Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher and is the second post in a four-part series.
The National Archives and Records Administration plans to display Adolf Hitler’s Political Testament, Personal Will, and Marriage Certificate (National Archives Identifier 6883511) in the exhibit “Making Their Mark” beginning March 21, 2014. This series of blogs traces the aforementioned documents from the time of their creation to first being exhibited at the National Archives in 1946.
At around 6am April 29, 1945 the regular intense Russian artillery bombardment began with the whole area around the Reich Chancellery and the government district coming under fire. The Soviets launched their all-out offensive against the center of Berlin – fighting was soon in progress on Kurfuestendamm and on Bismarckstrasse and Kantstrasse. The front line was now only some 450 yards from the Chancellery.
During those same early morning hours, Adolf Hitler planned for the three copies of his personal testament and personal will to be taken out of Berlin and delivered to Grand Admiral Doenitz and Field Marshal Schoerner, commander of Army Group Center in Bohemia (and, by way of Hitler’s political testament, newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army).
At about 8am Lieutenant General Burgdorf sent for Major Johannmeier (Hitler’s 31 year old adjutant to the Army) and told him that an important mission had been entrusted to him. He was to carry a copy of Hitler’s political testament and personal will out of Berlin, through the Russian lines, and deliver them to Field Marshal Ferdinand Schoerner. With him would go two other messengers, bearing similar documents. They were SS-Colonel Wilhelm Zander, an aide representing Bormann, and Heinz Lorenz, an official of the Propaganda Ministry representing Goebbels. These two men would receive separate instructions. Johannmeier was charged to escort the party on their journey through enemy lines. Burgdorf then gave him the documents he was to carry, along with a covering letter from himself to Schoerner, transcribed below:
Fuhrer’s HQ April 29, 1945
Attached I send you by safe hands the Testament of our Fuehrer, who wrote it today after the shattering news of the treachery of the RF SS [Himmler]. It is his unalterable decision. The Testament is to be published as soon as the Fuehrer orders it, or as soon as his death is confirmed.
All good wishes, and Heil Hitler!
Maj. Johannmeier will deliver the Testament.
About the time Burgdorf was meeting with Johannmeier, Zander was receiving his instructions from Bormann, the most important of which was to take copies of Hitler’s personal will and political testament to Doenitz. When Zander expressed his desire to stay, Bormann went to Hitler and explained Zander’s desire. Hitler said he must go and Bormann conveyed this to Zander. Thereupon he handed Zander copies of Hitler’s personal and private testaments, and the certificate of marriage of Hitler and Eva Braun. To cover these documents Bormann scribbled a short note to Doenitz: “Dear Grand Admiral,-Since all divisions have failed to arrive, and our position seems hopeless, the Fuehrer dictated last night the attached political Testament. Heil Hitler.-Yours, Bormann.” Later that morning Zander sewed the documents into his clothing.
Later that morning, Lorenz reported to Goebbels sometime before 10am, and was told to go to Bormann where he would receive copies of Hitler’s personal and political testaments. Bormann told Lorenz that he had been given this mission because as a young man with plenty of initiative, it was considered that he had a good chance of getting through. Lorenz then returned to Goebbels, who gave him his Appendix to Hitler’s political testament. It is unclear where Goebbels told him to take the documents. It seems that he was to take them to Doenitz if possible or failing him, to the nearest German High Command, and if all else failed, he was to publish the wills for historical purposes, and ultimately, store the documents at the Party Archives in Munich.
With the will and testament in his possession, Johannmeier went to see Hitler around 9am. Hitler told him that this testament must be brought out of Berlin at any price, that Schoerner must receive it, and that he believed he would succeed in the task. Johannmeier said they both realized that they would not see each other again and this influenced the tone in which they said goodbye. Hitler spoke very cordially. Hitler shook his hand. Johannmeier realized that Hitler was going to die.
While Johannmeier, Zander, and Lorenz were getting their instructions, the Russian attack drew ever relentlessly near the bunker. At about 9am the Russian artillery fire suddenly stopped, and shortly afterwards runners reported to the Bunker that the Russians were advancing with tanks and infantry towards the Wilhelmplatz. It grew quite silent in the bunker and there was great tension among its occupants.
Later on that morning Secretary Gertrude Junge went back to Hitler’s bunker to see whether any changes had taken place. She noted that Hitler was uneasy and walked from one room to another. Hitler told her he would wait until the couriers had arrived at their destinations with the testaments and then would commit suicide.
At noon, with the Russians closing in on Hitler’s bunker, Hitler held his situation conference. Joining Hitler were Bormann, Krebs, Burgdorf, Goebbels, and a few others. Also around noon, the couriers (Lorenz in civilian clothes; Zander in his SS uniform; and Johannmeier in a military uniform) joined Corporal Heinz Hummerich (a clerk in the Adjutancy of the Fuehrer Headquarters) left the Bunker, and headed west.
The following afternoon Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide in the bunker in Berlin. On May 1 at 246pm Goebbels, about six hours before committing suicide, sent Doenitz a message (received at 318pm) that Hitler had died at 330pm on April 30, and that his Testament of April 29:
“appoints you as Reich President, Reich Minister Dr. Goebbels as Reich Chancellor, Reichsleiter Bormann as Party Minister, Reich Minister Seyss-Inquart as Foreign Minister. By order of the Fuehrer, the Testament has been sent out of Berlin to you, to Field-Marshal Schoerner, and for preservation and publication. Reichsleiter Bormann intends to go to you today and to inform you of the situation. Time and form of announcement to the Press and to the troops is left to you. Confirm receipt.-Goebbels.”
