Author(s): Helga Schneider
Abandoned by her mother, who left to pursue a career as a camp guard at Auschwitz-Birkenau, loathed by her step-mother, cooped up in a cellar, starved, parched,lonely amidst the fetid crush of her neighbours, Helga Schneider endured the horrors of wartime Berlin. The Bonfire of Berlin is a harrowing account of her survival. The grinding misery of hunger combined with the terror of air-raids, the absence of fresh water and the constant threat of death and disease - typhus, influenza or simply the apparently petty inflammations of bedbug bites - served not to unite the inhabitants of her block but rather to intensify the minor irritations of communal life into flashpoints of rage and violence. And even in the face of Russian victory the survivors could not look forward to safety but rather to pillage and rape, even in their own cellar, as the victorious troops stampeded through the broken city and over its broken women. It was only gradually that some kind of normality resumed as Schneider's beloved father returned from the front, carrying his own scars of the war. This shocking book evokes the reality of life in a wartime city in all its brutality and deprivation, while still retaining a kernel of hope that while life goes on all is not finally lost.
Helga Schneider was born in Steinberg (now in Poland, then in Germany) but spent her childhood in Berlin where she was raised by her step-mother after being abandoned by her mother. She has lived in Bologna, Italy, since 1963, and is the author of Let Me Go.