|PARENTS IDENTIFY BODIES AT THE MORGUE|
My Sasha has a friend who works in Holon; he called all the hospitals and didn’t find Masha anywhere. He called to tell us to go to the morgue to make sure she wasn’t there.
We came to Abu Kabir, and they asked us, “Where do you think you’re going?”
What do you mean where, we said, “it’s three a.m., and our child hasn’t come home yet!”
They said, “A lot of children aren’t home yet, even if they were at Dolphi.”
Then we saw a woman carrying a pile of cell phones they must have gathered there. And one of these phones was Masha’s.
“How do you know?” she asked.
We filled out the forms and sat down to wait. They told us to go to the hospital, “there were some girls in critical condition and no papers, maybe yours is there, too.”
When we got there, there was only one unidentified girl left, but she was not Masha. I said, let’s go home. Maybe she’s already home asleep; or maybe she’s afraid to answer the phone.
We came home, but she wasn’t there. We returned to the morgue. Once again filled out the forms. And sat there for a long time. Finally, they asked us in to identify the body.
I didn’t go. I couldn’t. Sasha went. Now I wish I had, but I was too weak then. I had never thought something like this can happen to me. I allowed that something might happen in the Army, anything can happen — but like this?
At Abu Kabir, they asked us about the special markings again. Then they found out we had already been there, and they had all the markings. They told us that fifteen people had been brought in, and that we had to wait. So we sat there and waited. Then they started calling in the parents to identify the bodies.
There was a family next to us; I remembered the mother. As they were coming out, she collapsed, and her daughter had to support her.
I was waiting to be called, and then they asked me for Liana’s picture. I asked Petya and his friends; they had half a dozen pictures among themselves. I gave one to the policeman.
When he came back, he wouldn’t look at me — anywhere but at me. I realized it was all over.
Then I left. I stood outside leaning against a tree, then I started begging them to let me in, I couldn’t stand it anymore.
They asked us who was coming in. Petya leaped up to his feet, but I said I would go. Leonid said he would come, too. Also, Natalia came with us, a psychologist from SELA (Israel Crisis Management Center – Translator’s Note). I didn’t want her at first, but she said, “You know, it’s not good to be there by yourself. I’ll just stand behind you. You won’t even see me.”
The three of us entered this small room, and I saw right away a door with a small window. They asked us to sit down. Then the doctor came out and said, “If you can, please come up to this window and tell us if this is your daughter. Then, if you like, we’ll open the door, and you can come in.”
I stepped up to the window first. It was Liana, I recognized her right away.
They asked me if I wanted to come inside.
Yes, I said.
I didn’t see the whole Liana. Just a face on top of the plaid blanket. Her face was not disfigured. Just a little scratch above her eyebrow. But the complexion was not that of a person who died a natural death. It was iodine yellow. And her hair was singed. I ran my hand along the body — it was tightly packed in cellophane. I saw her birthmark, her eyes that had no life in them. I didn’t close them. It gives me so much pain — that I didn’t close her eyes! I gave her a kiss. She had a hair in her mouth, and I took it out. “Forgive me,” I said. “I’ll join you soon.” And that was the end of it, the end of hope.
We came there at two a.m. We gave them Simona’s pictures, the passport, a full physical description, including what she was wearing. We waited all night long. At six a.m., they asked us for additional special markings. When Irina said that Simona had used blue nail polish, the clerk glanced at the policeman, and we knew that they had Simona.
I went to identify the body. Irina — her mother — couldn’t.
Simona lay there as if she were alive. Her face was the same. Even the color in her cheeks, even the smile. Her eyes, so blue, were still open. She looked as if she was about to go out. Just did her makeup and was giving herself a final check in the mirror. I gave her a kiss, and they led me outside. I couldn’t bring myself to believe it; I couldn’t comprehend that it was her, and that she was dead.
Then they gave me back her little ring, and I don’t remember how I left or how I got home.
We came to Abu Kabir. We found her there. They told us she got killed on the spot.
Ludi, Catrin Castaneda’s mother, went mad in front of me. She howled like a wolf. She rolled in the dust, she tore at the ground . . . there was a young man at her side, he supported her, and he — well, I wouldn’t say he was crying, it was something bigger . . . But she — her whole insides were burning and scorching.
We came to Abu Kabir. It was awful — screaming and groaning. I thought: why did we come here, maybe he’s home already, he’s got the house keys. I didn’t want to believe the worst. Of course, they wouldn’t let me in; my husband and my daughter went in for identification. When they came out, I realized it was the end. They brought out a bag of Alesha’s things.
