Farewell! A poem by Valeriu Gafencu

The poem was written in communist prisons and memorized by Valeriu Gafencu’s friends.
I would be happy and grateful for any suggestions for improving the translation. You can see the Romanian version below. 

Bleeding out from wounds so deep,
From gloomy, sunless days,
From hidden wounds, with bones so weak,
 Buried in pus always,
I’m crouching in my bed. An adieu,
I think, I’ll tell to all of you,
My dear friends!
Cry not that I depart from you,
That they will throw me like a piece of trash
Within a tomb where thieves will be my crew.
The creed for which I’ll give my final breath
Asked for a hard life and a martyr’s death.
With Jesus as my Lord and King,
I rushed through the narrow gate, entered the ring,
And with the devil I began to fight.
And I did fight all years, day and night,
So that I become another,
A champion,
A new man.
And I desired,
By this thought I was fired,
To take my people in flight
To our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, when I see that I am so sinful, that I crawl,
That I’m so helpless and so small,
That I need mercy in my illness,
And love, compassion, much forgiveness,
That only God can do all things,
Can change man’s shackles into wings,
I too become a meek, small boy,
I’m humbled,
And in my heart there’s joy.
From your high, eternal Heaven,
My Father, when you take me up to You,
Remember all my friends here on earth:
Give back to them, dressed all in white, a levin,
A soul that loved and understood them, too.

(the last stanza is missing)
In Romanian:
Sângerând de răni adânci,
De zile fără soare,
De răni ascunse şi puroi,
Cu oasele slabe şi moi,
Stau ghemuit în pat şi mă gândesc
Că în curând am să vă părăsesc,
Prieteni dragi!
Nu plângeţi că mă duc de lângă voi,
Şi c-o să fiu zvârlit ca un gunoi,
Cu hoţii în acelaşi cimitir;
Căci crezul pentru care m-am jertfit
Cerea o viaţă grea şi-o moarte de martir.
Luându-L pe Iisus de Împărat,
Năvalnic am intrat pe poarta strâmtă,
Luându-mă cu diavolul la trântă.
Şi ani de-a rându-ntr-una m-am luptat
Să devin altul,
Un erou,
Om nou.
Şi-am vrut
Neamul să-l mut
De-aici, de jos,
La Domnul Iisus Hristos.
Acum, când văd cât sunt de păcătos,
De mic şi de neputincios,
Că am nevoie multă de-ndurare,
De dragoste, de milă, de iertare,
Că numai Dumnezeu le poate toate
Şi lumea din robie El o scoate,
Devin copil supus,
Sunt umilit
Şi-s fericit.
Din cerul Tău înalt şi prea-ales,
Părinte, când mă vei lua la Tine,
Prietenilor mei de pe pământ
Redă-le Tu, în alb veşmânt,
Un suflet care i-a iubit şi i-a’nţeles.
(lipseşte ultima strofă)

Human dignity and a kiss: a story from the Gulag

Ion Moraru spent years in the Gulag. You can read here one of his stories, published in Do Not Avenge Us.
Ion Moraru, recollecting the stories of his life.

During all this time, the thought to escape had not left me at all, and I thought that the theater that started in the camp could help me because they left periodically to travel to concerts in other camps. It helped that Mr. Beresnevich, a Russian director who was the leader of the group, noticed me and insisted that I join them. He saw in me some feminine aspect and gave me the role of Manea from V. Shcvarkin’s[1]play Foreign Child. Manea was supposed to be a beautiful little Russian, slender, and I did my best to play my role as best as I could. We played the piece in our camp, and now we had to go to the women’s camp for a performance there as well.

The women’s zone was 100 meters away, separated from us with barbed wire. Between the two camps there was a neutral strip, and anyone stepping on it was shot without warning by sentinels. Now, with Khrushchev’s relaxing of the regulations they allowed us at times in the women’s zone because they thought we might get attached to one another and thus remain there even after liberation.

We left the camps in two cars: one was loaded with the props and everything that we needed, and the other full of actors. Beyond the barbed wire, the women waited for us all crowded in the club. They had yellow-earthly faces and faded overalls. We followed the director like a flock would follow its master, and we then started to look around.

