Schneider, Helga 1937–
Schneider, Helga 1937–
PERSONAL: Born November 17, 1937, in Steinberg, Germany (now Poland); married (husband deceased 1985); children: Renzo.
ADDRESSES: Home—Bologna, Italy. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Walker & Company, 104 5th Ave., New York, NY 10011.
CAREER: Freelance writer; has also worked as a language correspondent, actress, and model. Lecturer.
La bambola decapitata: una sindrome incestuosa, Edizioni Pendragon (Bologna, Italy), 1993.
Porta di Brandeburgo, Rizzoli, 1997.
Stelle di cannella, Salani, 2002.
L'albero di Goethe, Salani, 2004.
Let Me Go (originally published in Italian as Lasciami andare, madre), translated by Shaun Whiteside, Walker (New York, NY), 2004.
ADAPTATIONS: Lasciami andare was adapted as an Italian film directed by Lina Wermuller, NuovaTeatro Eliseo, 2004.
WORK IN PROGRESS: The Bonfire of Berlin, for Heinemann.
SIDELIGHTS: Helga Schneider endured a traumatic childhood after being abandoned by her mother when she was four years old and growing up in Nazi Germany. For a time, she and her brother were raised by their grandmother, a kindly woman from Poland who treated them well. But when her father, who had been serving in the German army, returned from war, he took his children back to Austria, where they lived with his new wife. Schneider's new stepmother resented the girl, though, and sent her off to "reeducational college," as Schneider later called it on her home page. When finally allowed to return home in her late teens, Schneider felt alienated from her family and eventually ran away at age seventeen to forge a life on her own. She later married and had a son, found work as a correspondent, and became a freelance writer. Still, she often wondered about her birth mother, for her father had never explained why she abandoned the family. In 1971, she resolved to visit the woman and find out the truth. The trip proved a shock: Schneider learned that her mother had been an avid member of Hitler's Waffen-SS and at one point had even worked at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Far from ashamed of her past, her mother was proud of it. Dismayed by what she had learned, Schneider did not see the woman again until 1998, as she was nearing death. She discusses this final encounter in her chilling book Let Me Go.
By the late 1990s, Schneider had built a successful career as an author, publishing works in the language of her adopted country, Italy, including her first, La bambola decapitata: una sindrome incestuosa ("The Decapitated Doll"). Her nonfiction work Let Me Go has been translated into English, as well as many other languages. In this memoir Schneider recounts her her nervousness at meeting her mother; she had to ask a cousin to come with her in order to work up the courage to go. The mother she encountered was an aging, increasingly senile woman who nevertheless remembered with pride much of what she had done for the Nazis. Despite Schneider's revulsion and her lack of love for this woman, she was unable to completely detach herself from her parent. In the end, as a Publishers Weekly writer observed, "it's unclear whether the visit concretized Schneider's feelings toward her mother." As the author concludes, "No, I don't hate her. It's just that I don't love her."
Calling Let Me Go a "compelling and unforgettable story," School Library Journal writer Kathleen Isaacs suggested the book would make "an excellent choice for discussion" about the different ways people handle war and other terrible events. "Schneider," concluded Margaret Flanagan in her Booklist assessment, "packs a tremendous emotional punch into this brief but tremendously cathartic memoir."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 2004, Margaret Flanagan, review of Let Me Go, p. 1420.
Chicago Sun-Times, May 30, 2004, Roger K. Miller, "Mommie Dearest, Nazi Style," review of Let Me Go, p. 17.
Denver Post, June 13, 2004, Roger K. Miller, "Mom Left Family for True Kin: Nazis Daughter Recalls Exit, Creepy Reunion," review of Let Me Go, p. F13.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2004, review of Let Me Go, p. 383.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 2004, review of Let Me Go, p. 58.
School Library Journal, June, 2004, Kathleen Isaacs, review of Let Me Go, p. 181.
Women's Review of Books, September, 2004, Lisa London, "The Unmothering," review of Let Me Go, p. 21.
Helga Schneider Home Page, http://www.helgaschneider.com (December 30, 2004), biographical and bibliographical information about Helga Schneider.