Friday, November 27, 2009


On February 2009, my sister and I flew to New York for a weekend, exclusively to meet with Dina Zonis and her husband Grischa. I know it sounds bad, but given their advanced age, I was hoping nothing would happen with them until we get there. I was anxious and excited. I was going to meet the sister-in-law of my father’s cousin Sioma Tolpolar, murdered in Cepeleutz at the age of 30 together with his wife Iza.
Surprisingly, Dina and Grischa were in good shape for being 92 and 95 years-old respectively. Actually Grischa revealed he had a bleeding nose the night before our meeting, and had he had my phone number, would call and cancel. But luckily that didn’t happen and we were there with them and their daughter Isabelle, named after Sioma’s wife – Dina’s sister.

I wanted to know how Sioma and Iza met, how they were like, how they were killed, if Dina knew other Tolpolars, etc. I didn’t get all my answers as Dina had little contact with the Tolpolars – she had briefly met Sioma, his brother Fima and their father, Yeshaya. But she told us a few interesting – and sad things.

Sioma was a doctor and Iza was a French teacher, she was born in Switzerland due to her father business travels. Grischa remembers seeing Sioma in their wedding. It was brief, he recalls, and so many years ago, but he said I looked a little bit like Sioma, but Sioma was stronger.

For some reason we don’t know, Sioma and Iza got caught in Cepeleutz by the Nazi Romanians, shortly after their wedding. They were supposed to be living in Ataki, where Iza’s family was, so they either fled to Cepeleutz or maybe were actually living there. In any case, Dina said that when the Romanians were ready to shoot them, they thought that Iza “didn’t look Jewish” and offered her to leave. But she confirmed she was Jewish and would stay with her husband. They were promptly shot. It was 1941. There are rumors Iza was pregnant, but the Zonis did not confirm that.

All the stories that Dina and Grischa told us were told to them by friends, acquaintances and family who witnessed or heard all this. So a lot was missed and changed over the years – and memory also plays tricks on us! But I was just excited to be there with probably the only people still alive who met – even for a brief moment – relatives of mine whom I’ve never seen and heard much.

At some point, Grischa stood up and showed me a piece of paper, a copy he made from a book about Yedinitz. In it, there was a picture of Sioma and Iza, and writings in Hebrew. I managed to have the text translated, and it brought more knowledge to us, and also some conflicting information.

After so many years, it is touching to see the Zonis are still deeply affected by the unfortunate incidents of the Holocaust. We spent 2 hours with them and I wished we could have stayed more and talked more, get to know them better, but this was a delicate subject for them and they also got tired quickly. I jut wanted to make sure I had asked all possible questions, not being sure when that event could happen again.

Before we left, Grischa gave us a lead. He mentioned a man from Briceni who may still be living in Los Angeles who could tell us more about what exactly happened in Cepeleutz. Unfortunately, Grishca cold not remember the man’s name. So now I’ve been looking for a man, whom may have already passed, who was originally from Briceni, who may be living in Los Angeles and knows more about Cepeleutz.

Genealogical research never ends, that’s what makes it an exciting detective job-like.

I hope Grischa and Dina are still strong and lucid in New York. I thank them and their daughter for their time and kindness.

Next: Receiving a call from a Tolpolar in Ukraine.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


On a Friday, October 3rd, 2008, a man named Shaul Sharoni decided to write me an e-mail from Israel. I had never heard of his name, but he had read this blog and was offering to get in contact with Yad Vashem (The Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names) submitters for me. He had found 17 entries under the surname “Tolpolar”, and was willing to help.

Surprised and extremely grateful for this generous offer, I accepted and together we started to research for possible names and their contacts. To make a long story short, 16 days after Mr. Sharoni sent me that wonderful e-mail he managed to get in contact with one of the submitters; a man on his 80’s called Yeruham Golan, who was living in Israel. Mr. Golan was nothing but the submitter of Sioma Tolpolar’s death information to Yad Vashem. And Sioma was Fima’s brother, both first degree cousins of my father. In our trip to Moldova we visited the house where they were born and the place where Sioma was killed by the Romanian Nazis, in Cepeleutz.

