Adolf Hitler was as mythical in death as he was brutal and large in life. Because of the curious circumstances of his suicide, and the inability of the wartime Allied powers to cooperate on an extensive and thorough proof that he did die, a whole mythos of his survival grew up after the war, and continued for ever since.
Betrayed even by Heinrich Himmler himself, who had secretly begun peace negotiations with the western Allies through the Swedish government, and with one time designated "Deputy Führer" and former party chief Rudolf Hess in a British prison cell, and his designated replacement Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring claiming leadership in the chaos of the collapsing Reich to the quick denunciation by Hitler for treason.
The Führer relinquished power before his suicide to an unlikely candidate, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who for a brief period of little more than a week, was Nazi Germany's second dictator before he ordered its armed forces to surrender. The selection of Dönitz by Hitler is significant, for Dönitz was in an usual position to coordinate the escape of fleeing Nazis to South America and other places via the new type XXI U-boats just entering service.
The non-standard Hitler and Nazi survival myths run the whole spectrum, from fanciful and implausible stories of underground bases in the Canadian Arctic, or on Antarctica itself armed with exotic weaponry, to more "mundane" and plausible stories of Nazi colonies in South America or secret weather stations and commando teams operating in Greenland during the war, to the well-known and best documented case, that of Operation Paperclip, America's wholesale importation of Nazi scientists and doctors after World War Two to assist the United States in continued covert development and research on a whole host of black projects.
In one rather interesting version of the Hitler survival myth, he and other Nazi bigwigs underwent plastic surgery before the end of the war, and were spirited off to Antarctica or South America.
One version of this myth even has an elderly Hitler ministering to the poor as a Catholic priest! There is some truth to some of these Nazi survival myths, and that all need to be viewed against the backdrop of the Nazis' own plans for postwar survival and continuance under a variety of fronts, organizations, or in concert with new "host" governments such as the United States or the various governments of Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.
In examining the more audacious survival myths, what emerges is a disturbing picture that suggests deliberate Nazi misinformation in the immediate postwar period, and a deliberate attempt to disguise ongoing projects inside the black projects of the new "host" governments and corporations.
Sixty one years ago today, at about three-thirty in the afternoon of Monday, April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler and his wife of less than two days, Eva Braun, committed suicide in Hitler's private suite in the Führerbunker. A half hour later the other inhabitants of the bunker entered the suite to check if Hitler was really dead. While his doctor checked the two bodies, Hitler's valet tidied up a spill made when Eva knocked over a vase full of cut flowers in her death throes.
The group wrapped the two bodies in wool blankets and carried them up to the Chancellery courtyard for disposal. On the way out, the group was met by Hitler's chauffeur, Erich Kempka, who was returning from a scavenging expedition to find enough gas to cremate the bodies. He had been able to find something less than 200 liters, which was more than enough for the task. The group placed the bodies in a ditch, drenched them in gas, and, after a few false starts, set them on fire.
This private cremation was in accordance with Hitler's last wishes. He had left explicit instructions that his body be completely destroyed and that the only witnesses be his innermost, trusted circle of associates. They failed him on both accounts. The private ceremony, conducted under artillery fire from the Russian army only a few blocks away, was witnessed by at least two German soldiers on patrol in the Chancellery buildings that surrounded the courtyard. Although the fire burned for nearly eight hours, with no one to tend it, it failed to completely destroy the bodies. It's very difficult to rapidly destroy a body.
We can only speculate about Hitler's motives in ordering his body to be disposed of in such a manner. While he may have been concerned about denying his enemies -especially Stalin- a ghoulish trophy, his main objective was probably pure mischief. He wanted to leave his enemies in confusion, fearing his return, each suspecting the other of knowing more than they were telling. In this, he was a tremendous success.
