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, April 2, 1945, the Nazi leader­ship made des­perate calls on the shrinking pop­u­lation still under its con­trol. Martin Bor­mann, short, dark, ruth­less head of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party 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” (the Nazi plan for the exter­mi­na­tion of Euro­pean Jewry), 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 except in combat), or caught removing tank barriers in the streets, or was other­wise believed to be imperiling the Fatherland would be severely dealt with. The Nazi Gau­leiter (provin­cial gover­nor) of Berlin, Joseph Goeb­bels, who also was Hitler’s Minis­ter of Public Enlighten­ment and Propa­ganda, spelled out the severity for shirking one’s duty to defend the Reich capital, plastering notices on front doors of every house: “On orders from the Fuehrer . . . all men between the ages of 15 and 70” had to report for mili­tary ser­vice, no excep­tions. “Any coward who slips away into the air-raid shelters . . . will be court-martialed and put to death” (quoted in Joachim Fest, Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich, 28–29).

On the same date, April 2, 1945, round-the-clock work on a vast new Fuehrer­bunker south­east of Weimar near the Ohr­druf slave labor camp in Thueringen (Thuringia), 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 (German armed forces) in fighting the “Jewish-Bolshevik” Soviet Union.

When covert initiatives such as Himmler’s peace feeler sur­faced in West­ern capi­tals (Reu­ters and Britain’s BBC news services 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. In a rapid series of uncon­di­tional surren­ders, begin­ning at Luene­burg Heath, near Hamburg, Northern Germany, on May 4 and ending on May 8, 1945, in the former Nazi capital of Berlin, the beaten German military did just that.

Martin Bormann and Heinrich Himmler: 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 all-powerful posi­tion to con­trol the flow of infor­ma­tion and access to Hitler (his nick­name was “His Brown Emi­nence”), Bor­mann earned many enemies, including Hein­rich Himm­ler. (Like Himm­ler, Arma­ments and War Pro­duc­tion Minist­er Albert Speer took a dislike to Bor­mann, pri­vately referring to him as “the man with the hedge clippers,” because of Bor­mann’s predi­lec­tion for elimi­nating any­one rising above a cer­tain level in Hitler’s coterie, as Speer had done.) After Hitler’s sui­cide, Bor­mann left the Fuehrer­bunker, where he was a boarder, on May 1, 1945. According to one authority Bor­mann had been entrusted by Hitler with several orders to be delivered in person to his suc­cessor as German head of state, Adm. Karl Doenitz, now sheltered in Flens­burg near the Danish border. In attempting to avoid falling into Soviet hands, Bor­mann likely com­mitted sui­cide near the site of today’s Berlin Haupt­bahnhof. A fellow bunker escapee claimed to have clearly seen Bor­mann’s body in the moon­light. Bor­mann’s remains were never recovered by the Soviets, though not for want of trying. In Decem­ber 1972 con­struc­tion workers in West Berlin uncovered a decom­posed body with a cya­nide cap­sule in its jaw; soon there­after the remains were foren­sically con­firmed as Bor­mann’s. Genetic testing later conclusively confirmed the identity of those remains.

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). On account of his decades-long loyalty and syco­phancy, Hitler referred to Himm­ler as “the faith­ful Hein­rich” (der treue Hein­rich). On the other hand, Reichspraesident Doenitz thoroughly distrusted Himm­ler and stripped him of all author­ity in his new admin­is­tra­tion. Disguised in shabby civilian clothing and with a new iden­tity, the Nazi fugitive was cap­tured by a British mili­tary patrol and, hours later, during his exam­i­na­tion by a medi­cal doctor bit into a hidden cyanide capsule and died within minutes on May 23, 1945. Three days later the body of the rogue Nazi big­wig was buried in an unmarked grave someplace in Lueneburg Heath, Lower Saxony.

Martin Bormann, Head of the Nazi Party Chancellery and Private Secretary to Adolf Hitler (Skip first 40 seconds)