Backstage, Mr. Beresnevich took me straight to Lidia  Monastâriova, the leader of the women’s theater. She had been an actress in Ukraine. During the Fascist occupation, she had worked as a translator for an administrative institution, and the Bolsheviks accused her of espionage for the Germans and so sentenced her to forced labor in the camp.

Mr. Beresnevich knew her well, and he left me in her care:

“Lidia, take care of him and make a woman out of him!”

Monastâriova was seven-eight years my senior and was of a rare beauty, spiritual and physical. She was very refined, and she spoke well and properly. She had black, bright eyes, and her whole being was surrounded by a mystery that one cannot describe.

She stayed with me to help me get ready. She took my shirt off and gave me a spotted long dress, that went down to my knees. She gave me a pair of sandals, arranged my wig, my wrap, and perfumed me slightly behind the ears. During all this time, I had the sensation that I was next to a mysterious pyre. At one moment, we no longer found anything else to say to each other, and we remained like this, looking at one another.

She was the first to shake off the spell. She turned to one side, then to the other, looked at me, content with her work, and there was nothing else between us.

The show ended, we received applauses, congratulations, and a small bouquet of artificial flowers made by the prisoners. Monastâriova came to accompany us to the gate of the camp. On the way to the gate, as I was slowly walking next to her, my sinful heart could no longer bear it, I took her next to me and kissed her, in a passionate and masculine way.

This gesture was very bewildering for her, but I found this out only later. For the moment, after we separated, we continued to exchange letters. I told her a few things about me, about Bessarabia, and, with Mr. Beresnievich’s help, I sent her a small album that I made with pictures of my loved ones from back home. She was very joyful and moved by this. Then, I found out that she was liberated, and I lost track of her.

After a while, it happened that I was called to the parlor by a woman. It was Sunday, the day of rest, and I had just returned from my shift. I had not shaved yet and I was dirty because I had not managed to wash the coal off me yet.

They took me to the meeting room, and I saw a distinguished woman, dressed with a long overcoat, with a small hat and a shawl over her shoulders. I thought that it was a mistake or that she may have been one of the researchers that sometimes were conducting studies about the prisoners.

She looked at me for a long while, and then she told me:

“Vaniusha, you do not recognize me?”

At that moment, I saw her black, bright eyes, and I realized that she was the actress Monastâriova. She opened her arms and embraced me. I was very uncomfortable: I was so dirty, and she was so clean and frail…

I asked her how she reached me, and she told me that she was helped by Mr. Leandr, who was respected by administration and who had recommended her, saying she was a relative of mine.

Then she told me:

“Vanea, I am older than you are, and I have my world, from which I come. You are young, you must do your studies and move on with your life. There is no chasm between us, but there is a distance… I came only to tell you that when you kissed me, you brought me back my feminine dignity, my human dignity. You did not kiss me, but you kissed my cross that I have carried up to here with so much pain. You kissed the lips that the executioners burned with cigarettes, that they hit so many times, the lips that were nourished with all the rubbish and rottenness just so that I would remain alive…”

She then told me about the most horrible tortures to which she was subjected. They tied her hair to the doorknob, stabbing her with a needle all over and mocking her body. She also told me how she was thrown naked in a cold dungeon, then taken out to interrogation, kicked and cursed…

Two tears trickled from her great, round eyes, and it seemed that her entire suffering was contained in them.

Then she told me again with sadness:

“There was no stone in the camp that I have not wet with my tears; there was no corner in the barrack where I have not cried for all things that I suffered… I do not know whether you will be able to understand now the entire tragedy that I have experienced. Years will pass, and if God gives you to be a wise man, you will realize what I have suffered… Vanea, I chose you as my confessor, but I am asking you to break the law and to not keep my confession secret, but tell the entire world what you have heard from me…”

She then stood up, ready to go. She took two pictures from her purse, one of hers and one of Leandr Aleksandrovich, and she gave them to me as souvenirs. At the door, she turned around once more and whispered:

“Farewell, Vaniusha!”

After her departure, I did not manage to hide the two pictures, and the guards asked to see them.

“Who’s this old man with his pipe between his teeth?”

