Death of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler committed suicide by gunshot on 30 April 1945 in his Führerbunker in Berlin. His wife Eva (née Braun) committed suicide with him by ingesting cyanide. 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 when they were again exhumed, cremated and the ashes scattered.
Accounts differ as to the cause of death; one that he 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. In 2009, DNA tests were performed on a skull Soviet officials had long believed to be Hitler's. The tests revealed that the skull was actually that of a woman less than 40 years old.
By early 1945, Germany's military situation was on the verge of total collapse. Poland had fallen to the advancing Soviet forces and they were massing to cross the Oder River between Küstrin and Frankfurt with Berlin, 82 kilometres (51 mi) to the west, as their objective. Hitler had watched the defeats to the Allies in Ardennes Offensive from his command post at Adlerhorst, with the British and Canadian forces in the north crossing the Rhine into the German industrial heartland of the Ruhr. The American forces in the south had captured the Lorraine and were advancing towards Mainz, Mannheim and the Rhine. In Italy, German forces were withdrawing north, as they were relentlessly pressed by the American and Commonwealth forces as part of the Spring Offensive to advance across the River Po and into the foothills of the Italian / Austrian Alps. In parallel to the military actions, the Allies had met at Yalta between 4–11 February to discuss the conclusion of the war in Europe.
Hitler retreated to his Führerbunker in Berlin on 16 January 1945 and by the end of February was presiding over a rapidly disintegrating Third Reich. To the Nazi leadership, it was clear that the battle for Berlin would be the final battle of the war. By 1 April, American forces were already on the Elbe River. Stalin, distrustful of the agreements reached at Yalta, told Eisenhower that he had "lost interest in Berlin" and would commence the offensive in May 1945. However, he was adamant that he intended to conquer Berlin by International Workers' Day (1 May 1945). Stalin had authorised his forces on 16 April to commence the battle for the Seelow Heights, the last major defensive line outside Berlin. By 19 April the Germans were in full retreat from Seelow Heights, leaving no front line. Berlin was bombarded by Soviet artillery for the first time on 20 April (Hitler's birthday). By the evening of 21 April, Red Army tanks reached the outskirts of Berlin.
At the afternoon situation conference on 22 April, Hitler suffered a total nervous collapse when he was informed that the orders he had issued the previous day for SS-General Felix Steiner's Army Detachment Steiner to move to the rescue of Berlin had not materialised. Hitler launched a tirade against the treachery and incompetence of his commanders, culminating in a declaration—for the first time—that the war was lost. Hitler announced that he would stay in Berlin until the end and then shoot himself. Later that day he asked SS physician Dr. Werner Haase about the most reliable method of suicide. Haase suggested the "pistol-and-poison method" of combining a dose of cyanide with a gunshot to the head.
By 27 April, Berlin was completely cut off from the rest of Germany. Secure radio communications with defending units had been lost; the command staff in the bunker were depending on telephone lines for passing instructions and orders and on public radio for news and information. On 28 April, a BBC report originating from Reuters was picked up; a copy of the message was given to Hitler. It reported that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had offered to surrender to the western Allies and that the offer had been declined. Himmler had implied that he had the authority to implement and support such a surrender; Hitler considered this treason. During the afternoon his anger and bitterness escalated into a rage against Himmler. Hitler ordered Himmler's arrest and had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot.
After midnight on 29 April, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony in a map room within the Führerbunker. Antony Beevor stated that afterwards Hitler hosted a modest wedding breakfast with his new wife. Hitler then took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his last will and testament. He signed these documents at 04:00 and then retired to bed (some sources say Hitler dictated the last will and testament immediately before the wedding, but all the sources agree on the timing of the signing).
During the course of 29 April, Hitler learned of the death of his ally, Benito Mussolini, who had been executed by Italian partisans. Mussolini's body and that of his mistress, Clara Petacci, had been strung up by their heels. The bodies were later cut down and lay in the gutter, where vengeful Italians reviled them. It is probable that these events strengthened Hitler's resolve not to allow himself or his wife to be made "a spectacle of", as he had earlier recorded in his Testament. That afternoon, Hitler expressed doubts about the cyanide capsules he had received through Himmler's SS. To verify the capsules' potency, Hitler ordered Dr. Werner Haase to test one on his dog, Blondi, and the animal died as a result. That evening, at the final battle conference in the Führerbunker, General Weidling painted a stark picture of the German situation and declared that the fighting in Berlin would inevitably come to an end within the next 24 hours. Hitler, "looking like a man completely resigned to his fate," agreed to the breakout of troops in small groups, but forbade the surrender of the city. By 01:00 General Keitel reported that all forces which Hitler had been depending on to come to the rescue of Berlin had either been encircled or forced onto the defensive.
