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, ueber-loyal 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.

Facilitated in part by loud­speaker trucks and air­dropped leaf­lets (Hamburg and Munich were the two German radio stations still broad­casting), news of a cease­fire and Hitler’s death spread through­out the capital. Most Berliners rejoiced, tearing up the ubiq­ui­tous photo­graphs of Hitler that hung on their apart­ment walls, but the exu­ber­ant feeling was by no means uni­ver­sal. In neu­tral Portugal, the govern­ment ordered two days of mourning for the fallen Fuehrer. 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 deceased head of state. 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. Lastly, the most recent biographer of Hitler, Peter Longerich, has published Hitler: A Biography, who postulates that Hitler’s rise to, and ultimate hold on, power was more than merely a matter of charisma; rather, it was due to his ability to control the structure he created.—Norm Haskett

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

Last Days of Adolf Hitler: 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.

Last Days of Adolf Hitler: Rear entrance to Fuehrerbunker, BerlinLast Days of Adolf Hitler: Hitler’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 (no. 21 in the schematic diagram above). Hitler and Braun were cremated in a shell hole in front of the emer­gency exit, the former laid on his back, the latter on her stomach. 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. Two years earlier, in July 1945, a day before the victors’ Pots­dam Con­fer­ence was to begin, British Prime Minis­ter Win­ston Chur­chill stopped at the rear entrance of the Fuehrer­bunker, hoping to enter its under­ground recesses. Told how many flights of stairs down they were, he declined, settling instead on a chair at the rear entrance for a few moments, silent, lost in thought.

Right: A young Soviet soldier stands reputedly amid the scattered remains of Hitler’s personal study (no. 26), the place of his and his wife’s suicides. A Dutch still life that once hung over the sofa is missing. A photo­grapher for LIFE maga­zine who visited the Fuehrer­bunker soon after the war’s end wrote that “the Russians them­selves left little intact or unmolested.” 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.

Death in the Fuehrerbunker: Timeline’s Last Days of Adolf Hitler, Narrated by Charlton Heston (Skip first 50 seconds)