Hitler had already been close to invisible for nine months when the siege of Berlin began. He had ceased to make public appearances or announce his movements after the July 1944 assassination attempt. Western newspapers had speculated all winter whether or not he was still alive. As the siege of Berlin began, Göbbels had announced that the Führer was still in the city leading the defense against the advancing Bolshevik hordes. Although this was true, the Western press had good reason to distrust anything that came from Göbbels. Although his announcement was printed in Western newspapers, so were rumors of assassinations, insanity, and terminal disease for the Führer.
Five days before his suicide, Pravda began suggesting that Hitler was not in the city, but had escaped to Bavaria to make a last stand in the mountains and may have left a double to die in his place. This was an act of insurance on the part of the Soviets. If Hitler had never been in the city, they were in the clear for not capturing him and it was the fault of the western Allies for not catching him since they told us where to find him. If he escaped, it was our responsibility to close the gap as they chased him toward us. The announcement may also have reflected an element of jealousy on the part of Stalin who did not want his generals to appear too heroic and challenging to his own popularity.
As it was, Hitler was still in the city and alive until afternoon of April 30. His political will divided his powers between three of his associates. Admiral Karl Dönitz was appointed President of the Reich and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Josef Göbbels became Chancellor, and Martin Bormann became the head of the Nazi Party. According to the German constitution, the President should have been elected and he should have named the Chancellor. The lack of better known names like Göring and Himmler, is explained by some last minute back-stabbing by Bormann, who used his presense at the bunker to eliminate rivals for influence. Göbbels was also at the bunker and managed to protect his own position. After setting fire to the bodies the Hitlers, Göbbels telegraphed Admiral Dönitz to inform him of his new position.
Around midnight, as the cremation fires were dying, General Hans Krebs left the bunker and began crawling through the rubble of the city toward the Russian army headquarters. The trip of a few blocks took hours and it was almost sunrise when he arrived and escorted into the presence of General Vasily Chuikov. Krebs described the events of the previous day and said he was authorized by Chancellor Göbbels to negotiate a cease-fire. Chuikov had an aide get on the phone with the head of the Soviet army, Marshall Grigory Zhukov, and Zhukov had an aide get on the phone with Stalin. This means Stalin definitely had news of Hitler's death on the morning of May 1.
The Russians refused Krebs' cease-fire offer and escorted him back to the bunker around noon. After reporting, Krebs and two other army officers proceeded to get roaring drunk, sing American sea shanties, and kill themselves. After dinner, Magda Göbbels, the wife of the new Chancellor, poisoned six of her children. Then she and her husband dressed as if stepping out for the evening, climbed up to the courtyard, and killed themselves.
On the 30th April, Unterscharführer Georg Diers and his crew of tank 314, were ordered to take up a defensive position at the Reichstag buildings. This was one of only two remaining King Tigers belonging to Heavy SS Tank Battalion 503 in Berlin. By that evening they had knocked out about 30 T34's, and the following day led a successful counterattack against the Kroll Opera House directly opposite the Reichstag.Their efforts though, merely postponed the inevitable and by the end of the day the order was given to abandon the position and prepare to break out of Berlin.
At 9:40 that evening, Admiral Dönitz - now President Dönitz - addressed the German people from a Hamburg radio station. In introducing the new president, the announcer said, "It is reported from the Führer's headquarters that our Führer, Adolf Hitler, fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism, fell for Germany this afternoon in his operational command post at the Reich Chancellery." There are at least three lies in that sentence. Hitler died the day before, not that afternoon. Hitler did not die in battle. There was no fighting at the Chancellery that day because the main thrust of the Soviet forces that day was the Reichstag complex a few blocks north (a battle that climaxed with a flag-raising image that is the Soviet's equivalent to our Iwo Jima photograph). For the Soviets, the Reichstag was the symbol of the Third Reich (ironically, never restored by the Nazis after the Reichstag fire) and one that they wanted to capture before the May Day parade in Moscow.
For the Soviets, the Reichstag was the symbol of the Third Reich (ironically, never restored by the Nazis after the Reichstag fire) and one that they wanted to capture before the May Day parade in Moscow.
