Elena Moiseevna Rzhevskaya (Russian: Еле́на Моисе́евна Рже́вская, born Elena Kagan; 27 October 1919 – 25 April 2017) was a writer and former Soviet war interpreter of the counter-intelligence agency SMERSH. In April and May, 1945, she participated in the Battle of Berlin. According to her memoirs, called in English Memories of a War-time Interpreter (Записки военного переводчика), she was a member of the Soviet unit searching for Adolf Hitler in the ruins of the Reich Chancellery. The Führer's corpse was, according to her own words, found by soldier Ivan Churakov on 4 May 1945. Four days later, on 8 May, Colonel Vassily Gorbushin gave her a small box that allegedly contained Hitler's jawbones. During the identification of the corpse, the Soviet team worked in top secret conditions. It consisted of only three people, Rzhevskaya being one of them. She and Gorbushin allegedly managed to find in Berlin, Käthe Heusermann, an assistant of Hugo Blaschke, Hitler's personal dentist. She confirmed the identity of the Nazi leader. The information was, however, suppressed by Joseph Stalin, who later ordered the facts not to be publicized.
Elena Kagan was born to a Jewish family in the Belarusian town of Gomel. The family later moved to Moscow. At the time of the Nazi attack on Soviet Union, she studied philosophy at the Moscow State University. She wanted to join the battlefront, but she was sent to work in a munition factory and later studied to be a nurse. However, her knowledge of German led her to be transferred to a school for war interpreters. In February, 1942, she joined Lelyushenko's troops and in the following months, she moved together with the army throughout Belarus and Poland to the West.
From February, 1945, she worked in Poznań, already as a member of the SMERSH. At the end of April, 1945, she was transferred to Berlin. Her troop became a part of the Kuznetsov's 3rd Army, responsible for the attack on the Reichstag.
The Soviet troops captured the Reich Chancellery and the subterranean Führerbunker on 2 May. The corpses of Goebbels and his wife Magda were found and identified, and a subsequent report about it was openly publicized. This apparently outraged Stalin, who immediately ordered to keep secret all records related to the search for Adolf Hitler. The contacts with the press and photographers were banned and the information was sent directly to Stalin.
In the following days, a lot of speculation and contradictory facts appeared about the alleged death of the Führer. According to Rzhevskaya, Hitler's corpse was found by accident. Shortly before their departure from Berlin, a group of Soviet soldiers led by commander Klimenko visited for the last time the garden of the Chancellery, where the burned corpse of Goebbels was found. Near to the entrance to the bunker, soldier Churakov found a shell hole filled with unusually fresh soil. After a brief examination, a male and female corpse were found. Klimenko and his men were apparently confused, because at that time, an alleged Hitler's corpse was placed in the hall of the Chancellery. They left the place without further investigation, however, the information leaked to Gorbushin and his team, who came back there the next day. They recovered the previously found human corpses and also dug up the bodies of two dogs.
The corpses were moved to an improvised morgue located in Berlin-Buch. The secret transport took place in the night of 5 and 6 May, allegedly in order to prevent Nikolai Berzarin, commander of the city, and his 5th Shock Army to claim a contribution to the findings. According to her, the medical personnel confirmed cyanide poisoning. During the examination, the well-preserved jawbones of the male corpse were removed from the body. On 8 May, Colonel Gorbushin gave the box containing the evidence to Rzhevskaya and told her to keep an eye on it.
On the following day 9 May, they managed to track down Käthe Heusermann, an assistant of Hugo Blaschke, Hitler's personal dentist. They followed her to the building of the Reich Chancellery, where she found Hitler's medical records, including X-ray images of his teeth. During the interrogation led by Gorbushin, Major Bystrov, and Rzhevskaya as an interpreter, she confirmed that the box contained teeth of Adolf Hitler. The information was subsequently confirmed also by Fritz Echtmann, a dental technician who worked in the Blaschke's consulting room since 1938.
However, the Soviets needed a direct testimony of someone who witnessed Hitler's death. Otto Günsche, Hitler's personal adjutant, and Johann Rattenhuber, head of Hitler's personal bodyguard, were arrested in different sectors, and their testimonies weren't available at the time. On 13 May, the Soviet Army arrested Harry Mengershausen, a member of Hitler's personal guard. During an interrogation, he confirmed that on 30 April, he witnessed Hitler's valet, Heinz Linge, and Günsche carrying the bodies of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun through the bunker's emergency exit to the garden behind the Reich Chancellery, where they were doused in petrol and set alight. Mengershausen identified the shell hole and also provided other details.
Despite the attempts at concealment, the information about their findings was noted and published by newspapers of the allied occupation armies. The reaction of the Soviet command was unusual. According to Rzhevskaya, everybody was ordered to search for Hitler. A false investigation started. The Soviet press repeatedly reported that Hitler fled to Argentina or was in hiding under the protection of the Spanish dictator Franco.
