Ida Bender the Author Would Have Been 91 on June 18, 2013

Domke, Antonia. "Ida Bender the Author Would Have Been 91 on June 18, 2013." Volk auf dem Weg, July 2013, 44 – 45.

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

“… Even during that early morning, the August sun shone brightly on the steppe, an expanse in green and gray, and in the distance a low mountain range was visible. A large group of people and twenty-three wagons pulled by teams of two horses made its way into the steppe in a southwesterly direction from the great Volga River…”

This is how the book by the German Russian author Ida Bender begins, and that is how the history of her [Volga German] countrymen begins! Strains of the Russian folksong “Mother Steppe” resound, and listeners are transported on an eventful historical journey.

For May 26 the cultural and historic club “Kultur A-Z” [Culture, A to Z] of Soest and the club “KEdR” (Kulturerbe der Russlanddeutschen [Cultural Heritage of the Germans from Russia]) of Hamburg had scheduled another public reading of the book Schön ist die Jugend … bei frohen Zeiten [Lovely is Youth … During Happy Times].

This is the book by our author, who was a close friend of the club from Soest.  Jürgen Schultz, president of the Soest chapter of the Bund der Vertriebenen [Association of Exiles], made sure that space was available for the event in the so-called Adam Barracks, which is directly opposite from the “Kultur A-Z” center. 

Born in 1922 in the Volga region and deceased in 2012 in Hamburg, Germany, Ida Bender was an invaluable contemporary witness to an entire epoch, This included the founding of the Soviet Union and of the Autonomous Republic of Volga Germans, World War II, the deportation of most of the German Russians, years of forced labor, life in Gulag-like camps and under NKVD surveillance, the end of the war,  years of physical and psychological deprivation, rebuilding of a culture and, lastly, deep disappointment in the Soviet Union followed by emigration to the historic homeland.

Ida Bender, along with many of her countrymen, was forced to live through all of these stages. She always took care of her large family and kept it intact. Yet, she was no passive observer of her times. Rather, she took action in the pursuit of justice. She was always engaged at the cusp of her people’s struggle. Her journalistic contributions were printed repeatedly in newspapers and periodicals. Here in Germany and in the Soviet Union she worked in several literary and other cultural circles. Throughout her life she took notes that eventually, toward the end of her life, made possible the creation of the book Schön is die Jugend … be frohen Zeiten. Ida Bender’s close friendship and deep ties with “Kultur A-Z” began in 2008, and ever since 2011 the club has carried out public readings of her book.

Her banner is held high even beyond her death. An important desire of hers was that the history of the German Russians must not be forgotten. For that reason, her son Rudolf Bender, along with “Kultur A-Z,” continually attempt to provide people with glimpses into that history. They do so from a very personal perspective and so effectively that the readings tend to stay with their listeners. These promoters have put together a collection of photos, among them some very personal ones that provide visual accompaniment for their listeners.

Another contemporary witness, Emil Domke, almost always assists with these presentations by reporting on his own life story, which has much in common with Ide Bender’s. “We need that in order to keep alive the memories we must retain as a component of our identity. If you stay silent, you’ll be forgotten,” he states and thus echoes the sentiments all of the organizers who make their living solely from member fees and donations from attendees.

Rudolf Bender says: “If at all possible, we’ll perform the next public readings as a group, no matter where we are invited to. In time we have become a smoothly performing team, a family!”

Jürgen Schultz expressed the following in his remarks: “The manner in which the club members have framed the readings made me think that we should arrange our upcoming “Homeland Day” similarly. I am thinking this is the way to present our history – that is, how we were expelled, how we escaped, and how we finally laid down our roots in German – namely, via literature, songs and images. This would be a good way to make the whole thing come alive for our descendant generations.”

The audience thanked the presenters with extended applause. Following the readings, all partook of coffee and kuchen and discussed the events of the evening.

Members of “Kultur A-Z” reminded the visitors that there would be further celebrations, particularly concerning the 250th anniversary of the issuance of the manifesto by Tsarina Catherine the Great.

The next event is not far off. In July the German Russian theater troop of Niederstetten will be visiting Soest with its performance of “Der weite Weg zurück [The Long Way Back].” Using humorous sketches and comical stories in the Volga German dialect, Russian tales, and German songs, actors Maria and Peter Warkentin have put their program together with the desire to present to a mixed audience the history and culture of the Germans from Russia in an entertaining format. 

This performance will take place at 7:30 PM on July 13, 2013 in Soest. The entrance fee is eight euros. At 7 PM there will be a formal champagne reception for all guests.

Ida Bender.
Contemporary witness Emil Domke was born in 1928 in Volhinia and in 1941 he was deported to northern Kazakhstan. He spent the years 1943 to 1946 in forced labor camps, and until 1956 he lived under NKVD control in Lysvya (Urals). Between 1963 and 1995 he resided in Alma-Ata, and since then he has been living in Germany. He is married to Eleanore Domke (nee Kehm, b. 1935), has three children and five grandchildren.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of these articles.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller