David Irving was at the studios of Twentieth Century Fox in London for a private viewing of "Downfall" [Der Untergang] -- the new German film of Hitler's last days:
I must say that after all the hoopla in the German media, I am disappointed. From the opening title of Constantin Film Verleih, worse than the clumsiest that Ufa could produce, to the closing sequence -- pictures of the actors, with where-are-they-now biographies of the real characters, the film was unbelievably clunky and amateurish in parts. The German producers did not stoop to Steven Spielberg's trick of making it in black and white ["to provide documentary footage for the future", as the chief camera director of "Schindler's List" disingenuously told his trade journal "Der Kameramann"]; the colour in "Downfall" is washed-out, low key, Berlin-grim.
The actors are sometimes easy to identify -- for us Nazi experts anyway -- by the uniform they are wearing, and sometimes not; Dr Josef Göbbels is far too big to be the 'Little Doctor', but he is evidently chosen for his ability to mimic the Propaganda Minister's superb Rhineland elocution, and at times he does so with chilling verisimilitude.
• A corpulent army general is identified to us only in the closing titles as having been Alfred Jodl, hanged at Nuremberg; we would never have guessed - the real Jodl was a wiry, balding, and spare-framed mountain-artillery officer.
• Martin Bormann, the same: fat, perspiring, unhealthy in the film, in reality burly, muscular, slicked haired, and scowling.
• Otto Günsche, Hitler's long-time SS adjutant, we would never have recognized from the tall handsome dark-haired officer in the film; the real Günsche, who provided to me in the 1960s the first hand narrative on how Hitler and Eva Braun took their own lives, and the dialogue between them which mysteriously turns up verbatim in this film script, was burly, Aryan, and blonde.
• In the film Walther Hewel, Ribbentrop's liaison officer to Hitler, is a thin, nervous, weedy, pharmacy-clerk type of man; in reality he was a broad shouldered, suave, dark-haired diplomat, a handsome ladies man -- the only top Nazi to have seen the outside world, having spent twelve years of his life as a rubber planter in Java.
Walther Hewel, was a German diplomat before and during World War II, an early and active member of the Nazi Party, and one of German dictator Adolf Hitler's few personal friends.
Hewel was one of the earliest members of the Nazi Party, and is calculated to have been between the 200th and 300th person to actually join the group.
In 1923 he took part in the Nazi's failed Beer Hall Putsch. After Hitler's subsequent conviction for treason, Hewel stayed in Landsberg prison with him and, for several months, acted as Hitler's valet.
After the Putsch, Hewel worked for several years as a coffee salesman and planter for a British firm in Dutch East Indies [now Indonesia]. In Indonesia, Hewel organised the local branch of the Nazi Party with the membership of German expatriates there. By 1937, the Nazi Party in Indonesia had established branches in Batavia, Bandung, Semarang, Surabaya, Medan, Padang, and Makassar.
During the 1930s, Hewel returned to Germany where he was appointed to the country's diplomatic service and sent to Spain.
Journalist James P. O'Donnell remarked that, during this time, Hewel "was almost certainly an agent of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris' Abwehr".
In 1938, Hitler recalled Hewel to Germany. During this time, he resumed his earlier friendship with the dictator.
Hewel served as a diplomat in the Foreign Ministry, and on 15 March 1939 transcribed the conference between Hitler and Czech president Emil Hácha.
Technically Hewel was an ambassador and he was supposed to serve as Joachim von Ribbentrop's liaison to Hitler. However, he spent most of World War II without an official portfolio and once described himself as "an ambassador to nowhere". Although in the later years of the war, as Hitler became more estranged with Ribbentrop, Hewel essentially became Hitler's senior adviser on all foreign policy matters. Survivors of Hitler's inner circle claimed that Hewel owed his position to his long involvement with the Nazi Party, and because he was one of Hitler's friends. In her memoirs, Traudl Junge, Hitler's private secretary, described Hewel as something like Hitler's majordomo. According to Junge, Hewel was placed in charge of coordinating his household, keeping peace between the military and civilian officials around Hitler, and regulating contact between male and female members of Hitler's entourage.
After the war, a waiter in Berlin described Hewel thus:
"He was the type of fellow who always knew how to get a good table by tipping the headwaiter in advance. I remember he would insist on artichoke hearts with his venison. He specialized in that kind of Gemütlichkeit that's never quite genuine unless it's a bit artificial." [O'Donnell, "The Bunker", 1978)]
Almost all accounts of Hewel described him as a pleasant and good-natured, if not quite intelligent man. He usually ended up dealing with situations and events that Hitler could not handle.
Other members of the inner circle recounted that, unlike many other Nazi leaders, Hewel was able to stay awake and attentive during Hitler's long monologues on topics such as anti-Semitism. For example, Heinz Guderian, when recalling Hewel, remarked that he was "a good raconteur and a good listener".
Hewel tended to be shy around women, and as a result, Hitler often tried to play matchmaker for him. Hewel survived an airplane crash on 21 April 1944 in which General Hans-Valentin Hube was killed. Elizabeth Blanda, a Red Cross nurse looked after Hewel and later married him at Berchtesgaden.
Until Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, Hewel remained in his inner circle. As one of the few people to remain near him until the end, he was said to have tried to cheer Hitler up. Apparently, Hewel was the last individual to engage in a long, personal conversation with Hitler.
Following Hitler's suicide, Hewel escaped the Führerbunker in a group led by SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke. Mohnke planned to break out towards the German Army which was positioned in Prinzenallee. However, Hewel was apparently suffering from psychological stress at the time. In her memoirs, Traudl Junge claimed that, after Hitler's death, Hewel appeared extremely confused and unable to make the simplest decisions for himself.
The group headed along the U-Bahn tunnels, but their route was blocked so they went above ground and later joined hundreds of other German civilians and military personnel who had sought refuge at the Schultheiss-Patzenhofer Brewery. Upon arriving at the holdout on 2 May 1945, Hewel made remarks to the effect that he planned on committing suicide. Despite the efforts of Dr. Ernst-Günther Schenck, who attempted to talk him out of it, Hewel killed himself in the same manner which Professor Dr. Werner Haase had instructed for Hitler, biting down on a cyanide capsule while shooting himself in the head.
According to Schenck, Hitler had actually encouraged Hewel to commit suicide. Hitler warned Hewel that if he was captured by the Red Army, he would be tortured and "mounted in a waxworks". Additionally, Hitler gave Hewel a cyanide capsule and a Walther 7.65 handgun, then had him take an oath to kill himself rather than be captured by the Russians. Further, Schenck stated that Hewel was emotionally and physically exhausted, which contributed to his actions.
Having said that, I can say what saves this film and elevates it into a stellar category are the spectacular and deeply human portrayal by Bruno Ganz of the aging and defeated Adolf Hitler - he has perfected the guttural Austrian accent down to the last rolling rrrrr; and the warm, affectionate portrayal of his secretary Traudl Junge. She is played by a Transylvanian-born actress of great feminity and beauty, with moist, limpid eyes that are able eloquently to convey her feelings, for example the delicate disgust when Göbbels dictates his final will, emphasizing the purity and unblemished (makellos) character of his actions, before turning away to mastermind the murder of his six children.
The the one scene which does bring a tear to my eyes, I confess, even though the script falsely has Dr Ludwig Stumpfegger administering a sleeping draught to the reluctant infants, whereas they were in fact anesthetized with a morphine injection by the SS dentist in the Bunker; when they were sound asleep their mother Magda crushed a glass a cyanide ampoule in each tiny mouth using a pair of pliers.
Göbbels's Last Testament, appended to Hitler's, claimed that his wife and children supported him in his refusal to leave Berlin, qualifying this by asserting that the children would support the decision if they were old enough to speak for themselves. Both pilot Hanna Reitsch [who had left the Bunker on 29/30 April) and Traudl Junge [who left on 1 May] carried letters to the outside world from those remaining. Included was a letter from Magda to her son Harald who was in an Allied POW camp.
The following day, on 1 May 1945, the Göbbels' six children were injected with morphine [by an SS dentist, Helmut Kunz] and then, when they were unconscious, killed by having a crushed ampoule of cyanide placed in their mouths. Accounts differ over how involved Magda was with the killing of her children. According to Kunz, he administered the morphine but it was Magda Göbbels and Ludwig Stumpfegger [Hitler's personal doctor] who administered the cyanide tablets.
This contradicts the testimony of Oberscharführer Rochus Misch, a member of Hitler's Führerbegleitkommando bodyguard and head of communications in the Führerbunker and statements by Göbbels State Secretary in the Propaganda Ministry, Werner Naumann. Naumann and Misch both stated it was actually Hitler's surgeon SS Dr. Stumpfegger who mixed a sweetened narcotic drink to put the Göbbels children into a deep sleep before Magda Göbbels placed cyanide capsules into their mouths.
Another account says that the children were told they would be leaving for Berchtesgaden in the morning, and Ludwig Stumpfegger was said to have provided Magda with morphine to sedate the children. Erna Flegel claims that Magda reassured the children about the morphine by telling them that they needed inoculations because they would be staying in the Bunker for a long time. Erich Kempka reported after the war that he believed the children had been "taken away by a nurse" that day, just before he left the Bunker. Some witnesses claimed that SS doctor Ludwig Stumpfegger crushed the cyanide capsules into the children's mouths, but as no witnesses to the event survived it is impossible to know.
James O'Donnell, author of "The Bunker", concluded that, although Stumpfegger was probably involved in drugging the children, it was Magda who killed them. He suggested that witnesses blamed the deaths on Stumpfegger because he was a convenient target, having disappeared [and died, it was later learned] the following day. Moreover, Stumpfegger may have been too intoxicated at the time of the deaths to have played a reliable role.
Hans Otto Meissner in "Magda Göbbels, First Lady of the Third Reich" claims that Stumpfegger refused to take any part in the deaths of the children, and that a mysterious "country Doctor from the enemy-occupied eastern region" appeared and "carried out the fearful task" before disappearing again, but this explanation may owe more to Meissner's characteristic diplomacy and consideration than any reality.
Magda Göbbels here is a departure from reality; she is played as a cunning, fiendish, Machiavellian, raven-haired and slender female displaying all the warmth and maternal charm of the evil Mrs Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca"; I do know real women who are like that, but in reality Magda Göbbels was a simple, charming, feminine woman, once platinum-blonde, whose comeliness as a female was a not lessened by having borne six children. She had once dated Chaim Arlosoroff, a Zionist fanatic later assassinated in Palestine, and her step father [and I believe real father] Robert Friedländer was Jewish [and met his end like many other Jews as a dehumanized prisoner in the concentration camp at Buchenwald].
There is no evidence that Magda attempted to intervene to save her Jewish stepfather from the Holocaust. Though his fate has not been established, it is widely assumed that he perished in the camps.
However, Felix Franks, a German Jew who later became a British soldier, claimed that his grandparents got an exit Visa from Germany, with the help of Magda Göbbels.
"My father and step-mother were left behind in Germany but, two days before the War started, they were asked to come to Gestapo Headquarters and given an exit visa. There is a story in the family which goes back to the First World War when my step-grandparents were asked to give shelter to a young woman who’d been displaced by the war in Belgium. Although she had a Jewish step-father, she eventually married Josef Göbbels! My stepmother believes she may have acted as a sort of protecting hand and was involved with the exit visa. Certainly, the night before Kristallnacht, they got an anonymous phone call warning my father not to go home that evening but to go somewhere safe. My step-mother swore it was Magda Göbbels".
Asked about her husband's anti-Semitism, Magda answered: "The Führer wants it thus, and Josef must obey". It is unknown how much she actually knew about the concentration camps.
At the beginning of the war she threw herself enthusiastically into her husband's propaganda machine. Her other official functions involved entertaining the wives of the foreign heads of state, supporting the troops and comforting war widows.
Magda's son by her first marriage, Harald Quandt, became a Luftwaffe pilot and fought at the front, while, at home, she lived up to the image of a patriotic mother by training as a Red Cross nurse and working with the electronics company Telefunken, and travelled to work on a bus, like her colleagues.
I was taken aback by the two figures selected by scriptwriter Bernd Eichinger for "good guy" treatment in the script. One is Professor Dr Dr Ernst-Günther Schenck; I interviewed him many times in the 1970s and obtained from him the graphic descriptions and dialogues of the last two days in the Bunker -- which now strangely turn up, unchanged, in this film's script. Note that in the German façon, having won two doctorates, he sported both Dr's in his title. He headed an SS branch on nutritional medicine, and there are the inevitable allegations against him as an SS doctor.
Ernst-Günther Schenck was a German Obersturmbannführer [lieutenant-colonel] and doctor who joined the SS in 1933. Because of a chance encounter with Adolf Hitler during the closing days of World War II, his memoirs proved historically valuable. His accounts of this period influenced those of Joachim Fest and James P. O'Donnell regarding the end of Hitler's life, and were included in the film "Downfall" [2004)].
Schenck was born in Marburg, Hesse-Nassau. He trained as a doctor and joined the SS. During the war, Schenck was actively involved in the creation of a large herbal plantation in Dachau concentration camp, which contained over 200,000 medicinal plants, from which, among other things, vitamin supplements for the Waffen-SS were manufactured. In 1940 he was appointed as inspector of nutrition for the SS. In 1943 Schenck developed a protein sausage, which was meant for the SS frontline troops. Prior to adoption, it was tested on 370 prisoners in Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, some of whom died of hunger edema.In his own memoirs, Schenck stated that his only concern was to improve nutrition and fight hunger. However, a report in 1963 condemned Schenck for "treating humans like objects, guinea pigs". In the Federal Republic of Germany, Schenck was later not allowed to continue his medical career.
According to Waffen SS-Oberscharführer Hans Bottger with the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, Schenck left his government duty post to go to the Eastern Front for his so-called "Iron Cross apprenticeship" during the Germans' first campaign. Schenck proved himself while serving as the battalion physician. Further, instead of just manipulating his way into getting the award like many others, Schenck found himself taking command of a gun battery after the commander had been killed. Schenck performed "well" in combat and earned the Iron Cross, Second Class.
In April 1945, during the battle in Berlin, Schenck volunteered to work in an emergency casualty station located in the large cellar of the Reich Chancellery, near the Vorbunker and Führerbunker. Although he was not trained as a surgeon and lacked the experience, as well as the supplies and instruments necessary to operate on battle victims, he nonetheless assisted in approximately 100 major surgical operations.
During these surgeries, Schenck was aided by Dr. Werner Haase, who also served as one of Hitler's private physicians. Although Haase had much more surgical experience than Schenck, he was weakened by tuberculosis, and often had to lie down while trying in vain to give verbal advice to Schenck. Due to the combination of terrible conditions and his own inexperience, after the war, Schenck told author/historian James P. O'Donnell that he was unable to track down a single German soldier he had operated on who had survived [he kept records of the operations].
During the end time in Berlin, Schenck saw Hitler in person twice, for only a brief time: once when Hitler wanted to thank him, Dr. Haase, and Nurse Erna Flegel for their emergency medical services, and once during the "reception" after Hitler's marriage to Eva Braun, and by his own admission, was extremely exhausted and dazed during these meetings [at the time, he had been in surgery for numerous days without much sleep]. Also, some of Schenck's opinions were based on hearsay from Dr. Haase.
Schenk later wrote a book ["Patient A"] about Hitler's relationship with his personal physician, and was quoted in "American Medical News" to the effect that Hitler was neither clinically insane nor chemically dependent on drugs. Schenk says that Hitler's regular injections consisted of vitamins mixed with glucose and caffeine. Hitler was not a regular user of any stronger drug, but was given them on occasion: codeine and cocaine for colds, strong painkillers and barbiturates for cramps and colitis (an intermittent condition in most people that suffer it). By the end of his life, Hitler showed obvious symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and also had a heart problem that was treated with nitroglycerin and digitalis. Schenk says that medically there was nothing unusual about Hitler (AP, 10 October 1985) and there is no reason to believe that drugs adversely affected Hitler's judgment.
In 2010 the book "War Hitler Krank?" by Henrik Eberle and Hans-Joachim Neumann [published in English in 2012 as Was Hitler Ill?], offered generally the same assessment as Schenk. They write that "at no time did Hitler suffer from pathological delusions," ["Eine Besessenheit im Sinne eines krankheitsbedingten Wahns gab es bei Hitler zu keinem Zeitpunkt"] and they find no indication that Dr. Theodor Morell was anything other than a competent and ethical physician.
When questioned in 1945, the doctors who had treated Hitler were unanimous that he had been sane until the very end. One of them, Professor Hans Karl von Hasselbach, would subsequently observe, "The German public would have been lunatic to have given their virtually unanimous support to any man such as Hitler is portrayed today".
There were virtually no clinical symptoms of abnormality. He showed no mental faults like inappropriate euphoria, incontinence, anosmia [loss of smell)] or personality changes. Brain examinations disclosed no "sensory aphasia' and no "dream states". Tests on his reﬂex centres and spinal root functions revealed no abnormalities. The doctors would put on record that his orientation as to time, place, and persons was excellent. Their report adds: "He was changeable, at times restless and sometimes peculiar but otherwise co-operative and not easily distracted. Emotionally he was very labile – his likes and dislikes were very pronounced. His ﬂow of thought showed continuity. His speech was neither slow nor fast, and was always relevant"’ Common symptoms of insanity were absent. The doctors concluded that in Hitler "no hallucinations, illusions, or paranoid trends were present".
-- David Irving, "Hitler's War"
Study Finds Hitler Had Artery Illness:
UCLA professor says disease does not explain dictator's crimes, but may have reinforced his belief that he would not live long.
from Los Angeles Times Wire Services
22 March 1993
Adolf Hitler likely suffered a malady that inflames arteries and reduces blood flow to the head, heart and liver, according to a study by a UCLA psychiatry professor who said he also confirmed that the dictator used stimulants and had Parkinson's disease.
The ailments cannot be blamed for the German tyrant's crimes, but they might have aggravated his longstanding belief that he would not live long and needed to accomplish his goals quickly, said Dr. Fritz C. Redlich, whose study appears in today's Archives of Internal Medicine.
Scholars had suspected that Hitler misused amphetamine stimulants before his suicide. They knew he had liver, heart and stomach troubles, including severe flatulence, and displayed the shaking characteristic of Parkinson's disease, a degenerative nerve disorder.
Symptoms cited in his doctor's records indicate that Hitler also had giant cell arteritis, an artery inflammation disease, and its common form, temporal arteritis, or inflamed arteries in the scalp over the temples, Redlich wrote.
"It was simply overlooked" by other researchers and unrecognized by Hitler's doctor, said Redlich, professor emeritus of psychiatry at UCLA and former dean of the Yale University School of Medicine.
Redlich, 82, has spent eight years compiling Hitler's health history for future publication by Oxford University Press. He interviewed people who knew Hitler and read thousands of documents at the National Archives, including the 1941-45 letters and diary of Hitler's wartime physician, Dr. Theodor Morell.
Hitler's symptoms included malaise, headaches, impaired vision, fever, weight loss, tenderness, oversensitivity to sunlight and an enlarged artery over one temple--all consistent with arteritis, Redlich said.
The disease, which can narrow arteries, also might explain Hitler's heart disease, abdominal pain and liver troubles, he said.
"It's plausible--a reasonable hypothesis," said Dr. Gene Hunder, rheumatology chairman at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic.
Giant cell arteritis is named for enlarged cells in inflamed artery walls. It afflicts one in 500 people over age 50, and gradually goes away by itself, Hunder said. The cause is unknown.
Hitler refused to let doctors X-ray his chest or abdomen or examine his genitals.
Redlich said people who knew Hitler wrote of confused, very excited behavior during 1939-42, "convincing evidence" that Hitler took amphetamines.
Tremors and other signs of Parkinson's long have been noted in newsreels of Hitler. Redlich found that Morell diagnosed Parkinson's two weeks before Hitler died.
The study concluded that "neither Parkinson's disease nor the diagnosis of . . . arteritis explains any of Hitler's crimes and mistakes."
But Redlich said that since writing the study, he has "changed my mind a little bit". Although Hitler was healthy until mid-1941, "it is possible there is some sort of connection between physical illness and the fact he rushed into the war and genocide," Redlich said.
Peter Löwenberg, a UCLA professor of history and political psychology, said he "would go slow" on concluding that Hitler's health problems were linked to his genocide campaign against millions of Jews "because historians haven't found any specific document where Hitler ordered the genocide."
But Redlich's careful research "is a major step forward" and gives historians "a chance to scrupulously correlate the state of Hitler's health with his decision-making," including the puzzling decision to declare war on the United States after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Löwenberg said.
Hitler was not legally insane but was "very disturbed . . . and I'm trying to find out what made him disturbed," Redlich said. "So far I have no definitive answer."
Redlich said Hitler's doctor, Morell, "was on the border of being a charlatan," treating Hitler with opiates, cocaine, barbiturates, laxatives, leeches, vitamins, tonics, useless hormones and sugar water injections.
Schenck was captured by the Soviet Army during the Berlin "break-out" of 1 May 1945. Following their surrender Schenck, Mohnke and other senior German officers from the group were treated to a banquet by the Chief of Staff of the 8th Guards Army with the permission of Lieutenant General Vasily Chuikov. At 10:30 pm, the Germans were ushered out into another room where they were confined under guard. On the following night of 3 May, Schenck and the rest of the Germans were handed over to the NKVD. Schenck was later released from Russian captivity in 1953 and returned home to [then] West Germany.
Prior to writing his memoirs, Schenck was interviewed in depth by O'Donnell for the book "The Bunker", which recounted portions of Schenck's memories of Hitler's last days. The possibility that Hitler suffered from Parkinson's disease was first investigated by Schenck. Schenck died on 21 December 1998 aged 94 in Aachen.
In this film however Schenck is an unquestioned moralising hero, as is a far darker figure, Hermann Fegelein. The real Hermann Fegelein was a murderous, womanizing, power-hungry SS cavalry officer -I interviewed his brother Waldemar once - who married Eva Braun's slightly sluttish sister Gretl.
Waldemar Fegelein was an SS-Standartenführer [colonel] in the Waffen-SS during World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross [German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes]. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.
Waldemar Fegelein was the younger brother of Hermann Fegelein. His father operated a horse riding school in Munich which was forced to close due to the worldwide economic depression of the 1920s.
He volunteered to join the SS-VT/Waffen-SS and during World War II was awarded the Knight's Cross as a SS-Sturmbannführer [major] in command of the 2nd SS Cavalry Regiment in December 1943, which was serving on the Eastern Front. He was personally presented with the medal by Heinrich Himmler.
Fegelein, like his brother, Hermann, went on to command an SS Division, the 37th SS Volunteer Cavalry Division Lützow.
Waldemar Fegelein was implicated in the killing of Russian Partisans and Jews during the war and in one incident specifically he reportedly ordered his men to murder 21 Jewish men in the town of Starobin on 21 August 1941, at the end of an anti-partisan sweep called "Operation Turov". His brother Hermann reported that over 13,000 Jews and Partisans had been terminated during this operation. Waldemar Fegelein was promoted to Standartenführer on 21 December 1944.
Among his many decorations, Fegelein as well as the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, he received the German Cross in Gold, the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, the Wound Badge, the German Sports Badge in Gold, the SS Honour Ring and the SS Honour Sword.
Fegelein survived the war and was released from the prisoner camp in Darmstadt on 25 November 1946 and changed his name to Axel Fegelein, though he would sign autograph requests with his birth name. He led his own riding school near Bad Wörishofen and never had to justify himself for his war crimes.
Waldemar Fegelein died on 20 November 2000, age 88 in Obermeitingen
Hermann Fegelein's adjutant, the late Johannes Göhler, an upstanding Waffen SS officer, was a good source of mine and provided to me with a sheaf of his private letters written from Hitler's HQ from August 1944 to the end.
Fegelein's fate, shot for desertion, is well documented. The film shows Hitler however virtually foaming at the mouth as he demands this execution. Not so:
• first, Hitler's adjutants assured me that he did not foam, even metaphorically, but was always calm and measured in his elocution [except for the one occasion, 22 April 1945, when he did suffer a dramatic breakdown on hearing of the failure of military operations for the relief of Berlin]; and
• second, Otto Günsche told me that it was he personally who had gone to Hitler and advised him that he and the other adjutants, hearing that the Chief was minded to show clemency, were demanding that Fegelein be stood before a firing squad for his cowardice.
On 27 April 1945, Reichssicherheitsdienst [RSD] deputy commander SS-Obersturmbannführer Peter Högl was sent out from the Reich Chancellery to find Hermann Fegelein who had abandoned his post at the Führerbunker after deciding he did not want to "join a suicide pact". Fegelein was caught by the RSD squad in his Berlin apartment, wearing civilian clothes and preparing to flee to Sweden or Switzerland. He was carrying cash—German and foreign—and jewelry, some of which belonged to Braun. Högl also uncovered a briefcase containing documents with evidence of Himmler's attempted peace negotiations with the Western Allies. According to most accounts, he was intoxicated when arrested and brought back to the Führerbunker. He was kept in a makeshift cell until the evening of 28 April. That night, Hitler was informed of the BBC broadcast of a Reuters news report about Himmler's attempted negotiations with the western Allies via Count Bernadotte. Hitler flew into a rage about this apparent betrayal and ordered Himmler's arrest. Sensing a connection between Fegelein's disappearance and Himmler's betrayal, Hitler ordered SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller to interrogate Fegelein as to what he knew of Himmler's plans. Thereafter, according to Otto Günsche [Hitler's personal adjutant], Hitler ordered that Fegelein be stripped of all rank and to be transferred to Kampfgruppe 'Mohnke' to prove his loyalty in combat. However, Günsche and Bormann expressed their concern to Hitler that Fegelein would only desert again. Hitler then ordered Fegelein court-martialed
Fegelein's wife was then in the late stages of pregnancy [the baby was born in early May], and Hitler considered releasing him without punishment or assigning him to Mohnke's troops. Junge—an eye-witness to Bunker events—stated that Braun pleaded with Hitler to spare her brother-in-law and tried to justify Fegelein's actions. However, he was taken to the garden of the Reich Chancellery on 28 April, and was "shot like a dog". Rochus Misch, who was the last survivor from the Führerbunker, disputed aspects of this account in a 2007 interview with "Der Spiegel". According to Misch, Hitler did not order Fegelein's execution, only his demotion. Misch claimed to know the identity of Fegelein's killer, but refused to reveal his name.
Journalist James P. O'Donnell, who conducted extensive interviews in the 1970s, provides one account of what happened next. SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke, who presided over the court martial for desertion, told O'Donnell that Hitler ordered him to set up a tribunal. Mohnke arranged for a court martial panel, which consisted of generals Wilhelm Burgdorf, Hans Krebs, SS-Gruppenführer Johann Rattenhuber, and himself. Fegelein, still drunk, refused to accept that he had to answer to Hitler, and stated that he was responsible only to Himmler. Fegelein was so drunk that he was crying and vomiting; he was unable to stand up, and even urinated on the floor. Mohnke was in a quandary, as German military and civilian law both require a defendant to be of sound mind and to understand the charges against them. Although Mohnke was certain Fegelein was "guilty of flagrant desertion", it was the opinion of the judges that he was in no condition to stand trial, so Mohnke closed the proceedings and turned the defendant over to General Rattenhuber's security squad. Mohnke never saw Fegelein again.
