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Tomasz Horbowski

Moldova: Bessarabian Jews – A Story of A Brazilian

At the beginning of the 20th century, Jews constituted 12 percent of the citizens of Bessarabia. Today, in Moldova and Transnistria live just under five thousand of them. Mauro Tolpolar was born in Brazil but his parents came from Moldova – he wanted to go to the Dniester and see the grave of his grandparents, which he knew from an old picture. 

Cmentarz żydowski w Europie Środkowowschodniej; autor: zrim; źródło:

Jewish cemetery in East-Central Europe; author: zrim; source:

Mauro Tolpolar was born in Brazil. His parents, Moldovan Jews, moved to South America at the beginning of the 1930s, running away from the complicated situation of Jewish minority living in Bessarabia. Thanks to that they survived the war. Tolpolar with his two kids, Cassio and Kerley, felt a desire to see the country of his ancestors and the place where his parents lived. The only trace which he had, were the family photographs, especially one of them with the grave of his grandparents from 80 years ago. In 2008, Mauro, Cassio and Kerley took off on their journey to the end of the world – Moldova. For two weeks they travelled around the completely unknown country, looking for places connected with family history. They met with people, travelled around Moldovan villages and towns, chancing on traces of Jews living there not that long ago. In conversations with the locals they raised difficult issues, like the participation of the local citizens in the Shoah.

They shot a film about their search and started a blog on which they describe their family history with Moldova in the background. From this angle one can see fascinating history of Bessarabian Jews. They also managed to inspire others. Though they themselves did not get to the matzeva (Jewish tombstone) of Mauro’s grandparents, it was achieved by their guide, Natasha, who got Vadul Rascov on the Dniester bank – one of the “most picturesquely located Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe” . This is how the place was described by  Simon Geissbuhler, fascinated with history of the East European Jews. This Swiss diplomat, inspired with photos from Tolpolar’s blog, reached the Dniester bank and described forgotten Vadul Rascov in his book Like Shells on a Shore. Synagogues and Jewish Cemeteries of Northern Moldova, protecting in this way, the memory of Bessarabian Jews.

Watch the movie about Mauro Tolpolar’s journey to Moldova:

[mappress mapid=”1180″]

Translated by Marta Lityńska

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Tomasz Horbowski, rocznik 1985. Absolwent Studium Europy Wschodniej na specjalizacji Europa Wschodnia/Azja Centralna i Papieskiego Wydziału Teologicznego "Bobolanum". Spędził rok w Kazachstanie na stypendium naukowym w Ałmaty. Pracuje w Centrum Informacyjnym dla Władz Lokalnych w Mołdawii. Idealista z urodzenia, przekonania i wyboru.

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