her mother. She had assumed Traudi had left the family for a man, and was ready to forgive her. She wrote to six women with the same name and, in 1971, found Traudi in Vienna. “When she opened the door, it was very emotional – she looked so much like me,” said Helga. “We hugged at first. I was so happy. But after 10 minutes she told me with pride and without repentance that she had worked at Auschwitz.” A phrase she repeated haunts Helga: “‘But the Nazi regime was beautiful’.” Traudi asked her daughter to try on her Auschwitz uniform and even gave her a handful of gold jewellery, which Helga soon realised would have come from people at the camp. “I opened my fingers and the jewellery fell to the ground,” she said. “I said to her: ‘How could you? How could you take children to the gas chamber?’” Helga asked if she felt guilty taking Jewish babies from their mothers to be killed. “They would have grown up to be Jewish adults,” Traudi told her.
Traudi also felt no remorse for leaving her as a four-year-old in wartorn Berlin.
Traudi’s duties at the camp had included herding women and children to the gas chambers and restraining the victims of the camp doctors’ notorious medical experiments.
She was jailed as a war criminal for about two years after the war but her commitment to the regime had not wavered.
“She told me, ‘Once the Fuhrer died I felt nothing’,” Helga said. “Life no longer had meaning. She had based her life on Hitler and Nazi ideology and when it ended she felt erased.”
Helga’s reunion with Traudi lasted just 45 minutes. Helga said: “I had grown up thinking of her, imagining a kind woman, sweet. Instead I found a war criminal.”
Helga tried to forget her. Three decades passed, her husband died of cancer and her son grew up.
But then she received a letter saying her mother was in a nursing home and might die any day. Helga hoped she had repented. “After all that time, I thought surely she’d have realised she was mistaken, that the ideology was evil?”
This second meeting is the focus of the new film, which tells how she returns to confront Traudi along with her granddaughter, played by Lucy Boynton.
In real life, when Helga returned to her mother in 1998, she found a pathetic and pitiful old woman. “The tragedy was that there was no change,” she said.
Suffering dementia, Traudi did not recognise Helga at first. But she had moments of lucidity during the two-hour meeting, in which she talked in grotesque detail about Auschwitz.
“She said to me, ‘Newborn babies took only a few minutes; they pulled out some that were electric blue’,” said Helga. She also told her daughter: “I had orders to treat [the prisoners] with extreme harshness and I made them spit blood.”
While Helga has forgiven her mother for abandoning her, she says she doesn’t “have the right to forgive her mother for what she did at Auschwitz”.
Helga has devoted herself to spreading peace, where her mother spread hate.
She has spent 20 years giving school talks and meeting Auschwitz victims and their children.
Now as far-right groups gain support across Europe, she hopes people will learn from the past.
“It is more important to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust now than ever,” she said.
“With this book and film, I hope I have done my duty.” ● Let Me Go is released in selected UK cinemas and digital download by Evolutionary Films.
HARROWING Young victims of the Nazis at Auschwitz HEARTLESS AND BRUTAL Female SS guards at Auschwitz concentration camp