An alternative scenario of Fegelein's death is based on the 1948/49 Soviet NKVD dossier of Hitler written for Josef Stalin. The dossier is based on the interrogation reports of Günsche and Heinz Linge (Hitler's valet). This dossier differs in part from the accounts given by Mohnke and Rattenhuber. After the intoxicated Fegelein was arrested and brought back to the Führerbunker, Hitler at first ordered Fegelein to be transferred to Kampfgruppe Mohnke to prove his loyalty in combat. Günsche and Bormann expressed their concern to Hitler that Fegelein would desert again. Hitler then ordered Fegelein to be demoted and court-martialed by a court led by Mohnke. At this point the accounts differ, as the NKVD dossier states that Fegelein was court-martialed on the evening of 28 April, by a court headed by Mohnke, SS-Obersturmbannführer Alfred Krause, and SS-Sturmbannführer Herbert Kaschula. Mohnke and his fellow officers sentenced Fegelein to death. That same evening, Fegelein was shot from behind by a member of the Sicherheitsdienst. Based on this stated chain of events, author Veit Scherzer concluded that Fegelein, according to German law, was deprived of all honours and honorary signs and must therefore be considered 'a de facto but not de jure' recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
There are loose ends left unexplained in the film. General Hans Krebs is shown at the end, negotiating with Marshal Zhukov's officers and speaking fluent Russian; left as it is, it gives the impression that he may have been a Soviet traitor in Hitler's headquarters. In fact he spoke fluent Russian having been military attaché in Moscow until Barbarossa began in June 1941.
We are not told why the secretary Traudl Humps' name changes in mid-film to Traudl Junge. She had married Hitler's Ordonnanz, SS Hauptsturmführer Wolf Junge, but the wartime marriage did not last long. She described to me how in June 1944 "the Chief" [wrongly translated as Führer, several times, in the sub-titles] had sent for her, tears in his eyes, taken both her hands in his, and said, "Ach, mein Kind, I am so sorry" -- and broken to her the news that Wolf had just been killed in action in the Normandy fighting.
Although the "consultant" credited in the titles is a certain Joachim Fest, well-known German TV presenter and personality and author, I suspect that my own name might by rights have been there in the titles too. As my readers will recognize immediately, at least fifty percent of the dialogue has been lifted straight out of my book "Hitler's War" [first published in Germany in 1975], and much of the rest from my Josef Göbbels biography too!
There is nothing new or even unusual about this. Fest is not an author well known for original research but, as they say, using just one book is plagiarism; using two is investigation; while using three or more is deep, profound, original, and overwhelming in-depth research.
Several times, as a scene was set up in this film, I found that I knew precisely what was going to come next; once, the screen fills with Hitler handing out cyanide capsules to his staff, standing dutifully in line as though at a Christmas reception, and he reaches Traudl: "I am so sorry that I can offer you nothing better than this".
I am sorry too -- sorry to see that the film makers have done to Traudl what they did to Lida Baarova [Göbbels' girlfriend] in her Westdeutscher Rundfunk television interview about him: they required the latter female to come back on screen and gently grovel [but Lida cleverly changes her dress for this final shot, so that future cognoscenti can recognize what has happened].
So here too, after the Hitler film ends, it produces the real Traudl Junge, now in her late 80s, wrinkled and with her once-fair complexion pocked and blemished by the imminent onset of death, and she apologises for not having seen how wicked her Chief, Adolf Hitler, really was.
At one point in this toe-curling postscript her memorized lines make her say that she has recently realized, walking past the memorial tablet for Sophie Scholl -- one of the student traitors in Munich -- that Sophie was the same age as she, and had been executed on the same day that she was being interviewed by Hitler for her job as a secretary. But that cannot have been so, because her job interview was in November 1942, as the film also makes plain at the beginning; and the Scholl sisters were executed in 1943 -- in March, if memory serves. But even here something of the real Traudl tweaks through. She says that had she known what was going on . . . to the Jews . . . then, of course . . . but she never heard even a murmur of that while working next to Hitler.
At Hitler's headquarters! At Hitler's side: present at his conference table, and at his table talks: throughout the remaining months of the war, from Stalingrad onwards, literally to the very end: never heard a murmur about what since the 1970s is called The Holocaust. Now what can that portend?
That is a real conundrum, which may or may not sink in with the movie-goers. All of Hitler's staff, including his surviving verbatim conference stenographers, confirmed this to me -- that nothing was ever said or known about it at Hitler's HQ -- as did Richard Schulze, his personal SS adjutant, when I invited him to attend a live David Frost TV program devoted to my Hitler biography on 9 June 1977; just as Hitler's personal staff had all told the American and British interrogators shortly after the war, at a time when to say otherwise would certainly have earned them favours, like a transfer from the criminal wing to the privileged witness wing at Nuremberg. Kurzum: Not a word of the atrocities filtered back into Hitler's "monastery-like" headquarters.
Some of the scenes in this film are breathtaking, almost religious tableaux, constructed to the nearest millimetre from the surviving photos:
• Hitler ten days before the end handing out Iron Crosses to schoolboy-age Hitler Youths for heroism against the Soviet tanks.
• Hitler emerging briefly from the ruined Bunker to the garden, surrounded by his staff [a photograph actually taken after a British air raid in November 1943, according to Julius Schaub].
There are some minor flaws. History shows that Hitler orders the thirty or so nurses brought in to his Bunker from the next-door Voss Street Bunker, which has been turned into an emergency hospital, to decorate and commend them for their courage in tending the injured. Schenck described the scene to me -- and here it is, like magic, in Bernd Eichinger's film -- but there is only one nurse here, the one who sinks in hysterics to the ground and clutches Hitler's knees and implores him to leave Berlin. Economising on extras?
Around 1:30 am on 30 April, Hitler asked that all the medical staff of the hospital at the Reichs Chancellery visit him. By 2 am they were gathered in the the lobby of the Bunker outside of Hitler’s quarters. In this group were Chief physician of the hospital- Obersturmführer Dr. Haase; Senior physician of the hospital- Standartenführer Dr. Schenck; the second physician of the hospital Sturmbannführer Dr. Kunz; surgical nurses Erna Flegel, Liselotte Chervinska, and, Elisabeth Lyndhurst; another surgical nurse Rut [full name not known]; Frau Heusermann [Dr. Blaschke’s dental assistant]; and perhaps another 15 to 20 nurses and some other women, including Baroness von Varo [apparently the mistress of an officer of Hitler’s escort commando].
Hitler tells them he intends to take his own life rather than be captured by the Russians.
"I don’t want to be put on show like an exhibition in a museum," and tells them they are released from their oath of loyalty.
Schenck recalled Hitler’s clothes were “sloppy, food-stained.” He “could see Hitler’s hunched spine, the curved shoulders that seemed to twitch and tremble". "He struck me as an agonized Atlas with a mountain on his back". Hitler seemed hardly able to shuffle the two paces forward to greet them. "His eyes although he was looking directly at me, did not seem to be focusing… The whites were bloodshot…Drooping black sacks under his eyes betrayed loss of sleep…" Hitler then greeted them individually, inquiring about the names of the persons whom he did not know. According to von Varo, Hitler’s eyes "were glaring into emptiness...his left hand trembled," and that Hitler did not seem to look at the person when he shook hands. After greeting each person individually, Hitler then thanked all of whom that had earlier in the night had been decorated for their services.
When Hitler takes Erna Flegel's hand, she breaks down, sobbing. "My Führer! Have faith in the final victory. Lead us and we will follow you!"
Hitler doesn’t respond.
-- Strategic Services Unit, War Department, Intelligence Dissemination No. A-65458, Subject: Interview with Erna Flegel, Red Cross Nurse in Hitler’s Shelter, Date of Report: 11 December 1945, Distributed: 25 February 1946, File: 0240346, Army Intelligence Document Files (NAID 305269), RG 319; Interrogation of the Baroness von Varo, 1 October 1945, enclosure to Memorandum, Brigadier [no name given], Counter Intelligence Bureau (CIB), GSI (b), Headquarters, British Army of the Rhine to Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 (CI), Headquarters, US Forces European Theater, Subject: Investigation into the Death of Hitler, November 22, 1945, Document No. CIB/B3/PF.582, File: Major Trevor-Roper Interrogations, Reports Relating to POW Interrogations, 1943-1945 (NAID 2790598), RG 165; Interrogation of Baroness von Varo, Stein Castle, Stein, 2000-2330 Hours, 10 March 1948, Interrogations of Hitler Associates, Musmanno Collection, Gumberg Library Digital Collections, Duquesne University; Record of Interrogation of the Reich Chancellery Physician Helmut Kunz, by 4th Section of the Smersh Counter-Espionage Department of the 1st Byelorussian Front, 7 May 1945, in Vinogradov, V.K.; Pogonyi, J.F.; Teptzov, N.V.,"Hitlers Death: Russia's Last Great Secret"; Evidence of the Head of Hitler’s Bodyguard Hans Rattenhuber, Moscow, 20 May 1945 in Vinogrado, Pogonyi, and Teptzov, "Hitler’s Death"; O’Donnell, James P., "The Berlin Bunker"; Trevor-Roper, Hugh, "The Last Days of Hitler"; Joachimsthaler, Anton, "The Last Days of Hitler"
Dr. Schenck believed that it was with Haase that Hitler discussed the manner and method of his own suicide. “I know this because Professor Haase told me so, the day after the suicide". They also, according to Schenck, were discussing the problem of how to destroy the bodies.
-- O’Donnell, James P., "The Berlin Bunker"
When Hitler and Haase withdrew from the room, everyone, according to von Varo, asked each other what the meaning of it could be, and they concluded that it must be the preliminary to suicide. She added that she and her colleagues stayed up all night, contemplating what they would do and talking about how Hitler would commit suicide. "We waited for it. It had to come".
-- Interrogation of Baroness von Varo, Stein Castle, Stein, 2000-2330 Hours, 10 March 1948, Interrogations of Hitler Associates, Musmanno Collection, Gumberg Library Digital Collections, Duquesne University
After the meeting with Hitler, Schenck was invited to join a party that was taking place. Günsche, whom he knew, introduced him to the others. Among them were Bormann, the Göbbels, Krebs, Burgdorf, Bauer, Rattenhuber, Axmann, Hewel, Voss, Linge, and Kempka. He recalled Krebs remarking that it was his guess that the Red Army would want to wait another 24 hours, until May Day, so that Russian Marshal Zhukov could present the big prize (Berlin) to Stalin. "This touch of gallows humor drew rather hollow laughs".
-- O’Donnell, James P., "The Berlin Bunker"
Another tiny flaw: I would swear that the exit staircase from the Bunker was a Wendeltreppe, a spiral staircase, not the square concrete staircase shown in the film. Otto Günsche told me how awkward he had found it to carry the cyanide-reeking body of Eva Braun up the spiral to the garden. But Winston Ramsay, editor-in-chief of "After the Battle", has also attended the screening, and he has actually visited the ruins, and he tells me over a modest supper in Soho afterwards that he thinks that "square" is right, not spiral.
The Reich Chancellery Bunker was initially constructed as a temporary air-raid shelter for Hitler [who actually spent very little time in Berlin during most of the war], but the increased bombing of Berlin led to expansion of the complex as an improvised permanent shelter. The elaborate complex consisted of two separate levels, the Vorbunker [the upper Bunker] and the newer Führerbunker, located one level below. They were connected by a stairway set at right angles [they were not spiral] which could be closed off from each other by a bulkhead and steel door. The Führerbunker was located about 8.5 metres beneath the garden of the old Reich Chancellery building at Wilhelmstraße 77, about 120 metres north of the new Reich Chancellery building, which had the address Voßstraße 6. The Vorbunker was located beneath the large reception hall behind the old Reich Chancellery, which was connected to the new Reich Chancellery.
The Reception Hall in the Reich's Chancellery Garden
The Reception Hall (also known as the Diplomats' Room or Ballroom) was built in 1935-1936 by the architect
Professor Leonard Gall in the garden of the Reich's Chancellery. This was the first major new building, commisioned
by Adolf Hitler, to be built on the property of the Reich's Chancellery. The Reception Hall served as a meeting and reception room for about 200 people. In addition to the hall itself, the building project included the connection staircase of the Führer apartment in the Old Reich's Chancellery, an air raid shelter underneath the Reception Hall, and an
annex on its northern facade which contained apartments for Hitler's closest aides. After the Bunker was extended in
1943-1945, the original air raid shelter underneath the reception hall became known as the Vorbunker. This is where the Göbbels family lived from April 1945 until their deaths. The Reception Hall was damaged during the war,
and was demolished between 1947-1948, along with the Old Reichs Chancellery.
The Führerbunker was located 2.5 meters lower than the Vorbunker and to the west-southwest of it.
About 30 small rooms were distributed over two levels protected by approximately four metres of concrete with exits into the main buildings and an emergency exit into the gardens. The complex was built in two distinct phases, one part in 1936 and the other in 1943. The 1943 development was built by the Hochtief company as part of an extensive program of subterranean construction in Berlin begun in 1940. The accommodations for Hitler were in the newer, lower section, and by February 1945 had been decorated with high-quality furniture taken from the Chancellery, along with several framed oil paintings. Hitler's study was decorated with a large portrait of one of his heroes: Frederick the Great.
Hitler moved into the Führerbunker permanently on 16 January 1945. He was joined by his senior staff, Martin Bormann, and later, Eva Braun and Josef Göbbels with Magda and their six children, who took residence in the upper Vorbunker. Two or three dozen support, medical, and administrative staff were also sheltered there. Hitler would often stroll around in the chancellery garden with his dog Blondi, until March 1945, when shelling became very common.
The Bunker was crowded and oppressive, and air raids were occurring daily. Hitler stayed mostly on the lower level of the Führerbunker, where it was quieter, and he could sleep. Conferences took place for much of the night, often until 5:00 am.
Unimportant? But there are also major excesses and distortions. The bacchanalian scenes and orgies -- routine in such narratives now -- are fiction. Not a cigarette was lit in the Bunker until Hitler was dead.
Major Bernd Freiherr von Freytag-Löringhoven aide-de-camp to General Hans Krebs, in his book "In the Bunker with Hitler," reveals many things about these last days: for example, that the conversations and mindset of the people in the Bunker during the last days were often farcical and absurd; that although Hitler was deluded and often angry he never screamed or foamed at the mouth, instead his rage was one of ice-cold and forceful aggression; that Hitler was obsessed with wreaking vengeance on all those responsible, however remotely, for the 20 July attempted assassination and this hampered his ability to govern; that drunkenness was a not uncommon means of avoiding contemplating the inevitable end (Löringhoven claims to have never seen any sexual orgies/dalliances attested to by others'); that the news that Himmler had attempted to negotiate a peace hit Hitler like a psychological bomb.
In addition, he claims to have never heard anything about atrocities against the Jews until after the war, stating that while there were "rumors" of such things he did not even know the name of a single concentration camp and discussing such things was "taboo". This is hard to believe and an almost incredible statement considering his wartime experiences in Poland, France, and the Soviet Union and, again, his association with the top leadership of the Nazi party the last nine months of the war when the killings of Jews and others actually accelerated and he was privy to conversations involving Speer and others who were indirectly, if not directly, responsible for the oversight of concentration camps used for slave labor.
The drinking did begin, but it was necessarily discreet.
Göbbels’ secretary was instructed to fuel Hitler’s Bunker with Booze as Berlin fell
17 August 2016
In a tell all documentary that sheds light on the Nazi way of life during the world war days, Brunhilde Pomsel, the former secretary of Hitler's right hand man Josef Göbbels, reveals how she was instructed to continuously supply alcohol to the Nazis in their final hours.
105-year-old Pomel is one of the very few people alive, who knew Hitler personally and had walked in his inner circle. She was inside the Führerbunker in Berlin on 30 April 1945, the day when Hitler shot himself and talks about her life as a Nazi assistant in a documentary which was recently released at the Munich film festival.
Pomel started working with Hitler’s propaganda minister in 1942. She was noticed by Göbbels himself, the man responsible for brainwashing the Nazis against Jews, and was appointed as his assistant. She worked as his secretary, stenographer and typist until his suicide, which took place just 24 hours after Hitler killed himself.
The Nazis, according to Pomel, were more worried about their depleting alcohol supplies than Russian soldiers closing in on them while Berlin fell. She was instructed to constantly supply booze to the Hitler Bunker "in order to retain the numbness".
Her face is lined with wrinkles, weather-hardened from a long life but there is no sign of repentance for the past. Pomsel claims, she only "typed" at Göbbels' office and knew nothing of the horrors that were unfolding against the Jews.
"Although Brunhilde Pomsel always described herself as just being a side-line figure and not at all interested in politics, she nevertheless got closer to one of the worst criminals in world history than anyone else presently alive," says the description of the documentary titled "A German Life".
In her interview, Pomsel talks about what it was like to know Göbbels from close quarters and describes how he metamorphosed from a ‘civilised, serious’ person to a ‘ranting midget’. For Pomsel, Göbbels’ seemed to have gone through his life as if he was giving a theatrical performance.
"The only thing you can say about Göbbels was that he was an outstanding actor. No other actor could have been better at performing the transformation from a civilised, serious person into that ranting, raving rowdy than himself," she says in the documentary.
"To experience him directly at a distance of 10-15 metres, someone who you saw every day, who came to office all smart, elegant with a kind of noble elegance and then to see him like a raging midget. Well, you couldn't imagine a greater contrast," she adds.
Pomsel called herself "stupid" for having worked under the "evil" Göbbels and claims that she did not know about the Holocaust, despite the fact that one of her closest friends died in Auschwitz.
"No-one believes me now but I knew nothing, it was all a well kept secret" she claims.
The documentary is directed by Christian Krönes, Olaf S. Müller, Roland Schrotthofer and Florian Weigensamer and chronicle’s Pomsel’s life from her birth till the present day.
Pomsel was born in Berlin in 1911 and interestingly enough, her first tryst with the real world was an apprenticeship under a Jewish wholesale manufacturer in 1926, right after she finished school.
She later worked under a Jewish lawyer as a stenographer and as a typist for a nationalist. She later joined the Nazi party and used her connections to get herself a job as secretary in the broadcasting station of the Third Reich in 1933.
After the fall of Berlin in 1945, Pomsel spent five years in prison and started working with the German Broadcasting Corporation after her release.
Brunhilde Pomsel, Göbbels’s Secretary and Witness to Nazis’ Fall, Dies at 106
By Robert D. McFadden
The New York Times
30 January 2017
Brunhilde Pomsel, the personal stenographer of the Nazi propaganda minister Josef Göbbels during the last three years of World War II and one of the last surviving members of Hitler’s retinue in his final days in a Berlin Bunker, died on Friday at her home in Munich. She was 106.
Her death was confirmed by Christian Krönes, a director of "A German Life", a documentary film about Ms. Pomsel. Mr. Krönes said family members told him of the death.
A trusted Nazi Party loyalist, Ms. Pomsel was the private secretary of Göbbels from 1942 until the war’s end in 1945, taking his dictation and transcribing documents, letters, diary entries and other business of that virulently anti-Semitic propaganda chief, who rigidly controlled the news media, the arts, radio broadcasting and films in Nazi Germany.
In Berlin’s Swastika-draped Sportpalast in 1943, when Göbbels gave his most famous speech, acknowledging publicly for the first time —after the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad— that the nation faced serious dangers, calling for "total war" and hinting at a vast extermination of Jews that was already underway, Ms. Pomsel sat near the front, just behind her boss’s wife, Magda Göbbels.
“No actor could have been any better at the transformation from a civilized serious person into a ranting, rowdy man,” Ms. Pomsel told 'The Guardian' in one of several interviews at the time the film was released seven decades later. “In the office, he had a kind of noble elegance, and then to see him there like a raging midget — you just can’t imagine a greater contrast".
In an interview with "The New York Times" that was conducted in German in Munich she said:
"I was a little bit afraid of the whole thing", referring to the film. "They told me that they were preparing something for perpetuity for which things needed to be recorded, and I thought that made sense.
"Many people — the press, novelists — have been willing to report from their perspectives", she said. "Now it was my turn".
Ms. Pomsel was hardly oblivious to the persecution of Jews and other political undesirables. She saw brutalities and roundups in the streets, and she knew that her vivacious, red-haired Jewish friend, Eva Löwenthal, had disappeared and that a popular announcer on the state radio where she had formerly worked had been arrested for being gay.
"The whole country was as if under a kind of spell", she recalled. "I could open myself up to the accusations that I wasn’t interested in politics, but the truth is that idealism of youth might easily have led you to having your neck broken".”
Among the thousands of documents that crossed her desk, she remembered the dossier of Sophie Scholl, a leader of the anti-Nazi White Rose resistance movement. Ms. Scholl was executed for high treason in 1943 after distributing antiwar leaflets at the University of Munich.
"I was told by one of Göbbels’s special assistants to put it in the safe and not to look at it", she said of the dossier. "So I didn’t and was quite pleased with myself that he trusted me and that my keenness to honor that trust was stronger than my curiosity to open that file".
In late April 1945, as Soviet forces closed in on the heart of Berlin and it was clear the war had been lost, Ms. Pomsel and other staffers joined Mrs. Göbbels and her six children in the "Vorbunker" under the Reich Chancellery. Hitler was in a deeper "Führerbunker", and most of his inner circle — Göbbels, Göring, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Bormann and Speer — joined him there for a bitter farewell.
"It felt as if something inside me had died", Ms. Pomsel recalled. "We tried to make sure we didn’t run out of alcohol. That was urgently needed in order to retain the numbness".
Later, most occupants of the Führer’s bunker slipped away, singly and in small groups. Some escaped, and others were killed or captured by the Russians. Hitler and Göbbels, his designated heir, stayed behind. On 30 April, Ms. Pomsel recalled, Günther Schwägermann, a Goebbels aide, told the staff that Hitler and Eva Braun, after a marriage ceremony, had committed suicide.
A day later, Schwägermann reported that Göbbels had killed himself.
"We asked him: 'And his wife as well?'
"And the children too?"
Ms. Pomsel had often seen the children at the office, excited to visit their father at work. She had let them play with her typewriter. The oldest was 12. They were polite, curtsying, shaking hands.
"We were dumbstruck", she said.
Investigators later determined that Göbbels had arranged for a dentist to inject each of the children with morphine. When they were unconscious, Magda Göbbels, assisted by her husband’s doctor, had crushed ampuls of cyanide into their mouths.
Ms. Pomsel and the staff made a large white flag from food sacks in the Bunker and surrendered to the Russians. Under interrogation, she acknowledged her role in the Propaganda Ministry and served five years in Russian prison camps around Berlin.
Like Hitler’s last private secretary, Traudl Junge, Ms. Pomsel insisted that she had been ignorant of Nazi atrocities during the war. She said it was not until after her return home from imprisonment that she learned of the Holocaust, which she called "the matter of the Jews".
She found work at a new state radio station in Berlin, became secretary to the program director and followed him to Munich when he was transferred there. She was paid well, traveled and retired in 1971 at age 60. She never married, had no children and lived the rest of her life in Munich.
She gave interviews to the German newspaper "Bild" in 2011, and to "The Guardian", and "The Times" last year to coincide with the release of "A German Life", a 113-minute documentary, based on 30 hours of interviews, that had its premiere at the Munich Film Festival.
In the interviews and film, she sometimes contradicted herself. She told the newspapers that she had joined the Nazi Party when Hitler took power in 1933, but in the film she said that she had joined in 1942 to get the job with Göbbels. In the film she carefully minimized her Nazi associations, but with the newspapers she was far less guarded.
Still, she was consistently unrepentant, saying she had nothing to apologize for.
"No", she told the filmmakers, "I wouldn’t see myself as being guilty. Unless you end up blaming the entire German population for ultimately enabling that government to take control. That was all of us, including me".
Brunhilde Pomsel was born in Berlin on 11 January 1911, the only daughter among four children of strict Prussian parents. She attended public schools and became a stenographer for a Jewish lawyer and a typist for a right-wing nationalist.
In 1933, a Nazi friend got her a job in the news department of the state radio station in Berlin. Nine years later she joined the Propaganda Ministry, working in an ante-room outside Göbbels’s office at the Ordenspalais, opposite Hitler’s Reich Chancellery.
Small, manicured and a notorious womanizer, Göbbels limped on a deformed right foot. He had adored Hitler since the mid-1920s and had organized torchlight parades, the Nuremberg party rallies, and the brownshirts and Nazi agitators who smashed Jewish businesses and attacked Jews in the streets. He was a fanatic diarist, dictating up to 85 pages a day, to be transcribed by his secretary and senior confidants like Werner Naumann, who handled sensitive materials.
Ms. Pomsel was once invited to dinner at the Göbbels' villa and seated next to her boss, a raconteur who regaled the table. "If I had been a movie star, he probably would have dazzled me with charm", she said. "He didn’t even ask me whether I liked it there or whether I had relatives fighting in the war". [Two of her three brothers had died in battle]. "He did not speak to me at all, not even one word".
At the office he was formal and distant. She said her duties, besides dictation and typescripts, included writing reports that understated Nazi casualties and exaggerated rapes of German women by Red Army soldiers. But she said she never had access to information about Nazi war crimes.
"We knew that Buchenwald existed", she told "The Times". "We knew it as a camp. We knew Jews went there. I witnessed the deportation of Jews from Berlin". But she said the staff was told that deported Jews would repopulate lands to the east that were being abandoned by refugees.
As for gas chambers and crematories, she told "The Guardian": "I know no one ever believes us nowadays — everyone thinks we knew everything. We knew nothing. It was all a well-kept secret. We believed it. We swallowed it. It seemed entirely plausible".
In retirement, Ms. Pomsel lived in a Munich suburb. In 2005, she went to Berlin to see the new Holocaust Memorial to six million Jews killed in the war, and she inquired about her long-lost friend.
"I went to the information center and told them I myself was missing someone — an Eva Löwenthal,” she said. A man checked records and found that she had been deported to Auschwitz in November 1943 and declared dead in 1945.
I cannot credit at all one final scene, showing General Helmut Weidling, the city's Kampfkommandant, driving round Berlin in a loudspeaker van roaring that Hitler has committed suicide and betrayed his men.
On 2 May, General Weidling had his Chief-of-Staff, Colonel Theodor von Dufving, arrange a meeting with General Vasily Chuikov. Weidling told the Soviets about the suicides of Hitler and Göbbels, and Chuikov demanded complete capitulation.
