Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project

Book Review:

The Nazi Officer's Wife
How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust
Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin Perennial
(an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers)
New York, NY, 1999
The striking first impression of this book is its title. The words, while intriguing, are seemingly unbelievable. But Edith Hahn Beer's saga is of the amazing true metamorphosis of a Jewish schoolgirl into an Aryan bride in a story unlike anyone else's, even though it contains threads common to other Holocaust survivor accounts.

This compelling book begins before World War ll, with a childhood in Vienna in a large extended family. Edith Hahn Beer's upbringing included some Jewish Education and holiday observances. Her father's restaurant even closed on the High Holidays because he felt that a Jew had to be better than the general population. Edith later realised that her country did not consider Jews to be as good as anybody else.

By 1938, the Nazi influence had taken its toll on the Jewish community in Vienna. After the Aunschluss, restrictions on Jews came in waves, and to Edith and her family, the world had gone mad. As a law student at the University of Vienna, Edith was informed that she could not take her final exam because she was no longer welcomed. Soon after, she was sent to Osterburg as a slave laborer. On June 21, 1942, she returned to Vienna and found herself without family and with few friends who would even acknowledge her. Nonetheless, with the help of an officer in the Office of Racial Affairs, she was able to assume the identity of Christina Margarethe Denner, an Aryan Christian friend. These Righteous Gentiles saved her life.

As Grete, she moved to Munich to work for the Red Cross, and met Werner Vetter, a Nazi Party member. Despite confessing that she was a Jew in hiding, they married and she lived the life of an ordinary Hausfrau. Edith became Grete by subjugating everything about her past and forgetting everything that she had once held dear, including her family.

A pregnancy added a new dimension to the insanity. She writes, "In a matter of a little more than a year, I had gone from being the most despised creature in the Third Reich&to being one of its most valued citizens, a breeding Aryan housewife." Shortly after the birth of her daughter, Werner was taken prisoner by the Russians and sent to Siberia.

Throughout her ordeal, Edith saved every document and piece of paper issued to her, such as her Nazi identification, marriage certificate, and her daughter's birth certificate which listed both parents as "German-blooded." Her collection is now housed at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Edith Hahn Beer's story of tenacity provides another glimpse of the Holocaust. It is both triumphant and disturbing, begging to be read and daring us to remember.

Book Review

Robin Rogel-Goldstein
Women's League of Herzl-Ner Tamid
Mercer Island, Washington
Originally published in Women's League Outlook magazine, reprinted here with the permission of the author.