I will reproduce here Mr. Sharoni’s amazing e-mail:
“Hello Cassio,

Contrary to my assumption that Yerhuam Golan is no longer alive, it turned out he's very much alive. I spoke to him and his wife this evening, and here's in short what he told me:

Iza Tolpolar nee Fleck was his first cousin-their mothers were sisters, and as noted in the POT she was a Swiss citizen. She and her husband, Sioma Tolpolar, were both medical doctors at the village where they settled in, and shortly before the Nazis invaded that area they were murdered by the locals.

Apparently, Yeruham and his family were living in the same village, and thus knew them very well. Iza's sister is living in NY, and is already over the age of 90. Yeruham would give them a call tomorrow and try to ask for more info.

Now, he also speaks English and I suggest that you try to contact him directly. He's 80 years old and is not computer-savvy, though his wife seems to be a newcomer to the world of Internet.

Lastly, they added that a number of years ago some foreign guy visited or contacted them while on vacation here in Israel-he was also looking for Tolpolar, though they don't recall his name or his whereabouts.

All the best,

After 67 years of Sioma’s assassination, who was wrapped in mystery – nobody I met seemed to know what exactly happened and why he and his wife Iza had gone to Cepeleutz to flee from the Nazis – I could be able to get in touch with somebody who could give me more specific information. I was very excited and grateful for Mr. Sharoni’s efforts and interest.

I called Yeruham a few times. I would ask him questions and he had to check with his cousin Dina (Iza’s sister) in New York and then I had to call him back again. I asked if I could speak directly with her, but for some reason he didn’t want to give me her phone number. I never insisted, I would keep calling him and he would check with Dina, until one day he decided to give me her phone number. Then everything changed. I called Dina, her husband Grischa promptly got the phone. I felt so overwhelmed by the possibilities of things they could tell me I couldn't ask everything on the phone. So I told him I would pay them a visit. He told me something like “You better hurry up. I’m 95 and Dina is 92 years-old. We are fine today but we don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow”.

I immediately bought tickets to New York. In February 2009 I was going to meet the sister of Sioma’s wife. I was bringing the camera to videotape it and my sister was joining me from Pittsburgh. I was anxious, nervous and excited.

Next: Meeting Dina Zonis and uncovering the past.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Before going to Moldova, Shlomi mentioned to me a certain Boris Nusinkis, who was a relative from the Tolpolars. I just didn’t have any time to research about it, but once I came back from the trip, I started to look into it more carefully. Asking my relatives in Brazil, it seems there was a Nusinkis who was married to a Tolpolar and he was supposed to have moved to the USA. But that was all info I could get. So it had to be related to Boris. I then took a very simple and fast route: went on US Search (which does not work out every time) and looked for Boris Nusinkis. It gave me an address and a phone number.
It took me a few weeks to gather courage before I could call the number. On the other side of the line, Irina, Boris’ wife picked it up. She said she would ask him and they would research about it to see if my story made any sense. They were in NY and I was in LA. On Saturday at 5 o’clock in the morning I got a call from a very exciting Irina: it seemed we were really related!
I was already going to New York for a wedding on October 2008, so it all worked out perfectly. We exchanged e-mails and arranged to meet. I sent the Nuskinkis in advance some old pictures I had of Tolpolars in Bessarabia. I was extremely excited to hear more about our connection and the other side of the Tolpolars, not Brazilian or Israeli – but a very recent family history in Ukraine.

Amongst the pictures I sent there was one of my grandfather when he was young. When Boris, Irina and their son Anatoly came to pick me up in Brooklyn, the first thing I saw coming out of the car was Boris with his arm straight up holding a picture of my grandfather – the exact same one I had sent! I don’t remember the exact words, but he came out of the car saying something like “Now I know who this is!!!!!!” Sure, it was my grandfather. In a few seconds, right there in that street in Brooklyn, a Tolpolar family connection which was lost by travels, immigration and language was reunited again.