When I saw him in the morgue, he seemed to be asleep. Just his lips were bitten and clenched — the pain must have been unbearable. His eyes were half-open, and he had what looked like water bags under his eyes. He was still warm.
“Sonny,” I said, “let’s go home, why are you here?”
My life ended right then and there. So many hopes we had for him! He was so kind, always taking all problems to heart. He took one job, then another . . . Why do you need another job, we asked him; Mom and I are working for your future. He said, I want to go to school, I want to have my own apartment and a car. He was only sixteen, but he was thinking like a man.
They didn’t give us a medical certificate right away. That day I was in such a shock, I didn’t even ask how he was wounded. The next day we brought his clothes and I asked the doctor to show me his wounds. One was under his heart, another in his ear, and the third one in his stomach, on the right side under his chest; his right arm was swollen, stuffed with splinters. His death certificate read, died instantly.
We came to Abu Kabir. We didn’t have to wait long.
I gave them all the special markings for my girls — a lot of them. I had made little pigtails with bright rubber bands for Yulia; Lena had painted her nails green; Yulia had a lot of bracelets, both had navel rings and beaded anklets. These anklets were how I recognized them.
I came home at dawn, before six a.m., with two plastic bags that held two threads of beads and ID numbers. That was all that was left of them.
When we arrived at the morgue, all the parents of the deceased were already gone. Two days had passed . . . There were just doctors. One asked me about my son’s special markings. I told him everything: the birthmark, the teeth . . . Then they wheeled his body to the window, and I took another look. He was exactly the way he had been in life, even his eyelashes curled the same way, and I stared at them — maybe one will tremble? Maybe he’ll wake up?
I couldn’t believe that I would be able to identify him. That it is over.
We started calling all the numbers of the hospitals and we couldn’t find her anywhere, she wasn’t on any of the lists. I was advised to call the morgue, where they had a few unidentified bodies. And we stayed there since morning to three-thirty in the afternoon to get to the identification. The doctor told us that the girls had stood very close to the terrorist, which is why they had been injured so badly. We had to wait till they went to our house to lift fingerprints from her things: books, handbags, makeup . . .
Finally, they let us in for identification. Actually, they didn’t want to let me in, but I begged them, I told them I was a doctor, too. And they did.
It was hard identifying her. I had no idea she was mangled so badly. May God never let you see anything like this! Her whole body was swollen with iron that the explosive had been stuffed with. It was maimed so badly I had a hard time finding the big birthmark she had.
But a mother will always recognize her child. I did.
Dima Litvinov, Anya Kazachkova’s cousin:
We went to Abu Kabir right away. We were there by four in the morning. We waited there for five and a half hours. All we heard was screaming.
They let us in at 9:15. That is, they let me: I wouldn’t let my mother come. I went to identify the body by myself. How can you not identify a person you’ve known for fifteen years? Whom you once changed diapers for? Of course I recognized her right away. I just couldn’t believe my own eyes. I kept demanding the confirmation that this was my cousin. I kept looking for a mark that didn’t fit.
Yes, these were her earrings, but where was the bead that she wore on her pierced belly-button?
They showed me the bead. Then they asked me, “Do you recognize her? Is this her?”
I just couldn’t say yes. “This girl,” I said, “is the spitting image of Anya, but I don’t believe this is her.
Let someone else prove this is her.”
Dima was gone for a long time, and then social workers came up to me and said he couldn’t make a positive ID. And I immediately had a hope it was all a mistake and that it was not her!
“Is there anyone else who could ID Anya?” they asked.
“My cousin,” I said.
They told me to call her, and they’d send a car for her.
So they brought Natalia, in a state of shock. And my friend Tatyana went to pick up another friend, and they came by cab. And they all trooped in to identify Anya. And I stayed back, awaiting their verdict.
I was not going in for identification, I couldn’t think straight, I asked them not to show her to me, or else I’d lose my mind. Then they came up and said, “Let’s go see Anya.” I said, “I’ll go mad, or I’ll drop dead. You won’t be able to handle me there.”
I just couldn’t step over the line where I would see the treasure of my life dead. You worry about a single scrape. And now you are to see her dead. It’s not possible, seeing your daughter’s dead face!
They kept persuading me for a long time. But I couldn’t force myself and consent to see Anya dead. I couldn’t bear it inside of me. I still can’t. I still couldn’t see my child dead, I think; though I keep picturing her face in the second that I did see her. They did talk me into it, they lifted me off the chair, they held my hands, and they led me inside. I didn’t scream, I didn’t resist — I just wept. This short walk seemed like — like walking to your own execution — the most horrible thing.
