- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

VIENNA, Austria — It was a godsend for a teenage Jewish performer desperate for a job: a dancing engagement in a Rome theater in late 1937, just months before the Nazis annexed Austria.

What followed for Margarethe Horowitz was a bizarre succession of lucky happenstance, happy family life, anxious months of working for the Nazis and years as an acclaimed actress and part-time model.

Miss Horowitz was 14 when she was “discovered” in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. She was soon performing in minor roles on Vienna stages.

But after a year in Switzerland, her agent told her he couldn’t book her any longer because she was half-Jewish.

In 1937, talented but jobless, the 18-year-old heard about opportunities for young singers and dancers in Italy. She auditioned and won a six-month contract to perform in Rome’s Teatro Valle, where she met her future husband, Renato Trentini.

“Every evening he sat in the box, met me at the stage door, adored me,” Miss Horowitz, now 84, recalled in an interview. “He was a handsome Italian, dressed in a white uniform.”

She converted to Roman Catholicism for her wedding, when she — a tall, blond beauty — became Mrs. Margarethe Trentini, a Jew married to an Italian fascist officer.

“For me, this was a stroke of luck, my rescue,” she said. “What else would have happened if my contract had not been extended?”

The relief didn’t last long as war spread over Europe.

Officer Trentini left to serve as a liaison with the German army, which occupied much of Italy and was desperate for translators. A German major offered a job to Miss Horowitz, who was helping her Italian friends communicate with Nazi officers.

“I was afraid that if I declined, they might check on my background, that I have a Jewish mother sitting at home,” she said.

Miss Horowitz sat in an office next to that of Gen. Kurt Maeltzer, a notorious Nazi later convicted of war crimes. For six harrowing months, she escorted Nazi officers to the tailor, organized theater performances for them and translated their documents and conversations.

“Every day I was in fear,” she said.

The Nazis never discovered that she was Jewish, and her many fascist friends didn’t betray her “or else I would have been doomed.”

There were close calls.

One evening, she and an Austrian friend, Trude Gruenbaum, who was also half-Jewish, sat in a theater with Miss Horowitz’s boss. “If there were a Jew sitting here, I’d smell it,” the Nazi captain declared.

“Trude and I looked at each other in dismay, and we trembled a little,” Miss Horowitz said.

Her marriage ended in 1945 with the war, and she reverted to her maiden name, resuming her theater career while delving into modeling and film acting. She played numerous roles alongside stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch, Clark Gable and Sophia Loren.

Miss Horowitz treasures “two wonderful recollections”: a meeting with the Shah of Iran and an evening at Rome’s famed Cesare restaurant with Britain’s Duke of Windsor, the abdicated King Edward VIII. Together, they sang Viennese songs.

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