Review – The Bonfire of Berlin by Helga Schneider

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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4 Comments

  1. SazzyMCH says:

    Treez – STOP! My TBR is never going to get smaller at this rate! I’m off to the library to find both of these……….

    (The second Flavia is waiting for me to collect – as is Nefertiti, by the woman who wrote Cleopatra’s Daughter – happy happy!)

  2. admin says:

    Glad to be of service, Sarah! CD is on my reservation list at the library, you’re increasing my TBR too. :-)

  3. Stephanie says:

    I read a memoir very similar to this, but I can’t remember the name or author at the moment. It was nice to have a different perspective.

  4. admin says:

    Hi Stephanie and thank you for commenting. :-) If you do remember the title please let me know.

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