I just read a Wikipedia article on Bessarabia, since no one seems to use the term anymore, yet if you had asked my grandfather, Bessarabia is where he would have claimed to have come from. It’s an area that has been populated since at least 2,000BC. at some point after Maurice left, Bessarabia became part of the Soviet Union and was eventually split up between what is now an independent Moldova and the Ukraine and Romania. The part Maurice is from is the very northern part of Bessarabia as his town was on the southern side of the Dniester river which bounds the north of Bessarabia. To read this article is to gloss over at the sheer number of times the area has been invaded, by “Goths, Huns, Avars, Bulgars, Slavs (South, i.e. Bulgarian, and Eastern), Magyars, Pechenegs, Cumans, and Mongols.” That’s not even counting the Tartars or the more modern day Romanians, Germans, Russians, Turks, Austrians, and Poles. And so many times these must have been horrendous battles, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers at times.
There was also a pogrom in 1903 in the Bessarabian capital of Kishinev where I may soon be going where many Jews were killed and I think it said 700 homes were destroyed. Unfortunately for those of you who wish it were otherwise, the mob was led by priests. There’s an incredibly powerful poem of the event written just afterwards, which can be found at this site. I warn you it’s long, but the truth of the atrocity can take some time to portray. A second pogrom there in 1905 is credited with being instrumental in convincing tens of thousands of Russian Jews to leave to the west and eventually to the land of Israel. I can definitely see more now perhaps why my ancestors wanted to get out of this area and move to the United States. This isn‘t even to mention the first Russian Revolution there starting in 1905, and WWI happening, and the Uprising of Khotin (his town) also known as the massacre of Khotin which happened in 1918 and during which thousands upon thousands of Ukrainians partisans were killed by the returning Romanian army, with rape and torture ensuing. So much of this history happened as my grandfather was still there, in what is a fairly small town now of 11,000 people. Being a sensitive soul, he must have been deeply terrified, or perhaps that deep terror may have made him a more sensitive soul. Hard for me to know. His father had left with two sisters in 1913 and he remained behind with his mother, two brothers and older sister. His younger brother Mandel died of dysentery during this time and his mother died around this time as well and he was left there with just an older sister Manya and his younger brother Seymour. They apparently had to wait until 1920 for the war to end and to get permission to leave to travel to the United States. Imagining the fearful nights for these young kids to be alone without the support of their parents during such a fearful time.
What I’m truly struck by is the incredible burden of centuries of pograms and killings and final solutions that have come down through the generations of Jewish people, and directly through my own family. I realized today that it’s a miracle that I’m here and alive today at all. All of my direct Jewish ancestors had to have survived at least to bearing children, and this wasn’t always so easy to do throughout history as there has historically been so much persecution and anti-Semitism. A hearty genetic bunch perhaps all we remnants are. Feeling a little heavier tonight.
Anyway, all of this history is just a little background which I’ve been picking up. Don’t quiz me on it, because it’s way too complicated for me to really get. All I can really just begin to feel is the enormity of the breadth of conflicts and the weight of this history. I truly have much more of a sense of appreciation for the relative calm that I’ve had in my life, without bearing direct witness to any battles or wars, or truly fearing for my life. Could be some interesting dreams tonight. Feeling closer and closer to home.