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.

Hitler’s last briefing – for a new offensive

The vigorous Hitler who had captivated huge audiences earlier in the war was no more.
The vigorous Hitler who had captivated huge audiences earlier in the war was no more.
The Wehrmacht was also a  shadow of its former self. Poorly trained members of the Volkssturm arrive to take over a position in Moselle, December  1944
The Wehrmacht was also a shadow of its former self. Poorly trained members of the Volkssturm arrive to take over a position in Moselle, December 1944

The German Generals who were summoned, in great secrecy, to Hitlers western command bunker, the Adlerhorst, or Eagle’s Eyrie, on December 12th, were shocked by his appearance. He looked sick and pallid, his left arm shook uncontrollably, and some thought him near collapse.

Yet he still had enough energy to launch in a violent attack on ‘world Jewry’ as he announced plans for a new offensive in the west

It was typical of Hitler’s speeches, a long rambling affair in which he surveyed history and compared himself to Frederik the Great. At its heart was a desire to go on the attack again.

Parts of his perspective could well be seen from the Allied point of view. It was perverse to claim that the Allies would run out of endurance – it was Germany that was exhausted, running out of fuel and munitions as well as men. It was deluded to claim of the Allies that their “broad masses … have already lost all hope” – he might more accurately have been talking about the German population. It was German living space that was being occupied or destroyed, not Allied territory.

The war is, of course, a test of endurance of all participants. The longer the war lasts, the more difficult will this test of endurance be. This endurance test will have to be suffered as long as there is some hope of success.

As soon as hope of a victory disappears, the test of endurance will not be accepted with the same willpower with which, for instance, a fortress fights as long as it still has hope for relief. It is, therefore, important to remove the enemy’s confidence in victory from time to time, by making clear to him from the beginning, through offensive actions, that the success of his plans is impossible.

This will never be as possible through a successful defensive as through a successful offensive operation. In the process of time we can, therefore, not hold on to the basic principle that a defensive action is the strongest component of a battle. It can favor the enemy.

One should never forget that the total amount of men employed on our side is still as large as that of our opponents. We should never forget that a part of the enemy is tied down in East Asia against japan, against a state which, even without China, has over a hundred million people and which represents a valuable factor in technical armament.

We still have to be clear about it, that overlong periods of exclusively defensive endurance will drag us down in the long run, and that they will have to be relieved by successful counter-blows. It was, therefore, my desire to make this war an offensive one, an active one, from the beginning, and not to let myself maneuver into a world war situation. If that happens anyway, then it is simply the result of the falling away of our allies which, of course, has operational consequences.

But the final decision in a war is brought about by the realisation of one or the other side that the war as such cannot be won. To persuade the enemy of this, therefore, is our most important task.

The quickest way to persuade him is by the destruction of his living space through occupation of his territory. If one is himself forced to the defensive then it becomes his vital mission to make it clear to the enemy by ruthless strikes that he has, nevertheless, gained nothing, and that the war will be indeterminately carried on.

It is just as important to enforce these psychological moments by not letting a moment go to waste, to make it clear to the enemy that whatever he does he will never be able to count on a capitulation, never, never, never! This is decisive.

Even the smallest sign of defeatism raises the enemy’s hopes for victory; his broad masses which have already lost all hope, will be filled with new hope and will gladly take upon themselves all sacrifices and all deprivations.

Whatever they may privately have thought of the prospects of success, the German commanders had to live in this deluded world. To voice criticisms was now increasingly seen as “defeatism” now equated with outright treachery. They would all dutifully follow the plan – and many would enthusiastically embrace it.

The German armed forces were on the defensive in both the East and West. A Pak gun position in Budapest.
The German armed forces were on the defensive in both the East and West. A Pak gun position in Budapest.

Hitler Order: carry on fighting even if cut off

Hitler had hardly been seen in public since the 20th July plot.
Hitler had hardly been seen in public since the 20th July bomb plot.
German forces were on the retreat on all fronts, including Yugoslavia.
German forces were on the retreat on all fronts, including Yugoslavia.

It was a central part of the Nazi belief system that the “power of the will” could overcome otherwise impossible circumstances. The ‘supermen’ of the Germans Reich could achieve more than any other race, not just because they were inherently superior but because they had stronger will power.

The situation facing Germany was becoming ever more calamitous, and many Germans could see it. However, to voice anything but confidence in ‘ultimate victory’ was a perilous business, any hint of defeatism could end in a concentration camp. Now Hitler sought to extend the same paranoia to the armed forces, with the following Fuhrer Order.

Even if a unit was surrounded a commander was now expected to see if there were dedicated Nazis within the ranks willing to carry on the fight. The order complemented Hitler’s preference for declaring towns ands citys to be “fortresses”, that were expected to hold out to the last man.

Whether because of this order, or because German commanders were aware of implicit threats to their families in Germany, there would be many examples of German forces fanatically carrying on the fight in hopeless situations:

Fuhrer Order On The Exercise Of Command In Units Which Are Left To Their Own Resources

The Chief Of The High Command Of The Armed Forces.

The Fuhrer’s Headquarters, 28th November, 1944.

(Operations Staff).

Subject: Exercise Of Command In Units Which Have Been Isolated.

The following Fuhrer’s Order on the exercise of command in units which are left to their own resources will be made known to troops forthwith.

It will be ensured forthwith that the contents of this Order become the common property of every individual soldier.

