Unveiling Ceremony at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Speech given by Ruth Glasberg Gold
April 18,1999

Good afternoon my dear fellow Transnistria Survivors, Mr. Goldman, Dr. Ioanid, Ladies and Gentlemen. For those who don’t know me, I am Ruth Glasberg Gold, and a child survivor and a Transnistria orphan.

I am humbled by the great honor and privilege of addressing you, a group so dear to my heart and one I feel so strong a bond with. To you, my kindred souls, I don’t feel the need to apologize for my accent; I have lots of company. I don’t have to tell you my story, for it is also your story. Above all, I don’t have to go into lengthy explanations about Transnistria, its geography and its history; you all know it first hand. I am overwhelmed by the kind words said about me this afternoon. I was something that had to be done, so I did it.

It took almost three years since I initiated the worldwide petition drive. I wrote, dozens of letters, made countless calls and forwarded 660 signatures to the Holocaust Council and Museum. Today, as the partisan song goes: “kumen vet noch unser oisgebenkte sho-s’vet a poyk ton undzer trot mir zeinen do.” WE ARE HERE! And we are going to see the realization of our common goal.

We will remember April 18,1999 as a significant, solemn, and historic day for us; a day of ultimate redemption for all the survivors of the Holocaust in Romania. We will soon gather to view the Transnistria name on the wall. With this ceremony we will experience the validation of the death of our families and friends as well as that of our memory and our suffering. At this moment I ask you all to join me in the shecheianu:“shecheianu, vekimanu vehigianu lazman haze.”

Still, neither the inscription nor today’s gathering would have happened without your collective help; from signing the petitions to distributing and collecting them, from lending me your moral support to offering personal assistance. A few of you even helped defray my expenses. My profound thanks to all of you

My boundless appreciation goes to our compatriot, Dr. Radu Ioanid, for believing in the importance of our quest, for his invaluable support, for his empathy and his excellent suggestions. In spite of his busy schedule, he was always there for me from the inception of this crusade to this day.

I wish to commend the people at the Museum for their official recognition of this tragic chapter of the Holocaust. I wish to laud Mrs. Bloomfield, the new director of the Museum, who saw the need for a Department of Survivors Affairs. That’s how we got Mr. Martin Goldman, a survivor’s advocate and liaison person. He has the patience, the sensitivity, and the compassion of a saint. I had to struggle 3 years in order to see the name Transnistria added, and now I also had to convince the Museum’s administration of the need for this symbolic unveiling ceremony. Mr. Goldman’s intervention played a crucial role in this achievement, and we are indebted to him.

And last, but not least, many thanks to the youngest, yet most sensitive and expeditious person, Ms. Leah Tomaszewski, Program Coordinator for Survivor Affairs. She showed great maturity and understanding during the difficult process of planning an organizing this gathering. Let’s give the three of them a big round of applause.

I was always fearful that the chronicle of Romania’s atrocities in Transnistria would either be distorted or forgotten. In order to prevent this from happening, I induced myself to recall the past and wrote my memoirs. When I realized that my book, Ruth’s Journey alone was not enough, I began my crusade for the acknowledgement of Transnistria. I started first with the Holocaust Museum requesting the addition that we will later see in the Hall of Remembrance. Once that had been achieved, I took on the Wiesenthal Center in LA, and asked them to add Transnsistria to their list of concentration camps. Both goals came to fruition, and now I feel somewhat reassured. I can almost feel the spirits of my parents and my brother as well as those of all the martyrs of the genocide in Romania, stirring above at this moment, pleased to know that they have not been forgotten.

We didn’t come from far away places just to view the name; we came to pay tribute to the victims. As the last witnesses, who are nearing the sunset, we want to make sure that the killing fields and “bone-yard” area of Transnistria is acknowledged as one of the major Romanian extermination camps for the whole world to remember.

I want to seize this moment to also remember and to pay tribute to the righteous gentile Romanians and Ukrainians. For lack of time, I will just mention one of them, the unforgettable mayor of Czernowitz, the courageous Mr. Traian Popovici, who saved thousands of our city’s Jews. We also want to remember every individual who had the courage to save a Jewish soul. They are the ones that gave us hope then, and allowed us to still believe in the inherent goodness of people.

