Mystery surrounded the death of Adolf Hitler for many years. However, more is now thought to be known about Adolf Hitler’s death as a result of the work by Antony Beevor.
Slowly but surely the forces of the Red Army moved through Berlin in the spring of 1945. The German Army did not have the means to halt Marshall Zhukov’s troops – they were outnumbered 15 to 1 and the Red Army’s ability to call on mechanised armour seemed unlimited. Civilian and military casualties in Berlin were appalling. Regardless of this, Adolf Hitler clung to his belief that the German Army would defeat Zhukov’s eight armies in Berlin. Aides watched as he spoke about grandiose German armoured formations that would defeat Zhukov in Berlin. In reality, the Red Army was up against exhausted troops effectively at the end of their fighting ability, Hitler Youth troops armed with the anti-tank weapon, the panzerfaust, and the male elderly who had been forced into a civilian’s militia which was expected to make a last stand.
Any signs of surrender were dealt with harshly by the SS. In the Kurfürstendamm Boulevard, SS squads shot any householder who put a white flag outside of their house.
Adolf Hitler was based in his bunker underneath the Reich Chancellery building. Bomb proof and with its own air recycling plant, the complex had been built without a proper communication system. The only way staff officers could know about the extent of the Red Army’s movement into Berlin was to phone civilians at random (if their phones worked) to ascertain if the Red Army was in their vicinity.
Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, had brought his wife and six children to the apparent safety of the bunker. Major Freytag von Loringhoven, a staff officer at the bunker, described Fraulein Goebbels as “very ladylike” though he thought that the children looked sad. The Goebbels children were to be poisoned by their parents within the bunker, who, in turn, committed suicide.
On April 28th, Hitler received a report that Himmler, head of the SS, had been in touch with the Allies regarding a surrender. Himmler had contacted Count Bernadette of the Swedish Red Cross. Adolf Hitler had always considered Himmler to be the most loyal of his men. When he received a Reuter’s confirmation of the report, witnesses said that he exploded with rage. He accused an SS officer in the bunker, Herman Fegelein, of knowing about what Himmler had planned. Fegelein admitted that he had known about it and, stripped of all his rank and medals, he was marched by SS guards to the Reich Chancellery garden and shot.
Around midnight on April 28th, Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun. The wedding service was held in Hitler’s private sitting room. A low ranking Nazi official who had the authority to perform a civil wedding was brought in by Goebbels. Eva Braun wore a black silk dress for the occasion. In keeping with Nazi requirements, the official had to ask both Hitler and Eva Braun whether they were of pure Ayran blood and whether they were free from hereditary illnesses. Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann signed the register. After the service, the newly married couple received the congratulations of generals and others in the bunker’s conference room. From here they went to Hitler’s sitting room for breakfast with champagne. They were joined by Joseph and Magda Goebbels, Bormann and by two secretaries, Gerda Christian and Traudl Junge.
Hitler took Junge away to dictate his last political testament. It was full of recriminations on those who had betrayed him; the war being caused by international Jewish interests etc. Hitler claimed that, “in spite of all setbacks”; the war “will one day go down in history as the most glorious and heroic manifestation of a people’s will to live.” Junge’s task finished at about 04.00 on Sunday, April 29th. On this day, Hitler had ordered that cyanide capsules intended for him, should be tested on his dog Blondi. The dog, a favourite playmate for the Goebbels children while they were in the bunker, was taken, along with her puppies, to the Reich Chancellery garden. The cyanide capsules were tested and Blondi was killed along with her puppies.
On the night of April 29th, Hitler received news from Field Marshall Keitel that Berlin would receive no more troops and that the city would be lost to the Russians. General Weidling, given the task of defending Berlin, believed that his men would stop fighting that night due to their ammunition running out.
Though there seems little doubt that Adolf Hitler had already decided that suicide was his only option, and also that of Eva Braun’s, it is probable that these two pieces of information moved that nearer. Hitler had also received confirmation that Mussolini had been caught in Italy, shot and his body, along with that of his mistress, Clara Pettachi, had been hung upside down in a square in Milan. Above all else, Adolf Hitler had decided that such humiliation would not happen to him as he ordered that his body should be burned.
