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The Nazi Officer's Wife (2003)

Edith Han was an outspoken young woman studying law in Vienna when the Gestapo forced Edith and her mother into a Jewish ghetto. Edith was taken away to a labor camp, and when she returned ... See full summary »

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Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. See more awards »
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Edith Han was an outspoken young woman studying law in Vienna when the Gestapo forced Edith and her mother into a Jewish ghetto. Edith was taken away to a labor camp, and when she returned home months later, she found her mother had been deported. Knowing she would become a hunted woman, Edith went underground, scavenging for food and searching each night for a safe place to sleep. Her boyfriend, Pepi, proved too terrified to help her, but a Christian friend was not. Using the woman's identity papers, Edith fled to Munich. There she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi Party member who fell in love with her. Despite her protests and even her eventual confession that she was Jewish, he married her and kept her identity a secret. Written by Sujit R. Varma

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amazing story of Edith Hahn Beer
23 December 2013 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

"The Nazi Officer's Wife" is a 2003 documentary about Edith Hahn Beer, a Jew who lived in Vienna when the Nazis took over in the '30s. Her sisters were sent to Palestine, her father died, and she was sent to a work camp. Her mother was sent to Minsk and died there, though it was some time before Edith learned what had happened to her.

After the work camp, Edith was to be sent to Auschwitz, but she removed her Jewish star and eventually was helped to escape by a non-Jewish friend who surrendered her own identity papers, after claiming to the government that hers had been lost in a boat trip on the Danube. The friend was later honored for this, as she risked her life in doing so.

Edith went to Munich and worked for the Red Cross, eventually meeting a Nazi who could not join the service because he was blind in one eye. They married and had a child.

This is an amazing story of the horrible fear of living under the Nazis, how the Jews were stripped of their rights, and how Edith had to take on an Aryan identity in order to survive, something she obviously felt very guilty about doing. It is a fascinating documentary. I read up on her later on and learned that her diaries and letters were sold by Sotheby's for $169,000 and later donated to a Holocaust museum. At the time, Edith had cataracts, was in her eighties and broke. It was her wish to donate the papers, but as always in her life, she had to be practical.

There are interviews with Edith, her daughter, and several school friends, as well as a lot of footage. Her letters and diaries are beautifully read by Julia Ormond, and Susan Sarandon provides narration.

I have to take issue with the reviewer who claimed there were "credibility issues." There are no credibility issues. She was hardly the only Jew who took an Aryan identity. It is also true that Nazis helped Jewish friends escape (though this didn't happen to Edith, but the reviewer on this site said that no Nazi would ever help a Jew - many did). Also, the fact that the person who gave her ID papers to Edith was honored is another testament to the truth of the story.

Additionally, her boyfriend, Pepi, whom she asked to burn her letters for his own safety, saved them instead and returned them in 1977, so there is excellent documentation since she was writing him from the labor camp. She also took photos during the whole period with a camera given to her by her father, and some of these photos were shown during the documentary. I doubt Sotheby's would have sold a bunch of fakes - the New York Times article I read said that all of Edith's papers were carefully studied.

If there was some denial of how she lived afterward so that she didn't share much with her daughter, this is understandable and probably part of her survivor guilt. It's not a sin to survive - the sin is that anyone was persecuted. People do what they have to - look at the pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman and what he did to survive.

This is a very compelling story and you can feel the fear rising as you watch it, it so entrenches you. Highly recommended.


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