"We had no food"

This fragment from Do Not Avenge Us is written by Tamara Oala Plesca, from whom I posted before. The family was in Siberia, after they were deported by the Bolsheviks. Left with no food and no means to provide for themselves, they die one by one…

 

After a while, we moved into a different place, in a small house. He had nothing to eat in this house either. We only drank water with salt. We were dying of hunger, all of us! As I said, the potatoes froze in the land, so the locals did not get to take them out. I used to go to gather some of those frozen potatoes. I could find some things, even fruit of the forest, so I ate things like this. I was looking for arrach or nettle. Mama used to grind it, prepare it, and make some sort of cake out of it. Mamagave us the little food we had, not keeping for herself.

I remember that she used to give all of us a loaf of rice bread on Saturdays. For all of us there, as many souls as we were, she had this loaf of bread. One per week. For six souls, one loaf per week! All the other time, there was only arrach and nettle. Mama made some sort of small cake out of arrach, potato peels, and whatever else we could find there. Bunica had no longer any teeth, and she used to say:

“I cannot eat this wooden board, this arrach cake.”

One evening, my brother came with bread. Such a beautiful smell… And we were all dying of hunger. My feet were swollen, and I could not walk. When we saw that bread, as we were hungry, we looked long at it… But he tied it with some string in the attic. This was on Saturday. We used to eat this bread only on Sundays. We ate on Sundays so that we would have that taste in our mouths for the entire week.

Bunica began crying, and she implored my brother:

“Vasile, give me a piece of bread! I cannot eat this cake. It is as tough as the board. My stomach cannot take it. I don’t have any tooth.”

But my brother told bunica:

Mamuca, dear bunica, you raised us with these hands of yours! You saw many things, and you endured much! Please suffer it until morning. What would I do with these children, who have their eyes fixed on this loaf of bread? If I give you any of it, they are children and will want to have it too. You are older and understand. Please, endure it a bit longer!”

Over night, we did not close one eye. We lay down and looked up to the loaf of bread. We waited, hoping that one piece, one little piece would fall and we could put it in our mouths. Well, when morning came, bunica was no longer. She had cried and cried. She had rivers of tears on her face, and she died.

Life before WWII in one village of Bessarabia

A few weeks ago, I posted a fragment from Ion Moraru’s testimony about his own suffering after the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia. This is a fragment in which he describes life before WWII. It is the description of a peaceful place, where people used to live in connection with the world around them.

 


I was born on March 9, 1929, in the village Mândâc, near the city of Drochia, in Bessarabia.

The village of my childhood was just like all the villages of Bessarabia before the war.

[…]

In the heart of the village there was an old wooden church, where all people were going on Sunday. People were faithful, and not going to church on feast days was a shameful thing.

Even at home, prayer was said before everything. My bunica, Alexandra, had her own rule every morning and evening—even if the village were on fire, even if the house were on fire, she would have not given up prayer! When she was finished, she sat down, combed her raven hair, put it in a bun,[1]and when this ritual was done, she began working! She went to the oven made out of stone and clay, just next to the house, and she did her work there the whole day: two-three polentas per day—polenta with scrambled eggs, polenta with fish, polenta with scraps, polenta with sheep cheese, just like every other Romanian. I don’t know how the Bessarabians did not die from so much polenta!

During feast days, it was completely different because feasts were sacred for us. On Saturday, toward evening, when the sun was going down three spears from the earth, bunicul went to mow lucerne and brought food for horses and cattle, so that he would not have to mow on Sunday. Bunica was also cooking on Saturday, as we were all going to church on Sunday morning.

In those times, people were not very learned; their lives flowed naturally, according to what was given to them. They knew to do many things naturally, following the nature of things.

Bunelul, for example, did not know much agronomy, but he knew with precision when to sow the corn. In the spring, he was just coming to me saying:

“Vaniusha, come, let’s se if it is time to sow!”

There was a large cross made out of stone on our land, on a small hill. Bunelul used to make a cigarette from corn, sit on a stone, and begin puffing that cigarette. After a while, he would stand up and say:

“Let’s go home, for it is no time for sowing!”

I was wondering how he could know. Then I realized where his knowledge came home: the stone was cold. He did not need academic studies to understand that it was too cold for sowing.

[…]

People believed and hoped that this Resurrection will come for them as well. Nobody knew, however, how it would be, and this is why death was feared. As soon as it was heard that someone was about to die, either because of age or sickness, all went to him to ask for forgiveness and waited around to hold his candle because it was considered a sin to die without a candle.



[1] “Foflic” in original, a regionalism.

The Drama of a family


This is a short fragment from Tamara Oala Plesca’s testimony. She was deported with her family to Siberia in June 1941, when she was only 5 years old. The Soviets were already experts in concentration camps for “the enemies of the people.” 