Hitler and Braun lived together as husband and wife in the bunker for fewer than 40 hours. Late in the morning of 30 April, with the Soviets less than 500 metres from the bunker, Hitler had a meeting with General Helmuth Weidling, commander of the Berlin Defence Area, who informed Hitler that the Berlin garrison would probably run out of ammunition that night. Weidling asked Hitler for permission for a breakout, a request he had made unsuccessfully before. Hitler did not answer at first, and Weidling went back to his headquarters in the Bendlerblock, where at about 13:00 he got Hitler's permission to try a breakout that night. Hitler, two secretaries, and his personal cook then had lunch, after which Hitler and Eva Braun said their personal farewells to members of the Führerbunker staff and fellow occupants, including the Goebbels family, Martin Bormann, the secretaries, and several military officers. At around 14:30 Adolf and Eva Hitler went into Hitler's personal study.
Several witnesses later reported hearing a loud gunshot at around 15:30. After waiting a few minutes, Hitler's valet, Heinz Linge, with Bormann at his side, opened the door to the study. Linge later stated he immediately noted a scent of burnt almonds, a common observation made in the presence of prussic acid, the aqueous form of hydrogen cyanide. Hitler's SS adjutant, Sturmbannführer Otto Günsche, entered the study and found the lifeless bodies seated on a sofa. Eva, with her legs drawn up together, was to Hitler's left and slumped away from him. Günsche stated that Hitler "... sat ... sunken over, with blood dripping out of his right temple. He had shot himself with his own pistol, a Walther PPK 7.65". The gun lay at his feet and according to Oberscharführer Rochus Misch, however, Hitler's head was lying on the table in front of him. Blood dripping from Hitler's right temple and chin had made a large stain on the right arm of the sofa and was pooling on the carpet. According to Linge, Eva's body had no visible physical wounds, and her face showed how she had died—cyanide poisoning. Günsche and Mohnke stated "unequivocally" that all outsiders and those performing duties and work in the bunker "did not have any access" to Hitler's private living quarters during the "decisive" time of death between 15:00 and 16:00.
Günsche left the study and announced that the Führer was dead. The two bodies were carried up the stairs to ground level and through the bunker's emergency exit to the garden behind the Reich Chancellery, where they were doused with petrol. After the first attempts to ignite the petrol did not work, Linge went back inside the bunker and returned with a thick roll of papers. Bormann lit the papers and threw the torch onto the bodies. As the two corpses caught fire, a small group, including Bormann, Günsche, Linge, Goebbels, Peter Högl, Ewald Lindloff, and Hans Reisser, raised their arms in salute as they stood just inside the bunker doorway.
At around 16:15, Linge ordered SS-Untersturmführer Heinz Krüger and SS-Oberscharführer Werner Schwiedel to roll up the rug in Hitler's study to burn it. The two men removed the blood stained rug, carried it up the stairs and outside to the Chancellery garden. There the rug was placed on the ground and burned.
On and off during the afternoon, the Soviets shelled the area in and around the Reich Chancellery. SS guards brought over additional cans of petrol to further burn the corpses. Linge later noted the fire did not completely destroy the remains, as the corpses were being burned in the open, where the distribution of heat varies. The burning of the corpses lasted from 16:00 to 18:30. The remains were covered up in a shallow bomb crater at around 18:30 by Lindloff and Reisser.
The first inkling to the outside world that Hitler was dead came from the Germans themselves. On 1 May, the Reichssender Hamburg, a part of the once-powerful Deutschlandsender, which had earlier sent transmissions across all of Germany, and indeed most of occupied Europe, interrupted their normal program to announce that an important broadcast would soon be made. Then followed an announcement by Großadmiral Karl Dönitz, appointed as Hitler's successor in Hitler's will, in which Dönitz called upon the German people to mourn their Führer, who died the death of a hero in the capital of the Reich. Dönitz stated that his only aim for continuing the war was to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevist enemy. He added that as far and for so long as achievement of that aim was impeded by the British and the Americans, he would be forced to carry on Germany's defensive fight against them, as well. In the end, his tactic was somewhat successful: it enabled about 1.8 million German soldiers to avoid Soviet capture. However, it came at a high cost in bloodshed.
