
being fooled, and if he is seriously ill, I prefer he dies here or at home,
not during my inquiry. Tell me, how is Silvia doing? In fact, it’s her I
came here for. I thought you would finish with this case. Are you really
convinced she is not shaming? We can’t afford to be surprised! I want
to see her in private.
- I will bring her here and leave you alone. She is not violent, you
can rest assured.
- It’s not violence I’m afraid of. I don’t want to be fooled.
Silvia appeared in the cabinet and threw Shevchenko an inquiring
look.
- You are Paul’s friend, aren’t you? Why hasn’t he come? I think
Paul has told me about you, but I seem to have forgotten your name.
What is your name? Have you come to make love? It is beautiful here.
Look, we even have a sofa. Wait a minute for me to undress.
- Silvia took off her night gown and approached Shevchenko
slowly. Surprised, Shevchenko took a step backwards, without saying a
word.
- Why are you stepping aside? That’s also what Paul did when he
was here the last time. I think he was afraid of the doctor. Paul is an
extraordinary man. You wouldn’t tell he is a priest. Come, undress!
You know that even the doctor wanted to make love, but I didn’t let
him. With you, it is different, you are Paul’s friend. Now I know what
your name is, you are Volodea.
- Silvia, the doctor wanted to make love to you, here in the
cabinet?

196
197

- Yes, but I didn’t want to. I am faithful to Paul, even though he is


cheating on me with Ileana. Do you know Ileana? What a beautiful
girl! No, I don’t like the doctor! With you it will be great, I am
convinced. Come on!
Silvia approached Shevchenko, stuck to him and started to kiss
him. Shevchenko felt the warmth of a woman’s body which was
offering herself, took her in his sinewy arms, started to kiss her,
pushing her with staggering steps toward the sofa covered with a sheet
of an immaculate white. He stopped suddenly, pushed her and shouted:
- How can I sleep with a madwoman! Volodea is right! She is
crazy!
- Why are you saying that I am crazy! And why are you talking to
yourself?
- What do you mean talking to myself?
- Well, didn’t you say that Volodea was right? Well, you are
Volodea, aren’t you?
- Silvia, put your dress on and go to your place. Paul will come
and you will make love, and don’t think about any Volodea. Only Paul
exists for you.
Shevchenko opened the door and entrusted her to the supervisor
posted in front of the door.
- Send for doctor Mirchev please!
- And how was it, has she danced naked for you?
- The hell she danced! This woman really is crazy, although in her
craziness she sometimes throws surprising questions and retorts. It is
just this thing that I don’t like! It’s time you sent her after Paul!
- Do you think it’s worth it? I consider her terminated.
- That’s why you wanted to sleep with her?
- Me?! God forbid! She does have a beautiful body, but what can
you expect from a madwoman? And besides, I don’t get involved with
patients. I have a too good post to risk!?
- Good, then we have understood each other? We don’t need her
anymore. See that you do it with great care! And with proper papers.
What intrigued Shevchenko the most was the way Silvia looked.
After so much ‘treatment’, this woman looked like she did the day

197
198

when she was brought for the inquiry. A thought flashed across his
mind:
- But what if Mirchev isn’t treating her according to the deal and
is keeping her to himself?!
If something like that turned out to be true, his fate would be
sealed. Anyhow, he was on the list of the witnesses who had to
disappear at the adequate moment, and the moment was starting to be
seen at the horizon. The messages arrived from the center were clearer
and clearer. You didn’t have to be a great politician to decrypt the sense
of all the dispositions which, not rarely, came one against each other.
The state of panic was starting to settle among the ones who came from
the other side of the Nistru. Under all sorts of pretexts, families were
returning from where they had come from, leaving their husbands at
their duty. Unable to mask the things, the native population seemed to
be reborn. The optimism could be read on their faces. They remained
however prudent, scared of what was happening in the cities and
villages. Each was looking to strain through the sieve which was
selecting the ones destined to perish. In this time, the corruption in the
ranks of the foreigners grew to unthinkable proportions. With the
thought at the imminent departure from this veritable heaven for them,
they were prepared for anything in order to gather as much valuable
things as they could, as much gold and silver. This state of things did
some good to the locals too, who were managing to find out in time
certain things which were regarding them directly and in some cases to
take shelter.
The frontier guards were also part of the category of corrupt ones.
That is why in the middle of the winter, over the Danube blocked by
ice blocks, the ones who could pay the vigilance, with all the obvious
risks, took the road of exile, of risk, of poverty. Some managed to reach
the right bank of the Danube unharmed. Others found their death in the
waters of the Danube they loved so much. The same thing was
happening along the Prut as well. The number of these desperate ones
was of course, rather small. Few had tempting material means in store
and even fewer were the ones who dared to bribe and push their luck.
There were also the young people, who without bribe or other

198
199

arrangements, ventured to play with the ice packs on the Danube or on


the Prut. Mirchea too was among these venturesome ones.
Disappeared from Chisinau after the event with the Christmas
trees, he fled toward the Prut, on foot, or by occasional wagons. He
chose the direction Cahul. He had seen on the map that 15 kilometers
north, the Prut made, near the village Zarneshti, not far from Larga
Noua, some marshes, just good to render supervision difficult. He
studied the situation a little, without drawing attention upon him and, in
a moment of courage, late at night, he set out. The ice on the bank
allowed him to easily crawl about ten meters, after which the ordeal
started. The ice blocks constituted an unsafe bridge. His passing wasn’t
noticed, but going forward was suicide. A few cold baths irritated him
and maybe it was just this thing that saved him. Arrived on the mirror-
like ice which marked the Romanian bank of the Prut, Mirchea laid on
his back ignoring the ‘stop or I’ll shoot’ summon of a Romanian
frontier guard.
Not seeing any reaction from the fugitive, the frontier guard fired
a shot in the air and waited. Two comrades arrived with a lantern and
leaned over the body lain on the ice. They were greeted by a smile and
two eyes in tears.
- I’ve escaped! God, I can’t believe it! Take me!
- Take you we will! See who you actually are!? Come on, get up,
because if you stay wet like this anymore, we won’t have anything to
do with you at the post. Ioan, do you have any brandy with you? Give
him some because he’s dying!
Mirchea rose on his elbows, sipped from the bottle offered and
shook as from shiver. He rose with difficulty and set out surrounded by
the three young frontier guards. When they arrived at the frontier guard
post, Mirchea was frozen completely. He was dressed like in a tree
bark. They were greeted by a 40 year old lieutenant, pleasant to the
eye. A well heated iron stove was spreading a beneficial warmth.
Mirchea sat down without saying a word, next to the stove heated with
wood and took his head in his hands.
- What’s with you young man? Look at you! It seems you took a
good bath, doesn’t it? Where did you fish him?

199
200

- Sir lieutenant, he was lying on the ice on the bank. At first, he


didn’t even move.
- And how did you get here?
- I crossed the Prut. I was lucky!
- That’s little to say. You could have ended up under the ice.
- If I had remained there anymore, I would have ended up under
the earth.
- Do you have any documents? What’s your name my dear sir?
- I have the passport and my student’s card, but I don’t know
whether anything can be seen, after the bath I took.
The papers really were wet, but legible.
- Davidov Mirchea, Ismail, 1919. A Russian name with a
Romanian surname!
- My real name is Davidescu. They changed it at the releasing of
the new documents.
- Davidescu you say? You aren’t Danila’s son, are you? The one
in Sararia, my wife, your aunt Ekaterina’s brother! This beats
everything! Come on, talk!
- This means you are my uncle, Dumitru Tanase, from Macrina.
God, I can’t believe it!
- Come on, get undressed! Boys, give him some of our clothes
and something to drink, something strong and make him a hot tea. Put
your clothes near the fire to dry them. You can’t remain in military
clothes. You might want to run from here as well!?
Mirchea drank heavily from the boys’ tzuica, then he fell asleep
on the spot. The educator Tanase, from Rimnicu Vilchea, married to a
Basarabian woman, had been concentrated a month before and detailed
at frontier guards, at the Prut. He hadn’t seen Mirchea for more than
twelve years. How could he recognize him? He was a veritable man.
What about this chance, he said to himself. Mirchea’s sleep was short.
He woke up scared and he examined the room and the clothes he was
wearing.
- Well, have you come to your senses a little? If you haven’t
started to sneeze, it means that you have escaped. And now, what do I
do with you? I have to send you to the commander, to Galatzi. I will go

200
201

with you myself, to get you out of trouble. Any fugitive is a potential
spy. I will guarantee for you, and then I will take you to your aunt, so
that she will take care of you a little. What would you like to do?
- I want to go to Sibiu, to the cavalry officer school. If the soviets
didn’t come, I would be there now.
In Galatzi things went on unexpectedly simple. The commander,
a professional officer, remained surprised by Mirchea’s request, gave
him a temporary identity certificate and armed him with a voucher for
Sibiu. Lieutenant Tanase thanked the commander, and with his
permission, made a detour through Rimnicu Sarat, to entrust him to his
wife. The surprise was big, but Mirchea didn’t abuse the hospitality of
his aunt for too long. He wanted to get to the officer school as fast as
possible, to get ready for the campaign which was looming at the
horizon. To fight alongside the Germans would have been a dream
come true. He had escaped as through a miracle, but he had a mission
to accomplish, to pay back. He had to avenge his colleagues and to
clear his name from the unfair accusations.
In Sibiu things also went on well. After a few interrogatories and
the verification of some accounts regarding the situation of the recruits
in the years 1939 – 1940, Mirchea joined the Cavalry Officer School
and, at the start of the war, asked to go to the front with the first unit
thrown in battle. Until then however, nothing was known at home
about his fate. Mother had lugubrious feelings and was praying to God
as for a dead man. This belief worried her for a long time,
extinguishing her contagious joyfulness, her love of life. The bad
things piled up, and the atmosphere in the house became more and
more tense. The relationship between father and Valeria also
contributed to the increase of the tension. While dad was seeking to
avoid Valeria in direct confrontations, his former little girl was
provoking him at every step.
Her jargon had acquired something trivial, unusual for us, and the
most absurd accusations flung mud at father, ignoring even our
presence, the younger ones, or the one of the tenants. Dad was
withdrawing in himself, coming home from work late, putting an
additional cloud over mother. The only notable change occurred with

201
202

Lulu, who in spite of the impulse she had against the Russian language
and against the soviets, took to Clava, who became Claudia, with
whom she was wandering throughout the town, striving to teach her
Romanian. The same, the relations with the Zelicman family became
closer and closer, and Marat was spending his whole free time playing
at us, with me and Barby.
These demonstrations of mutual sympathy would stay, later, at
the foundation of the accusations brought to Zelicman by the ones who
meant him harm, since the ‘involvement’ in the problems of institutions
destined to set up the new order.
Meanwhile, new bad news reached the ears of my folks. The
Stavrov family had disappeared from the vineyard. As in winter, the
relations between the Stavrovs and the young frontier guards quartered
at the vineyard had become very friendly, with all the inherent risks,
Stavrov set to work and came to terms with the chief of the group
regarding his old plan of crossing the Danube. He took out a part of the
golden coins carefully hidden in the perimeter of the vineyard, gave
them to the young commander and set up a plan of crossing the
Danube, over the ice bridge, before it was dynamited for the freeing of
the ice blocks piled up in a compact mass.
In the night decided, the three Stavrovs, armed with the rest of the
golden coins, hung by their belt in small leather bags, appeared at the
decided place, to cross the Danube on foot, under the protection of
their young frontier guard friend. Unfortunately, they had a surprise.
- I have to search you, so that in case anything happens, I won’t
be in trouble.
The search resulted in the confiscation of the gold, to the despair
of the fugitives.
- What will we do without any money?!
- This is beyond me. You should hurry, if you don’t want to be
caught on our bank. If you get on the other side, you are free to do
whatever you want. After you go far enough, I will fire a few gunshots,
in the air of course! Don’t be frightened, continue your journey. I need
cover, too. And not a word about our agreement! It wouldn’t do good to
anyone! Safe journey!

202
203

The ice bridge didn’t cause them any problems. Neither did the
gunshots which were heard behind them. However, they woke up the
Romanian frontier guards. They warned them, but no incident
happened. At the frontier guard post they had a surprise. Next to the lit
fire, an adolescent was warming up his bones. It was George, the
nephew of Leolea and Dania. The first who recognized him was Iuric.
- How did you get here, George?
- Like you. I crawled on the ice. I left from the monastery ravine.
I got badly frozen, but it was worth it. I followed two frontier guards,
which were drinking vodka. They were rather drunk and I snuck right
by them. It didn’t even cross their mind to look straight ahead. They
were looking left and right and in fact they were hopping on the spot,
in order to get warm.
- Have you come alone?
- Of course! You can have surprises in a group. One sneezes,
another gets frightened and turns back. It is important not to stop. After
a couple of days they are going to blow up the ice, so I took advantage.
My parents don’t even know. I’m going to Bucharest, to my father. He
has wanted to take me for a long time, but I refused. Since the event
with the boys who tried to swim across, I decided to run by myself.
- George, for us the matter is rather complicated. The boy we
came to terms with and whom we paid with old golden coins, searched
us at our departure and took everything we had upon us. We are broke
and we don’t have who to turn to!
- Well, I have some Romanian money and necklace with a golden
cross from grandmother. I say it’s enough for tickets to Bucharest, and
we will see what we arrange there with my father. The main thing is to
get off the formalities in Tulchea.
The journey to Tulchea was made in a military truck, on a terrible
cold. However, the great warmth with which they were received by the
frontier guard commander was beyond expectations. Understanding at
the carrying out of formalities, vouchers for the requested destination,
Bucharest, food for the journey, temporary identity certificates. The
warmth of this behavior brought warmth in the hearts of the fugitives
too. Major Voinescu knew Ismail well. The things narrated exceeded

203
204

by much the rumors regarding the situation of the locals. He was


acquainted to the expulsion of the bishop, but he hadn’t found out
anything about inquiries, disappearances, deportations. The fate of
priest Voda’s family, whom he had personally met and in whose house
he had spent many beautiful evenings, impressed him profoundly.
With all the fatigue which had marked the venturesome fugitives,
they spent nearly the entire night near the fire, at a glass of tzuica1,
winding common memories and especially the atrocities of the invaded
Basarabians’ so agitated present. The things narrated seemed to come
from the world of the absurd. The persecution which the intellectuals,
first of all the clergy, were subjected to, seemed anachronistic to the
young major. The believers were persecuted and exterminated like at
the beginning of Christianity. Intellectuals, in general, were treated like
in the time of the inquisition. Puzzled, he was asking himself – where
is God?!
- God is everywhere; He is with us even in such hard moments.
God is putting us to the test, and Doomsday, the Day of the Supreme
Judgment, will punish all who infringed the natural laws of humanity,
of Christianity. The Day of the Supreme Judgment won’t be a day in
the actual meaning of the word, it will be a Supreme phenomenon of
God’s self unveiling before us, when the question marks will disappear,
when God will stand before us in all the splendor of His Being, without
doubt, administering justice, forgiving and punishing, and above all,
investing us with His most magnificent attribute – Eternity! No, my
dear, I am not scared of the trials we are subjected to, because I am
leaning upon the staff of faith in God!
- You talk as if you were a priest, a servant of God?
- I have always been a servant of God! I haven’t been a priest, but
in a voluntary way, I have been a sort of abbot at the Saint Demeter’s
church, and I think I have done my duty!
- Impressive, mister Stavrov! I was very pleased to meet you and
listen to you. Thank you!
- I thank you for the way in which you have received and helped
us. May God take care of you!

204
205

In Bucharest, things were less pleasant. After a long and tiring


journey, on some portions with goods wagons, entailed by George, in
fact not having an alternative, the Stavrovs stopped at Milescu’s house.
The surprise was enormous, but it manifested differently on the faces
of the ones in the house. After the separation from his first wife,
George’s father didn’t cease for a moment to hope in the recovery of
his boy, in fact his only child. He was hoping to bring him in matters of
fashion, tailoring and commerce. When he heard George call him
‘father’, he had the feeling that his heart stopped beating. How could
he know that this sturdy fellow was none other than the child only a
few years old who he had left in Ismail, beside his mother, when they
separated? Even after he remarried, Milescu didn’t give up the idea of
having his son beside him. When George was ten years old, he paid
them a visit in Ismail, renewing his proposal. George’s categorical ‘no’
made him stop insisting and postpone it for later. And, suddenly, he
came across George, Jorj as he used to call him, in front of him.
When he held him in his arms, tears gushed from his eyes. He
didn’t have eyes for anyone, not even for those who had come with his
George. This sincere happiness was put into shade, even with the rigor
mask, by the cold, inquisitive, puzzled look of the ‘step mother’. If
Milescu didn’t have eyes for anyone, George however felt this look
twisting in his heart like a dagger.
- Father, let me introduce the Stavrov family, whom I met on the
Romanian bank of the Danube, after our successful attempt of running
away. I ran away at my own will. No one knows, not even mother. The
Stavrov family crossed the Danube over the ice bridge, after they paid
a frontier guard. Unfortunately, at their departure, the frontier guard
searched them and took everything they had valuable from them,
especially the golden coins. They are in a difficult situation and they
are uncle Danila’s the best friends, please think of a way to help them.
A loan, an acquaintance who could offer them shelter, for now, until
they find a situation. Me and Iuric will look for work and I hope all
four of us will manage.
- Wait a minute! What do you mean all four? Aren’t you staying
at me? I’ve just recovered you and you want me to lose you once

205
206

again?! With them, we’ll see what we arrange. But first, let’s prepare a
feast and celebrate your successful run. Until tomorrow, we will jostle
somehow, and the day will enlighten us. We have to work it out.
The meal was copious, but the atmosphere wasn’t. Milescu was
curious to hear news from Basarabia, but the things narrated had the
effect of bringing sadness. It seemed from the field of the incredible,
but the things narrated were coming from his son, were coming from
the mouth of people who had lived in the middle of the events. Without
wanting, in his own mind, he congratulated himself for the fact that he
had left this oppressed region, fallen into the hands of barbarians. Not
the soviets, not the communist order were guilty of all the evils, but the
Russians, only the Russians, in their utopian obsessions of expansion.
He was forgetting that his first true love, George’s mother, was a
Russian. In fact, he wasn’t the only one who was thinking this way. It
wasn’t the U.S.S.R, it was Russia!
The morning caught all in verve. The only one who was showing
signs of fatigue, of boredom better said, was the step mother, whom
George was obviously avoiding. As adolescent as he was, so
determined he was not to stick in anybody’s throat and to manage on
his own. He knew the school year was lost, he knew he didn’t want to
work with his father, he didn’t wish to follow him in his profession, he
felt like continuing school and practicing journalism. This was his
vocation; this was what he wanted to do. His plans would disappoint
Milescu, but he encountered in George a ‘stubborn’ young man, who
reminded him of his own youth. He knew from his experience that he
didn’t stand a chance in such a fight, and George was more important
near him, than somewhere far. The future would confirm this.

1 a kind of plum brandy

206
207

17

The successive dynamitations, carried out on the left bank, by the


soviets, as well as on the right bank, by the Romanians, made a free
way for the ice blocks, at the start of February. The natural bridge
across the Danube, the way of so many fugitives, was disappearing at
once with the chances of crossing to the other side. To try a crossing by
boat, through the threatening ice packs, meant suicide. The job of the
soviet frontier guards was facilitated, disappearing however, to their
regret, a source of income.
The freeing of the ice blocks from the grip brought about by the
severe cold, also brought however a gleam of hope in the hearts of the
locals, the hope that at once with the arrival of spring, the much
expected war would start. What a paradox! People, peaceful through
their nature, were preparing for war, as did their fathers and forefathers,
in order to escape from the torrents of invaders. Hitler, Antonescu,
were the names most mentioned.
The visit of the internal affairs minister, Stalin’s right hand,
brought about a new wave of repressions. Rishcov, Shevchenko, Rusev,
Nicolovsky were panic-stricken. The instructions received implied
taking extremely tough measures against the local population. The
recommendation ‘all should be done clean’ made them understand the
fact that they weren’t allowed to leave any sort of traces, and the
natural conclusion was the imminent retreat for the falling back of
forces and the organization of the first wave of resistance on the left
bank of the Nistru. The war was approaching, and the motorized war
machine was disturbing the invaders.
The system of undercover bands, type Pantiosha, was
generalizing. Everything which could be robbed was robbed. Churches
were being robbed for the silver of the icons and for all sorts of objects
of cult. The collective households, just organized, were being robbed,
the animals being driven toward the Nistru. The desperation of the
people knew no bounds. Not being able to organize, isolated

207
208

individuals made justice for themselves, hanging where they could,


militiamen or ‘civilians’ who were haunting the villages. They didn’t
touch the clothes of the ones punished. They were too Christian to rob
in turn. They were punishing in God’s name, convinced that they
weren’t committing any sin.
At one of the work meetings with the minister of internal affairs,
Nicolovsky dared to let pass some ‘information’ at the address of the
port commander, the naval captain-colonel Zelicman. The minister fell
in the trap laid and allowed Rishcov to take care of the case personally.
It was an unusual thing to approve the pursuit of military personnel, an
involvement was forbidden as a rule but, taking into account the
circumstances, ‘explainable’. A lot of prudence was required in the
‘finding’ of plausible proof and the couple Rishcov-Shevchenko set out
to work.
The shadows in front of Davidov’s house reappeared and,
discretely, in front of the Zelicman family house. The connection with
the shadow from the harbor commandment was reestablished under the
cover of the minister of internal affairs approval. All this could not
escape the attention of a man with Zelicman’s experience, who warned
Batalov, and through him, the Davidov family. However, prudence
could not fight against deliberate actions. Uneasiness morally united all
the people involved.
Zelicman’s main concern was to send his family to his wife’s
parents, in order to spare her from surprises and to save Marat. He
advised Batalov to do the same thing. As their first attempts had failed,
they decided to attack frontally, bluntly. They had to say the truth, at
least partially, insisting especially on the rumors regarding the outburst
of the war. If Zelicman succeeded in his approach of Sara, speculating
on the fear for Marat, that was not the case with Clava. ‘No and no!’
was the answer of this being spoilt with love. Batalov admitted defeat,
as usual and concluded in the spirit of the things heard from his
grandmother, ‘At God’s wish!’
Zelicman insisted and managed to obtain the approval to send his
family with a quick boat, justifying the gesture with the aggravation of
his wife’s health condition. He composed himself only when he

208
209

received the confirmation of his family’s arrival in Odessa. The


separation from Marat was more than painful. The separation of Sara
and Marat from our family wasn’t easy either.
Warned of the things which were being prepared, my parents
were extremely worried. Not a word from Mirchea, no news from
George, the general tension in the town, brought heavy clouds over our
house. Meanwhile, Nicolovsky was rubbing his hands with
satisfaction. He had managed to let pass the charges against Zelicman
and Batalov, he had involved Davidov’s name, and what was more
important, he had passed the whole matter on the shoulders of Rishcov
and Shevchenko. He knew that in the end they would come to him.
This way he would also put Rusev, who had accepted Zelicman’s
involvement in their business, in his place. He couldn’t stand the Jews
and he could hardly restrain from showing it. Things were going his
way and he couldn’t hide his satisfaction, displaying a good-spirited
attitude, unusual for his way of being. He had a lot of things to do, but
what was making him feel even better was Ileana’s docile attitude.
Since he had moved her from the carrying of the earth to the
cleaning around him, Ileana, who had given up the hunger strike for
some time, was starting to recover. He wanted her obsessively, but he
wanted to obtain her favors without imposing himself with force. He
needed this victory to get rid of the ugliness complex he was suffering.
He was inquiring her personally, without witnesses, declaring that it
was a special case. During these inquiries, he was trying not to push it,
he was talking to her about his unpleasant job, about the hate he was
surrounded by, about the responsibility he had been invested with. He
was talking to her a lot, more or less directly, about the fate of those
sent to this unit, about his fear for her fate.
Ileana understood the game of her ‘protector’ very well, and was
looking to gain time, without openly rejecting him, always bringing up
Shevchenko, the fury which overcame him at her refusal to be his
lover, her husband, Nani’s death, a death which he was directly
responsible of, her desire to get revenge. Simple, convincing, infantile.
Nicolovsky was listening to her patiently, advising her to give up such
utopian ideas.

209
210

- How to get revenge on Shevchenko?! In front of him you are a


helpless child. At your age you have to learn to forget so you can
continue your life. I don’t love this individual either, but as much as I
care about you, and I want to become friends with you, I don’t see how
I could help you. Tomorrow or the day after, this man will take
Rishcov’s place, and you’ll see then! I’ve told you before and I’m
telling you again, I am in love with you and I will make everything
possible to get you out of here. Here, you are condemned to death,
without a trial. The system obliges us and we must submit. This is how
we have been educated. If we don’t carry out orders, we in turn are
condemned to death. I was reconciled with this thought until you
appeared. At this moment, I am not the slave of our regime anymore, I
am your slave. Whichever your attitude toward me is, know that I
couldn’t abuse you, nor could I give you on the hands of my boys to
get revenge. You have brought something good, clean, in my life and
one way or another, I will repay you.
- Comrade Nicolovsky, the way you talk and behave with me
makes me feel safer and unafraid of what could happen to me.
- Don’t call me comrade; call me Alexei, so that we forget where
we are. Or, no! It would be dangerous for the both of us. On the
contrary, you should leave the impression that you are afraid of me. At
us, any imprudence could destroy you!
- Yes, I think it’s better this way. At one moment, I was
determined to get revenge, even at the cost of my life. I loved my
husband and I will love him all my life. I will never give up on
revenge, but I am determined to live. Nani taught me that suicide is an
unforgivable sin. Even if I could come near a man, he will find out
from me about Nani and my thoughts of revenge and he will have to
understand and support me.
- You know, Ileana, I’m thinking of declaring you a collaborator,
with a parole statute. I will arrange so that you can return to your
home, which is fortunately still free. We will be able to meet there,
without risking and, who knows?, maybe we will be able to set a trap
for Shevchenko. Anyway, I will acquaint them with my plans regarding
your usage as an informer, so that I will have a cover, and you, being in

210
211

good relations with the Davidov family, will certify this mission,
providing information about these people and their relations with the
Zelicmans and Batalovs. No! Don’t be afraid! I don’t need real
information from you. Any trifle can be interpreted as valuable
information which would assure you freedom and maybe the way to
revenge. I don’t care about Shevchenko. I too hate him for his
arrogance. But you must trust me and not act hastily. By the way things
are going, the opportunity might appear soon. So that everything is in
order, you will have to ask the ones with whom your husband worked
to give you something to work, to officially have something to live
from. Practically, I assure you that you won’t be lacking anything.
Think about what I’ve told you and give me an answer. Anyhow, I am
not going to let you die here. You mean too much for me. I trust you
and I will take you out of this inferno. You can run if you wish, but
leaving my protection might throw you back in the arms of
Shevchenko. Now go and think about what we have talked. It’s
premature to make plans with revenge. The primary objective is getting
away from here and that is what I am taking care of. Go in peace.
Ileana retreated astounded. It was about her life, about the
obsessing thought of revenge. The question was, could she trust
Nicolovsky’s words? A villain who had terrified, together with Rusev,
Ismail, and who was offering her an exchange – her life for her body.
At this thought, her body shivered as if overcome with fever. She had
escaped unharmed from the arms of Shevchenko and she had ended up
in Nicolovsky’s cage. She automatically made her way toward the
dormitory-hut pushed by the necessity of relaxation.
She spent a white night distorting the attitude and words of this
villain. Without wanting, she stopped at the thought of the story ‘The
beauty and the beast’ and tried to make a connection with what was
happening with her and this hideous man. She had felt the complex he
was suffering from and considered this fact as an excuse for him. He
was well-built, but he had a terrifying face. However, when he talked
about love, his eyes lit up as those of a child receiving a toy.
- How is it possible?! This man, who is bearing the burden of
crimes committed with cold blood, can pronounce words of love, with

211
212

serenity, with a glitter of hope! How is this dual personality possible?!


