Monday, May 1, 2017


Due to my latest film project, A Trip to Philippson, I've been researching about this Jewish colony in Brazil, actually the first one in the country, established in 1904 by the JCA (Jewish Colonization Association), which had been helmed by the late Baron Hirsch. I was there three times between 2015 and 2017. The place where 38 families were placed after a long trip from Bessarabia to become farmers and consequently save themselves from the violent pogroms, is now a peaceful farm. The Philippson Farm has been reduced in size comparing the original 4,472 hectares, but it's still hauntingly beautiful, with its rolling hills, vast green fields, secret rivers and water ponds. It eerily resembles the Moldovan countryside landscape. 

From the old colony days, only a few things remain. The cemetery has been recently renovated and is one of the most important historical monuments of local Jewish history. And at first sight, that's it. The houses, railway, school and synagogue have vanished. But with the help of a guide, we could locate some foundations of the school and synagogue, and then later we heard there is still the mikvah somewhere around.

Philippson is now a profitable example of soy and corn harvesting farm, and no more a colony. One can read stories about it in books, but cannot be witness to its memories. Only a few photographs of that time remain. In A Trip to Philippson, much of these images will be shown.

I was glad to be there and will never forget it. It is there that modern Jewish life in Brazil began, and like most immigration stories, it was not an easy one. The settlers suffered from all kinds of issues, but were successful in surviving and moving onto a new life. 

Philippson was not alone. Experiments like this were held in Argentina, Uruguay, the US, Canada and Turkey. Thanks to the Baron Hirsch and the JCA, many Jews were able to flee persecution in the old World to start anew in a land that was not theirs, but that would soon become their descendants'.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


It's been almost 5 years since I last posted about the Monte Sarmiento ship, which brought my grandparents and other immigrants from Hamburg, in Germany, to Brazil in the 1930's. Since then I have been trying to get a list of passengers of this particular trip, but have not been successful. I contacted the ship's factory in Germany, the Hamburg port and naval museum, researched immigration records and so on. I eventually gave up, conformed by the fact I would never know who travelled with my grandparents. If I knew that, I could try to get in touch with descendants of the other passengers and understand more about the trip. It would help me get a picture of this relevant past event.

But I have recently found out other things about the ship, used by the Germans in World War II and sank in a bombing. I found out I'm not the only one fascinated by it and that Monte Sarmiento has a history that obviously surpasses my own grandparents' trip.

In 2017 I was contacted by three people, from three different places: Germany, Norway and Brazil.

The German person sent an extensive pdf regarding a trip his parents took from Germany to Norway in 1937. I reproduce the first page here. It's hard not to notice the swastika and the "heil Hitler" at the end of it. I feel uncomfortable to add this here, but sense it's historically important.

The Norwegian sent a copy of the menu that was on board in 1936, when the ship reached his hometown of Eidfjord.This time, the swastika was covered over by a black square, on top.

The Brazilian provided something closer to my quest. A copy of the registry entry of my grandmother, Rachel Tolpolar, into the country. For some reason he could not find my grandfather's. This document, in Portuguese, states the exact date and port of entry.

I'm pretty sure that in 1931, when my grandparents took the ship, there were no swastikas around and they probably did not eat what is described in the menu. It is just historically ironic that they fled Europe and escaped the Holocaust on a ship that would become a nazi leisure, and then later, a war instrument.