BERLIN Margot Woelk spent the last few years of World War Two eating lavish meals and fearing that every mouthful could mean death.
The former food taster for Adolf Hitler was served a plate of food and forced to eat it between 11 and 12 every morning for most of the last 2-1/2 years of the Nazi German leader's life.
If she did not fall ill, the food was packed into boxes and taken to Hitler at the Wolf's Lair, a military headquarters located deep in woodland, in what is today northeastern Poland.
"Hitler was a vegetarian so it was all vegetarian fare - it was very good food like white asparagus, wonderful fruits, peppers and cauliflower," the 96-year-old Berliner told Reuters.
Along with 14 other girls in their 20s, Woelk lived in fear that every meal she ate would be her last.
"We were always terrified that the food might be poisoned as England wanted to poison Hitler and he knew that from his spies so he employed young girls to taste his food," she said.
"We cried a lot and hugged each other. We asked each other: 'Will we still be alive tomorrow or not?'"
Woelk, who still has nightmares about her role as a food taster and did not speak about her experiences for decades after the war, said she and her family were against the Nazis and that she landed the job "through a series of coincidences".
Forced to leave her apartment in Berlin when allied bombing made it uninhabitable, Woelk gave up her secretarial job and moved in with her parents-in-law in the village of Gross-Partsch, then in eastern Germany and now part of Poland.
"The mayor there was a big Nazi and he had connections with the SS (a Nazi paramilitary organization) so I was forced into it right away. I had to work to earn money," she said.
She said she never saw Hitler, though she did see his dog.
Woelk said she heard the explosion on July 20, 1944 caused by a bomb that army generals had planted at the Wolf's Lair with the aim of taking Hitler's life.
At the time Woelk was watching a film with soldiers in a tent not far from the military headquarters.
"We heard this huge bang then we fell off the wooden benches we were sitting on. Someone shouted 'Hitler is dead' but we later found out that only his hand was injured."
After the failed assassination attempt, Woelk said she had to move into supervised accommodation and was held like a prisoner, denied access to a telephone and able to visit her parents-in-law only with SS officers as chaperones.
When Hitler killed himself in April 1945, Woelk fled to Berlin and went into hiding. Soviet forces were closing in on the German capital and Woelk was later pulled out of an air raid shelter and raped by Russian soldiers for a fortnight.
The other 14 food tasters who had stayed behind were all killed, she said.
After the war Woelk started a job in pension insurance and was surprised when her husband, in Russian captivity and presumed dead, turned up unexpectedly. She had not heard from him in two years and did not recognize him.
"I've had a life full of drama and now, at the age of 96, I'm back living in the same house I lived in before the war."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)