Monday, November 10, 2008


Our next stop was in Cupcini to get Iuri Zagorcea, a Historian and researcher of the Jewish community in the area. Iuri is part of the NGO Eternity, financed by Akkerman. He would take us to Cepleutz, about 30km away from Yedinitz. Cepleutz was supposed to be the village where Yeshaya Tolpolar and his wife (and maybe Sioma and his wife) were murdered. We were looking for their graves as well.
While we were all in the van, Iuri started to tell the story of what he knew of the murder. It was then a chilling feeling ran through my spine. Difficult to describe, but I felt I was part of History, belonged to something, and that the few things I knew about the Tolpolars were true. It was almost like a feeling of completion, of accomplishment of an identity. Or something like that.

But our feeling grew even stronger when we arrived in Cepleutz. It looked like a very small and primitive village, non-paved road and lots of green. We stopped by a street, right in front of the entrance to this path. We walked in, following Iuri, and soon we understood that there was the place where Yeshaya Tolpolar, his wife plus 4 Jews were shot to death. Iuri said their bodies were thrown in the river, where now is just tall grass. He pointed out: “it was right here”.

Basically this is what happened. Two weeks before the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 22nd, 1941, Yeshaya Tolpolar and his family felt something wrong was going to happen, the Jewish people in Yedinitz were fleeing to smaller villages surrounding the area and hiding with non-Jews. By July 7th 1941, Yeshaya and his wife and maybe his son Sioma moved to Cepleutz. There, they paid Ivan Afanasyevich Kistruga to hide them. But they were betrayed by this man, who was married to the sister of Dumitru Gontsa, chief of the anti-Semitic party Cuzist.
Six locals from the Cuzist party in Cepleutz, including Dumitru Gontsa and Timoftei Nemirenko, organized the capture of Jews in that village. The Nazi Romanians said they didn’t care about those Jews and that the locals could do whatever they wanted with them. And they ended up killing most of them. Iuri confirmed that Dumitru and Timoftei were the ones who shot Yeshaya and his wife. He was not sure of Sioma.
Dumitru Gontsa e Timoftei Nemirenko were arrested and sent to Siberia. In 1945, one became a priest in Bukovina, Ukraine, returned to Cepleutz and died there. Nemirenko’s son still lives in Cepleutz. Another killer was also identified: Petru Lupan.
189 Jews were murdered in Cepleutz and 300 were sent to concentration camps. In Yedinitz there were 15 thousand Jews, today there are only 30 families. We gave 100 lei to Iuri and he said he would use the money to help build a monument in Cepleutz, an old plan of his. The problem is that there are still survivors and families of the murderers living there.
As Iuri was telling his story and we were digesting all of that, something magical happened. This goes to show that life in these Moldovan villages doesn’t change so quickly. An old man appeared and started to walk towards us, speaking Romanian. According to our translator, he was saying: “it was here, right here”, pointing a little bit more to the left were Iuri had shown us.

For our surprise, this old man was a witness of that killing. He was 5 years old when he was passing by, taking a horse to his dad, and saw some people on their knees. The Nazi looked at him and told him to leave; otherwise he’d be shot as well. This was a living witness of the tragedy that occurred so many years ago and involved our family. It was just incredible.
This man’s name is Giorghi Kistruga. In the midst of the victims, he saw a few books written in Hebrew, he didn’t know what they meant. He said the bodies were naked. While the Jews were being killed, some inhabitants of the village were around, crying and asking why they were doing that. The local Nazis said if they didn’t stop crying they would kill them as well.
Giorghi also told us that after being arrested, Dumitru came back to Cepleutz. He then met him and asked about his participation in the massacre. He also said when there was a trial in the village in 1946, the bones and remains were uncovered, right at the spot we were looking at. But they didn’t have a place to bury them, so they left them there.

