The Nazi officer's wife : how one Jewish woman survived the Holocaust

by Edith Hahn-Beer

Other authorsSusan Dworkin
Paper Book, 1999





[New York] : Perennial, 2000, c1999.


Biography & Autobiography. History. Religion & Spirituality. Nonfiction. HTML: #1 New York Times Bestseller Edith Hahn was an outspoken young woman in Vienna when the Gestapo forced her into a ghetto and then into a slave labor camp. When she returned home months later, she knew she would become a hunted woman and went underground. With the help of a Christian friend, she emerged in Munich as Grete Denner. There she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi Party member who fell in love with her. Despite Edith's protests and even her eventual confession that she was Jewish, he married her and kept her identity a secret. In wrenching detail, Edith recalls a life of constant, almost paralyzing fear. She tells how German officials casually questioned the lineage of her parents; how during childbirth she refused all painkillers, afraid that in an altered state of mind she might reveal something of her past; and how, after her husband was captured by the Soviets, she was bombed out of her house and had to hide while drunken Russian soldiers raped women on the street. Despite the risk it posed to her life, Edith created a remarkable record of survival. She saved every document, as well as photographs she took inside labor camps. Now part of the permanent collection at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., these hundreds of documents, several of which are included in this volume, form the fabric of a gripping new chapter in the history of the Holocaustâ??complex, troubling, and ultimately triumphant.… (more)


½ (343 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member MerryMary
A fascinating look at a little-known aspect of Jewish survival of the Holocaust - hiding in the open. Edith, a lively young woman with an enviable life in pre-war Vienna, finds herself and her half-Jewish boyfriend Pepi more and more restricted and threatened as Hitler gains power. Edith's
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experiences in the ghetto, on a slave-labor asparagus farm, in a box factory, are told in a vivid matter-of-fact manner that brings such treatment to horrid life, without being hysterical or manipulative.

When Edith is sent back to join her mother in being sent to Poland (and the death camps), she decides not to report. While in hiding, she tries to stay connected to her friends and Pepi, but their fear of her and her Jewishness kills their love for her, and she finds herself adrift. I was struck by the relationship with Pepi and how it changes as she goes deeper underground. Edith is also very eloquent in her discussion of going underground from a psychological aspect. The long-term burial of her real identity, her real personality, her real feelings has a deep and lasting effect on her life for years to come.

Her marriage to Werner Vetter was fascinating. He was Aryan, yes. He was a Nazi party member, yes. But he was also a gifted liar, a lip-service Nazi at best, and fully aware of "Grete's" real identity. Her submission and real fondness for him wars with her re-assertion of self after the war. His fondness for her and very real enjoyment of flouting German law wars with his hidden antisemitism and his need for control. It is a complicated and volatile relationship. The story is a unique and seldom-told one, and I recommend it.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
This was an excellent memoir, written many many years after the fact by a Jewish woman who survived the Nazi takeover of Austria and all the subsequent horrors through luck, unexpected kindnesses, and ingenuity. This is not a story of survival in the concentration camps, or of hiding out in attics,
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but rather of assuming a false identity and living a life "beneath the surface of society". After the Russian Army defeated the Germans and took over the town where Edith (then known as Grete) was living, an official asked her "From which camp did you come?". Her answer was "I managed without a camp." Not without hardships and nearly constant fear, however. On the eve of obtaining her qualifications as a lawyer and judge, Edith Hahn was told that she would not be allowed to take the final exam, and that as a Jew she was forbidden to return to the University of Vienna for any reason. For the next 8 years Edith managed to hide her race from the official world until the Nazi regime fell, at which time she triumphantly resurrected her true identity and became a family court judge for a brief time -- "the one and only time I had even the slightest power to alleviate any of the suffering in this world."

