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Ida Bender Lived and Fought for What Matters to her People – in Russia and in Germany

The Editors. "Ida Bender Lived and Fought for What Matters to her People – in Russia and in Germany." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2012, 44.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.


Ida Bender.

The June issue of Volk auf dem Weg contained a dedication to Ida Bender on the occasion of her 90th birthday. Sadly, only five months later we must mourn the passing of this courageous and strong woman. Her life was similar to those of many Volga Germans of her generation who, due to effects of the war and merely because of their German ethnicity, were banished by the thousands to work camps in Siberia.

“We could only dream about good times of youth, and keep singing our German folk songs at all holiday gatherings granted to us. In the Trud-Army barracks on the Yenissei [River] we often sang German folk songs at night, and with those songs we managed to quiet our pain, our suffering and our yearnings,” explained Ida Bender her choice of the title for her book. Schön ist die Jugend … bei frohen Zeiten [Youth is Lovely … during Happy Times], which was published in 2010 by the Geest Publishing Company.

She was born on June 18, 1922 in the Volga German village of Rothammel. In 1940 Ida completed German Secondary School # 10 in Engels and began studying foreign languages in Leningrad, but the German-Russian war that began in 1941 foiled all her plans. After being deported to Siberia she landed in a work camp on the Yenissei in the Far North, where she performed forced labor that included fishing, felling trees and floating the lumber on the river.

Following the war she lived in the northern Urals and in Kazakhstan and worked in all sorts of occupations which during the war included teaching kindergarten, heavy fishing, felling trees, carrying heavy loads, transporting goods on the river, and during peaceful times after the war, working as a seamstress, in electrical assembly, as a teacher, journalist, translator, club director and moderator.

Beginning with the first issue of the German-language weekly Neues Leben [New Life], published in Moscow from 1957 on, Ida Bender worked as a volunteer reporter for the newspaper. When the German-language daily newspaper Freundschaft [Friendship] began publication in 1964 in Zelinograd [Kazakhstan], Bender worked for it as a translator. After being able to return to the Volga region and entering retirement, she became co-founder and first president of the German club “Neues-Leben-Leser” [Readers of Neues Leben] in Kamyshin on the Volga, the first German cultural institution of any kind in the post-war Soviet Union.

The words “To my Volga German People” in the dedication she wrote in her book were also her motto for life. For decades Ida Bender fought for her people – in Russia as well as in Germany. Like her father, the well-known German Russian writer Dominik Hollmann, whose legacy she carefully and diligently maintained and publicized, Ida Bender made it her task not to allow the fateful story of the German Russians ever to be forgotten. Leaving Russia to emigrate in 1991, rather than clothing and the like, her luggage was filed with her father’s works.

From the beginning, she worked with great effort as a member of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland [Association of Germans from Russia], presented poems and songs and recounted stories during local chapter events and made presentations to accompany the traveling exhibit of the Landsmannschaft. Again and again she contributed articles to Volk auf dem Weg and to the series of Heimatbücher [historical “homeland” annuals] published by the Landsmannschaft. She also participated in the KEdR Klub [acronym for “Cultural Legacy of the German Russians” Club] and in a Hamburg literary group.

In addition to all these activities, during recent years Ida made dozens of presentations to church communities and to the Lions Club at the University of Lüneburg, Once she understood that the native German population generally knew nothing or little about the story of the German Russians, she used every opportunity to provide various forms of instruction.

To be able to work and write in a professional manner, Ida in her Seventies learned to work with a computer. During the most recent decade she privately published a volume of poems and two volumes of selections from her father’s prose. In addition, one of her books, The Dark Abyss of Exile: A Story of Survival was published in America in the English language.

She enjoyed consistent support from her children Rudolf, Ludmilla and Frieda and from their families. During Volga German cultural events in the 1990s in Büdingen and Kassel [Hessen, Germany], at literary events in Hamburg, and for various other occasions, grandsons Artjom and Juri, together with Grandmother Ida, read poems by Dominik Hollmann. These same grandsons had been her first listeners when she would recount stories about catching fish in the Far North, about her miserable life of hunger in the cold barracks, and about many other events in her turbulent and eventful life, and they constantly egged her on, saying: “Oma, by all means you must write all this down!” The interest her grandsons had shown remained the strongest motivation for Ida to continue working on her most recent book.

The editors of Volk auf dem Weg, in the name of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, wish to express their deepest sympathy to Ida Bender’s survivors. Joining in these wishes are the Amalia and Reinhold Zielke and the Andreas Prediger families, who knew and greatly respected Ida Bender.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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