Hunting Hitler Part VII: The Search Continues, June-September 1945

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

At the end of May 1945, Allied military and diplomatic officials went to Berlin to discuss the occupation of Berlin with Marshal Georgy Zhukov, Soviet commander of the Russian Zone of Occupation. During these early talks the death of Adolf Hitler was a matter of some discussion. While some Russians believed Hitler still was alive, others did not. This latter belief was based on some dental evidence they had which indicated that a body they had recovered and inspected was indeed that of Hitler. Apparently Zhukov and General V. D. Sokolovsky, the deputy commander in chief of Soviet forces in the Russian Zone, told the dental identification story to several western military men and diplomats who had visited Berlin for quadripartite preliminary talks, including General Lucius Clay, the American Deputy Military Governor and Robert Murphy, the American Political Adviser.[1]

On June 5 when the Supreme Allied Commanders met in Berlin in order to organize the establishment of the Four-Power Government, responsible Russian officers told officers from General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff that Hitler’s body had been discovered and “identified with almost completely certainty.” They said the body was found in the bunker together with three others. It had been badly charred, attributed to the flamethrowers with which their troops had advanced. According to them, the bodies were examined by Russian doctors and this led to an “almost certain identification.” They said if the Russians were not officially announcing Hitler’s death, it was only due to their reluctance to commit themselves as long as there was the “slightest room for doubt.” However, they openly admitted that all the evidence available pointed to the conclusion that Hitler was dead.  Again, on June 6 Zhukov’s staff officers assured Eisenhower’s staff officers that Hitler’s body had been discovered, exhumed and scientifically identified.[2]

On June 6, the day the Soviet Military Administration in Germany was set up, the Russians held an unofficial press conference in Berlin at which correspondents from the United States, Great Britain and France were present. An officer from Zhukov’s staff disclosed details of the search for Hitler’s corpse and authorized the correspondents to report-without naming him as the source, that it had been found and identified with a high degree of probability. He said (incorrectly) Hitler’s smoke-blackened and charred corpse was one of four that had been discovered in the bunker on May 3 and 4. They had been burnt in the corridor by a flame-thrower, but despite this, after careful examination of teeth and other characteristics the Russians singled out one body which they believed almost certainly was that of Hitler. After examination by chemists from the Red Army, there were indications that Hitler most probably died of poisoning. Asked why no official announcement of the discovery has been made yet by Moscow, the Russian source said as long as any element of uncertainty existed, the Russians did not wish to state definitely that Hitler’s body has been found. The source added, however, that there seems little doubt that this actually is the corpse of Hitler. Covering the event, Joseph W. Grigg, Jr., United Press Staff Correspondent for Combined U.S. Press, observed that “The Russians have given no hint as to how the bodies of Hitler, Goebbels and other Nazis found in Berlin have been disposed of. This probably will remain a secret for all time to guard against the possibility of Nazi fanatics trying to recover the bodies.” His story ran June 7 in The Washington Post and The New York Times.[3]

While the Soviets in Berlin on June 6 were saying that they believed with a high degree of certainty that Hitler was dead, Stalin was saying just the opposite. On June 6 in Moscow when Hopkins, Harriman, and Bohlen again met with Stalin, Stalin said he was sure that Hitler was still alive. Thus, it is not surprising that after the June 6 press conference, Stalin immediately sent Andrei Vyshinsky (later prosecuting attorney at Nuremberg) to Marshal Zhukov in Berlin as his “political representative to the Chief of the Soviet Military Administration.” [4]   