We entered a small room, and I saw a door and a curtained window in the door. They drew the curtain open and I saw Anya on the gurney. I just saw her head with her hair shoulder-long, and the rest was covered with a blanket. It was an instant — a second.
Her tiny face was slightly swollen and yellowish, with a tiny cut, and her lips were dark, and her hair tousled. I fell down and screamed; my eyes closed, and I couldn’t open them again. They had to carry me outside. I remember they sat me on a chair in the park outdoors. I don’t know how I managed not to lose my mind.
After we left Abu Kabir, I said, “We’ll have to go tell our mother together, because I’m scared for her.”
When we came in, she was staring at me, and I cried out: Mom, our Anya is dead. I don’t remember what else I told her. I rushed to hug her. We scooped Anya up, with her things, and went to our house to tell her brother, Sasha. Actually, it was not me or my mother who told him, but the social workers. They just walked and fired it at him. And then this whole thing started . . .
Natasha and I came to Abu Kabir, and we were called right in to give information. I said I had already provided it over the phone, but they didn’t say anything and asked me the same questions: what Marina was wearing, what jewelry, what special markings she had . . . Is there someone who looks like her? I asked. Again they didn’t say anything.
We went outside and waited. Some people kept coming up who turned out to be social workers from SELA. I kept asking them to find out if there was a girl who looked like Marina. I couldn’t believe to the last moment that she was there; I was raring to go looking for her. Maybe she went home? Right away, they called me a cab, and Natasha and I went home to see if Marina came back.
But the note was where we had left it, there was no one outside, so I climbed upstairs, picked up her passport and a photo, and made her bed. And we went back.
My parents in Haifa always listen to the seven-o’clock news, and they heard there had been a bombing at a Tel Aviv disco. And my mother knew that Marina had gone there. She called me on my cell phone — “Is Marina at home?” I just couldn’t bring myself to say no; I said I was looking for her.
She went screaming and crying. “Why are you crying,” I said; “we don’t know anything yet.” Later she told me that she felt that Marina was already dead.
Social workers asked me if I wanted my parents to come. I had told them I was alone here, I just knew Marina’s friend and her mother. They called SELA in Haifa, and my parents were brought for free to Abu Kabir. Before the identification, we were called several more times for additional questions — how long were her fingernails, what color was the polish; they asked to draw the butterfly she had on her necklace . . .
At eleven in the morning, we were asked to come in for identification. I went in with Gena, my brother-in-law. He came up the first. When he stepped away from the window, he nodded: It’s her.
Then it was my turn. Her face was bluish and grayish; I was told that a splinter had pierced her head, and all the blood flowed out. But she looked intact. I saw her earring. I saw her face, but I kept thinking that maybe it wasn’t her. Her eyes were closed. I asked them to show me something else. They pulled up the sheet, and I saw the necklace. I had no more hope. I started screaming: Give me back my daughter . . .
Then I was led outside, and I saw that all the relatives had arrived, lots of people, they all came to hug me and they were all crying . . .
First we went to Wolfson, but we didn’t find her there. She had left without her passport; she didn’t like carrying it, she was afraid of losing it. Then we went to Ikhilov. We spent a long time there. And their workers called up the rest of the hospitals. Then we went to Abu Kabir. That’s where we found our girl.
We identified her Saturday morning. My sister Rimma went; she wouldn’t let me go see her. I was told: You shouldn’t see her. Just remember her the way she used to look. But I begged to be let in. I asked them to cover her up, so that I don’t see the worst, and let me touch her — just a touch.
They did let me in. I only saw her right arm, which was all covered with cuts; a little of her hair, which was not blond (she was a natural blonde) but somehow reddish — perhaps had some dirt and sand in it. It was tangled. And that’s it. The left side remained covered.
They wouldn’t let me stay there long — two or three minutes at most. They didn’t show her, and it was a good thing they didn’t — I couldn’t see it. I didn’t ask my sister what Irina looked like. I still can’t.
I didn’t faint, didn’t have fits of hysteria, didn’t bang my head on the wall. After we ID’d her on Saturday, they called an ambulance for me, because my blood pressure shot up. If at the bottom of my soul I wasn’t hoping we would meet soon in the future, I wouldn’t be living by now. But I know that suicide is a mortal sin. If I do the slightest thing that would lead to it, we’ll never meet in the next world. That’s why I’m still alive.