Boris is the grandson of Nechome Tolpolar and Shlomo Nusinkis, whom married and lived in Chernovitz, now Ukraine. Nechome was the older sister of my grandfather. Shlomo and Nechome had 3 children: Malvina, Wlad (died in 1993) and Isaac (died in 1993). Isaac had Boris and Matviei Nusinkis (who also lives in NY). Wlad Nusinkis had two daughters: Hana (lives in Giessen, Germany) and Galina (lives in Israel). Hana has a 25 year old daughter, Inna. Galina has 2 sons in Israel. Boris married Irina and had Michael and Anatoly. Nechome and Malvina were killed by the Nazis in the woods. Shlomo died in 1936, before the war, and is buried in Sorocca.
Boris’ last connection with the Tolpolars was through Fima, Shlomi’s grandfather and my father’s first cousin. The thing was that Fima was one of the last Tolpolars to leave Russia and was a very important lawyer at the time – a lot of people knew him.
But better than reuniting again, Boris also knew another sister of my grandfather whom we didn’t know much about either: Surke. Surke Tolpolar used to live in Chernovitz too, and had 2 daughters: Frima and Bronya. Boris would see Surke every weekend; she was “Aunt Surke”. She passed away in 1968/1969 at the age of 80 and her grave should be at the Chernovitz old Jewish cemetery, with her husband, Chaim Fishman. Frima and Bronya came to Philadelphia and died there, in a nursing home.
And now Boris and I, two grandsons of the old timers Tolpolars with very different life stories and ages (he is about 50 and I’m 34), were right next to each other. To me it’s just amazing how the world turns and even with all its wars, tragedies and things that make people apart, we are still able to reunite after so many years. Well, I do have to thank the internet!
Boris’ family was extremely kind. Irina was also very excited, taking pictures and explaining life in the old Soviet Union. They took me to Coney Island for a Jewish Russian experience. It was great. I feel the Tolpolar family got bigger – and that makes you feel comfortable.

After a long day of telling stories, remembrances and making lost connections, the Nusinkis dropped me off back to Brooklyn. But before leaving, they demanded one more thing: to see my wife, Lara. So I went to get her and we took a picture.
We are still in touch and met again when I had another opportunity to go to NY (which I will tell later about it). I then met their other son, Michael. And they met my sister too.
Sometimes I think if the Tolpolars in Besarabia would ever imagine this could happen, and if there had been no war, if I would have grown up having Boris and his family next to my family and maybe we would still be in Moldova, Russia or Ukraine and could be neighbors, classmates or work mates. In any case, history was very different and now here we are to continue it.

Next: an unexpected e-mail leading to a surprising discovery.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


2 months after the trip to Moldova I received this e-mail from Natasha:

I think I found the grave in Vadul Rashkov!
See the picture attached. It's the only broad one, of a couple, there.

Although it was a brief and simple e-mail, when I looked at the picture I could not breathe for 2 seconds. I was almost sure it was the grave of my great-grandparents we were searching while in Moldova. The same grave we had a picture of. I forwarded it to my sister, who reads a little Hebrew, and she confirmed. It is written “Tolpolar” there!

Incredible, I could not believe it. The grave looks different now, corroded by time. It was in Vadul Rascov, the only place we didn’t go because we were just too exhausted that day. 79 years separate the grave from me now, but I felt like I was somehow reconnecting with my great-grandparents and assuring to myself once more they really existed. And also now I’m sure that trip to Moldova was not the first one. I have to see the grave with my own eyes!

The next e-mail Natasha sent me was full with pictures from the cemetery, which I’m happy to share it here:

"Hi Cassio,

I wish you inspiration!