Per Chuikov's direction, Weidling put his surrender order in writing. The document written by Weidling read as follows:
"On 30 April 1945, the Führer committed suicide, and thus abandoned those who had sworn loyalty to him. According to the Führer's order, you German soldiers would have had to go on fighting for Berlin despite the fact that our ammunition has run out and despite the general situation which makes our further resistance meaningless. I order the immediate cessation of resistance. Every hour you keep on fighting prolongs the suffering of the civilians in Berlin and of our wounded. Together with the commander-in-chief of the Soviet forces I order you to stop fighting immediately. Weidling, General of Artillery, former District Commandant in the defence of Berlin".
The meeting between Weidling and Chuikov ended at 8:23 am on 2 May 1945. Later that same day, Weidling even recorded his surrender order for Red Army sound trucks to broadcast later that same day, and copies of it were distributed to the remaining defenderss. Many surrendered, but some others kept right on shooting. It took the Soviets two more days to completely stamp out resistance.
Escape to the Elbe
3 May 1945
Following Hitlers death, the decision was taken
by the officers and men of Sturmartillerie
Brigade 249 to break out of the doomed capital.
Shortly before midnight on the 3rd, what
remained of the unit fought to the edge of the
city at Spandau. By this time the brigade had
been split into two elements,
the first under Hauptmann Herbert Jaschke
successfully punched their way out to the west.
The second group was not so lucky, and its
survivors fell into Soviet captivity
On the same day the officers commanding the two armies of Army Group Vistula north of Berlin, [General Kurt von Tippelskirch, commander of the German 21st Army and General Hasso von Manteuffel, commander of Third Panzer Army], surrendered to the Western Allies.
On the contrary, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz and the German people were told that "the Führer has fallen in action, defending the Reich capital".
The corresponding radio announcement on 1 May 1945 was actually made by the late Jochen Piechocki, Vertreter der SS im RmfVuP, later better known as Jochen von Lang, my friend the capable "Stern" researcher who discovered the remains of Martin Bormann and Dr Stumpfegger beneath a Berlin street in the 1970s: "Our Führer, Adolf Hitler, has fallen in battle while fighting to the last breath [bis zum letzen Atemzug]".
Hitler has died in Berlin. This was announced on the German radio last night of 1 May by Admiral Dönitz, who has been appointed his successor. The news was given to the German people in the following terms:
From the Führer's headquarters it is announced that our Führer, Adolf Hitler, this afternoon at his command post in the Reich Chancellery, fighting till his last breath against Bolshevism, fell for Germany.
On 30 April the Führer appointed Admiral of the Fleet Dönitz his successor. The Admiral and successor of the Führer will now speak to the German people.
In his speech, Admiral Dönitz said:
German men and women, soldiers of the German Wehrmacht, our Führer, Adolf Hitler, has fallen. In deepest sorrow and reverence the German people bows. He recognized the terrible danger of Bolshevism at an early date and dedicated his existence to this struggle. The end of this, his struggle, and of his unswerving straight path of life, is marked by his heroic death in the capital of the Reich. His life was one single service for Germany. His action in fighting against the Bolshevist springtide was waged beyond that, for Europe and the entire civilized world.
The Führer has appointed me his successor. Conscious of this responsibility I am taking over the leadership of the German people in this grave hour of destiny. My first task is to save the German people from annihilation by the advancing Bolshevist enemy. The military struggle continues only with this aim. Inasmuch, and as long as, the attainment of this aim is being hindered by the British and the Americans, we shall have to continue to defend ourselves against them as well, and shall have to continue to fight against them. The Anglo-Americans will then continue the war no longer for their own peoples but only to further the spread of Bolshevism in Europe.
The fighting achievements of the German people in this war and the suffering in the homeland is unique in history. During this time of the plight of our people I shall endeavor as far as it is in my power to create bearable conditions of life for our brave women, men and children. For all this, I need your help. Grant me your confidence, for your path is also my path. Maintain order and discipline in town and country. May everyone fulfil his duty at his post. Only thus shall we be able to mitigate the sufferings which the coming period will bring to each one of us and to prevent the collapse. If we do all that is in our power, God will not forsake us after so much suffering and sacrifice.
In his last Will and Testament, dated 29 April 1945, Hitler named Dönitz his successor as Staatsoberhaupt [Head of State], with the titles of Reichspräsident [President] and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The same document named Propaganda Minister Josef Göbbels as Head of Government with the title of Reichskanzler [Chancellor]. Furthermore, Hitler expelled both Göring and Himmler from the party.
Rather than designate one person to succeed him as Führer, Hitler reverted to the old arrangement in the Weimar Constitution. He believed the leaders of the air force (Luftwaffe) and SS (Schutzstaffel) had betrayed him. Since the Kriegsmarine had been too small to affect the war in a major way, its commander, Dönitz, became the only possible successor as far as Hitler was concerned more or less by default.
On 1 May, the day after Hitler's own suicide, Göbbels committed suicide. Dönitz thus became the sole representative of the crumbling German Reich. He appointed Finance Minister Graf Ludwig Schwerin von Krosigk as "Leading Minister" [Krosigk had declined to accept the title of Chancellor], and they attempted to form a government.
On 1 May, Dönitz announced that Hitler had fallen and had appointed him as his successor.
Dönitz Takes German Helm
Madera Tribune, Number 54
2 May 1945
LONDON, May 2—Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said today there was some evidence that Adolf Hitler had died of a brain hemorrhage instead of a hero’s death in battle as the Nazis claimed. The statement by Eisenhower was the first from any Allied official to shed light on the mystery of Hitler’s reported death. Eisenhower said the enemy claim that Hitler died fighting the Russians in Berlin was "in contradiction of facts" given by Heinrich Himmler at a conference with Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden at Lübeck eight days ago. Even though this version of Hitler’s death was based on Nazi information, it had the merit of coming to Eisenhower through Bernadotte, a neutral. Observers were inclined to put more credence in the Himmler version than in the melodramatic account broadcast by the Hamburg Radio yesterday. Himmler admitted that Germany was finished, Eisenhower said in the official confirmation of the Lübeck conference Bernadotte said in Stockholm yesterday that he could make no disclosure of his activity as the reported intermediary in Nazi-Allied negotiations. Dönitz was reported already to have ousted Joachim von Ribbentrop as foreign minister in what may be the first move toward trying to save Germany from further battering.
Radio Hamburg said Dönitz had appointed Count Ludwig Schwerin von Krosigk, 58-year-old nephew of the late Kaiser Wilhelm, to the foreign ministership. The move, coming only 24 hours after the same station announced that Adolf Hitler had been killed at his "command post in Berlin" yesterday, broke up the all-Nazi front in the top German ministries. Whether it also was the first step toward setting up a non-Nazi government that would sue for peace was something no authoritative source could say, Schwerin von Krosigk was minister of finance in Hitler’s government, but was not a member of the Nazi party and had been active in German politics long before Hitler’s entrance. He was educated in English, Swiss and Gorman universities and first joined the German government in 1924. He became head of the German budget department in 1929 and served in the von Papen and Schleicher cabinets before Hitler came into power. Radio Hamburg, voice of the new Dönitz government, made no mention of Ribbentrop’s fate, but it was noteworthy that neither he nor Propaganda Minister Paul Josef Göbbels had been mentioned in recent German broadcasts.
On 2 May, the new government of the Reich fled to Flensburg-Mürwik before the approaching British troops. That night, Dönitz made a nationwide radio address in which he announced Hitler's death and said the war would continue in the east "to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevik enemy".
Dönitz would later write: "Of his suicide I knew nothing. Nor from the assessment of his character that I had formed did I for a moment think of suicide as a possibility. I assumed that he had met his end seeking death in battle in Berlin. I felt therefore that the announcement of his death should be couched in respectful terms".
-- Karl Dönitz, "Memoirs: A Documentary of the Nazi Twilight" [New York: Belmont Books, 1961]
In a broadcast to the German people on 2 May 1945, Schwerin von Krosigk became one of the first commentators to refer to an "Iron Curtain" across Europe, a phrase he had picked up from an article by Josef Göbbels and which was later made famous by Winston Churchill.
"Over all this territory, which with the Soviet Union included, would be of enormous extent, an iron curtain would at once descend". [Josef Göbbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, in the 25 February 1945, issue of "Das Reich"].
The "Oxford English Dictionary" cites another Göbbels example in which the German word "Vorhang" is translated by the "Times of London" as "screen" instead of "curtain". [Two German dictionaries translate it as "curtain"].
In the 23 February 1945, issue of the "Times", Göbbels is quoted as saying: "If the German people lay down their arms, the whole of eastern and south-eastern Europe, together with the Reich, would come under Russian occupation. Behind an iron screen [ein eiserner Vorhang] mass butcheries of peoples would begin".
Dönitz knew Germany's position was untenable and the Wehrmacht was no longer capable of offering meaningful resistance. During his brief period in office, he devoted most of his effort to ensuring the loyalty of the German armed forces and trying to ensure German troops would surrender to the British or Americans and not the Soviets. He feared vengeful Soviet reprisals, and hoped to strike a deal with the western Allies. In the end, Dönitz's tactics were moderately successful, enabling about 1.8 million German soldiers to escape Soviet capture.
The rapidly advancing Allied forces limited the Dönitz government's jurisdiction to an area around Flensburg near the Danish border. Dönitz's headquarters were located in the Naval Academy in Mürwik, a suburb of Flensburg. Accordingly, his administration was referred to as the Flensburg government.
Late on 1 May, Himmler attempted to make a place for himself in the Flensburg government. The following is Dönitz's description of his showdown with Himmler:
"At about midnight he arrived, accompanied by six armed SS officers, and was received by my aide-de-camp, Walter Lüdde-Neurath. I offered Himmler a chair and sat down at my desk, on which lay, hidden by some papers, a pistol with the safety catch off. I had never done anything of this sort in my life before, but I did not know what the outcome of this meeting might be.
"I handed Himmler the telegram containing my appointment. 'Please read this,' I said. I watched him closely. As he read, an expression of astonishment, indeed of consternation, spread over his face. All hope seemed to collapse within him. He went very pale. Finally he stood up and bowed. 'Allow me,' he said, 'to become the second man in your state'. I replied that was out of the question and that there was no way I could make any use of his services.
"Thus advised, he left me at about one o'clock in the morning. The showdown had taken place without force, and I felt relieved".
— Karl Dönitz, as quoted in "The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan" by Hans Dollinger
A day later, Dönitz sent Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, his successor as the commander in chief of the Kriegsmarine, to U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters in Rheims, France, to negotiate a surrender to the Allies. The Chief of Staff of OKW, Generaloberst [Colonel-General] Alfred Jodl, arrived a day later. Dönitz had instructed them to draw out the negotiations for as long as possible so that German troops and refugees could surrender to the Western powers, but when Eisenhower let it be known he would not tolerate their stalling, Dönitz authorised Jodl to sign the instrument of unconditional surrender at 1:30 on the morning of 7 May. Just over an hour later, Jodl signed the documents. The surrender documents included the phrase, "All forces under German control to cease active operations at 23:01 hours Central European Time on 8 May 1945". At Stalin's insistence, on 8 May, shortly before midnight, [Generalfeldmarschall] Wilhelm Keitel repeated the signing in Berlin at Marshal Georgiy Zhukov's headquarters, with General Carl Spaatz of the USAAF present as Eisenhower's representative. At the time specified, World War II in Europe ended.
On 23 May, the Dönitz government was dissolved when Großadmiral Dönitz was arrested by an RAF Regiment task force under the command of Squadron Leader Mark Hobden. Generaloberst Jodl, Reichsminister Speer and other members were also handed over to troops of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry at Flensburg.
What is remarkable is that the Adolf Hitler masterfully portrayed in this film is allowed on three or four occasions to deliver compelling National Socialist propaganda speeches to his audience which, I estimate, will not be without effect on ordinary Germans [to borrow Professor Christopher Browning's eloquent phrase].
The real National Socialism was not what it had become by 1945. It was something else, purer, infinitely less criminal, and infinitely more idealistic. Hitler's personal adjutant Alwin-Broder Albrecht wrote this in his last letter [his widow showed it to me], before storming out of the Chancellery building after the Chief's death with a blazing sub-machine gun in his hands, and going down in a hail of Russian bullets. Hitler too makes plain his regrets about this deviation from his original National Socialist ideal, in brief monologues in the film.
So my verdict on the film is this: Must Try Harder. "Downfall" is a good attempt, and great entertainment if you like that sort of thing; not a tear-jerker [like "Hitler's War", according to my friend David Kahn] but an innovational film. It has brilliant, indeed intimidating, all-around sound effects of the Battle for Berlin, and wonderful and accurate portrayals of both Hitler and his secretary Traudl Junge; but a jerky, wooden script, which takes liberties with history and the real characters. There are too many helpings of P.C. and of undiluted Schlock; too much "Hitlerjunge Quex" [the prewar non-Göbbels movie, in which the grand music of the Horst Wessel Lied swells from the screen as the film's young hero, mercilessly beaten by communists, dies giving the Hitler salute].
Stephen Spielberg would have done it better.
The massaging of history
The film "Downfall" relies on memoirs written by Hitler's allies to distance themselves from Nazism
David Cesarani and Peter Longerich
7 April 2005
The film "Downfall" has received terrific reviews in this country and has already been seen by four and a half million Germans. It has clearly struck a chord with the popular mood in Germany and feelings about the Nazi past.
This should come as no surprise. The brilliant portrayal of Hitler by Bruno Ganz exposes him as a repellent human being devoid of concern about the misery into which he led his people. The film thus panders to the tendency of Germans to see themselves as victims of Nazism and war rather than perpetrators.
A self-pitying attitude has always been present in German attempts at "coming to terms" with the Nazi past, but it has been expressed with increasing stridency over the last two decades. It provides the key for understanding how history is massaged by Downfall's makers.
The film's producer, Bernd Eichinger, and director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, claim they are merely excavating a suppressed history and that they sourced every major scene from historical texts. The script draws on books later written by survivors of the Führer Bunker, notably the memoir of Traudl Junge, Hitler's last secretary, but also Albert Speer and an SS doctor, Ernst Günther Schenck.
In fact they have reworked the evidence and omitted crucial information. Traudl Junge appears in the film's opening scene in 1942 as a fresh-faced and apolitical 22-year-old who is engaged by Hitler because she comes from his beloved Munich. The audience never learns that her background was saturated in Nazism.
Her father was a fanatical nationalist who fought in the rightwing Freikorps in the early 1920s. For participating in Hitler's abortive putsch in 1923 he earned the Nazi "Blood Order" medal. Although he was estranged from Traudl for many years, they were reunited in 1936, by which time he was security director in an armaments factory and held SS officer rank.
Traudl herself enrolled in the Nazi League of German Girls in 1935, and in 1938 joined the elite Faith and Beauty organisation. Its mission was "to bring young women up to pass on the National Socialist philosophy of life". She was an activist in other Nazi organisations too. Although she did not formally join the Nazi party until 1944, by the time she started working for Hitler she had impeccable ideological and political credentials.
Perhaps to maintain her image as a virginal witness, the film passes over her 1943 marriage to Hans Junge, who joined the SS-Leibstandarte, Hitler's personal guard, in 1933, and served as Hitler's orderly for three years. He was killed fighting with the Waffen-SS in Normandy in 1944. So when her eyes widen while Hitler rants about "international Jewry" it can hardly be out of surprise at his lethal rhetoric.
In June 1943, Traudl married Hitler's SS aide Hans Junge - just three months after she had stated that she "had no interest in men". The fact that they both worked close to Hitler enabled Hans Junge to - finally, after several pleas - get away from Hitler's entourage for a frontline duty in the ranks of the Waffen SS. He was killed a year later when a British plane strafed his company in Normandy in August 1944.
Hitler and other Nazi leaders "practically never mentioned the word Jew" during scores of meetings she attended, Junge said. Instead, she recalls life in Hitler's inner circle as a "harmless and peaceful atmosphere" — except during the chaotic final days when the Red Army moved in on his Berlin Bunker and Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945.
Her reaction is as unlikely as the sight of Albert Speer, in another scene, shifting uncomfortably when Hitler congratulates himself on having cleansed Germany of the "Jewish poison".
Almost the only voices in the Bunker protesting against Hitler's inhumanity come from Waffen-SS members. We see Schenck, after toiling heroically in the underground field hospital, looking shocked at the antics of Hitler's entourage. He repeatedly asks why officers should obey the Führer's orders unto death.
We are not told that Schenck had earlier served in the Waffen-SS on the eastern front or that, more damningly, after the war Munich University refused to reinstate him to his chair.
Most astonishingly, Waffen-SS General Wilhelm Mohnke is depicted as a humanitarian pleading with Hitler to evacuate civilians and arguing with Göbbels against the suicidal deployment of poorly armed militia against the Red Army.
This is the same Mohnke whose Waffen-SS unit massacred 80 captured British soldiers outside Dunkirk in May 1940. He later led a Waffen-SS regiment in Normandy that murdered more than 60 surrendered Canadian troops.
In one dramatic encounter, Mohnke protests to Göbbels against the pointless sacrifice of aged militia men. Göbbels retorts that they had consented to Nazi rule and "now their little throats are going to be cut". The effect is to engender contempt for the heartless Nazi propaganda chief and sympathy for his hapless victims who were hoodwinked into giving their mandate to a gang of murderous thugs.
As the Red Army approached Berlin, Bruno Ritter von Hauenschild was given command of the Berlin Defense Area, prior to the actual start of the Battle for Berlin. He was relieved of command of the Berlin Defense Area on 6 March. Hauenschild was replaced by Lieutenant-General [Generalleutnant] Helmuth Reymann.
When he entered Berlin, Reymann found that he had inherited almost nothing from his predecessor, von Hauenschild. Reymann realized that Hitler and Josef Göbbels had ruled that any defeatist talk would lead to immediate execution. No plans were drawn up to evacuate the civilian population which remained in the city.
By 21 April, Josef Göbbels, as Reich Commissioner for Berlin, ordered that "no man capable of bearing arms may leave Berlin". Only Reymann, as commander of the Berlin Defense Area, could issue an exemption. Senior Nazi Party officials, who readily condemned members of the army for retreating, rushed to Reymann's headquarters for the necessary authorizations to leave. Reymann was happy to sign over 2,000 passes to get rid of the "armchair warriors". Reymann's Chief-of-Staff, Hans Refior, commented: "The rats are leaving the sinking ship".
Reymann, steadfastly protested the order to occupy defensive positions with mere children; for expressing his concerns and for his for his 'defeatism' he was subsequently relieved of command by Hitler, on 22 April. and replaced him with newly promoted Major-General Ernst Käther who was the former Chief-of-Staff to the chief political commissar of the German Army [Heer].
However, Käther never actually took command of Berlin's defenses for the Battle of Berlin. Before he could take command, Hitler cancelled his promotions and Käther was replaced by General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling on 23 April. For a brief period between Käther and Weidling, when the first Soviet units entered the suburbs of Berlin, and there was no German commander to coordinate the city's defenses, Hitler himself took personal command of the Berlin defenses. Another newly promoted Generalmajor, Erich Bärenfänger, was Hitler's "deputy" commander of the Berlin Defense Area during this brief period.
The Soviets progress into Berlin was blocked by groups of Hitler Youth along with elderly Volkssturm troops, armed mostly with the Panzerfaust, an oversized one-shot antitank grenade launcher, sometimes called the "Foot Stuka" after the Stuka tank-buster aircraft. Many German commanders had refused to commit Hitler Youth to battle, feeling it would be irresponsible and dishonorable to send kids out to be slaughtered, but the defenders fought stubbornly until they were overwhelmed.
When Weidling discovered that a major part of the last line of the German defences in Berlin were "manned" by Hitler Youth, he ordered German Youth Leader [Reichsjugendführer] Artur Axmann to disband the Hitler Youth combat formations in the city. But, in the confusion, his order was never carried out. In the end, many German youths did die defending Berlin.
Weidling remained in command of Berlin's defenses to the end and ultimately surrendered the city on 2 May to Soviet General Vasily Chuikov.
However, the scene is invented. The only source is the postwar memoir of Hans Fritzsche, who served in the Nazi propaganda ministry. Fritzsche claimed to have heard these words at the last Göbbels press conference, not addressed to Mohnke.
Yet this fabrication goes to the heart of the film's mission, which is to depict the German people as the last victims of Nazism whose true defenders were a band of brave German soldiers, including SS men, who fought until overwhelmed by the Bolshevik hordes.
This is no accident. The film's agenda echoes the Historikerstreit controversy in the late 1980s over interpretations of the Third Reich, and parallels the efforts of former Chancellor Kohl to allow Germans to feel comfortable with their past.
Although Kohl has gone, his legacy informs this film. His precipitate union of West and East Germany in 1990 left a deeply divided nation. He understood that in the search for a national identity one thing all Germans could share is a history of suffering under allied aerial bombardment and the onslaught of the Red Army on eastern Germany.
The popularity of "Downfal" capitalizes on the success of recent publications about the bombing of German cities and the dreadful experience of civilians overrun by the Red Army. These horrors are undeniable, but the use of memoirs intended to distance their authors from Nazism by depicting Hitler's clique as contemptible reinforces the sense of Germans as guileless victims. Is the belligerent self-pity fostered by "Downfall" becoming a new form of German nationalism?
-- David Cesarani is research professor in history at Royal Holloway, University of London, where Professor Peter Longerich is director of the center for research on the Holocaust and 20th-century history.
Bunker film 'is too kind to Nazis'
Historians accept human portrayal of Hitler, but say crimes of inner circle ignored
7 April 2005
Historians have condemned "Downfall", the new film about the last days of Hitler, for its sympathetic portrayal of characters in the Bunker.
"Soldiers who appeared to be good, solid troops were probably really up to their necks in war crimes of the first order," said Professor David Cesarani, a specialist in Jewish history.
Peter Longerich, professor of modern German history at Royal Holloway, University of London, criticized the characterization of Albert Speer, the doctor Ernst-Günter Schenck and Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge. "We have only one source for Albert Speer's claim that he confessed in the Bunker to having sabotaged Hitler's orders, and that is his own memoirs," he said.
"Traudl Junge never admitted she was a member of the Nazi party; but of course she was a member of Nazi organizations - far from the innocent, naive young woman we see in the film. And Dr Schenck was involved in performing various experiments on people in concentration camps".
Prof Cesarani said: "As for [Wilhelm] Mohnke, I never thought I would see a film that portrayed sympathetically a man who was responsible for a massacre of British troops outside Dunkirk; just one of the things he did."
But the director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, said at a discussion in London: "We decided anything you saw in the film had to be based on actual accounts. When it comes to the meeting between Hitler and Speer, Speer's account is all we have. It was never proven that Schenck was involved in experiments."
Hirschbiegel added that it had never been proved that Mohnke was responsible for a massacre of British men.
Prof Cesarani praised Bruno Ganz's portrayal of Hitler, which some criticized for being "too human". But he said the film had "almost capitulated to the Nazi myth of the Germans holding back the eastern hordes", and there was a whiff of "victim culture" about the film, "emblematic of a certain current mood in Germany".
In the media the question of whether Hitler was really dead
was eclipsed by the question of how he had died.
The "New York Times" of 2 May 1945, was at the least sceptical
end of the spectrum, asserting in its editorial column that
"there seems to be no good reason to doubt that Hitler
…died as the [German] announcement says he did".
The editorial made the point that such a death would have helped
"perpetuate the legend which formed the core of Nazi propaganda
and by which [Hitler] rose to power— the legend that he and the
Nazis were shining knights in armor fighting for European
civilization against Bolshevism—'to their last breath'.
Hirschbiegel denied that. "There is no way the Germans can underplay the worst crime that ever happened in mankind ... but there was a certain aspect of heroism derived from the fighters ... There is some nobility in it, even. I wanted to supply a picture of humanity."
Matthias Matussek, who heads the London bureau of German magazine "Der Spiegel", said: "I couldn't agree less with the idea that Germany was trying to whiten the war. I wish in Britain there was an equal effort to deal with their past. [The UK] is obsessed with the German past in relation to the war, in a triumphalist way".
Film showing Hitler's soft side stirs controversy
"The Downfall" aims to portray three-dimensional German leader
16 September 2004
MAINZ, Germany — A new film portraying Adolf Hitler as both a delusional madman and an occasionally softer father figure premiered in Germany on Thursday. But it has already triggered a furious public debate about whether it's the right time to break one of the nation's last taboos — showing the Nazi leader as a human being.
"Der Untergang" or "The Downfall," a film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and produced by Bernd Eichinger, takes a less historic and more personal approach toward the topic of Germany's Nazi past, one that German filmmakers have hesitated to touch until now.
“The Downfall” portrays the last 12 days in the life of the Hitler, and is told from the point of view of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's personal secretaries. It is based in parts on Junge's biography and also the book, "The Downfall," by historian Joachim Fest.
Parts of the film portray Hitler as a psychopath, wandering the corridors of the Bunker below the streets of Berlin, ignorant to the collapse of his empire and to the suffering population above his head.
Yet, the audience is also shown a charming side of Hitler, a man who shows moments of kindness toward his female staff.
Hitler is played by 63-year-old Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who critics say is able to produce a photographic resemblance of the Austrian-born dictator.
Ganz displays a great command of the awkward Bavarian-Austrian accent which Hitler spoke and manages to give a natural edge to Hitler's notorious outbursts.
Showing Hitler with a permanent stoop, trembling from Parkinson's disease, Ganz plays a deteriorating character, resembling both the breakdown of a human being and the system Hitler created.
Ganz admits that he probably played the most challenging role of his life. "It became a threshold I had to cross, and then I was there," he said.
"What we are trying to do is give Hitler a three-dimensional portrait, because we know from all accounts that he was a very charming man," said director Oliver Hirschbiegel. "A man who managed to seduce a whole people into barbarism".
Yet, German film magazines and newspapers have been debating over the past couple of months whether the country is ready for such a portrayal, one that could provoke sympathy for the dictator.
On Thursday, Germany's "Frankfurter Rundschau" daily published an interview with Niklas Frank, the son of Hitler's former general governor to Poland, who tried to explain why so many Germans were seduced by Hitler.
"The film shows very well that Hitler was not only crazy. He had a human side, which was likeable at times," Frank said. "I could have watched Bruno Ganz as Hitler incessantly," Frank said.
Leading German news magazines, like "Der Spiegel" and "Stern", devoted entire cover stories to the movie, and Germany's tabloid newspaper "Bild" asked, "Are we allowed to show the monster as a human being?"
Yes, said Bernd Eichinger, one of Germany's top directors, who wrote the screenplay for the movie.
"Some day, we have to be capable of telling our own history," he said.
Ganz agreed. "If I would not have felt sympathy for the character and would not have managed to make the audience feel sympathy for the creature Hitler, then I would have failed in my job as an actor".
The latest manifestation of Hitler, is for Rasayana, the anti-stress tea.
