In despite of the many topics that a student in German history can focus on, one specific topic is inevitable. As the most infamous European of the 20th century, I had to learn all the ins and outs about Hitler. I’m not joking when I tell you that I’ve read three biographies about him. In these, the last chapter always took place in the so-called Hitlerbunker. This underground bunker in the city-centre of Berlin is the location where Hitler committed suicide on the 30th of April 1945. Easy as that. However, the dictator’s last accomodation and his death remained dubious – and not only for the lay people. In other words, rumours and myths took over…
To sum up a few of these myths, the six story high Hitlerbunker would have an underground highway up to the Tempelhof Airport. Here, an airplane was reserved to make Hitler escape from Berlin. Via Denmark, he and Eva Hitler-Braun took a submarine towards South America – where he and Eva gave birth to two daughters. In the meanwhile, Hitler’s Doppelgänger and an actress that looked-alike Eva Braun staged the Nazi-funeral. These myths are anything besides harmless. They implicate that Hitler had successfully fooled us and that we couldn’t beat Nazism after all. None of this is true. For me, this vagueness about my field of studies is more than unbearable. It’s time to debunk the myths around Hitler’s death and the location that is mostly connected to it: the Hitlerbunker.
First of all, one shouldn’t be surprised that Hitler committed suicide. One can remark a lot about Hitler’s personality and character, but he was not a coward that avoided pain or death. One could say that Hitler was brave, I rather say that he was alien. For example, Hitler volunteered for the army during the First World War and fought against armed police in November 1923. In the early 1930s, Hitler threatened to commit suicide during various political crisis within the Nazi-Party. In this, he would count down his suicide attempt. The message “If you don’t obey me, I’ll commit suicide in ten seconds!” was overstated by “in five seconds!” and -eventually- “in one second!”. Unfortunately, these menaces turned out to be false promises.
And what is true of the ‘overwhelming’ Hitlerbunker? Well, it has not been constructed out of a powerful position – on the contrary. The decision to build to bunker in Berlin was made in early 1942, which may be connected with the secret understanding that The War wouldn’t result the dictator’s favor. For Hitler’s worst-case scenario, serious precautions were made. From the Neue Reichskanzlei (New Reich Chancellery) there already was an underground corridor that led to a bunker that was five meters underneath the surface. In addition, Hitler commanded the construction of a new bunker right next to it which had to be another four meter deeper. This bunker’s roof and walls were made of reinforced concrete – and were at least 3.5 meter thick. Due to the high groundwater level, the surface had to be drained permanently. The bunker only consisted 250m² – which is not big at all. Its interior was modest, if not: Spartan. Light-bulbs without lampshades ‘decorated’ the ceilings in all the sixteen small rooms. When Hitler moved into the bunker mid-January 1945, his interior consisted of a sofa and a few paintings, such as a Dutch still life above it and a portrait of Frederick II (alias: Frederick the Great) by Anton Graff.
At the 16th of April, the Battle of Berlin had started. Within the following two weeks, a comparable weight of explosives as during the earlier 360 air raids were launched on the German capital. In his last weeks, the dictator bothered his secretaries more and more with trivial topics such as dogs and dogtraining as advocated his art of nutrition. Meanwhile, he would combine many medicines and eat masses of pie – which he was given for his birthday at the 20th of April. Due to a (self)destructive lifestyle, Hitler looked much older than only half a year before. His clothes were full of stains and, for the first time during his dictatorship, Hitler made a sloppy impression to his surrounding. At military briefings, Hitler rested his hope at battalions that didn’t exist anymore. The military staff -albeit in secret- thought of him as ridiculous. Many military orders that Hitler gave were set aside or ignored. High ranked officers fled to Southern Germany – or the Vatican state helped them for an escape to Spain, Argentina, Chile or Paraguay. Hitler did not: he was determined to die in Berlin. He married Eva Braun on the 29th – it would be a honeymoon to hell. The next day, Hitler tested the poison on his dog and Eva – after which he shot himself. Two days later, the Red Army besieged the area around the Hitlerbunker. Another week later, Nazi-Germany surrendered.
The Soviet general Georgy Zhukov stated in June 1945 that no body of Hitler is found, and he may got away with an airplane. Even Stalin himself stated during the Potsdam conference in July that year, that Hitler may have fled to Spain or Argentina. The earlier stated myths and conspiracy theories found their origin in this period. The first debunking took place in 1968, when the Soviet journalist Lev Alexandrovitsj Besymenski published a book about secret Soviet documents. In the book is revealed that the Red Army have been looking for Hiter’s corps already at the 2nd of May. Three days later, first lieutenant Panassow and his inferior Tschurakow found what they were looking for in a shell crater, with a three meter distance from the exit of the ‘Führerbunker‘. However, the 200 liter benzine had turned the corpses quite much into coal. The remains were brought to Berlin-Buch, where an autopsy confirmed the identity of Adolf Hitler and Eva Hitler-Braun. The most important prove of the identification were his crooked teeth, which Hugo Blaschke -one of Hitler’s dentists- recognised. In 1990, a news item stated that Yuri Andropov (the Soviet Secret Service leader back then) commanded in 1970 to burn Hitler’s remains and dump them into the Elbe river. Soviet officer stated that Hitler’s ashes were dumped into the Elbe river. Only a few fragments of Hitler’s scull were archivated in a Russian States Archive. These fragments however, turned out to be from a woman…
What about the bunker? In despite of various attempts, the outer walls was too solid for being demolished with Russian dynamites. Only the inner walls were blown up, while an artificial hill was heaped over it. In the meanwhile, the high groundwater level changed the bunker into an underground swimming pool. Until 1986, when the area was changed into a construction site for the next three years. A certain man named Robert Conrad photographed the bunker in decay. He may be the last person on earth who got to know Hitler’s bunker; in 1989, the bunker was filled with rubble, sand and stones. After the Fall, a parking lot is build over it. The German authorities were afraid for far right groups to turn the location into a neo-Nazi pilgrimage site. As a consequence, rumours again overstated the reality. Only before the World Championship of 2006, an information panel by Berliner Unterwelten made an end to the endless rumours and expending urban myths.
In short, with this entry – I hope that once and for all I’ve clarified that Hitler didn’t spend his last days as a free man in the Argentinian sun. On the contrary, the Hitlerbunker was far from luxurious. Also, The Great Dictator saw that his power was waning in the last days of his life. Only his last order, to make sure that his body can’t be exposed in a Soviet museum as a triumph, was carefully accomplished.