At 1026pm May 1, Doenitz, over Hamburg Radio, announced Hitler’s death and his own succession.
As Berlin surrendered, Lorenz, Zander, Johannmeier, and Hummerich were on the Havel River on the 2nd of May, 1945. Before dawn on May 3, they made their way to Potsdam and Brandenburg, and on May 11 crossed the Elbe at Parey, between Magdeburg and Genthin, and ultimately, as foreign workers, passed into the area of the Western Allies, transported by American trucks. By this time the war was over, and Zander and Lorenz lost heart and easily convinced themselves that their mission now had no purpose or possibility of fulfillment. Johannmeier allowed himself to be influenced by them, although he still believed he would have been able to complete his mission.
After abandoning their mission, the four men split up. Zander and Lorenz went to the house of Zander’s relatives in Hannover. From there, Zander proceeded south until he reached Munich where he stayed with his wife, and then continued to Tegernsee. At Tegernsee, Zander hid his documents in a trunk. He changed his name, identity, status, and began a new life under the name of Friedrich Wilhelm Paustin. Johannmeier meanwhile went to his family’s home in Iserlohn in Westphalia, and buried his documents in a bottle in the back garden. Lorenz ended up in Luxembourg and found work as a journalist under an assumed name.
Lorenz and the documents he was carrying were seized by the British Army, in the British Zone of Occupation of Germany, in November 1945. The Americans captured Zander and the documents he was carrying (including the original marriage license of Hitler and Braun, and the hand-written letter of transmittal for the documents from Bormann to Doenitz) with the assistance of British intelligence officer Major H. Trevor-Roper, in Bavaria on December 28.
After Zander’s arrest, interest switched to Johannmeier, who had been living quietly with his parents in Iserlohn, in the British Zone of Occupation. Trevor-Roper had him detained and interrogated on December 20th. Johannmeier maintained that he had no documents, but had just escorted Zander and Lorenz out of Berlin. Trevor-Roper met with Major Johannmeier on January 1, 1946, and explained to him that Zander and Lorenz were both in Allied hands (he had already read in the newspapers about Zander’s arrest), and that in view of their independent but unanimous testimony, it was impossible to accept his statement that he had been merely an escort, and had not himself carried any documents. He nevertheless maintained his story. He agreed that the evidence was against him, but insisted that his story was true.
He gave a version of the words which General Burgdorf had used when giving him his instructions to escort Zander and Lorenz. Asked if he was prepared to settle the matter in the presence of these others, he replied unhesitatingly, yes. Asked if he could name any witness whose testimony might offset that of Zander and Lorenz, he stated that he had spoken to no one about his mission, and that the only man who knew the details was the man who had given it to him – Burgdorf. When told that Burgdorf was missing, and believed dead, Johannmeier exclaimed “Then my last hope is gone.”
The position was put sympathetically to Johannmeier: that he must realize that the documents were already in Allied hands, and that another revelation could add nothing to their knowledge, and continued resistance to the evidence would entail his imprisonment; but still he insisted that his story was the truth. He agreed to sign a written declaration to that effect. “If I had the documents, it would be senseless to withhold them now, but what I have not I cannot deliver. I cannot even prove that I have not got them?” By his otherwise unaccountable persistence in this story, by which he was condemning himself to imprisonment for no conceivable advantage to anyone, and by the ingenuousness of his protestations, Johannmeier had almost persuaded Trevor-Roper that there must after all be some flaw in the evidence against him, some element of truth in his improbable but unshakeable story.
They were alone in the headquarters; everyone else had left for the holiday. Trevor-Roper had nowhere to put Johannmeier. He decided that he must admit failure and summon a truck to take him away. But when he left the room for two hours for a long distance phone call, Johannmeier had leisure to think. When Trevor-Roper returned and began the mechanical questioning again, he became aware of a change in Johannmeier’s attitude. Johannmeier, according to Trevor-Roper, seemed to have already resolved his mental doubts, and after a little preliminary and precautionary fencing, in which he sought assurance that he would not be penalized if he revealed his secret about the documents – he declared “I have the papers.” He stated that he had buried them in a garden of his home in Iserlohn, in a glass jar; and he agreed to lead Trevor-Roper to the spot.
On the long drive back to Iserlohn, Johannmeier spoke freely on various topics which were discussed. When they stopped for a meal, Trevor-Roper asked him why he had decided to reveal the truth. Johannmeier said he had reflected that if Zander and Lorenz had so easily consented to betray the trust reposed in them, it would be quixotic for him, who was not a member of the Party or connected with politics, but who was merely carrying the documents in obedience to a military order, to endure further hardship to no practical purpose. In Iserlohn they left the car some distance away at Johannmeier’s request – he did not want the neighbors to see a British staff car outside of his parents’ home. The two men walked together through the cold to the house. It was now night-time and the ground had frozen hard. Johannmeier found an axe and together they walked out into the back corner of his garden. Johannmeier found the place, broke frozen surface of the ground with the axe, and dug up the glass bottle. Then he smashed the bottle with the head of the axe and drew out the documents which he handed over to Trevor-Roper. They were the third copy of Hitler’s private will and personal testament plus a covering letter from Burgdorf to Schoerner. The Allies now had the three sets of documents that had been carried out of the bunker on April 29, 1945.
Bibliographic information will furnished at the end of the final post in this series.