Author Debbie Rix writes an exclusive piece for Female First
Author Debbie Rix writes an exclusive piece for Female First

To celebrate the release of her new novel, The German Wife, we asked author Debbie Rix to write us an exclusive piece, letting us in on some of the things we should expect from the book. Here's what she had to reveal...

1. The initial inspiration for my latest novel – The German Wife – was a photograph in an exhibition in Munich. It was of a handsome young man hanged by the neck on a gibbet, in front of a small crowd of onlookers. The annotation beneath the picture stated that he was a Russian ‘slave’ who had been executed for having a relationship with a German woman. The woman herself had been imprisoned for the offence - doubtless in a concentration camp.

Two things leaped out at me: first, how could a woman take such a huge risk, simply out of love? Second, and perhaps more importantly, what did they mean by ‘slave’? Before then, I had no idea that millions of ordinary people had been forced to work for the German war machine. Some were Russian and Polish prisoners of war, but many more were simply captured men and women from countries the Germans had invaded, such as France, Holland and Belgium. Most worked in armaments factories, but others filled posts as waiters, street cleaners or domestics. It struck me that this slavery system was a story worth telling in a fictional context.

2. I decided to centre the novel around a relationship between a foreign slave and a German woman. But who should she be - what kind of woman would be prepared to risk all for love? Would she be a member of the Resistance perhaps, or would she be a proud Nazi? The latter seemed unlikely, so I resolved to make my female character the wife of a Nazi high-up, but who did not share his political beliefs - thus partly explaining her decision to break the rules and have a liaison with a slave.

Next question, who should be her Nazi husband? I got my inspiration during a visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp Museum, where I read with horror of the terrible medical experiments that had taken place there, and of the doctors who ran these experiments. It struck me then that the husband of my female character could be one of these doctors – a man who almost certainly had begun his medical career wanting to do good, but where political necessity had forced him to do evil work for an evil regime.

3. At Dachau, I found just the right man - a doctor called Karl Plötner. With a degree in general medicine as well as homeopathy (a system of medicine favoured by Hitler), Plötner was the first medic to be employed at Dachau in the early 1930s. He was later joined by other doctors, who performed gruesome experiments on the concentration camp inmates.

After the camp was liberated by the American forces in April 1945, these men were executed for war crimes - all bar one. The doctor who escaped death was Plötner himself. I have woven the extraordinary story of his survival into the novel.

4. While researching daily life in wartime Germany, I discovered that the German people were subject to much harsher rationing than those in Britain. The worst privation was being forced to donate clothes to the ‘Winter Relief Fund’. Hitler Youths would go door to door, purloining ordinary people’s warm clothing for German troops fighting in Russia.

5. I did a lot of research on the central figures in the Nazi party - in particular Heinrich Himmler who, as Hitler’s second in command, was in charge of medical research at camps like Dachau. He was also head of the SS – an elite group of men who swore a personal allegiance the Führer. Determined to preserve the racial purity of Germany, Himmler devised a set of ‘ten commandments’, one of which was that SS men and their wives should be only of pure Ayran stock, and produce as many offspring as possible.

6. As for my research on the Führer himself, one aspect of his personality that intrigued me was his taste in movies. One would have imagined him liking war stories, or at least 'Cowboys and Indians', but his favourite film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! My novel features him watching it in the plush underground cinema at his Munich HQ, the building where he met British Prime Minister Chamberlain in 1938.

7. Another clue to Hitler’s personality is his voice. I found a unique audio tape of a conversation between Hitler and the Commander in Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim. The pair met in a railway carriage in Finland to celebrate Mannerheim’s 75th birthday in June 1942. A sound-recordist was assigned to record the official birthday proceedings, but he also secretly recorded the first eleven minutes of Mannerheim and Hitler’s private conversation.

It was eerie to listen to the tape and hear the Führer’s real voice. Unlike the screeching performances at rallies that we are all familiar with, Hitler’s everyday speaking tone was actually rather deep and sonorous - in fact, a rather dull monotone.

The German Wife, by Debbie Rix, is available now
The German Wife, by Debbie Rix, is available now

The German Wife by Debbie Rix is available now.

MORE FROM BOOKS: Five things I always get asked as a writer (and some myths debunked), by Anna-Lou Weatherley

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