The Woman Forced to Risk Her Life Tasting Hitler's Food

Adolf Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun in the early 1940s, dining on food that was probably tested for poison …Margot Wölk was a 24-year-old secretary when she fled to what is now Poland, in 1941. She had refused to join the League of German Girls -- the female version of Hitler Youth -- and her father had been taken away for refusing to join the Nazi party. Her parents apartment had been bombed. Her husband was at war, and she hadn't heard from him in two years. She thought she'd be safe with her mother-in-law, so she left Berlin and made her way to the small East Prussian village of Gross-Partsh.

But instead of escaping from the Nazis, whom she despised, she had practically stumbled right into the heart of Hitler's Eastern Front headquarters, known as the Wolf's Lair. His soldiers found her immediately.

"The mayor of the little nest was an old Nazi," Wölk, now 95 years old, told Spiegel Online. "I'd hardly arrived when the SS showed up at the door and demanded, 'Come with us!'"

Wölk hasn't spoken about the horrors she experienced during World War II until recently, when a local reporter came to interview her for her 95th birthday, Spiegel Online reported. It was time to tell her story.

She remembered that she and 14 other young women were taken to barracks in nearby Krausendorf, where cooks were busy making food for the people stationed in the Wolf's Lair. The food was a world away from the dismal wartime fare Wolk had at home -- the cooks made fresh vegetables, rich sauces, exotic fruits, hearty pastas, coffee, and bread with real butter. In any other circumstances, Wolk would have been delighted to have some. But in this case, every bite could be dangerous. Their lives were worthless to the Nazis: She and the other women were there to taste-test Hilter's food, so that if Allied Forces had poisoned anything, they would die instead.

''Of course I was afraid. If it [the food] had been poisoned I would not be here today. We were forced to eat it, we had no choice," she told The Times of London. Hitler was a vegetarian, so there was never any meat, and Wölk says that she doesn't remember having to taste any fish. "Between 11 and 12 o'clock, we had to taste the food, and only after all 15 of us had tried it was it was driven to the headquarters by the SS." Hitler would then wait an hour before eating, to see if the food had any adverse affect on the tasters.

Every morning, at 8 a.m., Wölk was awakened by a member of the S.S., shouting at her from under her window. She couldn't run -- she had no where to go.

After Claus von Stauffenberg's attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944, security was tightened around the Wolf's Lair -- and around everyone who worked for the compound. The taste-testers were no longer permitted to live in their own homes; they were forced to stay at an empty school near the Wolf's Lair.

"We were guarded like caged animals," Wölk said.

But sometimes the guards were more dangerous than anything else. Wölk remembers staying silent while an SS officer climbed into the room, raped her, and left. "The next morning, the ladder was still lying in front of the building," she remembers -- proof that someone had broken in. No one cared.

She's alive today thanks to the kindness of another soldier, a lieutenant who put her on a train to Berlin when the Soviet army was approaching the Wolf's Lair. The Soviet soldiers shot the women who remained behind, she said, and they eventually caught up with her in Berlin -- for two weeks, she was raped so brutally that she was never able to bear children. "I was so desperate," she remembers. "I didn't want to live anymore."

Wölk survived, however, and as the war ended, found happiness again. "I didn't lose my humor, though it got more sarcastic," she said. She was reunited with her husband, Kurt, who had been a prisoner of war, and she nursed him back to health. The couple spent 34 more years together, until his death in 1990; she now lives alone in the West Berlin apartment where she was born.

It took decades for her to learn to enjoy food again, and years longer to be willing to talk about what she endured. Her life as Hitler's food taster haunted her dreams, but she sums up her experience in the Wolf's Lair with one concise thought. "I just wanted to say what happened there," Wölk said. "That Hitler was a really repugnant man. And a pig."