It might be overstating it to suggest Hitler would have been a totally different dude if he were more of a tea drinker,
but you never know.....
"In Hitler’s Bunker in Berlin we found even Russian Vodka …"
Captain of State Security Kostyantyn Bogomazov was one of the first to know about Hitler’s suicide and personally interrogated the doctor, who witnessed the killing of the Göbbels’ children in an underground Bunker.
"On 1 May, 1 we had got to know about the suicide of Hitler from German General Krebs"
At night of 1 May I was urgently summoned to Head of the Central SMERSH Operative Group of the 1st Belorussian Front General Melnikov. He said, that Chief of General Staff of the German land forces General Krebs had arrived to the command post of the Vasyl Chuikov‘s Eighth Guards Army, ostensibly to negotiate a truce. At Chuikov’s invitation we had to come quickly to participate in the negotiations and their documentation. On the eve of Berlin assault according to the special instruction there was created the Central Task Force, which had to identify, arrest, interrogate the senior Nazi criminals, so that none of them would avoid shouldering the responsibility. I was appointed the head of the investigative unit of the group. At the command post we learned that Krebs had come on behalf of Göbbels and delivered a letter from him. The letter stated that on 30 April at 3.50 p.m. the Führer had voluntarily died and bequeathed all his power to Dönitz, Göbbels and Bormann. The Hitler’s will was attached as well as a list of the new imperial government, which the Nazi leaders supposedly wanted to create in exchange for a cessation of hostilities. To our arrival Chuikov had already reported everything to Zhukov, who sent his deputy Army General Sokolovsky to negotiate.
On the one hand, there was joy that the evil had finally ceased to exist, but, on the other hand, – it was regrettable, that they had failed to take him alive and to punish in public. Indeed, many of our Central Operational Group members dreamed to participate in the Führer’s detention, but it was not on. Later I got to hear Stalin’s reaction to the news. When Zhukov had reported the news to him with a telephone call, he said: "Now you’ve done it, the bastard! It is a pity that they couldn’t take him alive". And then he asked where the Hitler’s body was. Zhukov referring to the first Krebs’ evidence said, that the corpse had been burned.
Upon Sokolovsky’s arrival Krebs was brought in. There were a couple of people with him. We listened to their suggestions. They came down to the fact, that all parties would cease hostilities and allow Dönitz to form a new government in Berlin, which would negotiate the surrender of Germany. It looked like something unreal and caused us to feel a profound sense of outrage. What negotiations? What conditions? There was one step before the victory, one final assault. The fighting has gone in the streets of Berlin. Therefore, Sokolovsky gave a requirement of our command for unconditional surrender. Krebs said he was not authorized to decide the problem in such presentation. In the course of negotiations Sokolovsky went to another room to consult by phone with Zhukov. Eventually he gave Krebs the following requirement: if till 10.00 a.m. the consent to complete and unconditional surrender was not obtained, then Berlin would suffer a devastating blow. Our representatives also talked about the senselessness of victims, appealed to the sense of responsibility of Hitler’s generals for the fate of the German people. As it turned out, all those arguments were in vain. Göbbels had rejected the demand of unconditional surrender, whereat the final assault began.
"During his interrogation, Dr. Kunz told details of the deaths of the Göbbels family"
One of my most important and high-profile assignments, was the investigation of the circumstances of the Hitler’s death. The Central Operational Group consisted of a lot of different units, each of them had to solve different tasks. One of those military search groups, according to witnesses, had found a place of burning of Hitler and Eva Braun and their bodies, and the other one – a personal dentist, who had identified Hitler’s jaw. Then there had been carried out the examination, other tests, as so many mentioned in the press. I personally questioned the Führer’s nurse and personal Göbbels family physician Dr. Kunz.
On 3 May, I was informed that some German in plain clothes had come to our location and wanted to provide information of value. I gave orders to bring him to me, and called upon an interpreter. He had appearance of a genteel forty years old man, he said that he was a doctor and knew the facts concerning the deaths of certain Third Reich leaders. In particular, he informed about the Hitler’s suicide, but we already had known about it. Then the doctor told the details regarding the deaths of the Göbbels family. Allegedly, night of 1 to 2 May , when the fierce fighting had been on the Reich Chancellery’s fringes, he was in an underground Bunker. One of the premises was occupied by a large family of Göbbels, and he was their personal physician. When he had been called by Göbbels’ wife, he drew attention to the frightened children and some detached and yet resolute facial expression of their mother. "Now you’ re going to feel a little stick here, – she said, – you fall asleep and will not hear the bombing". Then, having turned to the doctor, she ordered: "Give them an injection of morphine". When the children fell asleep, she said: "And now take ampoules with poison and remove everyone". According to Kunz, surprised and fearful, he had been stunned at first, but then shook his head and said: "I can not". She called him a wimp, then took ampoules with prussic acid and began to put an ampoule every child in the mouth between the teeth and crushed it, gripping their chins. Soon all six were dead. The doctor only stated their death, and after a while he learned that Göbbels with his wife had committed suicide too. Listening to his emotional story, I found myself thinking that he had not still recovered from the horror.
I took down all of his testimony, asked a place of his residence and let him go. The doctor had not committed any crimes, but I immediately reported the information provided to the leadership, and they, in turn, reported to Moscow.
The same day or the next day, I was in Hitler’s Bunker. It was not for conducting a search or any investigation, simply out of curiosity [the engineers and other colleagues had already worked there before us]. I remember corpses still littered at the entrance, sitting or lying wounded German soldiers and officers. We went inside. The Bunker had a lot of well-equipped premises for work and leisure. One of the rooms was especially equipped, apparently, for the bar. There were all kinds of Wine, Brandy, Vodka, including Russian, Schnapps, Champagne. None of us had ever seen such a thing. Instantaneously an idea leaped into someone’s mind: "Let’s drink to victory". They began to open the bottles, but I immediately gave the command to belay that. "And what if all this poisoned", – I shared my suspicions with the guys. Then one of them suggested: "Comrade Captain, let’s give it to the Germans". Immediately we took a few different bottles, opened them and made the Germans drink. Having made sure everything was ok, we got a drink ourselves. Thus, in Hitler’s Bunker I proposed a toast to our victory.
-- Oleksandr Skrypnyk
Press Office of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine
6 May 2006
New discoveries beneath Berlin support the theory
that Hitler escaped at the end of World War II
According to official reports Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and his wife
Eva Braun both committed suicide in Hitler's Bunker to prevent capture
as the Soviet forces descended upon the capital.
Whether this actually happened however has always generated a measure
of controversy, not least because their bodies were burned and eyewitness accounts
of their demise remain questionable. Now new evidence has cast further doubt on the idea that Hitler died that day and suggests instead that he actually escaped Germany
and went on to live out the rest of his life in South America.
Of particular note was the discovery of a false wall in a Berlin subway station that could have been part of the subterranean tunnel network that Hitler
used to flee the city at the end of the war.
In a secret FBI memo, J Edgar Hoover even stated that "American Army officials in Germany have not located Hitler’s body, nor is there any reliable source that will say definitely that Hitler is dead".
A new eight-part documentary series called 'Hunting Hitler', which is due to air on the "History Channel" on 2 November 2015, will cover this alternative series of events in more detail. If Hitler really did escape following the
Soviet advance on Berlin then it would mean that not only did he pull off
one of the most remarkable escapes in history but that he had also managed to
perfectly fake his own death and fool the whole world in the process.
Did Russians keep Hitler's remains, or does anybody know what happened to them?
This is how the [official] story goes...
The Soviets found Hitler’s burned remains in the garden of the Chancellory in Berlin at the end of the war. The remains were not only burned but apparently badly damaged from explosions around the Bunker in the last days of the battle in Berlin. Luckily, the Soviets were able to find 2 of Hitler’s dental assistants and these people were able to give enough details about Hitler’s dental records for the Soviets to make a positive match.
Having identified Hitler’s remains, the Soviets took his remains, as well as the remains of several others including Eva Hitler [née Braun] and after a few stops eventually buried all of the remains together under a bit of tarmac at an NKVD [the proto-KGB] base in a German town of Magdeburg about 2 hours southwest from Berlin.
Apparently this was all kept secret by Stalin and the Soviets. As far as the World knew, Hitler went missing after the war. It was a “juicy bit of info” that Stalin had no reason to share; he knew something that his enemy didn’t, and that can only be a good thing. After all, if the “Western Imperialist World” was wasting valuable resources looking for Hitler that could only benefit the Soviets? Or the Soviets could say the West was sheltering Hitler. They could say all kinds of things if the fate of Hitler was unknown. From Stalin’s view, it was more valuable to have the Hitler-boogeyman “out there plotting”, than to fess up that he was dead and gone.
But in 1968 the Soviets came clean with the details of the finding of Hitler’s remains. Around that time his body was dug up from Magdeburg as well, and most of his rotted remains [as well as those of the others who were buried with him] were ground into powder and dumped into the river at Magdeburg. Only the jawbone that was used to identify him, and a skull fragment [which had actually been found separately "after" the original find] were taken back to Moscow where everything was archived. The “Hitler File” was shared with the US and the Americans were able to double check the Soviet’s identification work.
Turns out the actual dentist who had worked on Hitler was in the US after the war and an X-ray of Hitler’s dental work, dating from 1944, was in the hands of the Americans as well, in the National Archives. So the reports from the dental assistants in 1945 were checked with the testimony of the dentist, and everyone examined the the photos and records of the Hitler jawbone sent by the Russians and compared that to the X-rays from 1944 .. and everything seemed to check out. There were some pretty unique details about Hitler’s dental work [involving a strange bit of bridge work] that seemed to cinch the deal. And that was pretty much that. The Soviets had the last few pieces of the Führer, and the Americans had validated the Soviet identification work.
Time passed. The Hitler pieces were put on show once in 2000 in an exhibit. But then in 2009 the skull fragment was sent to the USA for DNA testing. It came back that it was not the skull of a man, but a woman. But the skull fragment had never been part of the original identification, and had actually been found in a later search at the Bunker, so it was a little less sure than the dental work.
And that is pretty much the current state of affairs. The skull fragment came back false in 2009, but it had never been part of the initial identification process and there are a few different explanation for how a bit of "not-Hitler" could end up mixed in with the "Hitler Bits". The "smoking gun" jawbone pieces are still archived in Moscow. Interestingly, they have not been sent for DNA testing, and apparently there are not any demands for this to happen.
There is one specific thing curious about the whole thing. And that is the fact that there are no pictures of the "finding of the Führer". The Soviets took pictures of everything in Berlin at the end of the war. There are pictures of the Chancellory garden. There are pictures of the exterior of Bunker. There are pictures of the interior of the Bunker. There are pictures of the corpses of Josef and Magda Göbbels [and interestingly they are in pretty good condition, considering they were buried in roughly the same spot as Hitler and Hitler’s body had been so damaged from all the explosions in the garden].
Apparently when the Soviets found Hitler’s remains, nobody took a photo. Nothing for the files. Nothing to say “This is where we found him”. Nothing to say “Here are all the pieces laid out for cataloging purposes”. No close-ups on various bits for later identification purposes.
We have only this .. which is apparently a box containing the Hitler remains.
That is it. That is the only photo we have of Hitler’s remains. But nobody wanted a close-up?
At any rate, people have been poring over this for decades. And the identification procedure is pretty much public record. One can find all kinds of details and reports about it online. And it holds together under even the closest scrutiny. Corroborating testimonies and records and photos and X-rays from two different corners of the world. As far as most people are concerned, that is that.
Even leaving aside any "escape theories" .. the bizarre fact that there are no photos of the actual finding of the man who was the most sought after person in the world at the time leaves room for a small question mark on the whole affair. There is not any kind of reasonable explanation for that, thus, there are some facts about the "end of Hitler" that we will never find out.
Limited And Conflicting Eyewitness Testimony Points to a Cover-Up
The tiny number of witness sightings of the two bodies were almost all from Hitler’s inner, inner sanctum. If he was going to fake his death and leave his most trusted people behind to execute the plan, these are the people he would have picked.
The two main witnesses were Arthur Axmann, leader of the Hitler Youth, and Erich Kempka, Hitler’s chief bodyguard and chauffeur.
Note Axmann's description of Hitler in his last days in the Bunker – April 22-30 – as a "strangely changed man [who] strode up and down the bunker floor almost ceaselessly and spoke to no one, but ‘he was calm'”.
Remember this is one of the most egotistical, intelligent, charismatic, psychopathic, determined and bold people who ever lived. Famous for his temper…and he just shut up?
Not asking for intelligence reports, so he could know how far away the impending doom was? Resigned to his fate, no last words, no great speeches, just going up and down a line shaking hands with people. This strange, silent behavior is consistent with a double [which we know Hitler definitely had], who would have been told "we will come and get you out soon" rather than "we will come and shoot you and burn your bodies".
The part of the story when Hitler came out and shook hands with everyone and thanked them for their service and said he was going to commit suicide tomorrow and then have his body burned, and handed out poison pills for everyone else to do the same, is also bizarre. It smacks of Jonestown or Heaven’s Gate. This must have been the most public, pre-empted murder-suicide pact in history. Did no-one try to talk him out of it? Couldn’t he have just shaved off the moustache, worn a disguise and fled? And why did Eva have to die?
One report from someone who claims to have seen the bodies in situ says that Eva Braun appeared to have been poisoned. Other eye-witnesses said she was shot through the heart and the left hand side of her dress was red, presumably from blood.
Hitler shot himself through the mouth, but had blood on his temples. This also sounds a little peculiar. Then Eva rested with her head on his shoulder. If she took cyanide, she would be spasming on the floor in an agonizing death, not peacefully snuggling the corpse of someone who just literally blew his brains out.
They covered the faces with blankets so that they couldn’t be identified [all that could be seen was the legs showing uniforms and footwear] then carried them out to the courtyard and burned them in a bomb crater with 50 gallons of gasoline.
The 1949 story “Did Evil Hitler Escape?” by Colonel John Stingo details the sketchy evidence for Hitler’s death. This is based on testimony from Erich Kempka and Kranau:
"Hitler called a final conference around noon of 30 April. Nobody knows what was said.
"Immediately at the conclusion of the conference orders were broadcast throughout the Chancellory that everybody, without exception, should repair to their respective shelters and remain there until further orders
"Shortly afterward Kempka, whose station was in Hitler’s Bunker, heard two shots from the direction of Hitler’s room, and an instant later saw the Führer’s valet Linge and an unknown man carry out a body caved in a grey army blanket
"The head and shoulder were hidden, but the rest of the body was plainly visible – it was clad in Hitler’s uniform.
"A few steps behind appeared Bormann, bearing Eva Braun’s body, which was not covered and was easily recognizable. The left side of her dress appeared to Krempka to be darkened, presumably from blood
"The excavation dig found 2 pink slips with Eva Braun’s initials and several typewritten letters form Hitler to Göbbels. They found no trace whatsoever that any part of the Bunker or garden had been used as a crematorium".
Linge, Hitler’s personal valet has another story again:
That would be the Heinz Linge that told the Wehrmacht surgeon-general, Major-General Walter Schreiber, while he was interned for several years in two Soviet POW camps in Strausberg and Posen and had a chance to speak to him about events in the Bunker, that he "…did not see Hitler, but toward the end noticed two bodies wrapped in carpet being carried out of the Bunker..."
And Kempka later told a different story:
Erich Kempka made a statement to American interrogator George R. Allen, the counterintelligence officer of the 101st Airborne. In it, Kempka gave the Americans their first eyewitness account of any of the events connected with the death of the Führer. He said that on 30 of April—although he felt unable to say that this was the date “with complete sureness” – But he could say that at "precisely" 2.30pm, Günsche called him at the Reich Chancellery garage, asking him to bring five cans of petrol to the Bunker. There Günsche told him that Hitler was dead and that he had been ordered to burn the corpse "so that he would not be exhibited at a Russian freak-show". Kempka said he then helped carry the corpses; while Linge and an orderly whom he did not remember were carrying the corpse of Hitler, he carried the corpse of Eva Hitler. Kempka simply assumed that the corpse he had seen Linge carrying was Hitler’s, for he noticed "the long black trousers and the black shoes which the Führer usually wore with his field-gray uniform jacket".
Axmann says that Göbbels led him into the room, where they surveyed the death scene for 15 minutes before Göbbels sent him to get the blankets. Then Kempka moved the bodies out. Kempka says that he heard two gunshots, and saw two bodies being carried out with blankets on them instantly. And then later he says he didn’t hear any shots, and found out about the deaths at precisely 2:30 at the garage, from Günsche. So basically the two main witnesses who survived have wildly conflicting stories. Axmann says the bodies were covered so that guards in the outer areas couldn’t identify them. The only other witness is a guard from the outer area. Kempka says he could only identify the body by the boots.
Of the witnesses only Göbbels and Axmann saw Hitler dead without a blanket over his face [Axmann says Linge did, Linge says he didn’t]. Göbbels and his six kids supposedly committed suicide the next day with cyanide capsules. Bormann, during his attempted escape, died too.
The story of the last-minute wedding is also quite strange. Apparently Eva was in a celebratory mood afterwards, but everyone else was pretty bummed out about the forthcoming suicides. So they retired early. No last supper.
One of the documents found in the Bunker by the Americans, thanks to assistance from British Intelligence, was Hitler and Eva Braun’s marriage certificate. Firstly, since when does the Ministry of Propaganda issue marriage licenses? Second, what is the point of getting the certificate if you know you are going to die the next day? I can understand wanting to get married before death as a spiritual thing, going to Heaven together…but these people were occultists, not Christians. Why go to the trouble of producing a certificate from a dead regime, when the Bride and Groom are both also going to be dead the next day? It’s almost like they wanted to leave a paper trail that supported the suicide pact narrative.
One of the documents in the FBI Vault mentions sworn testimony from the pilot who flew Hitler and Eva out to Nazi-occupied neutral Denmark on the other side of the Eider River, where they caught another plane. This held up the War Crimes Tribunal for 42 days.
Documents say that Allied Intelligence was satisfied that Hitler died in the Bunker.
However, the British Intelligence report that the military seems to have adopted as gospel, was obviously questioned by both the CIA and FBI since they continued to investigate it for many years. They admit up front that it is "largely based on eyewitness accounts" but they don’t cover any of the problems with the eyewitness testimony. Officially, there were no eyewitnesses to the murder-suicide; just the aftermath.
“Nor is it considered possible that the witnesses were mistaken in respect of Hitler’s body [of the identity of Eva Braun’s body, no doubt is considered possible; not being blanketed she was easily recognized]".
The only witnesses who saw Hitler’s face were Göbbels and Axmann. It is extremely possible that all other witnesses who saw the body could have been mistaken, since the clothes were covered and only his boots and uniform legs were buried. Doubt must also be considered possible with regard to Eva Braun’s body, since both Linge and Kempka reported seeing two bodies carried out wrapped in blankets. The fact that the British Intelligence report is so emphatic on ruling out these quite obvious details suggests a whitewash. It seems like British Intelligence were about the only ones believing Hitler died in the Bunker, which is interesting given all the links between the Royal Family and the Nazis.
Perhaps they just believed what they wanted to believe, because it suited their Propaganda narrative. “War’s over, we’re the winners, time to go home. Hitler died a miserable, broken, wretched loser". The US Colonel who investigated the report was far more skeptical, concluding that no matter how badly burned the bodies were, there would still be some evidence of remains.
A few years ago they did forensic testing on the remains [taken from the site by the Russians] which proved it was not Adolf Hitler. The skull fragment was from someone 5 inches shorter, and a woman. At the time of the World War 2, burned bodies could be identified through dental records – nobody would have ever dreamed of DNA or other modern forensic techniques. Someone reported to be Eva Braun checked in to the hospital for dental X-Rays a short time before the deaths. This may have been Eva’s body double, killed in her stead.
Archaeological digs at the Bunker site did not produce any evidence of the cremation, according to a 1949 report; but charred corpses were found there by the Russians. The remains – later discredited by the skull fragment – were all destroyed. Why?
Both corpses were covered in blankets before being carried out of the apartment. They could only be identified by their footwear. They were taken to the garden outside the Bunker, placed in a bomb crater with their dogs and some identifying trinkets, then doused with 40 or 50 gallons of gasoline and burned. This was a specific plan that Hitler went out of his way to let people know would be going on before he supposedly ended it.
The description of how the bodies were found is all very convenient:
"Several days later, a Soviet soldier found the half-charred bodies of a man and a woman buried inside a shell crater near the Bunker’s emergency exit. He’d noticed the tip of a gray blanket peeking out from the crater, which matched descriptions–produced by interrogating the few aides who remained in the Bunker–of the blanket in which Hitler and Eva Braun’s corpses had been wrapped. The bodies were accompanied by two dogs, later identified as Hitler’s beloved Blondi and one of her pups. Surrounding the dead were several dark-colored medicine phials, pages of handwriting, money, and a metal medallion that read, 'Let me be with you forever'.
It should have been a no-brainer to get a forensic match on those blanket-wrapped corpses. But how come the gray blankets didn’t burn when they had been doused with 50 gallons of gasoline? That sounds like a lot. How come the corpses were only half-charred? Perhaps they were fire-proof blankets, so chosen to assist in the later location of the bodies.
This forensic evidence does not in itself prove Hitler escaped. The fact remains that after multiple archaeological digs at the Bunker which have located at least 14 corpses, the remains of Hitler and Eva Braun have never been found. Just some teeth and some small jaw fragments, which supposedly the Russians have locked up in the KGB archive. A 1972 dig found a body that DNA testing in 1998 proved was Martin Bormann. But any DNA evidence for the Hitlers is still missing after 70 years.
The Russians blocked out the excavations of the Bunker, claiming documents had gone missing. The Western Allies were only able to get into a smaller area of the complex, which was filled with water hampering any investigation.
In May 1945 the Russians declared that Hitler had been poisoned; it’s hard to say how they could have done toxicology on the charred corpses. Possibly biting into a cyanide capsule leaves traces in the teeth that don’t get removed by fire.
Supposedly the Russians could positively identify the remains of the pair from their teeth, however there are at least 4 conflicting versions of this story. The Russians found fragments of jaw and teeth amongst 14 charred corpses when they excavated the Bunker site which had been heavily bombed. They managed to track down a dental assistant who had worked on Hitler. She was able to draw sketches from memory of Hitler’s terrible teeth. He had almost his entire mouth replaced by the end of the war. His dentist Hugo Blaschke was later captured by the Americans, but he never inspected the teeth and jaw fragments. Hitler’s dental records were supposedly removed in the same Börnersdorf Ju-353 plane crash that the discredited "Hitler Diaries" emerged from. Martin Bormann’s secretary Else Krüger was reportedly killed in this plane crash because her baggage was found in the plane. However she lived on and married a British intelligence officer. Several cargo boxes were retrieved from the crash site and removed. The "Hitler Diaries" could have been a limited hangout psy-op to cover the tracks of the escape story with a high-profile hoax.
At the end of his life Hitler only had 5 original teeth, all the others had been replaced with porcelain crowns.
The Russians say that they had an X-Ray in May 1945, when they verified teeth and bone fragments against the previously drawn sketch from memory by the dental assistants. However the dental assistant led them to a mildewed old dental office in Hitler’s Bunker to produce the X-Rays]. Why didn’t his dentist have it? Why did the dentist flee, but the assistant [his fiancée] stay to lead the Russians to this evidence?
Further complicating the story is the evidence chain of the teeth. A young Jewish girl in the Russian Army, Yelena Kagan, from a wealthy Moscow family, was given the teeth in a red jewelry box for safekeeping. She didn’t know where they came from. And then she serendipitously manages to be the one who locates the dental assistant and X-Rays as well, thus proving the whole case that Hitler was dead.
There are other conflicting reports, such as a paper in the "Journal of Dental Problems and Solutions" saying that both Hausermann and dental prosthesist Fritz Echtmann were arrested on 9 May 1945. Hausermann got 10 years in the Gulag and Echtmann got 9. On this same date, Hausermann verified the teeth in a hospital where they were still attached to the cadaver. This added a picture of Hitler’s mandible to the mix.
"On the afternoon of 9 May, the commission handed over a red box to the SMERSH. It contained jawbones and gold bridges from bodies N° 12 and 13 who were suspected to be Hitler’s and Eva Braun’s. This box was handed over to the interpreter.
"The following day, the SMERSH were looking for Hugo Blaschke, his dental prosthetist and his assistant. At the clinic of Kurfürstendamm, they found out that the dentist had left Berlin for Berchtesgaden under the Führer’s command on 19 April. However, they succeeded in taking in the two others for questioning.
"They were asked about the content of the red box which was shown to them. All that they said was immediately recorded before they had the chance to examine the human remains.
"On 10 May, the Smersh sent a report to Moscow. It concluded that the two remaining bodies had been identified as Hitler and Eva Braun’s remains.
"The red box and its content were sent back to the Soviet capital".
In this version of the story, the dental assistant and prosthetist never examined the remains which appeared to have the mandible intact. They were shown the red box and its contents, said “yes that’s Hitler”. Case closed. No mention of the X-Ray. And how big was this box to contain jawbones? Why were these teeth fragments separated from the cadaver[s] in the first place?
If it was Hitler’s double in the Bunker, it would have been easy to take him to the special dental office for X-Rays.
The dental assistant drew a picture of Hitler’s teeth, and then the technician confirmed the picture. According to Dr Mark Benecke:
"The actual identification of Hitler’s remains [and therefore the confirmation of his death based on physical evidence] was published in 1972. It was performed by comparing the teeth of the remains to the dental schemata drawn by Hitler’s dentist".
The picture matched the bone fragments in the red jewellery box, and the X-ray that the dental assistant would later lead the Russians to. Which came first? It seems that with her skills [presumably these are the finest dentists in Germany if not the world] she would be able to draw a sketch from an X-Ray. Why weren’t the X-Rays used in 1972?
Who was interpreting the match of the X-Ray, the teeth, and the fragments? Was it Soviet dental technicians? Or was it actually Hausermann and Echtmann:
"The location of his crowns and a sawn-through upper left bridge matched the teeth in the jewelry box, but Rzhevskaya’s team needed further proof. Hausermann led them to a tiny, mildewed dental office in Hitler’s Bunker, where she produced Hitler’s dental X-rays. The images–the placement of root canal fillings, sites of bone breakdown, and unusual bridges–confirmed that the body found in the rubble outside the chancellery had belonged to Hitler. A dental technician named Fritz Echtmann, who had worked in the same laboratory as Hausermann and created crowns and bridges for both Hitler and Eva Braun, verified the findings".
A double could have had crowns attached and partial sawing and metal bridges put in the same places as Hitler, then X-Rays taken – easily justified to the dupe by saying “you have to look alike”. Note that it’s the guy who made the crowns for Hitler and Eva verifying the findings.