At a major press conference on June 9, with Vyshinsky sitting next to Zhukov, the new “official Russian version” was announced to American, British, French and Russian correspondents. Hitler’s last-minute marriage to Eva Braun was disclosed by Zhukov. He said that she had flown to Berlin in the last day to be at Hitler’s side. “It is well known that two days before Berlin fell Hitler married Eva Braun” he said. He added that the Russians had found references to the marriage in the diaries of Hitler’s personal adjutants. Zhukov said “We have found no corpse that could be Hitler’s” and added that Hitler and Braun had good opportunities to get away from Berlin; “He could have taken off at the very last moment, for there was an airfield at his disposal.” Zhukov told the press “The circumstances are highly mysterious. We did not identify Hitler’s body and I cannot say anything about his fate. …” Zhukov added, “Now it is up to you British and Americans to find him.” At the press conference Colonel General Nikolai E. Berzarin, Soviet commander of Berlin, turning to the question of whether Hitler had died in Berlin, said “There are all sorts of people who were close to him who say that he killed himself. Still others say he was killed by an exploding shell,” however, Russian soldiers had not yet found Hitler’s body. “My personal opinion is that he has disappeared somewhere into Europe.” Berzarin said “Perhaps he is in Spain with Franco. He had the possibility of getting away.” The newly Soviet appointed German Buergermeister of Berlin, Arthur Werner, said “Hitler-we just don’t know…There are many Germans who say he has found refuge in another country.”[5]

The following day, June 10, Maj. Gen. Kenneth W. D. Strong, the SHAEF G-2, asked a Soviet intelligence officer regarding Zhukov’s statement that Hitler was still alive. The Soviet officer replied that the Russians had revised their earlier opinion that Hitler was dead, and that none of the evidence at present in their possession indicates definitely that this was so. Ambassador Murphy informed the State Department that while SHAEF G-2 did not exclude the possibility that Hitler may be in the Allied area, they did not accept the implication of Zhukov’s statement that primary responsibility rested with “us for finding him.”[6]

On June 10 in Madrid the Spanish Foreign Minister had his press secretary deny Zhukov’s report that Hitler might have found shelter in Spain. The Spanish statement said: “Hitler, married or single, alive or dead, is not on Spanish soil, nor would he be allowed here, and if he entered he would not receive shelter.”[7]

The Russian press on June 14 reviewed an article by Elliott [probably George Fielding Eliot] in the New York Herald Tribune commenting on Zhukov’s reported statement that the English and Americans should organize a search for Hitler. Elliott reportedly expressed agreement with Zhukov and was cited as emphasizing the probability of the Soviet statement that Hitler at present was outside the Soviet occupation zone. Elliott was quoted to effect that Hitler probably fled to Spain where there were many German refugees who probably would seek to organize Hitler’s flight. Elliott was also quoted describing a possible escape route for Hitler to Argentina. The news item concluded by quoting Elliott’s opinion that the Allies ought to organize measures to apprehend Hitler including if necessary military operations against Franco’s Spain.[8]

In June, witnesses to what had transpired in the Bunker on April 30 began surfacing in the western zones of occupation. On June 20 at the headquarters of the 21st Army Group (which became the British Army of the Rhine in August 1945), at Bad Oeynhausen, near Hanover, Herman Karnau, a guard at the bunker, told his story to reporters that he saw the bodies of Hitler and Braun burning on ground above Hitler’s bunker. He said he did not know how they had died, but suspected it was at the hands of Dr. Stumpfegger, medical officer at the Reich Chancellery. This account was published in The New York Times the next day. Also published in the same edition of the June 21 newspaper was an account of Hitler’s death by Erich Kempka, Hitler’s chauffeur, who had helped provide the gasoline for the cremation and who witnessed it. He had also spoken to reporters on June 20 and provided a great many details on the deaths of Hitler and Braun, and provided information on the death of the Goebbels’ family. He told the reporters that interviewed him that shortly before Hitler and Braun had shot themselves, Hitler ordered Otto Guensche to have their bodies burned so that their remains would not fall in Russian hands. He also said that he, Bormann, Goebbels, Guensche, and Heinz Linge, and a couple of others whose names he did not remember saw the bodies burning in the Chancellery garden near the Bunker. He added: “I doubt if anything remained of the bodies. The fire was terrifically intense. Maybe some evidence like bits of bones and teeth could be found, but I doubt it. Shells probably landed there and scattered everything all over.”[9]

Newsweek carried a piece on July 2 about the end of Hitler, quoting from Karnau and Kempka as to what happened. Time magazine on July 2 reported that at the end of June a SHAEF spokesman had said, summing up the Hitler situation “We have every reason to believe he is dead, but no evidence that he is not still alive.” It also reported the Russians, who had done all the investigating in Berlin, had not amended their reports that no trace of Hitler had been found; no believable witnesses in their custody had actually seen him die; and Hitler had ordered his henchmen to spread the story that he was dead. [10]  

