Chisinau Had the Best Orphan Asylum in Europe in the 1930-ies
Bessarabian Inhabitants in the WWI fields
Bessarabia became a front-line province in autumn 1916. But till that moment, our fellow countrymen had been fighting and dying in the Galician fields. Tens of thousands of Bessarabian inhabitants entrenched beyond the Siret river. Their fathers became volunteers in the strings of army carts. They brought foodstuffs and munitions there and coffins and wounded people back. Hundreds of high-school girls became nurses and tens of Chisinau high schools were assigned to the military departments to serve as command units and hospital, until the war ended.
The front was stabilised and there was carried on the trench war. The severest battles were conducted near the township of Meresesti.
Namely it was the place where the two heroes of our story – the priest Alexei Mateevici and the young officer Dmitri Remenco, a son of a Bulgarian notary – met. Alexei’s father having the rank of interim padre encouraged the soldiers for the feat of arms and read the burial service over the deceased. The front life brought those two fellow countrymen together. There arose close friendship. The young officer Remenco was keen on theology and was dreaming of becoming a philosopher. Later on, he had been the head of the religion journal – Raza – for ten years or so; he also was a famous church journalist. He had been thanking his luck till his dying day that he had been sometimes close to the poet Mateevici.
Once, after philosophic disputes ended, Alexei’s father asked the young officer: ‘Why aren’t you married? By the way, I have a good match for you in view. This is Alexandra Scodigor, a daughter of a priest from Chisinau, from the decent Ilinski Cathedral. She is completing her studies at the Mathematical Faculty in Odessa now’.
Headmistress Madame Scodigor-Remenco Received by the Pope
Soon there came disturbing 1917. The standstill truce was at the front. Mateevici came back home, got an influenza and died in August 1917. But Remenco, when he was in Chisinau, found that very same Alexandra and married her soon. The son Gheorghi was born on them in 1919 and another son Serghei was born 1933. The latter was my university fellow and bosom friend.
The Remencos’ fate was the following. The former officer Dmitri entered the Iasi University, became a journalist and was the head of Raza journal. But madam Alexandra Scodigor-Remenco made absolutely fantastic career. She became the headmistress of the child boarding school located at the end of Kogalniceanu Street (former Pirogov Street). Now there is the Court of Justice. That boarding school combined studies, labour, family settings and intellectual education.
There were several millions of orphans in Europe at that time. The League of Nations started dealing with arrangement of asylums. The person responsible therefor was madam Maria Montessori. She came to Chisinau in the late 1930-ies to find out how the asylums were organized, and became certain that madam Remenco had arranged the best asylum in Europe. So, Remenco was invited to Rome at once and there was organised the seminar on children education at boarding schools. Chisinau served as an example there.
The headmistress held meetings with her European colleagues, visited boarding schools from other countries and shared her experience. She was invited personally by the Pope Pius IX. Alexandra Remenco became a celebrity at once both in Chisinau and throughout Romania.
A Kindred of Pedagogues and Priests
We still have to introduce many personages into this story, so you would be able to understood her career progresses.
In 1890 or so, the seminarians Nita from Peresecina and Scodigor from Ciciuieni studied at Chisinau religious seminary. They were friends. Later on, eight children were born on each of them. Two daughters from the Nita family married two brothers from the Scodigor family, in order to strengthen those ties of friendship. One of such daughters was the mother of named Alexandra. But the other daughter married the headmaster of high school with real profile – the mathematician Ion Scodigor. As a result, there were formed the huge kindred composed mainly of pedagogues and priests.
When the housefather of the Nita family studied at the seminary, he also made friends with another future celebrity – a high-school student Constantin Stere. When that non-conformist writer travelled on the Soroca-Chisinau route and back, he used to make a stop at the family of the seminarian Nita. After Stere served his term in Siberia, he came to Iasi. He studied there and became the rector of Iasi University then.
The King Ferdinand I Stayed at Nita’s House
It was the early 20th century, when Stere convinced the housefather of the Nita family to send his son Sergiu to Iasi University to make studies. There Sergiu got acquainted with the daughter of a lady-in-waiting of the Romanian queen Elisabeth and married her. His wife Florica founded a women’s pedagogical seminary in Chisinau after 1918. That seminary was named after her for a while and was located in the premises of the actual Ukrainian lyceum. But Sergiu Nita himself became a member of Staful Tarii and even was a minister for Bessarabia’s affairs for a while.
I will tell the following fact, to make you understand his standing. In 1925 or so, the king Ferdinand I visited our city, in order to familiarise himself with a design project of Stefan cel Mare Monument made by the sculptor Plamadeala. The king stayed at Sergiu Nita’s residence – in the second house in Serghei Lazo Street, beyond Stefan cel Mare Boulevard. There were two more headmasters of high schools in that family.
