Pikovsky family reunited 75 years after the Holocaust
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After making a documentary about Louise Pikovsky, a young Jewish student deported from Paris in 1944, FRANCE 24 tracked down other Pikovsky family members and helped them reunite, some 75 years after the Holocaust.
Until a few months ago, Claire Pikovsky and Nicole Minot were unaware of each other's existence. Yet they are both related to Louise Pikovsky, a Parisian Jewish student deported in 1944.
Since the publication of a FRANCE 24 documentary on Louise Pikovsky in 2017, we have continued to follow the story of this young girl. In the summer of 2018 we discovered a document on the naturalisation of her father, Abraham Pikovsky, a native of Ukraine. To apply for French nationality in the 1930s, Abraham had to fill out a questionnaire in which he indicated that he had a brother, Michel, who was 34 and living in America.
Scouring the internet, we traced Michel’s footsteps hoping to find a living descendant. Marie Cappart, a Belgian professional genealogist who specialises in the Anglo-Saxon world, investigated whether Michel has passed through her country. Her instincts proved correct. A file in the Belgian national archives bore his name. Michel did not leave European soil but instead settled in Belgium in the mid-1920s with his wife Gabrielle and two children, Jean and Olga, after having lived for some time in Germany. "But there are no traces of them after 1942," explained Cappart, suggesting that the family suffered the same fate as Louise and that they, too, were deported.
On the site of the Dossin Barracks, the Belgian equivalent of the Drancy camp (an assembly and detention camp for Jewish people who were later deported to the extermination camps during WWII), we learned that Michel, Gabrielle and Olga were transported to Auschwitz on April 19, 1943. None of them returned.
But what happened to their son Jean? FRANCE 24 went to Belgium to find out and to meet with Cappart. For two days we went through the archives, especially those of the foreign police. We found the addresses of the different residences of Louise's uncle and aunt, their professions and even some photos, but still no information about Jean's fate.
The deportation of the Pikovsky family from Belgium
It was only in the Belgian archives of war victims that we discovered what happened to him: Jean did not die during the conflict. Born in 1922, he escaped the Holocaust by joining the Free Belgian Army. After fleeing to Spain where he was interned for many months, he was able to reach England and join the Piron Brigade, which took part in the Battle of Normandy and the liberation of Belgium. Upon his return to Beligum, he married and had two daughters before dying in 1987.
The search was now on for his daughters. For several weeks, we had no success. But Cappart is tenacious and finally found an old telephone number for Jean Pikovsky in a Brussels' directory. No one answered the phone, so the genealogist went to the address listed. Jean's wife was still alive but she no longer lived there, neighbours told Cappart. They then gave her the contact details for one of the daughters, Claire.
We sent Claire a letter and a copy of the documentary about her distant cousin, Louise. Her answer was immediate. "Dear Madam, it was with great emotion that I read your letter. I am indeed Jean's daughter. (...) I would be delighted to meet you and learn more about my family," she wrote.
A history of protection
We decided to meet at the Shoah Memorial in Paris in mid-January in the presence of Nicole Minot, another distant cousin of Louise’s. Nicole’s grandmother, Hannah Pessia Pikovsky, was the aunt of Michel Pikovsky, who was Claire's grandfather.
"I didn't even know exactly what the origins of my nationality were between Poland and Ukraine," Claire explained during the meeting. "I discovered the documentary on Louise Pikovsky when I did some research on the internet. Right away, I felt there was a connection between this story and mine. It couldn't be possible that we simply shared the same name when there were so few of us," she said with great emotion.
Claire’s father kept the pain of his past to himself. He never mentioned the deportation of his parents and sister, nor his Jewish origins. "Maybe he thought he was protecting us by making sure we didn't know where we belonged. In the end it's a beautiful story, because it's a story of protection," said Claire. But part of her always sought to know her roots.
After being contacted by FRANCE 24, Jean's daughter stepped outside of this protective barrier. In her parents' former apartment she found archives never seen before, including letters written during the war. In a small room at the Shoah Memorial she showed us a letter dated February 1943 from her grandmother Gabrielle about Louise's family in France: “From Paris, we have news, everyone is fine. (...) The girls go to school. They will be great scientists.”
Claire also brought with her pictures of her aunt. We had never seen Olga’s face before. What we saw was a pretty, young girl looking at us with a big smile. Her niece now plans to leave Olga’s portrait at the Dossin Barracks, so that it can appear on the wall of the deportees alongside that of her parents: “It is to restore her life.”
Olga Pikovsky was deported to Auschwitz on April 19, 1943, at the age of 19. There is a death certificate for the girl issued by the camp that's dated December 6, 1943; she only survived there for a few months.
Claire now hopes to meet the other members of the Pikovsky family who are scattered throughout France and even Israel.
She says she now feels whole: "I had always thought we were the only Pikovskys. For me, it is like a small branch of a tree that has finally found its trunk.”
This article has been translated from the original in French, which is available here.