Hitler’s early morning tour of Paris

Adolf_Hitler_in_Paris_1940
Hitler in front of the Eiffel Tower with Speer at left and Arno Breker on the right. The French claimed that the cables to the Eiffel Tower lift had been cut and Hitler declined to climb the stairs to the top of the Tower. Some hours after Hitler left the lift was working again.

Adolf Hitler made a swift tour of Paris in the early hours of 23rd June, accompanied by Albert Speer his favourite Architect and later Armaments Minister, and Arno Breker his favourite sculptor. Speer dated the visit as 28th in his memoirs but most authorities agree it was the 23rd:

Three days after the beginning of the armistice we landed at Le Bourget airfield. It was early in the morning, about five-thirty. Three large Mercedes sedans stood waiting. Hitler as usual sat in the front seat beside the chauffeur, Breker and I on the jump seats behind him, while Giessler and the adjutants occupied the rear seats. Field-gray uniforms had been provided for us artists, so that we might fit into the military framework. We drove through the extensive suburbs directly to the Opera, Charles Garnier’s great neobaroque building. . . . It was Hitler’s favorite and the first thing he wanted to see. …

Later they drove through the centre of Paris, stopped at the Eiffel Tower and again at Napoleon’s tomb where Speer recalls that Hitler spent a long time in contemplation. He was however apparently unimpressed by much of the classical French architecture.

After a last look at Paris we drove swiftly back to the airport. By nine o’clock in the morning the sightseeing tour was over. ‘It was the dream of my life to be permitted to see Paris. I cannot say how happy I am to have that dream fulfilled today.’ For a moment I felt something like pity for him: three hours in Paris, the one and only time he was to see it, made him happy when he stood at the height of his triumphs.

In the course of the tour Hitler raised the question of a victory parade in Paris. But after discussing the matter with his adjutants and Colonel Speidel, he decided against it after all. His official reason for calling off the parade was the danger of its being harassed by English air raids. But later he said: ‘I am not in the mood for a victory parade. We aren’t at the end yet.’

See Albert Speer: Inside The Third Reich

The French sign the Armistice with Germany

Hitler and Goring await signing of Armistice.
Hitler with Goring, Hess, Ribbentrop and German army officers await the arrival of the French outside the railway carriage at Compiègne.

Journalists from neutral countries still had a considerable degree of freedom to report independently from occupied Europe. American reporters had greater freedom than most to take an openly critical line.

Soon the United States would line up in support of Britain. This would make the situation of her otherwise neutral journalists increasingly difficult, long before Hitler declared war on America.

William Shirer was making a name for himself as he gathered stories close to the heart of the Nazi regime. Now he scored a considerable scoop by witnessing the French surrender in Hitler’s carefully choreographed Armistice ceremony:

…It is now three three twenty p.m. and the Germans stride over to the armistice car. For a moment or two they stand in the sunlight outside the car, chatting. Then Hitler steps up into the car, followed by the others. We can see nicely through the car windows.

Hitler takes the place occupied by Marshal Foch when the 1918 armistice terms were signed. The others spread themselves around him. Four chairs on the opposite side of the table from Hitler remain empty. The French have not yet appeared. But we do not wait long. Exactly at three thirty p.m. they alight from a car. They have flown up from Bordeaux to a near-by landing field. …Then they walk down the avenue flanked by three German officers. We see them now as they come into the sunlight of the clearing.

…It is a grave hour in the life of France. The Frenchmen keep their eyes straight ahead. Their faces are solemn, drawn. They are the picture of tragic dignity. They walk stiffly to the car, where they are met by two German officers, Lieutenant-General Tippelskirch, Quartermaster General, and Colonel Thomas, chief of the Fuhrer’s headquarters. The Germans salute. The French salute. The atmosphere is what Europeans call “correct.” There are salutes, but no handshakes.

Now we get our picture through the dusty windows of that old wagon-lit car. Hitler and the other German leaders rise as the French enter the drawing-room. Hitler gives the Nazi salute, the arm raised. Ribbentrop and Hess do the same. I cannot see M. Noel to notice whether he salutes or not.