Ilya wasn’t on the Wounded lists — neither he, nor Roman. I went into a hysterical fit. If he was not on the lists, it meant he was no longer alive. I lost all hope.
We were told to go to Abu Kabir. We got there at four a.m. It was so crowded! We were called in to identify the body. I couldn’t go. My husband went in with Natasha, a relative of mine. And that’s all I remember.
I recognized him right away. Right away. I had no doubt it was him. I couldn’t bear to look at his body, but I saw his face. Even his haircut was unchanged. As if he was asleep. So handsome! Even smiling a bit. My friends who work on the ambulance told me he had died from a heart attack. There was not a scratch on his body.
In Ikhilov, they were trying to get us to go to Abu Kabir. I didn’t want to. I felt that this was the end. But I still had to go.
We waited there for a long time. It was getting light. All this time there were all sorts of psychologists and volunteers around us. We weren’t asked to come in until half past five or even six.
I didn’t go to see my son. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to see him dead. I sent my cousin. How he cried with me afterwards!
They called me in to ID her at half past nine in the morning.
I recognized her instantly. She had not changed. That is, she tried to seem more adult, the way sixteen-year-old girls do; she had put on a little makeup — a little eyeliner, a little lipstick. This way, she added a year or two to her age. But here — her face was that of a child. A completely childlike face. It was intact, save for some blood caked in her ears.
The pathologist was a Russian guy, and he told me not to open the blanket on the left. “It’s injured really bad,” he said; “you shouldn’t see it.” I drew it on the right, inspected her from head to foot, all the marks were there — yes, it was her. Although what was there to inspect? You could see it was her, it was her face, a perfectly calm face of a child.
I asked the doc: “She didn’t suffer at least?”
“You know, we didn’t do an autopsy,” he said. “Why do it? Wounds like this are incompatible with life. Most likely, she was dead before she knew what happened to her.”
We went to Ikhilov. We looked for her name on the lists. We didn’t find it, but we were still hoping she was at another hospital. At three o’clock, my husband and son and their friends went to Abu Kabir, and I stayed back, because I heard they were expecting new Wounded lists any minute. But after six, there were no more lists, and I went there, too.
We were still hoping. We were saying that some children were in a state of shock and maybe were just wandering along the seashore not knowing how to get back home. Then, all the girls who had been next to Irina were wounded and still alive.
When I got to Abu Kabir, it was already light. We waited for a long time before we were called in for an ID. All this time I was thinking how she couldn’t be there. I told them everything: what she was wearing, her jewelry, her birthmarks, her little scars . . . About half an hour later, they asked us to come in.
I went in with my son. My husband and his cousin said they couldn’t bear to do it. I went in there as if I was going to the gallows. Deep in my heart, I was hoping that Irina wasn’t there.
We entered a small room. There was a door across the room, and the window was closed with a curtain. When they pulled back the curtain, my son Pavlik came up first. “Yes,” he said. “This is. My sister.”
Then it was my turn. I saw her face that I knew so well. But I still didn’t want to believe. I asked the doctor to let me come in. At first, they said I shouldn’t, but then they let me in.
Her eyes were still open, and filled with horror. That was my impression. And her mouth was slightly open with horror. What did she see — what did she think in the last moment of her life? She probably didn’t even think this was the end. She wanted to live so much! To live and enjoy life! And she should have! Everybody loved her so much! And she loved everybody, too! She used to say, Mom, I’ll always live with you! I’ll never leave you. And now she has . . .
They showed her down to the waist. Her face, her head, her arms — all were intact, no injuries. No scars, no scratches. I examined every inch, up to a birthmark under the left earlobe — yes, it was her. She had a gold necklace. The only injury I saw was a burn on her left shoulder, perhaps from the explosion. She seemed to be asleep; only her brown eyes were open, and her face was very pale. I gave her a farewell kiss on her forehead. A doctor closed her eyes. I wanted to do it myself, but he wouldn’t let me.
When I came out, the doctor told me that she had died right away; she didn’t suffer.
My head went spinning, and my legs weighed a ton. I couldn’t scream. I just cried quietly. I just repeated: Why? Why did my daughter die?
The social worker took me by the arm and led me outside.
Another social worker helped Pavlik, too. Grisha, her father, came to meet us: “It’s not her there, right?” He was crying. He could see the way I was walking.
“I hated to believe it,” I told him. “To the last minute I disbelieved my own eyes. But our dear daughter is no more. She is dead.” We embraced and broke into tears. Only then did we begin to realize the immense grief that had fallen upon us.