Eleanor Dupuis with her grandchildren: they also want to know who their Russian ancestor was. Photo: Personal archive
The archives say: Eleanor Dupuy has a bad search option. There is no information about the father, only the name and place of residence.
Michael from Tver. Searching for a person using such data is like writing to a grandfather in the village. But she does not lose hope to learn at least something about his fate.
Eleonora was born in St. Pölten, Austria on April 20, 1946. She found out that she and her sister had different fathers when she was nine. In the year when the Russian troops left Austria, my mother confessed that her real father was one of the soldiers of the Red Army.
I met the amazing story of an Austrian woman who has been looking for her father for many years on the set of a program at the Presidential Initiatives Foundation.
Eleanor instantly won me over. For some reason, the entire film crew immediately began to hug the little gray-haired woman. “She is so good that you immediately want to hug her,” explained the embarrassed cameraman.
Eleanor’s companion, director Natalia Spiridonova, only laughed in response to this:
– It’s Eleanor’s property. Everyone who happens to be near her enters her field.
Natalya, by the way, also “entered the field” and undertook to help the Austrian. She wants to make a film about Eleanor so that as many people as possible hear about the search, and then who knows…
Bread in a napkin
Soviet troops took St. Pölten (this is a large city in Lower Austria. – Ed.) In April 1945. The city center, bombed by the Americans, was in ruins. In order to impede the advance of the Red Army, the Germans blew up all the bridges and dug in in the vicinity, making attempts to capture, therefore, by order of the Soviet commandant, all men and women were mobilized to dig trenches. The food situation was terrible. Stocks were running low. In May 1945, the norm of bread per person decreased from 500 to 250 grams…
Stefania Novi (Eleonora’s mother) was already raising her daughter. Her husband died many years ago in a car accident. In the apartment, which the woman abandoned, fleeing the bombing, settled Soviet soldiers. But Stephanie had a garden with which she hoped to feed herself. In the early summer of 1945, two Russians appeared at the fence of her section. One asked for water. Stefanie had no particular reason to be happy with the guests. Her brothers fought, and one did not return from the front at all. But the Russians were cheerful and friendly. They did not speak German well, but managed to find a common language with the eight-year-old daughter of Stephanie: she was not at all afraid of the uncles in military uniform and laid out her toys in front of them.
Eleonora’s mother Štefania Novi and her identity card issued by the Soviet administration of Austria. Photo: Personal archive
The next time the soldier, the one who spoke better German, came again and not empty-handed. Mikhail, that was the name of the Russian, brought bread wrapped in a napkin – real wealth for a poor woman. And then he offered to help: he did hard work in the garden, brought food. He was about thirty years old. (“So,” Eleanor calculated, “the year of birth was added to the meager information about her father. Approximately 1915.”)
The breakup happened quickly. Mikhail was wounded in the leg in the war, and this wound constantly made itself felt. Once again, the wound festered, gangrene began, Mikhail was threatened with amputation. Before being sent to the hospital, he managed to go in and say goodbye.
Where he was taken, Stefania never found out. Just like the Russian soldier did not find out that he had a daughter in Austria.
Children of Victory
There are more than one or two such stories in Austria. According to various estimates, up to fifteen thousand children were born in the country after the war. In Europe they are called “children of occupation”. But Eleanor prefers a different wording: “children of Victory” or “children of liberation.” In her homeland, Eleanor organized a society that helps such children find their relatives.
They all say that they are proud of their fathers, although enlightened Europe did not like the “children of the occupation” too much. As Eleanor writes in I’ll Find You, Father, Russian fathers had to be hidden, otherwise the children’s lives would be poisoned with ridicule and contempt:
The Austrian newspapers often talk about the “children of the Victory”, using the offensive name “children of the occupation.”
“Many Austrians also had a bad opinion of the occupiers. They preferred to forget that they themselves had recently been invaders and occupiers. Local residents tried not to go where Soviet officers walk, and not to communicate with them … “
In those days, even the school curriculum was drawn up in such a way that teachers talked exclusively about the suffering of German soldiers near Stalingrad. Austrian schoolchildren have never heard that the National Socialists themselves started this war. Eleanor learned about concentration camps and attacks on the civilian population of other countries later, already as an adult.
Eleanor’s mother treated the Russians differently than her entourage. She communicated with Russian women stationed in their housing, was not afraid to walk among the “occupiers” and sent her children to the holidays, which were regularly arranged by the Soviet military. Every year, Russians held a Christmas tree in school gyms, where they distributed gifts to children. In bags, the guys found the most necessary things: clothes, scarce food.
