Tuesday 5 July 2016

My grandfather's exodus - part 3

The third in a series of blog entries in which my grandfather, Arieh Rabani (Lova Rabinovitch), tells his adventures walking from the Soviet Union to Israel (1927-1929). You'll find the first part here. In this part, Lova crosses the border into Turkey, and immediately goes to the local police to declare himself, so as to avoid being accused of spying.

An interview recorded by my cousin, which I then transcribed and translated from Hebrew

Lova: On the way over there, climbing up and down these hills, I suddenly saw a bonfire, and sitting around it were soldiers from the Russian border patrol. This spoiled my plans right away. I had been heading towards a certain town, Duğur (modern-day Posof), but now I quickly turned left, in order to circle around them. Well, I did eventually reach the border, and crossed over the snow, and came down on the other side. But instead of Duğur, I found myself in the village of Arile (modern-day Süngülü).

Turkish village of Arile (modern-day Süngülü)
just across from the border with Georgia
Well, the first thing I did was to ask one of the farmers there if they had any soldiers in the village. And he said that they did. I looked for them, I found them, and I informed them that I had only just crossed the border from Russia. And that I wanted them to know about it. I didn’t want them to catch me far away from the border, thinking I was a Russian spy.

They gave me a place to sleep in. I rested all day and all night long, and they gave me some food to eat, the kind of food that they used to eat there. It was sweetcorn and yogurt. As for the white bread and cheese that I had with me [laughs], they ate all of it, because for them it was something new.

The next morning when I woke up, two of the soldiers from the border patrol accompanied me, walking all day, until we reached Duğur, where I meant to go in the first place based on my map. Or rather, to tell the truth, I didn’t exactly walk. Because after walking so much in the mountains without any kind of training, climbing up, climbing down, I got a painful inflammation in my joints and pelvis, and it hurt terribly.

So I could hardly walk. And on the way, we met up with a farmer who was driving an ox-drawn sled. They were poor people, and didn’t even have any wheels, just oxen dragging a sled, like in Russia in the snow. So the soldiers asked the farmer to let me lie down in the straw on his sled. And that’s how I travelled almost all day long, lying in the straw, until the evening. When we arrived, the farmer went off wherever he had to go, and as for me, they brought me to the police station, to the local authorities.

That was in the evening. The next morning I got up, and of course again I ate sweetcorn and yogurt, which they eat all on its own over there. Then they took me to see the officers, and the officers asked me all kinds of questions: what? and who? and why? So I told them my life story, about my father, and the factory that was confiscated, and how they threw me out of school, and how I don’t want to be there any more, I want to go to Erets Israel. To Palestine.

Nu, they treated me very nicely. But I had a huge predicament. See, before I crossed the border, my acquaintances from Astrakhan told me that there was an old Turkish man who probably had some Turkish money on him. So I went to see him with all of the money I had earned for the past eight months. I gave him my Russian money, and he gave me his Turkish money in exchange. So, coming back to the story, I spent three days in Duğur. And they let me walk around, and the officers even invited me home, and treated me to a nice lunch. Really, they treated me very nicely.

But I wanted to buy something or other. So I went to the shop, gave them my money, and they started laughing. So I asked, “What are you laughing at?” Well, since we were close to the border, there were some among them who could speak a bit of Russian, or Georgian. And they told me, “What’s this that you have here? This is the Sultan’s money! It’s worthless. Just like where you come from in Russia, Tsar Nikolai’s money. You have the new Soviet money now. And we have the Republic’s new money, the money of Kemal Pasha Erzarelteri.”

“Kemal Pasha Erzarelteri”, meaning the glorious Kemal Pasha. Nu, there I was without a penny to my name. I tore up the money and threw it into the wind. And I was left without a penny.

Ottoman money,
20 kurush, 1854
Turkish money with image of Ataturk,
500 liras, 1927

Russian imperial banknote,
500 rubles, 1912
Soviet banknote,
100000 rubles, 1921

Only what? I was lucky to be treated so nicely. They couldn’t keep me there, but had to send me to a bigger town. Duğur was a small town, and the nearest big town was at a distance of 9 days’ walking away. Some soldiers had to accompany me there, and not only me, but also three other Muslims who had managed to cross the border from Caucasia before me. They send us all together. There were four of us altogether. And they especially told the soldiers, that in every village that we reach, in Turkey, they always have a special guesthouse for honoured guests. And they told them always to bring me to the special guesthouse and to make sure I’m received very nicely.

And that’s how it really was. Where they sent the poor Muslims to sleep, I’ve no idea. As for me, they always took me to see the Sheikh, where there was a special guestroom with divans, and carpets, and they brought me food. And that’s where I learned the art of eating with my hands, without a fork. For almost two years I ate only with my hands. And it was just as tasty – who’s complaining? As long as there’s something to eat.

So that’s how we continued for nine days, until we reached Kars, a big town, where I was taken to the police station. Not only me, also all of the others who had walked with me. They put us into a room in the police station, and sent notice to Ankara that some people had crossed the border. And there we had to wait until Ankara decided to reply.

Traditional Turkish guest room

Continued in part 4...

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