Hunting Hitler Part III: The Bunker (Morning, April 30th)

Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park. This is the third blog in a multi-part series.

In the early hours of April 30, 1945, Hitler continued saying his goodbyes in his bunker.  The next group would consist of many people closest to him.  This gathering consisted of Joseph and Frau Goebbels; Martin Bormann; Generals Wilhelm Burgdorf, Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Mohnke, and Johann Rattenhuber; Vice Admiral Hans-Erich Voss; Dr. Ludwig Stumpfegger (his physician); State Secretary Werner Naumann; Ambassador Walther Hewel; Junge and Christian (the secretaries), Miss Manziarly (his vegetarian cook); Hans Bauer and Georg Betz (his personal pilots); and several high-ranking SS officers; at least twenty people in all. Hitler shook hands with each, making a personal comment to each one, spoken barely above a whisper, so softly that people could hardly understood what he said. Then addressing the group, he said he did not want to fall into Russian hands and therefore he had decided to commit suicide. Everyone present was freed from his or her oath to him. He hoped they would be able to reach the British or American lines.[1]  SS-Unterscharführer Maximilian Koelz of the bodyguard later testified that from the foot of the stairs he saw Hitler saying goodbye to his entourage.  Immediately following this scene, according to Koelz, one of the participants told him that Hitler would now shortly kill himself. “This information did not surprise me in the least: in recent days we older officers had reached the conclusion that the relief [of Berlin] could no longer be counted upon…”[2]

Around 130am Hitler asked that all the medical staff of the hospital at the Reichs Chancellery visit him.  By 2am they were gathered in the the lobby of the bunker outside of Hitler’s quarters.  In this group were Chief physician of the hospital- Obersturmfuehrer Dr. Haase; Senior physician of the hospital- Standartenfuehrer Dr. Schenck; the second physician of the hospital Sturmbannfuehrer Dr. Kunz; surgical nurses Erna Flegel, Liselotte Chervinska, and, Elisabeth Lyndhurst; another surgical nurse Rut (full name not known); Frau Heusermann (Dr. Blaschke’s dental assistant); and perhaps another 15 to 20 nurses and some other women, including Baroness von Varo (apparently the mistress of an officer of Hitler’s escort commando).  Schenck recalled Hitler’s clothes were “sloppy, food-stained.” He “could see Hitler’s hunched spine, the curved shoulders that seemed to twitch and tremble.” “He struck me as an agonized Atlas with a mountain on his back.” Hitler seemed hardly able to shuffle the two paces forward to greet them. “His eyes although he was looking directly at me, did not seem to be focusing… The whites were bloodshot…Drooping black sacks under his eyes betrayed loss of sleep…” Hitler then greeted them individually, inquiring about the names of the persons whom he did not know. According to von Varo, Hitler’s eyes “were glaring into emptiness,” “his left hand trembled,” and that Hitler did not seem to look at the person when he shook hands.  After greeting each person individually, Hitler then thanked all of whom that had earlier in the night had been decorated for their services.  This greeting lasted four or five minutes.  Then Hitler dismissed them, and asked Haase to join him in his room.[3]

Dr. Schenck believed that it was with Haase that Hitler discussed the manner and method of his own suicide. “I know this because Professor Haase told me so, the day after the suicide.” They also, according to Schenck, were discussing the problem of how to destroy the bodies.[4]

When Hitler and Haase withdrew from the room, everyone, according to von Varo, asked each other what the meaning of it could be, and they concluded that it must be the preliminary to suicide.  She added that she and her colleagues stayed up all night, contemplating what they would do and talking about how Hitler would commit suicide. “We waited for it. It had to come.”[5]  After the meeting with Hitler, Schenck was invited to join a party that was taking place.  Guensche, whom he knew, introduced him to the others. Among them were Bormann, the Goebbels, Krebs, Burgdorf, Bauer, Rattenhuber, Axmann, Hewel, Voss, Linge, and Kempka. He recalled Krebs remarking that it was his guess that the Red Army would want to wait another 24 hours, until May Day, so that Russian Marshal Zhukov could present the big prize (Berlin) to Stalin. “This touch of gallows humor drew rather hollow laughs.”[6]

