I am so grateful that I did not have to endure the childhood that Helga went through.
This is a moving memoir of Helga’s abandonment by her mother and her terrifying childhood in wartime Berlin.
Helga, abandoned by her mother, and now hated by her stepmother, spends a large part of the war in a cramped, smelly cellar along with her brother and her neighbours. The story brings to life the reality of this existence and we get to see the anger that is built up by living in such close quarters in such deplorable conditions. The residents of Berlin suffer hunger, lack of water, constant air raids and threat of disease. Even when the Russians arrive there is still threat, this time of rape.
Throughout the story Helga’s brother is a strong presence but not in a positive way. He is adored by the stepmother and is allowed to do what he likes, often to the detriment of Helga. He has an unhealthy adoration of all things to do with the Fuhrer.
This shocking book evokes the reality of life in a wartime city in all its brutality and deprivation, while retaining a glimmer of hope that while life remains not all is lost. It describes the destruction of Berlin but the part which has most impact is the destruction of human dignity and family.
I finished this book feeling extremely grateful for the wonderful family that I have and thankful that I had not been a citizen of Berlin during the war.