Abandoned by her mother who left to pursue a career as a camp guard at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and loathed by her stepmother, Schneider endured the horrors of wartime Berlin cooped up in a cellar, starved, parched, and lonely, amidst the fetid crush of her neighbors. 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. 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. 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 as long as life goes on, all is not lost.