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A story of love

Léon and Alexandra as a couple in 1945
Léon and Alexandra as a couple in 1945. Copyright: private

Lilia Ivanova from Ukraine found her family in France with the help of the ITS 

After Lilia Ivanova had long since given up expecting that she would ever learn the truth, she finally discovered who her father was. And, only a short time after that, she got to know her paternal relatives in France. It is stories such as these that show how much the crimes committed by the Nazis still have an effect on lives today, and how the International Tracing Service (ITS) can help later generations find answers to unanswered questions about their own personal identity. 

Having endured forced labor, war, and hardship, Ukrainian Alexandra Istomina and Frenchman Leon Bardoux believed that with the birth of their baby on September 25th 1945, their story would come to a happy ending at last. They named their daughter Lilia – after the city Lille, where they were now living and where they were planning their future together. In 1942 the Nazi Regime had deported then 19-year-old Alexandra and her brother Alexei, three years younger, from Stalino in what is now known as Donetzk to the “German Reich” for slave labor. Their mother chose to be deported with them, to be sure that her adolescent children would not be alone. In 1944 in Duisburg, Alexandra met Leon Bardoux, also a forced laborer, and they fell in love. Following the liberation by the Allies there was only a brief period of hope: In winter 1945 the Soviet secret service NKWD arrested Alexandra, her new-born baby and her mother, took them out of a filtration camp and repatriated them, against their will, on a freight car to the Ukraine. Lilia lost both her parents due to this: Her mother died in 1947 as a result of a lung infection that she had caught during the transport. Lilia never found out who her father was.

It wasn’t until she was 65 years old that a curtain opened on her own history. After her mother had died, Lilia was brought up by her grandparents. They never talked about what had happened in Germany and France, even though the grandmother had lived through it herself. In 2010, shortly before he died, Alexei, the mother’s younger brother, broke the silence. Lilia heard the name of her father for the first time, and, with the help of her daughter Svetlana, who lives in Northern Italy, she immediately started looking for traces of Leon Bardoux. At the registry office in Lille, however, there was no sign of a birth certificate, and so there was no information to be found about her father’s place of birth and possible later residence. Although contact with a Russian television program dealing with finding missing relatives and/or friends did not result in any concrete clues to his whereabouts or fate, it did provide the tip to turn to the ITS. 

In Bad Arolsen, the search for clues began: not only about the father and mother, but also about the other family members who had been deported around the time of the war. Documents were found in the ITS Archives that showed that Alexei and his mother had been forced to work in the same Duisburg factory as Leon Bardoux. In a next step, an extensive search in numerous French administrative offices and archives finally produced the relevant piece of information: Leon Bardoux had died in 1989 in Amiens. The ITS staff member who was helping in the search managed to locate the grave, and – through inquiring about the person responsible for taking care of the grave – was able to get the first clue to Lilia’s French relatives. The daughters of a sister of Leon Bardoux knew about the love story of their uncle. It turned out that Lilia had a half-sister in France from a later marriage of Leon Bardoux. At first they became acquainted via telephone, Skype and email. In August 2015 Lilia Ivanova made her way to France, accompanied by her daughter and her daughter’s family.

The ITS staff member who was helping in the search managed to locate the grave, and – through inquiring about the person responsible for taking care of the grave – was able to get the first clue to Lilia’s French relatives. The daughters of a sister of Leon Bardoux knew about the love story of their uncle. It turned out that Lilia had a half-sister in France from a later marriage of Leon Bardoux. At first they became acquainted via telephone, Skype and email. In August 2015 Lilia Ivanova made her way to France, accompanied by her daughter and her daughter’s family.

The granddaughter describes the moment of first meeting Lilia’s half-sister Dominique as follows: “She ran towards us, and we saw tears of joy in her eyes. She hugged my grandmother, her sister from her father’s side. This moment was indescribable.” Important events followed: Lilia heard a lot about her father and was able to visit his gravesite. She learned that her mother had fought in vain for the young family to be able to stay together in France. And what is more, Lilia received her birth certificate in Lille, which – contrary to what was thought originally – was found in the registry office there. A misprint during the digitization process had led to the original inquiry being unsuccessful.

Lilia has found answers to the questions about her family background, the gaps in her life have been filled. Now she and her newly-found relatives want to use this opportunity and grow together, across the European continent, as a family.