Editor’s Note: The post below is signed by Emmanuel Cortey, Deputy Director of Yahad, who joined the research team on November 26th, in Romania to accompany them on their investigative trip on the persecution of Gypsies during the Second World War .
Tuesday, November 26
I glanced quizzically at the young lady who just addressed me in Romanian:
– “I thought you were Romanian.”
– “I take this as a compliment.”
The first conversation you have in a country is important. This was my first Romanian conversation. I just arrived in Bucharest only a few minutes ago, and am on my way to join the research team who has been working for four days already in the region of Galati, eastern Romania, close to the Ukraine and Moldova, on the edge of the Danube. It is barely 4:30 p.m. but the day is already falling and the sky of the Romanian capital resembles more of a gray dawn than the afternoon.
This is my second research trip on the ground. I have very vivid memories of my visit last April in the region Korosten, in the Ukraine: the professionalism, the kindness of the team and, of course, the shock of the witness testimonies received face to face – that moment when a word, so heavy and for so long contained, is finally spoken and heard.
On the eve of my departure, my colleagues in Paris were quick to point out that I seemed nervous. I was, indeed. I have often heard about the difficulties of research ground work in Romania, but also about the wealth of information collected. Descending the small propeller plane that took me from Bucharest to Iasi, I cannot help but wonder what awaits me in this country. I quickly see though of what should be waiting for me in this country, and yet is not : my suitcase!
I laboriously explain the loss of my luggage to an employee of the airline, as the Orthodox Priest in his traditional black velvet hat who happens to be sitting next to me, looks amusingly at my dilemma. From Iasi to Gatali, only a few hours of travel remain, so we do not wait around.
In Galati, I find the joy of joining Father Patrick Desbois and Costel Nastasie. “Welcome to Romania!” Costel Nastasie says to me. “This is the welcoming committee” adds Father Desbois. They warned the kitchen of my late arrival and a delicious meal was set aside, awaiting me. Around the table, they tell me of the most colorful events of the last days, but also speak of the heavier, more sinister discoveries. In this regard, the trip is turning out to be quite exceptional. Roma survivors of the deportations to Transnistria (now part of the Ukraine) talk about their persecution but also the massacres of Jews in this region.
It is already late and the days begin early, so I must say, ‘till tomorrow! As I prepare myself for bed, I’m already impatient to meet up with the rest of the research team and to live for these next few days in the pace of their investigation.