The Death of Adolf Hitler

The Death of Adolf Hitler

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On 1 May, at 9.30 in the evening, Hamburg radio warned the German people that "a grave and important announcement" was about to be made. This was immediately followed by several excerpts from a number of Wagner's operas and the slow movement of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony. Then at 10.20 pm, came the voice of Grand-Admiral Karl Donitz, Commander-in-chief for the north of Germany. In sombre tones, he announced the death of Hitler and his own succession as Fuhrer of the Reich. Hitler had fallen "this afternoon," he said, fighting "at the head of his troops".
This statement was believed by many. The Times of London printed Hitler's obituary next day. President Valera of Ireland sent his condolences to the German ambassador in Dublin. But it was untrue. Hitler, as the world was later told, had died the previous day and had not fallen in action, as a heroic martyr, but had committed suicide without leaving the Bunker under the Reichschancellery where he had been since 16 January 1945. Donitz perhaps had more than one reason for releasing the story he did. He may not have been aware of all the facts, but in any case he must have wondered how the German troops would have reacted if they had been told that their leader had not died a glorious death but had taken his own life.
Whatever Donitz's reasons, this erroneous story, combined with the complete silence on the part of the Russians regarding what they had or had not found in the Reichschancellery and the absence of a body - either Hitler's or Eva Braun's - did not convince many people. On the contrary, throughout the summer of 1945 the rumours that Hitler was still alive gathered pace.
There were many sightings. Among the first, it was reported that Hitler had been seen living as a hermit in a cave near Lake Garda in northern Italy. Another report had it that he was now a shepherd in the Swiss Alps, a third that he was a croupier at a casino in Evian. He was seen at Grenoble, St Gallen and even off the Irish coast.
Viewed from this distance, each of these accounts appears fantastic and incredible. But that was not how they were seen at the time. Not all of the accounts were so fantastic. In July 1945, the us Office of Censorship intercepted a letter written from someone in Washington.

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Addressed to a Chicago newspaper, the letter claimed that Hitler was living in a German-owned hacienda 450 miles from Buenos Aires. The us government gave this report enough credibility to act on it, sending a classified telegram to the American embassy in Argentina requesting help in following up the inquiry. Besides giving basic information the telegram added that Hitler was alleged to be living in special underground quarters. "Source indicates that there is a western entrance to the underground hideout which consists of a stone wall operated by photo-electric cells, activated by code signals from ordinary flashlights. Entrance thus uncovered supposedly provides admittance for automobiles." It continued that Hitler had provided himself with two doubles and was hard at work developing plans for the manufacture of long-range robot bombs and other weapons. The matter was taken sufficiently seriously for J. Edgar Hoover, then the director of the FBI, tO become involved, although shortly afterwards he wrote to the War Department: "To date, no serious indication has been received that Adolf Hitler is in Argentina."
The Russian newspaper Izvestiia ran a report that Hitler and Eva Braun were both alive and well, and living in a moated castle in Westphalia. This implied complicity on the part of the British, for Westphalia lay in the British zone of occupation. The report was followed by one in August, in which an American lawyer wrote to Hoover at the Fbi to say that the former Fuhrer was living under the alias of Gerhardt Weithaupt in a house belonging to a certain Frau Frieda Haaf at Innsbruck. With Hitler, said this lawyer, was his personal physician, Dr Alfred Jodl.
Another account also placed Hitler at Innsbruck. The informant was an educated man - again a lawyer - rather than a peasant or an ill-educated private soldier. Another came from a German doctor, a man presumably trained in observation. Karl-Heinz Spaeth claimed he had treated Hitler on 1 May 1945 at his Berlin casualty clearing station ill the cellar of the Landwehrkasino right opposite the Bunker at the Berlin Zoo. Spaeth said that Hitler had been wounded at a tank barricade in the fighting around the Kustrin area of the city. In his sworn deposition, he added: "Hitler was lowered to the floor. A shell fragment had pierced the uniform, went through his chest and entered the lungs on both sides. It was no use to do anything. I took a few first-aid bandages and bandaged him. During this time Hitler groaned continually. He was not fully conscious. To relieve his pain I went back to the collecting station to get some morphine and gave him a double strength injection. The general opinion was that Hitler would die. I examined his pulse and respiration and found that after about three minutes he had stopped breathing. The heartbeats continued for about three minutes and then ceased. After I had pronounced the Fuhrer dead and had informed the ss leaders of this fact I was released and went back to my work." Shortly afterwards, Spaeth said, the surviving ss leaders "blew the body into the air with two three-kilo charges of high explosives." He repeated his story to an officer of the Military Government, who in turn reported to Berlin in September. Everyone, everywhere, seemed determined to ignore Grand-Admiral Donitz's statement of 1 May.
