Soviet artillery in front of Berlin, the first shells hot central Berlin on 20th April.

Soviet artillery outside Berlin, the first shells hit central Berlin on 20th April.

Probably the last public appearance of Adolf Hitler, on the 20th March he awards medals to  Hitler Youth members of the "Volkssturm".

Probably the last public appearance of Adolf Hitler, on the 20th March he awards medals to Hitler Youth members of the “Volkssturm”.

Some argue that it was the psychological turning point of reaching 50 years old that led Hitler to war in 1939. Six years later his thousand year Reich was in ruins, yet somehow the Nazi regime clung to power, with loyal Nazis still believing that some miracle would give them victory. The ruthless suppression of any form of dissent had now become commonplace.

German housewife Dorothea von Schwanenfluegel describes the circumstances in Berlin at the time:

Friday, April 20, was Hitler’s fifty-sixth birthday, and the Soviets sent him a birthday present in the form of an artillery barrage right into the heart of the city, while the Western Allies joined in with a massive air raid.

The radio announced that Hitler had come out of his safe bomb-proof bunker to talk with the fourteen to sixteen year old boys who had ‘volunteered’ for the ‘honor’ to be accepted into the SS and to die for their Fuhrer in the defense of Berlin. What a cruel lie!

These boys did not volunteer, but had no choice, because boys who were found hiding were hanged as traitors by the SS as a warning that, ‘he who was not brave enough to fight had to die.’ When trees were not available, people were strung up on lamp posts. They were hanging everywhere, military and civilian, men and women, ordinary citizens who had been executed by a small group of fanatics.

It appeared that the Nazis did not want the people to survive because a lost war, by their rationale, was obviously the fault of all of us. We had not sacrificed enough and therefore, we had forfeited our right to live, as only the government was without guilt.

The Volkssturm was called up again, and this time, all boys age thirteen and up, had to report as our army was reduced now to little more than children filling the ranks as soldiers.

See Dorothea von Schwanenfluegel Lawson: Laughter Wasn’t Rationed : A Personal Journey Through Germany’s World Wars and Postwar Years

On the evening of 19th April Josef Goebbels had made his customary radio broadcast to the German people on the eve of Hitler’s birthday. He was still promising victory, somehow the Fuhrer would achieve this despite the apocalyptic scenes facing Germany. The speech was reproduced in German newspapers on the 20th April, casting Hitler’s role as a pseudo-religious ‘saviour':

He will be the man of this century — who was sure of himself despite terrible pain and suffering — who showed the way to victory. He is the only one who remained true to himself, who did not cheaply sell his faith and his ideals, who always and without doubt followed his straight path toward his goal. That goal may today be hidden behind the piles of rubble that our hate-filled enemies have wrought across our once-proud continent, but which will once again shine before our burning eyes once the rubble has been cleared.

Once more the armies of the enemy powers storm against our defensive fronts. Behind them is the slavering force of International Jewry that wants no peace until it has reached its satanic goal of world destruction. But its hopes are in vain!

As he has done so often before, God will throw Lucifer back into the abyss even as he stands before the gates of power over all the peoples. A man of truly timeless greatness, of unique courage, of a steadfastness that elevates the hearts of some and shakes those of others, will be his tool.

Who will maintain that this man can be found in the leadership of Bolshevism or plutocracy? No, the German people bore him. It chose him, it by free election made him Führer. It knows his works of peace and now wants to bear and fight the war that was forced upon him until its successful end.

The whole address can be read at German Propaganda Archive.

One man who had a different view of Hitler was junior Wehrmacht officer Gerhardt Boldt, who had recently had an audience with Hitler in his bunker:

Hitler stands alone in the centre of the huge room, turned towards the ante-room. They approach in their order of entry, and he greets nearly everyone by a handshake, silently, without a word of welcome. Only once in a while he asks a question, which is answered by “Yes, Fuhrer” or “No, Fuhrer.”

I remain standing near the door and wait for the things that are bound to come. It is certainly one of the most remarkable moments of my life. General Guderian speaks with Hitler apparently concerning myself, for he looks in my direction. Guderian beckons, and I approach Hitler.

Slowly, heavily stooping, he takes a few shuffling steps in my direction. He extends his right hand and looks at me with a queerly penetrating look. His handshake is weak and soft without any strength. His head is slightly wobbling. (This struck me later on even more, when I had the leisure to observe him.) His left arm hangs slackly and his hand trembles a good deal. There is an indescribable flickering glow in his eyes, creating a fearsome and totally unnatural effect. His face and the parts round his eyes give the impression of total exhaustion. All his movements are those of a senile man.

See Gerhardt Boldt: Hitler’s Last Days: An Eye-Witness Account

Two napalm bombs being loaded into the 452nd Bomb Group's veteran B-17G 'E-Raticator', April 1945.

Two napalm bombs being loaded into the 452nd Bomb Group’s veteran B-17G ‘E-Raticator’, April 1945.

Berlin, Elderly members of the Volkssturm who are building tank barriers on the streets of Berlin are brought food by their families, April 1945.

Berlin, Elderly members of the Volkssturm who are building tank barriers on the streets of Berlin are brought food by their families, April 1945.