Please get attached some pictures. You see that the cemetery is ABSOLUTELY deserted. There isn't a single Jew in the village and it's hard to get to this now remote place. "

The original picture of the grave, with my grandfather and his brother, says:
“Here lie the beloved, gracious in living and in death together
Man/husband and woman/wife murdered in their home
And died in martyrdom (“holy death”)
Died the sixth of Tevet (?) (5)690 (according to) the minor era
Enia-Raitsa daughter of Efrayim (?) Meyer son of Chaim
The family Tolpolar (of) Oliscani - January 6, 1930
May his/her soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life.”

Next: Finding relatives in Staten Island, New York.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


It’s been more than a month after the trip and I’m just finishing writing these memories. A lot of thoughts came through my head since then, as I digested and reflected upon the trip.

A few things I didn’t know where to fit in the text, but worth mentioning, are here:
- Every morning at the hotel breakfast lounge we would meet this very nice Dutch man. As he said, a businessman, trying to make deals in Moldova. As my friend Viorel later told me, “these people are probably not doing anything here, there’s no business to be done”.
- The stray cats in Moldova seemed extremely docile, I’ve never seen street cats being so friendly, and running to you to cuddle, or just staying around in a bar, rolling on the floor. There must be something in the Moldovan air that numbs them, or something.
- Talking about pets, in almost every car we would see these puppy dolls and other kind of animal dolls sitting either in the front shield or in the back. We saw a lot of these in taxi cabs. Funny trend.
- While most young people want to leave Moldova, in lack of better opportunities, we saw a lot of weddings. And it was easy to spot them: cars full of balloons hanging in all sides. It was a pretty sight, and there were lots of these colorful vehicles all over town.
- Roman, my Russian friend, confessed to me the first time he saw the Ocean was a year ago, when he was living in Montenegro. I was very surprised, but then he asked me how many people in Brazil have seen the snow?
- Moldovans are not ashamed to assume their country is the poorest in Europe. I found that people in poor countries tend to be nicer than people in rich countries. Maybe due to the fact that they really have to rely on each other to survive and not on government laws. But on the other hand, people can be very mean in poor countries. So I guess Moldovans are just lucky.


Moldova is a country in transition; its identity is still being constructed, as well as its politics, economy and culture. It can be very exciting to be part of this, to help build a nation, but on the other hand it can be very frustrating. Visiting a country for 10 days is not really experience it in its fullest. At the same time I loved our stay there, I was able to see young people wanting to leave the country for the lack of better opportunities and young people wanting to stay in the country for the lack of competition and for the possibility of future opportunities. Moldova is a divided country, split into many mind sets, ethnicities, economical and social problems, ambiguous and complex.

As for myself, I cannot say I found exactly what I was looking for, but at the same time I wasn’t sure what exactly I was looking for. It was all a feeling, a feeling of completion I was trying to achieve. Information about family and understanding of one’s History is also important, but much more than that, I think me, my father and sister were able to bond like never before. Now the future is for me to continue.