The moment they are taken:
When they rushed in, they were seven people or so. They filled the house. I was awake and, like any child, I was curious. I saw everything. When they came in, one of them started to speak in Russian with dad. I did not understand, but dad knew Russian because there were many Russians in our village and dad knew the language. I do not know what they told him. I only know that there were other people from our village there, and dadasked one of them:

“Why would they look for guns here?! From where would I have taken them? How could I have any gold?!… I just had two weddings (my brother and my sister had both married). How could I have such things?!…”

To tell you the truth, we were deported in someone else’s place, someone called Istrate. He was on the list with the deportees that came from Balti. But he was getting along well with the authorities, and they changed his name and took us in his place. They told us to get ready because they would take us.

[…]

When they took us, we were mom, dad, bunica (grandmother), my brother with my sister-in-law, my younger sister, a younger brother, and a really small brother, who actually died on the road. He was one year old. So we were nine people. They took us in the priest’s courtyard. He had run to Romania in 1940, when the Soviets came. Now, they gathered all carts there, and we left from the village from that place.

On the road, we arrived at one of our lands, where we had six hectares. I feel like crying anytime I remember it. Dad came down from the cart and kneeled. He took some dirt and put it in his pocket. He kissed the land and made the sign of the cross. The wheat was reaping, so he took some grains in his hand, rubbed it in his palms, and put it in his pocket. He came back in the carriage, and we went further.

[…]

In Siberia
The train stopped in stations from time to time, but most of the time we were going nonstop, day and night. Continuing like this, we arrived in Siberia. We arrived in Novosibirsk. Someone came and said:

“The men go to take a bath outside; the women go in another place.”

We washed, came back, and went into the train. I was more curious, and I looked everywhere. All of a sudden, my brother came with a soldier. My brother had left with dad, but now he came back alone, white as a sheet. He said:

Mama, they are loading the men in another train; they are taking them. They allowed me to leave because dad told them I was too small, that I do not have the required age, and they didn’t take me.”

After a while, dadcame back as well, with two soldiers. He asked for some bread from mama, for his boots, his coat, and his hat, and he only said this to mama:

“Zenovio, take care of the children. I was tried on the spot by a special troika and condemned to six years. This is what they decided. I will return to the children.”


I looked on the window to a train that was leaving, and I saw dad at the window. But there were bars at his window. I can still see him today. I did not really hear what he said because there was great noise. This is the only thing that was heard, “Tamara, Tamara!” At the beginning, I did not really know from where the yelling was coming. I was the last one who saw dad. We do not know what happened to him.


The Apple With Scent from Home

A while ago, I posted this story from Do Not Avenge Us. It is one of Margareta Cemârtan-Spânu’s memories from Siberia, where she was deported with her family.

The apple from the story was an icon. As an icon makes the Kingdom present on earth, the apple made home, Bessarabia, present in the small room of cold Siberia.

 The Apple with Scent From Home

by Margareta Cemârtan-Spânu

One evening of a late autumn, as we were staying in the house, we heard someone knocking at the door. We opened, and a man around 50-60 years old came in, carrying a heavy suitcase with him.  We recognized that he was one of our people, from Bessarabia, because he had a sheepskin hat.[1]He said “good evening,” and then looked at us and said:
“There you go: I got to the wrong place again! If I do not know Russian, I cannot find my people. Do you know where Mândâcanu lives?”
His father had died there, in Siberia, and he came to see him. When we found out that he was from Mihăileni, we, of course, did not want to let him leave so soon, especially bunica. We all began to ask him to stay to tell us at least something about what was going on there. I remember he told us:
“The communists took everything for the kolkhoz! They took our horses, oxen, cows, plough, and earth… They go around carrying a gun at all times, menacing people, and they took everything from us…”
Bunica asked him:
“Are my girls alive, healthy?”
“Alive, but they work for masters. Russians from Chişinău, from the party, come to the village, and the women must feed them and take them to the hotel. If they refuse, when they no longer have turkeys or geese to feed them, then the Russians menace them, ‘You’ll go after your mother to Siberia!’ They have no option; they must accept them. In short, the communists brought only disgust to the village, and no joy.”
Bunica was content that at least they were healthy and had not died; they had not been imprisoned or taken some place.
The man was getting ready to leave to his relatives, and dad told him that he would accompany him to show him where they lived. Of course, the man did not feel right to leave like this, and he opened his suitcase. He unlocked it, loosened the belts, and took out a ruddy-yellow apple, and he gave it to me, since I was the smallest. He said that it was for the soul of his father. I was confused, and I did not know what to do. I looked at bunica, I looked at dad, at the apple… But Emil jumped, grabbed it, and said “thank you.”
Then dad put on some clothes and left with the man. We sat at the table and began passing around that ruddy-yellow apple among ourselves. Bunica was sitting, and her hands seemed to tremble because she wanted to hold it as well. Emil took it from me and put it under his nose, by his eyes…
No, I have no words; I cannot render what we felt because of that apple. For three days, we kept it as if it were God, as if it were gold. Gold was nothing compared to it. It was so dear to us because that apple, with its fragrance, took us back home. We saw again absolutely everything: the garden, the flowers, the fruit, the sheep, the horses, the cow… everything was contained in it… We were home; it took us home completely, and we wanted to feel our home as much as possible. It did not even cross our minds to say, let’s cut it, let’s eat it, because I can no longer bear it. No word from anyone. Even during the night, when we went to sleep, we saw that apple in our dreams.
The third day was a Sunday. Bunica woke us up in the morning, washed us, and lined us before that small icon brought from home. Before that day, from time to time, dad refused to pray, for, if there were a God, why would He allow something like that. But that time even he prayed before that icon and said “Our Father.” Then, bunica took the apple from the middle of the table and cut it exactly in four pieces; she gave it to each one of us as if it were communion… Even now I can see her old, dry hand, how she gave so beautifully that piece to each one of us. She made a cross over it before she cut it, just like she used to do with the bread back at home; that’s what she did to that apple. She cut it and she gave each one of us a piece… But we did not eat it even then; we took it and licked it, smelled it and stared at it, as if we saw a miracle in it. I think it took an hour before we ate everything.
Today, when I walk on the street and see a bitten apple thrown someplace, I see immediately that apple from Siberia…

