hitler secretExcerpted from Letters from Berlin: A Story of War, Survival, and the Redeeming Power of Friendship by Kerstin Lieff and Margarete Dos. Copyright © 2013 by Kerstin Lieff. Used by permission of Globe Pequot Press.


Margarete Dos was born in 1924 in eastern Germany, and moved to Berlin just as Hitler came to power. She died in 2005, not long after reciting her life's story to Kerstin Lieff. This is an excerpt from her tale.


It was November 9, 1938. I had gone to bed early; there was to be an exam the next day in Geometry and, as everyone knew, I hated the Maths. Mutti and her husband had retired early, and Dieter, who had just turned thirteen, was the only one still awake. He happened to be in the parlor, doing something, writing perhaps, when suddenly there was commotion down below in the street, and it caused him to run to the window and draw the curtains aside. What he witnessed made him run to my room quite out of breath and shout, “Margarete, hurry! You must come! Come and look! It’s a terrible thing! Komm her! Schnell! Guck mal was da los ist!” He couldn’t believe what was going on in the street. I ran with him down the hall to the front room.

There, outside our parlor window, we saw it with our own eyes, the men in brown uniforms, the SA. They were screaming at the leather shop people, the people who had been so kind to me when I'd stumbled into their store a few weeks earlier. “Raus! Raus! Ihr sollt raus! Ihr seit Juden. Raus!” the soldiers shouted. We stood with our mouths wide open and watched. As they were screaming, they smashed the store window with sacks filled with rocks, the window that displayed the lovely bags and the pretty gloves, the same window that had the sign that read JEWISH ESTABLISHMENT. DO NOT DO BUSINESS WITH JEWS. This night would become known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

I didn’t know what to do about what I had witnessed. Tell my parents? What would they do? The room would become silent with anxious looks. I already knew this. Tell the authorities? It was the authorities that had done the window smashing. I could only think as a naïve young girl could think—these people must have done something very, very bad.

At school the next day, we were dismissed early. It was my confirmation class, and Pastor Jentsch told us to go home. “The Synagogue is burning,” he said. That was all. He didn’t say why; he only looked worried. His face was white, stern. Or scared. I didn’t know which, but I knew something had gone wrong. Later, on the radio, we heard that synagogues were to be destroyed, because the Jews were holding secret meetings in them, and secret meetings were against the law. I supposed that meant all of the synagogues had to be burned.

The next day, again, we were dismissed early. This teacher told us to leave, to go home, to study. This was the same teacher, the Maths teacher, who had always refused to say “Heil Hitler” when he entered the room and we stood in response. Rather, he simply said, “Setzt Euch”—please sit—which now was not only improper but against the law. He too looked very worried, but he still did not raise his arm or say “Heil Hitler,” and I can only wonder what ever happened to him.

I left my class and walked down the street from my school in Schmargendorf, and as I passed it, I saw that the retirement home for elderly Jewish people was empty. All the windows and doors were wide open, and there were SS men everywhere. That building never again had people in it.

# # #

My membership in the BDM allowed me to get close to the Führer one day. It was 1939 by now, and it was his birthday. A huge parade, one such as Berlin had never seen, had been planned to celebrate it. Germany had just marched into Prague, and the Sudetenland was to be German once again. There was euphoria everywhere in the streets. To have taken back the land that had been disputed since time immemorial was, for us, a great accomplishment. It meant, for one thing, we would stop repaying France the unbearable debt the Versailles Treaty had required of us and use the money instead to rebuild our own country.

You must understand, we in Germany had had a very difficult time. We had hyperinflation, and everywhere neighbors, people we knew, were out of work. There were long lines of men, men like Bertha’s father, who wanted work but could find no work. The Versailles Treaty that was signed after the Great War wanted to insure we would never be a world power again. Germany was being counted on to rebuild the European infrastructure that had been badly damaged during the Great War, but to do so would take another ninety years. And paying off the debt we owed, as we understood it, would take more money than Germany even had in its gold reserves.

It was, in truth, an impossible task, and it threw our country into chaos. The new German regime stopped making the payments, and Hitler saw to it that our six million unemployed men had work again. People were elated. Men began building new roads and railway lines. There was such enthusiasm, such euphoria, suddenly. There were many people who spoke, in the early days, with excitement about Hitler. Even—you may not believe this—but even Jews. The radio talked about it, constantly. No wonder the air around this day, April 20, 1939, was a festive one.

One day earlier our building manager, Frau Schulz, had come to our door to deliver a flag with the new swastika on it. “It’s been implied by the law, Frau Spaeth,” she told my Mutti when she was asked why. “I believe it even is the law that this flag is hung where it can be seen. I was notified of this. Each house with a window facing the street must hang our new flag.”