The Nazis exploited "Ratlines", tied to the Vatican which has had a huge presence in South America since the New World was discovered, to smuggle people and valuables out of Europe. More than 9000 high-level Nazis relocated to South America this way. In fact South America was described as a "haven" for Nazis. America got its share, more than 1500 through "Paperclip" which became the guts of NASA and its aerospace industry, as well as MKULTRA. Russia also took a large number of Nazi scientists .
There was a quite famous Nazi pedophile colony in Chile called Colonia Dignidad, since renamed Villa Bavieria.
There are about 50 U-Boats still unaccounted for, which lends credence to the theory that Nazis used them to flee to the ends of the earth. At least two of the U-Boats showed up in South America.
Nietzche’s brother-in-law tried to start an Aryan colony in Paraguay, but committed suicide.
If Hitler was to escape to anywhere, it would make sense that he would go to where the largest number of his people were; and if the Nazis were to escape to anywhere, it would make sense for them to follow the Führer.
Hitler’s Escape to Argentina, is also the subject of a "History Channel" series 'Hunting Hitler', where Bob Baer’s CIA team used sonar, historical maps and cutting-edge technology as well as interviewing a series of alleged witnesses to the crazed dictator’s escape. Hitler easily faked his own death through the use of double, say the team, who add the corpse found by the Russians was actually five inches shorter than Hitler with a smaller skull.
The human Hitler
The first German film to feature an actor playing the Führer opened this week. But by depicting him as a complex character, does it diminish the evil that he did? Or is Germany finally coming to terms with its past? The acclaimed Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw offers his verdict
17 September 2004
It was a surprise to receive a phone-call from Bernd Eichinger, producer of the new film, "Der Untergang" (The Downfall), which is currently causing a stir in Germany, saying he very much wanted me to see it before it went on general release. I was very glad to have this opportunity to form a judgment for myself on the film's qualities.
I had come across little coverage of it here in England. The only brief reports I saw commented on the breaking of a taboo in Germany by having Hitler played on the screen for the first time by an actor. When I spoke to German friends and colleagues about the film, or read the German press, this did, indeed, seem to be an important point. I was asked whether I thought Germany was now "ready" for such a screen depiction. Wasn't there the danger, in seeing Hitler as a human being, of losing sight of his intrinsic evil and monstrous, demonic nature, even of arousing sympathy for him? Might the unwelcome effect of such a film not be to turn the site of the Berlin Bunker into a type of unhealthy tourist attraction, even for some a pilgrimage site?
Of course, until I had seen the film I could not be absolutely sure - but I doubted it very much. It seemed like a typical case of German Angst - understandable, but exaggerated - about the Nazi past and its relationship to the present. I took the view that it was absolutely legitimate to make the film. It was, after all, not the first time that the Bunker story had been filmed; merely the first time by a German cast.
The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, 4 October 2004
"Der Untergang" [The Downfall] is not the first German feature film in which an actor plays Hitler. Syberberg's "Hitler/A Film From Germany", 1977, was discounted as a precedent, but the writer overlooked an undoubted forerunner in GW Pabst's "Der letzte Act" [The Last Ten Days, 1955].
I had often thought that it was no more than a matter of time before Germany produced a feature film about Hitler. Only a few years ago, this would probably still have seemed too daring. But making such a film is a part of the continuing, gradual, but inexorable process of seeing the Hitler era as history - even more important, feeling it to be history. The dictator has always, understandably and rightly, tormented German historical consciousness, and still does. What happened under his rule and in his name has, perhaps permanently, destroyed any possible positive relationship to the past in Germany. And it might be added that the way the country has struggled to cope with its troubled past has often been commendable. But distant events necessarily become viewed differently over time. They become a part of history. This is the case in all societies. It will be the case even for Germans.
Of course, feature films intentionally play on the emotions of the viewer and stir empathy with characters. But knowing what I did of the Bunker story, I found it hard to imagine that anyone (other than the usual neo-Nazi fringe) could possibly find Hitler a sympathetic figure during his bizarre last days. And to presume that it might be somehow dangerous to see him as a human being - well, what does that thought imply about the self-confidence of a stable, liberal democracy? Hitler was, after all, a human being, even if an especially obnoxious, detestable specimen. We well know that he could be kind and considerate to his secretaries, and with the next breath show cold ruthlessness, dispassionate brutality, in determining the deaths of millions.
I reminded myself as I entered the cinema that feature films, however good they are, amount to artistic constructs which are of their nature incompatible with strict historical accuracy. In this they differ from film documentaries. Factual accuracy is as important to the documentary as to the written work of history. A historical feature film operates differently in that it is not confined by rules of evidence. This does not mean that it is unable, if well done, to convey through its very dramatic power a substantial insight into reality.
The feature film, precisely through its dramatic reconstruction, has enormous emotive power. Its explanatory power is inevitably, however, much weaker. What happened in the Bunker has in essence been well known since Hugh Trevor-Roper's book, "The Last Days of Hitler", was published in 1947. Practically all that has come to light subsequently was thoroughly examined by Anton Joachimsthaler about 10 years ago in his detailed study, "Hitler's Ende". But a focus on the grotesque events in the Bbunker, at their centre the physical and mental wreck of a man about to kill himself as his world collapses in ruins, can in itself do little to explain how it had come to this.
In other words: seeing Hitler on the verge of suicide cannot help in understanding Hitler the phenomenon. observer in the Bunker, watching the drama unfold and reach its grisly climax. And, as I sat in the empty What it can do, which no documentary or history book can achieve, is to simulate the sense of being an Manchester cinema watching Eichinger's superb reconstruction, I could not imagine how a film of Hitler's last days could possibly be better done.
The macabre, eerie atmosphere in the Bunker is brilliantly captured. The weird world of its inmates - drunken revelry alongside talk of the best method of suicide - is marvellously evoked. But what was happening outside is not forgotten. The grim scenes of death and destruction above ground, the last horrific stages of a war still raging in the streets of Berlin while the absurd grand guignol is played out below, provide a stark reminder.
Eichinger was helped by an outstanding cast. Juliane Köhler is splendid, if perhaps a little too vivacious, as Eva Braun. Ulrich Matthes and Corinna Harfouch are suitably sinister as Josef and Magda Göbbels - horrifyingly so in the harrowing scene when Magda kills her children. Above all, Bruno Ganz is superb as Hitler. The decrepit individual shuffling through the Bunker rooms, his mood ricocheting unpredictably from bleak resignation to wildly unreal flurries of optimism, is brilliantly played. The towering outbursts of white-hot rage, subsiding into pathetic self-pity, the fury directed at the alleged "betrayal" of generals who had strained every sinew to fulfil his commands; his cold indifference to the fate of the German people; his last wishes to continue the fight against the Jews; this portrayal by Ganz is Hitler much as I envisaged him when writing the final chapter of my biography. Of all the screen depictions of the Führer, even by famous actors such as Alec Guinness or Anthony Hopkins, this is the only one which to me is compelling. Part of this is the voice. Ganz has Hitler's voice to near perfection. It is chillingly authentic.
Does it help us to understand Hitler any better? My own feeling is that, brilliant though the portrayal is, it does not. It is hard to see how it could - or, indeed, what great enlightenment it would bring if we did know him better (whatever that means). Would we then have a clearer grasp of his hold over the German people, or why so many intelligent individuals in positions of authority were prepared to put his wishes into practice? At any rate, no amount of intuitive acting is likely to make him any more intelligible to audiences which cannot possibly enter his warped mentality. His life has been scrutinised as scarcely no one else's, but an inner core is still unfathomable. Hitler will always remain in some senses an enigma.
I left the cinema gripped by the film. As a production, it is a triumph - a marvellous historical drama. As I made my way home, ready to congratulate Eichinger on his brilliant achievement, it crossed my mind that the success of "Der Untergang" might prompt a new type of Hitler-Welle (Hitler wave), this time in feature films. I hope not. Apart from the likelihood that they will not all match Eichinger's high standards, films dealing with earlier episodes of Hitler's life may well have greater difficulty in avoiding trivialisation and moral insensitivity. I am, of course, not suggesting that there should be a veto or censorship on the making of such films - Germany is a mature and stable enough democracy to put up with them. But are they needed? Will they bring new insights? Will it become any clearer why the people of a highly advanced, politically pluralistic, economically advanced, modern society thought, three quarters of a century ago, they had found national salvation in Hitler? Does German need this type of reminder of its past in order not to forget it?
10 March 2005
"Downfall" takes place almost entirely inside the Bunker beneath Berlin where Adolf Hitler and his inner circle spent their final days, and died. It ventures outside only to show the collapse of the Nazi defense of Berlin, the misery of the civilian population and the burning of the bodies of Hitler, Eva Braun, and Josef and Magda Göbbels. For the rest, it occupies a labyrinth of concrete corridors, harshly lighted, with a constant passage back and forth of aides, servants, guards, family members and Hitler's dog, Blondi. I was reminded, oddly, of the claustrophobic sets built for "Das Boot," which took place mostly inside a Nazi submarine.
Our entry to this sealed world is Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), hired by Hitler as a secretary in 1942 and eyewitness to Hitler's decay in body and mind. She wrote a memoir about her experiences, which is one of the sources of this film, and "Blind Spot" (2002) was a documentary about her memories. In a clip at the end of "Downfall," filmed shortly before her death, she says she now feels she should have known more than she did about the crimes of the Nazis. But like many secretaries the world over, she was awed by the power of her employer and not included in the information loop. Yet she could see, as anyone could see, that Hitler was a lunatic. Sometimes kind, sometimes considerate, sometimes screaming in fits of rage, but certainly cut loose from reality.
When Junge heard of a vacancy in the Chancellery, she played up her typing and shorthand skills to land the job. "I thought I would be at the source of all information. But I was really in a blind spot".
In an interview with the Journalist Gitta Sereny, on 25 September 2000, she described Hitler as "very paternal", adding: "I have never understood the effect he had on all of us. Sometimes, when he went off somewhere without us, it was almost as if the air around us had become deficient . . . some essential element was missing . . . There was a vacuum".
Traudl is convinced that Hitler basically had two separate personalities, of which she and all the "ladies" of his close circle -- his mistress Eva Braun (for just 24 hours at the end his wife), his four secretaries, the wife of his personal physician (Annie Brandt), his favourite military aide (Maria von Below) and Albert Speer's wife Margret -- saw only the human, often charming side.
"We never saw him as the statesman, we didn't attend any of the conferences. We were summoned only when he wanted to dictate, and he was as considerate then as he was in private. And our office, both in the Reichschancellery and in the Bunkers, was so far removed from his command quarters that we never saw or even heard any of his rages that we heard whispers about. We knew his timetable, whom he received, but except for the few men he sometimes had to meals we attended, such as Speer, the other architect, [Hermann] Giesler, or his photographer, [Heinrich] Hoffmann, we rarely saw any of them.
"My colleagues told me that in the earlier years he talked incessantly, about the past and the future, but after Stalingrad, well, I don't remember many monologues. We all tried to distract him, with talk about films, or gossip, anything that would take his mind off the war. He loved gossip. That was part of that other side of him, which was basically the only one we saw".
Traudl recalls the first dictation she took from him, the test that was to decide her future, at the "Wolfsschanze", his East Prussian field HQ, in December 1942:
"Later I realised what a dreadful time that was for him, just before Stalingrad. But you wouldn't have guessed it: the only thing he seemed to have on his mind was to make me comfortable and reassure me".
Hitler's voice when dictating -- always straight into the machine, Junge says -- was usually quiet but, at times, when working on speeches, it would suddenly became raucous, his gestures studiedly expansive.
"It happened from one moment to the next, and he was clearly acting, rehearsing, performing".
This "performance" would include the use of awful words that he never used in private.
"His speeches all had these words in them [about the Jews and the Slavs] and I now know that one simply got used to them, didn't really hear them, blocked them. And an instant later, he would be quiet again, professorial with his steel-rimmed glasses".
Traudl Junge is impressed by Ian Kershaw's objectivity:
"He is different, perhaps because he is of a different generation. The way he presents what the 'Red Threat' meant to us in the early years, and how Hitler used it, is quite extraordinary. It isn't that he defends or justifies us in any way, but he appears to understand, better than others have done, how it ended up with the Germans being not oppressed, of course, as were the Poles and Russians later, but psychologically subjugated by Hitler. That terrible, terrible charisma of his, all of it serving -- we know it now but didn't then -- his ultimate megalomaniac goal, a race-selected United Europe under German domination.
"Only a foreign historian can look at Hitler like this; no German could have this 'Distanz', not even the younger ones, not yet. That is probably why, except for Joachim Fest's 20 years ago, there is barely a Hitler biography written by a German.
"Kershaw's biography reminded me how unsystematic everything was, his political and military decisions, his life, really. Putting together what this book now shows us and what I probably felt in my bones then but only understand consciously now, the essential thing about Hitler probably was that his mind and his actions were ruled not by knowledge, but by emotion. I had never understood until now how he, who supposedly so loved the Germans, was prepared to sacrifice them so cold-bloodedly at the end. I have never understood myself the effect he had on all of us, including the generals. It was more than charisma, you know. Sometimes when he went off somewhere without us, the moment he was gone, it was almost as if the air around us had become deficient. Some essential element was missing: electricity, even oxygen, an awareness of being alive -- there was a . . . a vacuum.
"What was decisive, perhaps from the start I think, was that -- different, I now know, even from other dictators -- he had no peer; there was no one whom he could, or indeed would, consult for advice, or who would have dared to question his decisions. Speer was basically the only one he felt emotion for, listened to and could really talk with, but not about politics. [Josef] Göbbels could have filled that other role, except that -- we knew this though Göbbels never did -- Hitler didn't feel anything for him; he was, in a way, too intellectual. It sounds absurd, but I think he intimidated him. Of course, Göbbels would have done anything for him and in the end he, his wife and their children died for him".
Against the overarching facts of his personal magnetism and the blind loyalty of his lieutenants, the movie observes the workings of the world within the Bunker. All power flowed from Hitler. He was evil, mad, ill, but long after Hitler's war was lost he continued to wage it in fantasy. Pounding on maps, screaming ultimatums, he moved troops that no longer existed, issued orders to commanders who were dead, counted on rescue from imaginary armies.
That he was unhinged did not much affect the decisions of acolytes like Josef and Magda Göbbels, who decided to stay with him, and commit suicide as he would. "I do not want to live in a world without National Socialism," says Frau Göbbels, and she doesn't want her six children to live in one, either. In a sad, sickening scene, she gives them all a sleeping potion and then, one by one, inserts a cyanide capsule in their mouths and forces their jaws closed with a soft but audible crunch. Her oldest daughter, Helga, senses there is something wrong; senses, possibly, she is being murdered. Then Magda sits down to a game of Solitaire before she and Josef kill themselves. (By contrast, Heinrich Himmler wonders aloud, "When I meet Eisenhower, should I give the Nazi salute, or shake his hand?")
Hitler is played by Bruno Ganz, the gentle soul of "Wings of Desire," the sad-eyed romantic or weary idealist of many roles over 30 years. Here we do not recognize him at first, hunched over, shrunken, his injured left hand fluttering behind his back like a trapped bird. If it were not for the 1942 scenes in which he hires Frau Junge as a secretary, we would not be able to picture him standing upright. He uses his hands as claws that crawl over battlefield maps, as he assures his generals that this or that impossible event will save them. And if not, well: "If the war is lost, it is immaterial if the German people survive. I will shed not one tear for them". It was his war, and they had let him down, he screams: betrayed him, lied to him, turned traitor.
Frau Junge and two other secretaries bunk in a small concrete room, and sneak away to smoke cigarettes, which Hitler cannot abide.
Junge joined Hitler and his staff when they moved into his underground Bunker in Berlin in January 1945. She recalled Hitler sitting for long periods of time, just staring into the distance. Meals were no longer served regularly, and people even began to smoke in the Führer's presence.
"It was a terrible time. I can't really remember my feelings. We were all in a state of shock, like machines," she said.
Acting as a hostess to the death watch, his mistress Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler) presides over meals set with fine china and crystal. She hardly seems to engage Hitler except as a social companion. Although we have heard his rants and ravings about the Jews, the Russians, his own treacherous generals and his paranoid delusions, Braun is actually able to confide to Junge, toward the end: "He only talks about dogs and vegetarian meals. He doesn't want anyone to see deep inside of him". Seeing inside of him is no trick at all: He is flayed bare by his own rage.
"Downfall" premiered at Toronto 2004, and was one of this year's Oscar nominees for best foreign film. It has inspired much debate about the nature of the Hitler it presents. Is it a mistake to see him, after all, not as a monster standing outside the human race, but as just another human being?
David Denby, "The New Yorker": "Considered as biography, the achievement (if that's the right word) of 'Downfall' is to insist that the monster was not invariably monstrous -- that he was kind to his cook and his young female secretaries, loved his German shepherd, Blondi, and was surrounded by loyal subordinates. We get the point: Hitler was not a supernatural being; he was common clay raised to power by the desire of his followers. But is this observation a sufficient response to what Hitler actually did?"
Stanley Kauffman, "The New Republic": "Ever since World War II, it has been clear that a fiction film could deal with the finish of Hitler and his group in one of two ways: either as ravening beasts finally getting the fate they deserved or as consecrated idealists who believed in what they had done and were willing to pay with their lives for their actions. The historical evidence of the behavior in the Bunker supports the latter view. ... "Downfall," apparently faithful to the facts, evokes -- torments us with -- a discomfiting species of sympathy or admiration."
Admiration I did not feel. Sympathy I felt in the sense that I would feel it for a rabid dog, while accepting that it must be destroyed. I do not feel the film provides "a sufficient response to what Hitler actually did," because I feel no film can, and no response would be sufficient. All we can learn from a film like this is that millions of people can be led, and millions more killed, by madness leashed to racism and the barbaric instincts of tribalism.
What I also felt, however, was the reality of the Nazi sickness, which has been distanced and diluted by so many movies with so many Nazi villains that it has become more like a plot device than a reality. As we regard this broken and pathetic Hitler, we realize that he did not alone create the Third Reich, but was the focus for a spontaneous uprising by many of the German people, fueled by racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear. He was skilled in the ways he exploited that feeling, and surrounded himself by gifted strategists and propagandists, but he was not a great man, simply one armed by fate to unleash unimaginable evil. It is useful to reflect that racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear are still with us, and the defeat of one of their manifestations does not inoculate us against others.
Hitler's last days are deftly chronicled in "Downfall"
By Claudia Puig
17 February 2005
"Downfall" is a powerfully disturbing German film about the final days of Hitler's Third Reich.
It depicts the Nazi leader as a man beaten down by the demise of his dream to conquer Europe but stubbornly refusing to surrender. Not only does the despot spout venom about the world's Jewry, but he also feels no compassion for his fellow Germans. "Compassion is a sign of weakness," he says. "We have to be cold-blooded. We can't worry about civilians".
A foreign-language-Oscar nominee, "Downfall is the first German-made film about that painful chapter of the country's history since 1956's "The Last Act".
Narrated from the perspective of Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge, this is a claustrophobically intense view of the inner workings of the upper echelons of the Nazi regime as well as a stomach-turning look at the horrors of war.
The movie opens late at night in 1942 when Traudl, a naive 22-year-old (Alexandra Maria Lara), gets the secretarial post and is initially thrilled. But she will spend the rest of her days haunted by that appointment.
"I was not an enthusiastic Nazi," she says in the film's opening voice-over. The real-life Junge closes the film, documentary-style, admitting, "It's very hard for me to forgive myself."
One is used to seeing Hitler portrayed as a single-minded, megalomaniacal villain, so his gentle treatmenof Junge is disconcerting. But the film is partially based upon a book she wrote, and it does make the story more intriguing, if jarring, to see another dimension to one of history's most malevolent figures.
The film jumps forward to April 1945 as the Russians surround Berlin and open fire. The city is reduced to rubble. As Hitler hides in the German chancellery with Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler) and a few other loyalists, a ragtag group of soldiers fight outside. A particularly haunting scene involves Hitler's praise for a ruthless 13-year-old fighter who destroyed two Russian tanks. "I wish my generals had your courage," he says, incongruously pinching the boy's cheek.
With graphic scenes of bullets ripping through bodies, including those of children, "Downfall" is not for the fainthearted. One of the most chilling moments does not involve Hitler or the SS: Magda Göbbels (Corinna Harfouch), wife of Josef, methodically poisons each of her six children prior to the couple's murder-suicide.
Hitler is played with pitch-perfect precision by the Swiss-born Bruno Ganz. His portrayal is not only terrifying during his apoplectic rants but also subtly haunting as he bounces one of the Göbbels' children on his knee as they sing a patriotic song.
In a couple of weeks, he seems to age before our eyes while remaining delusional and power-mad. He will go down fighting, even if he's hobbling and hollow-eyed by defeat.
The film is painstaking in its re-creation of the fall of Berlin, with captivating camera work, mostly with handheld equipment, and disconcertedly realistic war scenes. The film's only flaw is its length: just under 2½ hours. But perhaps it is the unsettling nature of the film's seeming authenticity that makes the length so tough to bear.
Back in the Bunker
The New Yorker
14 Gebruary 2005
In the past, in such films as Wim Wenders’ "The American Friend" and "Wings of Desire", the Swiss-German actor Bruno Ganz seemed a rather gentle and melancholy fellow. Soft as swans’ feathers, Ganz caressed the viewer with a doleful gaze and a rounded baritone voice that turned even commonplace German phrases into soothing near-poetry. Ganz appeared to carry the weight of European cultivation on his back, not as a glory but as a burden of sensitivity, even anguish—one felt his attentiveness to the slightest breeze of anxiety or willfulness in the air around him. Given these impressions, the obvious initial response to Ganz’s performance as Adolf Hitler in the Oscar-nominated German film "Downfall" is that it’s nothing less than a staggering revelation of craft. Ganz, now sixty-three [seven years older than Hitler was when he died], is a sturdy five feet ten inches, but he looks shockingly small in this movie, even shrunken, like some golem or mythical dwarf—a would-be Siegfried who has collapsed into Alberich. Ganz’s stooped, misshapen body supports what looks like a crudely carved wooden head [the flesh on his face is lumpy] surmounted by a slab of oily black hair. The time is late April, 1945; the final battle with the Red Army is raging in Berlin, and Hitler, living with his military aides and staff in a Bunker under the Reich Chancellery, is in ghastly health; his body is so constricted that he has trouble walking—he might be a broken-down puppet consigned to occasional use in a travelling Bavarian circus.
But then the puppet comes to life. When Hitler hears something that he doesn’t like, energy rushes up in galvanic surges from Ganz’s pelvis or spine or some other mysterious source of actorly strength. The dark head, slumped over a map, suddenly rises, the arms wave about wildly, and the voice erupts in that familiar deafening bawl. The rages are mesmerizing, appalling, borderline funny—oh, how everyone has betrayed poor Hitler—and somehow Ganz pulls them off without lunging all over the room; he explodes and implodes simultaneously, and then subsides and becomes even smaller. As a piece of acting, Ganz’s work is not just astounding, it’s actually rather moving. But I have doubts about the way his virtuosity has been put to use. By emphasizing the painfulness of Hitler’s defeat Ganz has certainly carried out the stated ambition of the producer-writer Bernd Eichinger and the director Oliver Hirschbiegel—he has made the dictator into a plausible human being. Considered as biography, the achievement (if that’s the right word) of "Downfall" is to insist that the monster was not invariably monstrous—that he was kind to his cook and his young female secretaries, loved his German shepherd, Blondi, and was surrounded by loyal subordinates. We get the point: Hitler was not a supernatural being; he was common clay raised to power by the desire of his followers. But is this observation a sufficient response to what Hitler actually did? "Downfall" is an expensive, full-scale re-creation of life in the Bunker. Himmler, Göbbels, Speer—they are all here, the entire fascinating, loathsome crew of commanders, mad visionaries, and toadies [all brilliantly acted], but never has the Nazi era seemed so close to banality or, in an odd way, to reassurance.
A film made by Germans for Germans, "Downfall" is the latest installment in the project of "coming to terms with the past" which has been unrolling in Germany for half a century, and the movie, a big hit, has caused consternation and derision there. For instance, when "Downfall" opened, last fall, a few journalists in the Federal Republic wondered aloud whether the "human" treatment of Hitler might not inadvertently aid the neo-Nazi movement. But in his many rants in "Downfall" Hitler says that the German people do not deserve to survive, that they have failed him by losing the war and must perish—not exactly the sentiments, I should think, that would spark a recruitment drive. This Hitler may be human, but he’s as utterly degraded a human being as has ever been shown on the screen, a man whose every impulse leads to annihilation. Eichinger and Hirschbiegel frequently take us up to the ruined streets above the Bunker, where children, having volunteered for combat, are cut down by Soviet fire, and the few civilians eager to make peace get hanged as traitors by the remaining Nazi stalwarts. Hitler’s will continues to operate even after he has lost his power. In imitation of that will, Göbbels’ icy wife, Magda [Corinna Harfouch], poisons the six younger Göbbels children, one by one, because they are “too good” to grow up in a post-Nazi world. The children’s death is unbelievably creepy: they are blond and cute, and they sing in unison for Uncle Adolf a few days before they die—it’s as if the little von Trapps had been silenced at last. That’s a sick joke, perhaps, but you long to mock these solemn, murdering Nazi "idealists," female as well as male. The movie errs in treating even the most grotesquely sordid episodes as tragedy [accompanied by Purcell’s most dignified music].
German liberals need not fear: this human Hitler is just as disgusting as the iconic one. Yet I feel a certain exasperation in writing a description of what is, finally, an extremely literal-minded production. The attempt to re-create Hitler in realistic terms has always been morally and imaginatively questionable, a compromise with the unspeakable, and it still is. The inadequacies don’t vanish when one learns that the movie was based on first-rate research and an eyewitness report—"Inside Hitler’s Bunker," by the historian Joachim Fest, perhaps the leading German expert on Hitler’s life, and "Until the Final Hour," by Traudl Junge, who became one of Hitler’s private secretaries at the age of twenty-two, and stayed with him to the end. She died in 2002, but was interviewed at length for the excellent documentary "Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary," which was completed just before her death. It’s her voice that is heard in a kind of prologue to "Downfall," and it’s her handsome, elderly face, in a borrowed excerpt from "Blind Spot," that is seen at the finish. In the rest of the movie, Junge appears as a lanky, beautiful young woman [played by Alexandra Maria Lara] who is overwhelmed by the cauldron of madness she finds herself in. Through her eyes, we see such weird Bunker follies as the non-stop partying in one corner or another and the alternating periods of hysterical rage and paralyzed sloth. The secretary’s astonished gaze is an attempt to anchor audience response, and many will want to believe the eighty-one-year-old Junge when she says that she cannot forgive herself for failing to find out what the Nazis were doing to the Jews during the war. She is one of the decent but lazy people who allowed common clay to become der Führer, and she tries to make an accounting.
