On 16 January 1945, Hitler moved into the Führerbunker. He was joined by his senior staff, Martin Bormann, and later, Eva Braun and Joseph Goebbels with Magda and their six children who took residence in the upper Vorbunker. Two or three dozen support, medical and administrative staff were also sheltered there. These included Hitler's secretaries (including Traudl Junge), a nurse named Erna Flegel and telephonist Rochus Misch. Hitler's dog Blondi was also one of the occupants of the underground bunker. Initially, Hitler would often stroll around in the chancellery garden with Blondi until March 1945 when shelling became very common.
The bunker complex was supplied with large quantities of food and other necessities and by all accounts successfully protected its occupants from the relentless and lethal shelling that went on overhead in the closing days of April 1945. In the final days of the war, it is said that Hitler still enjoyed 10 to 16 cups of tea per day even though it was hard to obtain. Many witnesses later spoke of the constant droning sound of the underground complex's ventilation system.
On 16 April the Red Army started the Battle of Berlin by attacking German front line positions on the rivers Oder and Neisse. By 19 April Soviet spearheads had broken through the German lines and were starting to encircle Berlin.
On 20 April, his 56th birthday, Hitler made his last trip to the surface to award Iron Crosses to some boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth.
On 21 April Hitler gave orders which showed that his grasp of the military situation was gone. He ordered German army formations to counter attack to pinch off the two massive Soviet pincers that were encircling Berlin. The northern attack was to be commanded by SS-General Felix Steiner's Army Detachment. Steiner tried to explain to his superiors that the only offensive capability he had was two battalions of the 4th SS Police Division and they had no heavy weapons. No one passed on this information to Hitler. The southern counter attack was also unrealistic, because the German Ninth Army was being pushed back into the Halbe pocket.
On April 22, at his afternoon situation conference Hitler fell into a tearful rage when he realised that his plans of the day before were not going to be carried out. Hitler openly declared for the first time the war was lost and blamed the generals. Hitler announced he would stay in Berlin until the end and then shoot himself. In an attempt to coax Hitler out of his rage, General Alfred Jodl speculated that the German Twelfth Army, under the command of General Walther Wenck, that was facing the Americans, could move to Berlin because the Americans, already on the Elbe River, were unlikely to move farther east. Hitler immediately seized on the idea and within hours Wenck was ordered to disengage from the Americans and move the Twelfth Army north-east to support Berlin. It was then realized that, if the Ninth Army moved west, it could link up with the Twelfth Army. In the evening Heinrici was given permission to make the link up.
On 23 April, Hitler appointed German General of the Artillery (General der Artillerie) Helmuth Weidling as the commander of the Berlin Defense Area. Only a day earlier, Hitler had ordered that Weidling be executed by firing squad. This was due to a misunderstanding concerning a retreat order issued by Weidling as commander of the LVI Panzer Corps. On 20 April, Weidling had been appointed commander of the LVI Panzer Corps. Weidling replaced Lieutenant-Colonel (Oberstleutnant) Ernst Kaether as commander of Berlin.
Despite the commands issuing from the Führerbunker by April 25 the Soviets had consolidated their investment of Berlin and leading Soviet units were probing and penetrating the S-Bahn defensive ring. By the end of 25 April there was no prospect that the German defence of the city could do anything but delay the capture of the city by the Soviets as the decisive stages of the battle had already been fought and lost by the Germans outside the city.
-Josef Goebbels - Ministry of Propaganda - 26th April 1945
Hitler summoned Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim from Munich to Berlin to take over command of the Luftwaffe from Göring. On 26 April while flying over Berlin in a Fieseler Storch, von Greim was seriously wounded by Soviet anti-aircraft fire. Hanna Reitsch, his mistress and a crack test pilot, landed von Greim on an improvised air strip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate.
On 28 April, Hitler learned of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler's contacts with Count Folke Bernadotte in Lübeck. Himmler had offered surrender to the western Allies and the offer had been declined. Himmler had implied that he had the authority for such a surrender. Hitler considered this treason and his anger poured out into a rage against Himmler. Hitler had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot. Hitler further ordered von Greim (with Reitsch) to fly to Dönitz's headquarters at Ploen and arrest the "traitor" Himmler.
General Hans Krebs made his last telephone call from the Führerbunker. He called Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel Chief of OKW (German Armed Forces High Command) in Fürstenberg. Krebs told Keitel that, if relief did not arrive within 48 hours, all would be lost. Keitel promised to exert the utmost pressure on Generals Walther Wenck, commander of Twelfth Army, and Theodor Busse commander of the Ninth Army. Meanwhile, Martin Bormann wired to German Admiral Karl Dönitz: "Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei) a heap of rubble." He went on to say that the foreign press was reporting fresh acts of treason and "that without exception Schörner, Wenck and the others must give evidence of their loyalty by the quickest relief of the Führer". Bormann was the head of the Nazi Party Chancellery (Parteikanzlei) and Hitler's private secretary.
During the evening, von Greim and Reitsch flew out from Berlin in an Arado Ar 96 trainer. Field Marshal von Greim was ordered to get the Luftwaffe to attack the Soviet forces that had just reached Potsdamerplatz (only a city block from the Führerbunker). Fearing that Hitler was escaping in the plane, troops of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army, which was fighting its way through the Tiergarten from the north, tried to shoot the Arado down. The Soviet troops failed in their efforts and the plane took off successfully.
