Editor’s Note: The post below is signed by Emmanuel Cortey, Deputy Director of Yahad, who is accompanying the research trip to Romania (Nov. 22nd – Dec. 6th), investigating the persecution of Gypsies during the Second World War. Emmanuel Cortey joined the Yahad research team on Nov. 26th.
November 29, 2013
A thin layer of snow covers the colored roofs that I noticed on my first morning in Romania. Snowfall can seriously impede research plans on the ground, but fortunately this snow does not hold.
It is 8:30am, and at this hour I have usually already joined the team for breakfast. The phone rings, “How are you? Need anything?” Valy keeps an eye on everything, checking in with the team. Indeed, the word “team” is not used in vain at Yahad.
We drive for about an hour to get to our first witness. At the end of the driveway bordered by a bright blue wooden fence, Konstantina is waiting for us. She is 89 years old. Her face is framed by a woolen scarf. In her small black glimmer eyes, we guess that our arrival amuses her a bit. She leads us in, laughing at those of us who do not understand Romanian.
Her daughter, a redheaded matron, signals for us to come inside. Seeing me take off my shoes to walk on the carpet, she laughs and says, “Why have you taken your shoes off? Plan on sleeping here?” Throughout the testimony, she watches her mother protectively. But when her oncle is brought up, a war prisoner who never came back, she nods, smiles, and wipes her tears.
The old woman speaks in a melodic voice with her index-finger in the air. She was alone with her parents when a policeman brought a letter. She could not read. Her father, upon returning from the fields, being illeterate as well, called the neighbor to decipher the sinister news. They are on the list. “They wanted to take us to the Boug to die!” We all expect to heard an echo of the story of the previous days. Bunkers, hunger, death. But suddenly tone of this woman straightens up. “My mother went to see the Mayor with the letter!” We look at each other, intrigued. She explains that her mother worked for the Mayor and that she went to him so that he could take her defense. “I will not let my Gypsy people be taken away,” he stated. Despite these words of the Mayor, however, the family lived in fear. In the end, though, they were not deported.
In front of the two women, so strong and so gentle, I try to image the face of the mother of Konstantina, this unknown woman who saved their lives.
With the daughter of Konstantina, we talk about the Soviet era and what the life of the Gypsies was like then. She tells us proudly how used her
musical talents as a singer at the Komsomol (Communist Youth Organisation), touring the villages by the kolkhoz car. She sings us a tune, describing what she wore.
– “I had a scarf, a skirt …”. Valy, focused on his translation, traces the top of his knee to show us.
– “It was not so short!” She interrupts. “It was a long skirt!”
We all laugh. The honor of the Komsomol is safe.