At 3am Field Marshal Keitel sent a message by radio telling of the failure of Wenck’s Twelfth Army to break through for the relief of Berlin and the Ninth Army being fully encircled; thus, nothing could be expected from the relief armies.  This message clearly indicated that all hope was gone. Whether this message was seen in the bunker is not clear, but undoubtedly the occupants, including Hitler, realized at this point there would be no armies coming to their rescue.[7] Junge recalled that morning they knew “there was no hope left for the Army Wenk (sic).”[8]

At 315am, Bormann sent a message to Doenitz:

“Doenitz!-Our impression grows daily stronger that the divisions in the Berlin theatre have been standing idle for several days. All the report we receive are controlled, suppressed, or distorted by Teilhaus [codename for Keitel]…The Fuehrer orders you to proceed at once, and mercilessly, against all traitors.-Bormann.”[9]

A postscript contained the words: “The Fuehrer is alive, and is conducting the defense of Berlin.” Undoubtedly, according to H. Trevor Roper, Bormann saw his power coming to an end with the death of Hitler and was trying to drag things out until he could be sure a courier had reached Doenitz and thus have his power renewed as called for in Hitler’s political testament.[10]

While Hitler was saying his goodbyes in the early morning of April 30th, Mohnke managed to repel all Russian attacks, although suffering heavy losses.[11]

Between 3am and 330am Hitler once again queried Haase on the foolproof method of suicide he had recommended, telling him that it was his wish that the double deaths be simultaneous – “We both want to go together when we go.”  After speaking with Hitler, Haase visited Eva Braun in her chambers and told her “Simply bite quickly into your capsule the moment you hear a shot.”[12]

Then, around 330am Hitler and Eva had tea in Hitler’s study with Frau Christian, Frau Junge, and Fraeulein Manziarly. Around 430am the secretaries and Manziarly left Hitler’s study with tears in their eyes. Junge reported to Guensche that Hitler wanted to shoot himself that day, because the Russians could force their way into the bunker at any moment. She recounted that Eva had given her several valuable things-clothes and the fur she had worn at her wedding. In addition she had made her a present of a little pistol, that Hitler had once given her.  Junge handed them [probably meant the pistol] over to Guensche.[13]

Hitler retired and laid down on top of his bed, not under the covers, just before 430am.  At 5am Soviet artillery again opened up on the government district. It had by now zeroed in on the Chancellery and took it under constant fire.  It sounded like heavy thunder to those in the bunker.[14]

At 6am Sergeant Rochus Misch called Mohnke and told him Hitler wished to see him alone in his quarters and immediately. Mohnke asked about Hitler’s temper. Misch replied that Hitler was then in a calm and relaxed mood and no one else was with him. Misch said he did not think Hitler had been able to sleep at all the whole night and that twice within the last hour he had come out to chat with him. Just a moment ago he said he wanted to have a talk with his old friend Mohnke.  After a quick cup of coffee, Mohnke, headed for the bunker, realizing that he had to give Hitler the bad news that he could no longer hang on. He expected the Russians to make a major assault on May 1. He surmised this must be what Hitler’s summons was about.  Upon arriving in the bunker around 630am Misch told Mohnke that Hitler had told him that he wanted to receive him informally in his bedroom. Hitler rose politely to greet Mohnke. He moved from the bed to the only chair in the room, then motioned to Mohnke to take a seat on the bed. Mohnke noticed that the bed had not been slept in. At least, the blankets were not rumpled.  For most of the time, Hitler gazed straight ahead, past Mohnke toward the wall. Hitler’s left arm was trembling now and then, but only slightly. He was grasping the arm of the chair and he used his right arm freely to gesture.

