Let Me Go

Let Me Go

Book - 2004
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Helga Schneider's mother abandoned her family to pursue her career as an SS officer. In the nursing home where her 90-year-old mother lives, Helga finds her still uncontrite. She interweaves her family history into the interview with her mother, evoking the misery of Nazi and post-war Berlin.

Blackwell North Amer
In 1998, Helga Schneider, then in her sixties, was summoned from Italy to the nursing home in Vienna where her ninety-year-old mother was then living. The last time they had seen each other was twenty-seven years earlier, when her mother had asked Schneider to try on her treasured SS uniform, and tried to give her several items of jewellery, the loot of holocaust victims, which Schneider refused. It was the first time they had met since 1941 (when Schneider was four and her brother was nineteen months old), when her mother abandoned her family in order to pursue her career as an SS officer.
Before reluctantly visiting her on this occasion, Schneider looked at her mother's file at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and discovered that her past was even more horrific than she had previously imagined: in Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women, her mother had collaborated on 'medical' experiments on prisoners, and trained to be an extermination camp guard, a career path permitted only to the most hardened. Never at any stage had her mother recanted or expressed even the slightest remorse about her past; yet Schneider still hoped that she would show some sort of redeeming quality that would finally enable her daughter to accept her - on some level - as a mother.
Helga Schneider's frank account of her last meeting with her mother is both sad and powerful. She describes without sentimentality or self-pity her own difficult upbringing and the raising of her own child against the background of her painful confrontation with the reality of her background. Powerfully evoking the misery of Nazi and immediate post-war Berlin, her book provides a terrifying insight into the psyche of an otherwise unremarkable woman whose life was given a seemingly unshakable sense of purpose and fulfilment by the most evil and repellant aspects of the Third Reich.

Publisher: London : William Heinemann, 2004
ISBN: 9780434010493
Branch Call Number: 940.5318092 SCH
Characteristics: 149 p


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Apr 14, 2010

Fast, gripping read. I couldn't put it down. Harrowing.

Nov 14, 2005

What attracts me to these books, I cannot say. I do enjoy historical reads and this small book is a memoir of a time period that I am interested in, to a point. But this book turns into one of those situations where you cannot look away no matter how bad it gets. A visit to a Vienna nursing home by a daughter to see a mother she does not know or understand is part of a story that is a compelling read. The other part is the fact that the mother was a guard in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Ravensbruck which came as a big surprise to her now grown daughter. In fact the shock of finding this out was only eclipsed by hearing that her mother was very good at her job. But very bad at being a mother. Abandoning her two children, she now insists they are dead even though her daughter is standing in front of her. Her behavior suggests some kind of mental disorder, but her thoughtful answers to her daughter''s probing questions only make her look sane. The strength of her daughter to bring this record to life is as astounding as her justifications and adherence to the Nazi ideology that are the only proof of her involvement in mass murder.

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