Beer, Edith Hahn 1914-

views updated

BEER, Edith Hahn 1914-

PERSONAL: Born 1914, in Vienna, Austria; married Werner Vetter, 1942 (divorced, 1947); married, 1957 (husband died, 1984); children: Angela. Education: Studied law at University of Vienna. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Home—4 Elgin Mews North, London W9 1NN, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins Publishers, 10 E. 53rd St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10022.

CAREER: Attorney and judge.


"Ich will leben!" Briefe und Dokumente der WienerJuedin Edith Hah-Beer: Arbeiterlager und U-Boot in Nazi-Deutschland, edited by Angelika Schlueter, Ugarit Verlag (Muenster, Germany), 1996.

(With Susan Dworkin) The Nazi Offıcer's Wife: HowOne Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust, Rob Weibach Books/William Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.

ADAPTATIONS: The Nazi Offıcer's Wife was adapted for a television documentary, A&E TV, 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: Edith Hahn Beer was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1914, and grew up in that city, studying law at the university until she was expelled. Beer, a Jew, found out firsthand what the Nazis had in mind for Europe and the world when they annexed her country in 1938: the violence of Kristallnacht saw the destruction of her home, and with the coming of anti-Semitic laws her half-Jewish boyfriend left her to assume a Christian identity. Deported in 1941, she worked in a labor camp for over a year, but was saved by a friend who provided her with fake papers. Her mother was not so lucky: she, along with dozens of other members of the family perished in the Holocaust.

How Edith Hahn Beer survived the war years and went on to become an important judge in East Germany is related in her 1999 memoir, The Nazi Offıcer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust. Beer went to Munich where she lived as a so-called "U-Boat," a Jew hiding in German society. She assumed the identity of Grete Denner, a nurse and member of the Red Cross. One day in a Munich gallery she met a young man who struck up a conversation about art. The two got on well together and continued to see each other. After knowing one another for only one week, the young man proposed. But this was not just any young man; Werner Vetter was in fact tall and blond, a Nazi officer who only had one week's leave. Beer tried to dissuade the young suitor and finally told him her secret. He too had a secret: he was married and waiting for a divorce. When that came through, Beer married and became a dutiful German hausfrau to her autocratic husband, keeping house and cooking meals. When she gave birth to her daughter, Angela, she refused painkillers, afraid she might reveal her true identity under the effect of drugs. Beer survived in this fashion throughout the war years, living outwardly as a Christian German housewife.

At the close of the war, her husband was sent to a Russian labor camp, but Beer found a new life in East Germany, returning to her true identity and becoming first a lawyer, and then a respected judge, and raising her daughter as a single mother. Divorced from Vetter in 1947, she fled to England with Angela, remarried, and created another new life for herself. With the death of her second husband in 1989, Beer moved to Israel. After an operation on her heart, she moved to London to live with her daughter.

Beer's story moved reviewers and inspired a television documentary. A contributor for Publishers Weekly called it "important both as a personal tesament and as an inspiring example of perseverance in the face of terrible adversity." Writing in the Antioch Review, Erika Bourguignon felt Beer's "story is indeed remarkable, and very well documented." Bourguignon went on to note that the story "sheds a special light on the complexity of life in wartime Nazi Germany."



Antioch Review, fall, 2000, Erika Bourguignon, review of The Nazi Offıcer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust, p. 527.

Jewish News, October 16, 2003, Gail Fishman Gerwin, "Telling the Story of the 'Nazi Officer's Wife,'" p. 32.

Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2003, Carolyn Patricia Scott, "Forsaking Identity for Survival," p. E17.

People, July 7, 2003, review of The Nazi Offıcer'sWife, p. 32.

Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1999, review of TheNazi Offıcer's Wife, p. 70.


BBC World Service Online, (November 3, 2004), "Secrets Revealed: The Story of a Jewish Woman Who Married a Nazi Officer to Survive."

HarperCollins Web site, (November 3, 2004), "Edith Hahn Beer."