she was entranced when she met the Fuhrer in 1935. But by 1938, she said, she turned away from the Nazis, although "I don't really know why." Wilhelmine Haferkamp, who lives outside Aachen, fitted a different Nazi ideal as the mother of 10 children. Although she was married to a party member, she refused to say "Heil Hitler" and would feed prisoners of war doing forced labor near her home.
Frau Haferkapf was interviewed by Alison Owings for the book Frauen German Women recall the Third Reich
This story is adapted from Owings transcript of the interview
pp17-31 Alison Owings Penguin 1995
As a child, Wilhelmine Haferkamp had a friend who had been born with legs of slightly different lengths so had trouble walking. “She always liked to walk with me, because she could hang on”. While the girl hung on, Wilhelmine happily limped along beside her in imitation – until her mother put a stop to it. A child who helped a lame girl walk and empathised enough to walk the way she did was more likely than other children to become a certain kind of adult; one who helped victims of the Nazis. Wilhelmine did. That kind of adult however, was not usually honoured by the Nazis Party or married to a party member. Wilhelmine was both of these things too.
Frau Wilhelmine Haferkamp was born in 1911 in Oberhausen in Germany. She fell in love with Heinrich Haferkamp when she was a teenager and despite her parent’s reservations, at 19 year old Wilhelmine married Heinrich. They had 10 children and she received 30 marks a month from the ‘Hitler government.’ Wilhelmine sometimes got more kindergeld (child money) from the Hitler Government than her husband earned in his job as a streetcar conductor.
Wilhelmine was not interested in politics because she was so busy with her children. Her husband was a member of the Nazi party so their children got more schooling than they would otherwise. “If you went to high school, the parents had to pay. And if you were in the NSDAP everything was paid.” Their eldest child was also a member of the BdM (Bund Deutscher Mädel, League of German Girls). Wilhelmine was happy for her daughter to be part of the BdM and she didn’t think they ‘learned anything harmful.’
Some slave labourers worked on a new drainage system construction project outside their house. These prisoners lived a miserable existence. German citizens were forbidden to be friendly with the men who were so cold they had “icicles in their beards.” Wilhelmine was so shocked by the treatment of the men that she used to feed them. The crime was called ‘ futtern den Feind’ (feeding the enemy). Wilhelmine explains: “Now what really happened, (it) was cold outside. And everyday I cooked a big pot of soup for the children. (I) got a lot of milk on the children’s ration cards. And then I put a whole cube of butter in it…and a lot of sugar, because sugar nourishes, nicht?” Wilhelmine then leaned out the window of the house she shared with her mother in law and pointed to the labourers that she was putting something in the hallway. The men were too scared to leave the ditches where they worked so Wilhelmine spoke to the watchmen and said “Can I not give it to the poor men? You wouldn’t want me to throw it down the toilet.” The watchman looked at her and said “You obstinate dame. Go ahead and do what you have to do, but I have seen nothing.” One by one the slave labourers jumped out of the ditches, went to her door and drank from the big soup spoon.
One day, the enemy labourers did something in return. Several of her children were playing by the construction site canals when one fell head first into a deep hole. The people in the street cried “the Haferkamp child is dead.” An enemy labourer whom Frau Haferkamp had been looking after jumped down after the child and saved her.
Due to Wilhelmine’s actions, her husband received a card from the party requiring him to attend a meeting. They warned him about his wife’s actions. The family also received home visits from the Nazi party but she continued to ‘feed the enemy’ despite these warnings.
Once, her husband was on a late shift, she waited until he left for work and then made bread and butter and went downstairs to give it to the prisoners. Her husband was waiting by the door; he caught her and said ‘where do you want me to end up?’ ‘Should I go to jail?’ But he put up with it.
After the war one of her sons developed a skin condition and they had to travel by train to visit a hospital. The trains and tracks were still damaged by war and the trip took a long time as they had to stop at many stations. At Stuttgart station a man tapped her on the shoulder. In broken German he asked ‘are you not the mamma who lived…’ The man said ‘one of your children fell in the canal?’ He was the rescuer. “Mein Gott” the man cried. “The good that you did.”
Frau Haferkamp’s interview ends with the words: ‘I was the only woman among German women…they wanted to denounce me, because I did it…I do not want to praise myself. I was happy to do it. I still am. I do not have much money, I have no money saved but I always said, I get new money every month that I haven’t done anything for, nicht” she laughed.
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