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; Joseph Goeb­bels, fana­tic apostle, Hitler diarist, and bom­bastic Min­is­ter of Propa­ganda; and Dr. Ludwig Stump­fegger, Hein­rich Himm­ler’s former per­sonal phy­si­cian and the pro­vider of the poison cap­sules. The two corpses were laid next to each other in the sand on level ground.

Shortly before 3:00 p.m., five barrels of gaso­line were poured over their remains and set on fire. In Hitler’s last will and testa­ment, he wrote that he and his wife chose death rather than wit­ness the over­throw and capit­u­la­tion of his nation. Less than a mile from the 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 re-enacted two days later for the camera.

As news of Hitler’s death spread through­out the capital (in part facil­i­tated by loud­speaker trucks and air­dropped leaf­lets), most citi­zens rejoiced, but it was by no means a uni­ver­sal feeling. In neu­tral Portugal, the govern­ment ordered two days of mourning. 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 fallen Fuehrer. 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

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

3-D representation of Vorbunker and Fuehrerbunker, Berlin

Above: 3-D representation of the Vor­bunker and the Fuehrer­bunker. The Vor­bunker (“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.

Rear entrance to Fuehrerbunker, BerlinHitler’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 (num­ber 21 in 3‑Drepre­sen­ta­tion, above). Hitler and Eva 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 sitting room (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 the pic­ture on the left were destroyed in the blast.

Death in the Bunker: The Last Days of Adolf Hitler