Hitler, as far as we can see through the windows, does not say a word to the French or to anybody else. He nods to General Keitel at his side. We see General Keitel adjusting his papers. Then he starts to read. He is reading the preamble to the German armistice terms. The French sit there with marble-like faces and listen intently. Hitler and Goring glance at the green table-top.

The reading of the preamble lasts but a few minutes. Hitler, we soon observe, has no intention of remaining very long, of listening to the reading of the armistice terms themselves. At three forty-two p.m., twelve minutes after the French arrive, we see Hitler stand up, salute stiffly, and then stride out of the drawing-room, followed by Goring, Brauchitsch, Raeder, Hess, and Ribbentrop. The French, like figures of stone, remain at the green-topped table. General Keitel remains with them. He starts to read them the detailed conditions of the armistice.

Keitel at armistice signing.
Wilhelm Keitel hands the terms of the Armistice to the French General Charles Huntziger.

Hitler and his aides stride down the avenue towards the Alsace-Lorraine monument, where their cars are waiting. As they pass the guard of honour, the German band strikes up the two national anthems, Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles and the Horst Wessel song. The whole ceremony in which Hitler has reached a new pinnacle in his meteoric career and Germany avenged the 1918 defeat is over in a quarter of an hour.

See William Shirer: Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941

William Shirer the American journalist, seen here on the right, types up his despatch on the signing of Armistice at Compiègne.

William Shirer was not supposed to be at the site of the Armistice at all, all other foreign journalists had been sent back to Berlin. Shirer had the help of a German unsympathetic to Hitler to get to the site and to witness the proceedings. He went on to outwit the Germans who permitted him to make a recorded radio broadcast of the Armistice terms, that they insisted would be played only after the Germans had made their own broadcast. In a spectacular scoop he managed to get a live link to CBS while he was in the studio waiting to make the recording, persuaded the engineer present that he had permission to do this, and broadcast the news a full six hours ahead of the Germans.

The Germans prepare for the Armistice

On 21 June 1940,
On 21 June 1940, before the “wagon de l’Armistice” at Rethondes, in the “clairière de l’Armistice” of the Compiègne forest, Hitler speaks with German high-ranked Nazis and Generals, before launching the negotiations of the armistice to be signed the next day (on 22 June 1940) between defeated France and the victorious Third Reich.
The signing will take place at the very same place where the 1918 armistice was signed when Germany was defeated : in the rail car which has been towed from its shelter for this special occasion.
Recognizable people are, from left to right :
Joachim von Ribbentrop, Foreign Office minister of the Reich ;
Adolf Hitler, chancellor of the Reich ;
Hermann Göring viewed from behind, Generalfeldmarschall, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe ;
Erich Raeder partly hidden, Großadmiral, commander-in-chief of the Kriegsmarine ;
probably Walther von Brauchitsch partly hidden, Generaloberst, commander-in-chief of the Heer (the “field” Army) ;
probably Rudolf Hess viewed from behind, deputy to Hitler as leader of the Nazi party, chief of the Party Chancellery.

The humiliating peace terms of the First World War were one of the root causes of Nazism. Hitler was determined that the peace he imposed would extinguish that humiliation. He ordered that the railway carriage where the 1918 Armistice had been signed by the defeated German army should be brought to the exact same spot in the Forest of Compiegne for the ceremony to be held on the 22nd June.

American journalist William Shirer described Hitler after he had arrived that warm afternoon:

grave, solemn, yet brimming with revenge… There was something else, difficult to describe, in his expression, a sort of scornful, inner joy at being present at this great reversal he himself had wrought.

Earlier German troops had dragged the railway carriage out of a French museum. After the 1940 signing it was taken to Germany but apparently destroyed in a later bombing raid.
Earlier German troops had dragged the railway carriage out of a French museum. After the 1940 signing it was taken to Germany but apparently destroyed in a later bombing raid.

German forces begin to surrender in the west

The headline of the Stars and Stripes for the 2nd May 1945.
The headline of the Stars and Stripes for the 2nd May 1945.