A United Press story from London on July 15 reported that The Sunday Dispatch said that search parties were hunting for Hitler’s body in the Tyrol Mountains of Bavaria. A German POW had said that Hitler had been buried in the mountains under the direction of Himmler’s Reich Main Security Office (RSHA).[11] An Associated Press story from Stockholm on July 15, reported that a Swedish newspaper reported that day that a rumor was circulating in Bern, Switzerland, that Hitler was hiding in the principality of Liechtenstein under the name of “Dr. Brandl.” The story added that Braun was not with Hitler but probably in Argentina. [12]

During July, various Allied personnel visited the bunker in Berlin and subsequently reported on their visits. When Michael Musmanno visited the bunker, the Russian commandant in charge of the area, Major Feodorovitch Platonov, at once broke into a spirited argumentative denial that Hitler was dead. Musmanno had not made any assertion in the matter one way or the other. He had merely stated that he was examining the place where Hitler lived his last days and hours. The Russian major, pointing at a spot in the garden exclaimed “It is not true that Hitler was found there! Our experts have established that the man found here didn’t look like Hitler at all. And we didn’t find Eva Braun either!”  Journalist Percy Knauth visited the bunker in July and published an account of it in Life magazine. Citing what Kempka had said about which room Hitler had committed suicide, Knauth inspected the room and wrote that there were bloodstains on the left-colored armrest of the sofa. Blood dripped down and collected in small coagulated stripes in the corner. Blood was also to be seen on the outer side of the sofa on the brocade cloth. On July 17, Permanent Under-Secretary of State Sir Alexander Cadogan noted in his diary after visiting the bunker, that he was shown a shallow crater in which he was told Hitler and Braun had been buried and later dug up and cremated. “This is also a rumor, of which there are many, and nobody knows the truth…”[13]

At the Potsdam Conference Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the President, wrote that Stalin and Molotov, Truman, Secretary of State James Byrnes and he were together for lunch on July 17 and Stalin repeated what he had already told Hopkins in Moscow: “he believes that the Fuehrer had escaped and was hiding somewhere. He went on to say that the painstaking Soviet search had failed to discover any traces of Hitler’s remains or positive proof of his death.” During the lunch Byrnes asked Stalin his views of how Hitler had died “To my surprise, he said he believed that Hitler was alive and that it was possible he was then either in Spain or Argentina.” Some ten days later Byrnes asked Stalin if he had changed his views and he said he had not.[14]

At his first news conference, Colonel-General Alexander V. Gorbatov, the Russian member of the Allied Kommandantur in Berlin, on July 30 was questioned as to his views regarding the fate of Hitler. He answered that there was still no definite satisfactory evidence of his death. He added, however, that among Russian officers the saying was that if Hitler was alive he was certainly not in Russian-occupied territory. He also noted that he had heard reports that Hitler’s dentist had taken a human jawbone to Moscow and identified it as that of Hitler, but Gorbatov said he knew nothing of the matter beyond that.[15]

During July and August reports continued to surface of Hitler being alive. One in July indicated that he had taken a submarine to either Argentina or Chile; others that he was alive and hiding in Argentina. Reports of sightings continued in September.[16]

HitlerBlog003-With Declass-1

Report of Hitler in Argentina, August 1945. FBI Case File 65-53615.

A news story from London on September 8, under the headline “World-Wide Search for Hitler Goes On,” began “A manhunt that ranges from Berlin to Madrid, from Tokyo to Buenos Aires, is underway today on the chance that Adolf Hitler is still alive.” Continuing, “The actual fate of the former Chancellor is the war’s biggest mystery and the Allies, not daring to gamble on such an issue, are tracking down every clue, investigating every rumor lest the story that Hitler took his own life beneath Berlin’s Reichschancellory prove to be history’s greatest and most tragic hoax.” The reporter indicated that the Allies were checking every report, “no matter how fantastic.” He noted that “One story has it that Hitler escaped to Japan by submarine; another that he is in Argentina; a third that he is hiding in Sweden. The latest rumors are that he is on board a yacht in the estuary of the Elbe River or living in luxury at a long-prepared lodge in the Bavarian Mountains.”[17] Moscow newspapers on September 9 carried a Tass item with heading “Rumors about Hitler,” dateline Rome, September 8, saying Rome Radio has reported that Hitler has been seen in Hamburg, living under another name.[18] Russian newspapers noted on September 10 of the probability that Hitler was still alive. The idea was even put forward that Hitler was in hiding in Germany.[19]

