The less-than-fantastic adventures of Hitler's food taster

Amid the devastation of World War II, a time when even the most basic food was hard to come by, Margot Wölk lived out her days amid plenty. As part of a group of women forced by the SS to serve as Adolf Hitler's food testers at his Eastern Front headquarters -- the Wolf Lair -- Wölk spent the war checking for poison in the Führer's white asparagus. In a fascinating interview with Der Spiegel that makes for good weekend reading, Wölk recounts her time as one of Hitler's guinea pigs and says that she found her work for Hitler repugnant. She spent the war eating gourmet food at the point of a gun.

Wölk's account of her time at the Wolf Lair reads like something of a surrealist farce. Since Hitler was a vegetarian, no meat was served -- only big platters of vegetables, noodle dishes, and sauces. The day Hitler narrowly survived an assassination attempt at the Wolf's Lair, a group of soldiers had invited the food tasters -- who were all women -- to a watch a movie in one of the tents near the headquarters. The explosion knocked them off their benches. But Hitler walked away unscathed.

After the attack, security at the compound tightened, and the food testers were moved to an old school house. One night, Wölk told Der Spiegel, an SS officer used a ladder to climb through the window of the room in which she was sleeping and raped her. And that was only a taste of what was to come: After the war, Wölk fell into the hands of the Soviet Army, whose soldiers raped her repeatedly and left her unable to bear children. In one of the lesser-known outrages of World War II, the Soviet army raped an estimated two million German women during their westward march.

After the war, Wölk's husband, a Nazi soldier who had been presumed dead, returned to her. Rebuilding their life took priority over giving interviews, but that changed a few years ago, and she has now given several accounts of her experience during the war, though none as comprehensive as this week's interview with Der Spiegel.

Now the 95-year-old Wölk stands out as a paradigmatic example of the ways that ordinary Germans were made to collaborate with Hitler's murderous regime.

"I just wanted to say what happened there," she told Der Spiegel. "That Hitler was a really repugnant man. And a pig."

/AFP/Getty Images


If I can call a Muslim an 'Islamist,' can I call a Christian a 'Christianist'?

For newspaper reporters, the short answer to that question is "no."

On Thursday, the Associated Press revised the usage of the word "Islamist." But instead of banning the word, like it did with "illegal immigrant," it restricted the use of Islamist to certain situations.

For example: Here is the how the new Stylebook instructs reporters:

Islamist An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.

The decision is an acknowledgement that a wide swath of Muslims -- ranging from mainstream politicians to violent jihadists -- view the Quran as a legitimate political model, and the AP's restriction is an effort to not conflate those two types of Muslims. But the move doesn't fully satisfy demands by the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties group, CAIR, to "drop the term" altogether. As CAIR's Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper argued in January, using the term in any fashion represents something of a double-standard:

There are few, if any, positive references to "Islamist" in news articles. There are also no -- nor should there be -- references to "Christianists," "Judaists" or "Hinduists" for those who would similarly seek governments "in accord with the laws" of their respective faiths.

No journalist would think of referring to the "Judaist government of Israel," the "Christianist leader Rick Santorum" or "Hinduist Indian politician Narendra Modi," while use of "Islamist" has become ubiquitous.

Hooper is right that the use of the word "Islamist" has become ubiquitous. But he's wrong that "no journalist" would ever think to say "Christianist." For evidence, look no further than cantankerous political blogger Andrew Sullivan, who famously adopted the term to differentiate Christians like himself and more fundamentalist Christians in a 2006 Time magazine article:

Let me suggest that we take back the word Christian while giving the religious right a new adjective: Christianist. Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque.

In the ensuing years, Sullivan went on to derisively label hard-right Christians as "Christianists" in numerous blog posts for the Daily Dish (now simply, the Dish). At the time, Sullivan took a fair amount of heat for this characterization, and still does to this day. In a 2006 rebuttal, the American Spectator's R. Andrew Newman chastised Sullivan for comparing (Christian) apples to (Muslim) oranges:

You know, Rick Santorum equals that nuke-loving Iranian guy, the one who looks like an older, Muslim Maynard G. Krebs. Jerry Falwell is a chubbier Osama bin Laden in a suit off the rack from J.C. Penney.

Of course Sullivan says that's not what he means. Not at all. They're not terrorists, they're not violent. It's only that Christianists have hijacked Christianity like Islamists have hijacked Islam. Except they haven't slammed a plane into the Pentagon, leveled walls on homosexuals, stashed women in burqas, or rioted because Jesus appeared on the funny pages. But beyond that, I'm sure he has a point. Somewhere.

It's certainly a debate that feels very early aughts, but it still has resonance today. Right now, CAIR is hailing the AP's move as a "step in the right direction," while a phalanx of conservative media is denouncing it as a bow to political correctness. "That's not a journalistic judgment," Rush Limbaugh said on his show today. "That is a partisan political judgment."

The AP Stylebook contains no entry for "Christianist" -- and if the news agency's move to ban "illegal immigrant" is any indicator, hot-button words will only become rarer. That's why the smart money suggests an eventual phase-out of "Islamist" for the Associated Press altogether. If that makes your skin crawl, you're in luck: This thing called the Internet is not beholden to AP standards. You can say anything you want.  So long live the world's Islamists, Christianists, Judaeists, Sikhists, Wiccists, Heathenists, Hinduists, Hellenic paganists, Taoists, Rastafarists, Buddhistists, Jainistists, Zoroastrianists, and Confucianistists.