Knowing their cultural level, I answered:

‘What do you mean who’s he? He is the grandson of Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva from Nepal!”

“And who’s the woman?”

“She is his granddaughter, the goddess of patience and suffering!” I said.

The guard gave me the pictures back with disdain:

“You, the sectarians, are a bit lost! Come, get lost!”

I have not heard anything from Monastâriova since then, and I have never seen her, but I cherish her memory as one of the most beautiful in my life. I also keep the last letter I received from her in the camps, as one would keep a gem. She wrote me these verses in Russian:

Walk on the path without falling with your soul,

And give a hand to the fallen, so that you would save them.

In the name of science and of light, raise your candle,

So that you may give light to the darkness that surrounds us…

[1] I am not certain of the transliteration of the name. In Romanian, it appears as Scvarkin. It may also be Chichvarkin.

The Death of a Grandma after Years in the Gulag

We are getting very close to the publishing of Do Not Avenge Us, the book with testimonies of Romanian from Bessarabia deported to Siberia. It will come out in a month or so. Since I am reading the final edits, I am again under its strong influence. I am posting here a new fragment: the death of  grandma (bunica, in Romanian), who was sent to die back home, after years in Siberia… The text is written by Margareta Cemârtan-Spânu, her granddaughter. 

One day, I received a letter from Niusia Scobioala who told me that bunica went home, to Bessarabia.

After I left for the orphanage, that village, Orlovka, was completely destroyed. If they took eight people to prison, no one remained to work, to take care of the farms. They moved all of them to Kuzminovka, where the horse brigade was. I do not know how bunica managed to survive there.

In the meantime, dad was writing complaints from prison to Moscow, saying that an old woman with no blame was dying because there was no one to take care of her. Just imagine, she was 78 years old, hungry and cold, and had no one to take care of her! The people from our village helped her from time to time, and this is how she survived for two more years. Then, they sent a committee of doctors to see if she indeed could not take care of herself, and they sent her home.

When she went back, the communists sent her to the district, in Răşcani, to see who she had in the village and who could take her in. Nasta, her eldest daughter, accepted to take her in, to take care of her. The communists left bunica there under Nasta’s care. Both her girls took care of her, but they could no longer do anything, because she already was completely dystrophic and regardless of how you would feed her or take care of her, she could no longer recover.

She stayed at Nasta’s around three months. Then, she called the priest at home, confessed, had communion, and when she felt that her last breath was close—she had a gift from the Lord, because she knew the moment—she went to her house. The daughters told her:

“Where are you going? You are weak. Where are you leaving?”

“I’m going to my house, so that I can die at home!”

She went to her house, which was then a policlinic, in the center of the village. She arrived at the well that she and bunelul Grigore dug. She tried to get water, but she instead spilled it on the ground, because she was very weak and had to use crutches. A young woman came to help her:

“What happened, are you sick? Are you going to the policlinic to get well?”

“I’m going to die in my house. Please, help me to get there!”

The woman helped her, and bunica went into the house. She opened a door, and a doctor was checking a woman. She opened another, and a nurse was giving an injection to a man. He yelled at her:

“Why do you open the door without knocking? What are you doing here?”

Poor bunica did not say anything. If at least he would have been a young man, who would have not known her and would have not known that it was her house, but no, he was instead someone of her age and knew all these things. When he was done with the injection, the man came out. Bunica, being helpless, was sitting on the threshold. He wanted to pass, but she was in his way. And he yelled at her again:

“What are you doing here? Your daughter took you in, go and stay there! Why did you come here? Are you coming to get well? Your health is finished!”

She barely whispered to him:

“I came to my house…”

“It’s no longer yours; it is the state’s! It’s not yours; nothing is yours here. Get up and leave, don’t stay in people’s way!”

Bunica went from the threshold to the porch and she suddenly stiffened up and gave up her soul there, next to her house. If not in her house, at least next to the house where she worked for so many years and gave birth to eleven children.

This is how her prayer, that she had said every day and night in Siberia, was fulfilled. God gave her not only three days, as she asked, but three months. She spent three months at home, in her village, and she died with a candle, confessed and communed. They buried her beautifully, with three priests, a memorial service, alms, and everything as is the custom…