Adolf Hitler commits suicide as Reichstag burns

The last known picture of Hitler surveying the runs outside his bunker in Berlin, some days before his suicide.
The last known picture of Adolf Hitler, surveying the ruins outside his bunker in Berlin, some days before his suicide.

Now he has done it, the bastard. Too bad he could not be taken alive.

This was the reported reaction of Stalin when he heard of Hitler’s suicide. For a long time the Soviets claimed that Hitler had simply taken poison, which in their eyes made it an even more ‘unworthy death’, even though they had access to the closest witnesses to the incident.

The Soviet authorities were able to build up a detailed picture of events because they were interrogating Hitler’s personal aide and valet, Heinz Linge. The final report was presented to Stalin on his 70th birthday in 1949:

In front of the open armour-plated door to the antechamber stood Gunsche with SS-Obersturmfuhrer Frick, who was on duty that day. It was now a few minutes to four. As Linge walked past Gunsche, he remarked, ‘I think it’s over,’ and quickly went into the antechamber. There he smelled gunpowder, as if from a shot.

He rushed out of the antechamber and unexpectedly ran into Bormann, who was standing, with his head hanging, next to the door to the conference room, his hand resting on the table. Linge reported to Bormann that there was a smell of gunpowder in Hitler’s antechamber. Bormann stood up straight and together with Linge he dashed into Hitler’s study. Linge opened the door and walked in with Bormann.

They were presented with the following picture: on the left-hand side of the sofa sat Hitler. He was dead. Next to him was a dead Eva Braun. In Hitler’s right temple gaped a bullet wound the size of a Pfennig and two streams of blood ran down his check. On the carpet next to the sofa a puddle of blood the size of a plate had formed. The wall and the sofa were bespattered with blood. Hitler’s right hand lay palm uppermost on his knee. The left hung at his side. Next to Hitler’s right foot lay a 7.65mm Walther pistol, and next to his left foot a 6.35mm of the same make.

Hitler wore his grey tunic emblazoned with the Gold Party Badge, the Iron Cross First Class and the Wounded Badge of the First World War — as he had done constantly in recent days. He was wearing a white shirt with a black tie, black trousers, black socks and black leather slippers. Eva Braun’s legs were drawn up under her on the sofa. Her brightly coloured high-heeled shoes lay on the floor. Her lips were firmly pressed together. She had poisoned herself with cyanide.

Bormann rushed out into the antechamber to call the SS men who were to carry the two bodies out into the garden. From the antechamber Linge fetched the blankets he had left there to wrap Hitler up in and spread one of them on the study floor. With the help of Bormann, who had come back again, he laid Hitler’s still-warm body on the ground and wrapped him in the blanket.

See The Hitler Book: The Secret Dossier Prepared for Stalin from the Interrogations of Otto Guensche and Heinze Linge, Hitler’s Closest Personal Aides

Hitler and Braun’s corpses were carried out of the bunker and placed just two metres away from the emergency exit to the bunker, they could not go any further into the garden because Soviet shells were bursting in the area, and the Reichstag and nearby buildings were on fire. Two hundred litres of benzine were poured on the bodies but it was difficult to light the fire because of the wind whipped up by the burning city. Once lit the funeral party had to move quickly back inside because the flames were so close to the door.

It was not until the early hours of the following day that German radio made the announcement of his death:

It has been reported from the Fuehrer’s headquarters that our Fuehrer Adolf Hitler has died this afternoon in his battle headquarters at the Reich Chancellery, fallen for Germany, fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism.

On the 30th of April the Fuehrer nominated Grossadmiral Doenitz to be his successor. The Grossadmiral and Fuehrer’s successor will speak to the German nation.”

Doenitz: “German men and women, soldiers of the German Armed Forces! Our Fuehrer Adolf Hitler is dead. The German people bow in deepest sorrow and respect. Early, he had recognized the terrible danger of Bolshevism, and had dedicated his life to the fight against it. His fight having ended, he died a hero’s death in the capital of the German Reich, after having led an unmistakably straight and steady life.

The deaths were a signal to many other dedicated Nazis to decide their fate. Goebbels and his wife had decided to kill not only themselves but their six children as well, although they delayed until the following day. By then there was insufficient benzene left for their bodies to be completely burnt.

 The Goebbels family in 1942: (back row) Hildegard, Harald Quandt, Helga; (front row) Helmut, Hedwig, Magda, Heidrun, Joseph and Holdine. (In this well-known specimen of manipulated image work, the visage of the uniformed Harald, who was actually away on military duties, was inserted and retouched.) Only Harald, Magda Goebbels son from her first marriage, would survive the war.
The Goebbels family in 1942: (back row) Hildegard, Harald Quandt, Helga; (front row) Helmut, Hedwig, Magda, Heidrun, Joseph and Holdine. (In this well-known specimen of manipulated image work, the visage of the uniformed Harald, who was actually away on military duties, was inserted and retouched.) Only Harald, Magda Goebbel’s son from her first marriage, would survive the war.

5 thoughts on “Adolf Hitler commits suicide as Reichstag burns”

  1. Despite claims made to the contrary during his interrogation, Erich Kempka later admitted that when Hitler and Eva Braun locked themselves in a room to commit suicide, he lost his nerve and ran out of the Führerbunker, returning only after Hitler and Braun were dead. By the time he returned to the Bunker, Hitler and Braun’s bodies were already being carried upstairs for cremation.