Such accounts of Hitler's death were scarcely less confusing than the more numerous examples of sightings and the situation looked like getting out of hand. General George C. Marshall, the American Chief of Staff, had realised as early as 1 May that it might be necessary to do something to counter the "Hitler martyr myth" which had been fuelled by Admiral Danitz's announcement. Eisenhower seemed not to agree. In June, when he was probably the most popular leader in the West, he attended a press conference at the Hotel Raphael in Paris. There he voiced doubt that Hitler was really dead. He was the first Allied figure of authority in the West to say this.
Nonetheless it was not until September that any official inquiry got under way - and when it did it was the British who carried out the investigations. Dick White, the Brigadier commanding the Intelligence Bureau in the British Zone of Occupation (part of MI5), was stationed at Bad Oeynhausen, between Osnabruck and Hannover, and he had been incensed by the Russian report that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun were living, apparently unmolested, in the British zone of Germany - ie, Westphalia. He invited a young major, and friend, Hugh Trevor-Roper, to make an official inquiry into the mystery which at that time still surrounded the death of Hitler.
A four-volume dossier on the Fuhrer, compiled by the us Counter-Intelligence Corps, was made available to Trevor-Roper who, in civilian life, was an Oxford history don. This dossier was "a cornucopia of everything that could be gleaned about" Hitler and included his medical condition, his state of mind, his various "inclinations and proclivities." It did not make Hitler out to be a monster. The CIC analysts had found, "to their embarrassment, that the scourge of the human race gave presents to children, hated blood sports, disliked excessively fanatical people and was conservative and fastidious in his habits . . . Every day at the same hour," according to one informant, "he would go with the same dog to the same corner of the same field and pick up the same piece of wood and throw it in the same direction." The report also contained the conclusions of a long-distance psychiatric examination of the Fuhrer. This concluded that the suicide of Hitler could not be ruled out.
Trevor-Roper's inquiries were to prove exciting. He spent most of September and October tracking down what eye-witnesses he could, people who had lived in the Fuhrerbunker in those last desperate days and could tell him what had happened. He was not entirely successful. Goebbels and Martin Bormann were not available, missing or dead according to whom you talked to. So were Heinz Linge, Hitler's valet, Otto Gunsche, Hitler's Adjutant, Hans Baur, his personal pilot and Johann Rattenhuber, the Chief of Bodyguards. Many others known to have been in the Bunker were also untraceable.
Still, Trevor-Roper was able to interview Frau Gerda Christian and Frau Else Krueger, who were respectively Hitler's and Bormann's secretaries. They had not actually been eye-witnesses for much of what happened, but they had been given contemporaneous accounts by people such as Linge and Gunsche, who claimed to have seen everything. Trevor-Roper had also visited Innsbruck, no doubt' to double-check the story that Hitler was now masquerading as Gerhardt Weithaupt.
On 1 November 1945, Trevor-Roper gave a press conference in Berlin where he outlined the conclusions of his inquiry. His investigations showed, he said, that Hitler had committed suicide at about 3.30 pm on 30 April 1945, and that Eva Braun had died with him. In Hitler's case, the manner of death was by shooting - the Fuhrer had put a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. In the case of Eva Braun, she had taken a cyanide capsule: everyone living in the Bunker had been issued with similar capsules.
Asked by one of the newspapermen if he was aware of the Russian view on Hitler's death, Trevor-Roper indicated that he thought the Soviets were sceptical - that is, inclined to the view that Hitler was not dead. As he said this, a Russian officer present nodded.
