Olga Bergholz

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Olga Bergholz in 1930 Olga Bergholz.jpg
Olga Bergholz in 1930

Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz [1] (Russian :О́льга Фёдоровна Бергго́льц,IPA:  [ˈolʲɡə ˈfʲɵdərəvnə bʲɪrˈɡolʲts] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); May 16 [ O.S. May 3] 1910 – November 13, 1975) was a Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city's blockade, when she became the symbol of city's strength and determination.

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Old Style and New Style dates 16th-century changes in calendar conventions

Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) are terms sometimes used with dates to indicate that the calendar convention used at the time described is different from that in use at the time the document was being written. There were two calendar changes in Great Britain and its colonies, which may sometimes complicate matters: the first was to change the start of the year from Lady Day to 1 January; the second was to discard the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian calendar. Closely related is the custom of dual dating, where writers gave two consecutive years to reflect differences in the starting date of the year, or to include both the Julian and Gregorian dates.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.


Early life

Olga Berggolts was born in a working suburb of St. Petersburg. Her father Fyodor Christophorovich Berggolts (1885—1948) was a surgeon of half-Russian and half-Latvian descent, although in 1942 he was forcefully sent to the Krasnoyarsk Krai as "an ethnic German and a son of a principal shareholder" (his father was in fact a factory worker). [2] He studied in the Imperial Military Medical Academy under Nikolay Burdenko and served as a military doctor during the World War I; after the October Revolution he was mobilized by the Red Army and continued working at the hospital train.

Russians are a nation and an East Slavic ethnic group native to European Russia in Eastern Europe. Outside Russia, notable minorities exist in other former Soviet states such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Ukraine and the Baltic states. A large Russian diaspora also exists all over the world, with notable numbers in the United States, Germany, Brazil, and Canada.

Latvians ethnic group

Latvians are a Baltic ethnic group and nation native to Latvia and the immediate geographical region, the Baltics. They are occasionally also referred to as Letts, although this term is becoming obsolete. Latvians share a common Latvian language, culture and history.

Krasnoyarsk Krai First-level administrative division of Russia

Krasnoyarsk Krai is a federal subject of Russia, with its administrative center in the city of Krasnoyarsk—the third-largest city in Siberia. Comprising half of the Siberian Federal District, Krasnoyarsk Krai is the largest krai in the Russian Federation, the second largest federal subject and the third largest subnational governing body by area in the world, after Sakha and the Australian state of Western Australia. The krai covers an area of 2,339,700 square kilometers (903,400 sq mi), which is nearly one quarter the size of the entire country of Canada, constituting roughly 13% of the Russian Federation's total area and containing a population of 2,828,187, or just under 2% of its population, per the 2010 Census.

Olga's mother Maria Timofeevna Berggolts (née Grustilina) (1884—1957) was a native Russian. She also had a younger sister Maria (1912—2003) who would later become an actress of the Leningrad State Theatre of Musical Comedy. With the start of the Russian Civil War in 1918 Fyodor Berggolts sent his family to Uglich where they lived in the former Bogoyavlensky Monastery up until 1921. Upon return Olga entered a Petrograd labor school which she finished in 1926. [2]

Russian Civil War multi-party war in the former Russian Empire, November 1917-October 1922

The Russian Civil War was a multi-party civil war in the former Russian Empire immediately after the two Russian Revolutions of 1917, as many factions vied to determine Russia's political future. The two largest combatant groups were the Red Army, fighting for the Bolshevik form of socialism led by Vladimir Lenin, and the loosely allied forces known as the White Army, which included diverse interests favouring political monarchism, economic capitalism and alternative forms of socialism, each with democratic and anti-democratic variants. In addition, rival militant socialists and non-ideological Green armies fought against both the Bolsheviks and the Whites. Eight foreign nations intervened against the Red Army, notably the former Allied military forces from the World War and the pro-German armies. The Red Army eventually defeated the White Armed Forces of South Russia in Ukraine and the army led by Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak to the east in Siberia in 1919. The remains of the White forces commanded by Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel were beaten in Crimea and evacuated in late 1920. Lesser battles of the war continued on the periphery for two more years, and minor skirmishes with the remnants of the White forces in the Far East continued well into 1923. The war ended in 1923 in the sense that Bolshevik communist control of the newly formed Soviet Union was now assured, although armed national resistance in Central Asia was not completely crushed until 1934. There were an estimated 7,000,000–12,000,000 casualties during the war, mostly civilians. The Russian Civil War has been described by some as the greatest national catastrophe that Europe had yet seen.