Candor is admirable, but it’s not heroism, and it’s not art. Oliver Hirschbiegel moves the camera vigorously through the Bunker [an enormous set built in Munich], and his staging of the mayhem on the streets above is frightening enough. But Hirschbiegel and Eichinger are naïve if they think that professional competence and humanist accountability are sufficient for this subject. Besides that, they are not really adding much that’s new to the Hitler movie archives. The great German director G. W. Pabst looked inside the Bunker in the intense, claustrophobic "The Last Ten Days" ; Alec Guinness roared his way through an Anglo-Italian version of the material from 1973; and in 1981 Anthony Hopkins did a made-for-TV movie, called "The Bunker." Why is Hitler so often shown at the end, rather than at an earlier, victorious moment? Obviously, his defeat is an emotional release: every decade or so, as in some primitive ritual, the dictator has to be hauled out of the grave, propped up, and slain again, just to make sure he’s dead. It’s an understandable impulse, but what new insights into Hitler are gained during this purgation of fear?
Hitler: A Career [Hitler - eine Karriere]
Review by Paul Mavis
9 November 2007
A few weeks ago, I wrote a review for the two-disc "Hitler: The Rise of Evil", a CBS miniseries that included "Hitler: A Career" as one of its DVD bonuses. Produced in 1977, "Hitler: A Career" [Hitler - eine Karriere] caused quite a stir by all accounts when it premiered in Germany and in other Western countries. Written and co-directed by Joachim Fest, the celebrated German historian, his previous biography on Adolf Hitler was the first to be written by a German, and it too caused a sensation in a Germany that was finally re-evaluating its role in WWII and the Holocaust.
By the early 1970s, at least in the U.S., television censorship standards had loosened considerably, allowing archival footage of the war and specifically the Holocaust to be more readily shown [PBS's airing of "The World at War" series was a landmark ratings event for the network]. Having since been inundated over the past thirty years with numerous films and documentaries on the Third Reich, watching "Hitler: A Career" today may seem old hat to newer viewers, but I found it a clear, intelligent, energetic examination of the infamous mass murderer and his equally culpable supporters.
Exclusively utilizing archival footage [there are no modern interviews], "Hitler: A Career" immediately jumps into examining Hitler's rise to power. Cursory information is given about his upbringing, his WWI career and his vagabond days in Vienna, Austria, but only in the context of delineating his actions after the war. If you've read Fest's work, you know then that his take on Hitler's ascension to power - quite controversial when first proposed - directly implicated the German people in propelling Hitler to power.
The Extension Building
This extension to the Reich's Chancellery was built in 1928 – 1931 by Eduard Jobst Siedler and Robert Kisch. It was constructed on the property where the Palais Voss, was demolished some years before. The building was
inaugurated by Paul von Hindenburg on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Reich. In 1934 interior of the building was renovated on conjunction with the renovation of the Reich's Chancellery. In 1935, Albert Speer added a balcony, the famous "Führerbalkon" to the main facade of the building. Göbbels' Ministry of Propaganda backdated the construction of the balcony to 1933, to enforce a symbolic link between the Führerbalkon and Hitler's assumption of power. Albert Speer perpetuated this false claim, even in the
books he published after the war and his years in prison. In 1938 the southern part of the building was
demolished and rebuilt as part of it's integration into the New Reich's Chancellery. A driveway was constructed
through the building to provide access to the new Court of Honor from Wilhelmplatz. The entrance to the driveway
was built into the façade of the extension building as a large double doorway. In 1945 the extension building
was partially destroyed during an aerial bombardment. When the building was released, along with the
New Reich's Chancellery, for the collection of building materials, it was demolished on Soviet command in 1950.
Contrary to the widely held theory at the time that economics solely allowed Hitler to rise, Fest argued that the uppper and middle class, fearful of change brought about my modernization and immigration, saw in Hitler a racial and cultural savior, whose constant harkening back to the mythical, magical Germany prior to the Industrial Revolution, resonated with the bourgeoisies.
"In Hitler: A Career", Fest argues that Hitler, far from being a raving madman [at least at the beginning of his career] was instead a scheming, incredibly adaptable [at first] and calculating politician, keen to exploit any weakness he saw in the political system and in the masses who, humiliated by the outcome of WWI, were waiting for a voice to speak for them. In his narration [Fest wrote the narration, British actor Stephen Murray delivers it - and quite well, too, I might add], Fest carefully plots Hitler's hard-won oratory skills, as well; again contrary to popular belief, he wasn't an immediate success with crowds. He had to learn how to sway them, with imagery taken from ancient Germanic folklore peppered throughout his speeches, along with a carefully crafted delivery, complete with studied facial expressions and staged body movements, that he spent years perfecting.
While some may feel that not enough time is spent in "Hitler: A Career" on his formative years, Fest is quite clear on the causes he felt shaped Hitler's insatiable need to "save the world." While so many historians center on Hitler's 'Final Solutio'" and his rabid hatred for the Jews, Fest identifies an earlier, much stronger impulse that led to Hitler's power grabs and eventual indulgences in world domination and racial genocide. According to Fest, a young Hitler's simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from the decaying bourgeois 'Old World' that beckoned to him in Vienna - and which utterly rejected him as an artist and failed to notice his very existence - gave Hitler not only a reason for thirsting for power, but also the tools to sway the masses hungry for a return to a period of time that never really existed in the first place for them. Hitler, through order and through an intricately calculated mythology, would give the humiliated German people a sense of 'belonging,' a sense of a reunified Germany under the older, safer, more spiritual rules. Hitler would use the very symbols of the culture he adored to fool the people, which in turn would catapult him into a position of power over the very remnants of that elite ruling class that had failed to recognize his "greatness."
As well, Fest is very clear in "Hitler: A Career" that Hitler, at first a ruthless, wily politician very much aware of the empty, showboating nature of not only the National Socialist's pipedreams about Aryan superiority but also his own carefully designed persona, rapidly descended into madness, believing his own hype and accepting the German people's placement of him as a demigod as fact, and not the result of calculation. This would be his Downfall, for when he assumed increasing control over the military [taking credit away from his generals who won his early battles], his Reich quickly crumbled, and the German people finally woke up from their self-induced hysteria to see the utter ruin they and Hitler had caused.
"Hitler: A Career" is very definitely of its time. Fest's narration, read by Stephen Murray, eschews a scholarly drone to appeal directly to the viewer's emotions. Fest believes what he's writing, and he sees no need to be wishy-washy about it. As well, the actual construction of the documentary by director Christian Herrendörfer, is entirely in keeping with documentary fashions of the time. The score is bombastic and expressive; the silent footage is enhanced with sound effects, and the editing is assembled for emotional impact - and quite brilliantly, too. There's an amazing moment in "Hitler: A Career", and it only lasts a few seconds, but it's one of the most frightening images of Hitler I've ever seen on film. Fest's narration is describing how Hitler, ever the empty non-entity, fanatically studied others to create his own persona, including carefully watching military figures to craft an impressive authoritative bearing of his own. At this point, director Christian Herrendörfer inserts a brief clip of Hitler, surreptitiously eyeing a soldier standing next to him. It's a decidedly creepy moment, displaying the naked, calculating perversity of this murderous cipher.
Working for the home audience, Eichinger and Hirschbiegel offer not insight but scraps of noble behavior. There are the stoical defenders of Berlin who persist in the face of certain defeat; the good S.S. doctor who refuses to be evacuated and takes care of the wounded [a much sanitized version of an actual S.S. doctor)] The war’s end is presented as a standard military defeat, and as the tragedy of a misguided regime, and not, as many of us would see it, as a liberation from complicity in a nightmare. Some of the officers commit suicide, which Hirschbiegel dramatizes as a grimly honorable act. But the Wehrmacht and the S.S. officers who remained in the inner circle as late as April, 1945, were not mere warriors; they were active, knowing participants in years of criminal behavior. Who cares about their honor? By adding pathos to the collapse of Nazism, the filmmakers have come close to nostalgia, and at times one longs for a coldly malicious ironist like Brecht or Fassbinder to come in and take over. One even wants a revival of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s "Our Hitler," from 1977, a seven-and-a half-hour extravaganza that combined surrealist shenanigans, circus acts, puppet shows, and didactic passages, all in an attempt to place Hitler within German history and sensibility. The movie was infuriating, but at least it didn’t force the audience to engage in such inanities as freshly appraising Hitler’s relation to his secretary, his cook, and his dog.
|Downfall [Der Untergang] – Stephan Zacharias|
Review by Jonathan Broxton
18 February 2005
One of the most critically acclaimed – and controversial – films to come out of Germany in recent years is Oliver Hirschbiegel’s "Der Untergang" [Downfall], the first German production to feature Adolf Hitler as a central figure. "Der Untergang" is based on the memoirs of Hitler’s secretary, Traudl Junge [played by Alexandra Maria Lara], and tells of the final days of the life of the Führer, deep within his Bunker beneath Berlin, as the Russian troops close in. Not afraid to exploit the long-standing fascination with one of the most hated men of the 20th century, Hirschbiegel has nevertheless been criticized in some circles for presenting a portrait of Hitler that is “too sympathetic” – a claim which he vehemently denies. The film is blessed with a powerhouse performance by Bruno Ganz as Hitler, and features sterling support from Corinna Harfouch and Ulrich Matthes as the doomed Göbbels family, and Julianne Köhler as Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun. The film played at the Toronto Film Festival in 2004, and is scheduled for release in major cities world-wide in 2005.
The score for "Der Untergang" is by German composer Stephan Zacharias, who has spent the last ten years of his career writing for German film and TV productions, and who is making his ‘international’ debut here. So how do you write music for the Third Reich? Well, unless you’re Wagner, you don’t, and Zacharias has wisely concentrated on scoring the story’s more personal elements. Written predominantly for piano and string orchestra, "Der Untergang" is a sober, contemplative score. There are no big action sequences, no love themes, and no real respite from the overpowering sense of bitter tragedy which dominates everything.
The opening cue, "Des Führers Sekretärin", is quite lovely in a downbeat way; but is plainly laden with a sense of sadness. The music does not seek to comment on, or demonise young Jungl or her role in the scheme of things. She was just an innocent young girl who happened to find herself a witness to one of the most important events in modern history. Further cues, notably "Peter im Nebel" the strangely harrowing "Gute Nacht, Kinder", and the bold "Exodus" build upon the funereal but effective tone of regret and despair.
There is an gloomy piano performance in "General Weidling macht Meldung", "Die Giftkapseln" tolls to the sound of portentous bells, and conclusive duo of "Hoffnung am Ende der Welt" and "Späte Einsicht" bring things to a satisfactory close with music which is in keeping with the rest of the score, but laced with the tiniest sense of optimism. For the most part, the music is quite overwhelmingly sad, but appropriately so. Lest we forget, World War II was quite possibly the most terrible era in man’s recent history, and the sense of sombre remembrance inherent in Zacharias’s score lets us remember just what our forefathers went through. It’s not joyous listening, but it’s not meant to be.
Interspersed throughout the score are excerpts from Henry Purcell’s 1689 baroque opera "Dido and Aeneas", as well as two tracks of what can only be describes as Third Reich Jazz, performed with smoky voices by Marek Weber and Zarah Leander. During these songs, one is reminded of Marlene Dietrich and "Der Blaue Engel".
It’s difficult to know whether to recommend "Der Untergang" or not. It’s my no means an "enjoyable" score in a traditional sense, but it does show off admirably Zacharias’s sensitivity and restraint when it comes to writing music for such a difficult and potentially inflammatory subject matter. As an exercise in capturing the musical essence of a dark period in history, "Der Untergang" is a success, and I hope Zacharias is allowed to show his talents in the international arena in future.
Pass the Fault
The New Republic
Michael B. Oren
4 July 2005
Ticket lines for movies are rare in Israel, and rarer still for features that have already been showing for five weeks, and unprecedented for a German production centered on the character of Adolf Hitler. Yet Israelis are still lining up to see Oliver Hirschbiegel's tenebrous docudrama about the Third Reich's closing days, "Der Untergang"--The Downfall.
The film, which has won several German awards and has been nominated for an Oscar, triggered nervous debate in Europe over its depiction of Hitler not as a one-dimensional monster but as a flesh-and-blood person, cruel and temperamental at times, but sympathetic and even fatherly at others. In Israel, where it is officially a crime to call a Jew a Nazi, the portrayal of the ultimate Nazi as anything less than demonic is bound to arouse controversy. But Israeli audiences have responded exuberantly, praising actor Bruno Ganz and his nuanced Hitler. Interviewed on Israeli television on Holocaust Memorial Day, Moshe Zimmermann--a historian who was once sued for comparing settler children to Hitler Youth--posited that this new, human Hitler served to demythologize Nazism and show how even normal people might be seduced by evil.
But Zimmermann thoroughly missed the point of the movie--as did most Israelis who saw the film. "The Downfall" is not about Hitler, human or otherwise, not about Nazism and evil. It is about letting Germany off the hook.
The film opens in 1942, when the 22-year-old Traudl Junge is chosen by Hitler to be his personal secretary. The Fuhrer is here seen as an affable man, crinkly-eyed and patient, even when Traudl fails at typing his dictation.
Fast-forward to late April 1945, and Germany is on the brink of collapse. The Russians have penetrated Berlin, and Hitler, his Nazi cronies, and his staff are locked in an underground Bunker. The denizens of this lair are divided between Junker-type generals [such as Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl, and Wilhelm Mohnke], who know that the war is lost and want to surrender honorably, and deluded lackeys [such as Propaganda Minister Josef Göbbels and Eva Braun, Hitler's paramour], who insist that nonexistent German armies can still turn the tide and ultimately save the Reich. Armaments Minister Albert Speer makes an appearance and sides with the generals, while Heinrich Himmler favors allying with the Americans against Russia. A tremulous Hitler wavers between these positions, alternatively despairing and defiant. And beside him throughout stands Traudl, who, though bereft of hope, refuses to abandon her Führer.
While focusing on this subterranean drama, the film veers off into two subplots, both set in the Bosch-scape of Berlin. The first features Ernst-Günter Schenck, a military doctor who ignores orders to abandon the city and remains to attend to its wounded. The second follows Peter Kranz, who, though only a boy, destroys two enemy tanks, while his father, a one-armed veteran, struggles to drag him from the battle.
The wickedness, the senselessness, the horror--all might have combined into soul-wrenching confession about a nation's descent into barbarity. But "The Downfall", based largely on the self-expiating memoirs of Traudl and Speer, is concerned with exoneration, not penance, and realizes it through manipulation and deceit.
Take, for example, Traudl. She is the perfect ingenue: modest, demure, incapable of uttering an unkind or scatological word. Unsullied by ideology, she gapes incredulously every time Hitler makes an anti-Semitic remark. And, though she is played by the irresistible Alexandra Maria Lara, the Traudl character is portrayed as mostly sexless. She elicits not a single lascivious stare, much less a pinch, from any of the Bunker's besotted officers. The real Traudl Junge, however, joined the Nazi League of German Girls at age 15 and was later elected to the elite Faith and Beauty society, whose members often mated with party stalwarts.
When Junge's trial period as a Hitler's secretary was about to end she was summoned in front of Hitler for the confirmation of her new job. She was expecting a loyalty oath, countless background checks, and to be forced to join the Nazi Party. Instead Hitler only wanted one promise from her: Since she would be a young girl working among a lot of male military personnel, she would have to promise to report to Hitler any harassment by them.
In December 1942, she became the youngest of the Nazi dictator's personal secretaries. "He was a pleasant older man who welcomed us with real friendliness," she said of their first meeting. Among her recollections of the Führer was that he did not like cut flowers because, he said, he did not want to be "surrounded by corpses".
Other Nazis are similarly rehabilitated by the film. Ernst-Günter Schenck was an SS officer accused of performing experiments on prisoners at Mauthausen. Keitel and Jodl were both executed for war crimes--a fact mentioned just once before the closing credits--and Mohnke was charged with massacring Allied POWs.
French judge Henri Donnedieu protested vehemently against Jodl's conviction. Judge de Vabres was of the opinion that it was a miscarriage of justice for Jodl to be convicted because he had never joined the Nazi Party. However, the other three judges were unanimous that he should hang, and de Vabres was overruled.
On 28 February 1953, Jodl was posthumously exonerated by a German de-Nazification court, declaring Jodl not guilty of breaking international law and citing de Vabres' dissenting view as justification, while ignoring the majority view. The major impetus for overturning the ruling seems to have been so that his confiscated property could be returned to his widow.
This "not guilty" declaration was revoked on 3 September 1953 by the Minister of Political Liberation for Bavaria.
According to sources quoted by an ABC television programme broadcast in the United States, Wilhelm Mohnke was debriefed by the CIA on his release. His CIA files show that he provided information on fellow Nazis and SS veterans, in return for money and a guarantee of immunity from prosecution by the Germans or the British.
War crimes trials had ended, and with the advent of the Cold War, the US saw the Soviet Union as the main threat. A former US military intelligence officer said that by 1955 the Americans were anxious to interview any former senior Nazis leaving Russia, to find which of their colleagues might have become Soviet agents, and to find how much the Russians had learnt about senior ex-Nazis in the West.
In January 1994 year the German government ruled there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution of Mohnke over the killing of 90 British prisoners in a barn at Wormhoudt, near Dunkirk, in 1940, or for the massacres in 1944 of 130 Canadian prisoners in Normandy and 72 Americans in the German Ardennes offensive.
Speer, who is seen boldly ignoring Hitler's orders to destroy Germany's infrastructure, constructed his buildings with slave laborers. And the Wehrmacht, which is painted in such heroic colors that the audience cannot help but root for it, was complicit in countless atrocities.
What, Gott in Himmel, is going on here? Clearly, "The Downfall" is distinguishing between bad Germans [a small band of Nazis] and good [everyone else]. The Bunker's debauchery is contrasted with the suffering of simple Berliners, and Hitler's desire to destroy the German people for failing to win the war is compared with the army's determination to fight even though victory is impossible. The dusky lynch squads who hang Peter's father serve as a counterpoint to the fair-haired children who try to help others escape, and the ghoul-faced Göbbels is the reverse image of Traudl, who remains angelic even as she flees the city wearing an SS helmet.
"The Downfall" wants to demonstrate how the German people, too, were victimized by Nazism. If guilty at all, it is only of overwrought nationalism, of misplaced loyalty, or of just plain na?vet?--anything but evil. Not even the Nazis are truly evil, only sick. They prefer to blow their brains out, or, like Göbbels's sociopathic wife, Magda, to poison their own children rather than let them live in a world without National Socialism. And, of all the Nazis, none is crazier--insane, not satanic--than Adolf Hitler.
Hitler's humanity, in fact, lasts for five minutes in the film's opening scene. Thereafter, he launches into a maelstrom of tirades, tantrums, and incoherent fits that culminate in his suicide. Since he is not a bad person, per se, but merely a lunatic, it follows that those who adored him were also unbalanced--temporarily, in the case of many Germans, terminally for the die-hard Nazis. By reducing the Third Reich to a limited dementia, "The Downfall" absolves the German people of any moral culpability for perpetrating World War II and destroying European Jewry. On the contrary, it casts them as heroic, even martyr-like. The movie closes with Traudl and the orphaned Peter Kranz together, cycling into the sunshine--the virgin and the golden-haired child, the progenitors of an immaculate Germany.
Most of the Israelis who lined up for "The Downfall" were too focused on its multi-faceted Führer to see this whitewashing. Others, yearning to be part of the New Europe, welcomed it. But the film is not meant for Israelis, nor even for Americans. Rather, its ideal viewers are twenty-something Germans who have made it the most popular film in their country's history. And understandably so, for they emerge from the theater convinced that their grandparents were valorous, victimized, and naive, and that Germany can unreservedly take its place in a post-nationalist, post-psychotic Europe. They can enjoy watching the next generation of Germans play hide-and-seek around the abstract black cubes of Berlin's new Holocaust memorial, situated near the site of Hitler's Bunker.
Though some movies open with a disclaimer, "The Downfall" ends with one. Statistics appear on the screen--"Fifty million people were killed in World War II, and six million Jews died in German concentration camps" --couched in soothingly passive verbs.
The overall death and destruction that took place during World War II may well be beyond human comprehension. Historians estimate that military casualties on all sides, in both the European and Pacific theaters, reached up to 25 million, and that civilian casualties ranged from 38 million to as high a figure as 55 million – meaning that somewhere between 3 and 4 percent of the world’s total population died in the conflict.
"The Jewish Year Book" [London 1956] notes that it is commonly stated that six million Jews were "done to death by Hitler" but that Gerald Reitlinger has suggested a possible lower estimate of 4,194,200 "missing Jews" of whom an estimated one third died of natural causes. This would reduce the number of Jews deliberately exterminated to 2,796,000.
According to Raul Hilberg, as quoted in an article written by himself in the 1998 "Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia" under the heading 'Holocaust', the six camps, their means of killing and their total number of victims was as follows:
"Chelmno had gas vans, and its death toll was 150,000; Belzec had carbon monoxide gas chambers in which 600,000 Jews were killed; Sobibor’s gas chambers accounted for 250,000 dead; Treblinka’s for 700,000 to 800,000; At Majdanek, some 50,000 were gassed or shot; and in Auschwitz, the Jewish dead totaled more than 1 million".
-- Raul Hilberg, 'Holocaust', Microsoft "Encarta 98 Encyclopedia"
This only accounts for 2.8 million dead as the other camps did not have gas chambers.
Hilberg, in the third edition of his ground-breaking three-volume work, "The Destruction of the European Jews", estimates that 5.1 million Jews died during the Holocaust. This figure includes "over 800,000" who died from 'Ghettoization and general privation'.
Auschwitz 1,100,000 Jews and 200,000 others
Maidanek [Majdanek] 78,000 including 61,000 Jews, 12,000 Poles, 5,000 others including Soviet prisoners of war.
Belzec 434,000 - 500,000
Total fatalities 2,857,000 - 3,139,000
Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In 1995, an article, 'Enquête sur les camps de la mort,' by Jean-Claude Pressac dealing with the "pure extermination camps" Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec appeared in the French magazine "Historama". In contrast to official historiography, according to which these camps were supposed to have been designed exclusively for exterminating Jews, Pressac believed they were originally established as transit and delousing camps. Pressac pointed out that "between the end of 1941 until middle of 1942 in Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, three steam delousing facilities were constructed". He went on to explain: "The Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942, established a program for the deportation of Jews to the East, which necessarily included processing the deportees in these three sanitary facilities".
Subsequently, as Pressac wrote in the article, the delousing facilities were converted to extermination facilities, that is to say homicidal gas chambers. It is unclear whether he actually believed this or simply made a tactical concession in order to have his article published. At any rate, his revelation that the “eastern extermination camps” had been constructed as transit and delousing facilities shook official ‘Holocaust’ lore to the core.
In a later interview Pressac estimated the victim figures as 100,000-150,000 for Belzec, 30,000-35,000 for Sobibor, and 200,000-250,000 for Treblinka.
"It has not yet been possible to determine the exact total number of victims in a way which would stand up to a detailed examination, and this will most probably now never be feasible. For this reason, there has never been an official number of the victims among the Jewish population. Discussing the number of victims is therefore not always an offence. However, this does constitute an offence in each case where it is carried out with the aim of denying or trivialising the muder of millions of Jews".
In such cases, criminal prosecution is a matter for the criminal prosecution authorities and courts in the Federal Länder.
-- Bundesministerium der Justiz
6 January 1995
Then, the real Traudl Junge, 80 years old but still handsome, asserts that she never once suspected the evil deeds committed by her mad ex-boss. But compare this ending with that of another movie, "Judgment at Nuremberg", released in 1961. After deciding that four German judges on trial for war crimes were guilty merely by having participated in the Nazi system, American justice Dan Waywood [played by a wizened Spencer Tracy] declares:
"If the defendants had been degraded perverts, if all the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events [the Holocaust] would have no more moral content than an earthquake".
Perhaps "Der Untergang" should change its name to "Das Erdbeben" [The Earthquake].
COLOGNE, Germany ["Hollywood Reporter"] -- A German movie that depicts Adolf Hitler as a soft-spoken man who charms his secretary and lovingly plays with his pet Alsatian is turning into one of the country's most controversial films.
"The Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich," stars Swiss-born actor Bruno Ganz ["Wings of Desire"] as the Nazi dictator in his Berlin bunker during the final days of World War II.
In addition to depicting Hitler not just as a screaming demagogue, "Downfall" breaks one of the last taboos of German cinema by portraying Hitler in a central role.
"It is not the first time (we've seen) Adolf Hitler on the screen, but it is certainly the first time they have tried to discover the human touch in the monster," said Rolf Giesen, head of Berlin's Film Museum.
That approach has sparked fierce debate in the German press, with some critics warning the film could pander to neo-Nazis.
"'Downfall' prompts the question whether one should be allowed to feel sympathy for Hitler," German newspaper the "Frankfurter Allgemeine" wrote in a recent article criticizing the film.
But leading German newsweekly "Der Spiegel", in a cover story, praised Eichinger for giving what it called "the absurd drama" in Hitler's Bunker "a real face".
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel's film, which will have its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival 14 September 2004, is based on firsthand testimony and recently discovered historical documents recounting the period from 20 April Hitler's last birthday, until 2 May 1945, when the Soviet army stormed the Berlin Bunker to find the Fuhrer had committed suicide.
The story is told from the perspective of Traudl Junge, Hitler's last stenographer, who was the focus of the 2002 documentary "Blind Spot -- Hitler's Secretary". Producer-screenwriter Bernd Eichinger's script is based on her memoir, "Until the Final Hour," and "Inside Hitler's Bunker" by famed German historian Joachim Fest.
But the focus of "Downfall," and the source of much of its controversy, is its star. Ganz isn't the first actor to portray Hitler in his final hours. Alec Guinness took on the role in the 1972 feature "The Last Ten Days," as did Anthony Hopkins in the 1981 miniseries "The Bunker".
But Ganz is the first to show the dictator as the ashen-faced wreck witnesses say he was at the end, spitting out hate-filled monologs about the Jews and alleged betrayers, while commanding nonexistent troops into battle as his hands trembled with what historians believe was late-stage Parkinson's disease.
Ganz also has the advantage of speaking in Hitler's distinct Austrian-accented voice. The actor based much of his performance on a recently discovered Finnish radio recording made in 1942. The tape is the only recording in existence on which the Führer can be heard speaking in a normal tone of voice, not the hysterical ranting on display in his public speeches.
Ganz said it was not possible to have any real sympathy for Hitler.
"But I'm not ashamed of the fact that I could feel sympathy for him during fleeting seconds", the actor explained. "If the audience doesn't, at least in certain sequences, feel sympathy for the monster Hitler, then I didn't do my job as an actor".
Movies dealing with the Nazi regime have had a mixed box office history in Germany and, until now, no German film has ever attempted to make Hitler a central dramatic figure. Previous features have relegated the Führer to the background.