How can evil and love coexist in a single human being?!
Years had to pass, and not a few, for me to hear, at a lecture held
by the professor Mihai Radulescu, a definition of the ‘Jago’
phenomenon, in the phrase ‘antonymous dichotomy’.
The confusion in Ileana’s head was starting to grow. What should
she do? Put her hopes in the hands of this man, relying on the glitter of
goodness she had seen in his look when he had talked to her about
love, or to give up the hope of living and face death as something
inevitable? The freedom promised could be only a trap, and the road to
revenge only an illusion. And nevertheless, this word, ‘freedom’, was
becoming a temptation in front of which she was starting to feel
helpless. As she was determined to die in order to avenge Nani, she
considered this decision as a secret weapon in front of Nicolovsky’s
promises. At the first gesture of betrayal, she was willing to die with
him. She knew that remaining in this death camp meant death, with the
chance of being abused. The fact that this brute didn’t touch her, that he
was trying to win her through a human attitude to defeat the complex
he was suffering from, made her choose the road proposed, the road to
freedom.
Somewhat reconciled with the solution chosen, Ileana plunged
into a deep sleep. The morning found her more rested, more sure of
herself. She gave up on the sugarless tea and the dry loaf of bread from
the convicts’ breakfast and made her way to Nicolovsky’s house, where
he was waiting for her in front of a table filled with dainties. She sat
down at the table and started to eat heartily, to the joy of her protector.
Nicolovsky smiled with satisfaction, being sure of victory.
- How did you sleep?
- I fell asleep only in the morning, that is why I am so hung-over.
Our discussion from yesterday has been worrying me. When I
convinced myself that the proposal you made me was the safest way to
life, I fell asleep. It wasn’t a long sleep, but it was a sleep of relaxation.
- I am very glad! You don’t even know what a happy man you
made me! Now I really know what I have to do. Leave it all to me and

212
213

trust me. No one will do you any more harm, at least while I am where
I am! I promise you that in a few days you will be at your home.
After Nicolovsky’s departure, Ileana lay down on the sofa in the
living room and fell in a deep sleep. She woke up at noon, feeling
Nicolovsky’s jerky breath. He was leaning over her. When she opened
her eyes, Nicolovsky kissed her lightly on the forehead and smiled her
friendly. She discovered in his eyes again that childish look, which
contrasted so much with his appearance. She didn’t sketch any gesture
of rejection, surprising him with this attitude. Nicolovsky straightened
and continued to contemplate her.
- Ileana, you are very beautiful! Know that I couldn’t do you any
harm. I promise I will have a lot of patience with you. I hope we will
defeat the distance that separates us. I know what it is said about me,
but ultimately I am a man too, and like any man, I too can have good
parts, although I have kept them well-hidden. Don’t say anything. Your
behavior has shown me that you are not afraid of me and that means a
lot to me, to that good part in me. You have already done a lot for me
and I am grateful. Tonight I am having a meeting with Rishcov. I want
to speed up your liberation on parole and to obtain his approval. In this
case, Shevchenko will obediently stay at his place. Let’s eat something!
I hope you will regain your appetite and your desire to live.
- You can be sure of that! I feel as hungry as a wolf and I want to
look good when I get home.
In this apparent atmosphere of understanding and mutual trust,
parallel thoughts were working the minds of the two antagonistic,
irreconcilable characters. In the pursuit of her plans of survival for
revenge, Ileana was asking herself how much could she trust this
sinister character? What will come next after the liberation? Will it
really be a liberation? Couldn’t it be a hidden plan – to abuse and then
liquidate her? Was it possible that in the heart of this executioner
human feelings appeared? She was aware of the fact that Nicolovsky
was suffering from a complex which was obsessing him. Was it
possible that this devil-man be well intentioned in the hope of his
liberation from the claws of the complex that was grinding him? She

213
214

was determined to risk and to leave the ending on the account of


hazard.
Practically, she didn’t even have a choice. Her life was in his
hands. Nicolovsky didn’t indulge in confidence either. This frail being
was hiding in her a strong character under the mask of naivety. With an
apparent infantile behavior, she was pursuing her purpose with
stubbornness. That is how she had managed to face Shevchenko, that is
how he was facing him. What will she do after the liberation? Will she
run? Will she try to kill him? Or will she surrender driven by the hope
that he will help her get revenge? He felt a sick attraction toward her,
he wanted her to be his, but by her own will, not by force. He needed
this gift, this compensation from nature. He was willing to save her, to
lure her, to help her even in her plans of revenge. What was
Shevchenko to him? A villain, a nothing, a louse that had to be
squashed. A sexually obsessed man, who was greedily feasting
watching the rape scenes commanded by himself. He too resorted to
such methods, but he didn’t do it out of perversity. He felt he was a
normal man, and Ileana was the undeniable proof of this normality. He
couldn’t miss such an opportunity that life was offering him.
- You said you were hungry, Ileana?! Why aren’t you eating?
What is bothering you?
- To be honest, I’m afraid, I’m afraid of this liberation, I’m afraid
of your good faith, I’m afraid of the people with whom I will meet.
What will they think about me? Do you really want to rescue me from
death? I find it hard to believe…
- Ileana, I told you and I am telling you again. I am mad about
you and I have promised to get you out of here and take care of you.
Nobody is going to touch you! Don’t you see I don’t dare to harm
you?! Upon my honor, anything could happen here! I have never
brought you to assist to the inquiries of the other convicts, a common
thing at us. You would have seen what the humiliation of a woman
means, the road to death. No, Ileana! I have tied my hope to you in my
road toward a normal life, without complexes, without violence. I have
promised you that regardless your attitude toward me, I will take you
out of here and guard you. A hard period follows, in which even a

214
215

villain like me will hardly face the orders that have started to come. We
won’t be staying here for long, not more than six months. We will have
to retreat, and retreating means to settle accounts with those you
consider your enemies, and thank God, we have enough of them! It is a
secret I advise you to keep with sanctity. I have given you a weapon
with which you could finish off both me and Shevchenko. I hope you
don’t use it and trust me.
The things heard baffled Ileana even more, but convinced her that
she didn’t have another way to save herself, except giving herself on
the hands of Nicolovsky. What could happen to her worse than what
could have already happened to her here, in the camp of death? It was
an argument strong enough not to shake her decision. Liberty, the
house and whatever God wants! The next day, Nicolovsky paid
Shevchenko a visit and acquainted him to his plans. He needed his
agreement nevertheless. Shevchenko winced as if lashed.
- Are you mad?! How can you trust her after all that’s happened?
She will bang the big drum in the whole borough like Voda! I am
starting to regret I didn’t finish her here and that I sent her to you. You
might be head over heels about her!? What, can’t you have fun with her
there? No, I do not agree! This woman will only bring us trouble! Give
it up!
- Wait, don’t rush. I could have done it even without consulting
you. Do you really consider me a novice?! Of course I am going to take
all the measures of safety. I am not interested in having fun with her.
She is a finicky woman, good everywhere but in bed. Why haven’t you
had fun with her? I think you too have realized what a non-woman she
is. The action with Zelicman is my main purpose. She will infiltrate in
the Davidovs’ house and to save herself, she will chirp something,
something. I will find out something about Zelicman and Batalov. It
won’t be necessary to follow them in sight, in the light of day. I have
managed to scare her, she is afraid of death, especially a violent death;
she has given up her utopian dream of getting revenge, better said, to
revenge her husband’s death. I explained to her that it was foolishness
to mess with us, that if she remains captive she has no escape. Yes, my
dear, I am asking you to support me and to trust me. Very soon, I will

215
216

serve Zelicman to you on a tray. You will be able to devour him freely.
You have to admit that it was my idea, that the minister agreed, and
therefore, I want to benefit by copyright. As far as Ileana is concerned,
don’t worry. I know what I am doing and in need, ‘suicidal’ is at hand.
Until then, who knows? Maybe we will both have a little fun with her.
In matters like these you know that I am not selfish.
- We have to talk to Rishcov nevertheless.
- Let’s be honest! Since when do you need Rishcov’s approval?!
It’s like I would need Rusev’s approval! What do you want more than
the minister’s agreement!?
- Fine man! Do as you think, but keep me acquainted. If
something happens, I don’t want to be caught unprepared.
- There’s something else. I know you’ve sealed Ileana’s house. I
want the keys, so that she will settle there.
- I have the impression that you really want to make a love nest.
I’ll give you the keys and my blessing, but be careful what you do. If
something happens, don’t come to me!
- Fine, fine! Rest assured! If she needs to be liquidated, we will
have a little fun beforehand. I salute you.
Nicolovsky left in high spirits, rattling the keys of the house with
satisfaction. He wasn’t expecting it to go so smoothly, which put him in
guard toward Shevchenko.
- Who knows what’s in his head?
He called on the unit, took two boys with him and made at stop in
front of the house of his dreams. When he entered, he was stricken by
the unpleasant, stuffy air, specific to unaired houses. He opened the
windows and the doors, made the boys clean up, walked filled with
curiosity and satisfaction through the house and through the garden,
rummaged through the wardrobes and started to arrange the food and
drink brought. He was satisfied and eager to bring Ileana, to hand her
the keys. He felt he was coming close to a big day which would bring
him a radical change in his existence so dry and cursed by others.
When all was finalized, he locked the front door and set out toward the
unit. He went directly to the mechanic workshop and ordered a double

216
217

of the house keys. Armed with this ‘passport’ of hope, Nicolovsky set
out toward the inquiry room and sent for Ileana.
He, the devil, the ‘son of a bitch’ couldn’t find his place because
of the excitement. When Ileana appeared, he greeted her smilingly, his
eyes sparkling with joy. He lifted his hand up, waving the keys in the
air.
- Ileana, I’ve done it! Here are the keys to your house! Today I
will make your papers, and tomorrow I will take you by car. I have
cleaned the house, I have filled the pantry so that you don’t have to
look for anything. I will leave you some money too. I want you not to
lack anything, to try to accustom to your new statute. You are going to
be free! You have my word!
- I don’t know what to say. Anyway I thank you a lot! Money
however, I don’t want you to give me. I will try to find some work.
What forms do you need to make me for the liberation? Will they have
any value in front of Shevchenko? Know that I’m afraid of him!
- No, Shevchenko in turn is afraid of me. Shevchenko will stay
aside, not a worry. He too takes care of his skin, like all of us. It is an
unwritten rule among us and we respect it. The matter with the money
needn’t worry you. I don’t want to buy you! You have lost a lot and
you have all the right to a compensation. This is not money from my
pocket, it is from special funds, for special activities. The forms are
simple. You will sign a formal declaration by which you will agree to
collaborate with us, declaration which will remain at me. If needed, I
will destroy it.
- How could I sign such a declaration? What would the people
who know me say?
- Ileana, I asked you to trust me. I am the one who needs you. I
want to win you, not abuse you. I could have done it without being
hindered. I hope it is clear to you. I want to save you and you must help
me. I can’t do anything alone. Here is the declaration. Please read it
and sign it. In the morning I will send someone to take you out of the
dormitory. Don’t be scared. We have to keep up appearances. The
guard will take you to the car in this convict outfit. In the car, I will

217
218

wait for you with the chauffeur. We will go home together. Come on,
read and sign!
With a shaking hand, Ileana took the declaration and without
reading it, signed. She felt a wave of heat and leaned against the table.
An overwhelming feeling of anxiety engulfed her. She thought of
freedom, she thought of death. She couldn’t know what would happen
next. The dice was truly thrown!
- Ileana, what’s wrong with you? Are you feeling bad? Sit here on
this chair. Shall I bring you some cold water, or maybe you want a drop
of vodka?
- Yes, I want vodka. I also want some cold water.
Nicolovsky brought some cold water, then filled two glasses of
vodka.
- Drink Ileana, for liberty. I will drink for your love, even though
it seems a chimera. Ileana sipped from the glass with vodka, drank
from the cold water and approached Nicolovsky. She stared in his eyes
and with a sudden gesture, kissed him on the cheek. Nicolovsky didn’t
make any gesture. A warm, grateful look, caressed Ileana’s blushed
face.
- Now go and have some rest. Tomorrow will be a tough day.
Liberty will come as a powerful shock. It is not going to be easy to live
up to it in the first days. See you tomorrow.
The scenario prepared by Nicolovsky was respected to the letter.
Ileana couldn’t restrain her emotion when she was woken up and
pushed out the dormitory.
- What will they do with me?!
She calmed down a little when pushed in the car on the back seat,
met Nicolovsky’s beaming look.
- We can go!
The car started off violently practically throwing her in the arms
of Nicolovsky. He helped her straighten, apostrophizing the driver. In
ten minutes they were in front of the house. She descended the car
filled with hesitation and set out toward the entrance.
- You can return to the unit. We don’t need the car anymore.

218
219

The chauffeur started off slowly, displaying a smile filled with


meaning. With a shaking hand, Ileana tried to open the door.
Nicolovsky took the keys from her hand and opened. When she found
herself inside, Ileana burst into a sobbing cry. Nicolovsky took her by
the shoulders, pressed her to his chest, caressing her hair, led her to the
sofa in the drawing room.
- Cry, Ileana! Crying is good! I know this since I was a kid, from
my mother. I will prepare something to eat and a coffee. Do you want
another vodka?
- Yes, yes! Don’t leave me alone! I’m very scared.
- No, Ileana, I am not going to leave you alone unless you ask
me. Now stay calm and enjoy your house.
- Thank you! I think you are, nonetheless, a good man.
When Nicolovsky returned with the improvised breakfast and
with the coffee, Ileana was sleeping peacefully, like a child. She was
relaxed, but above all, she was beautiful.

18

- Where have you been, Dania? I have been worried. Do you


know we are being supervised again? Alexei noticed them when he
returned from work.
- It is very possible. Generally, the ones at the Consistory have
been intensifying their activity. Passing by Ilashcu’s house, I saw the
light on. They might have liquidated Ileana. I couldn’t tell who was in
the house. I can’t forget the look she gave me on the eve of the day of
my liberation. It was like she felt we won’t see each other again! Yes, it
seems the rumors about the imminence of war put them on ember. I
met archpriest Popescu. He was plunged in deep thought, sad. I don’t
know how he received news about the fate of the Drachinski family.
They were taken to Odessa, and after the selection, he and his wife
took the train to Siberia, in a goods wagon. Their Margarita, together

219
220

with a group of girls, carefully chosen, was sent to a school of the


ministry of internal affairs, a special officers’ school. Can you imagine
what awaits her, what is in her heart? Poor child! She at an officers’
school, and her parents deported! They will use her parents to convince
her to do what she is asked. Beautiful as she is, she will definitely end
up in an espionage department. I don’t know what will happen with us
too. I don’t see the bastard Nicolovski swallowing the affront brought
by Zelicman. How to free someone from the Unit of Death?! It is
possible that the poor Zelicman, too, be in for it. These people don’t
forgive anyone. I had a tough day today. I am tired and worried. I have
also met Percheac. He is keeping Alexandrov hospitalized with a
‘serious’ diagnosis, repeated infarct, to save him from arrest. He is
directly being followed by Shevchenko. It seems they have found out
he was a white officer. Percheac says Sasha is simulating the disease
very well. In fact, he did have a heart attack, but he is outside any
danger. Hard days await us, Leolea!
- Could this spring bring us any changes? We don’t know
anything of Mirchea, we don’t know anything of George. Could they
still be alive?! And what could have happened with the Stavrovs? Iura
has remained silent. They might have deported them!? Poor us! See
who it is at the door! Who could it be at this hour?
- Ileana!? I can’t believe it! When did you escape? I didn’t think
we would see each other again. God, miracles do exist!
- It’s a long story, Danila. I don’t know how it will end. That’s
why I rushed to see you. I am convinced I am being followed, but that
is unimportant now. We are in grave danger, me, you, the Zelicman
family. In fact, I was liberated on parole. I have a mission to
accomplish, in your house. I must follow you and find out something
compromising about Zelicman. Do you realize where I have ended
up?! I am a wreck and only the thought of revenge is keeping me alive.
We will invent some things, deliberate with Zelicman, try to fool him
and put off Nicolovski. The bastard pretends to be in love with me!
Moreover, he promised he would help me get revenge on Shevchenko!
I am desperate! I have no courage to go home. The bastard cleaned my
house, filled my pantry with dainties.

220
221

- Ileana, relax. Your situation truly is delicate. I say you stay at us


tonight, and I will go to Zelicman to take counsel with him. You know,
he managed to send his family to Odessa, but he is very worried. He
feels something is in store for him.
- Leolea, my dear!... hold me tight! I can’t believe that I am still
alive, that I am talking to you.
- A sobbing cry shook Ileana’s chest. Suddenly, her body became
soft and collapsed at Leolea’s feet. I was looking astounded without
understanding anything. The three of us rushed and laid her on the
sofa. A drop of vinegar at the base of her nose brought her to her
senses.
- Ileana, stay calm! I will prepare you a hot lemon tea. You will
get over it!
- Good evening, good evening! Is anything the matter?
- It happens that we must contact Zelicman urgently. Ileana has
been liberated on parole by Nicolovski to spy on us, on you and on
Zelicman. What surprises me is that they haven’t found out anything
about Zelicman’s family’s departure!? Let’s let Ileana recover a little.
Alexei, let’s go in the yard for a while. Come with us, Clavachca, or
better, stay with Ileana until Leolea arrives with the tea.
- Daniil Stepanovich, I am very worried because of Clava. She
doesn’t want to leave, and the war can’t be avoided anymore. Or, if the
hostilities begin, I can’t take care of Clava anymore, and this bastard
has set his eyes on us. Both me, and Max Mihailovich are being
followed permanently, even by some persons at the unit. Since the
internal affairs minister’s visit, things have been getting on like this.
With you, I don’t know how things will be. Maybe it would be better
you disappear from town. Nicolovski is not the man to forgive you, and
Rusev isn’t better either! We must talk to Zelicman. He thinks better.
- Where can we disappear, my dear?! They control everything!
The houses, the villages, and the roads are being patrolled permanently.
I think the rumors regarding the outburst of war truly alerted them.
Practically, a sort of evacuation has started. In towns, people are being
arrested, and nothing else is found out about them. In villages, peasants
are arranged in columns and sent on the other side of the Nistru and the

221
222

cattle and wagons are confiscated by the army. If we were to hide, we


could only do it in the town, which isn’t easy at all. Our only hope is in
The Holy One, in God. Let’s see what Ileana says, and maybe you can
go to Zelicman and talk to him. I can’t go. It would be dangerous for
him, as well as for me.
- Meanwhile, maybe you will convince Clava to go at her
parents’. It’s becoming dangerous to stay. Let’s go.
Awaken from the state of swoon which had overpowered her.
Ileana set out narrating, with a luxury of details, about the things
endured by her, and especially by the other convicts at the Special Unit,
about Nicolovski’s behavior and his attempts to win her. It was a dirty
bargain which he was proposing her in exchange for her freedom,
masked by assurances regarding the ‘formal’ character of the
collaboration, by the promise of being helped in the realization of her
revenge plan against Shevchenko. All seemed unbelievable, worrying
for those who were listening to her. All were wondering – what role
would Ileana play in this whole story? The circumstances were totally
extraordinary. Could this frail and noble being have accepted a
collaboration with these executioners, in exchange for her freedom? All
seemed possible and impossible at the same time. If Ileana was
thinking of avenging Nani, she had to be naïve the least. How could
someone confide in Nicolovski? And the price asked? Was Ileana
capable of paying such a price?
What was odd in the atmosphere created, was that everybody was
thinking somehow at unison, everyone was asking the same questions,
everyone was experiencing the same doubts. While Ileana was talking
without being interrupted, the looks of the interlocutors were avoiding
her. When Ileana stopped exhausted, the only one who dared to break
the silence was Alexei.
- I am going to meet Zelicman. He has to be acquainted to the
news. Too bad he can’t take part directly in the discussions! We must
decide together what Ileana will transmit to Nicolovski, so that we
know how to react. You see Clava why I wanted you to leave? The
events are getting out of control, and I will probably be confined to
barracks, and you will remain alone, helpless in front of these villains.

222
223

Ileana, Daniil Stepanovich, try to explain to her. Although we don’t


admit, our retreat has begun and the infamies won’t take too long to
manifest. I’m off. Wait for me until I come back, although it will be
late. Maybe we will make a plan of action.
At once with Alexei’s departure, silence engulfed the room. The
one who broke the silence was again Ileana.
- I know that you are confused, that you can’t trust anyone
anymore, that my posture as a collaborator makes you wonder. It’s
natural you be suspicious. You can be sure however, of my good faith. I
haven’t betrayed anybody, and Nani’s memory the least. I live with
only one wish – revenge. I wouldn’t have had any chance there. Free, I
still have hope. My life is worthless. It’s better I leave now.
- How to leave, Ileana? You must stay at us tonight. No one has
lost faith in you, you can be sure of that. We are confused more by
what you want to do, than we are by your position. To face the devil
when he has all the power in his hands?! Alone?! You must think about
it very well, let’s all think about it!
- No, Leolea, you mustn’t know anything. I don’t have anyone.
You have your families to protect. No, no. You must not know anything
of my plans. It is already too much that I have burdened you with this
secret. You must forget all that I have told you! I know I am helpless,
but I have the advantage of knowing exactly what I want. And I have
another trump. Nicolovski wants to win me in a peaceful way. He is
suffering from the ugliness complex which he hopes to get off through
me. He is capable of enduring and waiting to fulfill my every wish,
even at the cost of betraying his comrades. He hates Shevchenko and
he is ready to sacrifice him. I need his help to reach my goal. And
maybe before I reach my goal, I will manage to save one or another.
- Ileana, I see you are determined to wrestle with a dragon, and
that nothing is going to make you change your mind. For this, you will
need a lot of strength. Let’s eat something until Alexei comes back, and
the night you will be spending here is going to do you good. It won’t
harm us to drink a glass of good wine. I am going in the cellar to see
what we have left. We will clink for Nani’s memory and for our

223
224

friendship, and maybe we will manage to convince Clavochca to go to


her parents, before it’s too late.
- That is not going to happen! I will remain at Alexei’s side until
he goes into battle. Then, I will also enroll. I know we have no business
here, but neither have the Germans at us!
- Clavochca, what would you do on the front? You think war is a
heroic story? No! It’s a nightmare! Listen to me and go to your parents!
It’s enough that your husband and your father will end up on the front.
- Tanti Leolea, I know that it’s bad at us, but do you think that
fascism is better than communism? If we want it to be better at us, we
have to put things in order, not others! Think of how much harm we
have done to you. The same thing, if not worse, would happen to us, if
the Germans invaded. If Alexei must die, then I can die too!
As the discussion was risking to take a dangerous turn, Daniil
Stepanici tried to draw the attention from the so delicate subject,
broached by the two women. The bottle of old wine brought from the
cellar served him as a pretext.
- I say we raise a glass or two, to freedom, to our guest Ileana, to
your health, the health of all of us. When it will be worse, let it be like
in this moment!
- Well said, diadia Dania! You are the only optimist in this room.
Let’s drink to us, to as many days as possible like the ones we have
spent together! To you Ileana, to your peace and to the fulfillment of
your dream! The villains which treated you and your husband as they
did, deserve to be punished! I am at your side! To our health!
In this time Alexei was strolling on the quay of the Danube, arm
in arm with Zelicman, trying to reproduce to him as true as possible the
things which took place in the Davidov house, also mentioning the
suspicion atmosphere which was reigning there. Zelicman was
listening to the things narrated by Alexei, plunged in deep thought,
congratulating himself in his mind for the success of sending his family
home. He knew he was followed, he knew who he had to fight with; he
knew he had been targeted. And he knew something else; he knew that
in their system he had no escape. His hope was the war which could
offer him the occasion of dying with his head up, without

224
225

interrogatories, without mutilations, without humiliation. This thing


was making him try to thwart Nicolovski’s plans, to put off the ending,
to save Alexei, guilty only for the fact that he was his assistant, his
trusted man, his friend.
The warning brought by Ileana, was coming to confirm what he
had found himself. He felt followed, provoked. Men like Shevchenko,
or Nicolovski couldn’t forgive him for the insolence of getting
involved in their business, when he obtained Davidov’s liberation from
a place where no one should have got out alive. He was worrying for
Alexei and Clava, whom he had dragged with him without wanting, by
installing them tenants at the Davidov family. He had to save them by
getting them out of the torturers’ range. He was planning to take
advantage of the relations he still had at the ministry and try to send
Alexei to a six months course, at the political officers’ school in
Leningrad. The only obstacle was Alexei himself, whose aversion
toward anything that meant ‘political training’ was well known. He
broached the subject carefully, insisting especially on the risks which
were waiting for Clava.
- My dear, I have already made the proposal, without consulting
you, and I am waiting for the confirmation. I knew you wouldn’t agree
with it, but I have chosen the only viable solution to get you out of this
morass we are risking to sink in. There is no jesting matter with these
guys! Clava can’t be exposed to something like this! I could never
forgive myself! If the confirmation comes, I will send you with a fast
motor boat to Odessa, and from there you will continue your journey
normally. It’s all I can do for you, for your youth, for my peace. Until
we are not sure, don’t say anything to Clava!
- Max Mihailovich, political officers’ school? You are throwing
me into the lion’s mouth! You know me, don’t you?! They will throw
me out of there in a week.
- Don’t be a child! You are a veritable man now, you have a
family to defend, a life to live. A day will come when all the evils we
are living will be part of our memories. The world is waking up, and
the paranoiacs will disappear with their utopian ideology, with
everything! Not the Germans will overthrow the soviet order, but the

225
226

peoples of this wonderful country, you young people. I am convinced


you will remember my words and thank me. You will build a new
Russia where Marat will be a free man. Now go back to the Davidovs
and calm down the spirits, as you can. We have to win a few days. A lot
of prudence in the discussions with Ileana! There is no joking matter
with Nicolovski!
Alexei set out home, but made a detour, as if to postpone the
meeting with those who were waiting for him breathless. He wondered
when he found a relaxed atmosphere at home, around a plentiful table,
after who knows how many glasses of wine. Alexei took advantage of
this situation and sat directly at the table, as if nothing had happened.
He drank to the hosts’ health, launched a few new jokes about Yerevan
and started to eat, simulating he was as hungry as a wolf. The first one
who dared to break this ‘silence’ was Daniil Stepanici.
- Well Alexei, what news are you bringing us from Max
Mihailovich? Have you managed to speak to him in private?
- Certainly! We walked along the quay and we could talk
unhindered. Zelicman doesn’t grant too much importance to
Nicolovski’s action. He considers it an attempt of intimidation, of
putting a psychological pressure, and Ileana’s liberation and her use as
an informer is an attempt of justifying the act itself, which is actually
hiding his obsessive desire of getting to Ileana in a peaceful way. He
considers that the greatest danger awaits Ileana and advises her to be
very prudent and not to let herself fooled by his promises. She can tell
Nicolovski that he sent his family to the countryside, that he isn’t
visiting the Davidovs’ house anymore, and other things like this. For
example, she can tell him that Alexei’s wife, mine that is, doesn’t even
want to think about going to her parents. This kind of information
might fool Nicolovski as far as Ileana is concerned. Meanwhile, she
has to find a solution to slink out and disappear in the end. These were
Zelicman’s words at large. He recommended me to display myself with
Clava in town as much as possible, and Clava’s walks with Lulu to
become scarcer. I don’t know what to say, but he convinced me.
Silence engulfed the room again, nobody daring to express his
opinion. The fact that Zelicman didn’t refer to him at all, made Daniil

226
227

Stepanici plunge into thought. He felt that in the actual situation, he


and his family were in the gravest danger. A new arrest would have
meant the end. The feeling of helplessness overwhelmed him.
- I’ll go bring some more wine, to drink for success! For the
friendship that binds us!
- It seems my Dania is out of sorts. I know him to well not to feel
that he is worried.
- Maybe I shouldn’t have come by. I have the impression I have
brought uneasiness in your house.
- No, Ileana! It’s good you came and told us. We have felt that
something is in store for us for a long time, especially since Mirchea
and George’s disappearances. What you have told us confirms what we
were suspecting. In fact, we had to expect something like this. How
could Nicolovski give up? I’m thinking with terror of what awaits you,
and of course, what awaits us. Deportations seemed to me the lesser
evil, if I knew we wouldn’t be separated. But I fear it will be worse!
You Ileana, maybe it would be better you try to disappear. You are very
young, alone, you can sneak more easily. If you hide until the war
starts, you are free.
- Be free for what, Leolea dear? My life has become senseless. I
only want to avenge Nani, and then I will go after him. I am
determined!
- Ileana, Nani was a priest and I don’t think he would have agreed
with a suicide, and what you want to do is exactly that.
- If we let these antichrists do what they want, soon there will be
no more Christians in this side of the world. No, I mustn’t be
discouraged! Nobody should think I am not afraid, on the contrary. I
am afraid, but I can’t stay like a coward. What they’ve done with Paul,
with Silvia, with Nani, and with many others, is beyond any
imagination. I wonder how God can tolerate them?! Sometimes I start
to doubt His existence. It’s sad, but true! I am not ashamed to admit it.
If it is needed, I will make a pact even with the devil!
While these discussions were starting to have an interminable
character, Nicolovski, seated comfortably in Ileana’s living room, was
patiently waiting for her return. After her shadow informed him that

227
228

Ileana went to the Davidovs, armed with the house keys, he went to
wait for her. The arrival of the night didn’t make him impatient. He
was sure she wouldn’t try to disappear. He had read in her eyes such a
strong wish for revenge, that he was convinced she would try to use
him to reach her goal. He took a tour of the apartment, examined the
family photos with attention, made himself a coffee, drank a large glass
of vodka and sat down on the bed in the bedroom. On the night stand,
the photography of Ileana together with Nani, reigned. They were so
beautiful, that Nicolovski was passed by a cold chill. He resisted the
temptation of throwing the photo, fearing the reaction Ileana could
have had. He sat down in front of the mirror and stared at himself.
- God, how ugly I am!
This thought put him out – how many times? Since he was a child
he had suffered because of his face, which frustrated him from the joy
of playing, of having friends. Adolescence brought new agony. What
could be more painful than the exclusion, the open marginalization he
was subjected to by the girls! The girls in the class were, naturally, less
shy than the boys, who they chased, provoking them. He had to remain
in the shadows, miming indifference, hiding hatred, which took
proportion as years went by. He practiced all sorts of sports, he
achieved performances, but nothing from all this could soothe his
hatred, nor could it attenuate the complex he was obviously starting to
suffer from. The inferiority complex overcame him slowly, but surely,
deforming his character.
He had started to hate his parents, and that in an open way. The
parents, simple people, overwhelmed by every day’s problems, weren’t
granting this attitude too much attention, leaving time to deal with this
unsolvable problem. Like any parents, they weren’t realizing the
tragedy of their son’s haunted soul. They were content that their son
Aliosha was a healthy child, well-developed, obedient, always poring
over books. Yes, he read a lot. Practically, all he could get his hands on.
His desire was to know as much as possible, in all sorts of domains. He
was dreaming of ruling over people, collectivities as large as possible,
of surprising them through his knowledge, of humiliating them.