When she saw Mutti’s hesitation, she added, “Take it anyway, Frau Spaeth. It was a gift, no one asked for money,” and so Mutti hung it in our parlor window, the one facing the street. On the day of the big parade, I noticed that everywhere—lampposts and houses alike—there was a swastika hanging. Every window was bright, everywhere there were red banners, and the atmosphere was filled with excitement. For me, it was even more so because my particular troop of BDM girls were going to be very near the parliament building, the Reichskanzlei, just there on the Friedrichstrasse.

We were each given a large bouquet of roses, red ones with long stems that we would throw onto the Führer’s car as it drove by. With any luck, I could be in the front line, as I hoped I would be, and I would see this man, the one who said he was going to save our country.

And it did happen. I did stand in the front row, and I was able to throw roses onto Hitler and into his car as it drove past. Tears were in my eyes, and I was euphoric. I cried the same tears Bertha had cried: tears of joy. What joy? I wonder now. I never even knew what all the fuss was about anyway. I’d had a good life, no one in my family had suffered up to that time. We had money, we had food, we even had a telephone when no one else did, and my Papa always had work. But I was moved by the feeling that day, just as so many other people were moved by it, and as the Führer’s car drove past me, I saw him wave, and I even imagined he was waving to me. This man who looked much too small inside his large Mercedes, and I do remember I was surprised to see he didn’t give the Heil Hitler salute at all, merely a bent arm with his hand held as if it hurt—the one I thought might be waving at me.

Later, years later, Papa Spaeth told me Adolf Hitler always had such terrible breath. “It was impossible to be in the same room with him. You would want to find a window somewhere and open it wide and then stand very close to it so that you could at least have a moment of fresh air,” he said. He told me this after the war was over, but talk like this would have been impossible now, and even though my Papa Spaeth would have preferred to serve another man, an egalitarian man, a righteous one, he said nothing. He did what he was supposed to do: his work.

So Hitler had bad breath! All that shouting and waving, all that stuff he did to make himself look so important, his screaming, not to mention that silly Schnurrbart, that idiotic patch of a mustache he wore, and no one could even get close!

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • "Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories" by Sherman Alexie

    Publisher: Grove Press, $27.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Fiction Summary: The famous chronicler of Native American life, best known for his placement among banned books lists, publishes new and old stories.

  • "Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures" by Emma Straub

    Publisher: Riverhead, $26.95 Date: September 4, 2012 Fiction Summary: Straub's second book focuses on an old Hollywood's star's attempt to balance family and her successful career.

  • "NW" by Zadie Smith

    Publisher: Penguin, $26.95 Date: September 4, 2012 Fiction Summary: Four Londoners struggle to thrive in the world outside of their childhood town.

  • "Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran" by Gohar Homayounpour

    Publisher: MIT Press, $19.95 Date: September 2012 Memoir Summary: An Iranian Western-trained psychoanalyst returns to her home country in an attempt to employ her practices on Iranian people, whose lives, she says, revolve around stories.

  • "How Music Works" by David Byrne

    Publisher: McSweeney's, $30.00 Date: September 12, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: Talking Heads' frontman delves into the philosophies behind his life's work.

  • "Lament in the Night" by Shosôn Nagahara

    Publisher: Kaya Press, $16.95 Date: October 31, 2012 Fiction Summary: These two early noir novellas about Japanese culture in the underbelly of Los Angeles in the 1920s were recently found, have been translated into English for the first time, and are a gripping read.

  • "Future Perfect" by Steven Johnson

    Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover, $26.95 Date: September 18, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: Johnson applies the success of the hyper-connected Internet to organizational structures such as classrooms and systems of government.

  • "Lullaby (Watersong Novels)" by Amanda Hocking

    Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, $17.99 Date: November 27, 2012 YA Fiction Summary: A young girl, Harper, attempts to rescue her sister Gemma from a dangerous clique of girls in this second book of publishing phenomenon Hocking's "Watersong" series.

  • "This is How You Lose Her" by Junot Díaz

    Publisher: Riverhead, $26.99 Date: September 11, 2012 Fiction Summary: Díaz's iconic Yunior discusses his family history and laments the lovers he has lost due to infidelity.

  • "The End of Men: And the Rise of Women" by Hanna Rosin

    Publisher: Riverhead, $27.99 Date: September 11, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: Rosin reveals the ways in which women have pulled ahead of men, and pays close attention to the "matriarchy" of the professional world.

  • "Joseph Anton: A Memoir" by Salman Rushdie

    Publisher: Random House, $30.00 Date: September 18, 2012 Memoir Summary: Rushdie reveals the story of how he was sentenced to death for his anti-Islamic writings, his life of secrecy and the threats placed upon him and his family as he lived under the alias, Joseph Anton.