    “A short time after that SS-Sturmbannführer Linge (valet of the Führer) and an orderly whom I do not remember came from the private room of the Führer carrying a corpse wrapped in an ordinary field-gray blanket. Based on the previous information from SS-Obersturmbannführer Günsche, I at once supposed that it was the corpse of the Führer. One could only see the long black trousers and the black shoes which the Führer usually wore with his field-gray uniform jacket”.

    While he was interned for several years in two Soviet POW camps in Strasberg and Posen, the Wehrmachtsurgeon-general, Major-General Walter Schreiber, had the opportunity to speak with four persons, each of whom had been present in the Bunker until Berlin fell to the Soviets. While he was unable to draw any information on the subject of Hitler’s fate out of the “arrogant” Wilhelm Mohnke.

    However, in a statement for Soviet authorities dated 18 May 1945, Mohnke wrote: “I personally did not see the Führer’s body and I don’t know what was done to it.”

    — V. K. Vinogradov et al. (eds), “Hitler’s Death: Russia’s Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB”, Chaucer Press, London, 2005

    Hitler’s pilot Hans Baur told him only that he had never seen Hitler dead. Heinz Linge and Otto Günsche were more forthcoming. Linge told him that he “did not see Hitler, but toward the end noticed two bodies wrapped in carpet being carried out of the Bunker”. Linge told Schreiber that while at the time he had assumed the bodies to be those of the Hitler couple, only later had he been told that this was the case. This admission is astounding, because Linge is the one person mentioned by all eyewitnesses as having carried Hitler’s body up the stairs and into the Chancellery garden. Günsche, with whom Schreiber spoke only a short time after the regime fell, proved even more informative. Like Linge, Günsche admitted that he had never seen Hitler’s dead body. He added the enigmatic comment: “Those things were all done without us”.

    — ‘Persons Who Should Know Are Not Certain Hitler Died in Berlin Bunker’, “Long Beach Press-Telegram”, California, 10 January 1949

    Such evidence is corroborated by General Helmuth Weidling, who told the Soviets on 4 January 1946: “After I was taken prisoner, I spoke to SS Gruppenführer Rattenhuber and SS Sturmbannführer Günsche, and both said they knew nothing about the details of Hitler’s death”.

    On the basis of Schreiber’s and Weidling’s revelations, it can be regarded as certain that neither Günsche nor Linge, the two mainstays of the Hitler suicide legend, nor Mohnke nor Rattenhuber, had anything to do with Hitler’s death or knew anything about it. It would seem appropriate to conclude that no one who knew anything for certain about what happened to Hitler has ever spoken about it publicly. Hitler’s inner circle in Berlin knew nothing about what had happened to him, and the stories they told publicly after 1945 (in the case of Kempka) and since 1955 (in the cases of Linge and Günsche) have been lies. They were either writing themselves into history or, as seems more likely, under pressure from their captors to make statements to help buttress the Hitler suicide narrative. Indeed, it may well have been a condition of Linge’s and Günsche’s release from Soviet captivity in 1955 that they agreed to furnish such statements.

    James Preston O’Donnell, in “The Bunker” disputed the reliability of the interrogations of witnesses in 1945, which are used as primary sources by most historian. Many witnesses admitted that they either lied or withheld information during their 1945 interviews, mainly due to pressure from their interrogators (this was especially true of those captured by the Soviets).

  2. @Andrew Shakespeare: Before I answer, I should note you are remembering the scene somewhat incorrectly: in the scene, Magda Goebbels and SS doctor Kunz (I can’t find his first name) is having her children drink a sleeping medication, only for the eldest daughter to resist. It is slightly later in the movie that she returns and forces each of the children to bite down on a cyanide capsule in her sleep.

    Now, as to the historical evidence: the eldest daughter’s body, Helga Goebbels, was indeed found with some heavy bruising on her face. How she received this, however, is unclear: according to Kunz*, Magda was not actually directly involved in that part of the process. She simply told the children that “The doctor will give you a vaccination which children and soldiers now need to have” before leaving the doctor to administer the morphine.

    He then stepped back into the hallway with Magda and waited for ten minutes for the morphine to take effect. Then Magda reentered the room and poisoned the children by herself. The doctor did not mention at any point that any of the children put up resistance but the bruises on Helga’s face indicates otherwise. This leaves three possibilities:

    1. The doctor’s memory is faulty and thus some part of the story is incorrect.
    2. The doctor was not being entirely honest in his account by omitting or altering details in order to look better to his interrogators.
    3. The morphine was not entirely effective on Helga, she woke-up as Magda was preparing to administer the cyanide to her, and struggled leading to Magda having to subdue her by force.

    *As an aside, Kunz claimed he tried to convince both Magda and Joseph Goebbels to not poison the children and instead put them under the protection of the Red Cross. He also claimed to have refused to have participated in the actual act of killing the children. Given that he obediently put them to sleep in full knowledge that their parents were about to kill them, there are some doubts as to how true that claim is. Still the overall thrust of his story seems fits with the autopsies and hence seems to be accurate, even if some of the details are suspect.

  3. I just watched that clip and I think that may have been a figment of your imagination. The children were all sleeping as Magda murdered them.

  4. In the movie Downfall (which I haven’t been able to watch since my children were born), in the scene in which Magda Goebbels poisons her children (the bitch!), one of the older children is portrayed as suspecting that something is wrong, and fights her mother, who pins her down and forces the poison down the poor girl’s throat.

    Is this artistic licence, or did this actually happen?

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