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 under the Old Reich Chancellery in Berlin, where he lived and directed the last months of the war in Europe.
The Fuehrerbunker, or “Leader’s bunker”—a maze of living quarters, conference rooms, offices, and utilities spreading two stories deep some 25 ft beneath the chancellery gardens—had been greatly expanded from the original 1936–37 “air raid cellar,” where Hitler had found refuge during the first British bombing raids on Berlin 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 bunker with 3.5 meter-thick ceilings and 3.5–4.0 meter-thick walls one level below 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 when the war ended.
Hitler was joined in this subterranean, clammy, claustrophobic environment by his senior staff; Martin Bormann, his private secretary and powerful head of the Nazi Party Chancellery; Eva Braun, his mistress of nearly 15 years; and Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister and Hitler diarist who, with his wife and six children, took up residence in the upper Vorbunker.
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 Hilter made his last public appearance, awarding the men 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 Fuehrerbunker 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; he was 56, she was 33. Less than 40 hours later in Hitler’s personal study, Braun bit into a capsule of cyanide and her husband fired a bullet into his right temple. Per the Fuehrer’s prior instructions, pall bearers bore the corpses up the stairs and out the bunker’s emergency exit, 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
Above: 3-D representation of the Vorbunker and the Fuehrerbunker. The forward bunker was located behind the large reception hall, or marble gallery, that was added onto the Old Reich Chancellery in 1939. It was meant to be a temporary air raid shelter for Hitler, his guards, and servants. The bunker was officially called the “Reich Chancellery Air Raid Shelter” until 1943, when construction began that expanded the complex with the addition of the Fuehrerbunker located one level below.
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 (number 21 in 3‑D representation, 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 served as the exhaust tower and bomb shelter for the guards. An unfinished tower (number 38 in 3‑D representation), a ventilation tower, is partially hidden behind the tree.
Right: A young Soviet soldier stands amid the scattered remains of Hitler’s personal study (number 26 in 3‑D representation, above), the place of his and his wife’s suicides. On December 5, 1947, Soviet engineers blew up the Fuehrerbunker. Both ventilation towers and the entrance structure seen in picture on the left were destroyed in the blast.
The Last Days of Adolf Hitler