How Adolf Hitler died and why there was so much mystery about the final fate of his body

The shocking news that seemed to announce the imminent end of World War II, the disappearance of the man who ‘had become in the eyes of practically everyone the embodiment of absolute evil’ -according to the London Times- was received with an incredulity that would last for decades.

Adolf Hitler: how the Nazi leader died and why there was so much mystery about the final fate of his body
How Adolf Hitler died and why there was so much mystery about the final fate of his body
At 9:30 p.m. on May 1, 1945, Hamburg radio reported that it would shortly make ‘a serious and important announcement to the German people,’ after which it began broadcasting solemn music by Richard Wagner, the favorite composer of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, followed by a snippet from Anton Bruckner's Seventh Symphony.
Our Führer, Adolf Hitler, has fallen this afternoon at his command post in the Reich C chancery fighting to his last breath against Bolshevism and for Germany,’ said a speaker at 10:20 p.m. before giving the floor to the Commander-in-chief of the German Navy, Karl Dönitz, who claimed that the Nazi leader had had ‘the death of a hero’ and had previously named him as his successor.
The official information raised many doubts.
‘The Nazis have used both lies as part of their policy, and reports of Hitler's alleged doppelgangers are so widespread that those announcements will leave many minds with the suspicion that the master of lies is trying to commit a major final fraud before the world in an effort to save itself , ‘The New York Times (NYT) warned in a note published the next day.
Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, appointed by Hitler as his successor, was later convicted at the Nuremberg trials of crimes against peace.
In that same edition of the American newspaper, he noticed how the inhabitants of the German city of Weimar, as well as the ex-prisoners of the nearby Buchenwald concentration camp, questioned the news.
‘The German political prisoners generally do not trust the information. They suspect that there is a trick behind the announcement. Hitler had been so bandit that some believe he was even unable to die honestly,’ the correspondent reported.
The many deaths of the Führer
With the Soviet occupation of Berlin, different versions of what happened emerged. The stories changed and contradicted each other.
Although many celebrated the announcement of Hitler's death, skeptics also believed that the news was part of a Nazi ploy.
On May 3, 1945, the Red Army reported that Hans Fritzsche, the number two Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, had said that he and Hitler had committed suicide in the Nazi leader's bunker at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Berlin.
That same day, a radio station in Paris claimed to have received reports that the Führer had been killed on the night of April 21, after a dispute with his own generals about the advisability of continuing the war.
The versions multiplied with the days.
The Japanese news agency Domei reported that he had died during a Soviet artillery attack on his residence.
A dispatch from the UP-news agency cited a former top Nazi foreign ministry official who believed Hitler had died of brain hemorrhage several days earlier and had been taken to the German capital to die as a hero. ‘You can be sure that Hitler's body will not be discovered,’ he predicted.
Joseph and Magda Goebbels with their six young children accompanied Hitler to the end and suffered the same fate. The uniformed man in the photo is Harald Quandt, son of Magda Goebbels' first marriage.
Joseph and Magda Goebbels with their six young children accompanied Hitler to the end and suffered the same fate. The uniformed man in the photo is Harald Quandt, son of Magda Goebbels' first marriage.

Efforts to find the corpse seemed unsuccessful.

On May 4, the Soviet press indicated that the Red Army had failed to enter the headquarters of the German Chancellery - where Hitler's offices were - as it was on fire and its structures were on the verge of collapse.
Two days later, the Soviets claimed that they had found a large number of bodies in the C chancery, but none matched with Hitler or Goebbels. ‘The belief persists among Russians that information about their deaths is another Nazi trick and that Hitler and his loved ones are alive and well,’ the AP agency reported from Moscow.
Hitler's bunker was hidden at the headquarters of the German Chancellery.
On May 8, a Russian general announced the discovery in the Berlin ruins of a shot body that was identified as Hitler by members of his own domestic service, although a chauffeur claimed it was the corpse of one of the cooks who also served as ‘double’ of the Führer.
Two weeks later, Soviet intelligence revealed that according to Hitler's staff, he had been euthanized on May 1 by a doctor named Morel because he was half paralyzed and in great pain.

