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HITLER, WIFE CREMATED AFTER SUICIDES

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.


Sir Ian Kershaw is my go-to historian for almost all things related to the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. His magisterial two-volume bio­graphy of Hitler (subtitled 1889–1936: Hubris and 1936–1945: Nemesis) appears in an abridged single volume, Hitler, at 1,000 pages. The best short bio­graphy of Hitler, at 190 pages, is by another British his­torian, A. N. Wilson. I found his bio­graphy Hitler dead on in explaining the essen­tials of what made Hitler, Hitler. Amer­ican his­torian R.H.S. Stolfi’s 2011 bio­graphy, Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny, at just over 500 pages, focuses the spot­light more on the dic­tator’s per­sonality and less on his evil actions. British his­torian and docu­men­tary film­maker Laurence Rees’ 300-page study, Hitler’s Charisma: Leading Mil­lions into the Abyss, examines the Ger­man dicta­tor’s life against the back­drop of histori­cal, social, and psycho­logical events in Ger­many and Austria that con­tribu­ted to the crea­tion of a mes­sianic national leader who was hero-worshiped by mil­lions of Ger­mans and Aus­trians, not to mention millions of other Europeans.—Norm Haskett




The Fuehrerbunker and Hitler’s and Braun’s Initial Gravesite

Schematic diagram of Vorbunker and Fuehrerbunker, Berlin

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.

Rear entrance to Fuehrerbunker, Berlin Hitler’s sitting room and place of suicide, Fuehrerbunker, Berlin

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


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