The Best Chisinau Pedagogue Hanged Himself after Interrogations at the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs
On 27 July 1940, the city intellectuals gathered at the Cathedral. They were discussing the only thing – to escape or to stay. According to the words of my friends Gheorghii and Serghei Remenco, as well as according to the words of another university fellow of mine – Sergiu Radautan, there were Stefan Dobinda, I. Parno, Alexandru Oatul, brothers Ion and Mihai Scodigor, Dmitri Remenco, Boris Lazo (a brother of Serghei Lazo), Vasile Tipordei, Ion Radautan, former city mayors Cojocaru and Alexandr Sibirski, lawyer Serghei Sibirski, former deputies of the tsarist Duma – the Krupenski brothers. There were also several hundreds of other people, whose surnames mean nothing to me.
‘Why should I leave my house?’ – questioned the former headmaster Oatul. – ‘I was a pedagogue in the tsarist days and under the Romanian regime, so I will teach children under the Soviet regime too!’
‘You don’t know what beasts you will deal with. You will be sent to Siberia to tree cutting, at the best’, – said the priest Vasile Tipordei. Then he went for the railway station at once, took a train and left.
The other persons I mentioned stayed there – ‘to fulfil their duty’, as they said.
However, only two of them survived – the mathematician I. Parno and the physician St. Dobinda, and, besides them, Boris Lazo, the brother of the revolutionary, who was released in autumn to Romania to reunite with his family.
The Soviet authorities turned to the State Duma and Sfatul Tarii deputies at first. Then they had been smiling right and left for a week. They used to give candies and coloured pencils to schoolers. But on 10 July, sprang severely into action. Alexandru Oatul, who was the pride of intellectual Chisinau, was called to the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, and asked the only question: ‘Why did you remain? Who are your accomplices?’ He was released during the day but tortured with interrogations and beatings in the night.
The former headmaster Oatul could not endure such abuses, so he hanged himself on the 12 July morning.
A Half an Hour to Gather up the Belongings. But Where to Go?
His son ran with that sad news to the Remenco spouses. But the journalist Dmitri had just received a summons calling him to one more interrogation. He came home completely dispirited on the 13 July 1940 morning. He went to a cousin of his and deceived the latter, saying that he wanted to go to hunt quails. So, he asked to give him a fowling gun. Then he went back home and shot himself dead. That was 13 July. When his wife and son Serghei came home, they found their housefather in a pool of blood.
The Soviet police came soon. There gathered his neighbours, workfellows and relatives. The policeman gave them a half an hour to gather up the belongings and told the boarding school headmistress to vacate the premises. Poor madam Alexandra fainted. Serghei, who was aged 9 then, still kept his head. He gathered their clothes, photographs and documents, raised up his mother and they left that house for ever.
But where could they find a refuge? ‘Let’s go to aunt Iulia’, – proposed Serghei. An acquaintance of theirs was a famous eye physician. Iulia Kvyatcovskaya was an active Narodnik (populist) in her young days. She used to meet the people, treat them and give them advise. But her brother was a populist known all over Russia. He was hanged within the same case as Lenin’s brother was. Now do you feel the scale of my story heroes?
The omnipresent workers of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs came in some days to Kvyatcovskaya’s apartment situated there, where the archeparchy is located now. They turned everybody neck and crop: ‘What a kind of gathering of enemies of the people? Get out of here!’
Then both poor women were roaming looking for a refuge.
Pedagogues Saving the Chisinau Jews
Here is another detail. In summer 1941, the Jews found themselves in the ghetto, i.e. within the perimeter of such streets as Pavlovscaia, Irinopolscaia, Armeneasca and the railway. Some mothers decided that there would come even eviler days, so they gave their minor children to the peasant families. Those children were baptised to keep them on the safe side. Our ladies – Alexandra Scodigor and Iulia Kvyatcovskaya, a pedagogue and a physician, took Jewish children, brought them to madam Alexandra Scodigor’s father in the night, baptised them there in secret and then sent them through their channels to peasant childless families. Once Serghei Remenco acquainted me with such a former Jew, who became a professor at Cahul medical school…
Here is another fate. On 13 July 1941, the brothers Ion and Mihai Scodigor, uncles of madam Remenco, were passengers of the train going on the Revaca-Siberia route. The lyceum headmaster Ion Scodigor died after a week of terrible famine.
There were four to six corpses in each railway coach. The train stopped after Chelyabinsk. All corpses were buried in the forest belt. But Mihai Scodigor watched that ceremony from the neighbouring coach. He told everything in 1957 when he came back from Siberia. He got a permission to leave for Romania and to reunite with other members of his family.
The former mayor Alexandr Sibirski still left for the west in 1941 and in 1944. He changed his surname into Costinescu and his traces were lost. But his brother Serghei Sibirski was arrested at once, then released and arrested again on 22 July 1941, and then shot away in Orhei. His son, the mathematician Constantin Sergeyevich, married Aurica, the sister of my wife Sanda, but told us his family story only in 20 years.
