HITLER TAKES SANCTUARY IN UNDER­GROUND BUNKER

Berlin, Germany January 16, 1945

The Soviet Union’s offensive that began on the Vistula River, the princi­pal river in Poland, on Janu­ary 12, 1945, spread out over the following days to engulf Nazi Ger­many’s entire East­ern Front, running from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Carpa­thian Moun­tains in South­ern Poland. Four days later, on this date in 1945, Adolf Hitler moved his entourage into the Fuehrer­bunker in Berlin, where he lived and directed the last months of the war in Europe.

The Fuehrerbunker (“Leader’s bunker”) complex—a maze of living and sleeping quar­ters, con­fer­ence rooms, offices, and utili­ties spreading two stories deep beneath the Old Chan­cel­lery building and the chan­cel­lery gardens (see schematic dia­gram below)—had been greatly expanded from the original 1936–37 “air raid cellar,” where Hitler had found refuge during the first British bombing raids on the Nazi capital in August 1940. After the Luft­waffe’s loss of con­trol of Ger­man air­space, Hitler gave archi­tect Albert Speer the assign­ment to design a new, stronger, deeper bunker with 3.5 meter-thick ceilings and 3.5–4.0 meter-thick walls in close prox­im­ity to the existing shelter. The interior dimen­sions of both the Vor­bunker (forward bunker) (old) and the Fuehrer­bunker (new) were about 15 meters by 20 meters wide and a bit over 3 meters high. Com­pleted in October 1944, another meter-thick layer of so-called “smash-cover” was being added to rein­force the ceiling of the Fuehrer­bunker, 33 ft below the surface, when the war ended.

Hitler was joined in this subterranean, clammy, claustro­phobic environ­ment by his personal physician, Dr. Thomas Morell (room no. 33 in the schematic dia­gram); Eva Braun, his mis­tress of nearly 15 years (no. 24); and Joseph Goeb­bels, Nazi propa­ganda minis­ter and Hitler diarist who, with his wife and six children, took up residence in both the Vorbunker (no. 18) and the Fuehrerbunker (no. 34).

On March 20, 1945, above the Fuehrerbunker a motley col­lec­tion of roughly 50 Hitler Youth and SS troops gathered in the deso­late gar­den of the Reichs Chan­cellery. In the pre­sence of camera­men and photo­graphers from the Wochen­schau News, a visibly ailing Hitler made his last public appear­ance for the news media, awarding the men and boys the Iron Cross for their heroic deeds in defending the capital.

As Red Army troops fought their way into the last square mile of Nazi-held Berlin at the end of April 1945, the bunker complex became the wedding venue and the grave­site of Hitler and Braun. On April 29, 1945, the two lovers were married in a brief civil cere­mony held in the small confer­ence/­map room (no. 28) adja­cent to Hitler’s private quarters (nos. 25–27); he was 56, she was 33. Less than 40 hours later in Hitler’s personal study (no. 25), Braun bit into a capsule of cya­nide and her hus­band fired a bullet into his right temple as he, too, bit into a cyanide cap­sule. Per the Fuehrer’s verbal and written instruc­tions, pall bearers bore the corpses up the stairs and out the bunker’s emer­gency exit (no. 21), poured gaso­line over them, and set them afire in the chan­cellery garden. After rendering their dead leader a last “Heil Hitler,” the pall bearers scurried back into their underground sanctuary.





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

Schmatic diagram of Vorbunker and Fuehrerbunker

Above: Schematic diagram of the Fuehrer­bunker (left in image) and the Vor­bunker. The 16‑room Vor­bunker (“forward bunker,” or ante­bunker) was located beneath the large 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 and to the Vor­bunker’s south­west. The two bunkers were connected by a set of stairs.

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

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 Eva Braun were cre­mated in a shell hole in front of the emer­gency exit that led into the chan­cel­lery garden. 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 study and living room (no. 26), the place of his and his wife’s sui­cides. A Dutch still life that once hung over the sofa is missing. 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.

The Last Days of Adolf Hitler


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