The new German ‘government’, if it could be described as such, had limited communication with the remaining units of the German forces and an incomplete picture of the strategic situation. Grossadmiral Doenitz appears to have decided to keep fighting simply to enable more German units to move to the west to surrender, rather than surrender to the Red Army.

German troops surrendering their weapons near a subway entrance, Berlin, Germany, 2 May 1945
German troops surrendering their weapons near a subway entrance, Berlin, Germany, 2 May 1945

With Hitler dead many Germans felt released from their oath of loyalty to him. Whether in consultation with Doenitz or not, many senior German commanders now decided to stop fighting. Formal surrenders were arranged in Italy and Berlin, and there were more local arrangements elsewhere in Germany.

The famous picture of Red Army soldier Mikhail Alekseevich Yegorov of Soviet 756 Rifle Regiment flying the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany, 2 May 1945. For the Soviet authorities this was the best of several images taken at the time - a problem emerged only after it had been first published.
The famous picture of Red Army soldier Mikhail Alekseevich Yegorov of Soviet 756 Rifle Regiment flying the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany, 2 May 1945. For the Soviet authorities this was the best of several images taken at the time – but a problem emerged only after it had been first published.
Soldiers raising the flag of Soviet Union on the roof of Reichstag building in Berlin, May, 1945. Original photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei. This version of the photograph was later significantly altered for propaganda purposes; additional smoke was added for dramatic effect, and multiple wristwatches were removed from the lower soldier's wrist, as they would imply that he had been looting
Original photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei.
This version of the photograph was later significantly altered for propaganda purposes; additional smoke was added for dramatic effect, and multiple wristwatches were removed from the lower soldier’s wrist, as they would imply that he had been looting

The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, veterans of Sicily, D-Day, Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge and the battle through Germany suddenly found that the war was coming to an abrupt end. The German 21st Army wanted to surrender to them, even though their eastern most units were still engaged with the Red Army.

James Magellas, by now the 82 Division’s most decorated officer, one of the few who had survived all the way through, describes the situation:

The forward element of the 3rd Battalion, H Company, set up a road-block on one of the roads leading into the division sector to disarm the surrendering Germans.

On that historic day, an entire army, with a vast array of tanks, trucks, half-tracks, howitzers, vehicles of all types, and motorcycles, began to pass through the division’s checkpoints heading to the rear. With Russians not far behind, the convoy of German soldiers and armaments bore little resemblance to the Wehrmacht that had fought so hard against us.

We were witnessing an unprecedented event. First, an entire German army, about 150,000 men, surrendered to a division of about 10,000. Second, their frontline units were combating Russian forces, not American. Third, the Germans passed through our lines in reverse order—army headquarters first, then corps, divisions, and regiments; the combat troops came through last.

The general staff included ten generals; the headquarters appeared to be in excellent condition. They seemed to have prepared for the grand finale. Clean-shaven and groomed, uniforms clean and neatly pressed, boots shined, with monocles and medals, they were proud to the very end. They represented some of the top brass of the Wehrmacht.

They rode in large, chauffeured staff cars accompanied by their women, wives, or mistresses. The obedient aides, still by their side, took care that the generals were going out in style.

They took approximately one week to pass through our lines, with vehicles almost bumper to bumper for the first few days. Their rear-echelon troops appeared to be in excellent physical condition, looking much better kept than our own combat forces.

All of their equipment and armor was also in good condition. I found it difficult to believe that they were the conquered and we were the conquerors. On the third day, their frontline units began to pass through our lines.

On the fourth and fifth days, their fighting men appeared, not riding but on foot. Varying in age from sixteen to sixty, they were a scraggly looking lot, dirty, unkempt, with shoes held together by rags. They were a far cry from the commanders and staff who had passed through first. There seemed no question that they were a soundly beaten force, with no fight left in them. Although the generals and their staffs were still capable of continuing the war, they no longer had quality frontline troops to command.