Operation Orders providing a summary of the hitherto published Orders concerning fortifications, fortified areas, local strongpoints, and so on, will follow.

Enclosure

The war will decide whether the German Folk shall continue to exist or perish. It demands selfless exertion from every individual. Situations which have seemed hopeless have been redeemed by the courage of soldiers contemptuous of death, by the steadfast perseverance of all ranks, and by inflexible, exalted leadership.

A Commander is only fit to lead German troops if he daily shares, with all the powers of his mind, body, and soul, the demands which he must make upon his men. Energy, willingness to take decisions, firmness of character, unshakeable faith, and hard, unconditional readiness for service, are the indispensable requirements for the struggle. He who does not possess them, or who no longer possesses them, cannot be a Leader, and he must resign.

Therefore I order:

Should a Commander, left to his own resources, think that he must give up the struggle, he will first ask his Officers, then his Noncommissioned Officers, and finally his troops, if one of them is ready to carry on the task and continue the fight. If one of them will, he will hand over command to that man – regardless of his rank – and himself fall in. The new Leader will then assume the command, with all its rights and duties.

Goebbels review the 'Volkssturm', the volunteer army of old men and boys that would be the last defence line for Germany.
Goebbels review the ‘Volkssturm’, the volunteer army of old men and boys that would be the last defence line for Germany.
Members of the  Volkssturm training with experienced soldiers from the "Grofldeutschland" Division.
Members of the Volkssturm training with experienced soldiers from the “Grofldeutschland” Division.

Hitler faces the collapse of German industry

Albert Speer at a ceremony to encourage armaments workers earlier in 1944.
Albert Speer at a ceremony to encourage armaments workers earlier in 1944.
Verical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing a damaged section of the Dortmund-Ems canal near Ladbergen, north of Munster, Germany, following a raid by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command, on the night of 23/24 September 1944. Breaches have been made in the banks of two parallel branches of the canal, causing a six-mile stretch to be drained. Most of the damage was caused by two direct hits by 12,000-lb 'Tallboy' deep penetration bombs dropped by No. 617 Squadron RAF.
Verical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing a damaged section of the Dortmund-Ems canal near Ladbergen, north of Munster, Germany, following a raid by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command, on the night of 23/24 September 1944. Breaches have been made in the banks of two parallel branches of the canal, causing a six-mile stretch to be drained. Most of the damage was caused by two direct hits by 12,000-lb ‘Tallboy’ deep penetration bombs dropped by No. 617 Squadron RAF.

Few could now rationally believe that Germany could last much longer. With the Allies on or approaching the German borders, in both the east and west, Germany itself was under almost constant bombardment from the bombers. Even if many of the secret weapons programmes had moved underground and continued production, the basic necessities of coal and fuel were in such short supply that it was undermining the whole economy.

Among the the critical targets that had recently been successfully put out of action was the Dortmund Ems canal, a long term objective for the RAF.

Hitler did not need rational assessments, however, and they were unwelcome to him. All he needed was people to keep their faith in him. One of the few men who had come close to becoming his friend, Albert Speer, Armaments Minister, discovered how Hitler now preferred the unwavering zeal of his deputy, Karl-Otto Saur:

On November 11 a new note of alarm entered my frequent memoranda on shutdowns in the fuel industry. For more than six weeks, traffic to and from the Ruhr area had been blocked.

“It is self-evident, given the whole nature of the Reich’s economic structure,” I wrote to Hitler, “that cessation of production in the Rhine-Westphalian industrial area is intolerable for the entire German economy and for a successful conduct of the war… The most important armaments plants are reported on the verge of going under. Under existing conditions there is no way to avoid these shutdowns.”

Denied fresh supplies of Ruhr coal, I continued, the railroads were rapidly exhausting their stocks of coal, as were the gas works; oil and margarine plants were on the verge of shutdowns, and even the supply of coke to the hospitals had become inadequate.

Things were literally moving rapidly toward the end. Signs of total anarchy loomed before us. Coal trains no longer reached their destinations but were stopped en route by Gauleiters [the Nazi regional commanders] who confiscated it for their own needs. The buildings in Berlin were unheated; gas and electricity were available only during restricted hours. A howl arose from the Chancellery: Our coal authority had refused to let it have its full consignment for the rest of the winter.

Faced with this situation we could no longer carry out our programs, but only try to produce parts. Once our remaining stocks were used up, armaments production would cease. In drawing this conclusion I underestimated – as no doubt the enemy air strategists did also — the large stocks of materials that had been accumulated in the factories.

An extensive search showed that high production of armaments could in fact be continued, but only for a few months more. Hitler accepted a last “emergency or supplementary program,” as we called it, with a calm that seemed truly uncanny. He did not waste a word on the obvious implications, although there could be no doubt what these were.

Around this time Hitler, at a situation conference, commented in the presence of all the generals: “We have the good fortune to have a genius in our armaments industry. I mean Saur. All difficulties are being overcome by him.”

General Thomale put in a tactful word: “Mein Fuhrer, Minister Speer is here.” “Yes, I know,” Hitler replied curtly, annoyed at the interruption. “But Saur is the genius who will master the situation.”

Oddly enough, I swallowed this deliberate insult without any perturbation, almost indiiferently. I was beginning to take my leave of Hitler.

See Albert Speer: Inside the Third Reich

Hitler had not been photographed  in public since the July bomb plot, when images proving he was still alive were swiftly released.
Hitler had not been photographed in public since the July bomb plot, when images proving he was still alive were swiftly released.