Berlin, Germany • April 30, 1945
On this date in 1945 Adolf Hitler, to all the world the face of unspeakable evil, shot himself in the right temple after he and Eva Braun had poisoned themselves by ingesting cyanide. The Fuehrer’s psychotic desire for an apocalyptic end for Germany—a Wagnerian Goetterdaemmerung—was nearly completed by his death, leaving Berlin’s formal surrender in the hands of its garrison commander, Gen. Helmuth Weidling, two days later.
From the recessed Fuehrerbunker, Hitler’s pall bearers carried the bodies of their troglodyte leader and his wife of 40 hours (and near-secret mistress for 14 years) into the once-beautiful, now desolated gardens of the ruined Old Reich Chancellery. The pall bearers (and former wedding attendants) were Erich Kempka, Hitler’s chauffeur since 1932; Heinz Linge, Hitler’s valet; Martin Bormann, ruthless head of the Reich Chancellery and executor of Hitler’s estate; Joseph Goebbels, fanatic apostle, Hitler diarist, and bombastic Minister of Propaganda; and Dr. Ludwig Stumpfegger, Heinrich Himmler’s former personal physician (now Hitler’s) and the provider of the poison capsules. Hitler’s personal adjutant, Otto Guensche, carried the body of Eva Braun. The two corpses were laid next to each other just yards from the bunker exit, Hitler on his back and his wife on her stomach.
Shortly before 4:00 p.m., ten canisters of gasoline were poured over the couple’s remains and set on fire. Early that evening the corpses had disintegrated into an ash pile. In Hitler’s last will and testament, he stated that he and his wife chose death rather than witness the overthrow and capitulation of his nation. “I die with a happy heart,” he wrote, “conscious of the immeasurable deeds and achievements of our soldiers at the front, of our women at home, the achievements of our farmers and workers and the work, unique in history, of our youth, who bear my name” (i.e., Hitler Youth). Less than a mile from Hitler and Braun’s funeral pyre, Private Mikhail Minin risked bullets and bombs to plant the Soviet flag atop the shambles of the Reichstag, a symbolic present to Joseph Stalin in time for Moscow’s May Day parade. Soldiers had sewn the banner together out of tablecloths the night before. The emblematic moment was reenacted two days later for the camera.
Facilitated in part by loudspeaker trucks and airdropped leaflets (Hamburg and Munich were the two German radio stations still broadcasting), news of a ceasefire and Hitler’s death spread throughout the capital. Most Berliners rejoiced, but it was by no means a universal feeling. In neutral Portugal, the government ordered two days of mourning for the fallen Fuehrer. In Dublin, Ireland’s capital, the Irish prime minister called at the German legation to express his condolences. And in Tokyo, capital of Germany’s still undefeated ally Japan, the German embassy held a memorial service for the deceased head of state. It is believed to be the only memorial service anywhere held for Hitler.
The Fuehrerbunker and Hitler’s and Braun’s Initial Gravesite
Above: Schematic diagram of the Fuehrerbunker (left in image) and the Vorbunker. The 16‑room Vorbunker (“forward bunker,” or antebunker) was located beneath the long reception hall that was added to the rear of the Old Reich Chancellery in 1939. (The hall connected the Old Reich Chancellery on Wilhelmstrasse with the New Reich Chancellery on Vossstrasse.) The Vorbunker was meant to be a temporary air raid shelter for Hitler, his guards, and servants. It was officially called the “Reich Chancellery Air Raid Shelter” until 1943, when construction began that expanded the bunker complex with the addition of the 20‑room Fuehrerbunker over 30 ft beneath the garden of the Old Reich Chancellery. The two bunkers were connected by a set of stairs.
Left: Taken in July 1947, this photo shows the massive first emergency exit of the main bunker (erster Notausgang des Hauptbunkers), or the rear entrance to the Fuehrerbunker (no. 21 in the schematic diagram above). Hitler and Braun were cremated in a shell hole in front of the emergency exit. The cone-shaped structure in the center of the photo (no. 37) served as an observation tower and bomb shelter for the guards. An unfinished tower (no. 38), a ventilation tower, is partially hidden behind the tree.
Right: A young Soviet soldier stands reputedly amid the scattered remains of Hitler’s personal study (no. 26), the place of his and his wife’s suicides. A Dutch still life that once hung over the sofa is missing. A photographer for LIFE magazine who visited the Fueherbunker soon after the war’s end wrote that “the Russians themselves left little intact or unmolested.” On December 5, 1947, Soviet engineers tried dynamiting Hitler’s bunker complex but had limited success. Both ventilation towers and the entrance structure seen in the picture on the left were destroyed in the blasts. Twelve years later the East German government applied more dynamite to the bunker ruins, then covered everything over with earth. In the second half of the 1980s East German work crews finished demolishing the site and built residential housing and other buildings in the space where the two Reich chancelleries, garden, and bunker complex had been. A children’s playground occupies the spot where Hitler’s and Braun’s bodies were burnt.
Death in the Bunker: The Last Days of Adolf Hitler