The Bonfire of Berlin : A Lost Childhood in Wartime Germany, Paperback

The Bonfire of Berlin : A Lost Childhood in Wartime Germany Paperback

4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


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 searing 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 served not to unite the tenants and neighbours of her apartment block but rather to intensify the minor irritations of communal life into flashpoints of rage and violence. And with Russian victory the survivors could not look forward a return to peacetime but rather to pillage and rape.

It was only gradually that Schneider's life returned to some kind of normality, as her 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 retaining a kernel of hope that while life remains not all is lost.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Autobiography: general
  • ISBN: 9780099443735



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Shocking and gripping.

Review by

Make no mistake: this is NOT a children's book. It may have a child on the cover, it may be narrated by a child, but this is the kind of book that will give your children nightmares. I've read many bad things in my time but I was still horrified by the suffering in Helga Schneider's environment, not so much in the first part of the book as in the last, when she and her entire apartment building waited out the conquest of Berlin. Starvation, death, suicides and rapes abounded, and the only character who was really "there" for Helga was her step-grandfather, himself very sick from old age and the privations they went through.This is a beautifully written memoir, and powerful. Too powerful, perhaps, for many people's stomachs.Fun fact: due to her step-aunt's connections, the author actually met Hitler and stayed for a time in his bunker during the final days of the war. She recalls him as a scrawny, sickly-looking man.

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