Sixty-five years ago, the madman who plunged the world into six years of darkness and despair died ingloriously. A May 1, 1945, radio announcement from Hamburg said Adolf Hitler had died: “At the Fuehrer’s headquarters ... fighting on to his last breath against Bolshevism.” Of course, this was far from the truth, but the Western Allies had no way to verify the claim made by Admiral Karl Doenitz, who had succeeded Hitler as Nazi leader.
It was Doenitz who signed the Allied terms for Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, although fighting had already ended on some fronts, such as Holland on May 4 where thousands of Canadian troops were deployed.
The only group that might make any real sense of Doenitz’s claim was the Soviets, who were pressing their attack toward the centre of Berlin.
Today, we know that Hitler married his long-time mistress Eva Braun and then they committed suicide on April 30 rather than face the wrath of the Russians. Hitler had good reason to fear the Red Army, as he allowed his troops to turn Russia into a killing ground where millions of people were murdered and the land laid waste in the name of Hitler’s mad plan to create Lebensraum (living space) for German settlements in Eastern Europe.
Soviet troops beginning the final push against Berlin on April 20 (Hitler’s 56th birthday) had indelibly ingrained into their psyche the memories of years of atrocities committed during the Nazis occupation of parts of Russia and Socialist Republics, such as Ukraine. These memories created a writhing mass of human fury intent upon bloody revenge. While bombs fell and gunfire chattered outside his bunker, Hitler knew he had sown the wind and would soon reap the whirlwind.
Hitler was equalled in blood lust by Soviet dictator Stalin (a former partner through a 1939 non-agression pact; until June 22, 1941, when the Germans attacked Russia) — both displayed absolutely no regard for the lives of their own people — which made the Eastern Front a stage for brutality on a massive scale. Hitler and Stalin sacrificed entire armies in ruthless battles that today defy any reasonable comprehension.
Stalin also had armed political commissars stationed behind advancing soldiers under orders to kill anyone daring to retreat. During the last days of the battle for Berlin, German SS troops roamed the streets killing anyone who was “perceived” to be a traitor to Hitler. This insanity reigned despite the obvious fact that the war was lost. Hitler said if he was to die, the German people deserved to perish with him.
“At the end of this, his struggle and of his straight and unerring road, he dies a hero’s death,” said Doenitz. Illogically, Doenitz added Hitler’s struggle against Bolshevism was not only for the benefit of the German people, but the world. He conveniently omitted that the Soviet Union was allied with the West to defeat the horror posed by Nazi Germany.
In the waning days of the war, when it was evident to any rational individual that the Nazi state was headed toward complete destruction, Hitler clung to a completely irrational belief that mythical German armies, existing only on paper, would drive the Soviets from Berlin. When he finally realized the end was near, Hitler was not killed fighting to his “last breath,” but committed suicide using a combination of cyanide poison and a gunshot to the head. His body — as well as Braun’s — was burned so that Stalin would not put it on display in Moscow. Hitler had apparently greeted with horror the news that former Axis ally Benito Mussolini, his mistress and party secretary had been killed by Italian partisans and their bloody corpses hung upside down for public display in a Milan square on April 29.
“Questions immediately arose throughout the world whether Hitler actually died in battle against the Russians ... whether he died in some more ignominious manner, or whether he died at all,” according to a May 2, 1945, Canadian Press report.
When the surviving German troops surrendered, the Soviets at first correctly reported Hitler had committed suicide. A correspondent for Izvestia, the Soviet national newspaper, queried captured Germans, who all said Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis propaganda minister, committed suicide.
But two days later, the Red Star reported that Hitler’s body had not been found in the Chancellery. Soviet correspondents had entered Hitler’s underground bunker, but did not report finding evidence of his death, although the Soviets had discovered his charred body in a shell hole in the Chancellery grounds.
Stalin ordered that this information was not to be released to the world. Speculation about Stalin’s reasons behind the deception range from not wanting the remains to become a rallying point for a Nazi resurgence to playing a joke on the other Allied nations in order to keep them guessing — Stalin was noted for his wry sense of humour. For the Soviet dictator, Hitler was the ultimate boogeyman, whose rumoured escape could be used to frighten other Allied leaders.
The fact that the Soviets knew of Hitler’s fate was not revealed until after Stalin’s death in 1953. And with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, secret police (KGB) documents shed more light on Hitler’s remains. In 1945, Soviet agents buried his body in a forest and then in 1946 dug it up and reburied it in the Soviet Army’s garrison grounds at Magdeburg, East Germany. International news services in 2009 carried the story that when the Soviets were abandoning their base to East Germany authorities in 1970, KGB chief Yuri Andropov, with the consent the Soviet leadership, had the remains of Hitler and Braun burnt, ground into ashes and then thrown into the Biederitz River. The same reports said Russian State Archives contain the only existing remains of Hitler — a partial skull showing a bullet hole and a jawbone — but some researchers doubt their authenticity. The reason for disposing of Hitler’s ashes was that the Soviets feared his remains would not be kept secret while under East German Communist control and neo-Nazis would use Hitler’s grave as a shrine.
Regardless of the fate of Hitler’s corpse, the world knows the inglorious man came to an inglorious end after throwing the world into senseless turmoil, which resulted in millions of lives destroyed for no other reason than his megalomania.