The focus of attention for many men rapidly switched from the rigours of battle to more material concerns:

As the Germans passed our checkpoints, they were disarmed; in many cases, our troops relieved them of their cameras, watches, and other “souvenirs.”

Sergeant Charles Crowder recalled: “I obtained a burlap bag, mounted a motorcycle with a sidecar and, as the enemy troops marched by, I told them to throw their pistols in the bag. I started taking watches and rings until the bag was full. I figured this was my chance to get rich. I also took money in German marks. I gave away all the pistols that I gathered to other men in my unit, except four, which I kept for myself. I kept most of the watches.”

Sergeant Jimmy Shields emptied a barracks bag full of pistols on the table and told his squad, “Help yourself.” I picked out several highly prized pieces: a Luger, a P38, and an Italian Beretta.

Sergeant Donald Zimmerman traded a Mauser pistol with me for a week-end pass. The Mauser, a semiautomatic that could be fired as a pistol or attached to a wooden holster and fired as a shoulder piece, was carried by general officers and was of World War I vintage. It was the only one I ever saw.

See James Megellas: All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe.

Infantry of 2nd Battalion, The Wiltshire Regiment, supported by Churchill tanks of 6th Guards Tank Brigade, clear a pocket of resistance south of Lubeck in Germany, 2 May 1945.
Infantry of 2nd Battalion, The Wiltshire Regiment, supported by Churchill tanks of 6th Guards Tank Brigade, clear a pocket of resistance south of Lubeck in Germany, 2 May 1945.

More suicides as the Berlin battle continues

With a torn picture of his Führer beside his clenched fist, a dead major of the Volkssturm,Walter Doenicke lies on the floor of city hall, Leipzig, Germany. He committed suicide rather than face U.S. Army troops who captured the city.
With a torn picture of his Führer beside his clenched fist, a dead major of the Volkssturm,Walter Doenicke lies on the floor of city hall, Leipzig, Germany. He committed suicide rather than face U.S. Army troops who captured the city.

A wave of suicides was now hitting Germany. Those who identified most closely with Nazism were not just fearful for the future but despaired of a life without the Nazi regime. There were suicides on the western front because people feared the arrival of the Americans. The circumstances in the east, where there were fearsome stories spreading about the behaviour of the Red Army, many of them substantiated by fleeing refugees, were even more desperate.

The suicides involved the young and the old as well as whole families. For teenagers whose whole life had been dominated by the Nazi ethos the collapse of the regime seemed to be the end of the world. The news of Hitler’s death was the final straw for many more.

Martin Borman’s 15 year old son, also called Martin, had been at an elite Nazi school. He and others had recently been given false papers and helped to flee. Years later he told Gitta Sereny:

It was a small inn and a very small Stube [parlour]. We sat on benches tightly packed together. It’s impossible now to convey the atmosphere. The worst moment was when, at two o’clock in the morning on May 1, the news of Hitler’s death came through on the radio. I remember it precisely, but I can’t describe the stillness of that instant which lasted . . . for hours.

Nobody said anything, but very soon afterwards people started to go outside, first one, then there was a shot. Then another, and yet another. Not a word inside, no other sound except those shots from outside, but one felt that that was all there was, that all of us would have to die.

(Picking up a gun, Martin walks outside.) My world was shattered; I couldn’t see any future at all. But then, out there, in the back of that inn, where bodies were already lying all over the small garden, there was another boy, older that I: he was eighteen. He was sitting on a log and told me to come sit with him.

The air smelled good, the birds sang, and we talked ourselves out of it. If we hadn’t had each other at that moment, both of us would have gone; I know it.

This account appears in Gitta Sereny: Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth

3,881 people were recorded as committing suicide during April in the Battle of Berlin, although the figure is probably an underestimate. More would die now that Hitler was dead – but it would be difficult to determine how many people died given the desperate conditions inside the capital. Conditions were by now so chaotic that many people did not hear the radio announcements.

