Sunday, March 11, 2007
After having spent New Year in Berlin, I took a train to Warsaw. It was January 1995. In spite of the low temperatures, I decided to go to Lithuania for the first time. The railway to Vilnius crosses Belarus through Grodno. In order to avoid difficulties with one more visa, I took a Scania bus to Lithuania, whose way avoided the Belarussian border. I stayed about 5 days in Vilnius. There I learnt how infinite are the tonalities between white and black. I was guided by Regina Kopilevich. First we took a bus to Wilkomir - today's Ukmerge - where my great-greatgrandmother Haia Sarah Papert was born. From the 11 local synagogues, only a couple of them remained, but the buildings are of course used for other purposes. The Jewish cemetery was devastated during WWII. From Ukmerge we took a taxi to Poselva - today's Zelva - the shtetl of my great-greatgrandfather Lev Klabin, Jewish scholar and tax collector, who had emigrated with the whole family to Brazil around 1890. Our taxi was the only car in the village. According to family accounts, the synagogue stood close to the well. I could recognize the building, in ruins. After having eaten an unforgettable borsh soup at the local tavern, we went to the school, looking for help. The teacher of History guided us to the Jewish cemetery. Snow, wind. Tiny wooden houses. We entered one of them, an ancient lady told us about the good relationship with the Jewish community before the War. I expected to meet Lev Klabin and his long beard at any corner, at any moment. The deep impressions of this personal genealogical trip made me understand what other people can feel in such circumstances. From that moment, I decided I wanted to enable more people to feel the same.
In October 2005, jazzman Marcinho Eiras (Brazil) and family Stern (Peru) had a weekend full of revelations. After visiting Bran Castle and Sighisoara, birthplace of Dracula, they met him during their overnight in a Szekler village (photo) close to the Transylvanian Alps. Although strangely pale the next day, they were all able to enjoy the wonderful landscape on the way back to Bucharest.
In February 2006, Fabia Szvaticsek (Brazil) came to Romania in order to establish professional contacts in the theater field as well as to discover more about her Transylvanian roots. After much research based on few elements, she found out she had a cousin in Arad, near the Hungarian border, whom she visited on her trip's last day.
Patrick Schein (France) has come several times to Romania. His family was originally from Ramnicu Sarat, the same town where the world-famous Saul Steinberg was born. Since his first contact in 2004, we have been helping Patrick to find a way to save the Jewish heritage in the town. The synagogue (photo) and the 2 cemeteries are in ruins.
In July-August 2006, the globetrotters Larry Lunsk and Debbi Kless (US) spent more than 20 days in Romania. We organized their trip from Oradea through Transylvania down till Bucharest and then up to Bucovina, in Northern Moldavia, visiting Cluj-Napoca, Sighisoara, Sibiu, Brasov and Suceava. In their first trip to Romania, they were able to learn a lot about its history, culture and Jewish heritage. Besides, Larry had the honour to celebrate his birthday dining out with Count Dracula. In the photo, they are visiting a traditional farm 30 miles from Bucharest.
In September 2000, Susan King and Joanna Fletcher (JewishGen - US) came to visit Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca and Iasi, the most representative towns for Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldova, respectively. They had talks with the heads of the local Jewish communities and visited the main Jewish sites and tourist attractions, in order to be able to counsel correctly people that call their Houston office looking for genealogical travels within the JewishGen's programme "ShtetlSchleppers". In the picture, they pose in front of the InterContinental Bucharest together with their guide/driver Marin.
In May-June 2000, Fred and Esther Schwartz (US) came looking after his roots in Moldavia. We tailored them a trip including, besides Bucharest, the cities of Galatz, Tecuci, Nicoresti (his father's birthplace), Bacau and Buhusi, where they visited the local Jewish communities, synagogues, cemeteries and archives. In their journey through the past, he met people who told him fascinating stories about his own family and about the history of the Jews in this part of the world.
In April 2004, Les Berman (US) and his daughter came to visit their ancestrals' town Ramnicu Sarat, where it was possible to see the ruined synagogue and the 2 cemeteries. Les Berman was also kindly allowed to research at the National Archives in Buzau (photo), had talks with the local head of the Jewish community in Focsani and with the mayor of Ramnicu Sarat. Besides, before leaving Romania, they still paid a visit to Dracula's castle in the beautiful Prahova valley through the Carpathian mountains.
In April 2002, Silvio (Brazil), Serge and David Batusanski (France) visited their ancestors' land: Bessarabia. Chisinau (in the picture below, Serge seen through the Holocaust monument in downtown) and Briceni were the main stops, where they visited the local Jewish community and cemeteries. In Briceni they were even able to meet a distant cousin, unknown till that moment. On the way back to Romania, we passed through Botosani, the place that is probably in the origin of their family name.
In May 2002, I was in the village of Oclanda, in Soroca county, Bessarabia, in order to visit the place where the family of my greatgrandfather Solomon Aiklender came from. Although my grandmother was born in the Ukrainian town of Zhitomir, it seems - according to some research - that her father, or at least her father's family, came from that tiny village on the border of the Dniester river.
In November 2004, we took Leonel and Roberto Kaz (Brazil) to a trip towards deep Romania, searching for its flavours, history and culture. Father and son, with Jewish Moldavian origins, were able to understand better, crossing Transylvania and experiencing family hospitality in Bukovina, special habits and characteristics within their own family. In the picture below, Leonel, a citizen of Rio de Janeiro, is happy to see his ancestrals' snow in Suceava county.
Elizabeth Margosches (US) was in Romania in July 2001. Her Romanian roots made her come from the East Coast in order to visit Bucharest and Iasi. In both cities she visited the main Jewish sites and the National Archives for personal genealogical research. She is in the picture with her guide Elena at Strada Alba, Iasi.
The Brazilian lawyer Henrique Gandelman (father to the saxophonist Leo Gandelman) came to Romania in 1998, from where he was guided by us to the Republic of Moldova. His parents were from a tiny village called Trinka, in Northern Bessarabia, and had emigrated to Brazil during WWII. We guided him through Chisinau, Edinetz, Briceni and Sekureni (Ukraine), looking for his family's footprints. During the trip, he was helped by many new friends and heard moving stories about his own family and the fate of Bessarabian Jews.