The title is somewhat misleading, since she did not marry a Nazi officer (her husband was nominally a Nazi, but not even in the military when she married him), and her marriage was only one of the factors that kept her alive and under the radar throughout the course of the war. Not only did she and her daughter survive, but so did a fairly extensive archive of letters, photos and official documents she and a former lover each held on to, at considerable risk. Those documents are now in the custody of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The author died in Israel earlier this year. Highly recommended as a revealing look at life in Nazi Europe from a rather unusual perspective.
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LibraryThing member JillKB
Once I got into this memoir, it was hard to stop reading it. If you've ever wondered what European Jews were thinking and doing during the rise of Nazi Germany, you will be as fascinated by this story as I was. Edith Hahn was a young Austrian woman training to become a judge when Hitler came to
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power, and she does an amazing job of describing what her life was like before, during, and after the Holocaust. Although the title suggests the whole story is about her marriage to a Nazi officer, Edith actually doesn't marry him until about half-way through the book.

The following pages really resonated with me:


"How can I describe you our confusion and terror when the Nazis took over? We had lived until yesterday in a rational world. Now everyone around us -- our schoolmates, neighbors, and teachers; our tradesmen, policemen, and bureaucrats -- had all gone mad. They had been harboring a hatred for us which we had grown accustomed to calling 'prejudice.' What a gentle word that was! What a euphemism! In fact, they hated us with a hatred as old as their religion; they were born hating us, raised hating us; and now with the Anschluss, the veneer of civilization which had protected us from their hatred was stripped away....

The Nazi radio blamed us for every filthy evil thing in this world. The Nazis called us subhuman and, in the next breath, superhuman; accused us of plotting to murder them, to rob them blind; declared that they had to conquer the world to prevent us from conquering the world....

Did our friends and neighbors really believe this? Of course they didn't believe it. They were not stupid. But they had suffered depression, inflation, and joblessness. They wanted to be well-to-do again, and the fastest way to accomplish that was to steal. Cultivating a belief in the greed of the Jews gave them an excuse to steal everything the Jews possessed.

We sat in our flats, paralyzed with fear, waiting for the madness to end. Rational, charming, witty, dancing, generous Vienna must surely rebel against such insanity. We waited and we waited and it didn't end and it didn't end and still we waited and we waited."
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LibraryThing member HolocaustMuseum
The Nazi Officer's Wife presents us with a new view of hidden survivors. Edith Hahn was educated as a lawyer but not allowed to practice because she was a Jew, then survived labor camps and escaped to hide in plain sight passing herself off as a pure Aryan while married to a member of the Nazi
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party who married her in spite of knowing her true identity. We see her life as experienced from a persecuted Jewish point of view and from that of a her role as a German housewife. While everyone might not agree with her choice to pass herself off as a pure-blooded German, her courage and resourcefulness are apparent.
This is a fascinating read.
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LibraryThing member LhLibrarian
A very easy read, you can't put it down. Her story is so compelling, I can't imagine how one could live under that kind of pressure and still come out with any will to live. An incredible lady, to be sure.
LibraryThing member Risa15
Interesting story about how one Jewish woman managed to survive the Holocaust by being married to a Nazi Officer who knew her true identity and protected her and her friends. He had joined the Party to get ahead and secretly had an admiration for Jews.
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Little is written about Jewish survivors who successfully hid from the Germans and managed to avoid the horrors of concentration camps. This is an interesting account of one such woman, Edith Hahn, who managed to hide in plain sight, as the wife of a German Nazi. Her story begins with a description
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of her family and childhood. As an Austrian Jew, she was forced to move into a ghetto and then sent to a labor camp. When she returned home from the labor camp she was supposed to report for deportation to a “work camp.” Instead, she went underground and hid. With the help of a Christian friend, she obtained false identification papers and moved to Germany where she met her soon-to-be husband, Werner Vetter.