Because Ghiorghi has the surname Kistruga, and he calls Dumitru “uncle”, he may be the son of Ivan Kistruga, whom hid and betrayed the Tolpolars, and was married to Dumitru’s sister. The old man also remembered a lawyer called Tolpolar. That was Fima who, enlisted in the Russian army, ended up surviving the war.
As he was talking non-stop, we were taking pictures and listening carefully. Kerley stepped in a puddle of mud and her white snickers were damped and now brown-colored. We started to leave that place. Iuri was very interested in the old man, and they were both in conversation. To show he was still strong, the old man broke a rock with his hands. Amazing.
He invited us to have tea and sweets and his place, but it was getting late, we were exhausted and needed to go.
On our way back to leave Iuri at Cupcini, he revealed the word “Holocaust” was unheard of in Soviet times. That was unknown to us. Zionism was considered anti-soviet, and Iuri, a History teacher, heard “Holocaust” for the first time in 2001.
After we left him, we started to head back to Chisinau. We were all so tired, but since we were going to drive by Beltsy (where our cousin Shlomi was born and lived together with his father and Fima), I asked if it could be possible to stop there for a few minutes and see the building where our Tolpolar relatives used to live. Shlomi had shown it to me on a map, and I had it in my head.
Beltsy revealed itself as a pleasant town. Sure it was Sunday; people were more relaxed, walking around as if in a holiday, with their families and friends. It felt very comfortable, like a city in the mountains of Southern Brazil.

We saw the building where the Tolpolars lived and the school where Shlomi and his sister went. Then we walked to a Ukrainian grocery store to buy some garnishments for the hotel room. The supermarket was very nice; we got the famous Moldovan bryza goat cheese, ham, beverages and chocolates. Natasha mentioned Beltsy was famous for its brandy, so I got some bottles. One for me, the others were presents.

It was already night time, I think about 9:30PM, when we started to drive back. All of us slept in this 3 hour trip. It was almost midnight when we got to the hotel. The next day we would meet at 10AM to go to Orhei, where my grandmother was born. If I remember correctly, I didn’t hear the alarm clock in the morning, and when my father and sister woke me up, I couldn’t understand what was going on. Suddenly I realized I had about 20 minutes to get ready for one more day in Moldova.

Next: Orhei, the beautiful Orhei Vecchi and back for the last day of CRONOGRAF


Claire said...

Considering the horrible things that happened to Jews in Moldova going back over more than 100 years, I am surprised (and happy) that you have received such a warm reception. Did you feel any undercurrents of anti-Semitism (maybe disguised so that they can get tourist dollars?)

Cassio Tolpolar said...


The people I met were genuine expressing their warmth towards us. I'm pretty sure they were not thinking of money and just were happy to help and meet a foreigner. These are simple people. I didn't feel any anti-Semitism in Moldova, but that doesn't mean that there's none in there.

Jew-duh said...

ham? HAM?????

I'll say a baruchah for all of you!

Anonymous said...

(ar)risc(ar) said...

I was in Bessarabia in 1998 to search for my roots. I went to an exhibition in Chisinau where I found a director Silviu Fusu from the folk theater of Kishinev of Jewish origin who might have a different view of Jewish life before the Holocaust and during the regime soviético.I have many photos and movies (with Mr acherman from Yedenetz the my mother's grandparents, Ziprin .I also have photos from hotim (today in Ukraine)
Izaak Vaidergorn

Cassio Tolpolar said...

Dear Izaak,

Thank you for posting in the blog. I hope you had a good time in Bessarabia. I guess it changed a lot from 1998 to now. Well, at least Chisinau.

Brian Cuban said...

Thank you for posting this. My relatives were deported from Noua Sulita to Yedinitz in July 1941 and were murdered there. I have been researching it.

Cassio Tolpolar said...

Hi Brian,

I'm curious if you ever heard of Cepeleutz, where some of my relatives and other families from Yedinitz were hiding and got murdered.

Cassio Tolpolar

Audrey said...

My father's family (Rosenthal) lived in Yedinitsy from his birth in 1910 until they left for Canada in 1927. One of his twin sisters was murdered as an infant sometime soon after WW1. Can you point me to any information on this time period there or those pogroms, please?

Cassio Tolpolar said...

Hi Audrey, thanks for your message. I wish I knew more about WWI events in the region. My relatives were living there, but not a lot of info reached me. Have you tried looking at Jewishgen? You're welcome to e-mail me at with more questions.