We, the survivors are like aliens who descended on earth from a planet inhabited by barbarians, a planet where the absurd, the obscene and the grotesque triumphed. Our loneliness, our feeling of not belonging and of not being understood is because we were prisoners on that planet. Nobody saw what we saw, heard what we heard; therefore very few can fully understand what this day means to us.

For over 50(fifty) years we carried in our hearts a burning torch of memories from that hell without ever finding a place to deliver it for posterity. Today we are going to hand over this torch to the eternal flame of remembrance that this Museum symbolically represents, by having the name Transnistria unveiled in the Hall of Remembrance. With this act we all hope for personal closure.

But, why do we, the survivors of lesser-known camps so desperately clamor for a place on the Holocaust map? Perhaps because we need validation that our martyrdom and the death of our families was as significant as those of people in other camps; that their blood and our ever flowing tears did constitute the same foundation upon which the State of Israel was built. And that the worst thing that can happen to us is to feel that we suffered in vain.

We cry out for the over 300,000 (three hundred thousand) dead of Transnistria whose voices can no longer be heard, and we mourn the thousands of victims killed on Romanian soil by the Iron Guard, by the Legionaries and by the Romanian fascists and their collaborators. To mention a few: the massacre in Bucharest, the horrible massacre and death trains of Jassi, the barbaric killings in Bessarabia and in the villages of Bukovina. Today we pay tribute to all of them and want to believe that the name Transnistria is representative and inclusive of the overall genocide perpetrated by the Romanian fascist gov. from 1941-44 under the regime of Marshall Ion Antonescu.

If Jewish teaching institutions such as Holocaust Museums, and Jewish History books don't give destruction camps like Transnistria the proper attention what can we expect from others? The present revisionist propaganda in Romania, the controversy concerning their participation in the genocide, the resurgence of anti-Semitism and the posthumous rehabilitation of Marshall Ion Antonescu, make this topic an urgent and extremely important one, lest we let the evil raise its ugly head anew. Ironically, we already see the resurgence of a similar evil right in Romania’s backyard.

It is of paramount importance to continue listening to the authentic voices of survivors and to bring more and more awareness to humanity about the horrors of the Holocaust in order to prevent “other Holocausts”- be they in Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia or Kosovo, and wherever racial. religious and national hatreds are escalated to killings. I believe that we succeeded in part to do so, through Holocaust museums, memorials, books, films, talks, personal testimonies and teachings.

As we a re gathered here today to commemorate the Holocaust in Romania, we are sending out another message and a loud warning signal to all those who are trying to dehumanize another nation, ethnic or religious groups.

Watching and reading the recent news about Kosovo triggers tormenting memories. I see the frightened, panic-stricken faces of little Albanian children and I feel their pain and despair just like the one I felt at the time of deportation, and I am sure most of you feel the same way.

Still, tragic as it is, there is no comparison. Today the world is responding, and I firmly believe that this is thanks to our keeping the awareness of the Holocaust alive.

What crossed my mind while watching the masses of Albanian refugees, was that those who had the audacity to blame us for not putting up enough resistance, and calling us sheep, can now see with their own eyes, and better understand how helpless an unarmed minority becomes when the leader of that country decides to cleanse his country of an ethnic group.

Fifty eight years ago, Romania too had a charismatic leader, by the name of Ion Antonescu, and we the Jews were his scapegoats.

Can we as survivors remain silent and feed the revisionist’s propaganda and allow Romania’s bloody hands to become disinfected by the failure to mention Transnistria as one of the major killing grounds for the Romanian Jews during the Holocaust.

Some historians have called Transnistria, ”The Forgotten Cemetery; others referred to it as "the Romanian Auschwitz” and even “The Forgotten Holocaust.” Today it is a historical shadow, barely evident, but in Jewish history it is inscribed in blood and tears; it must never be forgotten!"

I am constantly asked why were Transnistria, its martyrs and survivors not acknowledged or recognized for more than fifty years in the world or even in Israel? I don’t have all the answers, but I believe it is because of a variety of reasons.

Right after the war you were considered a Holocaust survivor only if you had a tattoo or were in one of the notorious German extermination camps. The enormity and monstrosity of camps like Auschwitz have overshadowed and minimized other places of horror. Speaking about Transnistria was dismissed with a hand gesture that implied disinterest and incredulity. So we remained silent for decades.