Next: continuing the genealogical research - the discovery of the Tolpolar grave.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Our flight was very early in the morning, so we needed to be at the airport by 6AM. We asked the hotel receptionist to call us a big cab, since we had a lot of luggage and wanted some comfort. The cab that came was very small, old and falling apart. Only one bag fitted in the trunk, and the others were in our laps. We could notice that the car’s break discs were extremely worn out, as they made this constant noise. The car was also in the gas reserve. We thought we may not make it to the airport. Well, one last adventure.
We finally arrived safe at the airport and for our surprise the place was packed. A LOT of people in the check in line. But there was not a line; it was just a conglomerate of people trying to reach the counter. We couldn’t believe all these people were flying: youngsters, their parents, grandparents, babies, the whole shebang. We then realized most of these people were not boarding, but yet saying goodbye to the ones who were flying. So the person checks in, waves his/her hand to the family, and enters the boarding gate. Didn’t they know after you check in you can hang out at the lobby and still spare some words and hugs? Another cultural difference, or something like that.
It’s funny, once you are in the country, everything is an experience, everything is different, interesting, nice. But when you’re leaving, you just want to get home, and all the country’s hassles come to you at once! So my sister got furious and started to push away the crowd, opening a path, like Moses in the desert, so we could finally check-in. My bag was a little overweight, so I had to transfer some stuff to my carry in luggage.
After that, we exchange our last lei for dollars and went to our gate.
As we were waiting to board, Kerley receives a call from her friend Maria: the receptionist at our hotel had called her (somehow she had her number, but not ours). We had forgotten the hotel keys and she needed it back desperately. The key was actually in my pocket. The receptionist wanted my sister to put the key in a cab and bring it back to the hotel. My sister said we were already in the boarding area, had passed through security and couldn’t leave just now. After a lot of talk (gee, it was just a regular key – but I think the poor girl would have to pay for another one herself), Kerley tried to see if any of the airport shops would agree to hold onto the key until the receptionist gets it. But they all said no. So Kerley went back to security and asked for a policeman to keep the key. Of course they couldn’t communicate very well, but thanks to a woman who was around and spoke English, the policeman agreed to have the key. And he gave Kerley his phone number, in case the hotel people needed to locate him. His name was Ruslan.
OK, the airplane to Frankfurt was there. I’ve never seen this, but we had to board through the back of the plane. It literally looked as if we were entering in the plane’s ass. Other people found it funny too, and were taking pictures. We took one too.
We soon found our seats. Kerley and Mauro were behind me. By my side, in the window, was a young mother and her baby. The Air Moldova plane is very small and simple, and on the other side, across from me, a very tall man was fighting against his seat. His long legs simply couldn’t fit in it! He complained and complained, until finally the flight attendant moved him to a better location, some kind of first class seat.
The flight to Frankfurt was calm. The baby next to me couldn’t stop looking at me. His mother said I looked like his father. I was so tired I quickly fell asleep. Sometimes I would open my eyes, and the baby was there, looking at me and holding my arm. And like this I spent the entire flight, protected by these young Moldovan hands.
When we got to Frankfurt there was no time to say good-bye, we had to part ways and I had to run like hell to try to catch my flight to London. I quickly saw Shlomi waiting for us and ran to the British Airways counter. I was extremely late.
The last image of my dad I remember was him looking for his luggage in the carrousel.

Next: post-trip reflections

View from our hotel window:

Monday, March 23, 2009


Last day in Moldova! The exclamation point doesn’t mean we were happy. I think it was a mix of excitement, sadness and an advanced nostalgia. We had seen a lot, met a lot of people and would come back with a lot to tell.
Because this was more like a “do what you want” kind of day, I don’t remember exactly what we did. I do remember we met up with Maria, Kerley's friend, bought my Zdob si Zdub CD (they didn’t have any nice shirts – I wanted to get one of the Moldovan soccer team, but it was getting too complicated to find it), walked in the park, etc.

In order to go get my CD, we needed to take a shuttle. It was our first experience using public transportation. The shuttle was nice and I was soon amused by another cultural shock. Suddenly the driver wanted to give me some cash. I couldn’t understand why, but he was insisting. Maria then explained very quickly it was the change for somebody in the back of the shuttle. Basically, when people get in they pay and sit right away. At some point, the driver has their change, and asks for the other passengers to pass it onto the person. So I got the money and gave to the person behind me, and this person gave to the person behind her and so on, until it reached its ultimate destiny. If this happened anywhere else I’m not sure if the change would reach its owner in its entirety.
Soon, there was the announcement of rain, black clouds, strong wind… So we decided to stop there and go back to the hotel. And it started to rain, for the first time since we were there.
At the hotel, I called Viorel, and he said he would come by. My dad stayed to get some rest, and my sister and I met Viorel for some late lunch. He took us to this old typical Soviet bar, something I’ve never seen before, really cool, like a Russian movie. Kerley would wait and eat with Mauro, so Viorel bought me what he called a “Georgian barbecue” and some beer. It was very cheap and good. The barbecued pork came in a skewer, with some pickled salad, fries and bread.

