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.