It is 1928 in Oklahoma, and Billy Love Wolf is on the cusp of womanhood. Cousin Katerina Wolf and Aunt Elisabetha Wolf Braun reside in Germany. These three women are the voices of the Wolf clan, their complex relationships exquisitely intertwined. The pre-war years reveal an America seemingly uninterested in what is happening during Hitler’s rise to power—yet there are exceptions, with the three women working against the dark regime. What are their secrets?
The stock market crashed all over the world in 1928, but its demise has not affected our cabaret, The Garden, here in the Schleswig district of Munich. I guess people need parties and entertainment to forget their financial woes, which is fine with me.
I am thankful to my brother A.R. Wolf for investing in The Garden back in 1926; having cash to operate has boosted our reputation as a top nightclub. Theodor Karl and Annen Ringlet also invested. Their daughters are Beulah Bell, A.R.’s wife, and Lola Estelle.
Lola Estelle, I am told, is quite the glamorous flapper woman. The finest in Tulsa. We have been corresponding and she plans a trip to Munich in 1930. She has not told her sister yet, but she plans to bring her niece Billy Love with her. Of course, Billy Love is also my niece, just on the other side of the family. If I know my brother A.R. he will try to prevent Billy Love from coming to Germany. We will see next year.
In The Garden, Fritz and I were able to create an intimate and glamorous space. The stage is round and there are platforms for several levels of seating. Gold chairs arch around each of the tables; clad in crisp, white linen table cloths and dotted with tea lights.
There are three dressing rooms in the back of the cabaret. Each has its own table and mirror, along with makeup supplies and costumes. At the back of the lounge, there is a gilded bar stocked with every kind of liqueur you could imagine. Those prudes in the United States prohibiting alcohol, how ridiculous. Just another reason to stay in Germany.
My husband, Petrus Braun and I, are meeting with his brother, Fritz Braun today. Petrus and Fritz look a lot alike. Six feet tall, with blonde hair and blue-gray eyes, they epitomize the Aryan look favored by Adolf Hitler.
We are connecting at The Garden prior to its opening in the evening. “Fritz, come on in,” Petrus yells.
“Thank you for meeting with me. I have some very disturbing news regarding my daughter Eva,” Fritz blurts out, as he looks around the cabaret to make sure no one is eavesdropping.
“Oh? This is your middle daughter? Isn’t she just 17?” Petrus queries.
“Yes, she just finished at the convent school and is working for a photographer, but not just any photographer,” Fritz says, forcefully. “Adolf Hitler’s photographer, Heinrich”.
“Oh my!” I exclaim. “That is alarming.” Petrus scowls and pounds his fist on the table.
“I am getting us a drink,” Petrus says, as he pushes back from the table and heads to the bar. Fritz leans forward and grabs both of my hands. His hands are clammy.
“It seems Adolf himself has taken a fancy to her. He is 40 years old, for god’s sake. What can he possibly want from a 17-year-old girl?” Fritz exclaims, angrily.
“Hitler just secured an apartment for himself here in Munich, as he is making Munich the headquarters for the rising Nazi party.” Fritz continues. “My wife and I are distraught and Eva’s sisters are disgusted. Eva is still living at home, but she goes out frequently, almost every night. She tells us nothing about Adolf, even when we pointedly ask. I have repeatedly warned her that she is in danger. She obviously doesn’t listen.”
“What can we do to help?” I ask. Petrus returns to the table, slams down brandies housed in glass sniffers. He pushes one toward Fritz, another toward me.
Fritz drains it and retorts, “Eva needs a distraction from Adolf. She adores jazz. Perhaps she could come to the cabaret periodically and you and Petrus could talk with her, try to find out what he wants from her – why she wants to be with him.”
“Hitler abhors the cabarets, so he would not likely come with her. She needs to see boys her own age,” Fritz argues. I silently nod my head in agreement, tasting the bitter brandy slide down my throat.
I know Fritz does not have a lot of money. “Perhaps I can take Eva shopping for something suitable to wear to the cabaret. It will be modest for a 17-year-old girl,” I propose.
“Next week I will take her shopping. Let her know. We shall meet at Lindtz, the department store.”
Eva Braun rushes to meet me at the department store. She is late, and a little disheveled. Blonde and blue-eyed like her father, she calls out, “Oh, Lizbetha, I was modeling for Heinrich and the time got away from me.”
“It is so kind of you to take me shopping and inviting me to The Garden tonight,” Eva proclaims.
Together, we pull several gowns off the rack and enter the dressing room. “How are your sisters?” I ask, to start our conversation. “Oh, you know, they are boring and they snoop into my life,” Eva replies. “Let me try this dress on first. I love the color and the neckline.” The dress is a midnight blue velvet with a deep V neckline and a full skirt. I think to myself, good choice. But my niece is being evasive. Clearly, she is not going to reveal she is seeing Hitler almost every evening.
“Zip me up?”
I oblige. The dress fits perfectly. “It looks like you have a dress on the first try,” I announce. “No need to look further. Should we go look for matching shoes?”
“Thank you so much again,” Eva gushes. “I am so looking forward to tonight at The Garden. Will there be a jazz singer?”
“Why yes,” I reply. “I just auditioned a new girl. She moved to Munich last week and got an apartment. I have a feeling she could become famous with her sultry alto voice. She will be accompanied on the alto sax,” I grin.
Eva Braun claps her hands. “Marvelous, what is her name?”
“Katarina Wolf, I will introduce you. She goes by Kat. I think you might become friends.”
I do not tell Eva that she might become more than a friend; a tool perhaps, to find out more about her relationship with Hitler. I also do not reveal that she is my niece or that her father is my brother, Moody Wolf.
“See you tonight around 9 o’clock,” I say dryly. “Don’t be late or you will miss Kat.”
This book is dedicated to the memory of my amazing mother, Margaret Wolf, dress collector and costumer, whose assortment of vintage 1920s and 30s clothing inspired my descriptions. The opening chapter depicts the lavender linen dress with the gigantic bow, which Billy Love wears to her fifteenth birthday party. In subsequent chapters, I dress my women in everything from drop-waist frocks to beaded flapper dresses, all found in my inherited collection. The dresses are carefully labeled with the year they were manufactured. Priceless.