Sunday, July 13, 2008

Seeking Silver Linings

It can be hard to stay positive when reading about Eastern Europe's last hundred-odd years. I'm a believer in the power of positive thinking (all hokiness aside), and throughout the research for our trip I've attempted to steer the focus toward the sunlight after the clouds: nascent democracy, EU membership, cultural and economic re-awakening. After all, everybody loves a good comeback story.

Still, it's been a rough stretch. Two World Wars, the Holocaust, and forty years of Communism. Pretty much everything produced in these countries over the past century is dripping with heartache.

This week I was poking around on the website for Yad Vashem, which is Israel's Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority - the memorial to all things Holocaust. Among other things, Yad Vashem holds 2.1 million Pages of Testimony for Jews who perished in the Holocaust. I was trying to see if any Schwartzes in Poland or Gorskys from Odessa may have been memorialized by relatives who made it out. (I didn't find anything.)

Along the way, however, I clicked on the description of Odessa's fate during World War II and the Shoah (Holocaust). I'd read it a while ago, but didn't remember the details. Some choice selections:

As soon as the Germans and Romanians took control of Odessa, they designated the city as the capital of the newly-coined Transnistria region, which the Germans turned over to Romania. On October 22 the Romanian military headquarters were blown up, killing 66 officers and soldiers. In retaliation, the leader of Romania, Ion Antonescu, ordered the execution of thousands of communists. He also ordered that one member of every Jewish family in Odessa be taken hostage. The next day, 19,000 Jews were taken to the harbor, where they were burnt alive. Another 20,000 Jews were gathered and taken to a nearby village, where they were shot or burnt to death. In addition, many Jews were sent to camps throughout Transnistria.

Between October 25 and November 3, 1941, the remaining Jews in Odessa - some 40,000 - were taken outside the city to the Slobodka Ghetto. They were left outside for 10 days; many old people, women, and children froze to death.
And Odessa made it out relatively well - only 99,000 of the 201,000 Jewish residents were murdered. (Compare that to Lodz in Poland - of 224,000 Jewish residents, and another 204,000 Jews crammed into the Lodz Ghetto, 7,000 survived.)

Lots of sad stories....time for a Mel Brooks pick-me-up:

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