Powerful. Heartrending. Amazing. Horrifying. Profound. Brutal. Heroic. Disturbing. Awful. Moving. Dark. Fascinating.
I do not know how to even begin reviewing this book–other than to order a person to read it. It is one of several memoirs Schneider has written. This book takes place in her old age, in a single day when she goes to visit her dying mother in a nursing home. It is only the second time since she was 4 years old that Schneider is talking to her mother.
In 1941 while her father was away fighting in WWII, four year old Helga’s mother abandoned her and her younger brother to become a member of Hitler’s Waffen-SS; her mother worked as a guard in the Nazi extermination camps, like Ravensbruck, her final position was in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Schneider rides waves of emotions throughout this book, wanting to reach out to a mother she never knew; wanting to make her mother hurt too by recalling the atrocities she committed during the war; wanting to leave and never look back; and curiosity of an insider’s look into Hitler’s death camps. She switches back and forth from brief glimpses into her childhood memories of war-torn Berlin and her mother’s narration of what happened inside the camps. Her mother tells of her history with pride she still feels for her country.
Having grown up in a half-German family, my sister and I got our fair share of World War II stories (our maternal grandmother was a teenager during the war) and rarely have I heard such details of the atrocities that most of Berlin saw as Schneider painstakingly reveals here. This book is worth reading, but be prepared to find some brutal truths in it’s pages.
You can read a brief autobiography of Helga Schneider here.
And she also has a blog, although it is in Italian, here.