The less-than-fantastic adventures of Hitler’s food taster

The less-than-fantastic adventures of Hitler’s food taster

Amid the devastation of World War II, a time when even the most basic food was hard to come by, Margot Wölk lived out her days amid plenty. As part of a group of women forced by the SS to serve as Adolf Hitler’s food testers at his Eastern Front headquarters — the Wolf Lair — Wölk spent the war checking for poison in the Führer’s white asparagus. In a fascinating interview with Der Spiegel that makes for good weekend reading, Wölk recounts her time as one of Hitler’s guinea pigs and says that she found her work for Hitler repugnant. She spent the war eating gourmet food at the point of a gun.

Wölk’s account of her time at the Wolf Lair reads like something of a surrealist farce. Since Hitler was a vegetarian, no meat was served — only big platters of vegetables, noodle dishes, and sauces. The day Hitler narrowly survived an assassination attempt at the Wolf’s Lair, a group of soldiers had invited the food tasters — who were all women — to a watch a movie in one of the tents near the headquarters. The explosion knocked them off their benches. But Hitler walked away unscathed.

After the attack, security at the compound tightened, and the food testers were moved to an old school house. One night, Wölk told Der Spiegel, an SS officer used a ladder to climb through the window of the room in which she was sleeping and raped her. And that was only a taste of what was to come: After the war, Wölk fell into the hands of the Soviet Army, whose soldiers raped her repeatedly and left her unable to bear children. In one of the lesser-known outrages of World War II, the Soviet army raped an estimated two million German women during their westward march.

After the war, Wölk’s husband, a Nazi soldier who had been presumed dead, returned to her. Rebuilding their life took priority over giving interviews, but that changed a few years ago, and she has now given several accounts of her experience during the war, though none as comprehensive as this week’s interview with Der Spiegel.

Now the 95-year-old Wölk stands out as a paradigmatic example of the ways that ordinary Germans were made to collaborate with Hitler’s murderous regime.

"I just wanted to say what happened there," she told Der Spiegel. "That Hitler was a really repugnant man. And a pig."