On the 12th April 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt died at his home in Warm Springs, Georgia. Upon hearing the news, the German hierarchy celebrated, with Joseph Goebbels commenting, “This is the turning point.” The following day, Hitler himself was said to have reassured his nation’s battered troops on the Eastern Front that relief was imminent. Berlin, he assured them, would remain German. And Vienna – which the Russians had seized only that day – would soon be part of the Fatherland again…
In reality, however, this perfectly illustrated the delusion with which the war effort continued to be held by the Nazi high command. Indeed, in the last 24 hours alone, American troops had captured two heavy-water piles at Stadtilm on the river Ilm, which put pay to any chance of the Germans developing an atomic bomb in the immediate months ahead.
Two days later, on the 15th April, the German Army launched a counterattack against the Americans near Uelzen, in an effort to link up with their compatriots in the battle for Berlin. The operation failed and the Americans, who had revealingly named the battle Operation Kaput, repelled Hitler’s army with a brutal combination of artillery, tanks and phosphorus weapons.
The end of World War Two was nigh, and so began the final days of the Nazis. In the early hours of the very next day, the 16th April 1945, the message was delivered in no uncertain terms. At 3am, the Soviets began their offensive against Berlin, with no fewer than 20 armies, 2.5 million soldiers and 40,000 mortars and field guns. Hitler’s position was hopeless. And now, finally, he realized it.
Hitler’s Last Birthday – 20th April 1945
Inside the Führer’s headquarters – a deep bunker buried 50 feet below the Reich Chancellery – the attack was met with an air of resignation. Nothing could be done to prevent the Soviet advance and so it was, four days later, on the 20th April, that the leaders of Hitler’s regime met for the last time, among naked light bulbs, a failing water supply and the rancid smell of human waste. It was Hitler’s birthday.
The ‘celebration’ was moved from the bunker to the larger rooms of the New Reich Chancellery, where most of the guests were anxious for the gathering to end. Indeed, the Red Army was on the verge of encircling Berlin and escape routes were shrinking by the hour. Yet Hitler appeared determined to drag out the ceremony. He even emerged into the daylight to encourage and decorate a collection of battle-weary soldiers and members of the Hitler Youth. With all his strength, he concluded with an, “Heil euch!” There was no response, bar the rumbling of not-so-distant artillery.
It should be noted, however, that Hitler’s lethargy was nothing new. In fact, he wasn’t a well man. His pasty complexion was now combined with puffy features. Heavy bags weighed down on his bloodshot eyes, while his unsteady gait and the permanent trembling of his left hand almost gave the impression that the frailties were for dramatic effect. This wasn’t the case. Indeed, contemporary analysis suggests he was likely to be suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.
The following morning, the 21st, Hitler was informed that Russian artillery was now being fired into the center of Berlin. Despite the inevitability of it all, Hitler still couldn’t believe the Red Army had arrived so quickly and his reaction was typical of the preceding days, with the blame for Nazi failings being placed squarely at the feet of his cowardly generals. He frequently became indignant, while claiming he had been betrayed by those in whom he had placed his trust.
The first such act of ‘betrayal’ began on the 22nd, when Heinrich Himmler attempted, unsuccessfully, to negotiate Germany’s terms of surrender with the Western Allies, excluding Russia. The second, played out on the 23rd, occurred when Hermann Göring, Hitler’s head of the Luftwaffe, sent his Führer a telegram proposing he assume full control of Germany. “If no reply is received by ten o’clock tonight,” Göring added, “I shall take it for granted that you have lost your freedom of action.” A seething Hitler immediately dismissed his one-time confidante and ordered his arrest on the grounds of high treason.
Two days later, on the 25th, Hitler also ordered the arrest of General Karl Weilding, a commander of a Panzer corps. Accused of desertion, Weilding was actually continuing to fight on the outskirts of Berlin. As such, and having been summoned to the bunker, Weilding quickly protested his innocence, the result of which was his appointment to ‘Battle Commandant’ of Berlin.
It was all proof, if proof were needed, that by late April Hitler’s thought process was as confused and chaotic as Berlin itself. Indeed, each morning, makeshift units were sent out to reinforce street barricades and trenches, or build shelters. Fires glowed and factories, workshops and alike ceased operations. Using electricity was forbidden – violators were punished by death. And talk of effective suicide techniques pervaded among the people.
Unsurprisingly, this talk wasn’t limited to the general populace. Inside Hitler’s bunker, the Führer himself seemed oddly calm and melancholy, and spoke of death as a release. All hope was gone. And following the perceived betrayal by both Göring and Himmler, Hitler’s world, his vision and his dream finally died, along with the soldiers he continued to order into futile and hopeless battles.
Adolf Hitler’s Wife
The so-called betrayals and the overall hopelessness of the situation convinced Hitler once and for all that he needed to bring things to an end. Late in the evening of the 28th April, Hitler married his long-term mistress, Eva Braun, in a hastily prepared ceremony in a small map room, where Goebbels and Martin Bormann (head of the Party Chancellery and Hitler’s private secretary) bore witness. Having declared themselves of pure Aryan descent and free of any hereditary disease, Hitler and Braun were pronounced husband and wife. They remained so for less than 40 hours. Hitler’s last days were upon him.
