He boasted that his Third Reich would last for a thousand years. But Adolf Hitler, who would go down in history as an evil tyrant, shot himself on this day, probably after taking poison, painfully aware of the disintegration of his twelve-year-old regime and with his capital city reduced to ruins and rubble.
As the Second World War was coming to a close the desperate Führer tried to wage war by telephone from his bunker beneath his headquarters, the Chancellery building in Berlin, issuing futile orders to his defeated generals.
The 3,000-square-foot underground bunker, completed in 1942, was basically an extension of the Chancellery’s air raid shelter. It consisted of two levels and 18 rooms. However, Hitler had his favourite architect, Albert Speer, build an additional bunker under the Chancellery’s garden.
It was finished in October 1944 and was known as the Führerbunker. And it was here, alongside his wife of a few hours, that Hitler ended his life.
For three months military advisers had been urging the Führer to abandon the bunker and flee to his Eagle’s Nest retreat high above the Bavarian Alps at Berchtesgaden. But he refused to leave his underground lair, remaining there for about 100 days.
It is believed he feared the possibility of capture and being put on display – dead or alive – by his enemies, especially the Russians.
Just a few days before Hitler’s 56th and final birthday on April 20, the Russians arrived at the edge of Berlin. By April 24, they had the city completely surrounded as the Americans and the British moved closer.
By April 29, knowing all was lost, Hitler was preparing for death, taking with him his 33-year-old companion Eva Braun who had flown from Munich to Berlin earlier that month to be with the man she worshipped.
They had been together since 1932 when Braun, an attractive young photography assistant at the time, came under Hitler’s spell. Urged by Hitler to leave the bunker for her own safety, she refused, allegedly saying: “Do you think I will let you die alone?”
Despite her dedication, her chances even now of Hitler yielding completely to her charms seemed unlikely if his earlier words were to be believed.
Author Gitta Sereny tells in her book 'Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth' how the architect was dining one night with Hitler, Eva Braun at his side. The Nazi leader said that a highly intelligent man should always choose a primitive and stupid woman:
"Imagine if on top of everything else I had a woman who interfered with my work! In my leisure time I want to have peace. I could never marry."
Nevertheless, shortly after midnight on April 29, 1945, Hitler did marry Eva Braun, a minor official from the Propaganda Ministry having been summoned to conduct the ceremony in the bunker.
A few hours later Hitler dictated his last will and a Political Testament. The statement laid all blame for the war on "international Jewry" and urged all Germans to continue fighting.
The will, dated 4am, 29th April, 1945, declared: "As I did not consider that I could take responsibility, during the years of struggle, of contracting a marriage, I have now decided, before the closing of my earthly career, to take as my wife that girl who, after many years of faithful friendship, entered, of her own free will, the practically besieged town in order to share her destiny with me.
"I myself and my wife - in order to escape the disgrace of deposition or capitulation - choose death. It is our wish to be burnt immediately on the spot where I have carried out the greatest part of my daily work in the course of a twelve years' service to my people."
The next day, 30th April, with the Russians less than a city block away, Hitler and Braun ate their final meal. Shortly after 3pm, they said goodbye to the staff in the bunker and retired to their private chambers, taking with them revolvers and thin glass vials of cyanide.
There was a loud gunshot at about 3.30. After waiting a few minutes, Hitler’s valet, Heinz Linge, opened the door and saw the Führer almost upright in a sitting position on a blood-soaked sofa.
It was assumed that Hitler had made certain of death by using his pistol on himself after biting the cyanide vial. Blood had trickled from a small hole in his right temple. The pistol lay on the floor where it had dropped from his right hand.
Eva Braun lay beside him, but she had made no use of the revolver at her side, preferring to take the poison instead.
Later, Radio Hamburg announced that "our Führer Adolf Hitler died for Germany in his command post in the Reich Chancellery this afternoon, fighting to his last breath against Bolshevism".
The bodies of Hitler and Braun were wrapped in blankets and carried to the Chancellery garden. There, one of the Führer's personal assistants, SS Officer Otto Günsche, doused the bodies in petrol and burned them, in accordance with Hitler’s final orders.
What happened to the charred remains is still uncertain. Hitler's men buried them in a nearby shallow bomb crater where apparently they were discovered by the Russians. The remains were then transported to the city of Magdeburg, south-west of Berlin, after being buried and exhumed several times by Russian soldiers.
Finally, the story goes, they were buried in the courtyard of the Russian counter-intelligence agency's facility in Magdeburg and remained there for 25 years.
When control of the city was handed to East Germany in 1970, the KGB exhumed and fully cremated the remains fearing that Hitler's burial site could become a place of worship for supporters of fascist ideas. The ashes were then scattered in the River Elbe. So it is said. But nobody knows for sure.
Published: March 12, 2019