Mohnke began with a brief situation report. Hitler listened for five minutes or so in silence. The Russians had reached the Wilhelmstrasse, in the area of the Adlon Hotle, about four blocks away. Russian Infantrymen had penetrated into the subway tubes under both the Friedrichstrasse and the Voss-Strasse. Most of the vast, wooded Tiergarten was now in Russian hands. Russian assault troops had all but encircled the German positions on the Potsdamer Platz, only 300 meters from the Reich Chancellery. Hitler took it all in, intently, calmly. He asked no questions.  Finally, Mohnke told Hitler that he could guarantee that his exhausted, battle-weary troops could hold for more than one more day. “I now expect a frontal, massed-tank attack tomorrow at dawn, May 1. You know what May 1 means to Russians.” Hitler said, “I know. Let me say that your troops have fought splendidly, and I have no complaints.”  Hitler then launched into a monologue, denouncing the western democracies, reviewing his whole career, and explaining why National Socialism had failed and how the war had been forced upon him.  He then proceeded to criticize his military leaders and the betrayal of Goering and Himmler.  Then he thanked Mohnke for his service and wished him the best. Mohnke then returned to his command post.[15]

After meeting with Mohnke, which ended around 7am, Hitler wandered about the Bunker listlessly, his eyes cast to the floor, his hands clasped behind his back.  Misch, who witnessed this for about an hour, reported that Hitler seemed like a frustrated animal in a cage.[16]

Towards 8am heavy artillery fired against the Chancellery and the fear of an impending Russian ground attack mounted. The guards in the Chancellery were increased at the entrances to the bunkers, at the air locks and in the corridors. The corridors in the bunkers were barricaded by SS men. Hand grenades and sub-machine guns were distributed to the members of the bodyguard and the security guards.[17]

Sometime during mid-morning, Ambassador Hewel (permanent representative of Foreign Ministry to Hitler at Fuehrer headquarters) met with Hitler for the last time. They chatted for half-an-hour about the old days. Then Hitler told Hewel that he felt confident that if he fell into Russian hands, he would be “squeezed until the pips squeak and then displayed in the Moscow zoo.”  He said “Hewel, they will torture and kill you and mount you in a waxworks.” At this point Hewel swore to take his own life rather than fall into Red Army hands.[18]  Also sometime in the morning Guenther Schwaegermann, adjutant to Goebbels, was told by a member of Hitler’s escort commando that Hitler had said goodbye to his entire entourage.  He reported that Blondi had already been killed the previous day. After hearing this, Schwaegermann recalled that he knew that the death of Hitler was imminent.[19]

Krebs now came up with a situation report even more alarming than that given to Hitler by Mohnke only three hours before. Krebs reported how the Red Army troops had taken both sides of the Leipziger Strasse, the city’s main commercial thoroughfare, which ran parallel to the Unter den Linden and was one block closer to the Reich Chancellery. The Anhalter railroad station had also, by now, been stormed.[20] According to those present, Hitler listened in apathetic silence as Krebs droned on. He did not even ask any questions.[21]

About 10am Rattenhuber went to check the sentries. Going upstairs he approached the SS guard on duty, Mengershausen, who was standing at the exit from the Reich Chancellery to the garden. Mengershausen reported to him that at about 8am Eva Braun came up from the Bunker, said “‘good morning’” and went out into the garden, returning approximately 15 minutes later. She explained her visit to the garden by saying “‘I want to see the sun for the last time.’” Then she said goodbye to him and, upset, went down into the bunker. At the time the grounds of the Reich Chancellery were already under Russian rifle fire.  Then Rattenhuber went to Hitler’s reception room.  He recalled that “The situation was very tense” and the Russians were expected to reach the grounds of the Reich Chancellery at any moment.[22]

Towards noon Hitler’s last briefing began. Weidling came over from his command post in the bunker in Bendlerstrasse and reported that Soviet troops were storming the Reichstag.  There was fighting in the Red City Hall, the Friedrichstrasse station had been reached by Soviet forces and the Russians had penetrated the tunnel in Voss-strasse (close to the Reich Chancellery).  Weidling said that in all probability the battle for Berlin would be over by that evening.  Weidling then again mentioned the possibility of a breakout and told Hitler that perhaps he should try to get out and break through to join Wenck’s army near Potsdam. Hitler, who had received the report without emotion, said it was useless; “Anyway, nobody is carrying out my orders.”

