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.