We were a minority among survivors. We were not in a specific location one can name, like TREBLINKA or Buchenwald. That represented a technical obstacle, because it didn’t fit into any pattern. We were dispersed into more than 116 camps, because the Romanians were not as organized, systematic and efficient as the Germans. And like the Gypsies, we had no strong representation and were, and still are poorly organized. Finally, our loved ones had not been killed by bullets, nor were they gassed or cremated.

Instead of gas chambers and crematoriums to transform people into ashes, marshal Antonescu used primitive and barbaric means of genocide. His most efficient system was to abandon the unfortunate people like vermin without providing shelter, food, or any of the essential necessities for survival, and to let them die an agonizing, slow death caused by illness, exposure, hunger and despair.

The Romanians transformed Transnistria into a huge cemetery where the exiled Jews died in the fields of frost and starvation, were thrown into the Dniester river, suffocated in cattle cars, burned alive in warehouses, or were shot by the thousands in front of common graves, the victims had to dig themselves.

In the absence of a clear extermination policy, program or system they resorted to sheer bestiality or as one panelist at the conference said: "genocide of a low technology nature."

There is a passage in the Talmud that says: “there is no worse death than deaths by starvation.”

And if that tragedy is not enough, we have an additional pain to cope with. There is no memorial and no marker to indicate that this geographic enclave in the W. Ukraine was a cemetery for these hundreds of thousand of unburied dead. I say “unburied ” with a deep pain in my heart. I was 12years old and a walking skeleton myself when in the summer of 1943 I was finally able to drag myself to the cemetery for the first time. To my horror, all I could see were scattered bones and not sign of even one mass grave.

I began picking up several bones thinking that any of those might have been my father’s my mother’s or my brother’s. Gone mad, I began talking to them as if they could hear my anguish and see my tears. It was there and then that I vowed to do everything in my power to keep alive the names of my loved ones and those of all the martyrs.

The reason for the unburied bodies was because of the severity of the winter of 41-42 when the death toll rose to 20,000. The gravediggers with their wooden sleighs made non-stop trips to the cemetery. They dumped the bodies on the frozen ground, where they remained in piles for many months because it was impossible to dig mass graves

The Chinese believe that of the most terrible things that could happen to the deceased, was not to have a proper burial. They believed that only when the body was covered and placed deep in the earth could the dead find peace. This was a religious feeling but it also had a practical side: if the body was not buried it would be torn to pieces by wild dogs and picked to the bone by the birds.

Tragically, I saw with my own eyes how for two weeks, dogs tore my beloved mother’s flesh, before the gravediggers finally took her body to the cemetery. The same must have happened to all the unburied victims. Can any “normal” person understand what today signifies for us? The souls of our loved ones have never found peace, but neither have ours. I, for one always felt like a listless and haunted soul. Perhaps after this achievement my soul and that of my loved ones will finally be at rest.

At the end of 1943 with some money coming from Romania the surviving community of Bershad built a monument in memory of its 20,000 victims .We had to pay a certain sum of money for each name to be engraved. With the few marks I received from relatives in Czernowitz, and which I so desperately needed to appease my fierce hunger. I paid for the engraving of the names of my parents and brother. I prayed and hoped the monument and the names would remain there for posterity.

How deep and devastating was my disappointment when in 1988, 45 years later, I traveled to pay tribute to my family and found no trace of that monument. And this was true for all the cemeteries in the entire area.

In my anger and despair I started writing to the Soviet ministers and even to then pres. Gorbachev, (I have all the return receipts, including the one from the Kremlin) begging them to erect monuments for the Jewish victims of the nazi regime. All I got in response was one answer from the Ministry of Culture, asking me to first deposit money in a Moscow bank and then they would see what could be done. Then came the revolution and to this day I was unable to pursue my goal.

Instead, I wrote the book as a defense against oblivion, and by that I hope to have erected a monument, “more durable than bronze” as the Latin poet Horace wrote. And if destiny is on our side, we might even have something equally durable. It is with great delight that I can tell you the good news today. A Hollywood producer recently bought the “option” of Ruth’s Journey from my publisher, and wants to adapt it to a film for TV. Should that happen, the Transnistria tragedy will be widely known. We should only live that long.

Looking around today, I see many second-generation participants. This for me is the most gratifying reward. It is now their task to preserve and continue the legacy. And now we want to pass on to you the symbolic torch of remembrance, so you can pass it on to future generations. And in conclusion lets make our voices heard loud and clear: “never again!” repeat after me, never again!”