One of the food testers of Adolf Hitler, Margot Woelk. Photo: AP
Imagine knowing that every mouthful of food you ate could be your last.
That was the experience of Margot Woelk when, as a 25-year-old woman she was enlisted as one of Hitler’s 15 food tasters.
Her job? To sample all the Nazi leader’s meals before he ate them, to ensure they hadn't been poisoned.
Adolf Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun dining. Photo: AP
The tasters – all young women - were taken to Hitler’s heavily guarded headquarters in Prussia, during the Second World War.
Ms Woelk, 96, has long been reluctant to discuss her past and only broke her silence last year, when she revealed that Hitler was a vegetarian and ate bland meals consisting of rice, pasta, peas and cauliflower.
Now, she has revealed further details of her life-threatening job on German television, including her rape at the hands of an SS officer.
She also admitted that she and her fellow tasters used to “cry like dogs” with relief that they were still alive.
“Some of the girls started to shed tears as they began eating because they were so afraid,” Ms Woelk told Berlin’s RBB channel.
“We had to eat it all up. Then we had to wait an hour, and every time we were frightened that we were going to be ill. We use to cry like dogs because we were so glad to have survived”.
Ms Woelk, who wasn’t a Nazi, became a food taster against her will. Forced to leave her bombed out Berlin apartment in 1941 – and with her husband, Karl, away in the army – she fled 400 miles east to her mother-in-law’s home town of Parcz (then Partsch) in Poland.
It was also the location of Hitler’s ‘Wolf’s Lair’ headquarters - the fortified base where Hitler spent most of the war (around 800 days).
She was enlisted as a taster by the mayor, who arranged for an SS guard to collect her - and the other girls - to report for duty each day. They were taken, by bus, to a local school building where they tasted Hitler’s meals under armed guard. Only once each woman had eaten from a single plate, arranged just as it was presented to Hitler, was the food driven to headquarters.
Security was so tight and the Nazi leader’s paranoia so great, that Ms Woelk never even glimpsed the man for who she was putting her life on the line.
“I only saw his Alaskan dog, Blondi” she recalled.
Hitler’s fears were almost realised when, on July 20, 1944, a bomb was detonated in the Wolf’s Lair in an assassination attempt by German army officers.
“I heard someone shouting, ‘Hitler is dead!’ But, of course, he wasn’t” Ms Woelk told RBB.
That incident led to the execution of 5,000 German suspects and meant that Ms Woelk was moved into the Wolf's Lair.
One night, despite the heavy security, she was raped by an SS officer. But it was another soldier who helped save her life when, in late 1944, the Red Army was advancing. He found her a place on propaganda minister Josef Goebbels’s train to Berlin and she was able to escape from Prussia.
Ms Woelk was the only one of Hitler’s 15 food tasters to survive. The rest of her colleagues are presumed to have been shot by the Red Army in January 1945.
Berlin fell to the Russians in May that year. Ms Woelk recalled how she and her friends, attempted to hide from the Red Army soldiers who were pouring into the city.
“We used to dress up as old women,” she said. “But the Russians came for me and the other girls all the same.
“They cut open our dresses and dragged us into a doctor’s flat. We were held there and raped for 14 days. It was hell on earth. The nightmare never goes away.”
The ordeal left Ms Woelk unable to bear children and she sought solace in the arms of a British soldier, called Norman who asked her to join him in the UK.
But Ms Woelk wanted to wait and see whether her husband, Karl, was still alive. And, in 1946 he turned up on her doorstep, unrecognisable after time spent in a Soviet POW camp.
Their individual ordeals proved too much for the couple to overcome and they separated, although they lived together until Karl's death in 1990.
It has taken a further two decades for Ms Woelk to overcome her feelings of shame and speak publicly about her experiences.