Uglich Town in Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia

Uglich is a historic town in Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia, which stands on the Volga River. Population: 34,507 (2010 Census); 38,260 (2002 Census); 39,975 (1989 Census).


Her verses dedicated to Vladimir Lenin were first published in 1924. In 1925 she joined a youth literature group 'The Shift' where she became acquainted with Boris Kornilov. In 1927 Boris and Olga entered the State Institute of Art History, and in 1928 they got married. Same year their daughter Irina was born. [2] [3] [4] Soon the institute was shut down. Some of the students — including Olga, but not Boris — were moved to the Leningrad University.

Vladimir Lenin Russian politician, communist theorist and founder of the Soviet Union

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by the alias Lenin, was a Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1922 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia and then the wider Soviet Union became a one-party communist state governed by the Russian Communist Party. Ideologically a communist, he developed a variant of Marxism known as Leninism; his ideas were posthumously codified as Marxism–Leninism.

Boris Kornilov was a Soviet, Russian poet. He is probably best known for penning the words to The Song of the Meeting which was used to open the morning radio broadcast throughout the Soviet Union, even for years after its author perished during the Great Purge. Kornilov was arrested on 19 March 1937, sentenced to death on 20 February 1938 and shot in Leningrad the same day. Kornilov has been posthumously rehabilitated, and there is a museum and a statue dedicated to him in the town of Semyonov, near his birthplace. He was married to Olga Bergholz.

In 1930 she graduated from the philological faculty and was sent to Kazakhstan to work as a journalist for the Soviet Steppe newspaper. During this period Olga divorced Kornilov and married her fellow student Nikolay Molchanov. She also published her first book for children Winter-Summer-Parrot (1930).

Kazakhstan transcontinental republic in Asia and Europe

Kazakhstan, officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is the world's largest landlocked country, and the ninth largest in the world, with an area of 2,724,900 square kilometres (1,052,100 sq mi). It is a transcontinental country largely located in Asia; the most western parts are in Europe. Kazakhstan is the dominant nation of Central Asia economically, generating 60% of the region's GDP, primarily through its oil and gas industry. It also has vast mineral resources.

After returning to Leningrad in 1931 she started working as a journalist for the newspaper of the electric power plant (Electric Power). In 1932 she gave birth to her second daughter Maya who died in just a year. Her feelings and thoughts on this period were expressed in such books as The Out-of-the-way Place (1932), Night (1935), Journalists (1934), and Grains (1935). Such works by Berggolts as Poems (1934) and Uglich (1932) were approved of by Maxim Gorky. In 1934 she joined the Union of Soviet Writers. [2]

Maxim Gorky 19th and 20th-century Russian and Soviet writer

Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, primarily known as Maxim Gorky, was a Russian and Soviet writer, a founder of the socialist realism literary method, and a political activist. He was also a five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Around fifteen years before success as a writer, he frequently changed jobs and roamed across the Russian Empire; these experiences would later influence his writing. Gorky's most famous works were The Lower Depths (1902), Twenty-six Men and a Girl (1899), The Song of the Stormy Petrel (1901), My Childhood (1913–1914), Mother (1906), Summerfolk (1904) and Children of the Sun (1905). He had an association with fellow Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov; Gorky would later mention them in his memoirs.

Union of Soviet Writers, USSR Union of Writers, or Soviet Union of Writers was a creative union of professional writers in the Soviet Union. It was founded in 1934 on the initiative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (1932) after disbanding a number of other writers' organizations: RAPP, Proletkult, and VOAPP.

During the late 1930s Berggolts survived several personal tragedies. Her first daughter Irina died in 1936 aged seven, and in 1937 she lost her third child during the full-term pregnancy following the interrogation on the so-called "Averbakh Case" (she contacted Leopold Averbakh of the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers at the start of 1930). Soon her former husband Boris Kornilov was arrested "for taking part in the anti-Soviet Trotskyist organization" and executed on February 1938.