On April 30th, Hitler gave very clear instructions to his personal adjunct, Otto Gunsche, that both his and his wife’s body should be burned. After lunch, both Hitler and Eva Hitler (as she wanted to be called) met his inner circle in the ante-room chamber of the bunker. Here Hitler said his farewells. The area known as the lower bunker was cleared to allow for privacy. However, noise of partying in the Reich Chancellery canteen could be heard. SS guards were sent up to stop it.
None of the bunker’s survivors heard the shot that killed Hitler. At 15.15 on April 30th, Bormann, Goebbels, Heinz Linge, Hitler’s valet, Otto Gunshce and Artur Axmann, Head of the Hitler Youth, entered Hitler’s sitting room. Gunsche and Linge wrapped the body of Hitler in a blanket and carried it to the Reich Chancellery garden. Eva Braun’s body was also carried up and laid next to Hitler’s. Both bodies were laid near to the bunker’s exit. The bodies were drenched in petrol and set alight. Both Bormann and Goebbels watched this. Goebbels later committed suicide. Bormann disappeared and his body was never found, sparking off rumours that he managed somehow to flee to South America.
On May 2nd, men from the Red Army’s intelligence unit entered the Reich Chancellery building. ‘Normal’ Red Army troops were told to leave the building. The men from the intelligence unit found the body of Goebbels and his wife. However, the men from SMERSH, the Red Army’s feared intelligence unit, knew that Stalin was interested in Hitler’s body and that he would not be happy if it was not found. The men from SMERSH, feared by other Red Army units, were themselves concerned.
The unit of SMERSH men at the Chancellery building was led by General Vadis. It is his report that has given historians so much information as to what happened in the immediate aftermath of Hitler’s suicide.
Moscow had declared that the announcement of Hitler’s death was a trick. Finding his body had now become a major political issue as well. Vadis interrogated as many of the bunker’s survivors as he could and they all said the same – Hitler had committed suicide. The bunker itself was searched – a difficult task as the generator providing light had failed. But nothing was found.
Stalin then ordered Beria, the head of the secret police, the NKVD, to send a NKVD general to Berlin. He had to report back to Moscow on a very regular basis.
On May 3rd, the bodies of the six Goebbels children were found in their bunk beds. Their faces were tinged with blue – a sign that cyanide had been used on them. Vice-Admiral Voss of the German Navy identified them. On the same day, the body of a man was found in the Chancellery garden. The body had a small moustache and diagonally combed hair. However, he also had on darned socks and SMERSH decided that Adolf Hitler would never wear darned socks so concluded that the body was not Hitler’s. How the body got there remains a mystery.
On May 4th, the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were found in the Reich Chancellery garden. A SMERSH operative saw part of a grey blanket at the bottom of a shell crater. The crater was dug into and two bodies were found along with the bodies of a German Alsatian and a puppy.
Very early on May 5th, the bodies were taken to Buch in northeast Berlin, where SMERSH had its headquarters. Such was the secrecy surrounding this, that not even Zhukov was informed about the discovery. Dental records and thorough dental checks proved to Vadis that the body was that of Adolf Hitler.
On May 7th, Moscow was informed that Hitler’s body had been found. From that time on, it was kept under the greatest of secrecy.
In 1970, the Kremlin decided to dispose of the body. They claim that it was buried beneath an army parade ground in Magdeburg. SMERSH had kept the jaws of Hitler, used in their dental checks. This was confirmed by Yelena Rzhevskaya who was the interpreter used by SMERSH when Hitler’s dental staff were questioned at Buch. The NKVD had kept Hitler’s cranium. Both of these have been found in Moscow’s archives in recent years. In the mid-1990’s, the Russian authorities claim that they exhumed the body of Hitler from the parade ground in Magdeburg, burned it and then flushed the ashes into the town’s sewage system.