When Weidling asked for instructions in case all their reserve munitions were exhausted, which would happen no later than the evening of May 1, Hitler said he would never capitulate. Wenck and all other commanders were not to surrender.  After a short exchange with Krebs, Hitler replied that only then, after the reserve munitions were exhausted, could a breakout in small groups be considered because he refused to surrender Berlin. Weidling was then allowed to go. A little later the last “Fuehrer command” was delivered to Weidling:

“In case the defenders of the capital city of the Reich face a lack of munitions and supplies, I give my consent for a breakout. They must break out in small groups, and must look for units that are still fighting and join them. If they cannot find any, the small groups are to continue fighting in the forests.”[23]

After the noon briefing Hitler met in his quarters for about twenty minutes with Bormann, Krebs, Burgdorf, and Goebbels.  Afterwards, Guensche met with Bormann and two others, probably Krebs and Burgdorf.  They were in a highly emotional state when they told him about the conversation.[24]

A radio message was received at 1250pm from Berlin to Doenitz’s headquarters: “No possibility of retreat.”[25]  Hitler, having no intention of retreating (or escaping Berlin), now turned his attention to the time of his death that afternoon, and how his and Eva’s bodies would be destroyed beyond recognition.


Footnotes

[1] [Interrogation of] Gertraud [Gertrude] Junge, Munich, February 7, 1948, pp. 42, 43, Interrogations of Hitler Associates, Musmanno Collection, Gumberg Library Digital Collections, Duquesne University; Fest, Inside Hitler’s Bunker, p. 108; Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, pp. 137, 138.

[2] Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, pp. 137-138.

[3] Strategic Services Unit, War Department, Intelligence Dissemination No. A-65458, Subject: Interview with Erna Flegel, Red Cross Nurse in Hitler’s Shelter, Date of Report: December 11, 1945, Distributed: February 25, 1946, File: 0240346, Army Intelligence Document Files (NAID 305269), RG 319; Interrogation of the Baroness von Varo, October 1, 1945, enclosure to Memorandum, Brigadier [no name given], Counter Intelligence Bureau (CIB), GSI (b), Headquarters, British Army of the Rhine to Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 (CI), Headquarters, US Forces European Theater, Subject: Investigation into the Death of Hitler, November 22, 1945, Document No. CIB/B3/PF.582, File: Major Trevor-Roper Interrogations, Reports Relating to POW Interrogations, 1943-1945 (NAID 2790598), RG 165; Interrogation of Baroness von Varo, Stein Castle, Stein, 2000-2330 Hours, March 10, 1948, pp. 5-7, Interrogations of Hitler Associates, Musmanno Collection, Gumberg Library Digital Collections, Duquesne University; Record of Interrogation of the Reich Chancellery Physician Helmut Kunz, by 4th Section of the Smersh Counter-Espionage Department of the 1st Byelorussian Front, May 7, 1945, in Vinogrado, Pogonyi, and Teptzov, Hitler’s Death, pp. 59, 61; Evidence of the Head of Hitler’s Bodyguard Hans Rattenhuber, Moscow, May 20, 1945 in Vinogrado, Pogonyi, and Teptzov, Hitler’s Death, p. 194; O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, pp. 192-195; Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 197; Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 139;

[4] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 198.

[5] Interrogation of Baroness von Varo, Stein Castle, Stein, 2000-2330 Hours, March 10, 1948, pp. 5, 8, Interrogations of Hitler Associates, Musmanno Collection, Gumberg Library Digital Collections, Duquesne University

[6] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 195.

[7] Charles B. MacDonald, The Last Offensive, United States Army in World War II, European Theater of Operations (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1973), p. 459; Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 199; Fest, Inside Hitler’s Bunker, p. 108.

[8] Memorandum, Karl Sussman, CIC Special Agent, Region IV, Garmish Sub-Region, Headquarters Counter Intelligence Corps, United States Forces European Theater to Commanding Officer, Garmish Sub-Region, Subject: Interrogation of Junge, Gertrude, August 30, 1946, p. 5, File: XA085512, Junge, Gertrude, Intelligence and Investigative Dossiers Personal Files, 1977-2004 (NAID 645054), Record Group 319, (the Junge file, while part of the Army CIC Personal Files is described with another National Archives Identifying Number: 12191624).

