Let Me Go by Helga Schneider


BiographyLet Me Go by Helga Schneider Let Me GoSchneider, Helga.; Heinemann 2004WorldCattranslated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside

Helga Schneider was a small girl living in Berlin in the late 1930’s and 1940’s. Her mother left her and her brother in 1941 to become an SS guard at the more notorious prison camps. She didn’t see her mother again for 30 years. That was for one, disastrous visit. Now, in 1998, again over 25 years later, she gets a call to come see her mother in the nursing home. Helga reluctantly leaves her home in Italy to visit her mother in Vienna.

The woman had been a guard in Birkenau where monstrous medical tests were performed on the prisoners. She had also been at Auschwitz and was one of the guards who helped with the cleansing and the Final Solution of the extinction of the Jewish people. In 1971 she had not regretted her participation or her loyalty to Nazi Germany. In 1998, she has not changed those convictions but she is crafty enough to only give bits and pieces to Helga in their conversation.

Let Me Go is Helga Schneider’s recounting of that day in 1998 when she traveled to Vienna and visited her mother. It is also a revival of memories from when she was a small girl in Nazi Germany Berlin. Her father divorced her mother and remarried for the children’s sake, but Helga didn’t get along with her stepmother. To add in all the hardships with the fall of Germany, Helga barely made it through the war. She had some amazing experiences of her own. She was a part of school children that were presented to Hitler during his decline as the bright, Aryan future. She was shuffled between her mother, her grandmother, her stepmother, and a special school for “special” (read annoying or disturbing) children.

Throughout the few hour conversation, her mother admits her role in Birkenau. She assisted in the “experiments”. She also was a guard at Auschwitz and remembers running the gas chambers there. Even over 50 years later, she is still loyal to Nazi Germany. Helga tries to get her mother to reexamine her life. She wants her mother to feel remorse, but not is coming.

This small book is another, true light into the effects of World War II. I just (naively) assumed that all the people involved on Hitler’s side of the war had eventually all died or had reexamined and regretted their actions. Not so with Helga’s mother.

The conversation is not sensationalized. Helga writes her own reactions and feelings as well as the meeting and words with her mother. The older woman had slight dementia by 1998 and would forget things. Helga wondered if her mother’s words were true feelings or was her mother doing was she thought Helga wanted to see?

Let Me Go is a quick read. It reminds the reader that we all think and believe differently. Some, like Helga’s mother, never left Nazi Germany in their minds. The reader will discover another facet of post-war Europe and Germany.

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