In her memoirs, Rzhevskaya writes: "I was absolutely convinced that we, along with all gathered information and key witnesses, will be sent to Moscow". "I was sure that in a few days, the whole world will know that we had found Hitler's corpse". However, Stalin decided otherwise. Viktor Abakumov, the chief of SMERSH, later told Gorbushin that Stalin became familiar with the circumstances of the case and decided not to publicize anything. "We remain in capitalist encirclement," he stated. Rzhevskaya and the other collaborators were told by Gorbushin: "Forget what you just heard".
Käthe Heusermann was deported to the Soviet Union in July, 1945, and after interrogation in Lubyanka and Lefortovo prisons, she was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. According to the decision of the court: "... by her participation in Hitler's dental treatment, she voluntarily helped a bourgeois state prolong the war".
After the war, Rzhevskaya resided in Moscow where she continued her career as a writer. She was allowed to publish her memoirs in the 1960s.
In 2018 Greenhill Books will publish the first English language edition of her memoirs.
She died in 2017, aged 97.
Rzhevskaya's literary work has earned her numerous awards.
- Berlin, May 1945 (Берлин, май 1945); Moscow: Pravda, 1988, Moscow: Soviet Writer, 1965
- Berlin, May 1945: Memories of a War Interpreter (Берлин, май 1945 : Записки военного переводчика); Moscow: Moscow Worker, 1986
- Immediate Approaches (Ближние подступы); Moscow: Soviet Writer, 1985
- There Was a War (Была война); Moscow: Soviet Writer, 1979
- In Kashira Library (В Каширской библиотеке), 1950.
- In the Den of Fascism: Memories of a War Interpreter. (В логове фашизма : записки военной переводчицы); Science and Life, 1967
- Spring Coat (Весна в шинели), 1961
- Ворошенный жар; New World, 1984
- Distant Rumble (Далёкий гул); Friendship of Peoples, 1988
- Домашний очаг : как оно было; Friendship of Peoples, 2005
- Alive, brother (Жив, браток); New World, 1987
- Over the Shoulders of the Twentieth Century (За плечами ХХ век), Moscow: AST, 2011
- Gravity (Земное притяжение), 1963.
- Punctuation (Знаки препинания); Moscow: Soviet writer, 1989
- Special Assignment: The Story of Scouts. (Особое задание: Повесть о разведчиках), 1951
- From Home to the Front (От дома до фронта), 1967.
- Why? Questions of the Literature (Почему? Вопросы литературы), 1999
- Many Years Later (Спустя много лет), 1969 (short stories and novellas)
- «…Так как все кончено…» : фрагмент из кн. «Геббельс. Портрет на фоне дневника», (Goebbels. Portrait on the background of the diary); Friendship of Peoples, 1994
- The war - The Face of War: a conversation with Elena Rzhevskaya, by T. Beck (У войны - лицо войны : беседа с писательницей Е. Ржевской; записала Т. Бек) Questions of the Literature, 1996
- February - The Curves of a Road (Февраль - кривые дороги) Moscow: Soviet writer, 1975
- It was in Moscow, Kiev, Paris ...: About Victor Nekrasov (Это было в Москве, в Киеве, в Париже… : О Викторе Некрасове); Friendship of Peoples; 2001
- Parfitt, Tom (9 May 2005). "Woman who held Hitler secret". The Hindu. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
- "Zápisky válečné tlumočnice". Literární noviny. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
- Šiška, Miroslav (17 April 2012). "Žena, která odkryla pravdu o nalezení Hitlera" (in Czech). Novinky.cz (originally Právo). Retrieved 17 April 2012.
- Ainsztein, Reuben (April 1967). "How Hitler Died: The Soviet Version". International Affairs. Royal Institute of International Affairs. 43 (2): 307–318. doi:10.2307/2614329. ISSN 1468-2346.
- Beevor, Antony (10 October 2009). "Hitler's Jaws of Death". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
- Rzhevskaya (2012), p. 195
- Parfitt, Tom (8 May 2005). "Anguish of woman who held secret evidence of Hitler's identity". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
- Rzhevskaya (2012), p. 242
- Rzhevskaya (2012), p. 198
- According to historian, Ian Kershaw, the bodies of Braun and Hitler were fully burned when the Red Army found them, and only a lower jaw with dental work could be identified as Hitler's remains. Kershaw, Ian (2008). Hitler: A Biography, p. 958. ISBN 978-0-393-06757-6.
- Rzhevskaya (2012), pp. 256-261
- Rzhevskaya (2012), pp. 262-265
- Умерла военный писатель Елена Ржевская (Russian)
- "Elena Rzhevskaya". ELKOST (International Literary Agency). Retrieved 22 April 2012.
- Elena Rzhevskaya (ELKOST International Literary Agency)
- Memoirs of a wartime interpreter (ELKOST International Literary Agency)
- Koens, Olaf (3 June 2010). "A simple hello vs. Hitler's jaw". elkost.com (originally The Moscow News). Retrieved 22 April 2012.
- Hamelin, Louis (11 June 2011). "Hitler brûle-t-il ?" (in French). Le Devoir. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
- Lançon, Philippe (23 June 2011). "Elena et les hommes" (in French). Libération. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
- "Elena Rjevskaïa : l'interprète qui entra dans le bunker d'Hitler" (in French). elkost.com (originally Le Monde). 5 May 2011. Retrieved 22 April 2012.