Harry Collins, a news reporter in London, on September 15 wrote that while there were reports that the charred body of Hitler had been found by the Russians in the Berlin Chancellery, the question remained “Is Hitler alive? The welter of speculation grows with each new ‘clue’ and ‘disclosure.’ The answer is simple-his conquerors do not know.” Collins wrote that the Russians had never accepted as proved that the body they found in the Chancellery grounds was Hitler’s. He reported that British Army authorities had declared that the latest rumor that Hitler was seen in Hamburg was “completely unfounded” and that they denied that the British were searching for Hitler. “Yet,” Collins noted, “it is known that British intelligence is far from convinced that Hitler is dead.”[20]

Izvestia ran a story that Hitler and Braun were alive and well, and living in a moated castle in Westphalia, in the British Occupation Zone of Germany.[21] An American journalist in Germany believed that in throwing out names of such countries as Spain and Argentina, Stalin was probably just paying off old political grievances against Franco and other neutrals. But, in having a go at the British he was virtually accusing them of harboring a living Hitler.[22] Dick White, head of counter-intelligence in the British Zone, described the situation as “intolerable.”[23] In September he would turn to Hugh Trevor-Roper to investigate the death of Hitler.


Footnotes

[1] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 405.

[2] Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 247.

[3] Public Relations Division, SHAEF, Information for Correspondents, prepared by Joseph W. Grigg, Jr., United Press Staff Correspondent for Combined U.S. Press, June 6, 1945, File: SHAEF Releases, June 1-30, 1945, Press Releases, Jun 1944-Jul 1945 (NAID 622519) Record Group 331; Joseph W. Grigg, Jr., Associated Press Staff Writer, Representing the Combined American Press, “Hitler’s Body Found, Soviet Source Says,” The Washington Post, June 7, 1945, p. 2 and “Hitler Body Proof Declared Fairly Certain by Russians,” The New York Times, June 7, 1945, p. 1; Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, pp. 247-248.

[4] Memorandum by the Assistant to the Secretary of State (Chester Bohlen), Memorandum of 6th Conversation at the Kremlin, 6 PM June 6, 1945, [Moscow], June 6, 1945, File: 740.00119 (Potsdam)/6-645, Decimal Files, 1945-1949 (NAID 302021) Record Group  59; Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, pp. 22-23.

[5] Associated Press, “Zhukoff  (sic) Says Hitler Wed Actress in Berlin, May Be Alive in Europe,” The New York Times, June 10, 1945, pp 1, 14; Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 23. Linge’s daily diaries of Hitler’s activities from February 29 to April 30 were probably found by the Russians, since Zhukov described the final days (Hitler’s marriage, etc) at a press conference in Berlin on June 9. He explained his knowledge of the events was based on the diaries of Hitler’s adjutant [he meant valet] which had fallen into Russian hands. Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 59. Linge, questioned about the matter, stated on February 10, 1956, that during his service with Hitler he kept a diary, which he recorded the daily events (meetings, visits, visitors, etc.). ibid.

[6] Telegram Sent, No. 3541, Caffery [from Murphy] to the Secretary of State, June 14 [11 written over with 14] 1945, Classified Cables Sent to the State Department, 1945-1949 (NAID 1719688) Record Group 84.

[7] Wireless to The New York Times, “Hitler Not on Spanish Soil, Foreign Minister Says,” The New York Times, June 11, 1945, p. 2.

[8] Telegram Received, No. 191, Harriman, Moscow to Murphy, June 15, 1945, File: Moscow, Classified Cables Received from Other Missions, 1945-1949 (NAID 1729247) Record Group 84.

[9] James MacDonald, “Hitler Cremated in Berlin, Aides Say,” The New York Times, June 21, 1945, p. 6.