On the 29th April, with the Russians no more than 24 hours from securing complete control of Berlin, Hitler ordered that his German Shephard, Blondi, be poisoned. The thought of his beloved companion falling into Russian hands was insufferable, but it was also important to test the effectiveness of the cyanide capsules that had been distributed around the bunker. Upon consumption, Blondi died instantly. Her five puppies were also shot.
At 5am on the 30th April, the bunker residents were woken by artillery fire. Within the hour, Hitler, who was sat bleary eyed in a dressing gown and slippers, was informed they were just a few hours from defeat. At around 2pm, Hitler had his last meal. “The time has come,” he said as he rose, “it’s all over.” Goebbels, who had long insisted Hitler remain in Berlin, now tried to convince his Führer to leave the city. Hitler refused, before bidding him farewell.
Adolf Hitler with wife Eva Braun
The Death of Adolf Hitler
Further goodbyes followed, until Hitler finally returned to his private rooms. A short while later he walked into the large conference room wearing a uniform jacket and his Iron Cross. Braun was at his side. A congregation had gathered, with whom Hitler exchanged a few words. A tearful Magda Goebbels pleaded with him to flee the city, but her Führer refused. This rebuttal, when coupled with her husband’s refusal to leave Hitler’s side, ensured the wife of the Nazi’s brilliant propaganda minister would soon write her own chapter in the regime’s deplorable legacy.
But for now, it was only Hitler and Braun who retired to his quarters. At this point accounts vary, but the general consensus is that one shot was fired at about 3:30am. Shortly afterwards, Heinz Linge, Hitler’s aide, went into the room to the smell of gunpowder, smoke and bitter almonds (often associated with the scent of cyanide). Bormann and Otto Günche, a Major in the SS, also entered. They found Hitler slumped on his sofa with his eyes open and a coin-sized hole in his right temple. Blood ran down his cheek and a Walther pistol lay on the floor. Eva Braun was next to him. Wearing a blue dress, her knees were drawn into her chest and her lips were pressed tightly together. Her pistol, which hadn’t been fired, sat on the table in front of them.
It has since been theorized that Hitler also bit into a cyanide capsule at the exact moment he pulled the trigger. It’s also been suggested that, in fact, he shot himself in the mouth. There’s even an account that claims he took the poison before a third person, acting on orders, shot him. We may never know beyond reasonable doubt how exactly the death of Adolf Hitler occurred.
But what is certain is that Hitler and Braun were quickly wrapped in blankets and taken outside. It had been the Führer’s express wish to be burned in order to avoid the posthumous indignity that befell Italy’s Benito Mussolini, whose body had been dragged through the streets, kicked and spat on, before being hung from the feet. Once outdoors and despite being under repeated gunfire, Bormann pulled the blanket from Hitler’s face. Using ten canisters of petrol, they doused the corpses before using a makeshift torch to ignite the pyre. Following one last salute, they retreated into the bunker.
Sadly, the death of Adolf Hitler did little to prevent further tragedy. On the evening of 1st May, Magda Goebbels put her six children to bed, having first given them sleeping potion and possibly morphine. Then, with the help of a doctor, she put drops of hydrogen cyanide down their throats. All died instantly, with only the eldest, 12-year old Helga, putting up a struggle. Later that day, both Joseph and Magda Goebbels took their own lives.
A week later, in the last days of the Third Reich, on the 8th May, Germany surrendered unconditionally. Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich had lasted less than 13 years – the last six of which saw loss of life on an appalling scale. Indeed, by the end of World War Two, 60 million people had died, including 12 million innocent men, women and children who perished at the hands of Hitler’s policy of systematic extermination.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Was Hitler Mad?
Nearly 70 years after Adolf Hitler’s death, it’s as difficult as ever to succinctly evaluate the impact of his life and reign. However, there’s little doubt that Hitler’s vision included no civilised or humanitarian ideas. This stood in contrast to previous powers who once ruled the world. From the Roman Empire to the British, there was always some form of ideology that referenced a better, brighter, peaceful future. These ideals simply weren’t in keeping with Hitler’s thirst for power.
Instead, Hitler pursued a policy of suppression, enslavement and racial cleansing, the results of which represent one of the saddest, depraved and most horrifying chapters in human history. Yet in Hitler’s eyes the war was solely the fault of Jewish statesmen or those who worked in Jewish interests. Even at the end he commented, “[The Jews are] the real guilty party in this murderous struggle,” before continuing, “… this time the real culprits would have to pay for their guilt even though by more humane means than war.” These ‘humane’ means were the gas chambers.
Moreover, it was the lengths he went to in order to justify his thesis that are particularly warped. Drawing on Darwin’s survival of the fittest, Hitler commented in 1942, “Monkeys put to death any members of their community who show a desire to live apart. And what applies to apes, applies to men, too, at a higher level.”
It’s also clear that Hitler knew only too well that he had set in motion a series of irreversible events. His policies and decisions, as well as those of his closest confidantes, had ensured all bridges with the rest of the world had been burnt. Alarmingly, it’s generally agreed that Hitler saw the awful shock waves he had created as a positive achievement. The terrible consequences didn’t matter.