A German woman claims she was one of Adolf Hitler's food tasters but that, for more than half a century, she did not tell anybody what she did during the second world war.
A few months after her 95th birthday, Margot Woelk finally opened up about her secret, revealing that she spent two and a half years as one of the 15 young women who sampled Hitler's food to make sure it was not poisoned before it was served in the so-called Wolf's Lair.
"That was the heavily guarded command centre in what is now Poland, where he spent much of his time in the final years of World War II," she said.
"Hitler was so paranoid that the British would poison him, it was the talk of the day, we all knew about it."
Woelk recalled her experience as girl in her mid-twenties during a meeting with the Associated Press news agency. She flipped through a photo album in the same Berlin apartment where she was born in 1917.
"That's why he had 15 girls taste the food before he ate it himself," she said. "For two and half years we had fears whether we survive it or not. But we had to eat it. He was a vegetarian."
With many Germans contending with food shortages and a bland diet as the war dragged on, sampling Hitler's food had its advantages.
"The best vegetables, asparagus, bell pepper, everything you can imagine and always with a side of rice or pasta," Woelk said. "It was very tasty but the fear which came with the food."
"It was unnerving to eat although we were young and took it easy in a way," she said.
The petite widow's story is a tale of the horror, pain and dislocation endured by people of all sides who survived World War II.
|Woelk says he kept her secret hidden from the world, even from her husband then, about her wartime role [AP]
Only now has she been willing to relate her experiences, which she had buried because of shame and the fear of prosecution for having worked with the Nazis, although she insists she was never a party member.
Woelk says her association with Hitler began after she fled Berlin to escape Allied air attacks.
With her husband gone and serving in the German army, Woelk moved in with relatives about 700km to the east in Rastenburg, then part of Germany but now Ketrzyn in what became Poland after the war.
There she was drafted into civilian service and assigned for the next two and a half years as a food taster and kitchen book keeper at the Wolf's Lair complex.
Hitler was so secretive, even in the safety of his headquarters, that she never saw him in person - only his German shepherd Blondie and his SS guards who chatted with the women.
With the Soviet army on the offensive and the war going badly for Germany, one of her SS friends advised her to leave the Wolf's Lair.
She returned by train to Berlin and went into hiding, she said.
Woelk said the other women on the food-tasting team decided to remain in Rastenburg since their families were all there and it was their home.
Out of the 15 tasters, Woelk says she was the only one who survived.
"They were nice girls. All of them got shot by the Russians," she said, talking about when Soviet troops overran the headquarters in January 1945.
When she returned to Berlin, she found a city facing complete destruction because of round-the-clock bombing by US and British planes.
On April 20, 1945, Soviet artillery began shelling the outskirts of Berlin and ground forces pushed through towards the heart of the capital.
'Raped for days'
After about two weeks of heavy fighting, the city surrendered on May 2. Hitler, who had abandoned the Wolf's Lair about five months before, had committed suicide, ending the war in Europe.
The Russians then came to Berlin and got to her too.
"I was taken to a doctor's apartment and I was raped for 14 consecutive days," Woelk said. "The man who did that to me called himself Major Berlin."
"After that I was very ill. I could never have children, they destroyed everything."
With the frailty of advanced age and the lack of an elevator in her building, Woelk has not left her apartment for the past eight years.
Nurses visit several times a day, and a niece stops by frequently, she said.
Now at the end of her life, she feels the need to purge the memories by talking about her story.