Gripping poetry book brings tragedy of Transnistria to the fore
By Daniel Santacruz
Transnistria, a region of Romania where
thousands of Jews were killed during Word War II, has been called 'the Romanian Auschwitz” and “the forgotten cemetery.”
The ordeal of those victims is now told in a poetry book written by Moshe Liba (photo), a Holocaust survivor born in that country who settled in Israel after the war.
The book’s 56 poems are arranged in six chapters, starting with one poem titled Yo esto reklamando! (I Demand Justice!), in which Liba wants to honor the memory of the victims. In the next five chapters the reader is guided chronologically through what he considers were five stages of the Holocaust in Romania.
The book, which Liba has distributed free of charge all over the world using his own money, was published recently in Ladino by Cyberwit.net of India as Yo esto reklamando! It was translated from Hebrew by Zelda Ovadia, an editor of Aki Yerushalayim, an all-Ladino journal published in Jerusalem.
An English edition is also planned.
The Hebrew edition, titled Ani tovea!, published in Jerusalem by Haamatik, was presented in a ceremony in Jerusalem on Holocaust Day, August 4, 2013, in which Liba read some of the poems.
Quartet Galay set music to one of the book’s poems, “Asta la fin de mis dias bushkare” (I'll Continue to Search Until my Dying Days), which it performed that day.
The book’s Romanian version, published last year by Editura Hasefer of Bucharest as Eu Revendic!, was distributed to schools, universities and libraries, as well as to Jewish communities in Romania.
“This is the first book of poetry on the Holocaust in Romania-Transnistria and not many people know that [Transnistria] was part of Romania during the war,” Liba said in a telephone interview. “It’s a world’s first because the government of Romania [for] some 50 years said there was no Holocaust [there].”
He addresses Romania’s Holocaust denial in a poem titled “Niegar la Shoa” (Denying the Shoa) saying: “Oy dizen ke/todo fue mentira,/esto no es mas ke una leyenda/no uvo Shoa del todo/es solo propaganda.” (They say today that/everything was a lie,/everything is just a legend/there was no Shoa at all/it’s just propaganda.)
Killed and robbed
In another poem, “Pasharos rapazes” (Rapacious Birds), he describes how the Jews, some killed by soldiers for falling behind during the marches they were forced to endure, were then robbed by the locals. “Komo pasharos rapaces, komo animals salvajes/se echaron sovre los muertos/los desvistieron/arrancaron dientes de oro/se arovaron djoyas (Like rapacious birds, like wild animals/they pounced on the dead/they undressed them/they pulled their gold teeth out /they stole their jewels).”
Several poems are seemingly autobiographical because he puts himself in the situation of some victims, writing in the first person. But he emphasized during the interview that he writes poems, not memories. Nevertheless, in a few of them he reflects on the impact that the Holocaust has had on him, even today.
“Every night I dream about how the Romanian gendarmes, the soldiers and the local people are knocking on the door, and force it and enter and put me on the wall and are going to kill me,” he said. ”In two months I will be 83. Can you multiply the age of 82 by how many nights I have been killed?
Transnistria, where Jews from the districts of Bukovina and Bessarabia were deported, was located between the rivers Bug and Dnister in south-western Ukraine (the name, coined by German and Romanian soldiers that occupied the region during World War II, means “beyond the Niatru,” o Dniester, in Romanian). The deportations started in September 1941 and went on until October 1942.
According to the Treaty of Tighina of August 1941, Germany gave Transnistria, a former Soviet territory, to Romania, which was led by Marshal Ion Antonescu, an ally of Germany. The latter, nevertheless, still maintained troops in Transnistria. Figures vary, but it’s believed that between 280,000 to 380,000 Jews died at the hands of Romanian soldiers, German troops and civilians. Before the Holocaust some 100,000 Sefardic Jews lived in cities like Bucharest, Craiova, Târnu Severin and Constantza.
Born of a Ladino-speaking mother and an Ashkenazi father in 1931, Liba served as ambassador and consul general of Israel in 15 countries and is fluent in six languages, including Ladino. He’s the author of 73 books on topics such as history, short stories, essays, poetry and literary criticism.
One of his books, The Fiddler from Auschwitz, Poema, on the life of the Salonica-born Jacques-Yaakov Strumsa, who survived the Holocaust as a musician and an engineer, has been translated into 10 languages.
A professor in universities in Cameroon, Israel and New Zealand, Liba has 12 university degrees. He is also a painter and a sculptor, and a member of associations of painters and sculptors in Israel and Holland, and has had 49 solo exhibits.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Kolsefardim: Of all the 56 poems, which was the most difficult to write?
Moshe Liba: Each one of them, from the very small one till the longest one . . . I live it [the Holocaust] all the time, I dream about it every night . . . And certainly I am back there when I read or when I write, or when I read my own poems and use them in my speeches as ambassador or as professor.
KS: Which ones are about you?
ML: Each one of them is about me. Also, I introduce my feelings [in them] [and] my fears of what would have happened to me . . . My mother, my father and my brothers told me what was going to happen to me and what happened to them. My older brother was taken to Transnistria to work [as well as}, my father and my uncle.
KS: The line before that last in the last poem, “Entre mi y yo, el olokasto,” (Between me and I, the Holocaust), says: “Este Olokasto tantos anyos, no se termina” (So many years and this Holocaust doesn’t end). Are you saying that after so many years you still feel “trapped” in the Holocaust?
ML: I wouldn’t say trapped but I am there, I am physically there. I dream that they come every night, they shoot me, they kill me, they bury me. This is the life of a survivor, this is my life . . . El Olokasto no termina, es ke no termina (The Holocaust doesn’t end, it just doesn’t end). I am there, [after] being in the Holocaust you can physically go away but you are still there.
KS: Did you do a follow up on the cases of other victims for the poems in the final chapter, titled “Despues del Olokosto” (After the Holocaust)?
ML: I did. [In the poems] I present examples [and] mention the names of people. I don’t tell my [or] our stories in the 56 poems. My poems are to make it easier for people because this is my experience . . . what I learned and what I taught as a professor . . . These are things that come definitely from inside, but you have to adapt the cases of others . . . .
© Daniel Santacruz