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A Little Longing


When she was about thirteen, Helga was attracted by the smart uniforms of the girls in Hitler’s League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Madel). Her friends were joining up, and she wanted to be included.

But her mother reminded her that as a Latter-day Saint teenager, she was already a member of youth group for teenage girls: the Beehives, and she never joined, probably for the best.

Around age 16, Helga imagined herself as a Sauglingsschwester: a baby nurse—for which she would have been beautiful. Before too long, the option had disappeared.  War loomed.

Berlin, Säuglingsschwester mit Babys

A Sauglingsschwester, 1932

A look at Helga’s life through Under a Leafless Tree reveals that the dream house (“villa”) her father designed and even bought bricks for was never built, the anticipated marriage of her pretty aunt to the handsome American missionary faded into the realities of a young immigrant’s life an ocean away.

**Greli, Fred and Gretel

Helga’s Aunt Gretel (right), her new husband Fred and daughter Greli

The War waged brutal destruction on most of young Helga’s remaining dreams. Friends and family perished. She was wounded and exiled from her hometown.

And yet to meet Helga today, and ever since I’ve known her is to meet a woman still asking good things of life, anticipating happiness. Her garden blooms with new petunias and other posies each spring. Come May, she’ll probably be on her knees again, with dirt on her hands and 94 year-old knees to gain another year of living color out her window.


For her 90th birthday, Helga’s children and grandchildren “planted” another garden for her.

Knowing as she clearly now does that dreams are not always realized hasn’t stopped her from building more—more hopes for her children and grandchildren, joyful expectations for her friends. Requests of life.

If you want something, she will want it with you, and will be the first to celebrate your happiness when it finally arrives, or to weep (literally) when it slips by.

In fact, Helga’s living dreams, like those of her sleep, pull her onward. She greets each day with a little childlike longing, mountains of disappointment notwithstanding. She can’t help herself.

Thank you, Helga, for not letting go of what might be, even while you accept what must be. You keep my heart alive.






Liesel and Hans from the Book Thief

How Helga Saves The Book Thief

We finally saw The Book Thief. The story (taken from the book of the same name) is of a young German girl and her challenges adapting to her new foster family and community during the Second World War. It is, overall, a book about gentle kindness in harsh times.

Audiences liked it. but a good number of critics complained, calling it “a cheesy bedtime yarn,” and noting its “forced sentimentality.” One commented, “A little more darkness and a little less gloss may have better served the story.” Apparently, no story in war is acceptable without a thorough reliving of its horrors.

As we watched, I saw the film through Helga’s eyes, noting a couple of dozen parallels  between Liesel’s experiences in her small community and the then somewhat older Helga’s in Tilsit, East Prussia, from mad dashes to makeshift bomb shelter basements to fear of speaking one’s own thoughts among neighbors, from the devastating loss of one night’s destruction to unlikely postwar reunions. So much mirrored Helga’s experience as she recalls it in Under a Leafless Tree.

Helga's Family at their Garden HouseHelga’s story, and Liesel’s, are stories within stories. Stories of good, ordinary people, families and communities in the eye of earthly storms not of their own making, their love forging splashes of gold in the midst of a seemingly disintegrating, cruel world.

To the critics, I would say, if you want to see more of Nazi brutality, already so emblazoned on our consciousness, there must be 100,000 sources. If you want to learn a little more about the true potential of the human spirit in the person of a young girl and her community, pay attention to the Book Thief, and to real girls like Helga Meizus Meyer. You might learn why nothing like Nazism will long endure.

**Helga and Lusche Pea Soup

“Enjoy the Cocoa”

**Helga and Lusche Pea SoupI think about Tante (Aunt) Lusche a lot. For me, aside from Helga, she is probably the book’s most enduring figure. She surfaces and resurfaces like a quiet refrain. I never knew her, but decades after her death, she’s in my mind. (Sorry, but if you don’t want to ruin the flow of the story, this is a true SPOILER ALERT :).)

Helga has no story before Tante Lusche. In fact, Lusche is assisting the family before Helga is born. Later, marrying the same year as her older sister “Mieke”, and due to the hard times in Germany after the War, Lusche (officially Berta) and Uncle Fritz also take a spare room at their parents’ apartment. There were three families together.

At first, Lusche appears as a common, happy backdrop to Helga’s life, doing what any lovely aunt might have done in those days–creating holiday celebrations, caring for children not her own (she could have only one), supporting branch events,  taking Helga on outings because her own mother was too ill. Helga seems to take this as a matter of course.

Lusche, Fritz and Kurt

But during the complex stresses of the War, Lusche’s character is further revealed. Those were not ordinary occasions. To know when to invite someone home so forcefully that a life is saved, to reach above and around beyond her own despair to soldiers and doctors as her son lay dying. To bring a prisoner of war home for dinner. To watch over a young cousin and her daughter in a horrific post-war Russian camp (in a chapter of German history of which Americans are largely ignorant).

To survive after yearning to die, and to keep loving and keep serving and keep believing.

To draw a niece across the ocean with unceasing messages of love, and occasionally to send her a little money in the cocoa. To prepare a home for her arrival.

To rescue.

Though she has no living descendants, through Helga’s story, Tanta Lusche’s quiet love flashes bright again for those that may now “meet” her, illuminating our paths as well.

**Helga and Lusche Ladder—Lark


Descending Dreams


Helga wasn’t very excited when I took these pictures five and a half years ago. She was just a girl then–still in her ’80s! We were in the midst of this project we thought would never end. I hadn’t given her time to get properly dressed, and she thought her house was messy. But she allowed me to snap a few shots. I always thought she and her home were lovely. Maybe you can see why.DSC01649

Now both of our lives have changed unexpectedly, and amazingly, our book is done, such as it is. I’m grateful that we captured some snapshots of a beautiful life. I truly felt the influence of certain family members and friends urging on her story, which is also their story, from a place outside our world. I hope that in some way they are happy about our efforts


As I write this, I am sitting very late at night in our apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina–a sleepy time even for a city that never sleeps. We could hardly imagine seven months ago what a turn our lives were taking as we privately considered the request that had come to my husband Craig to leave his law firm, for now, and go to  Argentina to do legal work for the LDS Church. But Helga knew. Before anyone besides our family was aware of it, she approached me tearfully and said, “You’re moving.” It was a statement, with emotion. She repeated it, “You’re moving!”  I didn’t know what to say.  Then she said, “I had a dream that you were moving.”

I knew not to argue with her dreams. When a few weeks later we confessed that we were actually moving, she said, “See, I knew it. I knew it from my dream.” Hers is a dreaming family, still.