They were feasts of sublime asparagus – laced with fear. And for more than half a century, Margot Woelk kept her secret hidden from the world, even from her husband.
Then, a few months after her 95th birthday, she revealed the truth about her wartime role: Adolf Hitler’s food taster.
Woelk, then in her mid-twenties, spent two and a half years as one of 15 young women who sampled Hitler’s food to make sure it wasn’t poisoned before it was served to the Nazi leader.
She worked at the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ – his heavily guarded command centre in what is now Poland, where he spent much of his time in the final years of World War II.
‘He was a vegetarian. He never ate any meat during the entire time I was there,’ Woelk said of the Nazi leader.
‘And Hitler was so paranoid that the British would poison him – that’s why he had 15 girls taste the food before he ate it himself.’
With many Germans battling with food shortages and a bland diet as the war dragged on, sampling Hitler’s food had its advantages.
‘The food was delicious, only the best vegetables, asparagus, bell peppers, everything you can imagine. And always with a side of rice or pasta,’ she recalled.
‘But this constant fear – we knew of all those poisoning rumors and could never enjoy the food. Every day we feared it was going to be our last meal.’
The petite widow’s story is a tale of the horror, pain and dislocation endured by people of all sides who survived the war.
Only now in the sunset of her life has she been willing to relate her experiences, which she had buried because of shame and the fear of prosecution for having worked with the Nazis, although she insists she was never a party member.
She has also provided album pictures of her as a young woman, in the same Berlin apartment where she was born in 1917.
Woelk said her association with Hitler began after she fled Berlin to escape Allied air attacks.
With her husband gone and serving in the German army, she moved in with relatives about 435 miles (700km) to the east in Rastenburg, then part of Germany; now it is Ketrzyn, in what became Poland after the war.
There she was drafted into civilian service and assigned for the next two and a half years as a food taster and kitchen bookkeeper at the Wolf’s Lair complex, located a few miles outside the town.