Adolph Hitler in Vienna in 1938. - Bundesarchiv

Her father was a Nazi lover

Hertha was running for her life. A German patrol had seen her in an open field as she scavenged for food. Now, they were chasing after her.

Here, on the outskirts of World War II Vienna, Austria, she was scrounging for something to eat.

She ran to an abandoned farmhouse and quickly made her way up into an attic crawlspace. She steadied her breath and stiffened her body, frozen in hopeless terror as she listened to Nazi boots searching from room to room.

Even when those loud voices finally faded away, she refused to move. Not until the sun set and she felt the safety of a dark night did she return to her city apartment.

Hertha Maria Augustina Dobnikar was the only child of Croatian-born Josef Dobnikar and Austrian Maria Bauer. She was born in 1919, in the same Viennese apartment where she would live until the end of the war.

Hertha told relatives her father was cruel and a womanizer. Although he never beat his wife and child, he terrorized them during frequent bouts of drunkenness, when he would throw things against walls and smash the furniture.

"He hated his life, his job, his family and especially he hated Jews," Hertha said.

Miserable as a low-level manager in a Vienna factory, Josef Dobnikar was looking for superiority, something that would make his life seem worthwhile. In 1938, he found it.

On March 15, Adolph Hitler, riding in an automobile surrounded by a Nazi entourage, paraded down the Ringstrasse, Vienna's grand boulevard. Germany had just annexed Austria into the Reich.

Hertha, nearly 19 at the time, remembered seeing Hitler in his open car, smiling and waving at the tens of thousands who lined the route and cheered his arrival. Later he would speak to a rally of more than 100,000 Austrians, but not Hertha and her mother.

Both women hated Josef, hated his Nazi affiliations and his love of the Nazi philosophy.

"My father was a nasty, Hitler-loving Croatian Nazi," she later told her family.

Josef had become an active Nazi Party member and remained a devout follower even as his family fell into deeper poverty. Food was scarce, power and heat rarely available. They broke up furniture to fuel fires for warmth.

Vienna was liberated by Soviet forces on April 4, 1945, and was jointly occupied by the Soviets, English, French and Americans. Hertha's father was arrested by the Allies and served time in prison.

Finally free of her father, Hertha left, never to see him again. She had a brief first marriage, and then a few years later, while she was working as an actress, she met Paul Reb, a former GI who was touring Europe. A few more years of courtship and they married, a marriage that lasted more than 50 years, 45 of them in Ashland.

There, when the Ashland community pool or the Jackson Hot Springs were open, almost to the day she died, Hertha would swim laps.

She died Nov. 5, 2012, at 93, far from her nightmare life in Vienna and the memory of that "Hitler-loving Croatian Nazi."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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