Olga Berggolts Biography
Olga Fedorovna Bergholz (Berggolts) was born on May 16, 1910, in St Petersburg, Russia. Her father, Fedor Bergholz, was a Medical Doctor. Her mother, Maria Timofeevna, was a homemaker. Olga Bergholz had a junior sister named Maria. She studied arts and literature at the State Institute of Arts, then at the Department of Philology of the Leningrad University, and graduated in 1930 majoring in Russian literature. Her first poems were published in 1924, then she worked for several Leningrad newspapers.
In 1938, Olga Bergholz was arrested during the repressions of the “Great Terror” under the dictatorship of the increasingly paranoid Joseph Stalin. She was imprisoned on false accusations, because her name sounded like a German one. At that time she was pregnant and her child was stillborn in the NKVD (KGB) prison in Leningrad. She kept writing a secret diary of her experience in that famous prison, “interrogations were focused on breaking my will and messing with my soul, trying to degrade my life by making me feel helpless and hopeless.” She was released a few months later. Her husband died in November of 1941, when the Nazi Armies surrounded the city of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and cut all communications for nine hundred days. The siege of Leningrad was ordered by Adolf Hitler.
Olga Bergholz served at the Leningrad Radio during the siege. She had a calming voice. Her radio performances helped lifting the spirits of survivors in the besieged city of Leningrad. Olga Bergholz was reading her own prose and poetry as well as the news from the front-lines of the war. She was supported by her friend, Anna Akhmatova, who also lived in the besieged Leningrad during the first months of the war. During the siege civilians were plunged into a reality so terrible that for survival people ate all their pets, and many ate the dead. By the end of WWII the population of Leningrad decreased from 3,5 million to 0,7 million. More than a million people were evacuated in cold winter months, but many of them died on the road. Hundreds of thousands of men and women were killed while defending their city, and at least 1,000,000 civilians succumbed to the ravages of starvation, cold, and disease during the 900 days of the siege. Olga Bergholz witnessed the siege and recorded many important facts in her writings.
The Piskarevskoe Memorial Cemetery in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) is the place where over half-a-million people were buried in mass graves. The granite entrance to the Memorial is decorated with the inscription from the poem by Olga Bergholz, “Nikto ne zabyt i nichto ne zabyto” (No one is forgotten and nothing is forgotten). She received awards and decorations for her courage during the siege of Leningrad.
Olga Bergholz died on November 13, 1975, in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and was laid to rest in the Literatorskie Mostki of the Volkovo Cemetery in St. Petersburg, Russia.