1 May, 2000
Secrets Revealed: The story of a Jewish
woman who married a Nazi officer to survive
Edith Hahn Beer has published
the story of her remarkable life.It is an account of her survival
- a tale of stealth, of the difficulties of assuming a false
identity, and her subterfuge to avoid death in wartime Germany.
Fleeing from the Nazi labour camps, Hahn Beer adopted the identity
of a Christian nurse and married a Nazi officer. She became
the model Aryan housewife and gave birth to a daughter. After
the war, the Russians deported her husband to Siberia. In the
1950s in the new state of East Germany, Hahn Beer reclaimed
her Jewish identity and became a leading judge. However she
fled to the West when the Russians tried to make her become
a spy... Here you can find out more about her remarkable life
and listen to her in conversation with Sylvia Horn, presenter
Beer grew up in Vienna, Austria where as a young woman in the
1930s she studied law. She lived with her widowed mother and
as Anti-Semitism grew her family began to suffer. They were
forbidden a radio and telephone, denied medical care, and then
evicted from their home. She was not even allowed to sit her
final law exams.
in 1941, she was sent as a slave labourer to North Germany
where she worked in an asparagus plantation and then a paper
worked up to 80 hours a week, we didn't have enough to eat.
Like the other girls, my periods stopped.'
A year later, Hahn Beer was sent back to Vienna ostensibly
to join her mother, but she escaped from the train. Two weeks
earlier, her mother had been deported to Poland she never
heard from her again.
Her New Identity
Hahn Beer went into hiding. She was helped by a Christian
friend, a young woman, who risked her life by giving Edith
her papers and pretending that the papers had been lost in
was a very brave thing to do'.
1942, Hahn Beer who was now 28, travelled to Munich. There
she assumed the identity of Grete, a young poorly educated
nurse and joined the Red Cross.
One day in an art gallery in Munich, when she was sitting
in front of a painting, Werner Vetter, sat down next
to her. He was a typical young Nazi Officer: a tall,
blond man with a swastika pin in his lapel, on leave
for a week. He started talking to Hahn Beer about art
and the couple saw each other every day of his holiday.
He had known her for only seven days when he proposed.
Hahn Beer tried to talk him out of it, telling him that
they couldn't marry in wartime, but in the end she whispered
the truth to him - that she was Jewish. In response
he too admitted that he had lied and was not in fact
single, as he had claimed. In fact he was going through
a divorce and had a child. The couple married and never
discussed her past again.
Hahn Beer suppressed her personality and retreated into
herself. She became bland and dutiful, never speaking
out or attracting attention to herself - an obedient
hausfrau. Her husband was autocratic and demanding,
running his fingers along the shelves to test for dust
and spying on her when she was cooking. She avoided
shops where she would have to give the heil Hitler salute,
and refused to hang his picture in her house. It was
too risky to have friends, and she had only a few acquaintances.
When she gave birth to her daughter Angela, she refused
to take any painkillers. The pain was dreadful but she
feared that she might reveal something under the influence
of the drugs.
the end of the war, Vetter was sent to a Russian labour
camp in Siberia. Hahn Beer, took her Jewish identity
card, which had been kept concealed in the covers of
a book, and obtained a court order to change her name.
In East Germany
Beer's law training was now officially recognised, she
was made an attorney and then a family law judge. She
remembers this time of her life as happy period, she
enjoyed being a judge and raising her daughter. When
Vetter, returned from Siberia he found that his meek
wife had been transformed into an empowered professional.
Restless and frustrated he was reunited with his first
wife. Hahn Beer agreed to a divorce. She says that she
would gladly have stayed in East Germany, but it wasn't
possible, as the Russians wanted to recruit her to the
couldn't have done that - it would have been like joining
Hahn Beer fled to Britain with her daughter where she
joined her sister, who had lived in London since before
the war. There she found work as a housemaid and seamstress.
years I couldn't say what I thought, I could only
Beer is now 84. In 1957, she married a Jewish jewellery
merchant, who had also lost his mother in the Holocaust.
She raised Angela as a Jew. In 1989, five years after
she was widowed, she moved to Israel. Initially she kept
in touch with Vetter, and Angela visited him when she
was a teenager. During one of her visits however, he hit
her following a row over her not attending Christian religious
classes at school. The women then broke contact with him
and now have no idea as to his fate. Hahn Beer says that
her whole life was a risk. She doesn't know if she loved
Vetter, but she bears him no ill will. She says that she
will never forget those who helped her.
am just happy to be free.'
Nazi Officer's Wife Edith Hahn Beer, Little