From Berlin to Argentina

In June 1945, the Soviet authorities reported that Hitler's remains had not been found and that he was probably still alive.
That same summer, reports began to circulate that the Nazi leader had been seen in different places and very distant from each other.
One of the many versions that circulated about Hitler's fate claimed that he had fled in a submarine to Japan.
Hitler was reported to be living as a hermit in a cave near Lake Garda in northern Italy. Another report said he was now a shepherd in the Swiss Alps. A third version noted that he was a dealer in a casino in Evian, France. He was seen in Grenoble, in St. Gallen (Switzerland) and even off the coast of Ireland, ‘wrote historians Ada Petrova and Peter Watson in the book’ Hitler's Death ‘.
The US authorities intercepted, in July 1945, a letter claiming that Hitler lived on a hacienda in Argentina, located some 700 kilometers from Buenos Aires. The case reached the hands of the FBI chief, Edgar J. Hoover, who ended up dismissing it.
A decade later, a report from the head of the CIA office in Venezuela reported that a source from the agency had been contacted by a former SS soldier who claimed to have met Hitler a month earlier in Colombia. The document clarified that that office was not in a position to verify the veracity of the information and attached a photo of the former SS along with the alleged Führer.

Soviet deception

But what actually happened to Hitler?
After the success of their offensive on Berlin in April 1945, the Soviet forces took control of the refuge that the Führer had at the headquarters of the German Chancellery.

By July 1945, allied Western forces had met with the Soviets in Berlin.

On May 2, members of the Soviet counterintelligence corps - known as Smersh - sealed off the Foreign Ministry garden and the bunker where the Nazi leader had been stationed since January when the Red Army was advancing on Poland bound for Germany.
The search for the corpse was carried out under absolute secrecy to the point that, according to historian Anthony Beevor, even Marshal Georgy Zhúkov, commander of the Soviet forces who carried out the assault on Berlin, was denied access with the argument that ‘the place was not safe’.
At the same time, interrogations of all the personnel they managed to identify began. According to Beevor, the process was followed with much attention and interest from Moscow.
‘(Josef) Stalin was so desperate to receive news that a NKVD general, predecessor of the KGB, was sent to supervise the interrogations. He received a secure phone line with an encoder so that he could report to Moscow after each interview,’ Beevor recounted in an article published in The New York Times.
On May 5, Smersh's agents found the body of Hitler and his partner, Eva Braun, buried in a hole opened by a bomb in the garden of the Chancellery.
The bodies had been sprayed with gasoline and were partially burned. Hitler's was difficult to recognize, so once in the morgue they removed his jaw to try to identify it from the teeth. This could be done a few days later, when the Soviets located Käthe Heusermann, assistant to the Führer's dentist, who provided them with his medical history and the required data with which they confirmed that it was indeed him.
The bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were buried and partially burned in a ditch opened by a bomb in the garden of the German Chancellery.
Subsequently, a study of forensic dentistry by doctors Reidar F. Sognnaes, from the UCLA School of Dentistry (California), and Ferdinand Ström, from the University of Oslo, confirmed in 1973 that the recovered corpse was, in effect, the Adolf Hitler.

