The Olympic Games in Berlin 1938 – by Barbara Wace
Written by Barbara in April 1995:
I worked as a short hand typist at the British Embassy in Berlin in 1938, the year of the Olympic Games and the year of immense popularity of the Nazi Party. Working in the Embassy was less interesting than it sounds, for the three female staff were really just copy typists – there was little dictation, and long handwritten drafts were sent up to our room in the lift from the diplomats room in the changery below. What you typed was often interesting, but you were not encouraged to understand it. When we typed E dispatches on flimsy paper, with several copies – they were of security or, I suppose, from the MI6 Counsellor, whose name was Breen – we were not supposed to type consecutive pages, in case we understood too well. I managed to circumvent this rule most of the time. When Hitler made a speech it was quite exciting, as it had to be sent off immediately to London. You usually got the job if you were on the afternoon five to seven shift, and though it meant working late, I often signed on for this shift, and, in the afternoon went swimming in the Wansee. All three of us worked in the mornings.
During the actual Games in the summer, the Embassy had tickets in a box directly next door to the one occupied by Hitler. I often went with Ivone Kirkpatrick the counsellor – the one who was sent up to Scotland to talk to Rupert Hess when he flew there from Germany – and it was fascinating to watch Hitler’s face when Jesse Owens, the black American athlete, won event after event and had to be acclaimed when he mounted the pedestal. I don’t think Hitler even tried to hide his disgust.
The Olympic Games in the huge stadium provided wonderful drama and entertainment and I had a particularly good time as I had close German friends on the committee, and went to many practice events, and got to know many of the competitors at different sports. Werner Klingeberg was a member of the committee, and a close friend of mine who later came to stay with me in Canada with my brother, and afterwards at Rye in England with my family for a holiday. My mother always blamed the severe air raids in the area on poor Klinge and resented his visits, but he got along very well with the rest of the family. I heard from him after the war had started, as he was touring in Finland on some job, and he even wrote to me in Washington in 1940, which caused me a bit of trouble. Through his Olympic Committee connections he kept in touch with many people in that world, and was a great friend of Leni Rheifenstal, accompanying her several times to the United States. He ended the war as a career diplomat and wrote to me at the end of the war from some small country where he was Ambassador. He also sent a photograph showing he had grown very fat. He seemed very devoted to me but I did not really want to see him again.
A great friend of Klinge’s and of mine in those years was Dr., or Professor Ewald Fulde, who worked part time as an assistant surgeon to professor Sauerbruck at the charity hospital in Berlin and was, part time a regular officer in the S.S.. He always made out he was really anti Nazi and believed that the army wanted to make peace with us, if only the British would collaborate with the Reichwehr. But I have my doubts, as I discovered recently, through a friend with access to German secret papers, that he had been a volunteer S.S. officer from very early on. He certainly went to Spain to see the result of the bombing at Guernica in 1938. S.S. or not, I found him in Australia after the War where he was living with a wife he had married during the War. He had two small sons and I visited them for the day when I was staying in Sydney. I did feel very out of touch then and wondered what part he really played in the War. I suppose being friends with an embassy employee could have been useful to the Nazis, but certainly at the time I did not suspect him, and he was the most attractive member of our little group – Klinge, Lessing and Ruth Hattendorf, the girl with whom I lived for a short time and who stayed with me in England before the War.
Other friends of mine were not in such a grey zone. Perhaps my closest were a Jewish family I helped to leave Berlin and settle in England before going on to live in the U.S.. Fritz Oppenheimer was a brilliant little lawyer and close friend of John Foster, my barrister and, later Q.C. cousin. Fritz had fought in the First World War, volunteering when he was only sixteen, and winning the Iron Cross. He was naturally anti Nazi, and John and I both helped them come to England with their two small children. The little boy I remember as most endearing and I remember my disgust when I heard that his primary school teacher had put him on a platform in front of a class and demonstrated what he called Jewish features on his face – Hooked nose, thick lips and so on. The mother, Elizabeth, was a gentle, intellectual woman belonging to a well known academic family and I, until we got them out in 1938, saw a lot of her. When they finally reached the U.K., I lent the kids all my children’s books so, as Elizabeth said, they could have the same literary background of an English child. Sadly the books were all destroyed when their home was bombed in one of the earliest raids. In the U.S. Fritz volunteered for the U.S. Army and, though over age, got in – first in the ranks, then as a specialist officer – and, I believe, was very useful to the U.S. and was one of the first to go to Berlin. I kept in contact and saw them often in the U.S. after the war, though they had separated.
Other memories of Berlin include living, first with an anti Nazi family, the Von Rheinbabens, who had two small children, Kreutzwenderdich, a small boy of about ten who scared his father by insisting on bringing back anti Nazi jokes from school, and Uta aged about five. The Von Rheinbabens were a nice family – the wife, Erika was particularly attractive, and her mother was also nice, but very badly off in spite of her aristocratic connections. I had many happy evenings at the open air concerts in Berlin that I took them to and I only left because they really did not have enough to eat for somebody working as hard as I had to in those days. I got a Scottish girl in Berlin – a nice quiet girl – to take my place, so, with presents I sometimes brought from the diplomatic bag, I hope they had enough to eat.
We were allowed to use the bag for parcels each week, thought the ambassador, Sir Eric Phipps, warned us that even though he sympathised with our motives, we must not smuggle out money for our Jewish friends. Mother valiantly took two parcels each week to the bag at the foreign office – but once there was a disaster. A tin of black treacle, I suppose to provide the sugar and sweetness lacking in the German diet, lost its lid and the black sticky liquid oozed out and stuck together in a sticky mass countless foreign office documents and telegrams, to the horror of the archivist whose job it was to unpack and unstick them. I can’t remember if the crime was traced to me, but I don’t remember that the food parcels were ever curtailed.
Another embarrassing event which remains in my memory of those days was a visit to the opera with Moyra Henning, an English friend of mine. Elegant, tall, ultra sophisticated and attractive, she was a very upper class friend of my cousin John Foster, and was very kind and hospitable to me in Berlin and in her country home by the seaside to the north. A popular member of the pre-war international set, she was rather inappropriately married to Hans Henning, a rather insignificant looking German, and had one rather spolied son, Peterla, aged four. I saw a lot of her, as she was very hospitable, and as the Nazi regime grew stronger she became quite lonely – for though rich and immensely attractive she stood out among the rather dowdy housewives, married to the younger set in Berlin, who more and more tended to be Nazis. One evening I bought opera tickets, to take her as a small return for her hospitality. I had good stall seats in the front, and the opera was a well known Wagner one, with lots of loud singing and big fat women singers with blonde hair and full bosoms. I think Moyra was a little hysterical that day for we started giggling when we sat down, and, by the time the hero had to attempt to pull his heroine up from a reclining position on a huge rock, we could not stop laughing, and I was afraid the solemn German audience would object and we would be exposed. Had the audience noticed Moyra, with her distinctive Jewish features, it could have turned into an ugly incident. We left before the end and recovered in the fresh Berlin climate outside.