228
229

The rumors regarding the political arrests, the mutilations, the


deportations, didn’t impress him. The activity from the internal affairs
ministry, as he saw it, was drawing him, was fascinating him. At the
graduation of the ten grades, he was easily admitted in a special school
as part of this ministry, to the undisimulated bitterness of his parents. It
was a school according to his dreams. They were schooled to become
the future defenders of the public order, the torturers of tomorrow. The
‘interrogatory’ classes were made in real institutions, live. They took
part in interrogatories; they learnt the methodology of information
extortion, of obtaining declarations, of co-optating informers from the
ranks of the arrested ones.
The beatings, the threats regarding the fate of relatives, the
mutilations by medieval methods, the rapes, were part of the didactic
arsenal they came in direct contact with, at the so called practice
classes. A feeling of embarrassment overcame him when he
remembered the failure experienced in front of a twenty year old young
woman, who he had to rape during a class of demonstrations organized
at the ‘workplace’. Set out in full swing to the accomplishment of his
mission, Alexei skillfully tore off the victim’s clothes, opened his
zipper, but after he received the spit filled with despise, found himself
ejaculating in the air, to the fun of the aroused audience. With a well
aimed punch, he crushed the young girl’s face and retreated humiliated.
It was a memory which had obsessed him for a long time, inoculating
him with a fear of powerlessness. Years of patience had to pass for him
to escape from this obsession, from despair.
He spent his time in the company of whores, arrested for this
purpose, organizing veritable sexual perversity sessions, in order to
gain confidence in his own forces. The result was beyond expectations.
During the inquiries he was leading, he raped everything he laid his
hands on, winning the nickname ‘stallion’ from his subalterns. It was
his golden age in Tiraspol.
He ended up going for walks, especially for ‘aiming’ good
looking women, then organizing nocturnal arrests. He had never got
attached to anyone in particular, he only got revenge. He got revenge
on the nature which made him the way it did, he got revenge on the

229
230

women who had always avoided him. What was happening with him
now was something he didn’t understand. He had had enough of the
women he had by force. The apparition of Ileana in his life totally
disturbed him. Incited by Shevchenko’s failure in front of this woman,
he started to dream of something he had given up even from his
adolescence. He wanted with all his being to win someone, to make
himself loved, understood.
He could have had Ileana without too much effort. She was sent
to him, to the unit, to die, no matter how. Won from the first moment
by her beautiful face, by her gentleness, by the perfection of her
woman body, he changed his tactics on the spot. He started to protect
her, to take her out of the destructive environment from the workplace,
from the sight of his subalterns, a group of hulks set only on booze and
parties with women condemned to death. He found out the
circumstances in which Shevchenko liquidated her husband, he
confirmed this, in order to gain her trust, he found out, from her, her
puerile obsession of revenge. He put all his hopes in her. He had to win
her, to make her give in to him at her own will.
This was imperatively necessary for him to escape from his great
complex, the ugliness. For something like this, it was worth to serve
even Shevchenko on a tray. He had become confident, he had obtained
her liberation, but an obstacle which disturbed him appeared. Time!
Time could be too short for the accomplishment of his plans. The war
was knocking on the door, that wasn’t a secret anymore, and the new
circumstances could ruin all his plans. He could receive an order to
liquidate the unit and to evacuate at any time. In such circumstances,
taking Ileana with him was not an option.
The white night, filled with thoughts, with coffees and vodka,
passed unnoticed. He went over the rooms once again and stopped in
the bathroom, in front of the mirror. He shaved with Nani’s tools,
rubbed his face with a lot of cologne and smiled. The grin seen in the
mirror angered him and he spitted disdainfully. The spit oozed out
slowly on the mirror waking him to reality. He washed the mirror
disappointed by his own behavior and set out to the living room. A
knock on the door made him throb. It was Ileana’s shadow, who came

230
231

to report that Ileana didn’t leave the Davidovs’ house. He made him a
sign to leave and went back in the living room. He stretched on the sofa
and fell asleep.
The silence which engulfed the Davidov house, after so many
sterile discussions, was disturbed by an unexpected appearance. It was
George, the one who had disappeared without a trace. Displaying a
guilty smile, George sat down on a chair, in a corner of the room, as if
to atone for a childish guilt. As no one dared to say a word, George
took heart.
- I don’t have time now to tell you everything that happened
while I was away, but things mostly went on like this. I ran to
Romania, I met the Stavrovs at Plaur, we went to Bucharest to my
father, I settled the Stavrovs in a sort of hovel, I didn’t get along with
my step mother, nor with my father’s pretension to become a tailor and
I came back.
- Where is this Giuleshti, dear? Is it far from Bucharest?
- No, tanti Leolea, it’s a street in Bucharest. It’s quite full of
gypsies, but for a start, nothing else could be done. They came empty
handed. The Russian frontier guards with whom they arranged the run
cleared them out of all the gold they had. It’s good they got off alive! I
hope Iura finds some work. It will be hard, but safer than here, and it
won’t even last for long. The war is knocking on the door. I have a lot
to tell you, but not now. How are Mom and Barby doing?
- What, you haven’t talked to Mom?!
- I didn’t want to scare them. You will have to prepare her,
tomorrow morning.
- Hasn’t anyone seen you when you came in?
- I don’t think so. I spied on the shadow in front of the house, and
when it went around the corner, I jumped over the fence. The stupid
Corb was about to give me away. He rushed at me barking. I could
barely calm him down. He started to lick me joyfully. Before leaving
Bucharest, I passed by the redaction of the ‘Curentul’ newspaper and
gave them a reportage about the life in Ismail. They liked it, gave me
some money and I am to write for them some more. Maybe I will
manage as a journalist. For this, I don’t need a faculty, thing which, in

231
232

fact, will be hard to achieve. I can tell the ones here that I’ve been
wandering through Basarabia, after rubbish. What can they do to me?
Take the horses from my bicycle!
- My dear, how could you risk to come back?!
- Uncle, I wanted to be on the spot at the launch of the military
operations. I want to report from the spot these guys’ run. For the job I
dream of, this would be a great start!
You are wonderfully incorrigible! May God help you succeed!
How’s your Dad?
- He’s good. He’s leading a small-bourgeois life, which isn’t a
little these days!
- George, come and eat something and warm up at a glass of
wine. After that, I will lay something here on the floor, so you can rest
until morning.
- Great! It’s like I haven’t even left. In fact, I missed home! My
Danube!
- Slowly, the silence of the night spread as well in the middle of
this family troubled by fear, by the uncertainty of tomorrow. As my
grandfather said – sleep was and will remain the best medicine!

19

Spring, this wonderful season which makes the nature be reborn,


which makes the hopes killed by the hangover of winter blossom once
again, was coming on the land of the invaded Basarabia as slow as a
snail, with contradictory news, better, worse, rummaging through the
souls of people, igniting and extinguishing hopes. The rumors which
came from the other side of the Prut were like the gusts of a wind
diverted over a cemetery with lit lamps.

232
233

The great hopes put in the alliance between Antonescu and Hitler
were thrown into the shade by the news that the general had refused to
participate in Hitler’s campaign against Yugoslavia and Greece. Most
people understood that their hopes were betrayed by the man of
‘providence’. Others explained the logic of things basing themselves
on political grounds, referring to the agreement between the dictator,
king Mihai, Maniu and Bratianu, warned by the occidental powers,
France and Great Britain.
The conclusion drawn however, was unique – the absence of the
Romanians in a war for the liberation of the territories ravished by the
soviets meant the marginalization of Romania, if not even its
occupation for the attitude of non-belligerence. It was natural for that
to happen. The Germans hadn’t promised anything precise regarding
the revision of the Vienna Dictate, Romania being seen as just a food
source for the German army and, maybe the most important thing, a
reservoir of petroliferous products.
In the Basarabia occupied and abused, the rumors and implicitly
the hopes mixed like in a fair, being taken into account randomly,
without any logic, following a course of unfulfilled desires.
Nevertheless, there also circulated positive voices, which were
relighting the almost extinguished candles. Daniil Stepanich was one of
these and was exposing his theories even in front of Zelicman!
The alarm given by Ileana’s liberation and by the dispatch of the
Batalov family to Leningrad brought him even closer to Zelicman, this
guardian angel of his family. They met late at night, at Zelicman’s
house, who had remained alone and worried, but determined to use his
position and high-placed acquaintances. It was his only weapon against
people like Rishcov, Shevchenko, Rusev or Nicolovski. He had
obtained the adjourning of the stalking ‘post’ in front of his house and
had managed to draw on his side the ‘shadow’ from the unit, who was
working for Shevchenko. This shadow had deconspired itself by its
own, had confessed to the role it had and, an extremely important
thing, supplied Zelicman with all the data from the plan conceived by
Shevchenko and Nicolovski.

233
234

In their discussions, Daniil Stepanovich, who had become in


private Dania, provided Zelicman with all the rumors which crossed,
one way or another, the Danube or the Prut, rumors which were
however usually processed from his own point of view. Many of his
interpretations were confirmed later, and Zelicman, like a few other
interlocutors, marveled at their accuracy. That was how Zelicman
understood that in the person of Antonescu, two things were colliding:
the education received at the Military Academy at Saint-Cyr, with the
inherent attachment toward France’s values, and his character of high
loyalty toward his own country. An honest man, hard-working until
exhaustion, harsh with his enemies, he had won the appellative of
‘incorruptible’, something which was stimulating his vanity.
Slanderous tongues were saying that this nickname was suggested by
the general himself, in a circle of close soldiers.
From patriotic interests, he had accepted the collaboration with
the legionaries, which he liquidated in a diplomatic way, with Hitler’s
agreement! The fact that he had gotten close to Germany, but he had
imposed the statute of non-belligerence in the war with Yugoslavia and
Greece didn’t worry Danila. He felt that Antonescu would eventually
play his card on the war with the Soviet Union, and the first step made
in this direction was the isolation of the king and the setting up of a
personal dictatorship. It was clear that this thing would take him away
from the occidental democracies, USA, Britain, France – putting him
close to Hitler, whom he needed for the realization of his dream of
nation reunification. Hitler’s victory would not only bring back
Basarabia and North Bucovina, but was also promising the revision of
the Vienna Dictate.
Yes, this way of seeing the situation in Romania convinced
Zelicman of the realism of the judgment of a man who was waiting
with all his being for a liberating war, for salvation. It was known for a
long time that the war was inevitable, but he saw this thing from a
completely different point of view. He was a circumstance communist,
an opportunist, as he said himself. An exceptional element even from
middle school, fortunately with a clean file, he understood that without
a diplomatic submission in the sphere of the ‘political’ life, he wouldn’t

234
235

have had a chance of achieving professionally. That was exactly how


he acted.
With the party card in one hand, with a superlative professional
grounding in his head, he managed to obtain not only a post to be
envied, but also enough high-placed relations. It was the advantage
which gave him a certain self-security, an advantage which kept him at
a certain distance from people like Shevchenko or Nicolovski.
He was suffering because of the anti-Semitism which was
growing among the ‘true’ Russians, he felt the same thing here in
Basarabia too, from the part of the local population, who was labeling
its own Jews as communists, he was afraid of Nazism, he was afraid of
war. He was tied to Ismail, he felt at ease, he had made acquaintances,
he had even come close to some. For our family, he had put himself at
risk, which wasn’t negligible in those times.
- Daniil Stepanovich, my dear, Dania, I like the way you see the
things with Antonescu. I also think that, despite the non-belligerence,
in the case of the war with Russia, he will go with Hitler. He has no
choice! If he didn’t act this way, Romania would be occupied, and his
dream of liberating Basarabia and Bucovina would shatter. Hitler needs
a friendly Romania, for food, and especially for petroleum.
Unfortunately, Romania’s relations with Russia are bad, and the West
can’t offer any kind of warranties. For the moment, Romania doesn’t
have a choice, especially that the German road roller inspires
confidence. The misfortune will come after the war. The Germans can’t
win such a war. It’s against all the laws of war. I am convinced that in
Basarabia and Bucovina the Germans will be greeted with flowers,
especially if they will be accompanied by Romanians. On the other
side of the Nistru however, things are going to change radically. That
the German war-machine is terrible, no one contests it. But the
Germans won’t be able to conquer and especially, to keep a territory as
vast as Russia. As poor as they are, the Russians are as hell of a good
soldiers! The Germans rely on armored cars, but they will be in for a
big surprise when they will bump into our ‘armored cars’. The pact of
non-aggression signed with Germany meant an extremely important
respite for Stalin. The Russians will draw the Germans deep inside the

235
236

steppes, they will block them at the crossing of the great rivers, they
will decimate them with the winters the Germans know nothing about.
Of course this is going to cost us enormously, which is exactly what the
United States are after. The democratic Occident can be a loyal ally
neither of the Nazism, nor of the communism! The main interest of the
Occidental powers is the destruction of Germany and Japan, but also
the exhaustion of Russia. Here lies the inevitable reverse of the medal
which Antonescu will choose. Once the war is lost by the Germans, his
dream of liberator of the Romanians, of savior of the Great Romania,
will also shatter. After the war, the world will depend economically and
politically on the United States of America!
- I don’t think that Russia could be conquered, destroyed, either.
You can’t replace a dictatorship with another! And there is something
else – the Russians are as hell of a good patriots and if needed, as
unhappy as they are, they will close the ranks around Stalin and will
fight for ‘Matushca Rodina1’. The communism has easily taught them
to assimilate the chauvinistic slogans and in critical situations, this can
mean a lot.
This is how things were taking place in the house of Zelicman,
where two people belonging to different worlds, harboring different
hopes, different fears, were winding opinions regarding the future that
was awaiting them. Glad that they had escaped the ‘shadows’ in front
of the house, they were ignoring the fact that they were being followed
nevertheless by other shadows, less visible, more feminine, who were
tinkering about where one didn’t expect. Shevchenko was rubbing his
hands in delight, was passing the news on to Nicolovski and, together,
they were devising their diabolical plan for the two.
It wasn’t a matter of state security, of subversive actions. It was
simply a matter of the offended self-pride, the obsessive revenge.
Nicolovski was feverishly waiting for the encounter with Ileana, with
the hope that he would find out something compromising at Zelicman’s
address. In the morning, when Ileana appeared after the night spent at
the Davidovs, the tough Nicolovski received her in her house with all
the things necessary for a breakfast worthy of better times. Ileana
joined his game, showing a good-spirited disposition, displaying

236
237

almost ostentatiously the happiness of the freedom obtained, flattering


him with words she would have never thought she could ever speak.
Hearing himself called ‘Alex’, Nicolovski entered in a sort of panic,
which disturbed him, raising him suspicions on one side, hopes on the
other side.
With the most natural tone possible, Ileana recounted him the
evening and the night spent in the Davidovs’ house, the distrust read in
the eyes of these people, the departure of Zelicman’s family, Clavdia’s
intention of not leaving Batalov alone, the wine served by Daniil
Stepanovich. Nicolovski couldn’t hold back his surprise at the news of
the departure of Zelicman’s family whizzing through his teeth the
appellative ‘son of a bitch’. He couldn’t understand why Shevchenko’s
people hadn’t found out anything.
- This is what happens when you let someone else do your job!
- Did you say anything?
- No, no! I was thinking in a loud voice.
The confidence in Ileana’s behavior confused Nicolovski. He
would have given anything to be able to read her soul. He adopted a
tactic unusual for his character and decided to leave her alone for a few
days and follow her from distance.
- Ileana, I’ll be away for three or four days, so you will be able to
get used to your new statute. I have some important business to attend
to, which is going to keep me caught up practically all the time. Take
care of yourself. Do you want me to put someone to supervise your
house discretely? So that you feel safer.
- Alex, it’s not necessary I be supervised. I don’t intend to run,
neither do I intend to do anything foolish. I have chosen life! You can
trust me! I hope Shevchenko doesn’t get over you and doesn’t try to get
revenge. I will call on the Davidovs, I will walk on the streets, I will
visit Silvia. I hope she is still alive! I want the world to get used to me
again and not be so suspicious anymore. I thank you for everything you
are doing for me. Something like this can’t be forgotten!
Ileana approached Nicolovski and kissed him on the cheek.
- See you soon!

237
238

Nicolovski left Ileana’s house stumbling. He wasn’t confused any


more, he was confident. He headed directly toward the Consistory,
where Rishcov was waiting for him. He was presuming he had been
called for something important. He arrived with a small delay, but he
didn’t find it right to excuse himself. In Rishcov’s office, there were
also Shevchenko, Rusev and an unknown character.
- I come from the part of comrade Beria and I have to transmit
you some classified dispositions, to whose execution you will pass
immediately. You will forward the reports through comrade Rishcov.
The situation is extremely serious. Hitler is betraying us! All the matter
with Romania’s non-belligerence is just a story. Since the winter of
1940, on Romanian territory maneuvers of the German troops have
been taking place. Hitler’s Directive 21, the so-called ‘Operation
Barbarossa’, regarding the attack of the Soviet Union, is no longer a
secret, as neither is the meeting between Antonescu and Goring in
Vienna on the 5th of March, nor the one on the 12th of March between
Hitler and Antonescu in Munich, where the Romanians have pledged to
take part directly in the liberation war. It’s clear it would be useless to
cling to Basarabia or Bucovina. We would have to fight with the
population as well. Our true resistance will be organized on the other
side of the Nistru. Here, we will make havoc in the ranks of the
population, to reduce to zero the support for the Romanian and German
armies. It will be immediately passed on to arrests in the ranks of the
intellectuals – priests, professors, former white officers – to the
massive deportation of peasants, with animals and wagons altogether,
to the liquidation of all the ones at the Special Unit and to the intensive
treatment of the ones hospitalized at the internal diseases hospitals.
This last action has to be done very carefully, without leaving any
traces! We have to assure a period of at least two years, when we will
be coming back forever! Is there anything unclear?
The silence of the unconditioned submission engulfed the room.
The one who dared to ask a question was Nicolovski, to Rishcov’s
visible dissatisfaction.

238
239

- We have a delicate problem. There are a few suspects, from our


own, but we are hindered to act because they are part of the army, more
specifically, part of the navy.
- You have never had free scope to act in the ranks of soldiers.
For this we have our methods and it’s better you don’t get involved.
Moreover, I forbid you to! If you have something to report, but not
nonsense, present it in writing through comrade Rishcov. Is that clear?
If yes, to work! Time is very precious for what we have to do!
After a vodka and a frugal snack served by Sergey, the gathering
set out to work. Plans of attack were set up, tasks were divided.
Rishcov would personally take care of the deportations; Shevchenko
would take care of the arrests, and the couple Rusev-Nicolovski would
deal with the liquidations and the erasing of traces. The most content,
but also the most worried, was Rusev. He was glad that Nicolovski
wouldn’t be able to deal with Zelicman personally, but he was worried
about the mission of ‘liquidation’ entrusted to him. He knew he could
count on Nicolovski, but he was afraid of the amplitude he was
foreseeing. An unleashed Nicolovski would organize a bloodbath and
he, as chief of the unit would have to answer for that. He set out home,
but he changed his mind and went toward the harbor.
He took Zelicman out for a little walk on the bank of the Danube,
and broadly speaking, he acquainted him to the events which were
precipitating, calmed him down as far as Shevchenko and Nicolovski
were concerned.
- The order was clear and harsh. Not to get involved! This doesn’t
mean they won’t try to transmit all sorts of absurdities, so you can
expect everything.
- Thank you for putting me on guard!
- Listen to me Zelicman! If we don’t unite, under the cover of the
war, these Russians are going to terminate us. There is no need for
Germans for something like this. Anti-Semitism has taken proportions
and is manifesting in the highest circles!
- Yes, in the last years, the attitude toward Jews has taken a
dangerous turn. If they are still sparing us, that is in order not to upset
the Americans.

239
240

- After the end of the war they will need us again. Countries like
Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, not to speak about
Poland, will enter our sphere of influence, and for the expansion of
communism, the Jews will play a very important role. The thing is to
survive until then! I’ll be looking for you.
Arrived at the unit, Rusev was apostrophized by Nicolovski.
- Where the hell have you been?! Don’t you realize what we have
to do? Or maybe you think it’s only my business? This time it’s a dirty
work and I don’t fancy getting my hands dirty alone. We have thirty
five men and twenty women to liquidate. Tonight, we have to come up
with a simple and safe plan. We have two galleries ready. I hope they
are big enough. Tomorrow, the work has to be finished without raising
any panic. I’ve thought about taking them in the gallery one by one and
shooting them there. We won’t make any noise and we won’t stain the
inquiry room with blood. Think about it and decide! You are the
commander, the chief!
- I don’t understand why it wasn’t better to deport them!? Why
this order of liquidation? How to liquidate people without leaving any
traces?! If we had a crematory, we could burn the corpses and the ashes
would disappear in the Danube. But like this?! We bury them deep in
the galleries and hope no one comes across them!? The Germans are
experts at this and will rummage through all the places where we had
these special institutions. Sincerely, I think our comrades have started
to panic.
- What panic?! It’s not the first place where something like this is
applied. In full war, who will look for buried dead? The Germans will
rush eastwards until they will reach a dead end, and at their return, they
won’t fancy investigations. When we come back, we will have enough
time to take care of erasing the traces. Those who have known the
Special Unit must die. We have to see what we will do about Davidov
who has escaped from here and of course, about the ones sent to
Bolgrad. Silvia too mustn’t escape. You should pay doctor Mirchev a
visit tomorrow. He must do his job to the end! Afterwards, he can go to
Siberia too.
- And what about Ileana?