Trevor-Roper also dismissed the possibility that it was Hitler's doppelganger - his double - who had been burned. In the first place, he said, there wouldn't have been time to move the double's body in and out of the Bunker. Second, in his very poor physical condition, Hitler would not have been able to escape. And third, and most convincingly perhaps, Eva Braun herself would never have died willingly. - or been taken in by - such a substitute.
Finally, he conceded that there was no "conclusive proof" that Martin Bormann, Hitler's Personal - and Party - Secretary, was dead.
Although it was acknowledged that Trevor-Roper's account was necessarily incomplete and that there were many gaps to be filled in, the press conference was reported extensively in the world's newspapers. He himself continued to inquire into the last days of the Third Reich throughout the winter of 1945-46.
Later in the year, the Allied Intelligence services received word that a certain Paustin, working as a gardener in the quiet village of Tegernsee, was in fact none other than the former ss Standartenfuhrer Wilhelm Zander, the Adjutant to Martin Bormann. Now here was a very important individual indeed. For three weeks in November and December 1945, British secret service agents and American CIC special agents Arnold Weiss and Rosener tried to track Paustin/Zander's trail.
As Christmas arrived, they thought they had him cornered. On Boxing Day, Trevor-Roper and the CIC agents raided the house they had been watching, only to find that Zander had left the area to visit his fiance who lived near Passau. Two days later, they were tipped off that a suitcase belonging to Zander could be found in the home of a certain Frau Irmgard Unterholzener in Tegernsee. They wasted no time in paying Frau Unterholzener a visit and picked up the suitcase. The case was searched thoroughly but initially proved of little interest. However, a secret compartment was then found inside which were several documents that had been brought out of the Bunker only forty-eight hours before Berlin fell. These documents were of the utmost historical importance.
Here was Hitler's Will and Political Testament. This confirmed what Trevor-Roper had been told about the last days in the Bunker. There was also Goebbels's Appendix to Hitler's Political Testament - further corroborative evidence that the picture Trevor-Roper was building up was essentially correct. Third, and perhaps most intriguing of all, there was the marriage contract of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. Trevor-Roper had been told by several of the people who had lived in the Fuhrerbunker that Eva Braun had finally achieved her long-time aim to become the wife of the Fuhrer. If Trevor-Roper had ever had any doubts about what he had been told, here was documentary support.
But the marriage contract was more than just corroborative evidence. The fact of Hitler's marriage tended to confirm the psychological portrait Trevor-Roper was putting together. Hitler had never felt the need to marry Braun before. Why should he do so in the last week of April 1945? The answer seemed clear: only if he was contemplating something dramatic.
To be double sure of the veracity of the documents, they turned them over to Major Anthony W. Lobb, Chief of the 3rd us Army CIC, who handed them on to the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2. He, in turn, shipped them across the Atlantic to the United States. In Washington, an FBI forensic analysis of the paper and ink confirmed their authenticity.
Still in Germany, Trevor-Roper and CIC agent Arnold Weiss had followed Zander to the small village of Vilshofen, near the Czech border. There, Zander resisted arrest and a short gunfight ensued before he was overpowered. He was transferred to Munich and interrogated. He resisted for about ten hours but finally broke, revealing to Trevor-Roper many details of the last days in the Bunker which the former historian had gleaned from other, less well-placed sources.
This was early in 1946. Although everything Trevor-Roper was turning up now confirmed his initial conclusions about Hitler's last days, vet much of the rest of the world was still not convinced. Sightings of Hitler continued.
That year he was seen in Spain, where he was reported at the end of September as leading a wolf-pack of u_boats. For added verisimilitude, he was said to be suffering badly from seasickness. Next, he was reported as living on a farm at La Falda in Argentina although his appearance had been changed, according to this report, by a plastic surgeon who had performed the operation on the boat that ferried the Fuhrer across the Atlantic from Europe to the new world.
