By Alex Engbers
We have agreed to meet in downtown Tbilisi, in an apartment of one of the grandchildren of Anton Gviniashvili, who was murdered in Beverwijk in April 1945. The nephew lives on the tenth floor. The elevator only works if you drop a coin in the meter. Fortunately we have such a coin and so are spared a serious climb.
In the luxurious apartment an extensive reception committee awaits us. Even to Remco Reiding it is not clear whose hands we are all shaking. Of course he recognises daughter Anastasia. Three years ago he took a cheek swab from her to establish where her father Anton lies buried in the Soviet Military Cemetery in Leusden. Granddaughter Lika he has also met before. Once around the table it becomes clear that Anastasia’s son-in-law Guram and his sons have also joined the company. And then there is Guram jr., a sweet little bouncing ball of five years old who loves to crawl on Reiding’s lap.
The large, dominant television is turned off. The football match between Georgia and Switzerland loses its attraction when Reiding explains the purpose of his visit. An almost sacred silence descends on the living room. “The DNA of Anastasia and Anton gives a hundred percent match. We not only know now that your father lies buried in Leusden, but also in which grave”, says Reiding to Anastasia. “That means your granddad, Lika.” Lika’s eyes grow moist. The family members congratulate each other. After years of uncertainty Reiding finally gives them closure. They knew from a member of their village who had survived the Georgian uprising on the Dutch island of Texel that Anton was probably in The Netherlands. That was all. Until Reiding managed to trace them a few years back and informed them of the execution in Fort Sint Aagtendijk on 20 April 1945. “How terribly sad that my father could not hear this”, says Lika ruefully. Georgi died shortly after Reiding’s visit in 2016.
All the time Anastasia Gviniashvili has kept her mouth. Even though Anton is her father. Only when Reiding puts a few questions to her does she begin to talk. First just short sentences, but gradually she relaxes and dares to tell her story. She was born in May 1941 and so has no recollection of father Anton who, a month later, after the German invasion in the Soviet Union, was called up for the army, so she says to Reiding. “When I was five years old men came back from the war. But not my dad. I remember how hard my mother cried.”
She missed her father very much all those years. Not just in the barren fifties and sixties, but also later in life when she was struck by misfortune. At those moments she would dearly have loved to feel his arms around her. “My father was a big, handsome man. That’s what people said to me. They also said I resembled him. That always made me so happy: to be the daughter of a handsome and brave dad.”
Her father Anton was a woodworker. His tools, and especially the large plane, she has always treasured because his hands once held them. The memory of her father has never been allowed to extinguish. Endless number of candles have been lit for him, innumerable glasses raised to drink to his health. Talking to Reiding Anastasia’s lifelong armour begins to break up as she recalls how Lika told her three years ago that Anton rests in an anonymous grave in Leusden. The memory of that moment makes her cry softly. With red-rimmed eyes she looks at Reiding. “I’ve always known: one day news will come. And today it did.”
This is the third story in a series from Georgia.
Read the travel reports from Georgia: the news beforehand, part 1, part 2, part 4.