Viorel invited us to go to a concert. Kerley declined, she had to get food for dad and herself – and rest. I was very tired, but accepted right away. As my last night in Moldova, I wanted to enjoy it.
So Viorel and I walked to the venue and met with some of his friends, most of them the same ones I had met before, but I didn’t see the French guy. We drank a bit, talked, they smoked a lot. We soon entered the venue to see this band called Snails, the second most popular rock band in Moldova. For my surprise, they sounded like any regular Brazilian pop/rock band. Later, listening to Zdob si Zdub, I found out they were the real deal. More personal and fresh, combining elements of Moldovan folklore and modern rock.
The place was sizzling hot, I was sweating all over the place, had to take in a few beers to cool down. The crowd was very young and enthusiastic, dancing cheerfully. But I don’t dance, so I talked a bit with Viorel and then seated on a table with some of his friends. It was then one of them told me the most important documents were transferred from Moldova to the Archives in Iasi, Romania, after the World War II or after the independence, not sure now. I kept this information on a safe place in my drunken mind to check out later.
It was getting late, I had an early flight next day, was sweating like crazy and my ears were hurting. So I made the difficult decision to leave. Although I wanted to walk back, Viorel called me a cab. On the way to the cab we ran into Viorel’s friend, who practices capoeira. He said there are no Brazilian capoeira masters in Moldova, and they kinda have to learn it on their own. Unfortunately I don’t know much about capoeira, but was surprised to see it had reached those lands.
And then I went home.
Kerley was still kinda of awake so we talked a bit. Dad also woke up, and we had a little family conversation in the middle of the night. And then I went to sleep.
Next: Flying back and seeing Chisinau for the last time.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Milestii Mici is also the name of the village where the winery is. Today it was a special holiday there, so the winery had all tours already booked for this day of festivities. It’s funny, because it was not a holiday in the rest of the country, only there. However, we managed to get a quick tour. It was kind of costly, but our only chance to see the wonders of wine making.

And it was definitely wonderful. Not so much for the wine tasting, as we got a very small tasting compared to what they usually serve, but for the place itself. It’s almost like an underground city, where you go by car and see its streets and alleys full with barrels and wine bottles. Each street is named after a specific kind of wine or grape.
You don’t need to love wine to appreciate it. It’s nice, it’s touristy, it’s part of the culture, if you’re there, you have to do it.
The tour was really quick, and we took the rest of the day to walk around, buy some gifts, eat in a cheap – but very good place – we had discovered close to our hotel.
At evening, I had my lecture scheduled at KSAK, the Art Institute in Chisinau. By 6PM we got there and waited until there were enough people. I showed my films, talked about them and my career and answered questions with the help of a translator. The crowd was very friendly, I felt very welcomed there. Soon after the lecture we took a cab to the Jazz bar, where Maria Turculets was waiting for us with some friends. Kerley had met Maria through the internet, and she revealed to be a great resource, very interested and a good friend. A band was playing some kind of “gipsy jazz”, very pleasant. I had this amazing cheese pancakes. It was then I discovered pancakes in Moldova were my favorite food.
Everybody was laidback, my dad was moving in the chair to the sound of the music, and I was doing my last “cameraman work”. I decided I wouldn’t take the video camera with me the next day. I needed to be at least one day without it.
Next to me was a local guy, one of Maria’s friends. I could hardly understand his English, but the little we communicated was very enjoyable. He worked in this radio station and also for the Jewish community. His sister lives in Kazakhstan, and for the first time I heard great things about this country.
Roman, my Russian friend, tried to meet us, but that didn’t happen. I knew I was not going to see him again.
We were tired and didn’t stay too long. We arranged with Maria to meet next day for a walk in the city. I also wanted to buy a Szdob szi Sdub CD (a famous local band) and get a shirt as souvenir.
Next day would be our last full day. We had done a lot for sure, but I felt the mission wasn’t totally accomplished, that we needed much more time to find out more things. However, I was happy just to enjoy this last day with my dad and sister, and relax.