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Apr

19

1945

Allies come to terms with Germans and Germany

In the crematorium courtyard, U.S. soldiers confront the citizens of Weimar with the corpses found there. This was the first photo of Buchenwald to be published; it appeared in the London Times on April 18, 1945.

And so Germany lies a beautiful, apparently innocent, whore; outside, appealing and disarming; inside, disease-ridden, deceitful, and vicious. In the success of our armies and the prospect of a termination of hostilities in the near future, we have perhaps lost sight of our enemy. But here he is still, – sly, beguiling, arrogant, ambitious, and inhumanly cruel. Let some think that this war is over. It is just beginning!

Apr

18

1945

Red Army begins its assault on the outskirts of Berlin

Soviet tank T-34-85 in a pine forest south of Berlin.

One accidental pull on a trigger could have startled every one of our machine guns into unleashing a hail of bullets at the tanks, which were easily within range. ‘Hold fire,’ I said through gritted teeth. ‘Let the officers decide.’ After a short but heated discussion, the officers let the tanks pass without firing a single shot but I dared not speculate the fate that might await the terrified hostages. We all knew of, and believed, the reports of Russian tanks deliberately squashing columns of refuges under their tracks as they fled East Prussia.

Apr

17

1945

Winston Churchill pays tribute to Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill confer during a lunch break at the Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference.

He had brought his country through the worst of its perils and the heaviest of its toils. Victory had cast its sure and steady beam upon him. In the days of peace he had broadened and stabilised the foundations of American life and union. In war he had raised the strength, might and glory of the great Republic to a height never attained by any nation in history.

With her left hand she was leading the advance of the conquering Allied Armies into the heart of Germany, and with her right, on the other side of the globe, she was irresistibly and swiftly breaking up the power of Japan. And all the time ships, munitions, supplies and food of every kind were aiding on a gigantic scale her Allies, great and small, in the course of the long struggle.

Apr

16

1945

The first POW camp liberated – Fallingbostel

POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel in Germany welcome their liberators, 16 April 1945.

Then they put me in a lorry, and I was taken to a field full of marquees. Inside were long tables, and army cooks came out with dishes full to the brim with potatoes and beef. It was almost impossible to believe it. But then some doctors came in and ordered all the food to be taken away. They said too much food like that would damage us. It was heartbreaking. But they gave us a couple of spoonfuls of potato and gravy, and then we were put on planes.

Apr

15

1945

Thousands of dead and dying – liberation of Belsen

British troops stand guard as German SS troops are made to load the bodies of the dead onto a lorry for transport to mass graves.

Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which… The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them…. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.

Apr

14

1945

Italy: US 5th Army advance towards the Po valley

The 10 Division advancing in Italy in April 1945.

Our company sneaked around the side of a hill and began shooting at some farmhouses below us. We had been receiving sniper fire from the buildings. Three or four of our men on the forward slope were shot. My platoon leader was hit in both shoulders and a leg, and his runner was mortally wounded. Jim Keck, who teamed up with me in the squad, was struck in the left hip. The bullet deflected off the hip bone, ran up his side, and exited just below the armpit. Another soldier dashed toward one of the houses. He threw two grenades – killing one of the snipers—before being shot through the head.

Apr

13

1945

Gardelegen: concentration camp prisoners burnt alive

The recovered bodies are laid out in front of the barn.

Soon dead and dying men were piling up at all the doors. Cries of pain and panic rung inside the dark building, as others were trampled. To escape the rain of bullets, some men feigned death or hid under the dead bodies of others. By now the fire was completely out of control. The inside of the barn began to fill up with a suffocating smoke. Chaos and panic was complete. Men were swearing, crying, pleading, praying, shouting “Vive la France” and “Long live Poland.” Several even broke out singing their national anthem. Men were being roasted alive. Human torches ran around until they dropped to the ground dead. Others suffocated or were killed by the exploding hand-grenades and Panzerfausts.

Apr

12

1945

US forces liberate of Buchenwald – ‘beggars description’

While on an inspection tour of the newly liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp, General Dwight Eisenhower and a party of high ranking U.S. Army officers, including Generals Bradley, Patton, and Eddy, view the charred remains of prisoners that were burned upon a section of railroad track during the evacuation of the camp. Also pictured is Jules Grad (second from the left taking notes), correspondent for the "Stars and Stripes" U.S. Army newspaper and Alois J. Liethen of Appleton, WI, the mustached soldier who served as the interpreter for the tour of Ohrdruf.

The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.

Apr

11

1945

The rape and loot of Konigsberg, capital of Prussia

German prisoners are marched away from Konigsberg.

We marched on. We saw scenes that cannot be described. The ditches by the sides of the streets were full of corpses, many of them clearly showing signs of unbelievable maltreatment and rape. Dead children lay around in great numbers, bodies hung from the trees, their watches cut off. Staring—eyed German women were led in all directions, drunken Russians flogged a German nun, an elderly woman sat by the side of the road, both of her legs having been crushed by vehicles. Farmsteads burned, the household belongings lying in the roads, cows ran across the countryside, and were indiscriminately shot and left lying.