240
241

- I will take care of Ileana personally and I would like to ask you
not to get involved.
- This is how the first black night from the spring so awaited by
Ismailiens came. After lights out, Nicolovski summoned the few aids
who assisted him during the ‘inquiries’ and put forth his plan of action
for the night which had just set in. The action started with the women’s
hut. Two of Nicolovski’s aids ran to and fro between the hut and one of
the galleries where the convicts themselves had been working, bringing
with them only one person at a time. The woman was taken over at the
mouth of the gallery by the group of executioners led by Nicolovski
and ‘told’ to undress. Then, pushed toward the end of the gallery she
was knelt and shot in the back of the head. A bullet was enough. There
was no waste of bullets! The first demonstration was made by
Nicolovski himself. The shouts and moans and even the gunshots faded
out in the whereabouts of the wine cellar, without provoking panic in
the perimeter of the unit. Not to mention outside it!
If the first night ‘awakenings’ had no particular effect on the
inhabitants of the hut, such things taking place ordinarily, when some
of the convicts were taken to improvised inquiries which usually ended
in small orgies, not the same thing happened when the dormitory
became half empty. A state of uneasiness, of lugubrious presentiments
overcame the rest of the women. Jostling at the door, shouting ‘call the
commander’, facing the automatic aimed at them by the cerberus at the
door with their bare hands, the convicts managed to exit the hut. A shot
of warning however, made them stop. At the appearance of commander
Rusev, accompanied by two gunmen, the women retreated in the
dormitory. Only one of them dared to address Rusev.
- What is happening to us? Where are the other convicts, who
were taken one by one?
- Stay calm and don’t disturb the silence of the night! Nothing is
going on! We have to carry out some urgent work which you will also
participate in. Don’t make me take disciplinary measures. Until you are
next, stay here and rest peacefully!
Rusev retreated leaving the two comrades to patrol around the
hut. The gunshot and the racket made by the women in the hut drew the

241
242

attention of the men from the other dormitory-hut, but the silence that
set in again made them return to their beds. In this time, the operation
of women liquidation continued in the same manner, at the same
rhythm. Rusev pulled Nicolovski aside and acquainted him with the
things happened in the women’s dormitory.
- This is a dirty work, what we’re doing here! Prepare enough
men for the men’s hut. I don’t want to hear gunshots in the yard
through which to draw the attention of the ones in the surroundings.
Tomorrow, the whole town is going to rumble. The clothes of the
executed ones will be prepared for the new group which is coming in a
few days. Until then, the bottom of the galleries will be covered with a
layer of earth, the one which was taken out from the galleries when
they were dug. Give the boys some more brandy, from that confiscated.
They should get used to this too, because we don’t have any more
money for vodka, and we won’t be getting any either.
- Do you know something I don’t? This attitude makes me
ponder! My men would need more than just brandy, they would also
need a personal example, the example of the boss. And what are you
doing? Washing your hands clean?! Do you know what one of my
idiots did? His hand was shaking and he missed the first shot, then he
fired another three and in the end, shot himself in the mouth. Now I
want you to tell me, what do we do with him?
- This is your fault, not mine! You are responsible for their
training. Let this be clear! And change your tone when you’re talking
to me! I’ve taken you out from where you were, I’ve lifted you, I can
keep you on your feet and only I decide what I should do with my own
hand. Everything must be over tonight! Tomorrow night we are going
to have an even dirtier job. We’ll talk again tomorrow. In the morning,
I’m going to Bolgrad. I will take Mirchev with me. Drink another
vodka, drink another coffee, and don’t let yourself led by resentments
toward me. We both need each other. And how badly!
Rusev retreated without throwing a look inside the gallery where
death had nestled. He sauntered along the streets, wandering
unconsciously. When he found himself in front of Ileana’s house, he
stopped undecided, then made a reconnaissance walk to ensure he

242
243

wasn’t followed, and the house wasn’t supervised. He rang at the door
insistently and calmed down only when he heard the voice of the one in
front of whom Nicolovski wasn’t Nicolovski anymore.
- Who is it?!
- A good man, Ileana! Open without fear! I must tell you
something very important.
He heard the twist of the key, the sound of the safety chain and
saw in the threshold of the door Ileana’s face rummaged by sleep,
fearful but with a look filled with trust, maybe even courage.
- May I come in? We can’t talk in the sight of the night.
Ileana made way for him to come in and carefully closed the
door.
- Something strong please and if it is possible a big and bitter
coffee. I have to get used to the atmosphere so I can talk freely.
Ileana retreated in the kitchen, not before passing through the
bathroom to freshen up a little in front of the mirror. Returning with the
coffee and with a bottle of vodka, she threw an inquiring look, but not
devoid of fear. Rusev filled a big glass with vodka, looked at Ileana
inquiringly, and getting a negative answer, put the glass on the table
and took the hot coffee, from which he sipped noisily.
- Ileana, I know your whole story, and the interest Nicolovski
surrounds you with. Both from him, as well as from Shevchenko, I
know a lot about you. I know you have hurt Shevchenko in his pride, a
thing for which he has thrown you in the arms of Nicolovski to
liquidate you. I know what feelings you have awakened in Nicolovski,
bringing to life an unknown side of his soul. Nicolovski is in love with
you and is trying to free you at any cost, hoping as an adolescent at the
prize which awaits him. I am convinced that he is sincere and that he is
fighting with might and main with this complex of ugliness which has
been following him since he was in school. He is a cruel man, but he
conceals in him an unthinkable, human side. In his job, ours, something
like this is called weakness, and is generally paid for. This aspect of his
life has moved me and that is why I am intervening in your story. Since
he freed you, he has made Shevchenko a fierce enemy. Shevchenko
will try to get revenge. As in town unusual things are happening, more

243
244

than surely he will try to take advantage and I’m afraid you will be one
of his targets. I know you are in good relations with the Davidovs, and
through them with Zelicman. I can’t help the Davidovs, but you should
try to disappear, to hide. To be honest, I don’t know why I’m doing it. I
have been a peaceful man, rather cowardly, soft, and look what I’ve
become! I am in command of a unit of death! I consider that destiny
has been too cruel to me and I’m afraid that the future will be even
worse. If you fall in Shevchenko’s hands once again, no God could
rescue you.
- How could I run and especially where? How could I run without
talking to Nicolovski when he got me out from the clutches of death? I
also think that this man has a grain of good soul, human. I’m not scared
by his physical ugliness which he is making a great fuss about, I am
scared by the villain which lies in him, even though it has a complex of
inferiority at its foundation. And nevertheless, I couldn’t betray him,
leaving aside the fact that I wouldn’t stand a chance. As much of a
Christian I am, I can’t give up the thought, the dream of revenge. I
can’t not want the revenge my husband’s death, and Shevchenko is the
main culprit. I know this is a utopia, but this utopia is keeping me alive.
No, I don’t think I would be able to run. I don’t think Nani would
agree. Anyhow, I appreciate your gesture a lot, as I appreciate the risks
Nicolovski is taking when he set me free, even though he did it with
the thought, declared in fact, of making me accept him in my life. The
only thing which makes me courageous in front of death is that I’m not
afraid of death. Death would put all the torments I have experienced to
an end. If I am afraid of something, then I must admit that I’m afraid of
the physical torture I could be subjected to, of the abuse, the
humiliation. The thought of Silvia is frightening me and Shevchenko
too has felt this thing. Once again, I thank you!
- Not even Nicolovski should find out about this visit. He is too
proud to understand this gesture. Goodbye!
It was three in the morning when Rusev left Ileana’s house, an
hour at which the liquidation of women at the unit had come to an end,
an hour at which Nicolovski, retreated in the inquiry room, staring
somewhere, was thinking of Ileana. He would have given anything to

244
245

be able to stay with her, to look at her, to search for a feasible solution
under the new circumstances, to save her, not to lose her, to get her
closer to him. The black night wasn’t over yet. The second phase
followed, the men.
The episode with the suicide of one of the young executioners
disturbed Nicolovski. It was a premiere. Something like this hadn’t
happened to him before and came with a tint of undermining of his
authority. The blood thirst he had foreseen proved to be an unfounded
hope. His boys’ youth proved to be weaker than the special education
received. He had given in at a totally inappropriate moment which had
to be surpassed at any cost. How good Rusev’s presence would have
been and his direct participation in such an action, from the posture of
commander. Nothing acts more efficient over these children than
personal example. With such thoughts, Nicolovski summoned in the
inquiry room the whole active staff and offered drink at discretion,
including vodka from his personal stock. He knew that the hard part
was just beginning, and the job had to be finished before the dawn.
As far as the self-murderer was concerned, the decision was
taken. He was to be undressed and buried with the convicts, and
officially, he was to be declared a deserter and put into pursuit. What a
fate! Far from home, with qualms of conscience for what he was made
to do. Not long before, on the occasion of a permission in town, he had
snuck into the church and had asked father Popescu to confess and
forgive him. He had done it with a clean heart, thinking of his
grandmother, who had taught him to respect God, when he was a child.
Now he was to be buried together with other innocent people, in an
unknown place, without the chance of being found and especially
recognized. This was however the last thing on Nicolovski’s mind.
What was irritating him the most was Rusev’s absence, this slick Jew,
who was slinking away every time something dirty had to be done.
- One day, he is going to pay for all this! My day has not come
yet!
With such a state of mind, the ‘son of a bitch’ stopped the vodka
break organized by himself and set out to work. He had to solve thirty
five cases and to organize the sealing of the galleries from the former

245
246

Tulcheanov cellars. The work started in the same way as in the case of
the women. At first, the awakenings, one by one, left the convicts who
were accustomed to the nocturnal interrogatories indifferent, but each
was praying to God deep down not to be the one called. Nevertheless,
the frequency with which they were coming to take them one by one
and the fact that those who were taken were not coming back brought
about a state of agitation. The questions for the ones who were coming
directly to the bed of the targeted one remained without an answer.
Sometimes however, a stereotype answer could be heard, hardly
murmured: ‘they are working at the galleries’.
The reality was that the men had fallen, for some time, in a state
of apathy, were refusing to communicate with each other and, in a
discouraging way, were waiting for the end. This state of mind made
Nicolovski’s ‘work’ easier. No insubordination, not to mention revolt.
The abattoir life, where some cattle were led one by one to be
sacrificed. When the last convict stepped in the gallery and was asked
to undress, he turned his eyes to Nicolovski and cursed him.
- Be cursed you, and your whole kind, for all eternity! You
children, I forgive, but never forget what you have done and crush
these antichrists like bugs!
It was like a cold shower for the great executioner.
- Leave him on my hands!
And with his hands he ended what was to be ended.
- Cover with soft earth. Tomorrow, we will wall it up
with bricks and cement.

1 Mother Country

246
247

20

Rusev’s visit somewhat troubled Ileana. Why this concern and


especially why the request not to mention anything to Nicolovski. The
fact that he had mentioned some special events which were to take
place, made her give up the visit planned at Silvia and direct her steps
toward Danila’s house. At such an early hour, she could only find
Leolea, or better said Lena, how she liked to call her. She found out
with surprise about the departure of the Batalovs and thought that too
could serve Nicolovski as information, information devoid of
importance, but information nevertheless. She had to play her part
prudently, to earn a little the trust of her protector.
- What news, Lena? You look rather worried.
- Ileana dear, I don’t know what to say. Dania has gone to the
hospital at doctor Percheac, to try to see Alexandrov. I don’t think he’s
doing well. Alexandrov is permanently followed and his game of
illness can be discovered at any time. Isn’t it enough for him that
almost daily someone in civilian comes and takes interest in Mirchea?!
I am very afraid that this boy has died. He has displayed his philo-
German ideas for too long. We barely convinced him to throw Hitler’s
portrait. Look, George has found out that Gontaev and Kraushart have
been freed. They have been beaten daily, for months. They look
terrible! They too were taken because of their declared sympathies
toward Germany. Only about Alic Cairac nothing is said. It seems he
had a swastika tattooed on his arm. A childishness which cost him, as
well as his parents, so much. And what a talented boy! Mirchea was
very fond of him. I don’t know what will happen with George either.
It’s impossible nothing would have been found out about his adventure
in Romania. I think he is put under pursuit. It was better if he didn’t
come back! Everyone is waiting for the war without thinking of what
consequences it might have for us, the ones here. I think that God too
has forgotten us. Look, I am Russian, I’ve worked at Odessa, a big and
beautiful city, but Ismail for me is beyond comparison, and especially
the people here. They are so mixed, so many nationalities, but if you
ask them what they are they answer simply – Basarabians! The

247
248

revolution from 1917 had to come and install the Antichrist, as mother
said, to pass the Nistru and to spread over us too the communist
heaven. With the rumors which are coming from Romania, I’m afraid
they will pass to new deportations and arrests.
- I have come to tell you the latest news. When I left from you, I
found Nicolovski home. I don’t know what to think anymore. He
behaved very nice, he didn’t make any hints at his intentions toward
me, on the contrary, he left the impression he wanted to put me on
guard regarding some events which would affect the already frail peace
of the town, and of Basarabia in general. He told me Shevchenko
received a firm disposition to leave Zelicman alone, but that doesn’t
mean that you will also be left to mind your own business. He didn’t
know anything about the Batalovs’ departure, and because I didn’t
either, I think they are thinking of getting revenge on them. It’s so good
they have managed to leave! They had a great luck with Zelicman. He
told me that he would be away for a few days, that he was caught in a
special mission, that meanwhile, Shevchenko also didn’t have time to
deal with me, and I don’t know what else. It’s clear he is trying to
convince me that he is my protector, he isn’t hiding the fact that I have
become an obsession for him, that he wants to win me, that
Shevchenko is my most dangerous enemy. He is trying to speculate the
fact that I’ve confessed to him that I want to get revenge on the man
who killed my husband, what’s more, he wants to make me believe he
will help me. How can I believe something like that?! He wants me as
a mistress at my own will and is showing an incredible patience for a
man with his reputation. Lena dear, I don’t want to live anymore; I
want to get revenge, better said, to avenge Nani’s death! In fact, I have
died at the same time with Nani! Neither the faith in God, nor the
education received from my parents could stop me. That is why I want
to win Nicolovski’s trust, to have him on my side, in order not to fall
victim to my own credulity and to become an object of abuse, of
entertainment, in the hands of these bastards. I am so confused that I’m
not sure whether I’ve mentioned Rusev’s visit. I came across him in the
middle of the night. I didn’t know what to think!? At a certain moment
I thought that he too set his eyes on me and that he came to take his pay

248
249

for my liberation. Even now I don’t understand why he came. He


warned me that I was in danger, he suggested me to try to disappear as
soon as possible, he asked me not to tell Nicolovski anything about this
visit and the acme! he told me he acquainted Zelicman himself with
some events which were to come. I have also heard this from
Nicolovski. I don’t know what to believe!? Do they want to take
advantage of me as a woman? Do they want to use me as an informer?
Something doesn’t make sense and I can’t figure out what.
- Poor you! I don’t think you would be able to run. These bastards
will find you even in a snake hole and then your fate would be even
crueler. I don’t know for how long you can fool Nicolovski, but this is
the safest way – postponing! If the rumors about the start of the war
come true, uproar would surely start among them and maybe then you
could hide somewhere. You have to think from now at a place where
they wouldn’t think about looking for you. We should talk to George,
he is full of amazing ideas and although he is still a child, he’s
surprisingly mature.
- And at you, what’s new? How are the children?
- Bob is playing, Lulu is staring at the stars, since the
disappearance of Draghich, and Valeria is hysteric and is venting her
nerves on the poor Dania, who doesn’t know how to behave anymore.
It seems his patience too has come to the limit and is manifesting more
and more noisily. The fights between the two of them are killing me!
And when I think about how much he loved and spoilt her when she
was a child and how many things he did to get her out from the
clutches of death! Now she is reproaching him that he didn’t leave her
to die, making him guilty of the handicap which fell over her. Doctor
Percheac, who assisted at the operation, tried in vain to make it clear to
her. She knows one thing, that she is not the same as her brothers! I can
see so much hatred in her eyes, that I’m terrified. And what a gifted
child she is! She is full of talents! The happiest being in the house is
Barby. Always joyful, exuberant, all she does is play and entail others.
She gets along very well with Bob. They’re always having secrets!
- I’m going to leave now. Recount Danila what I’ve told you and
ask him to transmit certain things to Zelicman, too. We might need

249
250

him. I’ve understood he has some high-placed relations. Jews are


willing to help each other, and he is a special Jew! May God grant that
nothing happens to him! I haven’t imagined that in communism, anti-
Semitism would manifest so vehemently, so openly!? In fact, as Nani
said, communism is a lie, a utopian ideology, absurd in practice. Kiss
you! I’m going home without knowing yet whether I will stray to the
hospital to see Silvia. It’s a matter of inspiration. Kiss you! Kiss you
all!
As a matter of fact, Ileana set out toward the hospital, led by who
knows what impulse, or maybe just by curiosity. She wanted to know
the truth about her friend who had seen the inferno. It was a risk to
appear there, but deep down she knew she had overcome this state of
permanent fear towards everything and everyone. She tried to get in
touch with doctor Mirchev to obtain the approval for the visit, but she
wasn’t lucky. Mirchev had left for Bolgrad by car, accompanied by
Rusev. She managed however, using the name of Nicolovski, to get a
sort of passé-partout for the institutions in town. She found Silvia in a
cell with bars for a front wall. She was naked and was tidying her hair
in an imaginary mirror.
- I want to enter at her, please!
- I advise you not to, because she has moments when she
becomes aggressive.
- Don’t worry; I know how to behave with her. The important
thing for her is not to see you supervising us. Go further away, on the
corridor.
- As you wish, but know that you are risking a lot. I have warned
you and if it hadn’t been about comrade Nicolovski, know that I
wouldn’t have agreed. Anyway, if something happens, call me. I will
be nearby.
Ileana entered the cell and approached Silvia, who was standing
with her back to her. She remained surprised by the unaltered beauty of
the body of this young woman, over whom misfortunes fell
mercilessly.
- Silvia, it’s me, Ileana.

250
251

- Ileana?! Which Ileana?! Aaaah! You stole Paul from me, didn’t
you? Now you’re coming to give him back? Have you had enough?
What are you doing here? Have they arrested you as well?
Silvia’s eyes were in total contradiction with her words. Ileana
felt this and looked insistently directly in the eyes. Silvia smiled at her
and winked discretely, then whispered at her ear.
- I have overcome the shock, I’m evading the drugs and I’m
imitating in my behavior the truly insane ones. Be careful not to give
yourself away! I want to survive! At any cost!
- Silvia, I’m not arrested, I’ve come to see you and tell you I have
nothing to do with your Paul. People are bad and gossip. You have to
be quiet, obedient, to take medicines according to the prescriptions in
order to get well and return home, to your family.
Silvia hugged Ileana to be able to whisper something more to her.
- I want to live for my daughter. I want her to find out who her
father was. I want to teach her to hate these murderers. Mirchev is
working for them! If he touches me, I will kill him. I am crazy and I
can’t be judged. I’ve assumed this statute and I feel more protected…
You whore! You want to fool me? How come hasn’t Nani left you yet?!
If you come here ever again I will strangle you with my own hands.
Everyone fears me! I’m thinking of sleeping with the chief to see what
he can do. Paul was no good anyway! You’ll see then how everyone is
going to treat me! I must ask him to bring me a bigger mirror, as big as
the wall. I want to see how beautiful I am.
Silvia retreated to her imaginary mirror and started a sort of belly
dance. It was overpowering to see such a scene, even though behind it
a game of survival was hiding. Ileana burst into tears, a convulsive cry,
approached the bars and asked that the door be opened for her. She left
disturbed, deliberately accentuating this state of mind, in order to cover
up Silvia’s game as well as possible. On the way home she found
herself thinking in a loud voice.
- Could what I’ve seen be true?! Is it possible that Silvia has
recovered?! She was so lucid in what she whispered in my ear!? I
should consult a doctor, but whom? Maybe Percheac, through Danila?

251
252

She continued the journey home obsessed by what had happened


at the hospital, when she found herself in Danila’s arms.
- I was really thinking of you. I’m coming from the hospital, from
Silvia. I’m very worried and shocked in the same time. I don’t know
what to believe?
Ileana recounted Danila in rich detail Silvia’s behavior, seeding
doubt in his heart as well.
- Do you think this kind of recovery is possible?! Do you think
she has been pretending from the very beginning?! But how about the
first manifestations, when she was still alongside Paul?! And even after
she was hospitalized, what would have been the point in pretending in
front of him, when he visited her? She could warn him, to comfort him
somehow, as she did with me too. I think we have to seek the opinion
of a trustworthy doctor, such as Percheac for example. That’s why I
thought of you, maybe you can get in touch with him. What do you
say?
- No, I don’t think she has been pretending from the very
beginning. You are a woman and you can understand what she’s been
through, the shock she had. I think it was a powerful shock and not
schizophrenia, as Mirchev categorized it. She is young, healthy,
intelligent, and I think getting out of this state of shock is possible. Of
course, this is the opinion of an outsider, so I will try to talk to
Percheac. I am coming from him right now. I went to visit Alexandrov.
They didn’t let me approach his bed, because of Shevchenko’s
dispositions, who even threatened Percheac, if he doesn’t urgently
release him from the hospital. Something is going on, but I can’t figure
out what!?
- I’ve told Lena this and that. You will figure it out. If the war
doesn’t start, these guys will exterminate us and replace us with
Kalmuks. From what I’ve understood, they are on the verge of alarm.
You haven’t told me how Alexandrov looked to you.
- I only caught a conspiratorial look, a glitter of hope in his eyes,
and Percheac managed to whisper to me that for now, he’s doing fine.
They parted smiling bitterly, followed by the same questions, by
the same fears. Ileana found the house in good order, without shadows

252
253

in the surroundings of the house, without traces left in the house by


certain visitors. Nicolovski was keeping his word. He promised to let
her accommodate to the freedom condition for a few days and it
seemed he was planning to respect his promise. What was worrying
her, was that nocturnal visit of Rusev and the advice which seemed to
hide who knows what. She opened the windows and fixed her look
toward the manifestations of spring. May had started with sun, with a
lot of light and warmth, with the still immaculate green of grass and
leaves, with the floral spectacle of fruit trees, with their enticing
miasma. What a contrast between what nature does and what people
do! If some of them can be called people!?
She retreated in the kitchen and prepared herself a big and bitter
coffee, as Nani liked. She had plenty of coffee, brought by Nicolovski,
probably from the products confiscated from the old Greek merchants.
She didn’t care about the provenience of the received products
anymore, being determined to survive in order to reach her goal –
revenge! Yes, this idea was obsessing her and it was helping her live at
the same time. She wasn’t thinking of suicide, at least for the moment.
After she will have reached her aim, she will have time to make a
decision.
On the way home, Danila found himself taken by the arm by
George.
- How are you doing, boy? You are not calling home anymore,
your mother is worried, tell me what’s going on?
- Uncle, it is best no one knows what I’m doing, nor where I’m
wandering about. A thing is important and please tell it to mother as
well. I’m not hurting anyone! Anyway, you will find out a secret. I’m
writing short reports which I am sending to Bucharest, to an editorial
office. I’m signing them conspiratorially ‘Basarab’. I’ve changed my
writing, so no one would recognize it. The miracle will happen shortly.
It’s important that we sneak and get off alive. It will be difficult
because they are now panic-stricken. A new wave of arrests has started.
Convoys of wagons with peasants have appeared, heading toward the
Nistru, and the Jewish cemetery has been closed, after the
administrator, an innocent old man, was ‘found’ hung. Now, all sorts of

253
254

noises can be heard in the cemetery, especially at night, as if there were


tanks and tractors. I’ll leave you, so they won’t locate me! Kiss you all!
- Take care of yourself! If they’re looking for you home, we will
tell them that you’ve become a hobo and that you don’t want to have
anything to do with the ones home anymore. I wish you luck. Maybe
you can find out something about Mirchea!?
When he arrived home, Danila had the unpleasant surprise of
being taken from the door, by Valeria’s shouts. She was very irritated
and flinging all sorts of invectives at mother, accusing her of who
knows what, of her handicap, of the guilt of having listened to dad
when the problem of the operation was brought up.
- I would have better died of meningitis, than suffer all my life
limping.
- What’s with this racket Valeria? What do you have against your
mother? What do you have against me?! Don’t you think you should be
more reasonable and get all these absurd accusations over with? How
could we not have operated you? The danger was much greater. The
misfortune with the leg happened. Who could have foreseen something
like that? The operation went on perfectly. You remained a normal
child, beautiful, smart, talented. No one is guilty. You should get this
into your head once and for all! I don’t want us to disturb the peace of
this family anymore, I don’t want you to blame your mother, to insult
me for something I didn’t do! You have chosen a vocational school
instead of a high school and we listened to you. Now you are envious
of your own brothers, who aren’t guilty of anything. You are always
threatening us with your departure from home. If you think it’s a better
solution to go among strangers, no one is going to stop you. It’s not
necessary to amplify the troubles which are falling over us. It seems
they won’t be missing. Who knows what fate has in store for us?! We
should be united now! And what example are you giving Lulu and Bob
with your attitude. Bob for one, after every argument like this, goes in
the shed and cries. I’m telling you bluntly, you are of age and if you
don’t like it, you can leave. We’ve had enough problems with Mirchea
and look at where we are now! We don’t even know whether he’s still

254
255

alive. Now leave me with your mother. We have more serious problems
to talk about, which will affect us all.
Valeria exited the room furious, slamming the door.
- Oh! Dania, Dania! When will this foolish misunderstanding
come to an end? I fell I can’t take it anymore! Try to be more
understanding and not answer her challenges. Sometimes I wonder
whether she is really mentally healthy!? And what’s worse is that Lulu
is starting to take after her! What happened to our family? They were
all such wonderful children! What would become of them if something
happens to us? I’m so scared that they will arrest you again. From what
Ileana told me, the situation is very serious. I think that if they don’t
liquidate us on the spot, they will deport us, separating us one from
another. Do you realize what this would mean? They’d better kill us!
- Leolea, don’t you want to go with the children to Tuzla, at my
sister’s? My mother is there too, and I see they haven’t done anything
to them after they arrested and liquidated father. I will try to sneak
among these villains alone. And anyway, if they arrest me, at least save
the children! I know you don’t want to, but there are moments in life
when you don’t have a choice. The only hope is war, and in this case,
you will be safer at Tuzla.
- No! I don’t even want to think about separating! If the war
starts, they won’t deal with us. They will have more important things to
do. The misfortune is that this war has been put off for too long. It was
to start in spring and nothing has happened yet. Time is passing by and
we are getting fewer. People are always disappearing and no one
knows anything about them. But let me give you something to eat. I
think you are starving!?
- To be honest, I’m not in the mood for food. If you want, make
me a coffee, if we have any left.
- Thanks to Zelicman, we still have enough. Nevertheless, you do
have to eat something, as little as you can.
- Do you know I’ve come across George on the street? I didn’t
understand too much about what he’s doing or where he’s hiding, but
it’s clear he’s playing with fire. He asked me not to tell anything to his
mother. He thinks it’s best she doesn’t know anything. There are times

255
256

when it’s better not to have children! Look at what’s happening in our
house; look at what’s happening with Mirchea. Not even a sign from
him! Percheac is scared because of Alexandrov. Shevchenko is
demanding that he releases him from hospital, threatening him that he
will arrest both of them. He wants a certificate stating that Alexandrov
is healthy. I’m thinking of Nicolovski in horror. I don’t think he has
forgiven me! I’m starting to regret that we didn’t try to run with the
Stavrovs. It’s true that we wouldn’t have had what to pay the frontier
guards, and without money, you can’t corrupt anyone! Our fate is in
God’s hands! If only He doesn’t separate us! When I’m thinking of the
Drachinski family, dread seizes me. What a fate!
This tense atmosphere wasn’t something specific to our family. It
had engulfed, under different shapes, almost all the houses. Poverty,
installed where only yesterday a decent welfare had reigned, the terror
induced in the population by the organs of order, through the aberrant
measures applied randomly, the rumors regarding liquidations and
deportations, were bringing a state of excessive nervousness in
people’s attitudes, even in the middle of families. The arguments
among the members of the family had become something common,
something which had filled the life of these disoriented people,
occupying their scarce free time and anesthetizing in a palliative way
the pain of lost hopes.
The repression, the arbitrary, the generalized corruption, induced,
as it was natural, a state of disgust in the ranks of the population in
towns and villages. Losing hope, man also loses his capacity of
waiting. The most sought after medicine was the bromoval, and it
wasn’t easy to find it. A town, with less than forty thousand inhabitants,
couldn’t hide anything from what could cause restlessness. This way,
the noises which were disturbing the peace of the nights, coming from
the precincts of the Jewish cemetery, didn’t escape the people’s
attention. Eventually, the mystery was elucidated by a young man,
better said, by an adolescent, who, in the middle of the night, deceived
the vigilance of the military guard and, climbing the fence of the
cemetery in a darker area, saw at the light of some spotlights, how two
bulldozers were digging some holes. The news circulated fast, and the

256
257

authorities, alarmed by this deconspiration of the activity at the


cemetery, launched the rumors that in the cemetery, without a sanitary
authorization, someone sick of exanthematic typhus would have been
buried, a reason why the cemetery was closed down, works for
protection of the town being carried out.
The lie was hiding a cruel truth, a monstrous preparation of a
massacre. The head of the mischief was Shevchenko himself. He
organized the arrest of the fifty ‘enemies of the people’, from the ranks
of the intellectuals in town and the kulaks from the neighboring
villages, he organized their execution, somewhere in a field, at
midnight, he ordered the undressing of the corpses and the burning of
the clothes, he organized the transport of corpses at the cemetery, their
dumping in the big common hole and their sprinkling with lime milk.
The bulldozer leveled down the raked place, and a few troopers from
public order took care of the transplant of some earth furrows rich in
grass.
That is how comrade Shevchenko thought he would erase the
traces of the execution of a special mission, traces which, like many
others, shook the hearts of the Romanian soldiers who, informed by the
locals, during the liberation battles, would find a little time to reveal
the mystery of the Jewish cemetery. But this thing was to happen in a
nearer or more distant future, and here, in Ismail, as in all Basarabia
and Bucovina, the present was toying with a scenario which aimed at
the absurd.
On a badly maintained macadam road, which was connecting
Ismail and Bolgrad, the jolts of the car which was taking Rusev and
Mirchev to the sanatorium, were making them curse the moment when
they decided to make this journey. The idea was Rusev’s, who wanted
to see for himself that the few persons sent from the Special Unit to the
sanatorium, among which Nicolov, Savatie and Hershcovici, had
received a treatment adequate to the mission traced for Mirchev.
Taking into account the campaign of erasing traces commanded from
the center, Rusev wanted more than a treatment, he wanted the
liquidation of potential witnesses. He didn’t want any surprises; he
trusted neither the executioners, nor the state of disease displayed by

257
258

those subjected to the treatments. At a stop dictated by natural


necessities, Rusev shared these thoughts with Mirchev, this time
however, on a categorical tone, uncharacteristic to his way of treating
this kind of problems.
- And know that I’m interested not only in the cases at Bolgrad, I
want your favorite patient, Silvia Voda, to be terminated, although it is
a case which interests Shevchenko in a special way. It’s a matter that
interests us all, including you. There is no more time for postponing!
Until now, we could play. At this moment, the situation is totally
different, if you want, ‘an exceptional situation’, commanded from
above. Who doesn’t submit, pays with his head.
- Look here, a lot of things I have understood and a lot of things I
have done against my will, but there are some things which I consider
useless and as a result I don’t want to execute blindly. For example, the
case of Silvia. I am an expert and no one can contest this! Silvia is
suffering from an irreversible schizophrenia and although she doesn’t
display it physically, she will die very soon. In addition, Silvia was my
direct patient, from your disposition, better said from Shevchenko’s
disposition, and I don’t want to add another compromising piece to my
file. It would be absolutely useless. That is why I would prefer you
explained this to Shevchenko as well, so that he understands that I am
the first one interested to erase traces, but I am not willing to take
anymore threats. If I fall, you fall with me! You don’t think I am that
naïve!? I have my coverings which would blow you up. In such
situations, you would enjoy the same merciless regime. Even you
yourselves know that you have made useless excesses which you are
now afraid of. We have sunk into the morass and no one has chances of
coming out clean. If we aren’t wise, we will all end up in the hands of
another Nicolovski and you know, as well as I do, what this would
mean!
Things cleared up at the sanatorium, in an unexpected way for
Rusev. The three cases, three names belonging to two different
religions, were lying buried in a sort of cemetery of the sanatorium,
with papers in order, without crosses, without plates, only with a

258
259

localization of the tombs noted in the morgue register. ‘Clean’ work


was done at the nervous diseases sanatorium near Bolgrad!