The remaining inhabitants of the bunker, including Martin Bormann, divided into two groups and made a break for freedom at around midnight. Most were killed or captured by the Russians in the attempt.
The last person in the bunker was Johannes Hentschel, a lowly mechanic who had dutifully kept the ventilation, electricity, and water running during the previous dramatic days. At one point, he had climbed up to the Chancellery greenhouse and gathered up enough garden hoses to run a water line from the bunker's private well to an army field hospital that had been set up in offices on the far side of the Chancellery building. By keeping the water running he may have saved the lives of over three hundred wounded soldiers. Now, he stayed on to watch his machinery. Towards dawn, he returned to the ruins of the greenhouse and cut several bouquets of tulips and lilacs, which he placed around the bunker to freshen the stale air. He fixed a large breakfast and did the dishes. With his duties complete, he waited for the Russians to arrive.
Mechanic Hentschel didn't have long to wait. While making his rounds at a few minutes after nine on the morning of May 2, he heard foreign voices in the upper bunker and prepared to surrender. The first Russians into the bunker were a group of women medical officers on a looting expedition. They had no interest in prisoners and left Hentschel in the hallway while they went into the inner bunker to dig through Eva Braun's closets. A few minutes later, two commissars with drawn pistols arrived. Hentschel prepared to surrender again, and could easily have been shot on the spot, except for the fact that the doctors chose that moment to rush up the stairs, giggling and waving Eva's frilly underwear over their heads. The commissars listened to Hentschel's story of the Führer's end. Another, larger, group of officers had arrived by now and had discovered the liquor supply. They handed Hentschel a mug of champagne and toasted the end of the war. Other arriving groups insisted on Hentschel repeating his story and giving tours of the bunker, but they let him take a short nap before sending him off as a POW.
Hentschel was already gone when the first team arrived in the afternoon to hunt for Hitler's body. This team recovered the Göbbels' bodies and left. A second team found a bloated body in a water tank that had correct moustache and immediately declared it to be Hitler. The next day, a private found the charred bodies of a man, woman and two dogs hastily buried in a shell crater in the garden. This fact was duly noted by the inspectors, but it was two more days before they combined that fact with the stories of Hentschel and Krebs and thought to examine them. The following week, the Soviet inspectors located a dental assistant who had worked on Hitler's teeth the previous winter. Showing her a cigar box full of jaw fragments, she correctly identified both Hitler and Braun.
By mid-May the Soviets had eyewitness accounts of Hitler's death, the physical remains of his body, and a positive identification of those remains. They should have been able to make a positive announcement that the monster was dead, thanks to the work of the Soviet army who backed him into a corner from which he could not escape. They didn't do that. The Soviet news agencies were would remain contactory and unhelpful for weeks after the fall of Berlin. Because they controlled the actual site and had captured most of the surviving witnesses, the Western news media were in no better shape after Hitler's death than before. They had only rumor and speculation to give their readers. The Atlanta Constitution demostrated the dilemma of the Western press by reporting Dönitz's announcement of Hitler's death under the headline "If Hitler is Dead, Good Riddance." When honest facts emerged, there was no way to tell them apart from fantasy and they vanished into the white noise.
On May 2, even as the first investigators were searching through the Chancellery grounds, Tass declared the announcement from Dönitz to be a trick. That same day, Eisenhower told reporters that Himmler, while attempting to negotiate a truce through Swedish intermediaries a week earlier had claimed Hitler was terminally ill. The next day, the official Soviet announcement of the surrender of the last German troops in Berlin mentioned witnesses talking about his suicide. At the same time, German radio in the enclave under Dönitz's control continued to claim Hitler had died a hero's death in battle. In the space of a week, alert news watchers were offered three different causes of death and two dates of death, as well as well-grounded speculation that Hitler might have escaped.
