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on 6 April 2004
A seeringly moving and highly evocative book, the author, Helga Schneider, poignantly and movingly tells of her conflicting and ambivalent emotions towards her now elderly mother, a former member of the Waffen-SS, in a final confrontation of the non-story between daughter and mother.
One cannot fail to be disgusted, alarmed and moved to tears as the author takes you on her painful autobiographical journey in the exploration of her relationship with her mother.
Indeed, having abandoned Helga as a young child, her mother joined the SS in what she believed to be carryng out her duty and undivided loyalty to the Fuhrer and obligingly evokes 'the best years of her life'. Her mother became a guard at Birkenau concentration camp, for which she had undergone specialist training in 'unsentimentality' and 'dehumanization' and for which, henceforth, only the hardiest toughest members of the Reich were sent to. And it is this dehumanised, cold and unfeeling evocation of her mother that the author portrays to the reader.
It is truely shocking, as reader learns that since 1941, the author has only met her mother twice, for which the emotional repercussions of this are severely felt by the author as she takes the reader through the vivid account of her second meeting with her mother. With much unsuppressed anger, she questions her mother about what happened in the camps and is thrown by her mother's show of emotional indifference as she candidly selects personal memories from her harsh and cruel role in the work towards the 'Final Solution'. '...like it or not, I have never regretted being a member of the Waffen-SS, is that clear?' is how her mother aptly and coldly sums up her own true emotions about her role as a Party member of Hitler's Reich, in this violent episode of history.
This is surely a work of disturbing and gruesome truth(es) that will go down in history as a wake-up call to the menace of evil that potentially lingers within us, an essential testimony to the terrifying events of the 20th century...
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on 21 October 2007
It's hard to tell who this is about. As it was an autobiography I expected to read more about Helga's life; instead the focus is on her mother Traudi, making it more of a biography of her life.

Very interesting to read and at times it makes for uncomfortable reading. Nevertheless this is a worthwhile experience. I had expected it to be even more detailed that it is actually is, so it was somewhat of an easier experience than anticipated.

Overall it is well written but occasionally it drifts and it can be confusing as to whether you are reading the present or the recent past. The setting for the book is a visit to where Traudi is staying. She is 90 years old and it's just before she dies. Traudi left Helga and her brother Peter when she was 4; choosing her job for the SS over her children. Helga then met up with her again only once more before this visit. The relationship between mother and daughter is fascinating. I don't know if I hated her as much as Helga kept saying she did whether I would have stayed and suffered the abuse she was still dealing out at 90.

It is both fascinating yet frank. Helga takes her cousin Eva with her on the visit and facts are revealed that Eva finds distressing; adding to Helga's discomfort and concerns. Being quite short at 149 pages it means you can read it in one sitting which might be better as there no actual chapters. Instead there are suitable places to stop reading should you need to.

Worth a read but I don't know if I'll read the prequel 'The Bonfire of Berlin'.
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on 19 June 2006
I read this book in a day. It is a fascinating yet frightening story of some of the cruel and terrible things the SS did to the Jewish people. Helga's mother till the day she died showed no remorse for what she had done and died believing she did the right thing by following the 'final solution'. I would really recommend it
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on 18 January 2014
"I look at you, mother, and I feel a terrible, lacerating rift within me - between the instinctive attraction for my own blood and the irrevocable rejection of what you have been, of what you still are." In 1941 Helga Schneider' s mother abandoned her family to pursue a career as an SS officer working in the concentration camps - for which she later served a prison sentence. In 1971 Schneider met her mother again and her mother tried to give her some stolen jewellery and to persuade her to try on her carefully preserved SS uniform. The book centres on a final encounter with her mother in 1998 - her mother is then in her nineties and suffering from a degree of dementia. She remains however a manipulative women who is unrepentant about her Nazi past that turns out to be even more dreadful than Schneider envisaged. This is an interesting book about the damage that the Nazi generation inflicted upon their children and also gives some insight into the mentality of atrocity.
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on 8 March 2010
This is a very good book and brings Nazi thoughts and ideals into the 21st century when you read what this womans mother still had to say after all these years. The story is tragic from the Authors perspective but she can only be admired for the way in which she handled this situation. She too suffered at the hands of the Nazis in that they robbed her of her mother and a stable upbringing.
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on 1 June 2015
Once I got started I was hooked, I recomend this book , I feel for the daughter but the "mother" was a cold unrepenting evil person
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on 6 January 2013
This is one of the best holocaust books I have read by far, I think everyone should read this book
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on 15 April 2015
Great book, well written account. Harrowing but interesting reading. Would recommend.
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on 5 July 2014
Couldnt put this down , read Bonfies of Berlin first.....
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on 16 December 2011
This was an uncomfortable read but one that people should know about. It allows you a look into the mind of someone who took part in the slaughter of the Jews. This woman is proud of her 'achievement' which you may find hard to swallow, as I did. She smirks when asked about how she felt when she saw babies going into be gassed and it's hard to believe any human being could possibly be so completely heartless, cruel and sick. My heart went out to Helga who had to listen to her Mother (and I use that word loosely) spouting this vile poison and hatred towards our fellow human beings. I believe this woman will now be dead so I wish you and your family peace and love Helga.
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