[1] This is a traditional hat worn especially in the fall and winter.

 

A new poem



In a previous note, I posted a poem written by Galina Baranovski Sapovalova’s mother (A poem from Siberia). This one is written by Galina Baranovski Sapovalova herself. As the previous one, it is rather a cry coming from despair. Mrs. Galina says she wrote it when she returned to Bessarabia; she wrote it for all those people deported by the Bolsheviks.

I will say a few words before the poem, though. As I suggested, this is not the only one in the book. In fact, several of the narrators write one or more poems about the experiences they have had. I think this is one mark of traditional societies, in which people are not observers of the good or bad things that take place somehow almost outside of them, but rather they live everything together with the entire world that surrounds them. In such societies, this is what people do: faced with misfortunes, joy, or sadness, they burst out in song.


The many little poems and songs in Tolkien’s writings capture, I think, this human dimension.


Any suggestions for changes in the translation will be truly welcomed! English first, and then Romanian:

Little leaf and forest brother,
Don’t you beat me, dear mother,
And I pray you, curse me not
For they’ll take me to deport me.
Take me far away they will,
Over freshwater, and then, still,
Over endless sand,
In a far away country,
In the Russian land,
So no one would find me!
I will stay in prison,
No sun, no water given.
Light there will not be,
For people are evil, you see.
I will be forsaken,
For people are pagan!
I will have no mother,
I will only suffer;
Parents I won’t have,
And I will taste no fruit!
And what’s even worse,
All my brothers are cursed!
And I will cry, and cry, and cry,
Till my eyes get lost and dry,
With bloody, bitter tears,
For unanswered prayers.
Write me something, mother,
Write me any letter,
Write me with hidden words
To know how things are home,
Write me little verbs,
So I cry and moan.
God will surely see
How I suffer here,
And for my ordeals,
Seeing my appeals,
He will give a miracle
Clear, loud, and visible,
That I would go back home,
From the bitter, abusing world.
Little leaf and forest brother,
Don’t you beat me, dear mother,
And I pray you, curse me not
For they’ll take me to deport me…


Romanian:

Frunzulita poama, 
Nu ma bate, mama, 
Nu ma blestema, 
Caci m-or deporta 
Si m-or duce 
Peste-o apa dulce, 
Peste-o apa lina,
În tara straina,
În tara ruseasca
Sa nu ma gaseasca!
Ca voi sta-n închisoare, 
Fara foc si soare,
N-o fi nici lumina,
Ca lumea-i haina,
N-o fi nici lumina,
Ca lumea-i pagâna! 
N-oi avea nici mama, 
N-oi mânca nici poama, 
N-oi avea parinti,
Ci doar suferinti!
N-oi avea nici frati, 
Caci sunt blestemati!
Si voi plânge, plânge, 
Cu lacrimi de sânge, 
Cu lacrimi amare,
Fara alinare.
M-oi uita la soare
De n-am vreo scrisoare. 
Scrie-mi, mama, scrie, 
Scrie-mi vreo hârtie, 
Scrie mai mascat
Sa stiu ce-i în sat,
Scrie-mi maruntele,
Sa am dor si jele!
Vede Dumnezeu
De necazul meu,
Pentru-a mele chinuri
Line cu suspinuri,
Va da o minune,
Sa ma-ntorc în lume,
Din lumea amara,
Plina cu ocara! 
Frunzulita poama,
Nu ma bate, mama, 
Nu ma blestema, 
Caci m-or deporta…