21

Nothing acts more destructively on a collectivity than the loss of


hope in the ranks of its members. I compared at one moment, the spirit
of multinational tolerance from the mixture of population in the south
of Basarabia with the one encountered over the years in Banat. It
wasn’t a matter of tolerance of the majority over some minorities; it
was a matter of mutual tolerance, full of wisdom. Each nationality had
its well defined role and respected the role and the contribution in the
cohabitation of the other nationalities. The undeniable proof was the
large number of mixed families. In its large majority, this
heterogeneous collectivity raised an invisible, but palpable wall in front
of the soviet invasion from 1940. This was felt by the strangers and
from the very beginning; they passed to reprisals, unimaginable for
many.
The undeclared purpose of the actions undertaken was the
transplant of populations. This was the main weapon with which they
were planning to fight against that wall. The generalized hostility, and
not some sporadic acts of sabotage were worrying the local authorities,
entrusted with the patriotic mission of russianizating this part of
Moldavia, between the Nistru and the Prut. Or, the disappointment
brought about by the passivity with which the government in Romania
received the soviet ultimatum and the absence of actions which would
stir up hope in the middle of the abandoned population, deteriorated
little by little the trust in a liberation action. The rumors were rumors
and one can easily get fed up with unconfirmed rumors.

259
260

Only the young people believed in their lucky star, which would
lead them one day in the direct fight with the enemy. From there, small
attempts of sabotage, of crossing the frontier, of delivering information
to the newspapers in Bucharest. As far as the old people were
concerned, slowly but surely, they were taking the road of resignation
in front of fate. The phrase ‘God’s will’ was used as the most plausible
excuse. Here and there, small acts of revolt, often taking infantile
aspects, reminded of the existence of this category of age. This is why
it happened that, at the end of May, at the cherhana near Ismail, when
the lipoven fishermen, as a protest toward the miserable life which was
imposed upon them, one night, took the boats to water, tied them one to
another and set them on fire. This wasn’t a matter of a boat or two; it
was a matter of tens and tens of boats, which reddened the sky east of
Ismail. The enormous floating flame was carried away by the current,
slowly consuming the only fortune of the revolted fishermen, stopping
any activity of the cherhana.
Not being a matter of leaders of the revolt, the authorities,
respectively the couple Rishcov – Shevchenko took the only logical
measure, from their point of view, and organized the deportation of the
whole group of fishermen, leaving women and children to die of
hunger, instituting a sort of quarantine around the village. About the
fate of the deported ones, nothing was ever known! They simply
disappeared. It was something normal for those times.
But, as I’ve said before, these protests, these acts of sabotage,
were of a too small proportion to worry the authorities, only offering
them the occasion of manifesting violently toward the population. For
such acts of punishment, the help of the already mentioned bands was
requested. The reappearance in the region of the famous Pantiosha
Bodnarenco, accompanied by names which had become famous, like
Pantea, Koshevoy, Pichinenco or Pileavski, brought dread in villages
and cities. The names of Russian origin of the leaders of these bands
were starting to disturb the Romanians, and not only them. Moreover,
the Jews were starting to be assimilated to the communists, a thing
which would fit like a glove, later it’s true, the Romanian liberators,
who would fall into the net of the Germans and play their anti-Semite

260
261

game, organizing true pogroms, as the one in Iashi, at the end of June
1941.
Yes, the multiethnic basarabian heaven was starting to
disintegrate, foretelling an unimaginable future. The German and
French villages were not considered model villages anymore.
Questions like ‘what are they doing here?’ were starting to appear in
the minds of those who, only yesterday, were admiring them so much.
Slowly, a mutation was arising in the way of thinking of the oppressed
ones. Disunion was taking the place of wisdom, that ‘modus vivendi’
so specific to this corner of the world was disappearing. And this
when?! Exactly when the moment once so waited for was approaching,
the moment of liberation.
‘Divide et impera’ was doing its job. The interethnic disunion
didn’t appear out of the blue, it was cultivated with craftsmanship by
those who wanted to destroy any trace of unity in the ranks of the
population hostile to the new regime. In less than a year, the soviet
power had managed to sneak suspicion in the hearts of people, this
perfidious enemy in the relations between people.
Ileana was experiencing to the full the effects of this atmosphere
which was seizing the town. The neighbors, Nani’s former
parishioners, even some priests from the old staff of the Bishopric,
preferred to turn back rather than face her. Moreover, a certain reserve
was also felt in the attitude of Danila’s family, a family which had
always received her with open arms. She understood this thing, but she
couldn’t ignore the grief she was feeling. Truly, the liberation from a
death unit couldn’t not give birth to questions, reserves, suspicions.
The threshold of the house hadn’t been crossed by anyone for a long
time, with one unhappy exception, Nicolovski. Yes, unhappy, because
this presence couldn’t escape the vigilance of the ones around her.
What is this criminal doing in Ileana’s house? was the big question, a
question which nobody was trying to answer, contenting themselves
with only shrugging their shoulders. Solitude and this isolation were
starting to disturb her. The nights were becoming long because of the
insomnia. Even the fact that Nicolovski had given her a respite of a few
days and had kept his word, was intriguing her.

261
262

- What is he after? Could he be so involved in some special


problems, to leave me alone, unsupervised? Or is he preparing a
surprise for me?
Obsessing thoughts, generating restlessness. She couldn’t know
that not only Nicolovski, but also Rusev, and Shevchenko, and Rishcov
were involved in an activity of a special importance, of trace erasing,
of arrests, of deportations, of summary liquidations. She couldn’t know
that Shevchenko was the one who was instigating Pantiosha and was
even giving him some special missions. The town and the surroundings
were terrified by the nocturnal incursions of these savage animals with
human faces. They were invading houses to rob, to rape, to kill. The
ones who still had something of value in their house and put everything
on the table, still had a chance of escaping alive. It was worse for those
who didn’t have anything to offer. Nights had become a nightmare,
because the incursions only took place at night. During the day, the
bands were resting or making plans.
Working under the cover of the authorities, their acts of violence
knew no bounds. Narrated over the years, they are starting to bear the
imprint of the writer’s imagination, or in the mouth of those remained
unpunished, a simple denigration propaganda at the address of the
Soviet Union. Their memory lies however in the memory of those who
survived that year of occupation, as a metal plate lies implanted to
maintain a fractured leg active.
In this atmosphere, a certain fear of loneliness engulfed Ileana.
She had nowhere to take refuge; she had no one to call at her. She was
afraid of the bands which were haunting the town, she was afraid of
Shevchenko’s revenge. In such moments, she would have preferred to
see Nicolovski, even though the trust in this man was more than
limited. But not even Nicolovski was showing up.
- What is the sense of this life for me, full of fears and nourished
only by the hope of revenge?! Nani, Nani, why have you left me?! We
were so happy and so confident! What will I do if these bastards rush
into the house? I have to be prepared.
Ileana took out, from a hidden nook of the pantry, the jar with rats
bane, carefully kept for the days when the rats from the commercial

262
263

port, led by hunger, or by deratization measures, attacked the city. She


distributed the deadly product, small portions, in almost all the
accessible places of the house. Bottles, discretely marked jars, were at
the hand of the one who would protect her life and in need, punish the
intruders. This innocent being was indulging in exaggerating like
children, ignoring in her infantilism the reality surrounding her. And
this reality wouldn’t come late, appearing at about midnight, in all its
hideousness.
A clatter of hoofs, agitated voices and knocks on the door woke
her up from the state of somnolence which had engulfed her. Scared,
she approached the door, then she went toward the bathroom. The
forced door broke open easily and a group of rubashnici1 rushed after
her, thwarting her plan of suicide. Caught by sinewy arms and thrown
on the couch in the living room, Ileana met, full of dread,
Shevchenko’s grin.
- It seems you weren’t expecting to meet me, doesn’t it?! Eh well,
I’ve come to pay my due, that bluff you honored me with at the inquiry.
Then I believed in Nicolovski and sent you to him, but I was wrong.
What did you see at that monster, I can’t understand even now?! But,
as far as I can see you have made an agreement. What I wouldn’t give
to see his face now, here?! Unfortunately it is not possible. He is too
busy, enough as not to care about you. He asked me to comfort you.
Well, what do you say? Are you going to sleep with me at your own
will, or frolic with these boys, by necessity?! It is going to be an
extraordinary night. Boys, bring her best friend! If the lady accepts me,
you remain with her friend, who is looking too good to be sick, as the
doctor is claiming, and especially as she is pretending. Well, what
answer do you give me?
- If Nicolovski has betrayed me, I don’t see why I wouldn’t
betray him, especially if you ensure my protection. As far as Silvia is
concerned, I wouldn’t touch her. She is crazy and at us, believers, it is
said that the greatest sin is to profane the wisdom of a mad person, and
Silvia is indeed mad. You should better leave her at the hospital, to
follow her destiny. If you truly are a boss, then prove it and you won’t
regret it. Even if it is the last night of my life, I want to spend it in a

263
264

total oblivion, in the tumult of a swell party. Since Nicolovski liberated


and then abused me, I have learnt to drink. Do you want the proof?
Look in the pantry. The best vodka, the best coffee, all from
Nicolovski’s personal provision. You are almighty; you can choose the
variant that best suits you. I’m waiting!
- You have changed a lot Ileana, and you also look very good. I
think a night in these conditions would satisfy me. As far as Silvia is
concerned, there’s nothing I can do. I promised her to the boys and I
am going to keep my word! What do we say? Do we strike the bargain?
- We do!
Ileana pulled Shevchenko by the sleeve and whispered
conspiratorially.
- I hope you don’t want us to make a show here, with everybody
in the same place. We’ll let them here, and we’ll retreat in the bedroom.
We’ll leave them too some vodka and I could also make a greater
quantity of coffee. What do you say?
- I like the idea, but let’s make a control through the house
together. I don’t want to have any surprise left by Nicolovski!
Shevchenko carefully rummaged all the places susceptible of
hiding a firearm. Satisfied with the control done, he grabbed Ileana by
the waist and crushed her lips with a passionate kiss. Ileana endured
with stoicism this first sign of eagerness and whispered to him
affectionately ‘be a little patient’. Shevchenko followed her in the
pantry, they took a few bottles with vodka and brought them to the
thirsty boys, but who were still ‘civilized’ in their behavior. Silvia’s
image disturbed her profoundly. Crouched in an armchair, she was
staring frightened. It wasn’t a fake look, but it also wasn’t the look of a
madwoman. She was in a moment of total lucidity and was waiting for
what could be worse. She met for a moment Ileana’s look and a gleam
of hope glittered in her soul.
- Ileana must be up to something! She can’t abandon me!
The vodka had the expected effect. A drink of the best quality in a
dire poverty!

264
265

- Boys, don’t hurry with the drink! The night is long, the drink is
good and it deserves to be savored. Now I am going to bring you a
good large coffee.
Ileana approached Silvia and caressed her hair.
- Silvia, you want a coffee, or a vodka? Tell me, do you recognize
me?
- You stole Paul from me, and that man, there, left me without
Volodea.
At the same time, Silvia threw herself down, struggling and
salivating abundantly. Shevchenko approached irritated, raised Silvia
from one jerk, slapped her twice sturdily, tore her clothes off and threw
her naked on the sofa.
- Don’t be afraid, boys! She is pretending, but she is all worth it
in bed! I’ve seen her at work with Volodea and with Aliosha. I see she
didn’t forget Volodea, not even in her madness. Meanwhile, drink the
vodka. We will go make the coffee.
The coffee didn’t have the echo expected by Ileana. The boys
drank it with indifference; they made it as an obligation. The vodka
however was having its first effects and it was requested to be doubled.
Ileana submitted to the general request, also discretely provoking
Shevchenko to drink. This bull of a man however reacted to vodka as
others react to water. The noise in the living room was taking
proportion, somewhat proportional to the drink consumed, the boys
still being undecided nevertheless as whether to pass to action or not.
Silvia was continuing to stay crouched on the couch, not stirring with
her nakedness the lusts of these insatiable brutes.
It seemed Ileana’s attempt to save Silvia through the request
addressed to Shevchenko and her mentioning of the attitude toward
mad persons had had an echo over the pack of villains. They were
looking one at another inquiringly, they were shrugging their shoulders
and continuing to sip from the liquid of the devil. On the other side, in
the bedroom, Ileana’s attempts to drug Shevchenko as little as possible
were not showing any results. ‘Colea’, as he asked to be caressed, was
starting to show signs of impatience, becoming more and more

265
266

insistent in his gestures of conqueror. Ileana was mincing, slipping


through his fingers, always enticing him to drink.
- I wouldn’t have imagined that you are so like a cat!
- Maybe I have been this way all along, but I was inhibited
because of the education received. But tell me, please, how come you
took Silvia out of the hospital?
- Simply! The boys went there and ordered for her to be handed
over. Mirchev wasn’t there. What a surprise he is going to have
tomorrow! It’s a case which should have long been closed, but sir
doctor was always slipping off. Who knows what relations were
between them?! I for one don’t believe in her madness.
- I think you are wrong here. I know Silvia very well and I don’t
think she could fool me. I’m sorry you haven’t listened to me. You
should have sent her back to the hospital and left her at God’s will, as
we say. At least you could have done it for my sake!
- Come on, you are such a figure! Now you are also asking me
for favors?! The hell with me if I understand women! When I came
here, I did it to settle accounts with Nicolovski and of course with you.
And look where we’ve ended up!?
- I say we’ve ended up good and I am convinced you won’t be
sorry! I know one thing is going to be a problem for you, and not an
easy one – how to protect me from Nicolovski?!
- Nicolovski means nothing to me! He is a sick man, a man
suffering from a complex because of his own appearance. He is a bad
man from nature! If I am to keep you for me, no one will stand in my
way. It depends only on you!
- If it depends only on me, then you can rest assured! You will be
pleased! But do me this favor with Silvia. How do you want me to be
at ease when I know that in the room next door, a sick woman, even
more, a mad woman, is being abused?! Don’t you hear the uproar
there? You’ll see how it will be when she starts to scream!
- You are extraordinary! Do you always get what you want from
men?
- No, not always! My husband was a dull man. He always did
what he wanted. That affected me a lot. Now I wish it is different. I

266
267

know what I can offer a man, but I also want a little spoiling. I don’t
think I’m asking for too much!
- Fine! If the boys haven’t set to work, I will send her to the
hospital, and I will tell Mirchev I took her for a confrontation with you.
Did you understand? This will be the motivation of her bringing here.
Until I settle things, make another good coffee and bring some more
vodka. Tomorrow I am going to send you something from everything
and I am going to put men to supervise the house, so that Nicolovski
doesn’t get any ideas. Be careful not to do something foolish! It would
be your last!
- Rest assured, compared to Nicolovski you are an angel of a
man! And there is something else – you are not ugly at all!
Ileana approached Shevchenko and with an affectionate gesture
brought her lips close to his. When Shevchenko entered the living
room, the atmosphere was hot. The boys, well drunk, had gathered
around Silvia, pushing one another toward the couch where she lay
crouched and resigned, sure of what was about to happen next. She
wasn’t trying to simulate a crisis anymore; she wasn’t throwing wild
looks anymore. She was just trying to understand something from
Ileana’s attitude, whose conspiratorial look had managed, at one
moment, to awake a glitter of hope in her heart. Now, a pack of young
men excited by drink and by her nakedness, were inviting each other to
the feast. Shevchenko’s entry scared her even more.
- What could he have done to Ileana?
She shunned the inquiring looks of the one who had destroyed
her life and started to pray in her mind. Only God could do something.
- God, take me at You, alongside my Paul! I am clean! I wanted
to live for my little girl, but I’ve been and I am still going to be too
profaned to be able to look her in the eyes. Protect her, there where she
is with her grandmother!
- Well, boys, I see the drink has completely softened you! You
two, no, you four, dress her and take her to the hospital. Say the inquiry
has finished. It isn’t necessary that you come back! The others, you can
stay, I see you have some more vodka. When you see Nicolovski, you
can thank him for the care with which he has supplied us.

267
268

Silvia didn’t understand anything. She let herself dressed without


caring about the caresses of the four or about the dissolute jokes of the
other combatants. When she woke up again in her locked up cell, she
breathed freely and thanked God. She knew she owed everything to
Ileana, but she couldn’t imagine the trick used!
- God, what will happen to Ileana?! I have a strange feeling. I’m
scared! God, reward her deed and her sacrifice!
As not to draw attention upon her, Silvia restarted the game of
survival, as if nothing happened. She undressed and resumed the dance
in front of the imaginary mirror humming a song in fashion. There was
so much sadness in this song that the usual uproar provoked by the
‘dangerous’ patients faded, giving place to an unusual silence. Silvia
had reentered her role and was intending to play her part as long as she
could. Returned in the bedroom, Shevchenko had the surprise of
coming upon a fairy tale being. Ileana, lightly rouged, with the hair on
her shoulders, in an unusual clothing, a superb flowered gown, was
waiting for him seated on the edge of the bed, with two glasses of
vodka. Two cups of coffee were steaming on the night stand.
- You look fantastic! I have fulfilled your wish! Actually, I am
starting to think that you could ask me for everything! I have not seen
such beauty in my life! Let’s clink glasses!
- Take care of me! I need a strong man! You promise?
- Stick around and you won’t be sorry. I promise!
Shevchenko emptied the glass from a single gulp, uttering an ‘ah’
with pleasure. He looked inquiringly at Ileana who had barely touched
her glass.
- Don’t you drink?!
- I do! But not as greedily as you.
Ileana delicately took a sip of vodka and put the glass on the
nightstand.
- I’ve drank too much! It’s a long time to morning and the vodka
is almost gone. Maybe you will bring some more tomorrow. Drink the
coffee while it’s hot. I like it colder.
Shevchenko sipped from the hot coffee, uttering a burp of
satisfaction.

268
269

- Wow, how good you’ve made it!


He sipped greedily two more times and suddenly sat down on the
edge of the bed. He uttered a prolonged groan and collapsed down
struggling from pain. With staring eyes, he threw a look toward Ileana,
who was sipping silently from the cup of coffee.
- What’s wrong with you, dear?! Are you hurt? You will die in
pain, as Nani died! Only that he died innocent. May God forgive you,
because I for one couldn’t forgive you.
Shevchenko made an effort to reach the belt with his gun, left on
the bed, near the pillow, but he collapsed groaning. Ileana took the belt
and the gun and put them on top of the wardrobe.
- Do you hear how your boys are having fun? I’m going to give
them a hot coffee, so that they too will pay for the evil deeds they’re
doing throughout town. After that, I too will come after you, to meet
Nani!
Shevchenko, foaming at the mouth, was continuing to groan,
making futile strains to shout. His struggling had become more and
more rare. He crouched, his mouth near his knees and calmed down.
Ileana had a fit of nerves. A sobbing cry shook the chest
negligently hidden by the gown. Fear had taken hold of her. She was
terrified of what she had done. She bit her lips in order to get over it
and set out toward the kitchen to make the coffees of doom for the five
merry boys. When she entered the living room, the boys greeted her
with cheers. She poured vodka in the glasses spread on the floor with
her own hands, she clinked the bottle with each one and retreated to
serve the coffee.
- Now this is a woman! Wouldn’t she stay with us too a little?
- If Shevchenko hears us, you will get a bullet in the forehead!
Leave her the heck alone! Who knows, maybe he will get tired of her
and will bring her to us on a tray?! If not, maybe we will pay her a visit
tomorrow, to thank her for the hospitality?!
Ileana returned with the coffees on a silver tray and with a
promising smile.
- I’m going to see how the boss is doing. It seems he has gotten a
little tired. You drink the coffee while it’s hot! It’s superior quality!

269
270

The boys rushed at the coffees, convinced that Ileana would come
back to them. The scene in the bedroom repeated itself in the living
room, and the screams which followed, multiplied five times, terrified
the one who had arrogated the right of supreme judge, applying
revenge as final judgment. The dream of revenge was coming true.
Ileana waited for the shouts and groans to cease then, shaking as
if with fever, opened the living room door. The spectacle overwhelmed
her. The positions in which she found the five disturbers of the peace of
this patriarchal town made her understand the agony which their youth
had confronted with. She sat down on the couch and closed her eyes.
Unburdening tears, tears of spiritual peace trickled on the hot cheeks of
this delicate face. A tormenting thought pierced through her.
- Could God forgive me for what I have done?! Could Nani agree
with this behavior?! Does a true Christian have the right to the life of
his fellow beings?! How am I better than Shevchenko, or these young
men, tools of evil?! Nani, my dear, I did it out of love for you, for Paul,
for Silvia. God, what have I done?!
At one moment, she heard a groan. One of the young men opened
his terrified eyes. Ileana flinched, approached the one who was still
bearing a grain of life in him, then ran into the kitchen and returned
with a big cup of water. She sat down next to the victim, raised his
head in her lap and tried to pour water through the clenched teeth. The
young man swallowed the drops of water which were slipping through
the teeth and opened his eyes. Ileana met two blue eyes, filled with
gratitude. She shuddered. The young man groaned, then crouched and
remained silent. Death had defeated youth and the last hope of life.
- Still, why did he have to die?! At least he could have escaped!
He was younger than me. And what a handsome boy.
A strong bang shook the sleeping town. Ileana throbbed scared.
- Could the war have started?
Another two, of a lesser extent followed. Hope gleamed in her
soul. However, it wasn’t a matter of any war. She couldn’t have known
that Nicolovski was trying to wash away the traces of his last evil
deeds. Together with Rusev, he had decided to close down the famous
‘Special Unit’. The first measure taken was the blowing up of the

270
271

Tukcheanov cellars, the hidden tomb of his last victims. The big hall
from which the famous wine galleries started collapsed, covering any
access. The galleries with wine barrels, the galleries with the bodies of
the liquidated convicts, disappeared under the pile of fresh earth,
dislocated from the clayey ceiling of the central hall. Bulldozers would
finish the job, razing to the earth the mansion, the torture chambers, the
convicts’ hut, as well as a part of the once famous vines.
Rishcov took advantage of this ‘act of sabotage’ to the full and
making it public, unleashed a series of punishing actions for the young
‘rebels’. As the Special Unit had practically ceased its activity, he gave
up the liquidation of the ‘guilty ones’ and passed on to deportations.
For the explosions at the Special Unit, he arrested a group of ten young
people, among which the son of the unpunished white officer,
Alexandrov. Shevchenko’s absence wasn’t troubling him, being
convinced that he was somewhere, in one of the actions of liquidations
and erasing of traces, according to the things agreed. He used the
services of Sergey, the man good for everything, to the full. Shuric was
taken from the street and together with the group of ‘saboteurs’ took
the road of Odessa.
Nicolovski, in over his head with the matters commanded from
above, restrained his desire of seeing Ileana and, together with Rusev,
set out in the search of a new headquarters, where they could discretely
perfect a plan of future activity. This is how two more days passed
without Ileana undertaking anything, without someone knocking at the
door of her house. Very slowly, she started to coquet with the idea of
not committing suicide, but giving in to Rishcov, or to Nicolovski
himself, in order to receive her punishment and save herself from
another sin.
- Will I resist to the torture they would subject me to? Is my faith
in God strong enough for me to submit to the Christian percepts and
not take my own life?! When I think about what happened, I can’t
believe I have done what can be seen around me. Why isn’t Nicolovski
coming? I’m convinced he would shoot me on the spot and I would
escape from everything and everyone.

271
272

Ileana passed in the bedroom and looked at the one who had been
the terror of the town. He was lying helpless. She lifted the gun and
wondered how it worked. She tried it in all ways until the shot and the
recoil made her drop it from her hand.
- I wouldn’t even know how to use it. What if I only wound
myself? No, poison is simpler, even if you suffer a bit. Maybe I should
go and confess. If I found father Popescu, it would be easier. But would
he understand me? Would he approve of me? No, must I resolve this by
myself, here?
It was four in the morning, when she had an idea. Fire! Fire
would erase many traces, burning, both literally and figuratively, the
events of that fatal night. One thing was worrying her however – what
would the ones who knew her say? What would friends say? A way had
to be found to reveal the truth. She thought of Danila and Lena and
started to write, to narrate everything, without leaving out anything.
She ended with a goodbye filled with desperation: ‘My dears, I am
parting from you with the trust that you would understand all my
foolishness. It was the only way of avenging Nani. For him I punished,
for him I am going to die, with the hope that I will meet him where he
is. I know that my behavior will be hard to understand, but even harder
to understand is the desperation with which I have lived’.
She dressed, she ran to her friends’ house and left the letter in the
box at the door. Then she slowly returned home, as if to postpone the
ending. She put a sober evening dress on, she tidied her hair a little and
started to put her plan into action. She prepared a large portion of
coffee, mixed with rats bane, poured vodka into a few glasses, took the
can with lamp oil out of the pantry and passed in the living room. She
sprinkled the door, she sprinkled the curtains, she sprinkled the boys’
bodies. She passed to the carpets, the arm chairs, the furniture. She did
all mechanically, without thinking about what would happen next. In
the bedroom, she sprinkled Shevchenko’s body, the bed, the curtains,
the carpet.
- God, how many happy days and nights I have spent in this bed
with my Nani! In this bed I am going to die immaculate, because no
one touched me. I must take this filthy body out!

272
273

She grabbed him by the legs and dragged him in the middle of the
living room. She placed the glasses of vodka and the cup of coffee on
the nightstand, sat down on the bed, leaning on a large pillow and
started emptying the glasses of vodka. As the lamp oil had finished, she
went on emptying the glasses of vodka. When she felt the vodka was
starting to take effect, she prepared the matchbox and, with a shaking
hand, threw the lit match on the carpet. At the same time, she
breathlessly emptied the cup with the coffee of death. Without getting
to feel the effect of the poison, she passed out. It seems God took pity
and forgave her!
The flames burst out in all directions, the room illuminated like in
a fairy twilight, the fire made its way toward the living room, sniffing
all that was inflammable. The heat broke the windows, the fresh air
rushed into the rooms, stirring the fire even more. When the fire spread
out of the building, engulfing the roof, the light of the flames drew the
attention of the neighbors. A few neighbors ventured to come out with
buckets of water in order to wet the fences and to stop the advance of
the fire toward their houses. No one showed any signs of approaching
the burning house. It was considered a house of the devil, everybody
accusing the priest’s wife of treason.
- Haven’t you heard what an orgy took place last night? They
surely got drunk as pigs and lit themselves on fire with the cigarettes.
It’s God’s punishment!
When at last the fire truck arrived, nothing more could be done.
The fire had done its job conscientiously. The news spread quickly
throughout the town.
- Father Ilashcu’s house has burnt down.
Inherently, it also reached Nicolovski’s ears, who breathlessly
rushed at the place of the disaster. The house burnt down by flames
was still smoking, spreading a heavy stench of burnt meat. He
remained consternated, not knowing what to believe.
- If Ileana died, I would never forgive myself! For four days I
haven’t found the time to come and see her. I must find out what
happened here. Boys, pour on a lot of water so we can enter through
the ruins. Don’t let anyone come close!

