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Award winning Lunch with Hitler hard to digest

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The SAFTA (South African Film and Television Awards) award for best online content 2023 was given to director Christopher Grant Harvey for his short film titled Lunch with Hitler about the women forced to taste test food for Adolf Hitler.

The film enacts the story of the 15 women who were compelled to taste food at the heavily guarded Wolf’s Lair headquarters during World War II because there were rumours the Allies planned to poison Hitler. Their role was to taste his food to confirm it wouldn’t kill him, according to Harvey’s website.

“It’s amazing that this story can rise above the noise and stand out,” Harvey told the SA Jewish Report.

Harvey said he got wind of the story of Margot Woelk, the only one left of the 15 tasters, in 2014. “The story stood out because it felt like this was part of history that was not particularly spoken about,” he said. “It also stood out because [Margot Woelk] was the last of these women still alive at the time.” He was inspired to create a short film on the story, as he believed “the human spirit in times of living in paranoia and fear would resonate with a wide audience”.

The story came to light when the then 95-year-old Woelk revealed to Der Spiegel newspaper that she was one of Hitler’s taste testers for two and a half years. At the time, she was a 24-year-old secretary living in Berlin who had fled to her mother-in-law’s house in the East Prussian village of GrossPartsch, now Parcz, Poland.

Woelk didn’t know that less than 3km away from her safe haven was the Wolf’s Lair. She told Der Spiegel, “I’d hardly arrived when the SS showed up at the door and demanded, ‘Come with us.’” Woelk was taken to the Wolf’s Lair to become a taste tester for Hitler.

As a young girl, Woelk had refused to join the League of German Girls, the female version of the Hitler Youth, but landed up becoming part of the operation to keep Hitler alive, according to Der Spiegel.

Woelk described the atrocities that she experienced at the Wolf’s Lair, including an incident when an SS officer used a ladder to get into the room where she slept and raped her.

Woelk told Der Spiegel that when the Soviet army was near the Wolf’s Lair, a lieutenant took her aside and put her on a train to Berlin, which ultimately saved her life. When the war was over, she met the lieutenant and he told her that all the other food tasters were shot by the Soviets.

Harvey said he believed her story emphasised “that life doesn’t always have these happy endings that are seen in the movies”.

The film took about nine years to make, from conception to release. “I wanted to get the facts of the situation across but not necessarily make it a history lesson,” he said. He decided to portray only three women instead of the 15 that had actually been there. “It was an easy choice. The film just wouldn’t work the same way if there were more or less.

“The actresses cast were also perfect for the project,” Harvey said. “Deborah Lettner, who plays Maria, was already able to speak German, and the bond of the cast on screen is extremely powerful to me.

“It’s important to note that the women in the Wolf’s Lair were German. They weren’t Jewish or part of any other group. The process of taste-testing Hitler’s food was seen as a way for these women to contribute to the war effort since women couldn’t fight in the war. It didn’t make sense for these women to be anything other than German.”

After the film was shot at Pretoria Boys High in 2018, Harvey stepped away from the project because of other things in his work life. But, he resumed during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. “It was the pandemic that inspired me to finish the film,” he said.

“I just wanted to tell this story, and a short film seemed like the perfect medium as the story can seem more digestible to the audience. I was also able to ensure that I had full creative control as not as much funding is needed for a short film compared to a feature film,” Harvey said.

“As a South African filmmaker, I don’t feel restricted to having to tell certain stories. Even though I’m far removed from this story, I just wanted to tell it at a time that it felt like no-one was telling it,” Harvey said.

The ultimate message of the film, Harvey said, is that “You have to look the devil in the eyes and say, ‘Not today.’”

“This story is one of resilience. Even though life may be bad today, we have to push through because you never know what’s on the other side. This is a universal message,” he said.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Libby Strous

    Feb 18, 2024 at 6:51 pm

    Just finished reading the book THE TASTER written by V.S, Alexander. Brilliantly written about a young lady who wanted to give to the war effort and unknowingly became Hitlers Taster. Who was later so bent on poisoning Hitler on learning what his plan for the world was. So enjoyed the novel where she includes Eva, Hitlers girlfriend and then wife.
    Libby Stroua

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