Just before Christmas 1946 the us embassy in Stockholm received an anonymous letter addressed to the "Chief of the American Zone". Given that even Kurt Dittmar had admitted that there was a small redoubt in northern Scandinavia, this report was treated more seriously than many others. It read in part:
"If you look in the Bauerska mountains you will find a long cave about 466 metres or maybe even longer, with about ninety-m,o doors, well camouflaged. Hitler has here a room thirty by thirty metres, with electrical stoves, one big, one small. There is food there, cans of all kinds for several years ahead and lots of money, of all kinds of currencies. There is also a pipe from the top of the mountain in which food can be dropped down. Those who bring food there are called 'Ravens'. Those who built this in the mountains have been killed long ago so it would not be discovered. When you have found it, I demand one sixth of what there is there and a jeep and a tractor. You will know my name when you have found him." On the reverse was written: "They had stolen horses and cows, hay and so on. They have plenty of ammunition and guns. A Swede who has a sixth sense is with them. He tells them all. Find these gentlemen. What will be done will be done soon."
Still another report in 1946 placed Hitler in Holland, in a coffee room in Amsterdam. This time the writer commented on the Fuhrer's strange appearance - he had a very long body and long arms - but the informant also said that this Hitler still had direct links with the Gestapo and was trying to kill the writer, who therefore begged the Allied authorities to act quickly.
Another report placed Hitler in Zurich, saying he had aged dreadfully, that his hair had turned white, his body was bent forward and he took ver-y short steps. He apparently had some form of lung infection for he coughed persistently. He preferred dark suits and hats and his demeanour was "similar to that of a pensioned official." The Deputy Director of Intelligence at the European Command instructed his subordinates to check out this report, as he did with almost all such paperwork coming across his desk. "I feel we would be remiss in our duty," he wrote, "if we failed to follow up a report of this nature." He even requested help from the Chief of the Swiss Federal Police in Berne.
Nor were the Allied Forces immune from spotting Hitler. One American GI reported that he had seen the Fuhrer, Eva Braun and her sister Gretl in Bernheim in the house where he collected his laundry. This man had to be Hitler, the Gi felt, because he flew into a rage whenever the v-1 weapon was mentioned and "exhibited great sentiment over the photograph of a dog" which seems to have closely resembled Blondi, the Fuhrer's own Alsatian.
The impact of these reports may be judged from the account of Lieutenant Colonel W. Byford-Jones, a British Intelligence officer who, on 20 April 1946 (what would have been Hitler's fifty-seventh birthday), questioned twenty educated Berliners on the fate of Hitler. "Only, one thought Hitler was dead. The other nineteen betrayed that then were conscious of the fact that it was their Fuhrer's birthday. Then- were convinced he was alive and spoke of him with anything but reproach. I found also that children, who are usually a good guide to the beliefs of adults, almost without exception spoke of Onkel Adolf as a living being.
"A new feature in this belief was where Hitler was supposed to be hiding. In the summer of 1945 1 had been told he was in Spain, South America and other unlikely places, but now another hide-out, was mentioned. He was with the Edelweiss, an illegal organisation well known to exist, and he was in the wild mountainous area that extends from the Alps on the Swiss frontier to the Tyrol in Austria, where thousands of Wehrmacht troops, calling themselves Edelweiss, retain their wartime formations, stores, equipment and munitions and live high up in the mountain fastnesses." The Redoubt was back.
In January 1947, a report was sent to the American CIC forces via the French Intelligence services. This claimed that Hitler was hiding in the area of Heidelberg and was in touch with a Resistance leader in Weinheim. The French report said that Hitler had visited Weinheim disguised as an American soldier, the visit no doubt part of the Fuhrer's campaign to begin a new Reich.
Weinheim duly became the subject of a raid by thirty. Allied officers - five CIC special agents and twenty-five men of the us Constabulary. There was no trace of either Hitler or the Resistance leader.
It was in March 1947 that Trevor-Roper's report was published in the form of a book, under the title The Last Days of Hitler. By rights, the book ought to have solved the mystery once and for all, to have killed speculation for ever. It was meticulously researched, well written and by and large convincing. But among several points left unresolved, one all-important matter remained a mystery.

•     O'Donnell, James - The Bunker. - New York: Da Capo Press (reprint)(2001). - ISBN 0306809583.
•     Waite, Robert G.L. - The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler. - New York: First DaCapo Press Edition, 1993 (orig. pub. 1977). - ISBN 0306805146.
•     Ada Petrova - The Death of Hitler: The Full Story With New Evidence from Secret Russian Archives - W W Norton & Co Inc (May 1, 1995) - ISBN 0393039145

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