Helga grew up in a Jewish family in Berlin as the only child of her parents Frieda and Georg Arndtheim. When Helga was 13 the whole family was deported to the Ghetto in Łódź/Litzmannstadt as part of the first transport out of Berlin where her parents were murdered. Helga was deported to Auschwitz in 1943 and in 1944 she was selected by the SS for forced labour in various satellite camps of KZ Neuengamme in Hamburg (Veddel und Poppenbüttel/Sasel).
Shortly before the end of the war she was transferred to Bergen-Belsen and was liberated there on 15th April 1945. She then was brought to Sweden to recover and later emigrated to the USA where she worked as a nurse, married, and started a family.
In September 2021 Helga visited Hamburg for a few days with two of her children, David Melmed and Lisa Bean. It was important for her to visit both the Neuengamme concentration camp memorial and the buildings in which she was housed as a prisoner of the Dessauer Ufer satellite camp in the Hamburg port area. This visit to Dessauer Ufer was made possible with support of the Lagerhaus G Heritage Foundation. During this visit students from the Süderelbe Gymnasium had the opportunity to speak with Helga Melmed and to film a small interview for their school project. Later Helga also conducted an interview with the Dessauer Ufer Initiative.
On 22nd September, a ‘generational talk’ took place with Helga at the Freie Akademie of Künste. The event was fully booked and people of all ages and several different nationalities came to listen to Helga and her children. The talk was wide-ranging and covered Helga’s youth in Berlin before her deportation as well as her time in Auschwitz, Neuengamme and Bergen-Belsen. After the talk participants were invited to ask questions and Helga ended the evening by offering some advice to all present as well as the moving words that while she could forgive she could never forget.
Finally, on 24th September she spoke before the students of the Oberalster Gymnasium, a school that engages with work of remembering the former satellite camp Sasel in Poppenbüttel. The visit ended with a celebratory dinner with the family, volunteers associated with the Neuengamme concentration camp memorial, colleagues from other historical bodies, and colleagues from the Foundation of Hamburg Memorials and learning Centres.
We are very thankful that Helga and her family came to visit and are impressed by her strength, patience and friendliness. We are pleased that the family made the difficult trip from the USA to Germany during the pandemic and that she was able to share her stories with us and the young people of Hamburg.
Short introductory video of Helga Melmed on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of liberation
Interview with Helga Melmed, 1997 from the Shoah Foundation
Interview with Helga Melmed, 2015, recorded in Hamburg by Neuengamme concentration camp Memorial
Article in Hamburger Abendblatt: Jüdin kehrt an Hamburgs Orte des Verbrechens zurück (Paywall)