Claus Fuhrman was hiding in a cellar in Berlin and describes the last days:

The scourge of our district was a small one-legged Hauptscharfuhrer of the SS, who stumped through the street on crutches, a machine pistol at the ready, followed by his men. Anyone he didn’t like the look of he instantly shot. The gang went down cellars at random and dragged all the men outside, giving them rifles and ordering them straight to the front. Anyone who hesitated was shot.

The front was a few streets away. At the street corner diagonally opposite our house Walloon Waffen SS had taken up position; wild, desperate men who had nothing to lose and who fought to their last round of ammunition. Armed Hitler Youth were lying next to men of the Vlassov White Russian Army.

We left the cellar at longer and longer intervals and often we could not tell whether it was night or day. The Russians drew nearer; they advanced through the underground railway tunnels, armed with flame-throwers; their advance snipers had taken up positions quite near us; and their shots ricocheted off the houses opposite.

Exhausted German soldiers would stumble in and beg for water — they were practically children; I remember one with a pale, quivering face who said, “We shall do it all right; we’ll make our way to the north west yet.” But his eyes belied his words and he looked at me despairingly. What he wanted to say was, “Hide me, give me shelter. I’ve had enough of it.”

I should have liked to help him; but neither of us dared to speak. Each might have shot the other as a “defeatist”.

An old man who had lived in our house had been hit by a shell splinter a few days ago and had bled to death. His corpse lay near the entrance and had already began to smell. We threw him on a cart and took him to a burnt-out school building where there was a notice: “Collection point for Weinmeisterstrasse corpses.” We left him there; one of us took the opportunity of helping himself to a dead policeman’s boots.

The first women were fleeing from the northern parts of the city and some of them sought shelter in our cellar, sobbing that the Russians were looting all the houses, abducting the men and raping all the women and girls. I got angry, shouted I had had enough of Goebbels’ silly propaganda, the time for that was past. If that was all they had to do, let them go elsewhere.

Whilst the city lay under savage artillery and rifle fire the citizens now took to looting the shops. The last soldiers withdrew farther and farther away. Somewhere in the ruins of the burning city SS-men and Hitler Youth were holding out fanatically. The crowds burst into cellars and storehouses. While bullets were whistling through the air they scrambled for a tin of fish or a pouch of tobacco.

On the morning of 1 May our flat was hit by a 21-cm. shell and almost entirely destroyed. On the same day water carriers reported that they had seen Russian soldiers. They could not be located exactly; they were engaged in house-to-house fighting which was moving very slowly.

This account appears in Louis Hagen (ed): Ein Volk, Ein Reich: Nine Lives Under the Nazis.

 Leipzigs Deputy Mayor and Municipal Treasurer Dr. Lisso, at desk, his wife Renate, in chair, and their 20 year old daughter Regina Lisso, after committing suicide by cyanide in the Leipzig New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) to avoid capture by American soldiers of the 69th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions as they closed in on the city. Regina Lisso wears the armband of the German Red Cross.
Leipzigs Deputy Mayor and Municipal Treasurer Dr. Lisso, at desk, his wife Renate, in chair, and their 20 year old daughter Regina Lisso, after committing suicide by cyanide in the Leipzig New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) to avoid capture by American soldiers of the 69th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions as they closed in on the city. Regina Lisso wears the armband of the German Red Cross.

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.

SS fanatics guard the bunker as Hitler marries

Soviet soldiers in a position inside a Berlin home.
Soviet soldiers in a position inside a Berlin home.
A Soviet soldiers runs past a burning building in Berlin.
A Soviet soldiers runs past a burning building in Berlin.

Half a million Red Army troops were now engaged in the final assault on Berlin, making street by street advances to the centre of Nazi power, Hitler’s bunker. Inside the bunker Hitler had finally admitted to his inner circle that the war was lost. Many inside the bunker were trying to find an opportunity to escape, while others were preparing to end it all.

Guarding them all were the remnants of a fanatically loyal SS unit. An anonymous German soldier describes the scenes:

The close combat boys went into action. Their leader was SS-Obersturmfuhrer [First Lieutenant] Babick, battle commandant of the Reichstag. Babick now waged the kind of war he had always dreamed of. Our two battery commanders, Radloff and Richter, were reduced to taking orders from him.

