May 14, 2021

The woman who risked her life for Hitler three times a day | Culture

The woman who risked her life for Hitler three times a day | Culture

Every morning for about two years Margot Wölk (Berlin, 1917-2014) traveled by bus, surrounded by SS soldiers, the distance separating the house of her in-laws in East Prussia from the Wolf's Den, the military complex from which Hitler was trying to not lose World War II. There I ingested, anguished, delicacies within the reach of very few in a Germany devastated by the war economy, aware that each bite could be the last. Wölk was one of 15 women who tasted Hitler's food before him to prevent him from being poisoned by his enemies – real or imagined – and she was the only one who survived the contest, after which he fell into a silence that lasted for decades and that only broke at the end of his life. Now Rosella Postorino (Reggio Calabria, 1978) has brought to fiction this story of struggle for survival, love and guilt in the novel The taster (Lumen).

Margot Woelk in Berlin in 2013.
Margot Woelk in Berlin in 2013. AP

"She kept Nazism and Hitler alive. He was not from the SS but he was in contact with absolute evil, he fell in love with a Nazi, he lost people he loved and could not protect and he felt a huge guilt for all that. In the end he survived, as did so many women of that century, but to live as a person who had no possible redemption, "Postorino tells EL PAÍS to talk about the protagonist of his novel, Rosa Sauer, and Wölk as if they were a unique woman.

The taster speaks of the instinct for survival that prevails over horror. Wölk escaped from the refuge of the Nazi hierarchs in the train of Goebbels, to which he acceded thanks to an SS with which he had a relationship. His companions were shot by the Red Army. After surviving, and collaborating, with Nazi barbarism she was victim of the brutality of the Soviet soldiers who raped and mistreated her for 14 days. Then, a wall of silence, the memory of horror, the guilt of the survivor of which Primo Levi speaks.

Hitler did not eat well, his diet was a display of imbalances with a certain predilection for soy beans, he had serious stomach problems and was stuffed with pills against flatulence. The tasters had to try all the dishes an hour before and wait to see if they were in condition or, on the contrary, they were going to die poisoned. Some cried while swallowing. For Wölk, eating was never the same again. "Margot's neighbor in Berlin told me when I was researching for the novel that I was a difficult person at the table. Eating, the main gesture that we all do to be able to live, had been altered from that moment by the experience of having been a Hitler taster and that could never be overcome, "says Postorino.

Wölk risked his life three times a day for Hitler but never met him. The dictator appears in the novel always in the mouth of others, as deity or ridiculed, "Someone who disposes of the lives of others but who is invisible". Humor and irony run through the book as they did also in the real life of these young girls turned into slaves. Postorino believes that it is "one of the few ways we have to survive in the face of horror." When asked about the bet for the first person for the narration, the Italian writer talks about the obsession that became the case when she met him, the frustration after the death of Wölk the same week he was going to talk to her, the resort to fiction with a question always ruling the literary action: "What would I have done in a situation of existential precariousness that would have pushed me to make that concession: risk my life three times a day to survive?"

Love and death in barbarism

The writer Rosella Postorino.
The writer Rosella Postorino.

When Rosella Postorino learns of Margot Wölk's case, she launches a desperate race to talk to her that is frustrated with her death. Bold in telling the story, Postorino is thoroughly documented to build fiction. "To be faithful to the historical context I had to study a lot: the Führer's diet, with the recipes of the dishes he ate, letters, interviews, books, telephone taps, testimonies, psychological profiles, novels set in that time …, etc. a very coarse study that has allowed me to know the details to give credibility to the story ", says the author of The taster, that clarifies that only that context and the general lines of the life of Wölk, Sauer in the novel, are real. The rest, remains for fiction. "In my novel, what emerges is that these women who are being treated like guinea pigs, who are in a prison, are almost slaves even if they are paid, and the only way to survive is with relationships that contemplate frivolity, fights for a foolishness … and above all that all of them with their crushed dignity resort to love as a way to defend the dignity of the human being, "he says.


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