"For the duration of these pages, the old, mad Germany that we had thought dead comes to life again." —J. M. Coetzee
"A deeply personal, heartbreaking story." —The Women’s Review of Books
Schneider, who was born in Poland in 1937 and grew up in Berlin, shares the last encounter with her mother in Austria, after decades of separation, as readers become privy to her complex autobiography. In 1941, when Schneider was four, her mother abandoned her, her brother and her father to join the SS army in various concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and visited the family only once after leaving. Thirty years later, working as a writer in Italy, Schneider learns of the old woman's quickly deteriorating health and decides albeit hesitantly to pay her a visit. Schneider attempts to reconcile her ambivalent emotions toward a mother who unfalteringly announces, "Well, my daughter, like it or not, I have never regretted being a member of the Waffen SS, is that clear?" Schneider's first-person narration fluidly alternates between her inner thoughts and the conversation she has with her mother, and she's open about her overwhelming desire to come to terms with the convoluted circumstances of her youth. Schneider's voice is honest, and it's easy to understand the rapidly changing emotions that flow throughout: her panic attacks prior to the re-encounter, her desire to both forgive and physically harm her mother, her simple need to understand the truth. In the end, it's unclear whether the visit concretized Schneider's feelings toward her mother. She understands this situation doesn't have any one correct emotion and demonstrates this with explicit details of the conversation and what she felt at the time. The simple certainty of Schneider's pain, strength and intricate emotions resounds well after this story ends. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In an emotional memoir, a daughter reunites with her mother, a former SS guard at Auschwitz. Read by two-time Audie Award winner Barbara Rosenblat. Ann Kim Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-When Schneider was four, her mother abandoned her children for a career in the SS. In the ensuing 57 years, Schneider saw her only once. Prompted by a letter from her mother's friend and emboldened by the presence of a cousin, she went again to visit the woman in a senior citizen's home in Vienna in 1998. In this searing memoir, she describes the visit and her struggles with a kind of instinctive mother-love, her feelings of abandonment, and a distaste at the thought of any connection to this morally repugnant person. Interspersed with the narrative of the visit are quotations from official records, Schneider's own recollections of a childhood in wartime Berlin, and scraps of horrific detail she remembers having heard about the experiences of concentration camp inmates such as those her mother guarded. "It was my job to assist the doctors," her mother says. Readers cannot help but be fascinated as well as horrified by this woman's unrepentance and the impenetrable shield she has built around her emotions. "I was only obeying orders." "I believed in Germany's mission." But when visiting hours are over, she cannot allow the daughter she abandoned to leave, grabbing her around the neck and kissing her wildly. This is a book for readers with some previous knowledge of the Holocaust, presenting a very different point of view. It is an excellent choice for discussion of the complex situations of people dealing with horrific events in their country's or their family's history whether they were peripherally involved, or not at all. A compelling and unforgettable story.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Mothers come in all shapes and persuasions: this one enthusiastically joined the Waffen SS, abandoned her children, and embraced her tasks at Auschwitz, as gloomily recounted in her daughter's memoir. Frau Mutti Schneider left her family in 1941, when Helga was four years old. Duty called: "Did I support the final solution? Why do you think I was there? For a holiday?" These words confront the author as she makes a last visit (only the second since 1941) to her mother, now living in a nursing home, shrunken and ancient at 90. "Senile and pathetic, cruel and romantic," muses her daughter. "That was how Himmler's blackshirts were, including women like herself, the SS in skirts." Their final encounter includes moments of tenderness and pity on Schneider's part-she is still, reluctantly, helplessly, a daughter, and that matters-but they are swamped by the utter venality of her mother's words. "The fourth crematorium at Birkenau had no ovens . . . all it had was a big well filled with hot embers. The new commandant in Auschwitz found it terribly amusing." Frau Schneider is touchy and arrogant, mocking in her selective recall; she drops bombshells of memory. "You were stubborn and disobedient," she tells her daughter. "You were clever and rebellious. And you used to like hopping on one leg." Schneider dissolves, moaning, "She can twist me around her little finger." But not so fast. A violent sense of reality slaps the author awake, and she remembers she has made this hurtful rendezvous to discover some arc of meaning in her mother's acts. But Mutti's dehumanization training endures: "Well, my daughter, like it or not, I have never regretted being a member of the Waffen SS, is that clear?" It'sas awful as that. Survivor's tales come in as many shapes as mothers. This one, from the dark side, is as affecting as a kick in the stomach.