Babick’s command post was not in the Reichstag itself but in the cellar of the house on the corner of Dorotheenstrasse and the Hermann Goring Strasse, on the side nearer the Spree. There he ruled from an air-raid shelter measuring some 250 sq ft. Against the wall stood an old sofa and in front of it a dining table on which a map of the center of Berlin was spread out. Sitting on the sofa was an elderly marine commander and next to him two petty officers.

There were also a few SS men and, of course, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Babick bending over his map. He played the great general and treated everyone present in the dim candle-lit room to great pearls of military wisdom. He kept talking of final victory, cursed all cowards and traitors and left no one in any doubt that he would summarily shoot anyone who abandoned the Fuhrer.

Babick was tremendously proud of his successes. He was hoping for reinforcements. From somewhere or another, marines had come to Berlin on the night of 28 April, led by the very Lieutenant-Commander who was now hanging about the cellar with nothing to say for himself.

Babick never moved from his map, plotting the areas from which he expected reinforcements and even the arrival of “Royal Tigers” [heavy tanks]. Babick was still bubbling over with confidence. For one thing, he thought himself perfectly safe in his shelter. SS sentries were posted outside, others barred the corridor to the Reichstag, and Royal Tigers, our finest weapons, were apparently just around the corner.

One group was commanded by SS-Untersturmfuhrer [Second Lieutenant] Undermann; he was posted south of the Moltke Bridge in the Ministry of the Interior (the building the Russians called “Himmler’s House”) and the bridge itself lay in his line of fire.

Then an SS ensign, aged about 19, came to Babick with the report that Undermann and his men had come across some alcohol and that they had got roaring drunk. As a precaution he had brought Undermann along; he was waiting outside. Babick roared out the order: “Have him shot on the spot!”

The ensign clicked his heels and ran out. Seconds later we heard a burst of fire from a submachine-gun. The boy reappeared and reported: “Orders carried out.” Babick put him in charge of Undermann’s unit.

Our ranks in the Reichstag got thinner and thinner. Part of our battery gradually dispersed, and by the night of 30 April, no more than 40 to 50 people, soldiers and civilians, were left in the cellar. This remnant was now busy looking for the safest possible hiding-places. There we intended to sit tight until the Russians came. But they kept us waiting for another 24 hours.

This account appears in Jon E. Lewis (ed):The Mammoth Book of Eyewitness World War II, the original source is not given.

Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun at the Berghof in 1942.
Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun at the Berghof in 1942.

Meanwhile Hitler had decided to marry his long term mistress, Eva Braun. She had never been publicly acknowledged because Hitler thought it would damage his image as the Fuhrer.

After the war Stalin received a report reconstructing the circumstances of the marriage, which took place during the night of 28th-29th April, obtained from the testimonies of Hitler’s staff subsequently taken prisoners by the Red Army:

Hitler and Eva Braun left their apartment hand in hand and went into the conference room. Hitler took each step with a great effort. His face was ashen, his gaze wandered restlessly. He was wearing the crumpled tunic in which nowadays he lay on his bed all day. He had pinned on to it the Gold Party Badge, the Iron Cross First Class and the Wounded Medal of the First World War.

Eva Braun, also pale from sleepless nights, wore a dark-blue silk dress under a fleecy grey fur cape. Goebbels and Bormann were waiting for them in the antechamber. The latter had put on the grey uniform of an SS-Obergruppenfuhrer. Goebbels wore the brown Party uniform.

In the conference room Hitler and Eva greeted the functionary who had taken up his position at the table. Then they sat down in the first two chairs, and Bormann and Goebbels too went to their assigned places. The door was closed. The ceremony lasted no longer than ten minutes.

Bormann opened the door again when Hitler and Eva were signing the licence. Hitler then kissed Eva’s hand. She was now his wife. He ordered that the table be laid for a wedding tea in his study. Goebbels and his wife were invited together with Bormann and the secretaries Frau Christian and Frau Junge.