Next: Last day in Moldova and final impressions.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


This was a much more relaxing day. We left at 10AM, which gave us plenty of time to rest and get prepared to go to the Sorocca fortress, one of Moldova’s main’s sight. That would be our first “tourism only” day, and we were definitely happy about it. Going after your roots is fantastic, but it takes a lot from you, and we needed a day like this.
BUT… Before getting on the road, we came back to the Jewish Community Center in Chisinau. People there had found one of the few images of Volodya Tolpolar, who had just died a few years ago and could be a relative. It was a video image, and a very quick one, so we had to pause it to see his face better. But they couldn’t find the remote and therefore we couldn’t pause it. So Kerley had to take the picture on the go, with the VCR playing. She did a good job and now we have a digital picture of this Tolpolar we never knew existed. This time there was no time to talk at all as we needed to get going to Sorocca, in the very north of Moldova. But I promised to search for Volodya’s family, possibly living in Ukraine.

The fortress is a niece piece of History, but nothing very impressive. Cool thing was to see Ukraine right on the other side of the river.

There’s also a Jewish community there and a gipsy village, but we didn’t have much time to investigate it, only to drive by the synagogue. I do have much more images in my video camera.

For lunch we went to this restaurant across the fortress park. Kerley was happy to eat varenikes. I think I got some chicken.

It was our last day with Natasha and Sergei. We came back fairly early, compared to the other days, if I remember. We said our goodbyes and Sergei drove us to the hotel. He said he had a lot of fun, and we got his e-mail address. I promised to send some pictures.
I don’t remember what we did at night. As time passes by, I forget things.

(Apart from this trip, I wanted to share my excitement with a recent discovery. The sister-in-law of Sioma Tolpolar - my cousin who was killed in Cepleutz, is still alive, 91 years-old and living in New York. I am going there next week to meet her.)
Next: going to the famous winery Milestti Mici.

Monday, January 5, 2009


On our way to Oliscani, we picked up Vladimir Drutsa, a police commander from the Soldanesti region, and who would help us in our quest for the Tolpolars. There are 4 thousand people living in Oliscani today, the last Jewish family left in 1954. Our first visit was Constantin Biroe, who served as the mayor’s secretary for 36 years. He had just lost his wife, but welcomed us to his house, served home made wine and some sweets.
For the first time I saw the little underground cellar most villagers have at home. They don’t have water (every house has its own well – oddly decorated), the toilet is a hole in the ground, but the wine is extremely sophisticated and delicious!

Constantin didn’t know of any Tolpolars, but was glad to show us the neighborhood and help us out. So we all got in the van, Natasha, Sergei, Mauro, Kerley, Vladimir, Constantin and me. We went straight to a 91-year old man’s house, a World War II veteran, who could be able to remember something. At first, the policeman Vladimir didn’t find him, so he had to interrogate a few people to discover the old man’s whereabouts.

As we were entering his home, geese were fleeing out. In front of the house, the wife was sitting. Due to an illness, she couldn’t stand up to greet us. The old man was excited to receive visitors, talked a lot about women and flirted with my sister. Vladimir was taking his job very seriously, and vigorously interrogated the man, but he couldn’t remember much of the Jewish community of that time, only the names of the last Jewish couple to have lived there: Basha and Avrum Starosta.

In front of the old man’s house, I got a rock from Oliscani’s own earthly and sandy ground, and put the souvenir in my pocket.

Before going to our next visit, we stopped by the old Jewish neighborhood. There’s not much there, but Constantin showed us where once was a synagogue, where once Jews lived, etc.

