At that time, my husband had purchased the book Jagendorf's Foundry, A Memoir Of The Romanian Holocaust, 1941-1944. After reading it, he placed it in our library without mentioning it to me. One day, while I was dusting and rearranging our bookshelves, this book suddenly fell on the floor. I picked it up and sat mesmerized for three days reading it.
The book describes a foundry in Moghilev, Transnistria, where, similar to the movie "Schindler's List", thousands of Jews were saved by the initiative and ingenuity of one individual.
Mr. Jagendorf, an engineer from Chernovitz, obtained permission from the Romanian authorities to set up a workshop in an old bombed-out building. He proposed to use this shop to repair the city's war-shattered electrical system and its ironworks. The foundry was meant to provide work and save the lives of hundreds of Jewish deportees from Romania.
Under those dramatic circumstances, Jagendorf's accomplishments were even more significant than Schindler's. For, while the latter was a somewhat prominent Nazi, Jagendorf was one of the deportees designated for annihilation by Antonescu's Fascist regime. Through skilful negotiations and bribes, Jagendorf also succeeded in obtaining permission for the families of the foundry workers to remain in the city, while many others were herded further east. His dealings with the German and Romanian Administrations led to a rather controversial perception of him.
Prior to reading that book, I deliberately avoided Holocaust literature, rationalizing that I am burdened enough by my own memories and do not want to be exposed to other survivors' experiences. I felt that I did not have the emotional resources to deal with my past and, at the same time build a 'normal' family life and pursue a career. However, in Jagendorf's Foundry I found many familiar names from my childhood days in Vatra Dornei as well as from the concentration camp in Shargorod, Transnistria, which prompted a confrontation of the memories I tried to suppress.
Some time later, when I was able to talk about my past experiences with friends, I realized that most of them were unaware of the tragedies that have happened during the war in Romania and Transnistria. This realization, combined with a reassessment of my own life, a process that many people embark on in their later years, drove me into a state of intense sadness. In order to counteract that, I began a relentless research on the genocide in Romania and Transnistria, of which I had only a vague understanding based on the perceptions I had as a child.
I became obsessed with coming to terms with that part of my life. It was a frightening undertaking. The fears and the pain from the past resurfaced and had to be confronted. This process required a great deal of emotional energy, but I was determined to finally face it. It was important for me to realize the difference between 'living in the past,' which is, of course, unhealthy and 'remembering the past', which is essential.
Having taken this path, I wrote an article titled "Transnistria, the Forgotten Cemetery" which appeared in The Canadian Jewish News on June 23, 1994.
Fatefully, three days before the article was published, I fell off a ladder and severely tore the ligaments in one knee. This accident left me temporarily handicapped, and I feared that I would be isolated in my house for the rest of the summer. However, the publication of the above-mentioned article suddenly brought the world right into my home. I received a myriad of phone calls from survivors of the Holocaust in Romania and Transnistria living all over Canada, the United Stated, Europe and Israel. Without exception, all callers talked about how glad they were to see Transnistria mentioned in the English press 'for the first time'. Some of the callers were not even readers of The Canadian Jewish News, but had received copies of the article from relatives or friends in Canada and responded immediately. All were distressed by the lack of public awareness about the annihilation of half of Romanian Jewry. The fact that this chapter of the Holocaust was consistently absent in literature and seldom, if ever, mentioned at commemorative events was an additional source of pain for us, its survivors.
Within a short period of time, I established telephone contacts, correspondence and reciprocal visits with survivors from Canada, the United States, Israel, Europe and as far away as Japan and Australia.
In July 1994, I founded The Transnistria Survivorsí Association, and in October 1994, we held The First North American Commemoration of the Victims of Transnistria. This event was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Citizenship, the Consulate of Israel, the Canadian Jewish Congress, B'nai Brith, the Holocaust Education and Memorial Centre, and other distinguished community leaders. I felt saddened that prior to that commemoration, only one of the officials invited had ever heard of Transnistria. Representatives of the Romanian government were invited, but they declined. At that time it was not 'politically correct' for them to attend. This remembrance meeting had a particularly emotional and bonding effect on the group of survivors present. Many were crying when the cantors led the gathering into the Kaddish and other commemorative prayers. This first-time official public recognition of Transnistria had a truly cathartic effect.
The ensuing articles in The Canadian Jewish News, The Toronto Star, and Romanian magazines in Israel and Toronto promoted a sense of recognition and validation of our traumatic experiences and our losses. It was the first step in promoting public awareness about that part of Jewish and world history.
In my search for publications about wartime Romania and Transnistria, I discovered excellent reference material, but it is highly unlikely that the average reader would have access to such material, or would even be aware of its existence. Although I found some personal testimonies on the subject, they were in Romanian, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish and German.
I realized that this chapter of the Holocaust had to be rescued from the existing obscurity. The gap in English-language Holocaust literature had to be closed. I began a series of lectures to adults and students, mostly within The Holocaust Education and Memorial Centre of Toronto, however, I could not refer them to any reading material in English. As I became increasingly aware of the fact that we are the last generation who can speak and write about that tragedy from an eyewitness perspective, publishing a book on this topic has become a rather urgent task. I felt that if we dare to forget, the world might be influenced by those who dare to deny the horrors of the Holocaust. This is how the idea of publishing the book Shattered! 50 Years of Silence, History and Voices of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria came about.
I started the planning of the book in late 1994, and gradually this project took over my entire life. After a relentless effort, the book was published in 1997, and I felt that, finally, the victims of the Holocaust in Romania have a memorial. This volume also has a healing effect on the psyche of the survivors of this shattered world. It helps bridge the gap between the survivors who did not talk about their experiences, and their children and grandchildren, whose mother tongue is English.
This book is not meant to be a scholarly document, but rather a volume of general interest for young and old alike. It briefly describes the history of the Jewish community in Romania from World War I to the presnet, providing maps and never before published official documents.
The selected personal testimonies tell of the experiences of both men and women who were born in different geographic areas of Romania and the Ukraine. They come from various Jewish religious backgrounds and, for the most part, they were detained in different camps of Transnistria, or had direct contact with children rescued from Transnistria. This varied demographic background provides the reader with specific details of how individual contributors coped with life during those times. Although some of the testimonies had to be translated and all had to be edited, this has been done keeping in mind the individual style of each of the contributors.
All Transnistria survivors hope that Shattered! 50 Years of Silence, History and Voices of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria will enable the recollections of this tragic chapter in our history to transcend from the level of individual memories to the collective consciousness of the Jewish people and of the entire world community.
Dr. Felicia (Steigman) Carmelly
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