Nobel Laureate Plans to Return to Ancestral Homeland in Moldova after a Century

Renowned biologist Randy W. Schekman, the recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, with roots in Bessarabia, intends to return to the land of his ancestors. Schekman, whose great-grandparents resided in the village of Lipcani in the Briceni district, will become the first member of his family to return to Bessarabia in a hundred years. The scientist shared details about his family’s history in an interview with Denis Roșca, the author of “The Great Encyclopedia of Bessarabian Jews.”

Schekman’s maternal great-grandparents are believed to have moved to the village of Lipcani after coming from Ukraine. Although he is unaware of the specific reasons that motivated his ancestors to settle in Bessarabia, the laureate recalls that they died in the early 1920s and were buried in the Jewish cemetery in Lipcani.

“My grandfather was a tailor in the Romanian army at that time. In 1927, he and my grandmother participated in a ‘lottery’ to emigrate from Bessarabia and were fortunate enough to leave. Unfortunately, they emigrated to Germany. I think they realized it was a big mistake. Somehow, they managed to escape and ended up on a boat coming to America,” shared the American scientist.

Like many other Jews fleeing the rising antisemitism in Europe, Schekman’s grandparents landed on Ellis Island, which between 1892 and 1954 symbolized American immigration and served as a point of arrival for over 12 million people.

After settling in the state of Minnesota in the United States, Schekman’s grandmother began to suffer from depression due to various difficulties. Shortly after, she fell ill with tuberculosis and had to be hospitalized to receive medical care. Meanwhile, her daughters, including Schekman’s mother and aunt, lived in an orphanage.


“My mother and her sister, who were born in the late 1920s, lived in an orphanage for several years while my father worked hard to support his wife. Eventually, she recovered. My mother grew up in Minneapolis and met my father, who was from another Jewish community in the neighboring city,” said the scientist.

Until the age of 10, Randy lived with his family in Minneapolis, Minnesota, before they relocated to California. According to him, his family’s life in childhood revolved around the grandparents from Lipcani.

“Every Friday evening, we would have the Shabbat dinner at their home. We would go to the synagogue together. Life revolved around family. […] My grandparents had a very difficult life in Bessarabia. I believe the persecution of Jews was truly immense, and somehow they managed to survive and escape. Years later, my grandfather would say he would never return to Bessarabia, not even for a visit. His memories of how Jews were treated were so unpleasant.”

Nearly a century after his ancestors left Europe to save their lives, Randy W. Schekman is ready to return to his homeland and find the graves of his great-grandparents.

“I hope to make a trip to Lipcani next year. I will be the first member of my family to return to that village in a hundred years. No one has ever come back,” Schekman concluded.

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