  • "San Miguel" by T.C. Boyle

    Publisher: Viking, $27.95 Date: September 18, 2012 Fiction Summary: Boyle chronicles two families' difficult pursuits of freedom on a small Californian island.

  • "Both Flesh and Not" by David Foster Wallace

    Publisher: Little, Brown, $26.99 Date: November 6, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: The late writer's humor and ability to deftly examine a broad range of topics comes across in this collection of essays never before published in book form.

  • "Vagina: A New Biography" by Naomi Wolf

    Publisher: Ecco, $27.99 Date: September 11, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: This scientific and historical examination of female genitalia sheds light on the broader topic of understanding women.

  • "Mortality" by Christopher Hitchens

    Publisher: Twelve, $22.99 Date: September 4, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: While battling cancer, the great polemicist Hitchens wrote these final observations about life, death, religion and philosophy.

  • "Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy" by Ted Widmer

    Publisher: Hyperion, $40.00 Date: September 25, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: As the title implies, this book is a survey of the best samplings from 265 hours of Oval Office tapes recorded during Kennedy's presidency. An pre-publication embargo suggests some headline-grabbing content.

  • "Life After Death" Damien Echols

    Publisher: Blue Rider Press, $26.95 Date: September 18, 2012 Memoir Summary: Charged with the murder of three young boys in Arkansas, Echols and his friends were sentenced to death and life in prison, but were released last year. Echols shares his story of the trial and his tribulations in prison.

  • "Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness" by Jessica Valenti

    Publisher: Amazon Publishing/New Harvest, $23 / $9.99 ebook Date: September 4, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: New mom Jessica Valenti faces up to the reality of parenthood - and it's far from a traditional cloying text about the joys of being a mother. A highly skilled writer, who the<em> New York Times</em> described as a 'third-wave feminist', Valenti says it's time to rethink the American Dream of having a family.

  • "The Innocence of Objects" by Orhan Pamuk

    Publisher: Abrams, $35.00 Date: October 1, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: This photo book chronicles the objects in Pamuk's Istanbul museum he designed to accompany his last book, "The Museum of Innocence."

  • "The Casual Vacancy" by J.K. Rowling

    Publisher: Little, Brown, $35.00 Date: September 27, 2012 Fiction Summary: Rowling's much-awaited first book for adults is about the death of a small-town city council member and the conflict created by it.

  • "America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't" by Stephen Colbert

    Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, $28.99 Date: October 2, 2012 Humor Summary: Colbert's trademark wit and sarcasm offers tongue-in-cheek advice on how to end our economic woes.

  • "Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

    Publisher: Henry, Holt and Co., $28.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: The follow-up to O'Reilly's bestseller "Killing Lincoln," this book describes the events surrounding JFK's death.

  • "Red Rain: A Novel" by R.L. Stine

    Publisher: Touchstone, $24.99 Date: October 9, 2012 Fiction Summary: 'Mr Goosebumps' Stine's first adult horror book in a while, this tale of a travel writer caring for twins abandoned by a South Carolina hurricane promises to be a haunting read.

  • "The Twelve" by Justin Cronin

    Publisher: Ballantine Books, $28.00 Date: October 16, 2012 Fiction Summary: The second installment of Cronin's trilogy about a virus that turns its victims into vampires examines pockets of survivors and their safety tactics.

  • "Back to Blood" by Tom Wolfe

    Publisher: Little, Brown, $30.00 Date: October 23, 2012 Fiction Summary: Wolfe's latest foray explores the ins and outs of Miami's immigrant culture.

  • "Telegraph Avenue: A Novel" by Michael Chabon

    Publisher: Harper, $27.99 Date: September 11, 2012 Fiction Summary: Two buddies who are co-owners of a jazzy record shop fight to keep their Oakland store alive. An enhanced ebook with music and extras might also tempt readers.

  • "Ancient Light" by John Banville

    Publisher: Knopf, $25.95 Date: October 2, 2012 Fiction Summary: Part of a loosely connected trilogy by the Booker Prize winner, this book examines an aging actor's past relationship with a much older woman.

  • "Have You Seen Marie?" by Sandra Cisneros

    Publisher: Knopf, $21.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Fiction Summary: This story by the author of "The House on Mango Street" chronicles a woman's search for a lost cat just after she has lost her mother.

  • "There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra" by Chinua Achebe

    Publisher: Penguin, $27.95 Date: October 11, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: This memoir by the author of "Things Fall Apart" examines what it is like to grow up in a breakaway country in the middle of a civil war.

  • "Letters" by Kurt Vonnegut

    Publisher: Delacorte, $35.00 Date: October 20, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: His posthumous correspondence reveals further multitudes of the author, in turns playful and grave, as he shared details of his life with loved ones.