Budgeted at $16 million, "Downfall" also is one of the most expensive German-language films of all time and a major financial risk for Eichinger's Constantin Film.
But the company behind "The Name of the Rose" and "Das Boot" is counting on strong cross-over potential for "Downfall". Constantin will release the film in Germany on 400 screens, a wide bow for a German-language production.
"The time is ripe for such a film," Eichinger said. "It's important not just to shed light on one's own history superficially, but rather to tell it from within".
That's a view apparently shared by international distributors. After seeing a 15-minute show reel and an English-language translation of the script, firms in France, Japan, Italy, Russia and the Benelux countries snapped it up.
"Downfall" isn't the only upcoming German production that aims to tell the Nazi story from the inside. A new three-part docudrama, "The Devil's Architect" by director Heinrich Brelör, looks at the life of Hitler's architect Albert Speer and features TV star Tobias Moretti as Hitler. Another new docudrama, "Josef Göbbels," looks at the Nazi propaganda boss, who is also the subject of an upcoming feature-length documentary, "The Göbbels Experiment," by director Lutz Hachmeister.
Hitler: The greatest performing Artist of the Twentieth Century?
7 January 2005
How does one approach the towering figure of Adolf Hitler, a figure so out-sized in his cruelty, so colossal in his infamy, that it staggers the imagination to conceive that he actually lived and breathed? Yet he was as human as you and I and gifted with some of the virtues and most of the flaws that flesh is heir to. One could examine him from a historical, psychological, or sociological perspective. Taking a position on Hitler's moral character is not difficult; he was the embodiment of evil. But did he have greatness, as well? His nemesis, Winston Churchill offered this assessment, "If evil can be great, we cannot deny him greatness". He certainly had genius. Not as a painter as he probably wished. His genius lay elsewhere. He was probably the greatest actor of the twentieth-century who used first Germany and then the World as his stage, mesmerizing it with performances of such messianic passion that he transported his audiences away with him to some unattainable inner Valhalla of their own making. Watching one of his performances -I call his speeches performances- because it was not what he said, but how he said it that was extraordinary, one is immediately struck by how well thought out and structured they were, with every gesture and movement of the body orchestrated to give meaning to the the torrent of words pouring forth.
Hitler has been well served in cinema. As an enthusiastic cineaste and certifiable egomaniac, he probably would not have been pleased by the portrayals. He likely would have viewed himself as a tragic hero, or worse a misunderstood martyr. He would never have understood that his crimes were too heinous and numerous for cinema to depict him in that light. Some notable interpretations of Der Führer have been, Charles Chaplin, "The Great Dictator"  Ludwig Donath, "The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler"  Luther Adler, "The Desert Fox"  Albin Skoda, "The Last Ten Days"  Richard Basehart, "Hitler"  Billy Frick, "Is Paris Burning?"  Frank Finlay, "The Death of Adolf Hitler"  Alec Guinness, "Hitler: The Last Ten Days" (1973) Ian Bannen, "The Gathering Storm" (1974) Anthony Hopkins, "The Bunker"  Derek Jacobi, "Inside The Third Reich"  Norman Rodway, "The Empty Mirror"  Noah Taylor as a young Hitler in "Max"  Robert Carlyle, "Hitler: The Rise of Evil"  Bruno Ganz, "Der Untergang" . All of these actor have illuminated aspects of the man's complex personality, so in many ways the performer we "like best" as Hitler is the one who best captures those qualities we associate with the man. Alec Guinness best captured my view of Hitler as performing artist. The Bunker was his stage and his entourage, his last captive audience for his final, most terrible performance, the initiator of Götterdämmerung. It is an impressive acting turn by Guinness because the script does not allow him to indulge in any great histrionic oration. Instead, he brings all the vanity and egocentricity of a frustrated actor desperately needing the approbation of his audience-however small. Whether launching into a monologue about the great old days of his rise to power, or haranguing his generals to "will" their way to victory, that need for approval, to be the center of attention is like a spoiled child who is never satisfied with the love and attention he receives, can never fill the gaping void that is the core of his existence.
Guinness, who made a career both on stage and film portraying "little men" illuminates beautifully the inner life of the man, capturing Hitler's pettiness of spirit, and essential provincialism. A wonderful example of this is the scene where Hitler having decided to kill himself and have his body burned, smugly tells Göbbels who has decided to do the same, that there may not be enough petrol because he is hoarding all of it for himself, all the while spreading gobs of cream on his chocolate cake like a little boy satisfying his sweet tooth.
This is for the most part a quieter Hitler than previous shown, and with one notable exception, mercifully free from the usual hysterics and ravings that have long since become cliché. At the same time Guinness manages to capture the drug-ridden, bleary-eyed, broken, ex-dictator shuffling his way to the grave. One could almost feel pity for this creature, if only he himself were not so pitiless. Even at the end he is the eternal actor, never comfortable with being himself, always assuming a new role in order to define not only himself but his relationship to others. Whether playing the charismatic father figure to a still believing Captain Hoffman, [Simon Ward] the sly old matchmaker between General von Greim, [Eric Porter] and Hanna Reitsch, (Diane Cilento) the betrayed friend and mentor when he hears of Himmler's attempts to negotiated a truce with the allies, or justifying his barbarity ["Nature is cruel, so I too must be cruel!"] to his final, penultimate audience, Eva Baum just before they commit suicide, Guinness keeps this Hitler even with his monstrous ego, intensely and uncomfortably human. And with his uncanny chameleon like ability he easily incorporates the man's gestures and mannerisms without ever slipping into caricature. Guinnes always considered his portrayal of Hitler to be among his five greatest film performances.
Siegfried Knappe was an officer in the German Army [Wehrmacht Heer] during World War II. Towards the end of the war, Knappe was stationed in Berlin, where he gave daily briefings at the Führerbunker.
As a young artillery lieutenant (Leutnant der Artillerie) in Panzer Group Kleist, Siegfried Knappe participated in the Invasion of France. Knappe was wounded by a bullet entering the back of his hand and exiting through his wrist. He received the Iron Cross 2nd Class, and also received the Black Wound Badge for his wounds.
Knappe went on to fight on the Eastern Front and the Italian Campaign. While participating in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, he received the Iron Cross 1st class for his bravery, in particular for leading artillery attacks from forward positions. Knappe was also wounded an additional two times in the course of his career. After attending General Staff College, he rose to the rank of Major. Knappe ended the war fighting in Berlin as a member of General Helmuth Weidling's staff.
After surviving almost five years imprisonment in the Gulags of Vorkuta, Knappe was released to West Germany in 1949. Determined to take his family as far from Communism as possible, Knappe emigrated to the United States with his family and settled in Ohio. There he wrote his memoirs which were published under the title "Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949".
The Oscar-nominated film "Downfall" was based in part on Knappe's memoirs.
He died on 1 December 2008 at the age of 91.
Interview With World War II German Officer Siegfried Knappe
This article was written by Ed McCaul and originally appeared in "World War II magazine
Berlin was a stout place for a fight. It was large, modern and well-planned, which had allowed it to remain less damaged than other German cities, even though it had been heavily bombed. Still, by 1945, approximately 25 percent of Berlin had been destroyed by air raids, but its essential services had never been overwhelmed. Because of its sturdy construction, a great effort would be required to capture the capital city.
The same factors that made Berlin so bomb-resistant also helped it resist ground attack. Throughout the city, large apartment buildings stood on strong, deep cellars. Wide boulevards and avenues at regular intervals served as firebreaks and would also serve as killing zones against Soviet tanks and infantry. Natural obstacles within the city made it even more defensible. The Spree River cut from the northwest part of the city through its center to the southeast. Berlin's southern approaches were guarded by the Teltow Canal. The center of the city, the heart of the capital, lay in a 'V' surrounded by the Spree River and the Landwehr Canal.
Many of the city's defenders were fighting for survival in the hope that they could delay the Soviets long enough for the Western armies to occupy more of Germany and, hopefully, Berlin. That was a hope that would never be realized, however. Berlin was defended by the LVI Panzer Corps under General Karl Weidling. At the start of the Soviet offensive, the LVI Panzer Corps was still not fully manned and consisted of only two divisions, the recently formed Müncheberg Division and the 20th SS Panzer Division, whose strength had been severely depleted during futile counterattacks at Kustrin. Eventually, the corps would consist of five divisions. When it fell back into Berlin, it lost contact with one division, so the last battle was fought with four divisions, as well as those forces already in the city–a total of 60,000 men and 50 to 60 tanks.
The Soviet armies were well-trained and well-equipped. Their plan was to surround and capture the city on the sixth day of the offensive. By the 11th day, the Red Army was at the Elbe River. Contrary to the Soviet plan, Berlin did not surrender until 2 May, a full 17 days after the offensive began. The American and Soviet troops first met on 25 April at the Elbe River, 10 days after the offensive began.
While it is difficult to say exactly how many Soviet soldiers actually participated in the assault on Berlin, the Berlin Medal was awarded to nearly 1,082,000 troops. That means the Soviet forces had more than 10 times the men the Germans had during the fight for the city itself. Even so, it took the Red Army from 21 April, when it first reached the city, until 2 May to capture Berlin–a total of 12 days.
The length of time required to capture the city can be explained by the desperate German resistance, the difficulties involved in street combat and the Soviet soldiers' knowledge that the war was all but over. Soldiers have no desire to die, and it is difficult to motivate them to take extra chances if they feel that their deaths would be meaningless. The Soviet soldier had nothing to gain or prove by dying for the motherland so late in the war. Even so, losses among the three Red Army fronts involved in the operation from 16 April to 8 May totaled more than 300,000 men–over 10 percent of their total strength.
One German soldier who fought during the battle for Berlin was Siegfried Knappe. At the time of the battle, he was a major and the operations officer of the LVI Panzer Corps. Knappe, along with Ted Brusaw, has recently written "Soldat", a book on his experiences in the German army from 1936 to 1949.
WWII: How were the defenses of Berlin laid out?
Knappe: The defenses of the city consisted of three rings with nine sectors. The outer ring was about 60 miles in circumference and ran around the outskirts of the city. It mainly consisted of partially dug trenches and hastily emplaced roadblocks. The middle ring was about 25 miles in circumference and made use of already existing obstacles such as the S-Bahn [surface railway] and solidly built houses. The inner ring was the center of the city and consisted of massive government buildings. In addition, there were six bombproof flak towers. Eight of the sectors, labeled A through H, radiated in a pie shape through all three defensive rings. The ninth, Z, was located in the center of the city. Sector Z had its own defensive force consisting of Hitler's SS guard units. Beyond the flak units there were no regular army units to speak of in Berlin until we arrived.
WWII: How many experienced soldiers did you have in the LVI Corps?
Knappe: I have a report here that gives a good answer to that question. It says that the fighting power when we had all five divisions was the equivalent of two divisions.
WWII: How many men would that be?
Knappe: About 40,000 men if both divisions had their full peacetime complement. The report also says that other units in Berlin were the equivalent of two to three divisions and that the Waffen SS was the equivalent of half a division. All together it says about four to five divisions consisting of 60,000 men with 50 to 60 tanks.
WWII: How good were the other units?
Knappe: Their fighting ability was limited. Some were Volkssturm [Home Guard] and Hitler Youth, and their equipment was very limited. Others, such as the anti-aircraft units, were limited in their mobility. They all tried but were not trained or equipped for infantry fighting. The Russians say in their literature [that we had] 180,000 men.
WWII: That would make it seem like a bigger victory.
Knappe: Yes. They may have come up with that number by taking the number of divisions and using their peacetime complement. But we were not even close to that.
WWII: Did you ever think that you had a chance to win the battle?
Knappe: No. It was clear from the beginning that we had no chance. We were only delaying until the Western powers could get to Berlin.
WWII: Did you ever talk among yourselves and say, 'We can hold the Russians for a week,' or some other time period?
Knappe: No, we didn't put anything in time limits like that. We knew that we could hold out long enough for the Western powers to get to Berlin.
WWII: How did you, as a major, become a corps operations officer? In addition, you mention that the 20th Division was commanded by a colonel, but that is normally a major general's position. Was that fairly normal during that time of the war–to have a much lower ranking officer in those positions?
Knappe: Yes, during that time of the war crazy things were happening. As I mention in my book, I almost became the commander of a division as a major!
WWII: In Berlin, how did you communicate with and control the troops?
Knappe: We started out with the Berlin civilian telephone system. As quickly as we could, we got our own net, but we did not have all of the communications equipment that we needed. So, we were glad to have the civilian telephone system available.
WWII: How much control did you really have over the troops?
Knappe: We had good control over the troops in Berlin. We lost control over the 20th during the fierce fighting outside of the city, just like the Ninth Army lost control over us. We just didn't have all of the wireless that we should have had. All of our communications was with makeshift stuff, but we still could manage.
WWII: During World War II, the German army had a lot of ad hoc units. The Müncheberg Division was one of those, and they seemed to have done a very good job from the Seelow Heights, when they first entered combat, until the very end in Berlin. How was the German army able to do that?
Knappe: It was our training. There were still enough well-trained officers and non-commissioned officers that it could work, even at the end of the war. All of them had gone through the same training.
WWII: How could they develop unit cohesion when they were thrown together and then almost immediately sent into combat?
Knappe: That was a function of the officers and non-commissioned officers. Until Stalingrad we didn't have to do that, but after it became a regular occurrence with all of the losses and retreats. Everyone knew that if they kept together and fought together they could evade captivity or being killed.
WWII: How was the Müncheberg Division formed? Did they take individual soldiers or did they try to keep them in groups?
Knappe: Everyone knew that there would be a big fight for Berlin, and the home units got orders to send everybody to the city of Müncheberg, which is where the name came from. The general staff decided what would be needed to start a new division there. The materiel, artillery, communication equipment and anything else that would be needed was identified and arranged to be sent to Müncheberg. A division staff had already been appointed, and they were there to receive the equipment. So, when the men arrived, the equipment was organized and waiting for them. I did this in France when the Sixth Army was lost at Stalingrad. I went to France, and the people that I needed of all ranks came for a battalion of artillery plus 250 horses and the guns.
Panzer-Division Müncheberg was a German Panzer division which saw action on the Eastern Front around Berlin during World War II.
Panzer-Division Müncheberg began forming on 8 March 1945 in Müncheberg, Germany. The majority of the division's staff and Panzer troops were drawn from the 103rd Panzer Brigade, which had been dissolved three days before. Major General of the Reserve [Generalmajor der Reserve] Werner Mummert, the commander of the 103rd Panzer Brigade, was placed in command of the division.
The Müncheberg Division received several Panther [Type G] tanks equipped with Sperber Infrared [IR] systems, as well as a company of Panzergrenadiers equipped with Sperber IR systems. The division received several of the super heavy Jagdtigers, as well as several King Tigers, and the last five Tiger 1s to be sent to the front. By 12 March the division's strength was 6,836 men. On 18 March the men from an infantry battalion of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler division were used to bolster the division's strength.
As the advancing Soviet forces neared Müncheberg, the partly formed Müncheberg Division was ordered to move east as the mobile reserve for the Ninth Army, which was part of Army Group Vistula.
The town of Küstrin lies roughly 70 km to the east of Berlin. Adolf Hitler had declared that the town was to be a fortress [Festung]. Unlike other so-called fortress towns and cities, Festung Küstrin was indeed a fortress. The forces of Marshal Vasily Chuikov had reached the outskirts of Küstrin on 31 January and attempted to secure a bridgehead across the Oder. Bridgeheads were established to the north and south of Küstrin, but the Soviet forces could not consolidate their bridgehead until Küstrin was captured. Chuikov's forces, hesitant to attack the well-defended fortress, began attempts to surround Küstrin.
Despite repeated Soviet attacks, the narrow strip of land between Busse's 9th Army and Küstrin, dubbed the Küstrin Corridor, was kept open. On 22 March a major Soviet effort to sever the corridor went into action. The Soviet plan consisted of an inner and outer encirclement. The inner encirclement succeeded quickly, and the corridor was cut. Müncheberg went into action on 22 March alongside XXXIX Panzer Corps. By 25 March the outer encirclement was completed, trapping several German units including a platoon from the Müncheberg.
On 27 March, the Germans launched a counter-offensive aimed at re-opening the Küstrin Corridor. Müncheberg was subordinated to XXXIX Panzer Corps for the attack. The corps was unable to break through to the city. A Soviet counter-attack hit the 20th Panzergrenadier Division and soon the attack was in disarray, with elements of the 20th falling back in a disorganised rout. After the failure of the Küstrin counter-attack, Müncheberg was pulled out of the line to be refitted.
On 16 April the Red Army launched an offensive operation across the Alte Oder aimed at capturing Berlin. From this date until the end of the war, Müncheberg was in constant combat. On 20 April Müncheberg, together with its neighboring formation 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland fell back into Berlin itself.
The division was pushed back into Berlin itself by the advancing Soviet forces. The remnants of the Müncheberg were positioned in the north-eastern sector of Berlin, north of the River Spree. By this stage, the division retained roughly a dozen tanks and about thirty halftracks.
On 25 April, General Helmuth Weidling, the recently appointed commander of the defence of Berlin, ordered Mummert to take command of the LVI Panzer Corps, command of the Müncheberg being handed over to Colonel Hans-Oscar Wöhlermann, the artillery commander [ArKo] for the city. On 26 April Müncheberg, along with Nordland, was ordered to attack towards Tempelhof Airport and Neukölln. With its last ten Panzers, the Müncheberg initially made progress, but several local Soviet counter-attacks soon halted the advance.
Around noon on 26 April Wöhlermann was released from command and Mummert was reinstated as commander of the division.
As the division fought in Wilmersdorf, the encirclement of Berlin was completed and the remnants of the Müncheberg were trapped.
On 30 April, Hitler committed suicide. The Müncheberg, 18th Panzergrenadier Division along with a few Tiger IIs from SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 503 were engaged in heavy fighting near the Westkreuz and Halensee train stations and on the Kurfürstendamm.
The Last Battle
30 April 1945
Unterscharführer Karl-Heinz Turk of the
Schwere SS Panzerabteilung 503,
in one of the units few remaining Kingtigers,
defends the Potsdammer Platz on 30 April 1945,
along with elements of the Müncheberg Division
against the rapidly encroaching Soviet forces.
By 1 May the division had been pushed back to the Tiergarten and was fighting to defend the Zoo Flak Tower, the shelter of thousands of civilians. The Müncheberg's last operating Panzer, a Tiger 1, was abandoned on the Unter den Linden Straße a hundred metres from the Brandenburg Gate.
Tiger at the Gate
30 April 1945
A Tiger I and PAK 40 anti tank gun of the
Müncheberg Division, field a final defence of the
capital in front of the Brandenburg Gate under the
shattered remains of the famous Linden trees.
The under-strength division had just been formed the
previous month from a mixture of ad hoc units and
various marks of tank. Despite this it put up a
spirited fight until its final destruction in early May
Panther at the Tiergarten
2 May 1945
Below the vast bulk of the Zoo Bunker one of three
giant Flak towers designed to defend Berlin from
air attack, some remnants of the city's defenders
gather in an attempt to break out of the doomed
capital, troops from the 9th Fallschirmjäger
and Müncheberg Panzer Divisions, including a
rare night fighting equipped Panther G
of Oberleutnant Rasims 129th Panzer Regiment
The division, together with the remnants of 18th Panzergrenadier, attempted to escape Berlin to the west, to surrender to the Americans. On 3 May the divisions had reached a crossing over the Havel River in Spandau, under fire by the Red Army. Those who made it across the bridge found that they were surrounded by the Soviet forces; on the same day, the division ceased to exist.
WWII: You mention in your book that the Soviets lost an opportunity to seize Berlin sooner than they actually did. Could you expand on that?
Knappe: The time that I was talking about, when they could have had Berlin much earlier than they did, was after the initial breakthroughs in our outer defenses. There was a period of time where our defenses looked like a dumbbell. One end was circling the [Adolf Hitler's] Bunker and one end was circling the Olympic Stadium, which included the Pichelsdorf Bridge, where we were going to break out from, with a very long, narrow strip between the two on either side of Heerstrasse. They could have very easily attacked the Bunker area by driving east, straight down Heerstrasse. In fact, they had individual tanks crossing Heerstrasse all the time. We were able to keep in contact with the units around the Olympic Stadium by the subway tunnel that ran under Heerstrasse. Every time I updated the situation map I always wondered why they didn't realize what they could do. We just didn't have enough troops to defend everywhere. The Russians just kept attacking where we were the strongest. They kept trying to get to the center of the city by the shortest way when the longer way would have been a lot easier.
WWII: You went into Hitler's Bunker a number of times during the battle. Initially, the guards took away your pistol, but toward the end they stopped searching you and you were able to take your pistol in. You say in your book that you had the opportunity to shoot Hitler, and while you thought about it you decided not to. Could you elaborate on that?
Knappe: If I had shot him it would not have changed anything because the fighting was all but over.
WWII: After all of those years of Hitler being Führer, what caused you to change your mind about him? Did the change occur in a day or two, or was it something that you had been thinking about for some time?
Knappe: It was not a sudden change. It was something that had started right after Stalingrad. It was not just me but a general feeling among the front-line officers. We could see what was really happening.
WWII: What made you think about killing Hitler when the opportunity was presented?
Knappe: Probably his statement to General Weidling when Weidling was asking him for permission to break out and for him to go with us. General Weidling told me that Hitler had said that he did not want to die in the street like a 'Landstreicher'. Landstreicher does not have an exact translation into English, that is why my book uses the word 'dog,' but a Landstreicher is someone like a hobo or panhandler. Both of us had seen hundreds of German soldiers die in the streets during the war, and now Hitler was saying that he did not want to die like they died. My brother died from his wounds that he received in Russia. So, both of us were very upset by Hitler's use of this word. It was just such an unbelievable comment, especially to make that type of comment to a soldier. It wasn't until this time that I finally began to realize what sort of man we had been fighting for.
WWII: So, it was that one statement?
Knappe: Yes. I just had this impulse to shoot him. I wasn't worried about being executed afterwards, for I thought that I was a dead man anyway. We had recaptured some places from the Russians during the war and whenever we did, we almost always found that the German officers had been executed. So, I thought that the Russians would execute me after I was captured. Unconsciously, I realized that I couldn't afford to make Hitler into a martyr. This would have created another Dolchstosslegende or 'Stab-in-the-Back legend'. [Josef] Göbbels [Hitler's propaganda chief] would have made the most out of it. I'm sure that he probably would have said that if the Führer had not been killed by a general staff officer he would have found some way to save the German people.
WWII: You mention in your book that you ate in the Bunker when everyone was eating their last meal, before they were going to try to break out, and that you sat at the same table as Martin Bormann, Hitler's personal secretary. There have been stories for years that Bormann survived the war and has been seen. What do you think happened to him?
Knappe: He is dead. He was fat and untrained. If you are in a battle situation you have to be trained. You need to know what to do when someone is shooting at you. He would not have known what to do when the shooting started. I am sure that he was shot somewhere in the city. There have been several reports from people in that group that he was shot after crossing a bridge. But of course no one in the group checked on him. Everyone was just interested in themselves, and besides, no one had any love for him anyway.
WWII: You were the one who typed the order from General Weidling directing any German soldiers who were still fighting to stop after the surrender?
Knappe: That's correct. A Russian writer, Ilya Ehrenburg, incorrectly reported that a blond female secretary typed the order. I was blond at the time, but that was the only similarity. [Ilya Ehrenburg was one of the Soviet Union's top propagandists during the war].
WWII: After the surrender, you went into a prison camp in Berlin and were transferred to a prison camp in Russia for five years?
Knappe: That's correct, but that's another story.
Berlin: The Downfall, 1945
"Berlin: The Downfall" is an account of the final, colossal conflict between the Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany, ending with the storm of Berlin. As such, it could not be focused down to the story of a battle or even of several battles or offensives. To delimit the politics of those months would have been absurd, given that the Soviet General Staff's arguments about how, when and whether to go for Berlin were entirely political. And Beevor also knew from the outset that he would be writing not just about the collision between armies but about a human catastrophe which struck the people of Central Europe with the impact of an inrushing comet. The whole understanding and colouring of European culture changed; politics were transformed for half a century; frontiers evaporated; nations were thrown hundreds of miles sideways; cities which had endured for centuries flared to ashes; twelve million Germans become homeless fugitives.
When the Vistula line was stormed in January 1945, there were no fewer than 6.7 million men in the Soviet forces between the Baltic and the Adriatic. Facing the Reich, the center was led by Marshal Zhukov and his 1st Belorussian Front, with General Rokossovsky and the 2nd Belorussian Front on his right heading for East Prussia and Marshal Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front on his left advancing towards Silesia. Zhukov was the man Stalin considered to be senior; Konev was the general he liked best, because of his ruthlessness and dash; Rokossovsky was the one he mistrusted, because of his Polish ancestry.
When the German front on the Vistula broke, Soviet forces poured westwards and some units reached the Oder - the last natural obstacle before Berlin - within three weeks. But it was not until 16 April, well over two months later, that Zhukov launched his gigantic offensive across the river and into the Seelow Heights beyond. Some of the Soviet commanders thought in early February that there was nothing much to stop them driving across the Oder and on to Berlin, less than sixty miles away. Given the chaos of the German retreat, they were probably right. But Stalin did not want just to reach Berlin. He wanted to encircle it, which meant getting his main forces across the river and deep into central Germany. No doubt he hoped to be the captor of Hitler and his cronies; no doubt - as Beevor says - he was after the uranium oxide stocks at the nuclear research institute in western Berlin. But above all he understood that Berlin, conquered in battle by the Red Army, would be the keystone in the triumphal arch of Soviet power over Central Europe. The other Allies would have to take over their Berlin sectors in due course, but Stalin wanted to be massively and invincibly in possession of the city before the Americans and the British could get there. This is why he lied, so often and so shamelessly, to Allied emissaries about the goal of the Oder offensive. Berlin no longer had military significance, he said, and his thrust would head south-west towards Dresden.
Eisenhower believed him, or at least had no time for the implications of not believing him. Montgomery and Churchill knew well what Stalin was up to, but the decision was not theirs. On 15 April, General William H. Simpson of the US 9th Army was flown back from the Elbe front to meet General Omar Bradley at Wiesbaden. The Russians were still on the wrong side of the Oder; the Seelow Heights offensive did not begin until the next day. Simpson, on the other hand, had actually got across the Elbe and saw nothing much but sixty miles of Autobahn between his lead tanks and Berlin. Bradley passed on 'Ike's order': he was to halt. Simpson was 'dazed'.
Too much shouldn't be made of this. The notion that the Allies could have reached Berlin first and changed the history of Europe is fantasy; the zones and sectors of occupied Germany and Berlin had already been demarcated and agreed. The next morning, Zhukov unleashed his huge offensive across the Oder against the main surviving formations of the Wehrmacht and SS, supported by a pathetic rabble of Hitler Youth children and Volkssturm civilian conscripts. But the Germans fought cleverly and stubbornly.
