Thursday, April 16, 2015

Two Types of Holo, Family Links, and Vera

Trigger/Content Warning (TW/CW): this blog post contains mentions of suicide, genocide, and the Holocaust. Reader discretion is advised.

On Tuesday, I successfully made the transition from Gentile to Jew. Yay!

Today is the first holiday I officially observe as a Jew: Yom HaShoah (Day of The Catastrophe; also see, Holocaust Remembrance Day). By the title of this particular holiday, this is not one of those days you go up to someone and say "Happy Yom HaShoah!", unless you like to get decked onto the floor.

With that said, this is my #ThrowbackThursday gabshare.

My family's history is convoluted at best, completely modified and worst. Especially my father's side of the family, where my father and his parents just flat out didn't talk about what went down in Ukraine (heh, even I learned this many years ago; it's "Ukraine" not "the Ukraine") during the first half of the 20th century.

But, this is what I know, based on what was told to me over the years.

Baba ("grandma" in Ukrainian) and her parents survived one of the most destructive genocides the world has ever known. In Ukrainian, folks called it "holodom," or "hunger plague." And this massive famine sucked major you-know-what.

From 1932-1933, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin sent troops to Ukraine to wipe out ethnic Ukrainians, to which the world recognizes it as Holodomor, or "death by hunger." Grains and produce were destroyed, all animals (farming and domesticated) were destroyed with acid, and if Soviet troops found you with a secret stash of food, you were "finished."

And somehow, someway, Baba, as a ten and eleven-year old child, managed to survive a year without sustainable caloric intake, as well as her parents (my great-grandparents).

Hell, I can't even fathom going a week without food, let alone 52 WEEKS, AT LEAST. I know my fluffy azz would have dropped dead.

After Holodomor, another societal staph infection was taking shape and was about to rise painfully to the surface of humanity: Nazism. With that came the idea that "Jewish people were not part of the perfect race, and therefore they must be destroyed." From 1941-1945, systemic killings of Jewish folks by various methods took place during what the world knows as the Holocaust, or "mass destruction by fire" in its general definition.

And this is where the convolution of my father's family history goes.

Baba was married three times and widowed three times. She had two children, Anatoly and Victor. The paternity for both children were not clear at all, as Baba did what she had to do to survive. I don't know Baba's first husband's name, but I do know the names of the other two (both are which are deceased), Jakow Pletin and Hawrylo Didenko (good luck with pronouncing those names, heh).
When my father was born, it was presumed that Mr. Pletin (don't ask; another story for another day, heh) was the father, since he was married to Baba at the time. At the same time, Mr. Pletin carried a very dark secret, from what I was told by family fable; Mr. Pletin was a Nazi train operator. His job, as it was told to me, was to transport Jewish folks to their death awaiting them at a concentration camp. And since this was in Ukraine, I would guess that it would either be Sobibor or Babi Yar; I was never told which camp it was.

Meanwhile, Mr. Didenko (again, another story for another day) had a very different scenario, as it was explained to me: Mr. Didenko was captured by Nazi troops. This capture, however, took place in Poland and not Ukraine. According to the story, as Mr. Didenko was waiting to board the train of his impending death, he asked a Nazi soldier if he could use the restroom at a nearby bush. The Nazi soldier granted Mr. Didenko permission to do so. So, Mr. Didenko went to the bush to relieve himself. When the guard wasn't looking, Mr. Didenko took off running for his life.

Again, both stories were told to me as a youngster. Whether they are true or not, you would have to consult Baba or my father.

Shortly after my father's birth in 1943, Baba, Mr. Pletin, and my father fled Ukraine, due to Nazi planes were dropping explosives onto the countryside, wiping out several villages. My father's brother was left to the care of Baba's parents.

Fast forward to 1956, as Baba, Mr. Pletin, and my father successfully emigrated to the United States. However, as they settled in, the past was catching up to the family dynamic; not just Mr. Pletin's Nazi history, but also the possibility that Mr. Pletin may not be the father of his only known child. Mix those two with shell shock, rumors, and alcohol, Mr. Pletin could not handle life anymore. Mr. Pletin committed suicide in 1957.

Shortly afterwards, Mr. Didenko had successfully emigrated to the United States. He and Baba were able to reconnect, and he met my father for the first time. Mr. Didenko, Baba, and my father moved from New Jersey to Cleveland, according to family fable. Mr. Didenko and Baba was shortly married thereafter. When Mr. Didenko asked my father to take his surname, my father (unknowingly of Mr. Pletin's former trade and questioned paternity), said "No."

It would have been fine, except (from what I was told and the pictures of what I was shown), Mr. Didenko "saw himself" in my father.

So, years would go by and my father would not question who his father was until Mr. Didenko's passing in 1986. A couple of years later, my father received a par avion (air mail) letter from the Soviet Union; it was from his brother! My father, who was never told about him, began to ask Baba all the questions about his own history. During Baba's marriage to Mr. Pletin, she had a tryst with Mr. Didenko at the time of my father's conception. Great story to be featured on "Maury," eh?

In short, even though Baba, to this day, maintains that Mr. Pletin is my dad's father, the one thing my assigned family at birth and I can agree on is: it is more likely than not (since the family can not exhume Mr. Didenko's remains because the widow says "No") that Mr. Didenko, and not Mr. Pletin, is my father's biological father.

This also explains why my name is now, legally, Vera Didenko, and no longer my birth name, Vera Pletin. Note: even though Baba uses the Didenko surname, my assigned family at birth (my father, my mother, and my sister) utilize the Pletin surname.

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