Monday, January 21, 2013

The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin 1999

"A well-written, tense, and intimate Holocaust memoir by an author with a remarkable war experience." from a review in Kirkus Reviews 9/1/1999
This very interesting and moving memoir was written by the Holocaust survivor, Edith Hahn Beer with the help of Susan Dworkin. The author, 85 at the time of its publication in 1999, had grown up in Vienna, lived out most of the war years in Germany under a false identity, and then left for England after the war where she lived for over thirty years. After her second husband, Fred Beer died, she settled in Netanya, Israel.

The title of this memoir underlines the most unusual aspect of her life. Provided with false identity papers by Austrians who did not support the Nazi regime, Edith Hahn Beer married a German member of the Nazi party whom she met at an art gallery, and who, after a short romance, declared his love. She shared her secret, but although his politics were not pro-Jewish, his personality was such that he chafed at authority and felt compelled to protect her and her secret. When he was drafted toward the end of the war, he became a Nazi officer.

Because the author spent most of the war years in Germany, we get a detailed look at what it was like to first be a slave laborer on an asparagus farm, then a worker in a box factory.  Then, once she got her false identity papers, she became what she calls a “U-boat” – a person living amongst the enemy - and we see what it was like living amongst Nazis and Nazi sympathizers through her eyes. The details she provides allow us to become emotionally involved in her close calls – in her need to be careful in order not to give away her identity. This meant that she was constantly strategizing, constantly being fearful that she might implicate herself and others who had helped her.

Edith Hahn Beer survived for a number of reasons: she was lucky, and she met a few sympathetic Austrians and Germans who provided help and cover at crucial moments. Mostly it was because she was smart and made the right decisions. However, she never would have suffered as she did, she realized much later, had she decided to leave Austria before Hitler invaded, as her sisters had done. For a variety of reasons she had not wanted to leave her beloved Vienna and she, like many others, was convinced that Hitler, who she considered an “idiot,” was not a real threat.

Throughout the years she kept in touch with her Austrian Christian friend Christl Denner Beran who helped save her life by agreeing to hand over her papers so that Edith Hahn Beer could assume her identity. For this selfless act of humanity she has been honored by Yad Vashem.

To see a trailer for the movie of the same name which includes a short clip of an interview with Edith Hahn Beer, click here.

To read an in-depth article on Germany's use of forced and slave labor during World War II called "German Industry and the Third Reich", click here.

Author’s family (Father and mother were distant cousins. Both had Hahn surname.)
Author’s father’s family
Leopold Hahn – married Klothilde Hahn
            Edith Hahn – daughter of Leopold and Klothilde; married to Werner Vetter; married to Fred Beer; author
                        Maria Angela Vetter Schluter – daughter of Edith and Werner
            Mimi Hahn – daughter of Leopold and Klothilde; married Milo Grenzbauer
            Johanna (Hansi) Hahn – daughter of Leopold and Klothilde
Gisela Hahn Kirschenbaum – sister of Leopold
Isadore Hahn – brother of Leopold
            Selma Hahn – daughter of Isadore

Author’s mother’s family
Ignatz Hoffman – Klothilde Hahn’s uncle – exact relationship unclear
            Klothilde Hahn –niece of Ignatz Hoffman;  married Leopold Hahn (see above)
            Richard Hahn – brother of Klothilde; married Roszi
            Elvira Hahn – sister of Klothilde
                        Jultschi – daughter of Elvira; married Otto Ondrej
                                    Otto Ondrej – son of Jultschi and Otto
            Marianne Hahn – sister of Klothilde; married Adolf Robichek

Max Sternbach – author’s cousin; relationship not clear

Friends and Acquaintances
Bertschi Beran – married to Christl Denner
Liesel Brust
Kathe Crohn
Heddy Deutsch
Suri Fellner
Philippe Halsmann
Max Hausner
Steffi Kanagur
Sigfried Kanagur – brother of Steffi
Mina Katz
Lily Kramer
Erna Marcus
Felix Roemer
            Wolfgang Roemer – nephew of Felix
            Ilse Roemer – sister of Wolfgang
Josef (Pepi) Rosenfeld
Hermi Schwarz

Vienna, Austria
Stockerau, Austria
Hotel Bristol, Badgastein, Austria
Hainburg, Austria
Osterberg, Germany
Munich, Germany
Brandenburg, Germany
Netanya, Israel


  1. Is there a way to contact Edith shah Berg? My aunt's name is Edith Hahn. She is my mother's sister. I know that my grandparents came from Austria and their name was Hahn. I am aware of my Great-Grandfather's name and his mother, a widow. I believe my great-grandparents were also cousins. As first names are often repeated in Jewish families, I have an eerie feeling that we may be realted and she might have the link tomEurope that I cannot seem to find.

  2. Judy – Did you look at all of the family names that I’ve listed at the end of the review? Do any match? Her sister’s names are listed.
    Edith Hahn Beer died in 2009 but her daughter, Angela Schluter, lives in London. You may be able to track her down via this blog.
    If you find anything out, let me know.
    Toby Bird