Berlin, Germany · April 2, 1945

In the spring of 1945 senior leaders of the Third Reich were growing pan­icky. In the west, Amer­i­can troops had suc­ceeded in crossing the Rhine River at Remagen 35 miles south of Cologne on March 7 and were ad­vancing into the Ger­man heart­land. In the east, the tracks of Soviet mech­a­nized armor and the boots of their in­fan­try could be heard approach­ing the out­skirts of the epi­center of Nazism, Berlin. On this date in 1945 the Nazi leader­ship made des­perate calls on the shrinking pop­u­lation under its con­trol. Martin Bor­mann, head of Adolf Hitler’s Reich Chan­cellery and, as Hitler’s “sha­dow” the Fuehrer’s pri­mary con­nec­tion with the out­side world, now called on his country­men to make a last-ditch stand against the Allied in­va­ders. The hour admitted of only one slogan: “Victory or death.” Already en­gaged in sending out peace feelers to the Allies behind his Fuehrer’s back, duplic­i­tous Reichs­fuehrer-SS Hein­rich Himm­ler, chief of the secret police and lead en­gi­neer of the “final solu­tion,” decreed that se­vere mea­sures would be taken against those hanging white sheets off their bal­co­nies or out their win­dows. All male in­ha­bi­tants of a house dis­playing a white sheet would be shot. Any­one refusing to serve in the Volks­sturm (a home guard of mostly child soldiers and World War I veterans who were under the direct con­trol of the Nazi Party), or caught removing tank bar­riers in the streets, or other­wise believed im­periling the Father­land would be se­verely dealt with. On the same date, round-the-clock work on a vast new Fuehrer­bunker south­east of Wei­mar near the Ohr­druf slave labor camp in east­ern Germany ended when 9,000 in­mates were forced-marched to the parent Buchen­wald death camp 32 miles away. It was from this still un­finished head­quarters in the hills around Ohr­druf that Hitler and other Nazi stal­warts hoped to strike a deal with the West­ern Allies to join the rem­nants of the Wehr­macht in fighting the “Jewish-Bol­shevik” Soviet Union. When co­vert initi­a­tives such as Himm­ler’s peace feeler sur­faced in West­ern capi­tals (Reu­ters and the BBC leaked Himm­ler’s test bal­loon in news reports), they were re­jected out of hand. For the West­ern Allies, coming to terms with Nazi Ger­many de­manded uncon­di­tional mili­tary sur­render, not a nego­ti­ated armistice in the style of World War I or up­dating the Nazi-era anti-Cominterm (anti-Soviet) Pact.

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The Two Most Powerful Men in Nazi Germany After Adolf Hitler

Party Chancellery chief and Hitler’s private secretary, Martin BormannReichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler

Left: Martin Bormann (1900–1945?), Chief of the Party Chancellery (Partei­kanzlei, May 12, 1941 to May 2, 1945) and pri­vate sec­re­tary to Adolf Hitler. By using his posi­tion to con­trol the flow of in­for­ma­tion and access to Hitler, Bor­mann earned many enemies, including Hein­rich Himm­ler. After Hitler’s sui­cide, Bor­mann left the Fuehrer­bunker on May 1, 1945. In attempting to avoid falling into Soviet hands, Bor­mann may have been killed at the site of today’s Berlin Haupt­bahn­hof. A fellow bunker escapee claimed to have clearly seen Bor­mann’s body in the moon­light. The body was never recovered by the Soviets, though not for want of trying.

Right: Heinrich Himmler (1900–1945), Reichsfuehrer of the Schutz­staffel (SS). From 1943 on­ward Himm­ler was both Chief of Ger­man Police and Minis­ter of the In­terior, over­seeing all in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal police and secu­rity forces, including the Gesta­po (Secret State Police). Adm. Karl Doenitz, Hitler’s suc­ces­sor, stripped Himm­ler of all author­ity in his new govern­ment. The fugitive was cap­tured by the Brit­ish and during his exam­i­na­tion by a doc­tor bit into a hidden cy­a­nide cap­sule and died with­in minutes on May 23, 1945.

Martin Bormann, Head of the Nazi Party Chancellery and Private Secretary to Adolf Hitler