Well written, this book is interesting and face-paced. Miraculously, numerous documents and photographs survived World War II and are featured in the book. The reader sympathizes with Edith and feels her anxiety and worry over her situation. I would have liked to read more about her life after Munich and where she ultimately ended up. Overall, this was a very good book.
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LibraryThing member bookalover89
Reads like a suspence novel! Couldn't put it down.
LibraryThing member NancyJak
This book was amazing. Edith Hahn was jewish and living in Vienna. She was about one exam away from her law degree when she was forced to leave school by the Nazis. One sister and her husband got to Israel, the other to England and she stayed behind with her mother. She was sent to a labor camp
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first on a farm and then in a factory. Her mother was eventually sent to a concentration camp.
She had friends in Vienna, both jewish and not, who helped her and two of them helped her secure false papers and she went to Germany. There she fell in love with someone who was in the Nazi party and had a good position at the aircraft factory. He was angry when he found out she was jewish but married her anyway.
I hate to give anything away in reviews so I will leave it there. What a strong, person to endure what she did throughout the holocaust both physically and mentally.
During the course of it, she saved all her documents and pictures and her male friend in Vienna had done the same. It's a remarkable account and heart wrenching. About 3/4 of the way through the book she said "To live in ignorance, all you had to do was listen only the Nazi news" made me realize it could happen anywhere, anytime again.
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LibraryThing member Susan.Macura
This is the story of one Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by hiding in plain sight – she was married to a German Nazi officer. Her story is filled with hope and sorrow, joy and pain, as she tells what happens to those who did not survive and those who did. It is a unique look at what was
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happening at that time.
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LibraryThing member MauriceRogevMemorial
This is the autobiography of a Jewish girl who grew up in Vienna got a legal degree and survived the war in Germany to eventually live in Israel. Dollfuss was the Chancellor of Austria till he was assassinated by Nazis in 1934. Basically to keep the Nazi's out he became a dictator and dissolved the
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constitution. After him Schuschnigg took over but was forced to resign to a Hitler ultimatum followed by the Aunschluss
What is interesting in that they still had access to post. Slave labourers in Germany seem to have better conditions than those in other conquered places.
Edith got a holiday to return to Vienna and was supposed to report for deportation to Poland but has heard how bad conditions were there from soldiers writing to Jewish girlfriends. The interesting thing is that she had many friends who were high up in the Nazi party. She was told to find an Aryan friend who would say that she lost her papers while boating in the Danube and would get new copy. Edith would get the old one but had to leave Vienna and find work in the Red Cross as all other jobs were on a national register.
In Munich she worked as a nurse aid. After the fall of Stalingrad, Goebbels called for 4 days of mourning and greater sacrifices in "total war"
You could be sent to jail for listening to foreign radio but she discovered that one neighbour would sing another would knocking woodwork while they all listened to BBC or Swiss Radio in German.
She learned that only 6000 German troop got home after Stalingrad.
On BBC she heard the voice of the writer Thomas Mann as well as the Chief Rabbi Hertz of Britain who spoke in German. Before the Russians came her husband realised that it was better to keep cash than to leave it in the bank. In The Russian sector instead of the Gestapo the Soviets brought the KGB again everybody were supposed to be informers so she knew she had to leave and got to England where she had a sister.
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LibraryThing member beckymmoe
I went back and forth on this book. (It's probably really a 3 1/2 star read, but I'm really torn.) Overall I did like it--Edith's story is really something else--but I guess it just wasn't what I expected in the end. (It's probably mostly just the difference between life and fiction; I'll be the
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first to admit that.) At times it felt like too much detail was being given (and things were being repeated) when it wasn't needed while at other times I wanted to know more than she was telling. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that this story was being told so much later than the events had actually happened. At times it was a slightly confusing blend of what was happening in the story and her asides about things that occurred later--this might have been helped if I'd read the book instead of listening to it, though. I also kept hoping that some of the people (especially her husband) would end up being better people than they actually were--again, I'll admit to being a sucker for HEA, which is a lot easier to come by in fiction. I am glad I read it, though--it gave a completely different perspective than any other book I've read from this era.
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LibraryThing member lamour
This an amazing story of a Jewish woman who survived the war living in Germany by hiding her heritage and race from the Nazis. Eventually, a German Officer fell in love with her and married her even though he knew she was Jewish. She survived work camps, Allied bombing, food shortages and near
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misses of having her secret discovered by the authorities. Some of her escapes from discovery were because individuals endangered themselves to hide her secret.

