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Novel set in Gross Partsch, Germany (now Parcz, Poland)

14th November 2019

The Women At Hitler’s Table by Rosella Postorino, novel set in Gross Partsch, Germany (now Parcz, Poland), translated by Leah Janeczko.

People use love to justify all kinds of things…..

At the end of the novel, the author describes how she read about Margot Wölk, one of 15 people conscripted during WW2 to test the Führer’s food before it was set on his table at the Wolf’s Lair (die Wolfsschanze). You can read more about her fascinating and terrible life in this article in der Spiegel. Before the author could interview her, however, she passed away at the age of 94.

WW2 is in full swing and Rosa Sauer has abandoned her bombed-out apartment in Berlin and moved in with her parents-in-law in Gross Partsch, only a couple of kilometres from Hitler’s hideaway. Whenever he was in residence she, and several other women would be taken to the local barracks to eat samples of the food prepared for him that day. If one of them should become ill or even die, then they would be the victim, not Hitler himself.

Imagine the fear of eating and the pleasure of eating so indubitably mixed – the best food was chosen and cooked at a time when most of the population had little or no food. But with every mouthful came the risk that a dish may have been poisoned. Imagine! Three times a day you ingest some wonderful dishes but you also know you might die! What a terrible and frightening predicament.

The author has crafted a novel around the life of fictional Rosa Sauer. She has a huge amount of loss already. Her husband Gregor is missing in action and her parents are both dead. She gets on well enough with Gregor’s parents and, given the circumstances, she tries to build some kind of life for herself.

It is, in the main, a well written narrative that sometimes feels just a little fractured. It is a translated work of fiction and I wonder if the translation makes it at times feel quite stilted and wooden. For example, “My organs banged together” (talking about internal organs rather than the musical variety) feels a very odd turn of phrase.

Once Rosa managed to escape, as the Russians were moving West right at the end of the war, the time sequence was not clearly constructed, which was a bit jarring. The plot to kill Hitler by Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg gets a quick look-in but it needed clearer embedding in the storyline (or leaving out altogether). As it was, references were made and then put to one side.

It is of course a fascinating subject and the reader can certainly pick up details of life around that time. Hitler himself was vegetarian and seemed to have a quite fragile constitution. Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander also creates a story around the life of Hitler’s tasting crew, this time creating fictional character Magda Ritter – and this author, too, was inspired by the story of Margot Wölk.

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