Let Me Go by Helga Schneider
Helga is an older woman now and an envelope finds its way into her hands. It’s about her mother, the same mother that Helga assumed died years ago. Helga has not seen her mother for many years because her mother abandoned her and her brother when they were children to be a Nazi. Helga grew up without her mother and didn’t have an easy go of things, but ended up with a somewhat normal life.
Helga has a chance to talk to her mother one last time. She takes a cousin and makes the journey to Germany, where her mother still lives. Helga knows which woman is her mother when she sees her and it takes a little bit to convince the woman that Helga is her daughter, but she finally accepts it.
Helga asks her about life. She wants to know why her mother left her and her brother. Helga’s mother was devoted to the party and to the solution. She was trained to be desensitized. She sent people to their deaths. She thought some of the death methods were ingenious. Her daughter wonders how a woman could be immune to feelings. Helga’s mother did feel, just not as Helga expects. Helga goes to see her mother, hoping to find something a little different than she did in the past, but ultimately, Helga’s mother is who she is.
What I liked
WWII memoirs are always interesting. It’s an interesting, and terrible, period of history. It’s a period of history we don’t ever want to repeat again. As such, it’s important to remember what went on during this period of history.
What I didn’t like
I don’t agree with the entire idea of Nazism. I don’t agree with Aryan nations being superior. I don’t agree with genocide. I don’t agree with people being taken prisoner because of their religion or skin color. Here’s the thing though, Helga’s mother was kind of an awful person, but she didn’t deserve to be hounded by Helga in an old person’s home at such an old age. Both Helga and her mother were rude and manipulative to one another during this conversation.
I don’t agree with what Helga’s mother did at all, in the slightest, but she’s an old woman, leave her the heck alone. Old people deserve rest and respect, even if they don’t necessarily deserve respect for other reasons, simply because they’re so old. There comes a time in life when you just kind have to let old people be themselves and do their own thing. There’s no changing them and yelling at them and being rude to them isn’t going to change anything that happened in the past. You might get an apology for something done in the past and you might not.
I don’t like Helga’s mother, but I also don’t like how Helga treated her mother on a supposed visit. She demanded to know things about the camps and how they worked. She demanded details about things. Horrors from the past. She wanted to hear her mother speak of these awful things. There comes a point where a person likes to put things like that behind them, even if it doesn’t make them sad. That was an old life. It’s not their life anymore.
If a person makes it to ninety, or whatever, and they’re still the same old person they always were and that’s a bad person, you just kind of have to let it go. Get over it. They’re not going to magically change because you showed up to talk to them.
There are a lot of people who have a right to be mad at Helga’s mother, not just Helga. Helga’s mother divorced herself from the family and Helga doesn’t particularly have a whole lot of right over her mother as a family member as a result. Sure, things Helga’s mother did affected her life negatively. Things my mother did affected my life negatively too, but I don’t go and harass my mother about bad things she did in her past, that weren’t even done directly to me.
The whole story is like a woman showing up at an old person’s home and interrogating a forgetful old woman about something from sixty-seventy years before. There are just some periods in your life that aren’t going to be tied up in neat little bows.
Also, this book would wander from one scene to another without any warning. At one point it would be modern-day and at another it would be WWII and there wouldn’t be any warning that it would happen.
Old Nazis are not nice people, but just leave them alone. Unless you encounter some elderly Nazi plot to destroy the world, let the old people watch their Maury and go to their activities.
Knowing what you know about Helga’s mother, do you think there was any way she would have ever been more repentant during this time in her life?
What good do you think Helga expected to accomplish by visiting her mother?