[9] Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 199. According to a British report Bormann said in his last cable to Doenitz that “Teilhaus (Keitel) controls suppresses and “colors” all messages…The Fuehrer orders that you smash the traitors quickly and regardlessly.” Document Section (GAD/C), Political Intelligence Department, Foreign Office, Ref. No. 54, Subject: Fragments of a “White Book” by the “Doenitz Government” on the German surrender and the last communicates exchanged with the Hitler Government in Berlin, August 20, 1945, File: No. 143123, Regular Intelligence Reports (NAID 6050264), 1941-1945, RG 226.

[10] Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 199.

[11] Handwritten Statement by the Commander of the “Adolf Hitler” Division, Chief of the Central Berlin Defense Region, Wilhelm Mohnke, Moscow, May 18, 1945 in Vinogrado, Pogonyi, and Teptzov, Hitler’s Death, p. 178.

[12] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, pp. 254-256. It has been suggested that Haase had given Hitler, when he last seen him, a shot of morphine; or at least a very strong tranquillizer to face the end. O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, pp. 210, 349.

[13] Eberle and Uhl, eds., The Hitler Book, p. 267.

[14] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 242; Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 140; Eberle and Uhl, eds., The Hitler Book, p. 268.

[15] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, pp. 205-208, 210, 211; Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 140. According to Fest, Mohnke told Hitler they could not hold out more than a few hours because the Russians had advanced to within a few hundred yards on all sides, though for the moment their progress had been halted. Fest, Inside Hitler’s Bunker, pp. 108-109. According to Linge he went to Hitler, who was opening the door as he arrived. He had lain on the bed fully dressed and awake as he had done the night before. While Bormann, Krebs and Burgdorf dozed on sofas near his door, and the female secretaries made themselves as comfortable as possible while awaiting the events that must soon come, Hitler asked him to accompany him, finger to his lips, indicating that he should be careful not to disturb the sleeping people. They went to the telephone exchange, where Hitler rang the commandant, who told him that the defense of Berlin had already collapsed. Linge, With Hitler to the End, p. 197.

[16] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 242. According to Fest, sometime after 7am Hitler decided to exit the bunker, but when he reached the top of the stairs, the shelling became heavier again, and he turned back. Fest, Inside Hitler’s Bunker, p. 109.

[17] Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 140.

[18] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 351.

[19] Personal History of the Adjutant of Schwaegermann, Guenther, Adjutant of the Minister Dr. Goebbels, n.d., ca. October or November 1945, p. 10, enclosure to Despatch No. 1487, U.S. Political Adviser for Germany, Berlin to Secretary of State, Subject: Statement by Guenther Schwaegermann, December 3, 1945, File: 740.00116 EW/12-345, Central Decimal Files (NAID 302021), 1945-1949, RG 59; Translation of statement made by Guenther Schwaegermann, Immenstadt, February 16, 1948, p. 7, Interrogations of Hitler Associates, Musmanno Collection, Gumberg Library Digital Collections, Duquesne University.

[20] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 244.

[21] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 245.

[22] Evidence of the Head of Hitler’s Bodyguard Hans Rattenhuber, Moscow, May 20, 1945 in Vinogrado, Pogonyi, and Teptzov, Hitler’s Death, pp. 194-195.

[23] Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, pp. 141, 142; Fest, Inside Hitler’s Bunker, pp. 109-110; Jochen von Lang, with the assistance of Claus Sibyll, trans. By Christa Armstrong and Peter White, The Secretary, Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler (New York: Random House, 1979), p. 329; Anthony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), pp. 357-358; Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 199

[24] Manuscript Statement by Hitler’s Aide-de-Camp, Otto Guensch, May 17, 1945 in Vinogrado, Pogonyi, and Teptzov, Hitler’s Death, p. 163; O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 247.

[25] Document Section (GAD/C), Political Intelligence Department, Foreign Office, Ref. No. 54, Subject: Fragments of a “White Book” by the “Doenitz Government” on the German surrender and the last communicates exchanged with the Hitler Government in Berlin, August 20, 1945, File: No. 143123, (NAID 6050264)

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