273
274

Nicolovski sat down on a little bench, in the house yard, and


waited quietly. He came to his senses only when he heard the voices of
Rishcov and Rusev.

1 men wearing rubashkas (uniforms)

22

- What happened here, Alexei?!


- I have no idea! Where’s Shevchenko? This is his doing,
although I told him not to get involved!
- Shevchenko is missing. I think he’s through the villages. You
know well that he has work to do. Where did you get the idea that it is
his doing?!
This short exchange of words was interrupted by Koshevoy’s
appearance.
- What the hell happened here? Where’s Shevchenko? Yesterday
he took nine boys from my group to resolve two problems, with two
women. I know one of them was crazy, Silvia, if I’m not wrong. The
other one, I don’t know what her name was, but it seems she was very
good looking. At least that’s what the four boys who came back after
they took the mad one home, said. I don’t know anything of the other
five and I need them!

274
275

For Nicolovski, things were starting to clear up. The other woman
could only be Ileana!
- I’ve said that it is Shevchenko’s hand! Let’s go inside, we won’t
catch fire! I for one, am not waiting any longer!
He was the first to set out through the smoking debris, cursing at
every step. When he reconstituted the image of what the living room
used to be, he remained speechless. The ones who were following him
reacted the same way. Among half burnt things, six semi carbonized
bodies were lying in positions which proved without doubt the
torments which had preceded the end. The first one to break the silence
was Koshevoy.
- These are my boys! This type of guns belongs to them. The
army doesn’t have something like this. There has been a party here.
Too many bottles of vodka!
He started to check the weapons, then continued.
- The boys didn’t fire any shot!? Shevchenko didn’t have his gun
on him!? What the hell happened here?!
Nicolovski passed what was the threshold of the bedroom door
and bit his tongue with emotion. On the bed mostly destroyed by
flames, the partly carbonized body of Ileana was lying. Nicolovski
approached Ileana’s body and kneeled.
- I should promise that I will avenge you, but this isn’t possible
anymore. Shevchenko is dead! I promise you will be buried according
to your own custom!
Nicolovski rose, took the gun which was lying on the ground and
checked it. A single bullet was missing. He left the bedroom and
approached Shevchenko’s body. He fired the rest of the magazine in
what had remained of his enemy and put the gun next to the body.
Koshevoy smiled with meaning and left the place of the tragedy.
- I will send the boys to pick up the bodies, the ones of the group
of course! With the rest, do as you think.
Nicolovski approached Rishcov and pulled him aside.
- Shevchenko’s body, if popularized may unleash a pogrom.
Please don’t touch Ileana’s body. I will deal with it, personally. For the
rest, I am at your disposition.

275
276

- Do as you want, but a pogrom is out of the question!


Deportations, yes! And as many as possible!
- Everybody retreated except for Nicolovski. He was giddily
walking through what had been the house of his hopes, was stopping in
front of Ileana’s body, was trying to understand something from what
had happened, was cursing. He went toward the pantry, which, as
through a miracle, escaped rather unharmed and searched for a bottle
with vodka. He didn’t find any bottle of vodka, but he found a jar of
rats bane. He realized that this jar was keeping the secret of the things
happened and returned into the bedroom.
- Now I understand that you have been tougher than Shevchenko!
He dared to defy me and offered you, in his foolishness, the
opportunity of the much dreamed for revenge. I can at least have this
satisfaction! Ileana, forgive me for not taking care of you, as I
promised! You were a swell woman! You overcame us all! Now I know
what truly happened! Goodbye!
Nicolovski set out toward the Consistory, asked Rishcov for a
truck and two boys and returned at Ileana. On the way, he stopped at a
unit of undertaking and took a coffin with all the things necessary for a
traditional, Christian funeral. He personally arranged Ileana’s
carbonized body in the coffin, made the boys pick some flowers from
the yard and arranged them carefully, completely covering the so
coveted body! The boys loaded the coffin in the truck and left for the
Sobor in search for a priest. He found archpriest Popescu and put forth
his wish in short.
- It is a special case, a stupid accident, a fire in which more
people perished, among which Ileana Ilashcu. I want you to bury her
discretely, Christianly, as the wife of a priest. Write her name on the
cross, Ileana Ilashcu, and the date of her death, namely yesterday. I
won’t be able to participate. Do this for me, please! Ileana died faithful
to her husband and she avenged him.
- I loved Ileana as if she were my daughter. I will do everything
necessary so that she rests in peace. Rest assured!
When the people saw Ileana’s tomb, they understood she died in
the fire, but the circumstances of the misfortune weren’t understood.

276
277

The only one who understood what happened in Ileana’s house, was
Silvia. She understood Ileana’s conspiratorial look, she understood her
sacrifice and the trick she used to rescue her, she understood the way
Ileana’s revenge was fulfilled. She kept this pain inside her, continuing
to play the role of madwoman and she unburdened only after the
liberation, when she recounted to the close ones and to the Romanian
authorities the terrible truth. Ileana’s tomb became a veritable
pilgrimage landmark.
The news of Ileana’s tragic death had different echoes in the
hearts of the ones who knew her. The ones who had lost faith in her,
accusing her of collaboration with the invaders, thanked God for the
justice done. The few who trusted this woman stricken by fate,
understood her martyrdom and didn’t hesitate to bring, even though
discretely, flowers at her tomb.
In the evening, armed with a lantern, Nicolovski also snuck, and
sometimes spent hours in a row near the tomb of the one who had
charmed him and who had woken hopes in him. He always brought
wild flowers, which he put on the arms of the cross.
- If you had lived, I’m sure I would have become a different man.
Your death will make me even more evil.
Shevchenko’s death set Rishcov going. First of all, he made
Shevchenko a hero, organizing a funeral with military honors. He
obtained the decoration and the post-mortem promotion, and the
naming of Nicolovski in the vacant position. He entrusted him with the
mission of organizing punitive deportations, in sight. Whole families,
armed with only bundles, took the road of exile, on foot, in the
direction of the Nistru. On the other side of the Nistru, the sorting
started, the separation of children from parents and their sending
toward specially organized educational centers, and not rarely, the
separation of married couples. The men were sent to work, usually in
the extraction industry and the women, loaded in goods wagons, took
the road to Siberia. More resistant, through their physical and psychical
structure, many of them survived the extermination regime and, after
the end of the war, brought testimonies about the ordeal of the
deportations from 1941.

277
278

In this atmosphere of terror, the news which were sneaking in


from Romania, were relighting the fire of lost hopes. This is how it was
rumored about Antonescu’s meeting with Hitler, about the subject of
the discussions in Munich from 12 June 1941, about the imminent
putting into operation of the Fuhrer’s directive regarding the attack of
the Soviet Union, the so-called ‘Operation Barbarossa’. This is how it
was found out about Antonescu’s decision to participate, alongside
Germany, in a holy war of liberation of the occupied territories. The
fear against repressions was growing, but hope was growing as well.
The courage of the young people against the occupants was also
growing, manifesting itself through actions of sabotage, not rarely paid
for dearly, due to lack of organization, of professionalism. An infantile
heroism, which put many frail lives to an end and destroyed many
families.
Nevertheless, the role of these actions was enormous, if we only
think about the fact that the authorities gave up the hasty executions,
gave up the common graves. Moreover, the deportation of people
organized in simple caravans was given up, the supervising of their
travel on foot having raised special problems. The journey of the
caravans was taking place too slow, and the nights offered good
occasions for the attack of supervisors by groups of young men, who
appeared and disappeared as ghosts. In such actions, horsemen with
Asian figures, always intoxicated, were easy victims, lost their firearms
and their horses and mixed with the liberated fugitives, as not to remain
live targets. The people liberated from the caravans of death spread in
all directions and didn’t take them into account anymore.
Rishcov was disoriented. He turned to Pantiosha’s services in
order to protect the convoys of deportees, but he didn’t accept. They
needed plunder, the so-called trophies, or what could they find at these
unfortunate ones? Furthermore, the groups of young men, ‘outlaws’ as
they were calling themselves, had managed to organize themselves
better, had captured armament and horses and were in continuous
movement. And there was something else which was worrying
Pantiosha – the rumors regarding the war. Although he was from
around, he didn’t have any contingencies with the locals who were

278
279

desperately waiting for the liberation. He was, above all, an anarchist


and cared too much for the statute of ‘free man’, who could do
whatever he wanted. Consequently, feeling that things weren’t going
too well, he moved his headquarters to Chetatea Alba, as to be closer to
the Nistru, in case of need.
Rishcov reacted violently, threatened, but contended himself with
only that. He tried to convince Zelicman to transport the convicts with
tugged-boats, but received a categorical refusal. Zelicman’s refusal had
a cover in the special dispositions received regarding the organization
of the defense of the Chilia branch’s Russian bank. Rishcov’s agitation
calmed down a little when Nicolovski had the idea with the
requisitioning of wagons from the villages.
- What do you want us to do with the wagons, Alexei?!
- The wagon and the family! The caravan of wagons can be easier
supervised and the moving speed is anyway greater. We will strengthen
the security and take horses and wagons on the same occasion. It will
do us good. We will train our horsemen to shoot at the convicts at any
attempt of attack from the ‘outlaws’. I’m convinced we will calm them
down!
- Yes, it might work. Anyway, we don’t have many choices. You
will deal with this matter personally! I have to use Rusev for something
else. He is too soft for matters like that!
- I need people, both for the affairs in town, as well as especially
for the escorting of convoys.
- Don’t expect too much. In the actual situation, no unit will give
up men! It’s past joking. I’m convinced that very soon they are going
to attack us. It is then that the hardship will start, because of the
population.
After the end of the war, many historians attributed the successes
of the German army from the first period, to the surprise factor, to the
keeping of the secret. It seems things weren’t exactly like this. The way
how the ‘rumors’ circulated in Basarabia, having as a point of
departure Romania, rumors which were confirmed during the days
which followed, contradict to a certain extent this thing. If the
population uninvolved was nonchalantly transmitting information

279
280

connected to the preparing of the German-Romanian attack, then we


can imagine how informed the soviet services of espionage were, a
field where they proved to be, and not once, masters. The measures of
liquidation of the repression activities, of depopulation and emptying
of goods, of erasing traces, together with a massive concentration of
the armed forces at the frontier with Romania, attest the elevated
degree of information which they disposed of.
In the midst of June 1941, after the deconspiration of Operation
Barbarossa, the general belief placed the date of the starting of the
military operations around the date of 25th June. The fact that things
were this way was confirmed by the discussion Zelicman had with my
parents.
- Daniil Stepanovich, maybe it would be better you leave town.
First of all, Ismail might be the theatre of harsh military actions, taking
into account the importance of this harbor at the Danube. There are
also the measures which are taken on a local scale by people like
Rishcov and especially like Nicolovski. This man has a grief with you
and from what I know, he doesn’t have the custom of forgetting. As far
as I know, something has to be done rapidly. After the 20th of June it
might be too late. I came to give you this advice and to say goodbye. I
won’t be able to leave the harbor anymore. May God take care of you!
Things truly escaped control. Nicolovski started operations,
bluntly leaving the kolkhozes without horses and wagons, in the middle
of the summer, arresting whole families, usually at night, organizing
convoys of deportees with the destination Palanca, a crossing point of
the Nistru. The town was boiling helplessly, kept under control by
patrols sprung as mushrooms after the rain. Leaving the town had
become practically impossible, and Zelicman’s advice, unachievable.
Misfortune seemed inevitable, and the state of spirit in our house,
demobilizing. The phrase ‘what God desires!’ was on everybody’s lips.
Valeria, instead of composing herself, unleashed even more. She was
spending most of her time at the family of a friend, Vava, often
remaining overnight. In the atmosphere which was reigning in our
house, father was giving in and leaving her alone.

280
281

The nephritis contracted by mother put the lid on it. Desperate,


her Dania rushed to the hospital to ask doctor Percheac to pay her a
visit. He remained blocked when he heard that his doctor, as well as his
good friend Alexandrov, had been arrested a day before. He resorted to
the knowledge of a nurse to treat mother. Dad took heart and went after
Valeria. He persuaded her to return home, to take care of mother. The
disease manifested itself violently, the diuresis was overthrown, and the
body, especially the lower limbs, covered with blisters filled with
liquid. Grandmother was tamponing the blisters with cotton-wool
dipped in plant tea, at the recommendation of a neighbor. Lulu too was
trying to act as a nurse, but the lack of signs of improvement brought
an atmosphere of funeral in the house.
Even now I think that if mother survived, this was due to the
extraordinary desire to live, to the unbounded love for the family and,
last but not least to the traditional remedies, based only and only on
teas made from all sorts of herbs. This fantastic desire of surviving also
helped her later, in even tougher conditions. She was always the
mainstay of the family, by words and action. Her optimism was
contagious, and her capacity of understanding each of us was ensuring
the harmony necessary to the salvation of the unity of the family.
On the 21st of June, the news which penetrated from the other
side of the Prut, regarding the start of the military operations on the day
of 22 produced a state of explosive agitation in the ranks of the
population, without stirring a special attitude from the part of the
authorities. The soviets were remaining in a state of apparent
expectative, to the confusion of the locals. It seemed inconceivable
how they were deceiving themselves with the date of 25, which they
were continuing to talk about in their circles. The reappearance of
George, armed with a note on which the words of a song were written
by hand, came to confirm, once more, the approach of hostilities:
‘Tonight at the Prut the war started / The Romanians pass on the other
side once again / To take back through weapons and shields / The land
lost last summer / …’
These were the words which were relighting hopes, stirring tears
of happiness.

281
282

- Where do you have this note from?! Know that this is a bomb in
your hands! It’s better you destroy it and not broadcast it!
- Uncle, it’s too late. I multiplied it all night and now it is
circulating unhindered. I also threw a few copies on the street of the
Consistory, so they too will rejoice a little. Soon they will go home and
will escape our curses! If they were smart, they would leave without
fighting. They don’t stand a chance here!
- May God grant it, but you should disappear! They arrested
Percheac and Alexandrov yesterday.
Antonescu was determined to act on his own. He was not
interested in the opinions of the influential politicians; he was not
interested in the point of view of the royalty. The order addressed to the
army on the 22nd of June, one might say, with power granted by
himself, avoiding communication with king Mihai, in a crucial moment
in the history of Romania, through his almost electoral pathos, stirred a
great enthusiasm in the ranks of the Basarabian population, but also
enough reserves in the world of politicians in Bucharest, in their
majority philo-French: ‘I order you, cross the Prut! Crush the enemy
from the east and north. Liberate from the red yoke of bolshevism your
invaded brothers. Reintegrate in the body of the country the ancient
glory of Basarabia and the voievodal woods of Bucovina, your lands
and fields!’
The phrase ‘The holy war’ inoculated in the hearts of the
Romanian soldiers the sense of duty, of sacrifice. This was necessary.
The military priests had the holy mission of bearing the cross in front
of the battalions. On the Prut, in the period between the 22 nd of June
and the 1st of July, the Romanian troops had as an advantage not the
military and technical training, but the enthusiasm. The fact that the
surprise really was a surprise was proven by the retort given by the
soviets, better trained, better equipped, better endowed with military
technique. If there was something that surprised and in the mean time
baffled them, it was the way in which the Romanians attacked, singing
patriotic songs, dying but not stopping, achieving unexpected for
bridge heads.

282
283

On the 23rd of June, Ismail experienced the explosions of the first


Romanian shells. A small artillery battery, installed on a hill near
Tulchea, tried to aim at the militarized harbor of Ismail, provoking
however terror in the middle of the peaceful inhabitants, who moved
their ‘bedrooms’ in cellars. Even though the bombardments weren’t of
vast proportion, panic took hold of the locals. The fear that the soviets
wouldn’t retreat without a fight was also amplified by a surprise
offered by them. On the 26th of June, the soviets crossed the Danube,
respectively the Chilia branch, and occupied the Old Chilia, a point
practically lacking any defense.
If the Romanian army considered this action a short and
unimportant episode, the population on the left bank of the Danube
understood something totally different. The people started to prepare
themselves for long lasting siege, even doubting the German-Romanian
capacity of pushing the occupants away. Moreover, the soviet
propaganda was keeping this fear alive, bombing with news which was
presenting the enormous losses of the German and Romanian armies
on the Prut frontline.
There was some truth in these communiqués, even though the
numbers were exaggerated. In Basarabia, heavy fights took place, with
losses on both sides, but, nevertheless, more important on the part of
those who were forcing the crossing of the Prut. The operations in the
south part of Basarabia were entrusted to the Romanian army. In the
central area and in Bucovina, the Romanians went alongside the
Germans, the first grand liberation taking place on the 5th of July
through the triumphant entry in Chernautzi.
The 11th German army and the 3rd Romanian army had trouble in
the fights at Tziganca hill, where many Romanians fell. Under the
pretext that they knew the region better, the Romanians were pushed by
the Germans as pathfinders. It was there that the students of the cavalry
officer school from Sibiu also charged. Lacking experience and a real
training, our cavalry soldiers found themselves in front of the soviet
armored cars, which, according to ‘up to date’ information, shouldn’t
have really existed. It was here that Mirchea also fought, escaping with
his life through a miracle. It was also there that he had his first

283
284

deception, realizing the way how the Germans were treating the
Romanians.
He had dreamt of fighting side by side with the German army and
in just two weeks he realized how devoid of loyalty our allies, his idols
from adolescence, were.
Nevertheless, on the 16th of July, Chisinau was conquered, and
the hopes of the Basarabians were reactivated. The disaster of the
cavalry at Tziganca dissolved them as a unit, those remaining alive
being detailed as part of another regiment, being used in
reconnaissance actions, like in the time of the First World War. Sent
with the new unit to the south of Basarabia, Mirchea managed to
change his way toward home, but arrived too late to meet with his
family. He didn’t have the time necessary to search for Valeria, but he
found out from grandmother about father, sick mother, Bob and Lulu,
taking the road of deportation. George was declared missing, and his
mother and Barby were hiding, from fear of the Russians’ return, in
some acquaintances’ cellar, somewhere in a slum of Ismail.
It was a shock for him, but he kept his trust in the alliance with
Germany and the hope in the destruction of bolshevism. What really
happened? Ismail wasn’t defended by the soviets, but abandoned
without a fight. The reality was that they didn’t even have a military
fleet on the Chilia branch, and the news arriving from Tulchea and
Galatzi were announcing a preparation of the Romanian-German naval
forces for the outbreak of an attack on the Danube.
Mirchea would participate in small actions of attrition, always
escaping as through a miracle, moving after each failure to another
regiment, shattering dream after dream, accumulating deception after
deception, states provided by the behavior of the German ‘colleagues’
toward the Romanian soldiers, on the long road of the war of
liberation. He knew he had lost his family forever and he somehow
regretted the run across the Prut, the abandonment of the family.
Communism was for him the greatest plague of humanity, and he saw
salvation in the German socialism-nationalism. The unfaithful behavior
of the German comrades was giving him extenuating circumstances,
defending his creed with the phrase ‘war’s war!’

284
285

Indeed, Ismail had come out too little rumpled from the so-called
bombardments of the Romanian artillery. The soviets realized that it
was senseless to engage in fights on the Danube, to fight back through
strong counterattacks, the Danube being necessary for the organization
of the evacuation of materials and a certain category of personnel – the
cinovnics. On the other hand, if they did truly deal with something, it
was the organization of the deportations – people, animals, harnesses
and wagons. Everything had to cross the Nistru, where the soviets were
preparing the great retort, for the defense of Ukraine.
The number one man in the organization of what would be
known under the generic name of ‘pohod na Sibiri’ was Nicolovski.
Suffering like a dog because of the things happened with Ileana, he was
extinguishing his pain by causing pain to others. He was known to be a
tough man, unbalanced, but in the eve of events which would
inherently affect everybody, the people were inclined to find, even in
the eyes of the enemy a gleam of understanding. A war is a war and
where it takes place it doesn’t pick victims, it strikes everybody.
One of the shells which fell accidentally in the ‘Roses’ Park put
an end to the lives of two locals and two soviet officers! Chance took
them there, and the war didn’t choose. Maybe in their hearts they were
enemies, maybe in certain circumstances they would have fought to the
death, but there, in the park, they were simple human beings, and the
explosion didn’t make any distinctions. And the acme, they were all
young! That is why, in such circumstances, Nicolovski’s attitude
seemed even more unforgivable. He had got to the point that, in some
cases, as was ours, came personally to take whole families, embark
them into wagons and send them under escort to the gathering point,
usually an old deserted square at the outskirts of the town.
It was the same Nicolovski who was spending hours in a row next
to Ileana’s tomb!
After about a week spent in torment in a wet and cold cellar, with
rats swarming among us, mother’s condition imposed coming out to
light. As the bombardments weren’t too strong anymore, and their
effects even less, we returned home as not to subject to additional pain
the one who was just complaining about the fact that she couldn’t take

285
286

care of us anymore. Grandmother resumed her role of nurse, trying


with might and main to alleviate her suffering and also take care of us.
Valeria was continuing to indulge in the posture of victim and to live at
her friend, Vava. In the house, an atmosphere of funeral was reigning
and we, the little ones, were secretly crying, as not to sadden mother
even more.
Trying to display a contagious optimism, father was giving
himself away in the moments of collapse, when he was remaining lost
in thought and was secretly wiping a tear. He knew he was next, he
knew he wouldn’t be forgiven by men like Nicolovski. And because
there is no escape from what you fear, as the simple man says, it
happened one night.
A wagon stopped in front of the house, the irritated game of horse
hoofs was heard, and an insistent knock on the door woke us up to
reality. Fearfully opening the door, Daniil Stepanovich found himself
face to face with Nicolovski’s hideous smile.
- I told you we would meet again, only this time we are meeting
to say goodbye! Aren’t you inviting me in?! Boys, wait outside!
Prepare yourself for a long journey. Are you all home?
- Me, the wife and two children. About the older one, I don’t
know anything, and Valeria has left home and she isn’t keeping in
touch with us anymore. The wife is seriously sick, she has nephritis,
and my mother in law is taking care of her. What do you want to do
with us? Take me and leave them in peace. They are not going to do
anyone harm.
- No, Davidov, you will all leave, and now! You have a wagon, a
horse and an escort, of course! I haven’t come to negotiate; I’ve come
to pay a due. In the wagon, put blankets, some clothes, food, water and
umbrellas for rain or sun. As you can see, I’m not that evil. I want you
to get where I send you alive. There are going to be many with you, so
you won’t get bored. Take some playing cards as well. I hope your
liberators or allies don’t bomb you. You deserved to be put to the wall,
so you can be pleased that I’m saving you from the war and from the
Germans. As for your Romanians, they don’t matter in the hubbub
which started. Hitler has betrayed us and he must pay for this insolence

286
287

with his head, and together with him, his great ally Antonescu. When
we will reestablish the order, Romania will disintegrate! Good, let’s get
to work. I advise you to calm down the atmosphere; I don’t want to
hear any moans and shouts! It’s for your own good if you want to
remain together. Everything you put in the wagon must be passed in
front of my eyes. Don’t forget the water!
Father was listening speechless, fighting with himself not to
commit a mistake, which could have been fatal.
- Let me explain it to my wife and wake the children up, to
prepare them, so that we can leave in peace.
Mother received her Dania’s words untroubled.
- Be calm and don’t oppose to it. It’s good we all leave together!
Go to the children and explain to them that everything is in order, that
they shouldn’t be afraid because we are going to be together and so we
will escape the bombardments in town. I will get up and gather a few
things. I’m going to tell mother as well. She has to know!
- Let’s take a little mattress as well, so you can stay stretched, and
some pillows. Ask mother to fill two demijohns with wattle, with
water. I’m going to the children.
Me and Lulu reacted differently. Lulu got so scared, that she
couldn’t say a word. I on the other hand, only saw the ‘interesting’ side
of things, a long journey by wagon, like in the holidays at the
grandparents’.
- And the wagon will be only ours? I will take care of the horse
and hold the harnesses. I will even take the whip which grandfather
gave me as a present. You, Lulu, stop weeping! You will be mother’s
nurse. You will have to take care of her all the time.
- Good, Bob, with you at my side I know I won’t be afraid of
anyone!
The things we prepared for the embarkation were put in sight in
the living room, in order to be checked by Nicolovski. He was
following us with his hideous smile, filled with a cynical, cruel
satisfaction. He had the first intervention when he saw the primus and
the little can with petrol.
- This no! Something like this is out of the question!

287
288

- But I have to be able to make the teas for my wife! They are her
only medicine!
- You will be able, during the stops, to light fires, so that you can
make teas. The can with petrol is a veritable bomb in the case of a
bombardment and can also be used in acts of sabotage! You can never
know! No, without the primus!
The loading of the wagon went on in a total silence, without
incidents. This doesn’t mean that behind the curtains, agitated shadows
weren’t following with dread the spectacle of uprooting, so feared and
nevertheless so expected on the background of a fatal resignation. It
was an old wagon, with a beam as for two horses, with a rather good
looking horse harnessed on the right side. The space was less than
insufficient to allow the transportation of four persons, among which
one seriously sick. Neither the aliments, nor the water or the personal
things took up too much space. The largest, but also the most important
were the little mattress, laid on the floor of the wagon, the pillows, and
the few blankets.
Mother stretched on the mattress, having under her head a bigger
pillow, to cushion the jolts. Lulu sat down on a pillow next to mother,
and I sat down next to father, face to face, on a plank covered in a
blanket. I think I was the only one who wasn’t worrying about
anything.
- Sergey, accompany the wagon to the gathering point and hand
them over to the caravan chief. You answer with your head! Remain
near the caravan until it sets out, then come to report. The caravan has
to leave the town when it is dark. What can I wish for you Davidov? To
meet someone who would put a bullet in the back of your head instead
of me. Safe journey!
In an old square in the slum of Ismail, about fifty wagons were
organized in a caravan, in a sort of circle. Horsemen with Asian faces,
armed with automatics and whips, were patrolling around the wagons,
bringing fear in the hearts of those who were waiting for the order of
departure.
- Why this delay?! We should have left an hour ago!?

288
289

- It’s none of your business, and it’s none of mine either!


Nicolovski dealt with this case personally. Here are the papers for the
Davidov family. I have answered with my head so far, you are
answering from here on! Safe journey! You are lucky to leave this
place! I think nothing is going to remain! Look, take a gulp of good
vodka, to bring you luck. You know you can be attacked by the locals,
so in need, shoot in the convicts. This is the order! This is how you
keep the ‘outlaws’ at a distance. We’ll see each other at our home!
- Hope you are right!
Sergey, Shevchenko’s former good at everything man, made
Nicolovski’s subaltern, was somehow convinced that Nicolovski had
something to do with Shevchenko’s death. He couldn’t have known
what had happened in Ileana’s house, but the fact that Nicolovski
unloaded a whole magazine in the body of his boss, reinforced his
suppositions. He was very attached to Shevchenko and he couldn’t get
used to the thought that his boss had disappeared in such a strange way.
- If my suppositions are confirmed, not even the devil will rescue
him from my hands!

