The Dark Abyss of Exile:A Story of Survival
By Ida Bender
Translation from German to English by Laurel Anderson and William Wiest, with Carl Anderson. Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, North Dakota, 2000, 203 pages, English language, softcover or hardcover.
(Photo from Volk auf dem Weg).
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection is pleased to present Ida Bender's important work The Dark Abyss of Exile: A Story of Survival which she originally authored in the German language. Her cousin, Carl Anderson, helped write this book with assistance from Laurel Anderson and William Wiest who completed the German to English translation.
Ida Bender relates her story of deportation and exile to Siberia at the beginning of World War II in 1941. She and her family lived in the lower Volga region of the Soviet Union, along with 400,000 other ethnic Germans. These people were descendants of 18th Century settlers invited by Czarina Catherina II from western Europe to convert barren Russian steppes into productive farmland. Bender and fellow ethnic Germans were subjected to inhumane conditions in Soviet concentration camps. Many persons perished from starvation, freezing, and brutal treatment. Ida Bender, who also describes acts of kindness by some Russians, expresses the hope her book will help replace hatred with understanding between peoples. The book includes photographs and sketches depicting Volga German village scenes and life in the forced labor camps.
Ida Bender writes in the Foreword: "I wanted my children to have a happy, peaceful life, while they still were young. I wanted to spare them the difficulties I had experienced. They had inherited the stigma of being damned, exiled Germans. Even as children, they were considered second-class citizens, scoffed and cursed. They were persecuted because of their ethnicity. I took it as my assignment to explain to them why they were in that position, while at the same time I did not want to stir up hate in their hearts. I wanted them not to be ashamed of their parents or their people."
"Later, one of my grandchildren asked me why we Germans in the Soviet Union were treated as second-class citizens. I told all my grandchildren they deserved to have human dignity, which had been taken away by the Soviet government. I taught them war should not be a part of life, that one person should not be violent toward another, that one people should not be violent to another people. That is what I wish for all people on earth, and to that end I have recorded my experiences for those who follow me."
Ida Bender shares a compelling story of her life. She writes: "We had been loyal citizens for two centuries, had given our all to make the land productive, had believed in the idea of a perfect society when the Communists took over. The only path left for us was a struggle for survival, trying to keep our family together and out of harm's way."
Volga German village church at Gnadenthau (Gnadentau) - Photo by William Wiest (1993).
Twisted iron cross in Volga Catholic cemetery (Marienberg) - Photo by William Wiest (1993).
The church that would not fall. (Catholic, Marienberg). Local people tell of the church's being slammed by trucks and tanks, and it would not fall - Photo by Suzanne K. Wiest (1993).
Women working under guard in forest - Painting by Andreas Prediger.
Domke, Antonina. "Kindred Souls Do Not Remain Silent – In Memory of Ida Bender (born June 6, 1922, died November 12, 2012)." Volk auf dem Weg, January 2013, 44-45.
Bender, Ida. "Dominik
Hollman." Volk auf dem Weg,
Autumn 2004, 20-25.
"In Service of the German Mother Tongue." Volk auf dem Weg, August/September 2002, 37-38.
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