Götterdämmerung is the name given to the last few days in Hitler’s bunker during the Battle for Berlin and before the surrender to the Soviet forces. Götterdämmerung comes from the final part of Adolf Hitler’s favourite Richard Wagner opera ‘Der Ring des Nibellungen’ which ended in mass destruction. Götterdämmerung did just this – Hitler ordered the total destruction of Berlin to punish those who had betrayed him –this was never carried out. However, the city itself was destroyed and many thousands were killed. To Hitler this would have been Götterdämmerung.
Götterdämmerung ended with Hitler and what remained of his entourage planning the rescue of Berlin. Hitler dreamed up imaginary armies that would fight the Soviet forces to the end. It was clear to many that Hitler had lost all sense of reality but such was his power over those at the top of the Nazi Party that no one challenged him. In his book about the last days of Hitler, Hugh Trevor-Roper described the world Hitler lived in as “cloud cuckoo-land”. Some of his orders bordered on the bizarre. He told his senior army officers that any of them who held back from the fight against the USSR would pay with their life within five hours of receiving the order to attack. On April 22nd he accused his senior army officers of cowardice and told them that they were traitors to Nazi Germany. However, Hitler adopted the poise of one of Richard Wagner’s heroes:
“My friends, I see that all is lost but I shall remain in Berlin. I shall fall here in the Reich Chancellery. I can serve the German people best in that way. There is no sense in continuing any longer. Get out, get out! Go to South Germany. I’ll stay here. It is all over anyhow.”
When Jodl told Hitler he would prefer to fight to the death rather than flee Germany, Hitler replied:
“Do what you wish – it doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.”
Hitler was then hit by a number of issues that he took personally.
On April 23rd, He received a telegram from Hermann Goering:
“My Führer! In view of your decision to remain at your post in the fortress of Berlin, do you agree that I take over at once that total leadership of the Reich, with full freedom of action, at home and abroad, as your deputy in accordance with your decree of 29th June 1941? If no reply is received by 10 o’clock tonight, I shall take it for granted that you have lost your freedom of action, and shall consider the conditions of your decree as fulfilled, and shall act for the best interests of our country and people. You know what I feel for you in this gravest hour of my life. Words fail me to express myself. May God protect you, and speed you quickly here in spite of all. Your loyal Hermann Goering.”
Shortly after this major blow from someone Hitler had assumed was the most loyal of the most loyal, Hitler received news that Heinrich Himmler had been negotiating with the Allies without the approval of the Führer. Hitler flew into a rage but it all seemed to fit into the Götterdämmerung when betrayal was common and almost expected. To add to Hitler’s woes was the news he received that his home near Berchtesgaden had been destroyed by an Allied air raid.
On April 29th – as the Götterdämmerung came to an inevitable conclusion – Hitler married Eva Braun and then dictated his last will and testament. He then committed suicide – not quite the ending for one of Wagner’s heroes as in his operas the heroes would be expected to fight to the bitter end. However, Hitler had made his mind up that he would not be captured by Soviet forced and paraded round and put on trial.