23

Generally, a trip by car or carriage, or wagon, from Ismail to


Chetatea Alba was made with a certain detour westwards, following the
macadam road which passed through Bolgrad and then went east. As it
was a matter of a caravan of wagons with deportees, the detour to
Bolgrad was given up, a town toward which the frontline was
advancing, after the successful forced assault of the Prut by the
Romanian army, and a shorter and less exposed to aerial bombardments
road was chosen. The convoy set out northward, passing through the
village of Sofian. It was a secondary road, full of dust and holes, hard

289
290

to go through and especially hard to bear. The advance was slow, with
all the insistent impulses of the accompanying horsemen.
We found ourselves on the tenth place from the back of the
column and we were integrating in the rhythm imposed by the state of
the road. As this was passing through the middle of the village, without
options of detours, the dawn caught us right in the village, but to the
general surprise, we didn’t stir the curiosity of anybody, the village
seeming deserted. That was not the reality. We weren’t the first caravan
of deportees to pass through this village, and the villagers, accustomed
to this kind of show, were discretely watching from behind the curtains,
praying for us. This apparent indifference didn’t have at all the gift to
raise the morale of the oppressed ones, accentuating the desperation
even more.
On mother’s face the torture of the disease grinding her could be
read, but she knew how to mask it when she met our worried looks,
smiling encouragingly. Lulu, the fragile and spoilt one, had taken her
role of nurse seriously, and defeating her repulsion toward the plague
which had taken over mother’s body, was taking care of her, respecting
the advice received from grandmother and was encouraging her with
words which she wouldn’t have usually used. The less than fifteen year
old girl had matured in a single night, a night of nightmare it’s true, but
nevertheless just one night!
A sunny day of July would add up something to the torture of a
journey by wagon, in the middle of the summer. Sometimes, as a divine
blessing, a breeze of fresh air, slightly wet by the Katlabug lake, came
through from the right side of the road we were crossing. The only
ones who seemed to suffer neither because of the heat, nor because of
the dust which was setting down on their sweaty faces, were the
horsemen who were accompanying us. They were about twenty,
galloping almost all the time around the caravan of wagons, in front of
which the chief of the caravan was riding, an older individual, but
unlike his subordinates, less talkative. The boys were swearing in full
gallop, addressing in a bad Russian urges for respecting the distance
between the wagons. They had fixed this distance at about five meters
and they were setting on that it be respected.

290
291

The luckiest were the ones at the front of the caravan, who were
enduring less the effects of the cloud of dust stirred up. The back of the
caravan on the other hand, was advancing as through fog. Our horse,
Suru at my wish, was going effortlessly at the rhythm imposed by the
caravan, not creating any sort of problems at this start of journey.
The goal pursued was reaching the village of Fintina Zinelor,
passing by Suvorovo, respectively King Carol II, in order to enter on
the main road leading to Chetatea Alba. It was a matter of about forty
kilometers, a relatively short distance, but which proved to be a
veritable overture at the ordeal which would follow. The evening
caught us at about twenty kilometers from Ismail, to the great
dissatisfaction of the caravan chief.
- If we ride like this, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Germans
get to the Nistru before us, and then you’ll see what fun we are going
to have. If you don’t hurry, I will make the automatics spit on you!
Don’t imagine that you will be freed! It’s better we collaborate and
escape with our lives, all of us! I have an order and I will carry it out!
We made a stop not far from a draw well, deserted, without a
bucket, without a chain. The boys improvised a rope from pieces of
harnesses, tied a bucket, put a rock in it in order to gain some weight
and prepared to distribute the water. The first bucket cut the desire of
replenishing the water reserves and of watering the horses. The water
was green, and a few frogs were struggling to jump out. A murmur of
disapproval was heard and a grave, old voice addressed the
commander.
- If you really want to keep us alive, taking into account the
journey which awaits us, then organize halts in villages, where we can
find water and some food. With what we have taken with us, we can’t
resist.
- Who are you to give me advice about how to organize my
business?! Do you want to instigate the people?! Do you think we are
going to a party?! Boys, take him!
The old man, who must have been over seventy years old, was
taken by the boys, under the terrified looks of the convicts, toward a
skirt of reed, hardly perceptible in the shadows of the night. A burst of

291
292

gunfire put an end to this episode, giving a serious warning to those


who thought they could have something to say.
The wagons, organized in a circle, as at the departure, were
surrounded on one side by the horsemen who remained on guard, while
the rest grouped around a fire to rest. Small soldiers’ canteens of vodka
had appeared, the sacred ritual of tobacco cigarette twisting and, in the
middle of the night, a pleasant voice came through, launching an old
steppe song toward the starlit sky. As the order that everyone should
remain at his wagon had to be strictly respected, in the circle of death,
talking was only done in whispers. Unable to leave the area occupied
by wagons, the natural needs were dealt with just next to the wagons.
After some time, a hard to bear smell would mark a new side of the
journey.
The thought that this was only the beginning took a hold of the
inhabitants of this improvised camp, turning sleep away and enthroning
the state of watch. The horses couldn’t enjoy a peaceful night either.
Freed from the harnesses, they were trying to tare out the few blades of
grass from around the wagons, but were manifesting a state of
restlessness because of the lack of water. They were horses taken from
the villages, where they were fed and watered at fixed hours, curried
and sheltered into stables at night. It was something natural and the
peasants, even in the conditions of kolkhozes, were granting them the
same attention and care as at home, hoping that the day would come
when they would recuperate them. These horses, who only yesterday
were part of the families of peasants themselves, found themselves
given overnight on the hands of people, among which the great
majority hadn’t ever put their hands on harnesses.
The carelessness with which the supervising horsemen were
treating this aspect was incomprehensible, taking into account the fact
that they were recruited from regions where the horse occupied the
most important place in their lives. Father, who was originating from a
family of peasants and who had spent many years from his childhood
around horses, understood the dangers which were waiting for this
disorganized caravan, but, after the tragic episode from eve, had
decided to refrain from anything, as to avoid a new intervention from

292
293

the bastard at the head of the caravan. While he was stroking the
horse’s neck, Suru1, who wasn’t grey at all, he was leaving the
impression that he was begging him forgiveness for what was
happening, but promising him that all would end well. Suru reacted
like he understood, always seeking with his head the hand which was
stroking him, as to kiss it. The relationship man-horse is special, with
nothing inferior to the one between man and dog. I learnt to love dogs
at home, where I enjoyed superb exemplars. I have grown fond of
horses and understood them in the holidays at my grandparents in
Sararia.
For my grandfather, horses were a priority. His care for them was
paternal, a thing which struck the eye. They were beautiful, healthy,
friendly. The same thing was also happening in the households of my
uncles. And nevertheless, an event marked me forever. I was in the
garden of an uncle and was watching the harnessing at the wagon of a
superb stallion, a present from grandfather, bought with big money
from a German friend in Shaba. These specimens were superb, and
were specially bred for selling by the Germans from this famous
village. The horses and the wines in Shaba were the pride of these
hard-working and honest people.
The stallion, Neamtzu, as grandfather had named him, agitated
from nature, feeling the wagon at his hind legs, pranced, then threw a
kick at uncle Vasile, hitting him in the head, near the temple, and them
went directly to the stable. The faint lasted for a few good minutes,
after which uncle rose to his feet dizzily and set out toward the gate.
The cries of the ones home couldn’t stop him. After about half an hour
he returned accompanied by the village gendarme and went directly to
the stable. A gunshot was heard and a profound silence followed.
Everybody was looking astounded toward the door of the stable, where
uncle Vasile was sobbing.
Yes, it was a harsh lesson I received when I was six, about the
relationship between man and animal. In this case, it was about the
relationship between two friends – a man and a horse. I descended
from the wagon and snuck next to my father. I looked Suru in the eyes
and whispered – ‘this will never happen to you’.

293
294

- Bob, get in the wagon and try to get some sleep. Tomorrow is
going to be a hard day. I know these places. If we wander away from
the lake, dust will engulf us, if we come close to the lake, we will sink
into the swamps. I will remain with Suru some more, to make friends
with him. We will need him greatly, and now he is suffering and he
doesn’t understand anything.
I didn’t get to sleep. The command for the departure sounded
prolong in the night. The agitation brought about by the formation of
the column lasted for a while, so the dawn started to break. The same
clear day, the same road full of holes, the same suffocating dust, the
same slowness in the advance of the caravan. The hungry and
especially thirsty horses were showing signs of insubordination. Some
were stopping, nodding their heads symptomatically, provoking
veritable ambushes. The wagons were bumping one into another,
breaking, to the desperation of the horsemen, the directive of the five
meters distance. The journey was appearing to be difficult, both for the
ones led, as well as for the ones leading. The first, couldn’t do more,
the others had to hurry. At a moment, the commander went the rounds
around the caravan, to see what could be undertaken. When he arrived
near us, father dared to address him:
- Comrade commander, I request permission to search for a
doctor in the caravan, or at least a nurse. My wife is seriously sick and
won’t resist a journey without care.
- Where do you think you are, man?! If she’s sick, why haven’t
you left her home? Know that we can leave her here as well. No
problem. We should have carried a pharmacy with us, no?! Mind your
own wagon man, and don’t bump into the wagon in front of you.
Meanwhile, mother’s condition had aggravated, the blisters, from
watery, had become purulent. Lulu had finished the tea prepared by
grandmother for the tamponing of wounds and desperate, started to put
on the wounds leaves of tea taken for the road, damped with water. The
situation became complicated also due to the fact that the water
brought from home was being consumed very quickly.
With great difficulty, the wagons took their places in the caravan
again and set off, stirring the same suffocating dust. Despite all the

294
295

incentives of the supervisors, often threatening, the caravan was


advancing slowly. As the road was getting closer and closer to the lake,
the air was starting to be fresher, moister. That was a relief
nevertheless. Until twilight, no incidents took place, but the distance
left behind was small and was making the commander worry. He knew
a halt had to be organized, near a water, for renewing the water
provision, for watering the horses, and restoring the strength of the
convicts. The order was clear, the people had to reach the other side of
the Nistru alive, and the fear of coming close to the frontline was
taking hold of him. He decided to organize a halt after passing the
Suvorovo village, known better for in the county under the name of
Shikirlikitay.
The caravan made a detour of the village, situated near the mouth
of the Katlabug river, at the lake with the same name, and stopped a
few kilometers further, in an accessible area on the bank of this running
water. The wagons were arranged facing the water, so that the horses
could drink without being unharnessed. The convicts received the
permission to take water from the river, with the buckets or demijohns
they disposed of. Again, those who suffered were the occupants of the
back of the caravan, the water in their area being muddied by the
people and the horses from the front of the caravan. In order to avoid
this inconvenient a little, the people advanced as much as they could
toward the deep side of the river, in their attempt to take out water as
clear as possible. The water was necessary not only for the people, but
also for the horses, who were known to be clean, pretentious. Or the
water near the bank had become too muddy for these wonderful, but
extremely sensitive animals.
Once the operations of supplying with water and giving the
horses to drink were finished, the wagons were moved in an area with
grass, in order allow the horses to graze. Before the set in of the dark,
the caravan had reorganized in a circle, an already known formation,
for passing the night. The same guard on horseback around the circle,
the same campfire, the same tobacco, the same vodka, the same
sorrowful steppe song. Another night full of bitter thoughts,
uncertainty, desperation. Nevertheless, the effect of the primary fear

295
296

was starting to attenuate. Here and there, some were daring to descend
the wagons and establish contact with the ones around.
Father did the same thing, trying to find someone even just a little
competent in medical problems. Mother’s state was aggravating
quickly, and Lulu was starting to give in because of tiredness. The
attempt resulted in a certain success. Not far from our wagon, father
met someone he knew. It was doctor Percheac’s nurse, together with
her husband and the two children. Misses Maria, as she was called at
the hospital, told him about the arrest of doctor Percheac and
Alexandrov, right in the precincts of the hospital. Willing to help, as
always, she accompanied father to our wagon, which had remained
under my supervision, and at the starlight, feeling with her hands, tried
to make out the condition of the wounds. Using the water brought from
Ismail, she tamponed the infected areas, then disinfected them with a
little methylated alcohol, brought in her little first aid kit. Mother
heartened up, thanked her and smiled at us encouragingly.
Everything took place in silence, under the indulgent looks of the
young horsemen. One of them, arriving next to our carriage, took his
finger to his lips, passing on the advice to silence. It was a gesture
which shed a totally different light on these innocent young men,
educated in a spirit of total submission toward the orders of the
superiors, but probably inoculated with certain rules of general
conduct, in their childhood, at their houses. In my child mind,
grandfather’s words, that people are not bad from nature, were coming
true.
It was the first night from the start of the illness, when mother fell
asleep, with Lulu beside her. Before the break of dawn, the bustle
restarted. The caravan was getting ready for a new stage of the journey.
After a few kilometers, a rather narrow bridge, but strong enough,
allowed the crossing of the river and the setting out of the caravan in
the direction of the main road, the junction being made near the village
of Fintina Zinelor. The crossing of the bridge was carried out slowly, to
the desperation of the caravan chief. Their obsessing fear of the young
‘outlaws’ was making them give up the nocturnal march, which was in
contradiction to the dispositions from the center, regarding the

296
297

development of the deportation actions. Although these attacks had


become rarer, the fear of the dark was greater than the fear of the
eventual aerial raids which could supervene at anytime during the day.
Arriving at the main road, the caravan set out, without any halts,
on lateral roads, parallel, used generally by peasants, to avoid the jolts
provoked by the quality of the macadam and to protect the horses. The
direction was well-defined: Tatar-Bunar, or in Romanian, The Well of
the Tatars, a road about fifty kilometers long. The choice of secondary
trodden earth roads, covered in dust, maintained the precarious
conditions of the journey, increasing in the same time the distance.
A first raid, carried out by two Romanian fighter planes, which
flew at a low altitude above the caravan which were heading eastwards,
alarmed the military guard, making the commander direct the wagons
toward the south of the road. The incentives of the horsemen and even
the whipping of the harnessed horses brought about more disorder,
instead of an acceleration of the advance. The caravan spread out, the
distances between the wagons exceeded the five meters imposed, and
the hopes of the convicts in a disintegration of the caravan grew.
In the evening, the caravan reached with difficulty the village of
Chishmele, about twenty kilometers from Tatar-Bunar. A little river, but
with clear water allowed the choice of a place of halt. The same ritual
with the organization of the wagons, so that the horses could drink,
then graze, and finally, the circle of the night. The same restrictions
regarding leaving the perimeter, even for natural necessities, with the
same campfire near the rest place of the commander, but this time
without that sad song. It was like an omen for what would happen.
A new intervention of misses Maria would bring a little relief to
mother’s suffering. Nevertheless, the hopes in a miraculous recovery
were fading out. Father was more and more plunged in thought. The
little food brought from home was almost gone. The detouring of the
villages made the supplying with food impossible, and the water from
the rivers brought about a sort of dysentery, putting the people in
impossible situations. In the middle of the night, the excruciating
moans of a woman, accompanied by the cry of some children’s voices,
stirred up the whole camp. It was the first death.

297
298

A man about forty years old, grounded by diarrhea, died under


the powerless eyes of his wife and children. The noise alerted the
commander, who resolved the problem simply, through an order given
to the young horsemen in subordinate.
- Pick him up and take him further away, in the bushes.
The order was cruelly carried out, under the eyes of the mourning
family and of the other convicts. Murmured voices were heard, raised
voices, shouts of revolt. The order was reestablished with a burst fired
by the commander himself. Three men who happened to be in front of
him in this futile attempt of protest were raked. The bodies of the fallen
ones had the same fate as the first victim of the inhuman conditions in
which the order of deportation was carried out. In the darkness of the
night, it couldn’t be seen who had fallen, but it was found out at the
return to the wagons, when their absence was noticed.
A gesture of a useless cruelty aimed at peaceful, defenseless
people. If the older ones watched with resignation the scenes of terror
provoked by a madman, the young ones remained struck by them for a
lifetime. As years passed by, these innocent children realized the true
face of communism and, where they were taken for re-education, they
organized a veritable network of dissidence, paying for this insolence,
most of the times, with their lives.
There were also cases when they submitted, out of fear or
opportunism, and at the years of adulthood, returned to their homeland
as representatives of the new order, betraying their parents and their
people.
The gathering was ordered earlier than usual. The commander
wanted to leave the place of the crime as fast as possible, feeling that
the atmosphere had become agitated, even if the people were baring the
signs of resignation on their faces. The caravan set out with difficulty,
and the interventions of the horsemen only complicated things. The
people couldn’t bridle their horses anymore, the caravan was spreading
out, and the commander was galloping around the wagons,
threateningly wielding his automatic. At a certain moment Suru
stopped, refusing to follow father’s desperate incentives. Neither our
whip, nor the angered horsemen’s whips, could get him out of his mule

298
299

stubbornness. Unwillingly, we remained at the rear of the caravan,


shaking in our shoes at the thought of the unavoidable reprisals, which
were to come.
Desperate, father started to stroke his head, to kiss him, to pull
him gently by the bridle. We were waiting for a miracle and the miracle
happened! Suru set out on the master’s footsteps, lead by the bridle. It
was a solution, but a solution that obliged father to walk on foot, with
his hand raised, in order to keep Suru under control permanently. Any
attempt of letting him loose, or pulling him by the harness, was
destined to failure. Suru was stopping, starting to nod his head and
wouldn’t set out unless he was tightly held by the bridle and caressed
now and then on the head. A caprice amused the ones who were
threateningly leading us, but would have an important role in the ordeal
we were subjected to, ‘The Road of the Cross’, as mother would call it.
Once Tatar-Bunar was left behind, the caravan was to set out
north, toward Sarata, a village situated at about twenty, maybe even
more kilometers. We were in full daylight, on the main road which
would take us to Palanca, when a flight at low altitude, executed by
three Romanian fighter planes, created a state of panic in the ranks of
the convicts, but especially in the ranks of our supervisors who,
dismounting, took shelter under the bellies of the horses. The planes
disappeared in the east and the caravan set out again. However, the
reestablished peace didn’t last too long. The planes reappeared, this
time from the front, and spread death with machine gun bursts.
Among the first to fall were the commander himself, followed by
a series of his horsemen. The escaped horses, went wild. Not few
however, fell with horsemen altogether. About the eventual victims
from the ranks of the convicts, you couldn’t figure out, except from the
shouts and groans. Being in the wagons, the ones ripped remained
alongside the ones alive. The part of the caravan which suffered the
most damage was the front. The horses hit by the deadly bullets
provoked their fall in an indescribable bustle. The wagons at the front
blocked the road, provoking a compression of the caravan.
What the pilots saw in their flight will never be known. The
victims from the ranks of the convicts would remain however an

299
300

ineffaceable memory for the survivors. The planes didn’t come back,
and the beneficiaries of this aerial attack were the convicts who
remained alive.
The horsemen who remained unscathed gave up the sense of
patriotic duty, so inoculated by the soviet order in their young souls,
and, as if at a command, set out galloping eastwards, over the crops,
detouring the road. After long moments of bewilderment, of unnatural
silence in front of the tragedy, in one of the wagons, a silhouette rose,
belonging to a man of medium height, with a small moustache, familiar
to us, who with a determined voice, of a true army commander,
demanded to be listened to. It seemed improbable, but the one who
wanted to speak was none other than Alexandrov, the former white
officer, our diadia Sasha.
Still astounded, father left Suru to me and slipping among the
wagons, climbed at the side of his friend, whose fate he knew nothing
about. Rushing one in the arms of the other, sobbing, the two friends
knelt and aiming their eyes at the sky, thanked God. The scene
contaminated the others too and in an atmosphere of piousness, on their
knees, adults and children started to pray. Among sobs, ‘Our Father
who art in heaven…’ was humbly heard.
Not far from Alexandrov, from another wagon, a tall man rose,
with a cross in his hand.
- I am priest Mihaila from Sofian. I bless you in the name of God!
Great is his mercy! Now, let’s gather our dead and bury them
Christianly, praying!
Murmurs of approval accompanied the priest’s words.
Alexandrov asked for silence.
- It’s wonderful we have a priest among us, as wonderful were his
words too. But in the actual circumstances, we can’t stay still. We must
move, leave this area as fast as possible. We will take the dead with us
and bury them in a safer place. We must abandon the dead horses and
the wagons which remained without horses and gather as we can. I
suggest we head southward, along the bank of the Sasik river, an area
where it’s hardly probable to come across soldiers, of any kind. It’s
neither a zone favorable for an attack, nor for the organization of

300
301

defense. The presence of the planes has shown us that the frontline is
getting closer, or that the road will be the way on which some will
retreat, and our soldiers will advance. If someone knows the area and
wants to take another road, he can certainly do so. The important thing
is not to create any panic and to avoid the frontline. It is important that
we have escaped from deportation. For the rest, only God knows what
will happen! If you agree, let’s get to work. Time is very precious!
A new murmur of approval was heard, the hands waved above
heads and the people, mostly unacquainted one with another, started to
hug. The preparations for the journey started, when a group of five men
approached Alexandrov.
- We don’t know whether it is good, but we are heading back to
Ismail. We are going to detour the main road and hide in the villages
we come across.
- Of course you can take another road. We wish you luck and
strength!
Alexandrov proved to be a good organizer. The preparations for
departure took place without incidents. The people were happy that
there was somebody who would take responsibility, who would lead
them, who would command. The news that Alexandrov had been an
officer in the tsarist army seeded even more trust in the people. A
regrouping of the people in carriages was made, a carriage being freed
in order to transport the five dead, Alexandrov pulled his wagon at the
front of the caravan, the rearguard being assured, whether we liked it or
not, by our Suru, because of his jadery.
The caravan set out toward Trapivka, a small village on the bank
of the lake. Almost at the same time, the five wagons determined to go
in the direction of Ismail, set out. We had to cover about ten kilometers,
on an earth road, full of dust and holes. Father took his role seriously
and, holding the bridle tightly, was pulling Suru after him. He was
exhausted, with his soles pierced and with wounds at his feet. Mother
was enjoying Misses Maria’s care and that of Alexandrov’s wife, but
her condition was continually getting worse. Lulu was also overcome
by the events and was crying in secret. I, the chatterbox in past times,
was as mum as a mouse. I tried to take my father’s place, but Suru

301
302

didn’t accept this variant. The solution chosen by Alexandrov proved to


be salutary. Not even the shadow of a ghost of a soviet soldier.
- Father, what are we going to do if Suru doesn’t want to go
anymore?
- Let it be Bob, we have to thank Suru that we ended up at the
rear of the caravan and that we escaped with our lives during the attack
of the planes, and the acme, our planes! Now if he doesn’t want to pull
anymore, we will harness ourselves and take mother at grandmother’s,
at Tuzla. I’m sure she will recover there!
- Do you think we’ve escaped from the ‘pohod na Sibiri’?
- Yes, Bob! Suru transformed the pohod into a povod.
- How so?
- Well, povod means leading a horse by the bridle, and that is
exactly what we’re doing.

1 sur (rom.) = grey

24

Trapivka was the first halt made in rather human conditions. The
people in the village, just curious at first, then more than hospitable,
allowed the wagons to enter in their yards, took care of the horses,
giving them water, put on the table everything they had best from the
little they had. The uha, the boiled or fried fish smoothed the brows of
the former convicts, and the maize brandy brought a drop of joy as
well.
The funeral of the ones killed was left for the following day. The
wagon with the bodies was taken directly to the cemetery, where the
close ones also did the vigil. Once again, as the Romanian saying – the

302
303

dead with the dead, the living with the living – proved its validity more
than needed. The weeping and the mourning of the vigil stopped at
about midnight, and the living joined the living, at a glass of brandy.
The dead remained in the wagon, under the sparkling light of the stars.
An unusual attitude, in unusual circumstances. The second day,
everybody assisted at the improvised funeral, as if led from behind by
the thought of departure. Everybody wanted to move away from the
area of the main road.
Alexandrov’s incentive of heading toward the sea, following the
bank of the lake as far as the village of Liman, was received with trust.
As mother’s condition didn’t permit any hazardous roads, father
decided to separate from the caravan, or better said, from what was left
of it, in order to set out on back-roads in the direction of Sararia-Tuzla.
The separation from Alexandrov was difficult. At a certain moment,
chance gave us a hand and we met again unexpectedly. Now however,
nobody could believe in a new chance. Tears and hugs, the only
possible manifestations in such circumstances. Words were
meaningless. Silence and tears, that was all!
- Daniil Stepanich, my dear! If I escape, I’ll come after you, at
Sararia, or at Tuzla, so we would return together to Ismail. Now I have
to take care of these disoriented people, who listened to me. I think I
didn’t make a mistake, I think I have chosen well. It is a dead area for
military operations. May God grant it that I’m right! If you can, don’t
stop until Tuzla. There is a good sanatorium and you must find some
medical personnel and drugs. May God take care of you! Goodbye,
friend!
- Goodbye, Sasha!
- Supplied with fresh water, mamaliga1 and fried fish, with father
holding Suru by the bridle, we set out eastwards, actually north-
eastwards, in the direction of the Caragach village, about seven-eight
kilometers from Trapivka. From the direction of the main road, roars of
artillery could be heard more and more often. Suddenly, a miracle
happened. Suru nodded his head a few times, liberated himself from
the arm which was holding him by the bridle and set out full of energy.
Father was keeping up with him, unable to believe his eyes. After a few

303
304

kilometers of walking side by side, he climbed into the wagon, took


over the harnesses carefully and everything started to go swimmingly.
No other incidents hindered our advance toward our final destination.
We arrived in Sararia in the afternoon and stopped in front of the
grandparents’ house. Everything was deserted, in ruin even. We made
for uncle Vasile’s house, where father’s sister-in-law acquainted us
with what had happened. Both uncle Vasile, as well as uncle Ananie
were arrested and taken to Chetatea Alba. Then, their trace was lost.
Their sister, Ana, had lost her husband as well in the same
circumstances, she was living with my grandmother and her two
children in Tuzla, avoiding to return to Sararia. A brother, grandfather’s
brother, a notorious drunkard, had sold his family for an ounce of
vodka. Grandfather had paid for this ‘brotherly’ betrayal with his life,
and the fate of his sons was uncertain.
- Danila, what are you doing here? What’s wrong with your wife?
- Now she is better. We have escaped as through a miracle from
the caravan of death, of deportees. There are too many to recount, but
Leolea’s condition is very serious and I want to arrive at Tuzla, at Ana,
to look for a doctor or a nurse, see what can be done. Tell me, are there
any soviets here? I wouldn’t want to bump into them!
- No, there aren’t any Russians around here! They left one night
leaving everything in the lurch. Our uncle, the bastard, ran off as well!
You know that after he denounced father and us, he worked for them at
the people’s council?! If he had remained here, I think the people
would have hung him! It’s good you are going to Tuzla, there has to be
someone at the sanatorium who could help you. Here, all we have is an
old witch, who knows a lot, but is too old. Have a good journey! We
will be waiting for you at your return! Know that in Tuzla either, there
aren’t any soviets. May God protect you!
- Suru knew something. There were only fifteen kilometers left,
which had to be covered until nightfall, and he felt that. All of us
seemed livelier, awaiting the end of the ordeal. Mother too had gotten
out of the torpor which had overpowered her, bringing a little
happiness and hope in our hearts. Late in the evening, we stopped in
front of aunt Ana’s gate, without daring to come down from the wagon.

304
305

It was hard to explain what was happening to us. Were we happy? Were
we exhausted? Were we afraid? It was a complex state, a mixture of all
these. Ana’s appearance at the gate brought us to reality.
- Danila, is that you my dear?!
- Yes Ana, it’s me, I mean us! It seems we have escaped from the
nightmare! Is mother alright?
With tears in her eyes, Ana nodded her head and jumped in the
arms of her brother. They were both crying, we were also crying. Only
mother was smiling. There was someone else who was showing signs
of satisfaction. Suru was shaking his head hastily, as if demanding to
be unharnessed. Ana hugged us children, then leaned over mother’s
tormented face and kissed her on the forehead. She rushed toward the
gate and opened it. Suru entered in the yard with a triumphant air and
didn’t stop until he found a haycock. I think it was the supreme reward
for him.
What a warmth in the reception made by these miserable
relatives! How much pain in their words, in the reminiscing of the
events which took place, in these small villages, whose heroes, whether
they wanted or not, were grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins. They had
suffered more than us; they had lost more than us. The girl-cousin was
about my age, the boy was just about Lulu’s age. They tried to gratify
our wishes, we being considered the townsmen, the educated ones. Too
much time didn’t have to be wasted to efface this difference of ‘class’.
Children remain children and that is why they are wonderful. No
matter how much pain lies in their hearts, a place can always be found
for moments of joy. Ana, assisted by a nurse from the sanatorium –
there hadn’t been any doctors there for a long time – dedicated
themselves to mother. The hygienic conditions in the house brought the
first improvements in the road to the expected healing. And they also
brought someone else – an eighty year old woman, the village witch
since forever, the village becoming in time a balneal resort. The lack of
medicines imposed this and in addition, the miracles which this old
woman managed to do in desperate cases. Some called her the witch of
Tuzla.