On December Olga herself was arrested on the same account and imprisoned. She spent seven months in prison, but denied all accusations. All this caused a birth of her fourth stillborn child. During that time period she wrote poems published as a Trial anthology during the 1960s. She was subsequently released and completely exonerated in 1939. [2]

In 1940 she joined the Communist Party. After a long period of silence her novel Dream and a book of stories Vitya Mamanin were published to a great acclaim, although she had to hide her prison poetry.

War years

With the start of the Great Patriotic War on June 1941 Olga Berggolts was sent to work at the Leningrad Radio House. She spent almost every day of the blockade in Leningrad working at the radio, encouraging hungry and depressed citizens of the city by her speeches and poems. Her thoughts and impressions on this period, on problems of heroism, love, faithfulness can be found in February Diary (1942), Leningrad Poem (1942), Your Way (1945), and some others.

On January 1942 she survived another personal tragedy: her second husband Nikolay Molchanov died of hunger. Olga later dedicated a poem 29 January 1942 and her book The Knot (1965) to Nikolay. On March 1942 Olga, who suffered from a critical form of dystrophy, was forcefully sent by her friends to Moscow using the Road of Life, despite her protests. On 20 April she returned to Leningrad and continued her work at the Radio House. On her return she married Georgy Makogonenko, a literary critic, also a radio host during the siege. In 1943 she was awarded the Medal "For the Defence of Leningrad". [2]

Together with her husband she wrote a screenplay turned a play Born in Leningrad and a requiem In Memory of Defenders (1944) on the request of a woman whose brother was killed during the last days of the siege. On January 27, 1945 Berggolts, Makogonenko and their colleagues released a "radio film" entitled 900 days that included various fragments of reports, voices, sounds and music pieces recorded during the siege. She also published a book of memoirs Leningrad Is Talking and a play They Lived in Leningrad based on her war experience.

Late years

Berggolts also wrote many times about heroic and glorious events in the history of Russia, such as Pervorossyisk (1950), a poem about the Altay commune organized by the workers of Petrograd; Faithfulness (1954), a tragedy about the defence of Sevastopol in 1941–1942; and The Day Stars (1959), an autobiographical novel that was turned into a movie of the same name by Igor Talankin in 1968. [2] Olga's voice could be also heard in another Talankin's movie Introduction to Life (1963) as she reads her poetry.

On May 9, 1960 Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery was opened dedicated to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad, with the words by Olga Berggolts engraved on the wall behind the Motherland monument. The last line "No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten" became a catchphrase since, often mentioned in Russia during memorial days.

Olga Berggolts died on 13 November 1975, and was buried at Literatorskie Mostki of the Volkovo Cemetery. [5]

Honours and legacy

A minor planet 3093 Bergholz discovered by Soviet astronomer Tamara Mikhaylovna Smirnova in 1971 is named after her. [6] A street in the Nevsky District bears her name, as well as a central street in Uglich. [7] [8] A monument in her memory was opened in Saint Petersburg on May 2015. [9] Also on June the complete collection of diaries by Olga Berggolts was published for the first time by the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. [10] A crater on Venus is named after her. [11]

American playwright Ivan Fuller wrote a play about Berggolts in 2009 called Awake in Me.

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  1. Also romanized Berggoltz or Berggolts
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Olga Berggolts (2011). Olga. Forbidden Diary. — Moscow: Azbuka Attikus, 444 pages ISBN   978-5-389-01614-9 (diaries 1939–1949, letters, documents and photos)
  3. Katharine Hodgson (2003). Voicing the Soviet Experience: The Poetry of Ol'ga Berggol'ts. OUP/British Academy. pp. 11–13. ISBN   978-0-197-26289-4.
  4. Christine D. Tomei (1999). Russian Women Writers. 1. Taylor & Francis. p. 958. ISBN   978-0-815-31797-5.
  5. Tomb at the Litmostki website
  6. Dictionary of Minor Planet Names – p. 240
  7. Olga Berggolts street on Yandex Maps
  8. Olga Berggolts street on Yandex Maps
  9. Opening of the Olga Berggolts Memorial by Interpress.ru
  10. Tatiana Goryaeva. Blockade Madonna article from Rossiyskaya Gazeta, June 22, 2015 (in Russian)
  11. https://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/Feature/699