The Soviets continued to be difficult. They refused to allow Westerners into Berlin even after the surrender of Dönitz's government and the last armies in the field on May 7-9. On May 10, they announced the existence of the burned bodies in the Chancellory courtyard, but only allowed that one might be Hitler. The same report went on to say that his body might never be found. On June 6, a spokesman for the Soviet army in Berlin announced unequivocally that Hitler had committed suicide and that his body had been identified. After a long and thorough investigation, Field Marshall Gregori Zhukov told Josef Stalin: "We have found no corpse that could be Hitler's." Hitler supposedly shot himself on the 30th April 1945, in the Führerbunker, beneath the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. His and his new wife's bodies were carried out to the garden of the rear of the Reich Chancellery and burnt using five cans of petrol. Supposedly this did not totally destroy the corpses and they were placed in a shallow bomb crater and covered. 5 hours later the Reich Chancellery was captured by Soviet troops. Hitler's body was discovered on May 5th, by Ivan Churakov of the 79th Rifle Corps, to which a unit of SMERSH had been attached with orders to find Hitler's body. SMERSH a Russian acronym for "Death to Spies." was a counterintelligence unit of the Soviet 3rd Army, part of an intelligence organization. The Soviets buried and dug up the Hitler's remains at least three times in 1945-46 as the army moved around Germany. They were finally interred on a SMERSH-controlled grounds in Magdeburg, a town about 70 miles west of Berlin -- until the Soviet government in 1970 ordered the remains be dug up and burned, the Soviets claimed. The piece of skull which American scientists have now proven to have belonged to a woman aged between 20 - 40, was left in the crater in the garden of the Reich Chancellery. The piece of skull and Hitler's jaw (which remains in secret archives in Moscow) were dug up from the garden in 1946, in a second investigation following rumours Hitler had survived. On the 15th September 1992, a program on Commonwealth television, broadcasted what was claimed to of been film footage of Hitler's body, captured in the Reich Chancellery garden and had remained in Soviet secret archives for 47 years. The footage showed the body of a gaunt-faced man in uniform lying on his back, shirt buttons undone, tangled hair tugged back from a high forehead. The only distinguishing feature, clearly visible despite the film's poor quality, is a dark moustache. 2 days prior to this the Soviets had found "Hitler & Braun's bodies":
Hitler supposedly shot himself on the 30th April 1945, in the Führerbunker, beneath the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. His and his new wife's bodies were carried out to the garden of the rear of the Reich Chancellery and burnt using five cans of petrol. Supposedly this did not totally destroy the corpses and they were placed in a shallow bomb crater and covered. 5 hours later the Reich Chancellery was captured by Soviet troops.
Hitler's body was discovered on May 5th, by Ivan Churakov of the 79th Rifle Corps, to which a unit of SMERSH had been attached with orders to find Hitler's body. SMERSH a Russian acronym for "Death to Spies." was a counterintelligence unit of the Soviet 3rd Army, part of an intelligence organization.
The Soviets buried and dug up the Hitler's remains at least three times in 1945-46 as the army moved around Germany. They were finally interred on a SMERSH-controlled grounds in Magdeburg, a town about 70 miles west of Berlin -- until the Soviet government in 1970 ordered the remains be dug up and burned, the Soviets claimed.
The piece of skull which American scientists have now proven to have belonged to a woman aged between 20 - 40, was left in the crater in the garden of the Reich Chancellery. The piece of skull and Hitler's jaw (which remains in secret archives in Moscow) were dug up from the garden in 1946, in a second investigation following rumours Hitler had survived.
On the 15th September 1992, a program on Commonwealth television, broadcasted what was claimed to of been film footage of Hitler's body, captured in the Reich Chancellery garden and had remained in Soviet secret archives for 47 years.
The footage showed the body of a gaunt-faced man in uniform lying on his back, shirt buttons undone, tangled hair tugged back from a high forehead. The only distinguishing feature, clearly visible despite the film's poor quality, is a dark moustache.
2 days prior to this the Soviets had found "Hitler & Braun's bodies":
The (London) Times - July 3, 1981