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The Bonfire Of Berlin: A Lost Childhood in Wartime Germany [Kindle Edition]

Helga Schneider
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Abandoned by her mother, who left to pursue a career as a camp guard at Auschwitz-Birkenau, loathed by her step-mother, cooped up in a cellar, starved, parched, lonely amidst the fetid crush of her neighbours, Helga Schneider endured the horrors of wartime Berlin. The Bonfire of Berlin is a searing account of her survival. The grinding misery of hunger, combined with the terror of air-raids, the absence of fresh water and the constant threat of death and disease served not to unite the tenants and neighbours of her apartment block but rather to intensify the minor irritations of communal life into flashpoints of rage and violence. And with Russian victory the survivors could not look forward a return to peacetime but rather to pillage and rape. It was only gradually that Schneider's life returned to some kind of normality, as her beloved father returned from the front, carrying his own scars of the war. This shocking book evokes the reality of life in a wartime city in all its brutality and deprivation, while retaining a kernel of hope that while life remains not all is lost.

Product Description



Praise for Let Me Go

'A powerful, painful book'

" (Guardian)

"'Frightening and fascinating'" (Mail on Sunday)

"'Grips the reader powerful'" (Glasgow Herlad)

"'Desperately sad and powerful...Unforgettable'" (Jewish Telegraph)

Book Description

The powerful and moving memoir of Helga Schneider's abandonment by her parents and her terrifying childhood in wartime and post-war Berlin, by the author of Let Me Go.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 483 KB
  • Print Length: 227 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0099443732
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital; New Ed edition (10 July 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #267,024 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars war child 28 Feb. 2008
By kehs TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Helga Schneider's powerful and moving memoir tells of her struggle to survive her terrifying childhood in wartime and post-war Berlin after her mother abandons her to pursue a career as a camp guard at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her father remarries but goes to fight on the frontlines, leaving Heidi to be bought up by her stepmother who hated little Heidi and did nothing to ease her fears and unhappiness. The Bonfire of Berlin is a heart wrenching account of her traumatic wartime experiences. It is hard hitting and slams home just how atrocious the conditions were for those that lived through this horrific time.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing! 1 Dec. 2008
An amazing book that leaves me wanting to know more about Helga. She went through so much trauma in her childhood and you wonder how it has affected her in later life. What is she like as an adult? Is her younger brother still horrible?

A horrifying and frightening read and testament to the durability and the frailty of the human spirit. In a way the most frightening scenes were those in the children's homes that would not have looked out of place in a Dickens' novel. As a parent of a young child I just hope that fewer and fewer people have grow up like Helga did.

A good read that never lets you forget that this is her own life that she was writing about.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Survival Story 14 Sept. 2010
I think this is the first book I've read about World War II which is told from the perspective of a German Christian and this is the first time I have read anything about the devastation of Berlin and the Russian invasion. Helga Schneider recalls her childhood in Germany from 1941 to 1947, warts and all - her mother abandons her and her younger brother to devote herself to the Nazi cause, becoming a guard at Auschwitz. Helga's father remarries and when he is away at the front, the stepmother shows her true archetypal evil nature and Helga is sent off to a variety of institutions whilst her brother Peter is mollycoddled and brought up to be a "proper" German complete with adoration of the Fuhrer.

At times this autobiography is in danger of straying into misery-memoir territory but it is saved by keenly observed accounts of time spent in the cramped, fetid air raid shelters, of the ordinary Berliners' frustrations with the Nazis' actions, of their intense terror of the SS and how good folk did nothing in striving for self-preservation. At one stage Helga meets Hitler face to face in his bunker and the tension is palpable. Likewise the arrival of Russian troops propagates terror amongst the population as the rumour mill goes overboard with tales of brutality.

This is a short, accessible read, just over 200 pages - not the best written admittedly but it has given me an insight into the plight of ordinary Berliners during and after the war. I gather that the author attempted reconciliation with her mother in the 1970s but the happy ending was not to be - there is another book Let Me Go which details her mother's story and her lack of remorse for her SS activities.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
I loved this book. It was a very easy read but was very educational at the same time. I thought that it was funny how eventhough most people know the story of the second world war, I was gripped to the end to find out what would happen. I thought that it was very touching and unbelieveable how people can come through such terror and misery. It is a story that tells a side that is rarely heard and the goodness of many of the German people.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another gripping book by Helga Schneider 28 July 2011
By Snodge
The Bonfire of Berlin follows young Helga's life following her mother's desertion of Helga and her younger brother to further her career in the SS as a guard at Auschwitz- Berkenau. Helga's previous book "Let Me Go" which deals with Helga's second and last meeting with her mother in adult life, gave us a few snippets of memories of her traumatic childhood raised by her stepmother in the worst days of WW2 in Berlin. The Bonfire of Berlin fills out that story and what a gripping story it is.

There are a lot of survivor memoirs out there. Some are just amazing stories and some are amazing stories told by gifted writers. Helga is definitely the later. Her ability to take you right into the events with an economy of words is truly impressive. Like Let Me Go, and German Boy by Wolfgang E Samuel, The Bonfire of Berlin just grabs you and doesn't let you go. I couldn't put it down.
Other of the special aspects of this book relates to Helga's experiences in a home for disabled children and then a home for disturbed children and later a stint staying in Hitler's bunker being fed up and rested. This is a completely heartwrenching, fascinating and totally gripping story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heartache 4 Nov. 2011
By ellen
This is a harrowing account of deprivation during the war, how families survived is a miracle.The girl writing the account had the added pain of having a feckless mother and a rather tyranical step-mother. It's a good thing that she derived some pleasure from her suurroundings when it was possible to get out of the shelters.!
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