Auschwitz guard

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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

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