On the morning of 1 May, thirteen hours after the event, Stalin received the news that Hitler had shot himself. General Krebs had given this information to Soviet General Vasily Chuikov when they had met at 04:00 on 1 May, when the Germans attempted to obtain acceptable surrender terms. Stalin first demanded unconditional surrender and asked for confirmation that Hitler was dead. Stalin wanted Hitler's corpse found. In the early morning hours of 2 May, the Soviets captured the Reich Chancellery. Down in the Führerbunker, General Krebs and General Burgdorf committed suicide by gunshot to the head.
Later on 2 May, the remains of Hitler, Braun, and two dogs (thought to be Blondi and her offspring Wulf) were discovered in a shell crater by a unit of SMERSH tasked with finding Hitler's body. Stalin was still wary about believing his old nemesis was dead, and restricted the information that was publicly released. The remains of Hitler and Braun were repeatedly buried and exhumed by SMERSH during the unit's relocation from Berlin to a new facility in Magdeburg where they, along with the charred remains of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and those of his wife Magda Goebbels and their six children, were buried in an unmarked grave beneath a paved section of the front courtyard. The location was kept highly secret.
Different versions of Hitler's fate were presented by the Soviet Union according to its political desires. In the years immediately following 1945, the Soviets maintained Hitler was not dead, but had fled and was being shielded by former western allies. This worked for a time to cause western authorities some doubt. The chief of the U.S. trial counsel at Nuremberg, Thomas J. Dodd, said: "No one can say he is dead." When President Truman asked Stalin at the Potsdam Conference in August 1945 whether or not Hitler was dead, Stalin replied bluntly, "No". However, by 11 May 1945, the Soviets had already had Hitler's dentist, Hugo Blaschke, and his dental technician confirm the dental remains found were Hitler's and Braun's. In November 1945, Dick White, then head of counter-intelligence in the British sector of Berlin (and later head of MI5 and MI6 in succession), had their agent, Hugh Trevor-Roper, investigate the matter to counter the Soviet claims. His findings as to Hitler's last days and suicide were written in a report and published in book form in 1947.
In 1969, Soviet journalist Lev Bezymensky's book on the death of Hitler was published in the West. It included the SMERSH autopsy report, but because of the earlier disinformation attempts, western historians thought it untrustworthy.
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.
Elena Rzhevskaya, a former Soviet war interpreter, presented her testimony in the book Memories of a War-time Interpreter (Записки военного переводчика).
- The Death of Adolf Hitler is a British 1973 made-for-television production. Set in the Führerbunker, it follows the last ten days of Hitler's life. It stars Frank Finlay in the title role, who won a BAFTA award of Best Actor for his performance.
- Hitler: The Last Ten Days is a 1973 feature film directed by Ennio De Concini and starring Sir Alec Guinness in the title role.
- The Bunker was a 1981 made-for-television film directed by George Schaefer and based on the book The Bunker (1978) by James O'Donnell about the last months of the war and days in the Führerbunker from 17 January 1945 to 2 May 1945. Sir Anthony Hopkins won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Hitler.
- War and Remembrance is a 1989 American TV miniseries. Part 12 (its final part) devotes several minutes to a realistic portrayal of Hitler's final few days, except that General Weidling is replaced by a fictitious character ("General Armin von Roon").
- Der Untergang (Downfall) is a 2004 German feature film largely set in and around the Führerbunker. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel reconstructed the look and atmosphere through eyewitness accounts, various survivor memoirs, and other verified sources. It also carries an interview with Traudl Junge.
Joseph Goebbels, his wife Magda and their six children. Standing in the back is Goebbels' stepson, Harald Quandt, the sole family member to survive the war.
- Fiction about the death of Hitler
- Assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler
- Führer Headquarters
- Glossary of Nazi Germany
- List of Nazi Party leaders and officials
- List of suicides
- Mass suicides in 1945 Nazi Germany
- Nazi occultism
- "...Günsche stated he entered the study to inspect the bodies, and observed Hitler ... sat ... sunken over, with blood dripping out of his right temple. He had shot himself with his own pistol, a PPK 7.65." (Fischer 2008, p. 47).
- "...Blood dripped from a bullet hole in his right temple ..."(Kershaw 2008, p. 955).
- "...30 April...During the afternoon Hitler shot himself..." (MI5 staff 2011)
- "... her lips puckered from the poison." (Beevor 2002, p. 359).
- Kershaw 2008, p. 956.
- "... [the bodies] were deposited initially in an unmarked grave in a forest far to the west of Berlin, reburied in 1946 in a plot of land in Magdeberg."(Kershaw 2008, p. 958).