[10] A partial copy of the Newsweek article is contained in File: XE003655, Hitler, Adolf, Personal Name File, Security Classified Intelligence and Investigative Dossiers, 1939-1976 (NAID 645054Record Group 319; “International: Where There’s Smoke…,” Time, Vol. XLVI No. 1, July 2, 1945.

[11] “Hitler Buried in Tirols, Says Nazi Prisoner,” The Washington Post, July 16, 1945, p. 2.

[12] “Hitler Buried in Tirols, Says Nazi Prisoner,” The Washington Post, July 16, 1945, p. 2.

[13] Musmanno, Ten Days to Die, p. 233; Percy Knauth, “Did Adolf and Eva Die Here?” Life, July 23, 1945, p. 26; Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 58.

[14] William D. Leahy, I Was There (New York, London, Toronto: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1950), p. 396; James F. Byrnes, Speaking Frankly (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1947), p. 68.

[15] Tania Long, “Russian Criticizes Berlin Food Chief,” The New York Times, July 31, 1945, p. 6.

[16] See File: 862.002, Hitler, Adolf, Central Decimal File (NAID 302021) Record Group 59. For related correspondence see File: XE003655, Hitler, Adolf, Personal Name File, Intelligence and Investigative Dossiers Personal Files, 1977-2004 (NAID 645054Record Group 319 and FBI File: 65-53615, Headquarters Files from Classification 65 (Espionage) Released Under the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Acts, 1935-1985  (NAID 565806) Record Group 65.

[17] United Press, “World-Wide Search for Hitler Goes On,” The New York Times, September 9, 1945, p. 28.

[18] Telegram Received, No. 77, Unsigned, Moscow to Murphy, September 10, 1945, File: Moscow, Classified Cables Received from Other Missions, 1945-1949 (NAID 1729247) Record Group 84.

[19] Joachimsthaler, The Last Days of Hitler, p. 251.

[20] Harry Collins, “Is Hitler Dead or Alive?” The New York Times, September 16, 1945, p. E5.

[21] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 406.

[22] O’Donnell, The Berlin Bunker, p. 406.

[23] Sisman, Hugh Trevor-Roper, pp. 131, 133.

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2 Responses to Hunting Hitler Part VII: The Search Continues, June-September 1945

  1. Frank says:

    Here are the recently – and very quietly – released FBI document regarding Hitler’s escaping to Argentina::

    https://vault.fbi.gov/adolf-hitler/adolf-hitler-part-01-of-04/view

    In 1945, the Naval Attaché in Buenos Aires informed Washington there was a high probability that Hitler and Eva Braun had just arrived in Argentina. This coincides with the sightings of the submarine U-530. Added proof comes in the form of newspaper articles detailing the construction of a Bavarian styled mansion in the foothills of the Andes Mountains.

    Further proof comes in the form of architect Alejandro Bustillo who wrote about his design and construction of Hitler’s new home which was financed by earlier wealthy German immigrants:

    http://tst.greyfalcon.us/bizarre.htm

    If you think its far-fetched that Hitler could have escaped, then please read about more the U.S. government bringing Nazi scientists to the U.S. after WW2. It was NOT just rocket science the OSS was after. Operation Paperclip:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Paperclip

    Like

  2. Greg Bradsher says:

    Frank, The FBI headquarters file on Adolf Hitler, File 65-53615, began being released by the FBI to researchers under the Freedom of Information Act on April 26, 1976, though in a redacted form. Copies were also provided to researchers on April 27, 1977, May 19, 1977, June 27, 1977, August 25, 1978, etc. In the link you provided, the first document 65-53615-35 (which is heavily redacted in the version on the FBI website), was completely opened to researchers by the FBI in 1991 and has been opened to researchers at the National Archives for over a dozen years.

    Regarding Operation Paperclip, the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), which went out of existence on September 30, 1945, was hardly, if at all, involved in the project (despite what is provided on Wikipedia). For information about our holdings of foreign scientists case files and the related program, see
    https://www.archives.gov/iwg/declassified-records/rg-330-defense-secretary/
    The finding aid on that page provides the names of the scientists.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Greg

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