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

Soviet officers  examine the bodies of a dead company commander and Volkssturm fighter .
Soviet officers examine the bodies of a dead company commander and Volkssturm fighter .
Volkssturm prisoners are led past a Soviet tank.
Volkssturm prisoners are led past a Soviet tank.

Nazis continue to believe in Hitler and victory

Berlin in February - March 1945
Berlin in February- March 1945
Berlin, February 1945.
Berlin, February 1945.

The Nazis had established themselves as a pseudo religion and now despite the widespread destruction and the appalling losses, there were still Germans who continued to believe. As well as the Nazi officials and the SS who were inextricably linked to the regime, there were still ordinary Germans and ordinary soldiers who believe in Hitler and a final victory.

Writing in late April German soldier Wilhelm Pruller remained loyal as ever. He believed the propaganda that ‘new divisions’ were on their way to relieve Berlin and that the frontline was stabilising. Incredibly he still thought the war could change in Germany’s favour:

It is true that the defeats are crushing, and a glance at the map of Europe and the Greater German Reich suggests even to an amateur that there is no way out of this sad impasse. But that is the shameful thing about the majority of the German people: we are all too easily swayed, too easily enthusiastic, too intoxicated, when we are doing well; but we threaten to give ourselves up when the going is not so good; we’re born attackers but bad defenders, especially in that we are much too much concemed with ourselves and our own, small, personal possessions.

A woman in the village Kemmern, 10 kilometres north of Bamberg, wanted to stick a manure fork into me because I, with a few soldiers, held up the advancing Americans a few hours, because during this time her house was hit by enemy tank shells; or the inhabitants of Breitengussbach, who hoisted white flags behind the backs of my soldiers – small in numbers and badly armed – who were holding off an overwhelming majority for half a day(!), or the Volkssturm, who in numerous places actually opened the tank barriers to the enemy – all these are convincing signs of the conduct of the German people in this period of deepest misery.

German people! With wounded heart I must ask you: how could you have so changed your minds? Your soldiers, their bodies covered with blood and exhausted as if before the last sleep, attempt with their very hands to hold back the enemy’s vast superiority in material and numbers; the reports of what happened in ancient history are nothing compared to the thousands of deeds which our men accomplish every day.

And you, German people, throw yourselves unthinkingly into the arms of your merciless enemies, so that (for the moment) your houses shall be spared; but you throw away not only your lives but also your honour.

Just a short time ago all of you were rejoicing in National Socialism; you never tired of crying ‘Heil Hitler!’ If it were not for those who thought otherwise – and, ach! there are so few – one would really have to ask: did you deserve anything but your ruin, O Germany?

Just look at the majority of your soldiers, at the head of whom is the dearly beloved Fuhrer; how they still try to stop the flood; how in the ruins of the Reich’s capital, surrounded on all sides, they fight an unparalleled last battle! Old men became heroes, children became titans, women and girls even take on man’s bloody job in this merciless war. Can you not, German people, take this one example as a guide to your conduct in this heroic battle?

Have you not been shown, in the defence of Breslau, in the conduct of civilians, Hitler Jugend, party members, Volkssturm, SS, Wehrmacht, that even in the hopeless situation one can remain steadfast?

Think of the millions of dead in far-flung theatres of war, who with glassy eyes and bloodless lips managed to stammer as their last word – full of inner peace and in deep idealism – the Fuhrer’s name or that of our everlasting fatherland; think of their dear ones, who made this incredible sacrifice for that man and this country. Think of our towns in ruins, of the many living war casualties, of the things we did without, the sorrows, the problems of nearly six years; think of these things and you cannot do otherwise but close your ears to the seductive words of our enemies.

Look: young divisions are already attacking, to come to the aid of the capital; in the south, the eastem front is now stable again; and there will come other fronts, and the course of the war will change.

Until then you must remain firm, even if things appear to be hopeless. It cannot, must not, have been for naught; there must not be an end fashioned by the will of our enemies.

The future is in thy hands, O Volk.