- "In 1970 the Kremlin finally disposed of the body in absolute secrecy... body... was exhumed and burned." (Beevor 2002, p. 431).
- "... both committing suicide by biting their cyanide ampoules." (Erickson 1983, p. 606).
- "... we have a fair answer...to the version of ...Russian author Lev Bezymenski...Hitler did shoot himself and did bite into the cyanide capsule, just as Professor Haase had clearly and repeatedly instructed..." (O'Donnell 2001, pp. 322–323)
- "...New versions of Hitler's fate were presented by the Soviet Union according to the political needs of the moment..." (Eberle & Uhl 2005, p. 288).
- "...most Soviet accounts have held that Hitler also [Hitler and Eva Braun] ended his life by poison... there are contradictions in the Soviet story...these contradictions tend to indicate that the Soviet version of Hitler's suicide has a political colouration."(Fest 1974, p. 749).
- "Axmann elaborated on his testimony when questioned about his "assumption" that Hitler had shot himself through the mouth."(Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 157).
- "... the version involving a 'shot in the mouth' with secondary injuries to the temples must be rejected... the majority of witnesses saw an entry wound in the temple.. according to all witnesses there was no injury to the back of the head." (Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 166).
- "... the only thing to remain of Hitler was a gold bridge with porcelain facets from his upper jaw and the lower jawbone with some teeth and two bridges." (Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 225).
- "Hitler's jaws.... had been retained by SMERSH, while the NKVD kept the cranium." (Beevor 2002, p. 431).
- CNN staff 2009.
- Goñi 2009.
- "Deep in the Lubyanka, headquarters of Russia's secret police, a fragment of Hitler's jaw is preserved as a trophy of the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany. A fragment of skull with a bullet hole lies in the State Archive" (Halpin & Boyes 2009)
- Horrabin 1946, Vol. X, p. 51.
- Horrabin 1946, Vol. X, p. 53.
- Horrabin 1946, Vol. X, p. 43.
- Bellamy 2007, p. 648.
- Beevor 2002, p. 139.
- Bellamy 2007, p. 650.
- Beevor 2002, pp. 209–217.
- Beevor 2002, pp. 255–256, 262.
- Erickson 1983, p. 586.
- Beevor 2002, p. 275.
- O'Donnell 2001, pp. 230, 323.
- Beevor 2002, p. 323.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 943.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 943–946.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 946.
- "In the small hours of 28–29 April..." (MI5 staff 2011)
- Beevor 2002, p. 343 records the marriage as taking place before Hitler had dictated the last will and testament
- Using sources available to Trevor Roper (a World War II MI5 agent and historian/author of The Last Days of Hitler), MI5 records the marriage as taking place after Hitler had dictated the last will and testament (MI5 staff 2011).
- Shirer 1960, p. 1131.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 951–952.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 952.
- Erickson 1983, pp. 603–604.
- Beevor 2002, p. 358.
- Linge 2009, p. 199.
- Fischer 2008, p. 47.
- Joachimsthaler 1999, pp. 160–180.
- Rosenberg 2009.
- "... the 'bite' was marked in her features."(Linge 2009, p. 199).
- Fischer 2008, pp. 47–48.
- Linge 2009, p. 200.
- Joachimsthaler 1999, pp. 162, 175.
- Joachimsthaler 1999, pp. 210–211.
- Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 211.
- Joachimsthaler 1999, pp. 217–220.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 959.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 962.
- Beevor 2002, p. 367.
- Eberle & Uhl 2005, p. 280.
- Eberle & Uhl 2005, pp. 280, 281.
- Beevor 2002, pp. 387, 388.
- Beevor 2002, p. 387.
- Kershaw 2001, pp. 1038–39.
- Dolezal 2004, pp. 185–6.
- Halpin & Boyes 2009.
- Eberle & Uhl 2005, p. 288.
- Eberle & Uhl 2005, p. 282.
- MI5 staff 2011.
- Petrova & Watson 1995, p. 162.
- Vinogradov et al. 2005, p. 333.
- Vinogradov et al. 2005, pp. 335–336.
- Beevor states that "...the ashes were flushed into the town [Magdeberg] sewage system." (Beevor 2002, p. 431).
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- Times staff. "Archived articles from 1945 relating to Hitler's death". The Times. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
- First hand accounts
- Rochus, Misch (3 September 2009). "I was in Hitler's suicide bunker". BBC. Retrieved February 2011.