Running out of time, we rushed to Victoria’s parent’s house. Victoria is a very nice lady whom I met in the internet, as I said before. She gave me the address of her parents and we felt like paying them a visit. Although the dogs couldn’t stop barking at us, Maria and Ghiorgi Thimofte were very nice. One more time we had some placinta and homemade wine.

Victoria confessed her grandmother was frequently mentioning in her stories a family which was a neighbor, and a certain Mrs. Tolpolar. According to her grandmother, this lady was at this time very upset, because she had a daughter, which got married in Craiova (this is a city in Romania, but at that time Romania and Moldova were one country) and she was not very happy with this marriage. She said: “Oh, as long as you have small children, you have small troubles, once you have big children, you get big troubles!". She said the whole family left the village when she was a teenager. Very impressive, but who was she??? I guess we'll never know...

I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point we got the information that Oliscani Jews could also be buried in Vadul Rascov, a town an hour from there. So we felt like going there to try to find the grave. Because of little time, we had to rush out again, this time from the Thimofte’s house.

We left Constantin at his place and headed for the police station. With a picture of the grave in his hands, Vladimir and his colleague were trying to find out where that place could be. Another piece of information was that Jews from that region cold also be buried in Floresti, a place farther away. At that time, we were completely exhausted. It was 5PM, and we had to decide quickly if we wanted to go to Vadul Rascov or not. Sure we wanted to go, but did we have the energy for one more hour driving to a place even farther from Chisinau?

After examining the picture carefully, the policemen assured that kind of grave didn’t exist in Vadul Rascov. I really wished we had more time and energy to go there. We thought about it for a while. Time was passing. It could be our only chance. It was up to us, I really didn’t know what to do, would it be worthy considering the situation? We had done more and gone farther than we ever imagined, but since we had gone so far, could we stretch a little bit? It was very hot, Natasha was working bravely hard all the time, my shoulder was already hurting bad from carrying the video camera… Tired, we decided to call it a day. I felt sad, but you can’t do it all. We left a copy of the picture in the police station, in case they find the place.

Vladimir worked hard for our cause and we wanted to give him some presents from Brazil. He said “If you want to give this to my kids and to me, you have to come to my house”. So we surrendered one more time to the Moldovan hospitality and warmth. Vladimir, who had a serious expression on his face all the time, as if he was in his most daunting police task ever, completely changed once we got to his place. He opened up this most friendly smile and introduced us to his wife and two little boys. We sat by the table outside and had… guess what? Food and home made wine.

Vladimir told us about their life, he feels that a person shouldn’t leave its birthplace; he/she should stay, build a family and help his/her town. I felt like that was a humble and simple family, who didn’t have much, but were very happy. I had the same impression with most of Moldovans. Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, but its people are very special.
Vladimir wanted to take a picture “his style”. What that would mean? He left the table and went in the back of the house. We waited a little and saw him coming out with three bunnies, one for my dad, one for my sister and one for me. And that was the picture. This closed our trip to Oliscani with a “golden key”, like we say in Brazil. I loved seeing that family, just happy of being a family. Vadul Rascov – next time!
The houses, streets, people in Oliscani are very simple, but fascinating to a foreigner’s eye. You don’t see cars, you see horses. There’s no pavement. In front of every house, a well. In every house’s roof, a different ornament. Progress hasn’t reached it yet, and things are as authentic as they can be. Oliscani stopped in time, but its memories were engulfed by time as well.

For dinner, I think we went to eat in a very nice restaurant in Stefan Cel Mare (the main street in Chisinau), very touristy. The service was weird and it took forever. That was part of my observations, that Moldovans are still learning costumer service, and find themselves in a mind set of transition. So they are able to use certain things and behave in a different way than during communism, but they’re still learning how to do it.

I had a goulash, my sister had pasta. For dessert, my dad had a cake.

Next: Sorocca and seeing Volodya Tolpolar for the first time.