VIDEO - Alongside his basketball shoes and toothbrush, Tiago Splitter packed a list of names, and some emotional baggage for his flight to Israel. The match against Maccabi Tel Aviv at the opening of the top 16 will be much more than just a game for Tau Vitoria’s Brazilian center.
It turns out that Splitter (22, 2.12 m) has Jewish roots which go back five generations. Six members of his family died in Auschwitz death camps. His father, Cassio Splitter, has been trying to trace back the family tree for the past 28 years, and asked his son to use the visit to the holy land to gather as much information as possible.
Tiago Splitter (Photo: AP)
“I grew up like a regular Christian boy, but my father always told me about our Jewish background,” Tiago tells ynet. “This is my first visit to Israel, and I am very excited. It’s a very special place to me. Unfortunately, I will not be able to visit Jerusalem and the holy places because of the preparations for the game, but I hope to have another chance to visit in the future.”
The family journey began in about 1870, when Johann Splitter, Cassio’s great-grandfather, left Germany to settle in Brazil with his wife, Anna Saul. “To this day I cannot figure out the exact reason they fled Germany,” says the senior Splitter. “Other relatives stayed in Europe, and I know some of them were in a Polish town in the Krakow area.”
In his search for his family history, Cassio visited Hamburg and Bremen. He met Regina Splitter, a relative, at the historical archives in Rio de Janeiro. The two traveled to Poland together, where they discovered that their ancestors were killed in the Holocaust. “There are no more members of the Splitter family left in Poland today,” he says.
Cassio visited his son in Vitoria last week, and joined him and the team for the Royal Cup games in Malaga. He missed the flight to Tel Aviv: “It could have been amazing, but I was too late, unfortunately. Even though I am a church member, I am very connected to Judaism. The full truth lies in Kabbalah, and you cannot question it. I live in Santa Catarina in Southern Brazil, and many of my friends are Jews. I will not give up the search for my family history. I see it as my life’s work.”
Tiago Splitter is considered as one of basketball’s rising stars, and is marked as a potential NBA player. He joined Tau Vitoria at the age of 15, and has played there ever since. He opens games regularly, along Argentinean Luis Scola.
“Everyone needs to know where they come from,” he sums up. “I think that fleeing Europe caused the detachment from Judaism. I respect Judaism and feel close to it. Even though I am Christian, ultimately, we all come from the same place.”