The death of a tyrant
This week — to be exact, on the Herald’s publication date of April 30 — is the 75th anniversary of the death of the man who, more than any other, was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions, military and civilian, on battlefields and elsewhere across the western world.
Fifty feet below the Chancellery buildings in Berlin, at 3:30 p.m. on April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler put a pistol to his right temple and pulled the trigger.
Soviet army troops had reached Berlin and were less than a block away.
How do we know the intimate details of Hitler’s last hours? Because Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s private secretary Martin Bormann, and a few other secretaries, SS and military aides had also been ordered to the 30-room, two-floor subterranean Fuhrerbunker with Hitler earlier in April. They took detailed notes of the final days of the Fuhrer and the Third Reich.
Their notes describe a frantic, unhinged Hitler, enraged at Nazis who had deserted him, including the German army and the “universal treason, corruption, lies and failures” of former supporters. In the next few days, the fall from power of the Reich’s top leaders was precipitous.
One victim was Hermann Goering, Germany’s top military leader.
Goering had escaped southward from Berlin to the Bavarian mountains, from where on April 23 he wrote a note to Hitler suggesting that the Fuhrer appoint him to lead Germany, since Hitler was surrounded. Two days later, on Hitler’s order, the SS arrested him and locked him up.
Goebbels had brought his entire family, including six young children, to live with Hitler in the bunker.
On May 1, the day after Hitler’s suicide, Goebbels and his wife poisoned all six of their children in the bunker, then went up to the Chancellery garden, where they were shot in the back of their heads on their order by an SS man.
Heinrich Himmler, the Reich’s second in command and leader of the vicious SS paramilitary organization, had offered to surrender the German army to Eisenhower. When Hitler, in the bunker, learned on April 28 what his faithful right-hand man had done, he went berserk and ordered him arrested along with Goering.
Since Himmler was not in the Fuhrerbunker himself, Hitler took revenge on him by proxy. Himmler’s personal representative in the bunker was SS Lt. Gen. Hermann Fegelein, who was married to the sister of Hitler’s longtime companion and soon-to-be wife, Eva Braun.
Hitler ordered him taken up to the garden and shot.
Then just before midnight on April 28, the Fuhrer married Eva Braun in a brief civil ceremony.
The next day, word came of the death of deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, “Il Duce.” Disguised as a woman in an unsuccessful attempt to escape over the Alps to Switzerland, he was discovered by Italian partisans in Milan. They executed him, hanged him upside down and threw him into the gutter.
That afternoon, Hitler prepared for his own death.
He tested his poison on his favorite dog, Blondi. He handed out poison capsules to his female secretaries for them to use as an alternative to capture by the Red Army, apologizing for not having better parting gifts for them.
About 2:30 a.m. on April 30, he joined his staff members for a farewell group meal, shook their hands in silence, then retired back to his private quarters. At noon, he held his last military conference and sat down for his last meal at 2 p.m., a vegetarian lunch. He ordered his chauffeur to deliver 200 liters of gasoline up to the garden.
He and his wife Eva then bid final farewell to the small group, and went back to their private cloister. A few minutes later the group heard a gunshot. After waiting a few moments, Bormann and Goebbels entered the chambers and found Hitler slumped on a couch, dead from the gunshot. He was 56 years old. Eva had died from swallowing poison.
Their bodies were carried up to the garden, doused with gasoline and burned, with Goebbels and Bormann standing by and giving a final Nazi salute.
Over the next three hours, the bodies were repeatedly doused with gasoline and burned to charred remains. The ashes were swept into a canvas, placed into a shell crater and buried.
Two days earlier, Hitler had dictated his last will and a political testament. The testament repeated the same hatred for Jews he had expressed in “Mein Kampf” two decades earlier, blaming them for everything, including the Second World War.
That hatred had expressed itself in the death of six million European Jews.
The testament’s final sentence summed it up:
“Above all I charge the leaders of the nation and those under them to scrupulous observance of the laws of race and to merciless opposition to the universal poisoner of all people, International Jewry.”
A week later, Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied Forces, and the victors celebrated V-E Day.