305
306

Her kindness and especially the warmth in her eyes had nothing
to do with the image of a witch. She did have however, a special
authority, which she exerted imperceptibly. The proof was the way how
she took over the hostilities in the fight with the disease, or better said,
with death. Everything was based on a longtime experience, on the
knowledge of plants, on the healing effects of mud. The teas and a
strict diet were the weapons with which she started the fight against the
kidneys. She covered the wounds on the body, especially on the legs,
with a thin layer of pomade, the secret of the composition being kept
piously. One thing we found out nevertheless. At the base of this
wonder-unguent, a mixture of Tuzla mud and Burnas mud was laying.
The old woman stayed day and night at the head of the diseased
one, unable to afford the luxury of falling asleep for any moment. This
‘Baba Yaga’, as the children were calling her, brought in the end light
in our souls and life in mother’s exhausted body. A week later, the
wounds started to cicatrize, and the strict alimentary regimen started to
soften little by little.
In this time, no authority could be seen in the village, nor in the
surroundings. It seemed that both the ones who were running, as well
as the ones who were attacking, had forgotten about this corner, which
was, nevertheless, basarabian land! This was our great luck; this was
also the luck of the ones led by Alexandrov.
On the 30th of July, three mounted soldiers entered on the main
street in Tuzla. A gendarme quarter master, accompanied by two young
soldiers, probably novices, were saluting smilingly, wielding a rifle in
their right arm, the population of Tuzla, who was in front of the houses.
It was a quiet, but warm welcome. A hidden fear, inexplicable, was
holding back the explosion of happiness in the hearts of people. A year,
just a year, was enough to cripple the souls of these people, once so
expansive in expressing their feelings.
At the incentive of the quarter master, the people started to follow
the liberating horsemen. Arriving in front of the former town hall, with
a thundering voice, the quarter master announced: ‘On the 25th of July
the soviets were driven away beyond the Nistru’.

306
307

It was the signal for the crowd’s outburst through cries of joy,
through cheers. An old man appeared with a flag of the Romanian
Kingdom and handed it over to the quarter master, to wave it from the
height of the horse. The people were hugging, the people were crying.
The gendarme, with a strangled voice, read the liberation proclamation,
signed by Antonescu. ‘… The fight for the liberation of the eastern
Romanian land is over…’
A voice from the crowd shouted: ‘Long live King Mihai, long
live Antonescu, long live the Romanian army!’
The people burst into cheers, covering the gendarme’s voice,
better said the post chief, who was trying in vain to make himself
heard. An old woman appeared with a tray on which a mamaliga was
steaming, alongside a salt cellar.
- Forgive us, sir officer, but we haven’t had bread for a long
time…
The new post chief dismounted, took mamaliga with a spoon he
was holding in the pocket at his chest, sprinkled some salt and
solemnly took the spoon to his mouth.
- The mamaliga is good. As mother used to make! There will also
be bread, only that the front moves away from the Nistru, so you can
work in peace.
- What do you think; the Romanian Army will fight beyond the
Nistru as well?
- General Antonescu has already decided this. The Romanians on
the other side of the Nistru, in Transnistria, must also be liberated.
They are our brothers too and they have suffered more than us! It is a
matter of a holy war, against bolshevism. We must walk alongside our
German allies. We must go as far as Bug, as Antonescu agreed with
Hitler. Odessa is going to be a Romanian port! Hitler also promised us
the Transilvania stolen by the Hungarians. Yes, the war isn’t over!
Danila was listening to the gendarme’s words and couldn’t
believe his ears. The Romanians, led in a crusade?! But the time of the
crusades had passed, only the bitter taste in the history books
remaining. Deep down, he was reassuring himself, saying: ‘What does
this gendarme know?’

307
308

And nevertheless, that would happen, and Danila, as many others,


would taste the bitterness of the front. The people, puzzled about what
‘the holy war’ fought among strangers meant, returned absorbed in
thought at their houses, in the expectation of what would come.
Questions and answers were accompanying the sauntering walk home.
- At least the Russians didn’t send us to the front!
- Hey man, but have you forgotten about the deported ones?
Look, in our village, how many have disappeared without a trace?!
Before talking, think a little!
- Leave me alone brother, because I know what I’m saying! The
Russians didn’t make us fight for their unbelief. What’s that a holy
war?! Well, considering the number of beliefs in the world, we should
be living only in wars. Each man believes in what he wants, and he
wants what he learnt from his ancestors. Look, our Germans in Shaba,
what harm have they done us to make war with them?! They have
taught us only good things, but they are not the same faith as we are,
they are evangelists. There are French from the village of Paris, so
what they are Catholics, or who knows what else?! They are honest
people and good neighbors! Holy war!? How can a war be holy, when
you are going there to kill?! Our Christian law says ‘thou shalt not
kill’! How does this make any sense?!
- Don’t you understand that it wasn’t us who came over them,
they invaded us and they killed and deported our parents and brothers,
and our sisters and children?! If we forgive them today, tomorrow they
are going to be all over us again! Think about it, brother, because you
sound like one of them! I say we part, so we don’t start to quarrel. The
bandits must be punished! By the way, the Germans in Shaba, do you
know what they do to horse thieves? They cut one of their ears, so they
would run away from the world, and that is what they deserve!
Meanwhile, things started to escape control in the liberated
villages. The people wanted to destroy the kolkhozes on the spot, to
take their land back, and their wagons, their harnesses, and their cattle,
but they didn’t know where to start. Not even the post chief knew what
had to be done and was stammering in front of the people set about
action, often uncontrolled. If the first functionaries sent by the

308
309

Romanian administration were trying to take over the public affairs in


cities, in the villages this thing was overdue, bringing about great
disorders. There were so many things to do, and the newcomers,
opportunists par excellence, were seeing everything from the point of
view of personal interests.
In a way, the history of 1918 was repeating itself. As the
problems of the front were first and foremost, the dispositions of the
military commandments were the letter of the law, all other aspects of
daily life becoming subsidiary.
The days spent at aunt Ana were healing for mother. Baba Yaga,
this wonderful witch, did what maybe not even doctors would have
managed to do in those times. Unorthodox were her methods, but they
saved mother. Surrounded with a lot of warmth from everybody around
her, mother recovered unexpectedly quick.
The beginning of August found us in the wagon, with a very
obedient Suru, repeating the same route. Again by-ways, in order to
avoid the encounter with the troops which were heading toward the
front. This time however, the conditions and the state of mind were
different. The halts were halts, with stops in the villages, among
hospitable people, many of them in the expectation of deported
relatives. The people considered us very fortunate for escaping,
offering us everything they had best in their houses.
This beginning of August also brought however the bitterness
caused by the agreement between Hitler and Antonescu regarding the
participation of the Romanian army in the fights for the conquering of
Odessa and the opening of a new front in the direction of Crimea.
Against the opinions of influential politicians, like Maniu and Bratianu,
Antonescu was hanging on to Hitler’s apron in the hope of a great
reward – Transilvania, Basarabia, Bucovina and Transnistria.
Recognized as an influential soldier, he was contested as a politician.
He was too proud to listen to anybody. He already saw himself at the
winner’s table, the equal of those with whom he had associated against
logic and the ideas which he proliferated at his return from Saint-Cyr,
he, the great Francophile.

309
310

Two months after the crossing of the Prut, he took the marshal’s
truncheon and the Iron Cross in his hand. His star seemed to be
shining.
The journey of the Romanian army in the direction of Odessa was
tough, marked by big sacrifices of human lives. Many families were
mourning, and the wounded who returned from the front presented in a
gloomy light the victories obtained by the Romanians at the ‘liberation’
of Transnistria. The army, poorly trained and equipped, was left to
manage on its own by its great ally. The soviets were determined to sell
their lives dearly and to defend the riches which Ukraine was hiding. In
the country, and even in Basarabia and Bucovina, more and more
voices were disapproving the continuation of Romania’s participation
in the ‘holy war’. For Antonescu however, it was a title of glory to set
up Romanian administration in Transnistria. But the most blamable
thing which Antonescu did was, under the pressure of the Germans, the
deportation of the Jews and Gypsies, in this territory.
Anyhow, the marshal was holding on, and the dictatorial regime
set up in the country was keeping the royalty under control.
Although we detoured the main roads, once we were approaching
Ismail, the encounters with the military units which were heading
toward the front, couldn’t be avoided. It wasn’t a proper impediment,
only that the advance by wagon was rendered difficult. We met
wonderful people, who helped us with food – cans, military bread, as I
liked, and others. A military doctor offered himself to consult mother,
assuring us that everything was in order.
Through them we found out that Ismail was liberated without a
fight, that the town was practically untouched by the wave of war and
that life was starting to settle on its normal course. The soviet military
fleet retreated without trying to oppose any resistance, and the
Romanian fleet gave up the attack, just to save the town from
destruction. The terrestrial army also retreated peacefully, which
allowed the Romanians to enter the town in the most peaceful
conditions.
Too bad that this retreat was preceded by an intense activity of
the organs of the internal affairs ministry, which left Ismail deep

310
311

wounds. Innocent people, whole families, took the one way road of
deportations. Rishcov, Rusev, Nicolovschi, committed abominable
crimes, leaving ineffaceable proof for posterity, evidence of
accusations, not only against them, but also for the whole system which
they were blindly serving. It was important that someone would make
use of them. The future would prove the contrary, at least as far as
Romania was concerned.
We made the last halt at Fintina Zinelor. The same hospitable
people, the same warmth in their hospitable behavior. We were
considering ourselves the privileged of fate, because few wagons
managed to take the road back. Many were still hiding in the villages
further away from the main road, distrustful of the events which were
rapidly succeeding.
In the morning, at dawn, we set out to cover the last portion
which was still separating us from Ismail. From a near-by yard, a
wagon had just appeared, similar to ours, which was preparing to go in
the same direction. The surprise was huge, since the driver was none
other than Alexandrov, our good diadia Sasha.
He had managed to lead the caravan of deportees as far as the
Liman village, he had convinced them not to hurry to return, he had
taken care, like a true commander, of the wounded who, the irony of
fate, were bearing in them bullets sent by the raid of Romanian
airplanes. How could a caravan of wagons with deportees, escorted by
a handful of horsemen, have been mistaken for something else, nobody
wanted to understand. The answer given by some was well-known: war
was war!
In fact, it wasn’t the only thing which couldn’t be understood.
There were too many questions, and the times truly were ‘like in war’.
The entry in Ismail was made at nightfall, with innumerable
controls made by groups of frontier guards, with stereotype expressed
bewilderment – ‘How could you escape from deportation?!’ Home,
everything seemed unchanged. Grandmother, my aunt and Barby,
greeted us with tears and thanks given to God.
- Only a divine miracle could snatch you from the clutches of the
red devils, of the antichrists!

311
312

- What do you know of Mirchea, of Valeria, of George? Have


they called on home?
- Valeria went to Clava, at Rimnicu Vilcea, at some relatives of
Clava’s. We don’t know anything of her. Mirchea called on hurriedly,
but had to return at the unit. He was looking good. He was a cavalry
man. George went behind the army, on the front, to write articles for a
newspaper in Bucharest. What can I say; he was the last one who had
to be there!
We stayed all night to recount the ordeal we went through.
Questions, answers, tears. A lot of tears! We were among the first ones
to escape from the caravan of death and therefore, we were assaulted
by neighbors, by strangers who were waiting for their deported
relatives. Our return relit hope in the hearts of many. Under the
considerate care of grandmother, mother was becoming the same jolly
woman, caring and loving toward us. A shadow of bitterness however
descended on her face, when she wasn’t observed. Valeria’s departure,
who took our deportation for sure, and of course, Mirchea’s fate. She
knew him as set about great achievements, with Hitler’s portrait in his
heart, ready to fight to the end against the bolsheviks. She knew
however, that he was impulsive and unsteady, and that is exactly why
she was afraid for him. And she had reasons why!
The days which followed were dedicated by mister Davidov to
formalities, and there weren’t a few. First of all, he had to hand over to
the town hall the horse and the wagon. The source of these ‘goods’ had
to be justified.
- Whose are this horse and the wagon?
- Both the horse and the wagon were given to me at the arrest so
that I and the family could accompany the caravan of deportees. In
fact, when they came to take us, they also brought the mean of
transport by which we would leave under armed guard.
- Wait a moment, I don’t understand a thing! You want to say that
they brought you the horse and the wagon home, so that you could be
deported?! This is a good one! I have never heard such foolishness.
And how come they haven’t deported you?!

312
313

- During a bombardment we managed to escape from escort and


hide. After the soviets retreated, we returned home and presented
ourselves at the town hall.
- I have heard a lot of things about deportations, but I knew that
people were taken on foot, not by wagon. Let’s be serious! Tell me
where you have the horse and the wagon from, so that we know where
you took them from; that so I don’t use another term. If you wanted to
return it, you should have gone to the one whom you caused losses.
- Do you want to insinuate that we have stolen?! What planet are
you from, sir?! Where in the name of God have they brought you
from?
- That is none of your business! Nevertheless, to clear things up
for you, I am coming as an official from the Old Kingdom to make
order in this Romanian province, where disorder reigns. If we are still
asking questions, tell me sir, or comrade, Davidov you said, how come
you are speaking Romanian so well?
- Davidov is the name the soviets lent me so they would have as
many ‘Russians’ as possible in Basarabia. My name is Davidescu, and I
come from Piatra Neamtz. You know something, mister ‘commissioner
of the Old Kingdom’, if you refuse to make the forms for the handing
over of the horse and wagon, I will tie it to the tree in front of the town
hall and I will put a poster ‘for sale; address to the mayor’. Know that
these horses and these wagons were requisitioned not to help the
deportees, but to be taken on the other side of the Nistru.
It wasn’t the only encounter with the bureaucracy of the new
foreigners. Enough things followed and maybe the biggest trouble was
with the regaining of the name. The whole archive from the civil status
was destroyed before the retreat of the soviet administration, or maybe
transported to the Soviet Union. Anyhow, the pile of ash from the yard
of the town hall proved, without doubt, that at least a part of the papers
had been burnt. As the birth certificates had been restrained at the
Town Soviet with the occasion of the rechristening, it was hard to
prove anything based on documents. There was a way of reconstitution
of the papers based on testimonies, a procedure used even in Romania,
but here, as well as in other fields, the decisive role was held by bribe.

313
314

To induce corruption from the first days of liberation, applying it on the


backs of oppressed people, was more than immoral. And let’s not
forget that this thing was taking place in the circumstances of a military
dictatorship, headed by a man recognized as incorruptible, when
military discipline should have imposed, in turn, a civic discipline.
A consistent bribe restored, in the end, our right of keeping the
name of our ancestors, and thus, to Lulu’s boundless happiness, we
became family Davidescu once again.
The news of the Stavrovs’ return brought a moment of happiness
in the middle of the old family friends.
A meeting at the Alexandrovs constituted a reason of satisfaction,
but also of bitterness. They knew nothing about Shuric’s fate, and we
knew nothing about Mirchea’s. Both Alexandrov’s house, as well as
Stavrov’s, were devastated during the retreat of the soviet
administration. By whom, it was hard to tell! In such circumstances,
you can trust not even the ones around you. The specter of poverty was
rising threateningly over these families, once without the care of the
day. Nevertheless, things seemed to reenter into normality.
Archpriest Popescu, surrounded by the priests who remained
alive, set out to revive what had remained of the building of the
Consistory. Danila of course, was among them. The great absentee was
Drachinski, once the heart of this institution so respected in Ismail.
In the middle of this optimistic atmosphere, in a calm September
evening, the inevitable happened. The order of mobilization for Danila
Davidescu arrived. The former sub-lieutenant from the tsarist army was
bracketed as quarter master. We didn’t find out anything about his fate
until the winter of ’42, when we received news from Odessa. He would
stay there, at a rear unit, until the great retreat from the spring of 1944.
Right in the eve of the departure on the front, we had the pleasant
surprise of receiving the visit of Silvia. She entered smiling, somewhat
embarrassed by the situation and, before hugging anybody, with tears
in her eyes, in a trembling voice, said:
- Don’t be scared, my dears, I am not crazy! It’s a long and sad
story. After the arrest and after all they did to me and Paul, I was in
shock. When I recovered, this happened after they liquidated Paul, I

314
315

understood they declared me schizophrenic, to finish me off. The


thought of my little girl saved me. I knew I had to live for her and I
managed to be more cunning than them, better said, than doctor
Mirchev. I was lucky with a nurse who wasn’t playing their game and
who taught me how to behave. No, I’m not crazy! Now I can hug you.
I’ve heard you have returned from the road of death, I wanted to see
you and to invite you tomorrow at the cemetery, at Ileana’s tomb, for a
little requiem. Know that I owe my life to her! She was a martyr, a
heroine. May God take care of her, alongside her Nani.
There were wounds all over Ismail. It hadn’t suffered the
destructions of war, but it was openly bearing the wounds left by a year
of soviet administration. And there were a lot of them, much more than
it was written in the Romanian press. Time is said to heal any pain.
This might be the case of some. However, I know many who took with
them in their tomb these wounds, that immense pain, and who couldn’t
forgive in their own self and, contrary to the Christian percepts, died
with hatred in their hearts.

1 samp, polenta

25

Someone, skimming through these pages, asked me if they were


related to a lived reality, if the names used represented real persons, if I
was or not the character of these events. No, it was a matter of fiction,
a figment of the imagination, as the dictionary explains. And being a
matter of fiction, my characters could borrow any kind of names,
generally encountered of course, in that part of the world; could

315
316

participate in usual or incredible events, sometimes so incredible that


even the fiction seems to exaggerate.
And I was also asked why I hadn’t ended with an epilogue. What
was the good of it?! Fiction is fiction! I might as well could have
written a volume, because fiction doesn’t have any limits, and fictive
characters are the easiest to manipulate. And nevertheless, something
seems to make me reconsider this way of being, or better said, of
thinking.
I had characters about which I made, between the lines, some
speculations regarding their future. Should I leave them suspended by
questions? It doesn’t seem right. I only need a few more lines of fiction
to leave things clear in the mind of the reader. I will try to face up to
this additional effort, because the ending implies, undoubtedly, an
effort. It is hard to create characters, but it isn’t easier at all to leave
them in the lurch.
For the Alexandrovs, for example, two hard years followed, in
which they didn’t manage to part from Shuric. A camp of deportees on
the Volga had to be bombed so the few survivors would take the road
westward, running home. That is how Shuric too returned, and with
him, the peace in this blessed house.
With our Mirchea, things took place differently. Cavalry man
from passion, Germanophile through his belief, he participated in
uncountable missions of reconnaissance and fight and, guarded by a
lucky star, he escaped with his life. But, by 1943, fed up with the
misery of war and with the ‘brotherhood in arms’ of the Germans,
experiencing to the full their arrogant and disdainful attitudes, after an
incident with a German officer, in which a few less than orthodox
blows were exchanged, but without pulling the trigger, disappeared
from the front and, disguised as a Russian peasant, neglected and with
a lipovean beard, snuck slowly in the direction of the Nistru, making a
halt in Basarabia, in grandfather’s village, where he hid and waited for
the inevitable end of the war. The statute of deserter didn’t frighten
him, being convinced that the fallen ideals had to be replaced with
something new. He got his hands on the writings of Marx, Engels,

316
317

Lenin, and not last, Stalin, read and abjured his creed. Hitlerism, once
put to the wall, was replaced with the soviet communism!
Everything was resolved at once with the arrival of the soviet
armies and the turning of weapons against Germany by the Romanian
army. Sick, he presented himself at the nearest military unit, declared
himself lost and found himself rejected. It couldn’t be a matter of
treason anymore, but a far-sightedness in the change of opinion. His
new creed had an instantaneous evolution. Overnight, if that can be
said, he became the most fervent admirer of everything which was
coming from the east, an intolerant Rusophile. Years passed and my
attempts of coming close to him ended in failure. In fact, not only
mine, but the ones of the whole family.
Valeria oscillated between home and strangers, always leaving
and always returning.
In Ismail, things were starting to reenter on their normal course,
in the limits of what normal could mean in times of war. From the
deported ones, few were the ones who managed to return home.
Generally, the ones who were part of the last echelons of deportees,
escaped. About the tragic fate of many it could be found out from these
privileged of fate themselves.
Digging was done at Tulcheanov’s, at the Jewish cemetery, at the
sanatorium in Bolgrad. People shot in the back of the head, naked,
sprinkled with lime milk. Those weren’t times for proper investigation.
Too few signs of recognition, too little interest from the part of
authorities. The verdict: ‘unidentified bodies’ put an end to these
summary investigations. They were reburied Christianly, at choice, by
the ones who were looking for their dead. Tombs appeared, crosses
appeared, names appeared. This too was a way of ending a chapter in
the tumultuous life of Ismailiens. As in Ismail people were manifesting
a true cult toward tombs, they were created, even though they were
hiding a question mark within them.
The events which took place during a sole year seem incredible,
but not incredible enough to create images imprinted in the mind of an
eleven-year old child.

317
318

The Stavrovs returned from the poverty endured in Bucharest,


and seeing their house cleared out and ruined, settled at the vineyard, in
order to start everything from scratch. Iuric being taken in the army
couldn’t be of any use to them. Fortunately for them, both the vineyard,
as well as the little house, were in an acceptable state. The times of
meetings from past days had long passed and the inseparable friends
remained shut, each in his own den, to tend to their still bleeding
wounds.
The atmosphere at the Consistory was funeral-like. Dracinschi’s
contagious optimism was missing, the factotum Danila was missing,
the deaths of Voda and Ilashcu, of Savatie and Nicolov were mourned.
The bishop was missing, being banished unfairly somewhere in a
monastery in northern Moldavia and forgotten there, intentionally, by
the leaders of the church in Bucharest.
At us too, the house seemed deserted. Father was missing, Valeria
was missing, Mirchea was missing, George was also missing.
Silvia left for Baltzi, where she was hoping to trace her mother-
in-law and her daughter. She traveled all over Basarabia, in the wind
rose, but no information was confirmed. She returned grieved and
became employed at the hospital of hateful memory, to dedicate herself
to the caring of the true mentally diseased.
An anonymous letter from Odessa announced mother that her
Dania was ‘involved’ with a doctor, a local woman Valeria’s age. Elena
Petrovna, a kind-hearted and loving woman, joyful and witty, was at
the same time a lioness. She arrived at the Commandment, obtained
vouchers and an order of free passing and, armed with us, namely me
and Lulu, made a halt in Odessa. I don’t know how true or serious the
story was, as not to call it idyll, but I do know that we spent six
wonderful weeks.
The commander, colonel Munteanu, understood the situation
perfectly and got Danila off, with whom he got along very well, scot-
free, giving him an unlimited leave of absence. As in ’42 the town
administered by the Romanians seemed to ignore the war, as well as
the presence of the German commandment, peace was at home, and the

318
319

Romanians were proud of this new conquest. Even the cultural life was
starting to thrive.
The town was beautiful, even with the wounds brought about by
war, and the restrictions regarding the free circulation during the day
were almost inexistent. It was the first big city I had seen in my life.
The view of the harbor was wonderful, the two hundred steps
impressive, the opera house, something descended from fairy tales. It
was there that I saw the first ballet show in my life. ‘Swan Lake’
enchanted me and maybe it even constituted the first step of the future
music lover. I grew fond of symphonic and opera music and this made
me less vulnerable in front of the vicissitudes of life.
Yes, the lioness did her job and the family remained intact, ready
to face what would come. And the hurricane of the year 1944 came,
stirred up in full spring, in eve of Holy Easter. This time, things didn’t
happen like in ’40. The families of the public functionaries received
orders of evacuation. The front was approaching rapidly, as was the
fear that history would repeat itself. A telegram communicated the
meeting place – Calarashi.
Together with the families Alexandrov and Stavrov, we embarked
on the ship with propelled blades ‘Great Romania’, and to have room,
we set out in the opposite direction, toward Chilia. It was Alexandrov’s
idea and it was salutary. It was also the last voyage made by this old
ship, the navigation on the Danube being endangered by the aerial
attacks of the soviet air force. We were four: me, mother, Lulu and
George. George’s mother refused to leave and remained with Barby
and grandmother, as not to leave the house! We left with two suitcases
and a bag of sponge cakes. From Tulcea, we continued our journey by
train, in goods wagons. Chernavoda followed and then a stop at
Feteshti. It was the time of American aviation bombardments, which
didn’t hit only Bucharest and the oil areas, but also some railway
junctions.
That was also the case in the Feteshti overcrowded with civil and
military trains. In one of these trains Danila Davidescu could be found,
escaped as through a miracle, with the last Romanian ship which
managed to leave Odessa. I found out this thing only in Calarashi, the

319
320

first halt of our family’s journey through Romania. Rimnicu Sarat


followed, then Beiush and finally, Oradea.
Father’s demobilization put us on the roads. Getting off from the
protection of the army, he was targeted by a mixed commission, who
was dealing with the ‘repatriation of Basarabians’. We were harassed
day and night by these groups, which always contained a soviet officer,
threatened or taken gently, being even offered money rewards. There
were enough of those who scared, took the road of repatriation, but
never arrived at their houses. There were also cases when the rewards
were cashed in, but the ones who lost were the ones who offered them.
No one could trace them anymore.
Only in Oradea did we compose ourselves. The bishop, indignant
by the things which were going on, gave us an apartment in the very
precinct of the bishopric, a beautiful building, enclosed like a fortress,
where repatriators didn’t have access. This gesture remained vivid in
my memory, especially that the whole personnel of the bishopric ran to
our aid.
Unfortunately, after the end of the war, things started getting from
bad to worse, culminating with the end of the year 1947, when under
the pressure exerted by the soviets, King Mihai was obliged to leave
the country. As my father used to say ‘we ran from the soviets and they
came after us!’
In Basarabia, things continued where they left from, but with an
amplified ardor. In Ismail, from the former ‘acquaintances’ only
Rishcov and Nicolovski returned, and set about to continue what they
were constrained to stop. Rusev, who became Rusu, came to Romania
with the Tudor Vladimirescu Division. How he managed to infiltrate,
no one wondered. He commuted between Bucharest and Oradea, not
caring about the fact that he was known under a totally different name
there. As nothing escapes the Romanian’s attention, it was found out
that he was dealing with the reorganization of the ministry of internal
affairs. He brought the torturer Nicolovski and pushed him forward.
The accidental meeting between father and Rusu had no result.
‘Either he didn’t recognize me, or he pretended not to recognize me!?
Anyway, it wasn’t enjoyable!’

320
321

The news brought by George that we had a security general who


resembled Pantiosha very much provoked a true shock.
- Can that be possible?!
- Yes, uncle Dania, it is possible, although I am not just sure. It
seems we have fallen from the frying pan into the fire! And this is only
the beginning!
- It seems the soviets have read Peter’s will and liked it, doesn’t
it?
- The Americans are not going to let them fulfill it!
- May God grant it you are right! I am a skeptic, after all that’s
happened and is happening.
This skepticism had something at its foundation. The years that
followed would confirm the Americans’ concern for this part of the
world, and Yalta would legislate it. I wanted to avoid the epilogue, but I
was carried away in postponing the separation from the characters of
my figments. Others greater than me did it, so I will try to grant myself
extenuating circumstances.

End

www.darisbasarab.com
2007

321
322

322