  • "Astray" by Emma Donoghue

    Publisher: Little, Brown, $25.99 Date: October 20, 2012 Fiction Summary: The author of the haunting "Room" brings us 14 connected stories of travel from the 1930s to the 1960s.

  • "Elsewhere: A Memoir" by Richard Russo

    Publisher: Knopf, $25.95 Date: October 30, 2012 Memoir Summary: Russo's memoir tells of a childhood in the New England mill town that inspired the author's Pulitzer-winning novel, "Empire Falls."

  • "Sweet Tooth" by Ian McEwan

    Publisher: Nan A. Talese, $26.95 Date: November 13, 2012 Fiction Summary: The author of "Atonement" shares a tale of a bookish girl confronted with a choice between romance and her undercover life in England during The Cold War.

  • "Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story"

    Publisher: Picador, $16.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Anthology Summary: This anthology couples classic short stories with nuggets of advice gleaned from them by modern literary stars, such as Lorrie Moore, Dave Eggers and Jeffery Eugenides.

  • "Waging Heavy Peace" by Neil Young

    Publisher: Blue Rider Press, $30.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Memoir Summary: Young describes his life from LSD-laced years in 1960s Los Angeles to his more recent musical forays.

  • "The Heart Broke In" by James Meek

    Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Fiction Summary: Wood's novel examines how a traditional family reacts when the father is assassinated.

  • "The Middlesteins" by Jami Attenberg

    Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, $24.99 Date: October 23, 2012 Fiction Summary: Attenberg's novel examines the limits of marital love and our cultural fixation with food, as a woman becomes obese.

  • "The Fifty Year Sword" by Mark Z. Danielewski

    Publisher: Pantheon, $26.00 Date: October 16, 2012 Fiction Summary: Cult "House of Leaves" author returns with more unique formatting to showcase his eerie tales. This book was originally published as a limited release for $1,000 a pop, but is now being made available for fans willing to pay a more reasonable price.

  • "Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries" by Jon Ronson

    Publisher: Riverhead, $26.95 Date: October 30, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: The author of the successful pop science book, "The Psychopath Test" and "The Men Who Stare At Goats" explores the strange beliefs that sane individuals are willing to collectively believe in, in this collection of his journalism.

  • "Hush Hush: Stores" by Stephen Barthelme

    Publisher: Melville House, $16.95 Date: October 23, 2012 Fiction Summary: The brother of Donald and Frederick, and the coauthor of "Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss", shares stories of loss, be it monetary or romantic.

  • "My Share of the Task: A Memoir" by General Stanley McChrystal

    Publisher: Portfolio, $29.95 Date: November 12, 2012 Memoir Summary: The controversial general explains why weapons and funding are less vital than strategy for military success.

  • "The Elephant Keepers' Children" by Peter Høeg

    Publisher: Other Press, $27.95 Date: October 23, 2012 Fiction Summary: Høeg wrote <em>Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow</em>, but this novel is a very different beast. It examines religious fundamentalism versus religious freedom in this highly enjoyable farce about an unusual Danish family.

  • "Borges and Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain" by Rodrigo Quian Quiroga

    Publisher: MIT Press, $24.95 Date: October 2012 Non-fiction Summary: A neuroscientist explains how the findings for his research were discovered while reading a 50-year-old story by the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

  • "Dear Life: Stories" by Alice Munro

    Publisher: Knopf, $26.95 Date: November 13, 2012 Fiction Summary: Munro's latest collection includes her signature deft descriptions of rural Canadian life.

  • "Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version" by Philip Pullman

    Publisher: Viking, $27.95 Date: November 8, 2012 Fiction Summary: The author of the <em>His Dark Materials</em> trilogy re-imagines fairy tales originally written by The Brothers Grimm.

  • "Woes of the True Policeman" by Roberto Bolaño

    Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Date: November 13, 2012 Fiction Summary: Bolaño's unfinished novel was worked on until the author died in 2003, and tells the story of a Chilean university professor's life after fleeing to Spain and Mexico.

  • "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power" by Jon Meacham

    Publisher: Random House, $35.00 Date: November 13, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: Mecham won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2008 biography of Andrew Jackson. Here he takes on another controversial American president.

  • "Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver

    Publisher: Harper, $28.99 Date: November 6, 2012 Fiction Summary: This is the story of an Appalachian woman who gave up her dreams to remain in her insular town after becoming pregnant at age 17.

  • "The Testament of Mary" by Colm Tóibín

    Publisher: Scribner, $19.99 Date: November 13, 2012 Fiction Summary: Tóibín's novel imagines the life of a much older Mary as she attempts to look back and comprehend the events that would come to comprise the New Testament.