Of a Tragic Beauty

 

Dorochivsti, the Dniester offers up a picturesque setting. The fog has dissipated, allowing us to admire nature’s beauty. The banks of the Dniester are frozen; the ground is still covered in snow. The riverbanks rise up, rapidly, overhanging the water, providing a sumptuous site. We daydream, we become pensive. Yet, this contemplation is quickly replaced by terror. It is a guilty kind of pleasure to allow ourselves to become so enveloped and admiring of a landscape so tragic, and ever so silent. Time, like the water flowing indubitably before us, is against us, against the memories of those who saw what happened here, but have never had the opportunity to speak. Here, in this wild place, which emits a certain purity, history hit, invisibly, yet leaving a lasting impression to the last breath.

The witness is here in front of us on the riverbank. He is overlooking us, sitting on a bench with a table in front of him. His glacial blue stare scrutinizes the horizon, his walking stick pointing to the white hills that dominate the river and its waters; this water where he saw, at only 10 years old, unspeakable atrocities, whose wounds are still burning. In spite of his grand age, he is impressive, imposing, intimidating, and when he begins his story his voice and his hands start trembling, his eyes cloud over. Emotion takes him over, takes us over, attentive onlookers, frightened by what we have just heard. It is a heavy atmosphere that weighs down on us. The story, the landscape, the silence, the wind and the white swans whose appearance remind us of the innocent victims of all ages who perished here, right at this spot, in the Dniester river. The day of the recital, the landscape reveals its true nature, a tragic beauty. To us, it feels like a ten-year old child is speaking to us, eternally a child in memory, whose youth was shattered in the summer of 1942. In spite of the horror of the stories of those who saw what happened here, they are keen for people to know, to share what they lived through. They would like us to remember them, but most of all they pray that the horrors committed here are never repeated. These witnesses are open books, through them we may come to know all the great crises of the 20th century and the absurdity of totalitarian regimes. For this reason, they will conserve their story and share it until their last breath.

Written by Maël and Robin, students from the Institut National Universitaire Champollion.

(Translated from French by YIU’s Callum Hamilton)

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