Serghei Remenco invited me to his place in spring 1951 or so. His house was located in Pruncului Street, beyond the museum of A.S. Pushkin in Chisinau. I got acquainted with the home-made borsch of madam Alexandra, after godforsaken macedoines from the University canteen. Serghei Remenco told a great deal of true stories of Chisinau society, by the end of a range of meetings. He told, besides others, that one more amazing wedding ceremony had taken place, thanks to the poet Alexei Mateevici. The poet bestowed his cousin Sofia in marriage to Victor Remenco, the journalist’s brother. That couple decided not to push their luck and left for Romania, instead of Siberia.
I visited Serghei’s house in Pruncului Street in 1960 or so. A lady was washing clothes in the yard. I greeted her and she replied with a heavy Transylvanian accent. That was Mateevici’s cousin. Their surname, according to the passports, was Matvievici.
Serghei Remenco was the Republican champion in pistolry. Besides this, he also was a world-famous radio amateur. His collection of radio post cards counted to many hundreds of pictures from all over the world – England, China, Mexico. He was so careless that fell in love with the most beautiful girl in the city. She was a professor’s daughter. But his mother-in-law turned out to be completely bloody-minded. After that daughter bore a child, she moved to live somewhere to Spain but the mother-in-law kicked her son-in-law from home.
When our common workfellow and friend Sergiu Radautan became the laboratory head at the Academy, he engaged Serghei to his laboratory. Remenco had been the best universal experimentalist for 50 years. He had a great deal of deep scientific ideas. He gave them left and right.
His second marriage broke up too. His son from the second marriage Dima was a student of mine. When you look at him, you just perceive his aristocratic nature.
In 1968 or so, I was the dean of the Electrophysical Faculty at the Polytechnic University. I met Serghei and asked him: ‘Have you graduated from anywhere? Have you got a diploma?’
‘I have no time! I don’t need this!’ – said my friend. ‘Let’s go to Radautan!’ – told I.
But the latter was the rector of the institute at that time. We came in. ‘Hey, I have brought our idler to you. We’ll be trouncing him together, but we’ll make him complete his studies’. Radautan got very angry: ‘Hey, see, gather all your articles in Semiconductor Physics in a file and create a diploma thesis’. Then he appealed to me: ‘There have gathered 10 academic disciplines or so – i.e. a difference in the curriculum. Are you a dean or not? It’s up to you how to liquidate this difference! Not I shall tell you!’
How There Appeared the Idea to Name the Street after Florica Nita
My friend Remenco died in early October 2011. He was buried next to the spouses Florica and Sergiu Nita. Serghei Remenco was a deputy of the City Council in 1990 to 1995. A street named after Florica and Sergiu Nita appeared in the area of the Circus, upon his proposal. The workers of the Committee for streets renaming asked him: ‘Who are these people, where do you know them from?’ But he replied: ‘Why should not I know them? They baptised me!’
Gheorghii Remenco was the deputy head of the Monument Protection Association of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The head thereof was a kind of power broker from the Central Committee. Certainly, the head did nothing. All the activities were vested on Gheorghii. That Association was located in a room of the house museum of Shchusev. As for me, I had been living on the opposite side, in house no.80, for 22 years.
All former chief architects of the city used to gather there: my neighbour from house no.78 Valentin Mednec, Valentin Voitehovschi, a native of Soroca Town, my friend and workfellow – all of us were there. Robert Kurtz was the dean at the Polytechnic University too. Serghei acquainted me with Gheorghii and the latter presented me to the architects. Listening to them was the music to my ears. They discussed the history of streets and houses. But, what was the most important, they brought to mind the celebrities from Chisinau. It is such a pity that all the information was lost for ever. That’s why I am writing these essays – to keep at least a bit thereof.
Paradoxes of That Era
And here is one more fact to top it off. If you think that I have brought to mind only few celebrities of the past times, then I have to remember that an Orhei teacher called Craciunescu asked at a session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in August 1940 in Stalin’s presence to accept the Moldavian Republic into the composition of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic. And do you know what? Gheorghii Remenco married Valentina Craciunescu, the daughter of that very same teacher…
Don’t you think that there was formed absolutely paradoxical mix of personalities?
And now here is the most paradoxical case. I was a grade-school pupil in Criscauti Village of Soroca County in 1938 to 1940. Then I shared the same desk with a boy Costica Foamete, the grandson of our teacher.
He became a famous monumentalist in Romania and there is information about him in encyclopaedias. But our writer Iurie Colesnic could even find the traces of that Bessarabian inhabitant. It has turned out that that Costica shared the same desk with Serghei Remenco at Chisinau lyceum named after B.P. Hajdeu, during the 1943-1944 academic year. Maybe, the readers will help us to find the traces of that sculptor.
If you ask me why we need the stories of other people, I will answer so: “The mankind learns from the stories about other people’s experience”, – said Krzysztof Zanussi, the famous Polish film maker’.
Associate Professor of the Polytechnic University