See Wilhelm Pruller; Diary of a German Soldier

A dead German following a Soviet artillery barrage on his position near the Oder.
A dead German following a Soviet artillery barrage on his position near the Oder.
Old men of the Volkssturmm prepare to meet the Red Army.
Old men of the Volkssturmm prepare to meet the Red Army.

Hitler’s birthday as Red Army guns hit Berlin

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.

Hitler speaks – the anniversary of 25 years of Nazism

In the flight of refugees from the east, tens of thousands of Germans were dying from cold and fatigue, a high proportion of them children.
In the flight of refugees from the east, tens of thousands of Germans were dying from cold and fatigue, a high proportion of them children.
This woman at least had some possessions left to find in her bombed out Berlin apartment.
This woman at least had some possessions left to find in her bombed out Berlin apartment.
On the 1st February Berlin had itself been declared a 'defence sector', material from bombed out buildings was gathered together for the building of road blocks.
On the 1st February Berlin had itself been declared a ‘defence sector’, material from bombed out buildings was gathered together for the building of road blocks.

Twenty five years earlier Hitler had launched the Nazi movement with a speech in Munich. Now Allied armies were firmly established on German soil in both the east and west, virtually every town and city in Germany lay in ruins, while untrained young boys and old men were being sent to the front lines. There were few defences left against the bombers that came by day and night. On the evening of the 23rd February the RAF had spent just twenty-two minutes destroying 83% of the town of Pforzheim. The only realistic expectation was that hundreds of thousands more Germans would die in the battles ahead.

Now Hitler offered no new strategies, no practical reason to hope that Germany could escape being completely overcome. Instead he returned to the old theme of the “unshakable will” of the German people, which would somehow produce a providential solution. It all amounted to a matter of faith. Alongside this was blame, blame on the “international Jewish criminals” and the “Bolsheviks” :

The consciousness of my duty and my work does not allow me to leave headquarters at the moment when, for the twenty-fifth time, that date is being commemorated on which the fundamental program of our movement was proclaimed and approved in Munich.

All peoples whose statesmen have made a pact with the Bolshevist devil will sooner or later become its victim. But let there be no doubt that National Socialist Germany will carry on this struggle until the end, and that will be the case this year when the historic turning-point comes. No power in the world will weaken our hearts.

Our enemies have destroyed so much that is beautiful and holy that we can now live for only one task – to create a state that will rebuild what they have destroyed. It is, therefore, our duty to maintain the liberty of the German nation for the future; not to permit German labor to be carried off to Siberia but to mobilize it for reconstruction on behalf of our own people.

It is frightful what the homeland has to endure and the tasks of the front are superhuman, but if a whole people is to show itself equal to such suffering, as our nation does, then Providence will not deny us in the end the right of survival.

What makes me very happy and proud, however, is the conviction that the German people in its greatest distress shows its hardest character. In these weeks and months may every individual German remember that it is his duty to sacrifice all for the German nation’s preservation for centuries to come.

Whoever suffers must know that many Germans have lost more than he. The life that is left to us should serve only one task – namely, to make up for all the wrongs done by the international Jewish criminals and their henchmen to our nation. It must be our unshakable will to think of Germany alone until our last breath. Man after man, woman after woman, in towns and in the country, we shall live only for the task of liberating our nation from this distress, of reconstructing Germany’s culture as well as her National Socialist life.

It is our firm will never to cease working for the true people’s community, far from any ideology of classes, firmly believing that the eternal values of a nation are its best sons and daughters, who, regardless of birth and rank, just as God gave them to us, must be educated and employed.

Twenty-five years ago I predicted the victory of our movement. Today, filled as always with belief in our nation, I predict the final victory of the German race.

See the whole speech at Jewish Virtual Library.

An improvised bread store in Berlin in February 1945.
An improvised bread store in Berlin in February 1945.
In February 1945 it was announced that food stores in Berlin had been built up to last for three months.
In February 1945 it was announced that food stores in Berlin had been built up to last for three months.
The scene on Oranienstraße, following the bombing of Berlin on the 3rd February.
The scene on Oranienstraße, following the bombing of Berlin on the 3rd February.