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Let Me Go
Synopses & Reviews
The extraordinary memoir, praised across Europe, of a daughter's final encounter with her mother, a former SS guard at Auschwitz.
In 1941, in Berlin, Helga Schneider's mother abandoned her, her younger brother, and her father. Thirty years later — when she saw her mother again for the first time — Schneider discovered the shocking reason: Her mother had joined the Nazi SS and had become a guard in concentration camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Ravensbrück, where she was in charge of a "correction" unit and responsible for untold acts of torture.
Nearly three more decades would pass before their second and final reunion, an emotional encounter at a Vienna nursing home, where her mother, then eighty-seven and unrepentant about her past, was ailing. Let Me Go is an extraordinary account of that meeting. Their conversation — which Schneider recounts in spellbinding detail — triggers childhood memories, and she weaves these into her account, powerfully evoking the misery of Nazi and postwar Berlin. Yet it is her internal struggle — a daughter's sense of obligation colliding with the inescapable horror of what her mother has done — that will stay with readers long after the book has ended.
"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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"For the duration of these pages, the old, mad Germany that we had thought dead comes to life again." J. M. Coetzee
"This stunning, profoundly evocative memoir is a bridge across time directly into the ongoing agonies of our confused, violent, searching hearts. A triumph of vivid art and emotional courage." Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt, Volumes 1 and 2
"Schneider packs a tremendous emotional punch into this brief but tremendously cathartic memoir." Booklist (starred review)
Praise for Let Me Go
"For the duration of these pages, the old, mad Germany that we had thought dead comes to life again."-- J. M. Coetzee
"This stunning, profoundly evocative memoir is a bridge across time directly into the ongoing agonies of our confused, violent, searching hearts. A triumph of vivid art and emotional courage."-- Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt, Volumes 1 and 2
"Schneider packs a tremendous emotional punch into this brief but tremendously cathartic memoir."-- Booklist (starred review)
"The simple certainty of Schneider's pain, strength and intricate emotions resounds well after this story ends."-- Publishers Weekly
In this extraordinary memoir, a daughter's sense of obligation collides with inescapable horror when she discovers that her mother abandoned her in 1941 Berlin to become a guard in Nazi concentration camps.
About the Author
Helga Schneider was born in 1937 in Steinberg, now in Poland, and spent her childhood in Berlin. When her mother left the family, she was brought up first by her stepmother and then in a boarding school. She has lived as a freelance writer for many years in Bologna, Italy.
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