From one grave to another

Since the Soviets had confirmed the death of the Nazi leader from the beginning, why did they continue to feed the idea that he was alive for years?
‘Stalin’s strategy, of course, was to associate the West with Nazism and make it appear that the British or the Americans must be hiding it,’ Beevor wrote in his book ‘Berlin, the Fall of 1945.’
Luke Daly-Groves, historian at the University of Leeds, considers that it was a political move by the communist leader.
‘He knew that the Soviets had found the remains of the Führer when he said that Hitler could have escaped to Spain or Argentina. But saying this helped weaken his political opponents and strengthened his position in territorial disputes,’ Daly-Groves wrote in the New Statesman magazine.
According to historians, Stalin was keen to learn of Hitler's fate but, once he knew it, he kept the secret.
Ultimately, the defeat of Nazism opened the doors to the start of the Cold War.
Moscow had a great advantage to defend its version: they took and controlled Berlin exclusively from May to the beginning of July 1945, when the occupation zones were established.
In addition, they detained and held several of the bunker's survivors captive for years, including Hitler's assistant cameraman, Heinz Linge; his field assistant Otto Günsch and his pilot Hans Baur.
In their quest to hide the truth, they secretly detained Käthe Heusermann, the dental assistant who helped them identify the body. After six years in isolation, she was sentenced for having voluntarily participated in the Führer's dental treatment.
Hitler's remains remained in the care of the Smersh unit that found them. Every time she moved, she took them with her.
Thus, he was buried in a forest on the outskirts of Berlin, then in the town of Rathe now (in the state of Brandenburg) and finally in a base that the Soviets installed in 1946 in Magdeburg, in central-eastern Germany.
It was not until 1968 when in a book written by Lev Bezymenski, a journalist and Soviet intelligence agent who participated in the final assault on Berlin, details of Moscow's archives of Hitler, as well as his autopsywere publicly disclosed.
About three decades later, in 2009, the then head of the FSB secret police archive (successor to the KGB), Vasily Khristoforov, reported that Hitler's remains were cremated in 1970 and the ashes thrown into the Biederitz river.
The move was recommended by then-KGB chief Yuri Andropov after the Soviet Union agreed to hand over control of the base in Magdeburg to East Germany.
As Khristoforov explained, Hitler's remains were turned to ash to prevent his grave from becoming a Nazi shrine.
In 1970, as head of the KGB, the future secretary general of the Communist Party of the USSR Yuri Andropov recommended the burning of Hitler's remains.
Moscow, however, kept the jaw with Hitler's teeth at FSB headquarters and a fragment of his skull in the State Archive.

Between the poison and the bullet

A report submitted in November 1945 by historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who during World War II served as a British intelligence officer and was in charge of investigating the death of Führer, claimed that he committed suicide at around 3:30 p.m. of April 30, 1945, together with Eva Braun, whom he had married the previous day. He killed himself by detonating a pistol in her mouth, while she would have ingested a cyanide capsule.
This version was questioned in Bezymenski's book, which also mentions that Hitler's corpse was ‘missing a part of the skull’.
Journalists Jean-Christophe Brisard and Lana Parshina, who were given partial and controlled access in 2016 by the Vladimir Putin government to the state archives of the Russian Federation, as well as to military and secret police archives related to the case, said that pieces of glass were found in Hitler's teeth - which would suggest that he took cyanide - and they questioned whether he was shot.
In an interview in 2018 with the Times of Israel newspaper, Parshina reported that the Nazi leader showed signs of suffering Parkinson's during his last days, so he wondered how he could shoot himself with his right hand in those conditions.
Hitler's personal assistant Heinz Linge was one of the witnesses who stayed in Hitler's bunker to the end and was able to later recount the details of what happened.
Brisard, for his part, stressed that they did not find traces of the bullet in Hitler's mouth, although he believes it is possible that he has asked someone he trusted - like his assistant Heinz Linge - to give him a coup de grace after taking the poison.
Other versions suggest that he committed suicide by ingesting poison and then shooting himself in the temple.
Brisard and Parshina believe that Putin is using Hitler's death story as a political instrument for his own ends, as Stalin did at the time.
In any case, in general, the experts agree that the body found by the Soviet forces is that of Hitler and that the version offered by the Hamburg radio and Admiral Dönitz on May 1, 1945, erred in two central questions: the Nazi leader had not died that day and, more importantly, he did not do so in combat.
Hitler and Eva Braun were married on April 29, 1945, the day before they died.
Hitler and Eva Braun were married on April 29, 1945, the day before they died.
Hitler and Eva Braun were married on April 29, 1945, the day before they died.
He was not in the vanguard but, rather, was retreating to avoid suffering the fate of Benito Mussolini - of whose summary execution he had been informed two days earlier - or having to be held accountable for his actions before the courts.
The man who had promised to build an empire that would last a millennium abandoned the race after spending 12 years in power, in which he shook the world with blood and fire, leaving Europe in ruins and Germany destroyed and occupied.
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