Zhukov made shocking tactical mistakes which cost thousands of lives, and the Seelow Heights battle, supposed to take one day, lasted three. As the three Fronts converged on Berlin, from north, east and south, rivalry between marshals and sheer muddle slowed the advance. In a secret intelligence dispatch to Stalin, Serov of the NKVD reported on 25 April that Berlin no longer had "serious permanent defences" and that the Volkssturm would not fight. But it was another fortnight before Soviet troops hoisted the red flag over the Reichstag and over the Reich Chancellery - a woman did that, Major Anna Nikulina of the 9th Rifle Corps.
One of the last SS units to hold out defending Hitler’s Bunker in Berlin was comprised entirely of Frenchmen
The French volunteers of the Second World War constituted an entirely separate division in the Wehrmacht, and after that the Waffen-SS which consisted of units that were called the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne [1st French] and the Charlemagne Regiment.
With an impressive strength of an estimated 7,400-11,000 at its peak in 1944, the numbers came down to a mere sixty, as of May 1945.
Entrusted with the protection of Central Berlin as well as the Führer’s Bunker from the Soviet invasion, they were one of the last remaining German units to have faced combat.
They were also among the last remaining to surrender; and as they knew very well that they could never survive if Germany got defeated, they continued to fight till the last days of the Battle of Berlin.
The unit’s crest represented the dual Charlemagne Empire that had united the Franks – a historical event that would contribute to the formation of France and Germany.
The crest equally represents France and Germany, with the Fleur-de-Ly’s on the right representing France [or West Francia, as it was called], and the Imperial Eagle on the left representing Germany.
As of April 1945, SS Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg was left with only 700 men under his command, who were segregated into a single heavy support battalion with no equipment and an infantry regiment consisting of two battalions (57 and 58).
While 400 of these were sent to serve in a construction battalion, the remaining 350 opted to go to Berlin to delay the coming of the Soviet forces.
On 23 April 1945, Krukenberg was ordered by the Reich Chancellery of Berlin himself to lead his men to the capital. Reorganized as the "Sturmbattalion Charlemagne" [Assault Battalion Charlemagne], around 330 French troops, after taking a long detour to escape the Soviet forces reached Berlin on 24 April.
It was thereafter attached to the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division [also called "Nordland"], which greatly strengthened the division that had already lost its "Norge" and "Danmark" regiments in combat.
On 25 April, SS Brigadeführer Joachim Ziegler was relieved of his command of the Nordland Division, with SS-Brigadeführer Krukenberg simultaneously being appointed the commander of the [Berlin] Defence Sector C, which included the Nordland Division.
Much to their surprise, the soldiers noticed the unnatural quiet atmosphere of Berlin on their first night serving there, with no sounds of fighting bar the distant sound of Soviet artillery. The soldiers proceeded to walk from West to East Berlin and reached a brewery near the Hermannplatz – which is where combat started, with the Hitler Youth firing Panzerfausts at the Soviet guards’ tanks that stood near the Tempelhof Aerodrome. The Sturmbattalion later joined them.
On 26 April, the Sturmbattalion participated in a counterattack in the Neukölln district in southeast Berlin. They joined forces with the Tiger II tanks and the 11th SS Panzer-Battalion "Hermann von Salza," that ran into an ambush by Soviet troops using a captured German Panther tank.
This, in turn, led to half of the available troops being wiped out on the very first day. The remainder went on to defend Neukölln’s Town Hall.
With Neukölln completely invaded by Soviet forces, Krukenberg prepared fallback positions for Sector C defenders around Hermannplatz and shifted headquarters to the opera house.
With the Nordland Division’s withdrawal to Hermannplatz, the French SS and the Hitler Youth attached to their group destroyed 14 Soviet tanks using Panzerfausts, with one machine gun position by the Halensee Bridge being sufficient to hold up any Soviet advance in the area for the next 48 hours.
The Soviet invasion of Berlin consisted of massive shelling followed by assaults using battle groups consisting of around 80 men who were armed with tank escorts and artillery support. They managed to push back the remnants of Nordland Division to the central government district [Zitadelle sector] in Defence sector Z, with Krukenberg’s new Nordland headquarters being a carriage in the Stadtmitte U-Bahn station.
As of 28 April, about 108 Soviet tanks had been destroyed in south-east Berlin within the S-Bahn, 62 of which were destroyed by the Charlemagne Sturmbataillon alone, which went under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Henri Joseph Fenet, who was entrusted to defend Neukölln, Friedrichstrasse, Belle Alliance Platz, and Wilhelmstrasse.
A wounded Fenet with his battalion, retreated to the Reich Aviation Ministry in the central government district led by SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke, who awarded Fenet the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for the battalion’s victories in the Battle in Berlin.
With the Soviets now launching a full-scale attack into the central sector, the battle became more intense than ever and involved brutal combat.
The last defenders of Hitler’s Bunker, the French Charlemagne units remained until 2 May and prevented the Soviets from conquering it on May Day.
The Sturmbattalion was reduced to a mere 30 in number, as most had either been captured or had escaped Berlin. Out of these, those who reached France were sentenced to camps and jails run by the Allied forces.
Fenet, for instance, was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was later released in 1959. Others, however, were shot upon capture by the French authorities.
Confusion and bad staff work may have held the Red Army back. But so did the enemy. Reading Beevor's account of the German command structure, one of so many which record a hysterical Führer squalling nonsensical orders at his generals, it is hard to explain how armies under such leadership resisted at all. But in fact the forces up against the Red Army in those final months fought bitterly and skillfully to the very end. While Heinrich Himmler posed as commander of the Vistula Army Group in a luxurious special train parked well away from the front, some of his colonels knocked whole armies off balance with expertly delivered flank attacks. The Nazi commissars screamed for 'fanatical resistance' and then ran away; the old sergeants and junior officers stuck with their men until there was nothing left but surrender. When there was no fuel left and no cover against Allied aircraft, a handful of heavy tanks were still giving Zhukov grief in central Berlin on the war's last day.
Defence of the Reichstag
1 May 1945
On 30 April, Unterscharführer Georg Diers
and his crew of tank 314, were ordered to take
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.
How these men kept up something like an effective defence under such conditions remains a puzzle. Sometimes they were just fighting for their lives, as in the frightful forest battles south of Berlin as the 9th Army tried to break through to the West and surrender to the Americans. But sometimes they must have been outstandingly well led. Just possibly, a book will one day be written in which Hitler gives some shrewd orders and his overruled generals are not always in the right. This is certainly not Beevor's line. "Berlin" follows the account left by General Guderian, who features as the personification of courage and common sense as he stands up to the mad Führer. Probably he was, though all Nazi generals' memoirs play this number, and one grows suspicious. But Stalin was certainly a far better supremo by this stage of the war.
Almost 80,000 Soviet soldiers did not return from the downfall of Berlin.
-- Excerpt: Neal Ascherson has reported from Central and Eastern Europe since the 1960s. He is the author of "Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland", "The Struggle for Poland" and "Black Sea".
An orgy of denial in Hitler's Bunker
By Paul Sheehan
17 May 2003
Sunday, 29 April 1945. Berlin. Adolf Hitler's secretary, Gertraud [Traudl] Junge, is finally released from her typing about 4am, after the Führer and the woman he has just married, Eva Braun, have retired to bed. Junge goes upstairs to find food for Josef Göbbels' children. What she finds shocks her deeply.
"An erotic fever seemed to have taken possession of everybody. Everywhere, even on the dentist's chair, I saw bodies locked in lascivious embraces. The women had discarded all modesty and were freely exposing their private parts".
These same SS officers coupling with the young women had spent the previous day searching cellars and streets for deserters, whom they promptly executed in public, usually by hanging. They also tempted hungry and impressionable young women back to the Reich Chancellery with promises of parties and inexhaustible supplies of food and champagne.
The previous day, Hitler had noticed that one of his top SS officers, Hermann Fegelein, who was Eva Braun's brother-in-law, was missing from the situation room. Hitler sent some of his own Gestapo bodyguards to look for him. They found him in an apartment he kept for extra-marital trysts, apparently drunk, with a mistress. His bags, containing money, jewels and false passports, were packed and ready for departure. Fegelein was dragged back to the chancellery and interrogated by the chief of the Gestapo. All badges of rank, including his Knight's Cross, were torn from his uniform. He was then executed in the garden.
Hitler proceeded to marry Braun, who wore a long, black silk taffeta dress for the ceremony, and Göbbels and Martin Bormann signed the register as witnesses. The wedding party retired to a sitting room for a champagne breakfast for the new Frau Hitler, as she now insisted on being called by the servants. After Göbbels retired to his room he wrote in his diary of "the delirium of treachery which surrounds the Führer ..."
The delirium of treachery could describe the mountain of often surreal detail contained in "Berlin: The Downfall 1945" [Penguin], the blockbuster by historian Antony Beevor. It is the follow-up to his even bigger blockbuster "Stalingrad", published in 1998, which smashed through the barriers that used to constrain war history.
"When an editor at Penguin said, 'I think this book might get to 10,000 copies', I saw marketing people start raising their eyebrows," Beevor says by phone from his London home. One can only wonder what happened to the marketing eyebrows after sales of 'Stalingrad' passed a million copies in 24 editions around the world.
"The book just exploded out of its category," he says. "Previously it was just military buffs and retired soldiers [who read war history], but the number of women who read 'Stalingrad' is extraordinary".
Beevor did for the genre what Steven Spielberg did for war movies with "Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers". Access to Soviet archives after Glasnost provided new material about the ground-level detail of war, enabling him to humanise the narrative without compromising the big picture.
But why would so many women read about such a brutal campaign? "People are much more interested in the individual, in social history," he replies. "And we live in a post-military age. It's not just chessboard history any more".
What also made "Stalingrad" relevant to women, and applies even more so to Berlin, is that the big picture confirmed and described the extent of rape at the end of World War II. "It was the greatest phenomenon of mass rape in history," he says. At least 100,000 German women were raped in Berlin during the Soviet invasion, and about 10,000 died as a result, many committing suicide. It was far worse in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia, which took the brunt of Russian revenge and where the civilian population was decimated and about 1.4 million women were raped.
Such conclusions have not endeared Beevor to the Russians but the most interesting reaction to Berlin has been in Germany. The book had just one major review there, despite selling 500,000 copies in hardback around the world since it came out last year. "There was an onslaught by Joachim Fest, the giant of the subject in Germany, on three pages in [German newsweekly] 'Der Spiegel,' says Beevor.
"He had just produced his own biography of the end of Hitler. He took against my book in a big way. My approach was wrong. My analysis was wrong". Was it a defensive review? "I would think so ... After Fest, all guns fell silent. None of the major German newspapers came in. It did not sell largely as a result of his attack".
Beevor, 56, is a member of the British officer class. Granite-jawed and crisp-accented, he was educated at Winchester College and Royal Military College, Sandhurst, where he studied under the great war historian John Keegan. He served as a tank commander in the 11th Hussars. It was not a long military career -3 years- before he gave in to the tug of a family tradition and turned to writing.
His career as a novelist -he wrote four- made little impact. His career as a military historian -another four books- achieved solid but modest success until an editor at Penguin urged him to write a book about the seminal battle of World War II, Stalingrad, because the Russian archives were opening up.
"My jaw dropped in horror because there was no guarantee of getting access to the archives. I knew I'd be away for a long time and what a hit- or-miss operation it was".
He has declined to write a book about the other great siege of World War II, the 900-day onslaught on Leningrad, because after the harrowing details piled up in his last two books it would be too emotionally exhausting. "Leningrad is a story of unrelieved suffering," he says. Instead, he is working on three books, among them another blockbuster about D-Day.
Beevor has drawn a veil over what he calls "the pornography of violence" encountered in his research. Although his books are full of horrible incidents, he diverts the reader's gaze from the details of sadism involved in the mass rapes. There are, however, outbursts of eroticism driven by the heightened emotions of a rapidly collapsing empire:
"Girls, well aware of the high risk of rape, preferred to give themselves to almost any German boy first than to a drunken and probably violent Soviet soldier. In the broadcasting centre of the Grossdeutscher Rundfunk on the Masurenallee, two-thirds of the 500-strong staff were young women - many little more than 18. There, in the last week of April, a 'real feeling of disintegration' spread, with heavy drinking and indiscriminate copulation amid the stacks of the sound archive. There was also a good deal of sexual activity between people of various ages in unlit cellars and Bunkers. The aphrodisiac effect of mortal danger is hardly an unknown historical phenomenon".
Surreal, but Berlin is packed with the surreal: "Many German soldiers and officers had contrived to spend their last night of freedom in breweries ... In the Schultheiss brewery that morning, a young Luftwaffe helper asked what was going on when he heard shots. 'Come around to the back,' a comrade said. 'The SS are shooting themselves'.
Is there any evidence Hitler committed suicide beyond Soviet hearsay?
The FOIA release shows that Hoover, then director of the FBI, did not seem to believe that Hitler committed suicide, and instead fled to Argentina or Switzerland. Were there were other sources beyond the Soviets that Hitler committed suicide, since apparently Hoover didn't seem to believe Hitler was dead?
Much of the evidence for Hitler's death comes from eye witness testimonies and recently Soviet archives that have been declassified.
Here is the testimony given by his secretary Gerda Christian:
"I learned from Linge [Hitler's driver] that he, together with Bormann and Kempka had carried the bodies into the garden where the cremation was still in progress....I once again went into Hitler's living room-cum-office. There I saw a bloodstain about the size of a hand on the rug next to the sofa".
Here is what Hitler's personal adjutant, Otto Günsche had to say after entering the area where Hitler had shot himself:
"Eva Braun was lying on the sofa....the head was on the left side of the sofa, she was lying on her back with her legs drawn up slightly....Hitler himself sat in an armchair standing to the left and slightly forward... his body was slightly sunk together and slanted slightly to the right over his armrest".
Günsche was incorrect in the placement of the body, as Hitler was actually on the sofa with Braun, hence the bloodstain being near the sofa. The testimonies on the positions of the bodies vary among the three who actually saw them and lived. The other two who saw them were Artur Axmann and Heinz Linge. The reason for the testamonies being different is unknown, but is speculated that they simply did not register the positions correctly and they only remembered when they were interrogated.
Heinz Linge testified that Hitler took two pistols into the suicide room. Here is the quote from an interview with him on 9 February 1956:
"Both of Hitler's pistols, with which I was very familiar with, lay directly at the points of Hitler's feet, the 7.65mm by the right and 6.35mm by the left".
Why if Hitler was going to poison himself why would he bring two guns? If one didn't work he would use the other one obviously, but he wouldn't have time to switch pistols if he also bit a poison tablet. So the original question still stands why the two pistols?
The idea that Hitler took the poison first was primarily pushed by Nazi youth leader, Artur Axmann. The problem is Axmann was wrong before. He was the one who pushed the idea that Hitler shot himself through the mouth, which forensic science has proved to be impossible. When questioned further Axmann claimed that he had been told by Günsche that Hitler had taken poison, Günsche said no such thing. Axmann stopped repeating the poison claim in future interviews. He was questioned by a Judge Musmanno on the matter and said this:
Q: Yes you have said that he [Hitler] first took poison and then shot himself. Since the effect of the poison is practically instantaneous, how could he have found the strength to pull the trigger of the pistol after he had taken the poison
A: I said what Günsche had told me, namely that Hitler had first taken poison and then shot himself through the mouth.
The interview goes on, but that was the relevant part. Axmann bases his poison story off what Günsche told him. But, Günsche says he told Axmann no such thing.
Now for the controversy around the actual poison. Hitler provided his inner circle with poison capsules, handed out by Himmler and Dr.Stumpfegger. These capsules were made at a nearly by concentration camp and were filled with Dehydrated Prussic Acid, and the dose that was in these poison capsules was sufficient to paralyse the body within seconds. Hitler would have had to been very fast on the trigger to beat out the paralysis caused by the Prussic Acid.
The Soviets claim Hitler was identified by dental record of his lower jaw, however, according to Kershaw he was not identified by comparing the lower jaw to dental records but by showing the bridge Dr Blaschke had installed to Blaschke's technician. This bridge was in Hitler's upper jaw, not his lower.
Lev Bezemensky [or Bezymenski] was a Russian author and KGB officer who in 1968 published "The Death of Adolf Hitler", which he later admitted to have contained deliberate lies, namely that Hitler was too cowardly to have shot himself and had therefore taken poison.
This was the official version forwarded to Stalin by Beria on 16 June, and it was based on the autopsy carried out by Dr. Shkaravsky on 8 May on the corpses of Hitler, Eva Braun, General Krebs, the Göbbels family, and two dogs. However, by June Beria actually knew better as there had been a chemical analysis of the corpses which proved that the corpses of Hitler and Eva Braun contained no traces of poison, the other 11 corpses did. Beria removed this analysis from the final report, because he wanted to please Stalin by "proving" that Hitler had died a coward's death, or possibly because he wanted to discredit a rival by having him submit a "false" report – his motives are murky.
For a while Beria's version remained the official one, though within the Soviet intelligence service doubts soon began to rise as their version was contradicted by British and American findings based on the testimonies of witnesses. Therefore, in May 1946, a trip to Berlin was undertaken to examine the Führerbunker.
The result of the analysis by coroner Semenovsky was categorical:
"On the basis of the great number of streams and spots of blood on the sofa it must be concluded that the wound was accompanied by a profuse shedding of blood […] The damage to the head resulted from a gunshot wound..."
They further dug up the garden again and found fragments of a skull with an injury that according to the coroner suggested the exit hole of a bullet.
All of this was included in a report produced in 1946, which later formed part of a larger file on Hitler spanning the years 1933-1945 that was presented to Stalin in December 1949, based on these investigations and the testimonies of Otto Günsche and Heinz Linge, who were in Soviet custody at the time.
To the outside world, the Soviets presented different versions at different times: first that Hitler had fled and was being sheltered by the West, later that Hitler had taken poison.
Günsche testified that while Eva Braun had a very potent almond smell, Hitler had none. He testified in 1956 that:
"In contrast to Eva Braun's body, there was no odour detectable on Hitler's corpse".
This is further corroborated by the others who carried Hitler's body to the area where it was burned.
Chemical experts pointed out in 1956 that in strong heat [like the kind Hitler was burned in] the acid dissolves rapidly, erasing the almond odour and they concluded that: "...there is no evidence whatsoever that Hitler's death was brought about by prussic acid".
Heinz Linge, in "With Hitler to the End" wrote:
"In the midst of the deafening cacophony of exploding artillery shells, a pistol shot rang out in Adolf Hitler's Bunker complex. I did not hear it myself, but as the odour of the gun discharge drifted through the door frame I knew that Hitler has shot himself".
As the war was ending and Russian troops closed in on Berlin, Hitler and other Nazi officials confined themselves to a Bunker beneath the city. It is widely believed that Hitler and his wife Eva Braun killed themselves in the Bunker, in order to avoid possible capture.
That afternoon, in accordance with Hitler’s prior instructions, their remains were carried up the stairs through the Bunker’s emergency exit, doused in petrol and set alight in the Reich Chancellery garden outside the Bunker. The Soviet archives record that their burnt remains were recovered and interred in successive locations until 1970 in other sites in Germany in the decades after the war, when they were again exhumed, cremated and the ashes scattered, but this is uncertain.
In 1970, the SMERSH facility, by then controlled by the KGB, was scheduled to be handed over to the East German government. Fearing that a known Hitler burial site might become a Neo-Nazi shrine, KGB director Yuri Andropov authorised an operation to destroy the remains that had been buried in Magdeburg on 21 February 1946. A Soviet KGB team was given detailed burial charts. On 4 April 1970 they secretly exhumed five wooden boxes containing the remains of “10 or 11 bodies … in an advanced state of decay”. The remains were thoroughly burned and crushed, after which the ashes were thrown into the Biederitz river, a tributary of the nearby Elbe.
Accounts differ as to the cause of death; one that Hitler died by poison only and another that he died by a self-inflicted gunshot, while biting down on a cyanide capsule. Contemporary historians have rejected these accounts as being either Soviet propaganda or an attempted compromise in order to reconcile the different conclusions. One eye-witness recorded that the body showed signs of having been shot through the mouth, but this has been proven unlikely. There is also controversy regarding the authenticity of skull and jaw fragments which were recovered.
What became of Hitler’s remains is still an open historical question and it was thought the answer could lie in the Russian archives in Moscow, where among other artifacts, there is a piece of human skull with a bullet wound that the Russians say is that of Adolf Hitler.
A program on the "History Channel", called 'Mystery Quest', dispatches teams of experts around the world to try to solve "some of mankind’s strangest and most persistent mysteries".
The premiere episode 16 September 2009 – “Hitler’s Escape” – featured three University of Connecticu faculty: Nicholas Bellantoni, Linda Strausbaugh, and Dawn Pettinelli. Together they investigated what became of Adolf Hitler’s remains in the days, months, and years after the end of World War II.
The "History Channel" had brought Bellantoni on a fact-finding mission from Germany to Moscow in search of evidence. He conducted an exploratory dig through a patch of earth where Hitler’s remains were said to have been reburied by the Soviets in the decades after World War II, searching for bone fragments. He also gained access to the Russian national archives, where he reviewed documents related to the Soviets’ handling of Hitler’s remains, and examined and gained DNA evidence from blood and bone fragments the Russians have said for decades belonged to the Nazi dictator.
Pettinelli conducted tests on the soil samples and Strausbaugh and her team conducted DNA testing on swabs of blood and skull fragments.
Strausbaugh’s lab was tasked with extracting DNA from burn-damaged dime-sized fragments of what was believed to be Adolf Hitler’s skull. Much of the research was conducted by two of Strausbaugh’s former students, Craig O’Conner, Ph.D. ’08, and Heather Nelson, MS ’04, both now on staff at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in New York City. After successfully extracting DNA, the results of the tests showed definitively that the skull fragments did not belong to Hitler but belonged a young female according to skull morphology and DNA tests.
Nicholas Bellantoni is a Professor of Anthropology at UConn as well as the State Archaeologist at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History; Professor Linda Strausbaugh is the Director of the Center for Applied Genetics and Technology in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, and teaches a class on genetics and mitochondrial DNA; and Dawn Pettinelli is Manager of the Home and Garden Education Center and Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory.
HITLER-PARAQUAY: Harán film about book of the Argentine Abel Basti who says he died in Paraguay
History that states that Hitler died in Paraguay arrives at the cinema
Juan José Salinas
6 October 2014
A European producer will make a film about the book "Following the Steps of Hitler" by the Argentinean Abel Basti, where he claims that the Nazi leader fled to Latin America and supposedly died in Paraguay, where he would be buried in a secret place.
"I inform you that a European producer will make a great film production with the book 'Following Hitler's Footsteps'. The announcement was made in Europe this week," says writer Abel Basti from Bariloche, Argentina.
Basti is the author of the book launched a few months ago, which provoked much controversy in maintaining that Adolf Hitler did not actually die in a Bunker in Berlin in 1945, but secretly escaped to Latin America, was refugee in Argentina with a false name and then was hidden in Paraguay, where he would have finally died, and would be buried in an undisclosed location, in the current basement of "a modern and exclusive hotel".
According to the news website "Screen Daily", the European film company "Guido Rud's Film Sharks International", based in Finland, acquired the copyright of Basti's book, "Hitler's Steps", to produce a film with the story of the fugue of Hitler to Argentina and his last days in Paraguay.
The company, which has made films such as "Kidnapping Freddy Heineken", a Belgian, Dutch and American co-production in 2014, with Anthony Hopkins, directed by Daniel Alfredson, plans to develop the project through its headquarters in Buenos Aires Aires.
The story told in the book is being adapted to a screenplay, according to the report. The production is in charge of Pablo Bossi, who was in charge of award-winning Argentine films such as "El Aura" and "Nueve Reinas," both of the late director Fabián Belinsky. Bossi is also a producer on The "Inventor of Games,"the Disney film directed by Juan Pablo Buscarini, starring Joseph Fiennes.
"We are very proud and excited to announce the development and production of "Hitler's Footsteps" with the "Guido Rud of Film Sharks"," said the directors of the European Film Company, Daniel Koefoed and Guirec van Slingelandt, who participate in the project.
"This will be the first project of a long-term partnership between our entities in Europe and South America," they said.
Controversy in Paraguay
The version published by Abel Basti in his book reinstalled with greater force the version already established earlier by other authors, like the Paraguayan historian Mariano Llano, who in the first edition of his work "Hitler and the Nazis in Paraguay," published in 2004, already claimed that Hitler died in Paraguayan lands.
The version is so far taken with much disbelief by Paraguayan historians, who maintain that there are no credible documents to support it.
In "Following Hitler's Footsteps, Basti cited the testimony of a former Brazilian military man, the son of a senior Nazi leader, who claimed that the Führer died on 5 February 1971 and is buried in a crypt in an old Nazi underground Bunker in Paraguay, where today stands a "modern and exclusive hotel".
The author describes that the first week of each February, the hotel establishment closes its doors so that an exclusive group of Nazis can honor its leader, "the man who changed their lives, them and everyone, forever".
The version was investigated by reporter Diego Ponce de León of the Brazilian newspaper "Correio Braziliense", who confirmed that the alleged witness, retired sergeant Fernando Nogueira de Araujo, really exists and is currently 70 years old. He even posted a photo of it.
Nogueira de Araujo did not want to give a personal interview, but agreed to respond through his friend and eventual spokesman, the independent journalist Marcelo Netto, from Sao Paulo, the same that gave the information to Basti, to include in his controversial book .
The alleged burial of Hitler
According to Abel Basti in "The Steps of Hitler", Fernando Nogueira de Araujo was active sergeant in 1973 and was 29 years old when he received a special invitation from his friend Haroldo Ernest, son of a Brazilian Nazi leader, to travel during Some days to Paraguay, with passages and stays completely paid.
"Fernando says that he was the only Brazilian representative invited to participate in this incredible event that would have attended about forty selected people, mostly elders who had met Hitler", Basti emphasizes in the book.
Nogueira de Araujo traveled to Paraguay with a wife, according to the story, although she could not attend the ceremony, because the women were not allowed access.
"Once in the place, with their identities accredited, the nearly forty guests were gathered - as it was said, Fernando was the only Brazilian - and they descended, in an elevator, to the lowest levels of the Bunker. There was a door with a staircase that led to a crypt, where Hitler's coffin was located, the story goes.
"When the whole group was assembled, it was announced that the entrance to the crypt would be closed, and one of the people who were present took a bucket with cement and a mason's spoon. He then began to glue bricks to close the narrow entrance to the Führer's crypt, building a wall that blocked access to the coffin that holds Hitler's deadly remains.
"After completing this work, with the honors of rigor, the ceremony was concluded and the guests were praised", concludes Basti.
This is part of the story that aroused the interest of European producers and filmmakers, and that soon will take shape in a great film, that probably includes filming in locations of Paraguay.