She eventually moved to Israel and passed her story and documents on to her daughter who encouraged her have it published.
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LibraryThing member Grandy
Excellent read. very sad, interesting read for anyone that like true stories of history of the world.
LibraryThing member elleayess
I have waited a long time to read this book. It always seemed out of my reach until the Kindle version finally came to be. While the wait was long, it was well worth it. What an amazing story of strength and character. I have read many books about the Holocaust, but never a book about a Jew living
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among the enemies. It was touching to read the various places the author had been, both geographically, professionally and emotionally. This will remain to be one of my favorite accounts of life in this horrible time.
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LibraryThing member su_library_student
Once I realized that she survived WWII living among the Nazies, my initial reaction was that she had it easy. The author quickly dispelled this with her descriptions of what it was like to be a "U-Boat". I can't imagine having to live through what she did and would hope that I would have the same
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strength. If you enjoy reading about the holocaust and memoirs, you will enjoy this book.
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LibraryThing member Zumbanista
An amazing account of Edith Beer's survival in Austria and Germany during WW II. Although she had it better than many European Jews, her story is hair raising and heart rending all the same. She tells about her pre war existence as a young secular Jewish university student studying law in Vienna.
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Edith shares valuable insights into Austrian society during and after the Anschluss, being sent to forced labour camps, wearing the Yellow Star of David and her many deprivations. Her story draws you in as she obtains new ID as a Gentile, works with the Red Cross and embarks on her married life and motherhood.

While not the best writing I've read, Edith's story kept me interested and happy when she finally escaped to England and safety.
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LibraryThing member slarsoncollins
Fabulous book following the life of one Jewish woman through Nazi Germany. There was so much I wasn't aware of about the lives and trials of those who couldn't escape. I highly recommend this one.
LibraryThing member alans
LibraryThing member dele2451
An incredible account of one Holocaust survivor's resourcefulness and strength made all the more remarkable by the personal photographs and historical documents she retrieved from a letter-saving former boyfriend. Thank goodness Edith's daughter helped her overcome her reluctance to formally record
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her unique and very important life story. Highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member joannemonck
Interesting read on how someone survived the holocaust in Germany. She certainly had luck on her side beside some wonderful people who helped her out. Her life was comfortable before the war but she lived through harsh working conditions as a Jew in Germany before the actual holocaust and had no
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idea it was going. She always hoped to be reunited with her mother who was sent to the Warsaw Ghetto. Her life after the war and living under a Russian regime seemed ideal until it became as intolerable as living under the Germans.
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LibraryThing member kslade
Fascinating life story of a Jewish woman who became a "U-boat," a survivor in the Nazi time who used false identity papers. She eventually married a Nazi officer who did not seem to mind that she was Jewish at first. After the war she worked as a family judge in Berlin and moved to England and
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remarried. Shows complications of real life and living a lie, and staying true to herself in an evil time.
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LibraryThing member Smits
Very powerful and deeply moving story. Edith Hahn’s remarkable story is told in her own words and quite matter of fact. I thought I wouldn’t like her as she must have married a Nazi ( title of the book) but I did like her very much. Her story is important and I thank her for it. We must never
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Edith Hahn Beer’s memoir of her life prior to and during World War II in Austria and Germany. The book starts before the war and covers her decision to remain in Austria as well as events that led to her marriage to a Nazi. As conditions for European Jews worsened, and with assistance from
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others, she made the decision to “hide in plain sight.” This is a riveting story of identity, fear, courage, guilt, and redemption. It provides another slice of history, depicting the personal impact of the Nazi regime. It shows the lengths to which a person needed to go to survive. At times, it seemed she was almost apologizing for what she decided to do to escape Nazi persecution, but who can blame her? The tone of this book is one of candor. She does not shy away from addressing difficult subjects. I felt like I was sitting down with the author and listening to her tell me her story. Recommended to those interested in the history of World War II, especially personal experiences of that time period.
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LibraryThing member tmph
Of course, it's simply an unbelievable story. Very well-told.


Audie Award (Finalist — 2004)


Original publication date


Physical description

305 p.; 21 cm


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