In her book, Eleanor Dupuis provides interesting evidence of the era, for example, an article about the performance of artists of the Red Army, found in the library of the Military History Museum:
“It was late summer of 1945. Artists from the Soviet Union were supposed to perform in St. Pölten for the first time. The city military commandant’s office distributed tickets among the civilian population. In the evening, the guests gathered in the city concert hall. On the faces of most there was an expression of ironic indifference. We didn’t expect much from this show. They came just so as not to anger the “Russians”. The concert began, and with each number of Soviet artists, the faces of the Austrians brightened. It was art like they hadn’t seen in a long time. And when the works of Austrian composers were performed, the applause seemed to have no end. This is how St. Pölten got to know Soviet art for the first time.”
“Maybe I’m special”
Eleanor is three years old in the picture. Her Russian father did not know about his daughter. Photo: Personal archive
She is often asked how she took the news of her father.
“It didn’t shock me,” Eleanor replies. – Mom chose some right tone and told about everything the way it should be. I even thought: “How good. I guess I’m special.”
It is obvious that Stefania loved Mikhail very much. The family keeps a textbook of the Russian language as a relic and another piece of towel in which Mikhail brought such expensive bread in the post-war period.
Mother did not remember exactly his last name. She seemed to sound like Grossman, but maybe Grohmann or something like that. But it is absolutely certain that he comes from Kalinin, present-day Tver.
“He also has brown eyes, dark hair, and I looked like him,” adds Eleanor.
What is the feeling of patriotism? Vladimir Dal believed that with the language. However, the case of Eleanor refutes this. She did not know the Russian language, but for some reason she was suddenly drawn to an unfamiliar Russia, to her father’s homeland.
She had a stormy life. Three children, French husband, travels all over the world. Now she only regrets that she started the search too late, after the death of her mother.
– First of all, when I arrived in Tver, I went to the cemetery, – says Natalya Spiridonova. – There she was looking for the grave of a man named Grossman.
Did not find…
WHAT IN THE RESULT
“I connect people from all corners of Russia”
The search has been going on for a quarter of a century. During this time, Eleanor learned Russian, went around all the archives, learned how to scribble requests and wait for answers for a long time. She even enlisted the help of Sergey Lavrov! Along the way, she was able to help find relatives for a huge number of “children of Victory”. Their stories were shown more than once in the program “Wait for me”.
However, what became of her own father is still a mystery.
– Perhaps he recovered and was able to return to his homeland. Maybe his leg was amputated, and he was forced to live out his life as an invalid. At worst, he died from his wounds. But where? The possibility cannot be ruled out that being sent to the hospital was only a pretext and that he was transferred to another place as a punishment for having an affair with an Austrian woman or for something else. What was his fate? Will I ever know about it? Will I be able to stand on his grave or meet his relatives?
Over the years of searching, much has been corrected. Mikhail Grossman, born in 1915, could turn out to be Mikhail Gromov or Khromov… Eleonora’s story attracts attention. It seemed to someone that he recognized her mother from a photograph, someone heard a similar story from their fathers and grandfathers … Eleanor did a DNA test four times, but the results were not confirmed.
Some would call the search fruitless. But Eleanor doesn’t think so. She bakes Easter cakes and sings “Katyusha”. She walks with the Immortal Regiment and brings flowers to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Vienna. She learned Russian and fell in love with Russia.
Despite the sanctions and official Russophobia of the authorities, the people of Vienna widely celebrated Victory Day this year and laid flowers at the memorial to Soviet soldiers. Photo: Personal archive
Photo: Personal archive
– When I speak Russian, it gives me the feeling that I have become closer to my father, – Eleanor explains. – I can’t hug him myself, but living in Vienna, I connect people from all over Russia and I’m very happy about it.
The archives say: Eleanor has a bad search option. There is no information about the father. Which means there is no chance. However, Eleonora does not lose hope, and with her – everyone who helps the Austrian in her search.
“I will find you, father” is the title of her book, published in German and Russian.
In a way, she already has. After all, every unsuccessful result makes Eleanor’s connection with Russia only stronger.
– It happens, – says director Natalya Spiridonova. – Awareness of what you have, you gain when you lose.
Having lost her father before her birth, Eleanor found him in the form of a whole large country, of which she unconditionally feels herself a part.
FROM THE EDITOR:
Dear readers, if the facts seemed familiar to you, if you heard a similar story from your relatives and could help Eleonora, please contact the editorial office, write to e-mail [email protected].