During the night of 28 April, General Wenck reported to Keitel that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. This was particularly true of XX Corps that had been able to establish temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. According to Wenck, no relief for Berlin by his army was now possible. This was even more so as support from the Ninth Army could no longer be expected. Keitel gave Wenck permission to break off his attempt to relieve Berlin.
After midnight on 29 April, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony in a map room within the Führerbunker. Thereafter, Hitler then took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his last will and testament. At approximately 4:00 AM, Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann witnessed and signed the documents. Hitler then retired to bed.
Late in the evening of 29 April, Krebs contacted General Alfred Jodl (Supreme Army Command) by radio: "Request immediate report. Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck's spearheads. Secondly of time intended to attack. Thirdly of the location of the Ninth Army. Fourthly of the precise place in which the Ninth Army will break through. Fifthly of the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste's spearhead." In the early morning of 30 April, Jodl replied to Krebs: "Firstly, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, Twelfth Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of Ninth Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste's Corps on the defensive."
During the morning of April 30, SS Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke, commander of the centre (government) district of Berlin, informed Hitler the center would be able to hold for less than two days. Later that morning Weidling informed Hitler in person that the defenders would probably exhaust their ammunition that night and again asked Hitler permission to break out. At about 13:00 Weidling, who was back in his headquarters in the Bendlerblock, finally received Hitler's permission to attempt a breakout. During the afternoon Hitler shot himself and Braun took cyanide. In accordance with Hitler's instructions, the bodies were burned in the garden behind the Reich Chancellery. In accordance with Hitler's last will and testament, Joseph Goebbels, the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, became the new "Head of Government" and Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler). At 3:15 am, Reichskanzler Goebbels and Bormann sent a radio message to Admiral Karl Dönitz informing him of Hitler's death. In accordance with Hitler's last wishes, Dönitz was appointed as the new "President of Germany" (Reichspräsident).
By the end of that same day, 30 April, the Soviets had captured the Reichstag, which was of huge symbolic importance to the Soviets and one of the last German strong points defending the area around the Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker.
At about 04:00 on 1 May, Krebs talked to General Vasily Chuikov commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army. Krebs returned empty handed after refusing to agree to an unconditional surrender. Only Reichskanzler Goebbels now had the authority to agree to an unconditional surrender. In the late afternoon, Goebbels had his children poisoned. At about 20:00, Goebbels and his wife, Magda, left the bunker; close to the entrance they bit on a cyanide ampule and either shot themselves at the same time or were given a coup de grâce by the SS guard detailed to dispose of their bodies.
Weidling had given the order for the survivors to break out to the northwest starting at around 21:00 on 1 May. The breakout started later than planned at around 23:00. The first group from the Reich Chancellery led by Mohnke avoided the Weidendammer bridge over which the mass breakout took place and crossed by a footbridge, but Mohnke's group became split (Mohnke could not break through the Soviet rings and was captured the next day and like others who were captured and had been in the Führerbunker was interrogated by SMERSH). A Tiger tank that spearheaded the first attempt to storm the Weidendammer bridge was destroyed. There followed two more attempts and on the third attempt, made around 1:00 (2 May), Martin Bormann in another group from the Reich Chancellery managed to cross the Spree. He was reported to have died a short distance from the bridge, his body was seen and identified by Arthur Axmann who followed the same route.
Ironically the last defenders of the bunker were the French SS volunteers of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French) who remained at the bunker until the early morning of May 2 to prevent the Russians from capturing the bunker on May Day.
At 01:00 the Soviets picked up radio message from the German LVI Corps requesting a cease-fire and stating that emissaries would come under a white flag to Potsdamer bridge. Early in the morning of 2 May the Soviets stormed the Reich Chancellery. General Weidling surrendered with his staff at 06:00.
General Burgdorf (who played a key role in the death of Erwin Rommel) and General Krebs chose to commit suicide rather than attempt to break out. Few people remained in the bunker, and they were subsequently captured by Soviet troops on 2 May. Soviet intelligence operatives investigating the complex found more than a dozen bodies (the persons had apparently committed suicide) along with the cinders of many burned papers and documents.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE FUHRERBUNKER AFTER THAT?
The former Chancellery was situated at the corner of Wilhelmstraße and Voßstraße. Other parts of the Chancellery underground complex were uncovered during extensive construction work in the 1990s, but these were ignored, filled in or quickly resealed.
Since 1945 government authorities have been consistently concerned about the site of the bunker evolving into a Neo-Nazi shrine. The strategy for avoiding this has largely been to ensure the surroundings remain anonymous and unremarkable. In 2005 the location of the bunker was not marked. The immediate area was occupied by a small Chinese restaurant and shopping centre while the emergency exit point for the bunker (which had been in the Chancellery gardens) was occupied by a car park.
On June 8, 2006, due to the 2006 FIFA World Cup a small plaque was installed with a schematic of the bunker to mark the location. The plaque can be found at the corner of In den Ministergärten and Gertrud-Kolmar-Straße, two small streets about three minutes' walk from Potsdamer Platz. Hitler's bodyguard, Rochus Misch, one of the last people living who was in the bunker at the time of Hitler's suicide, was on hand for the ceremony.
In June 1945, the Soviets announced - falsely - that Hitler's remains had not been found and that he was probably still alive.
This announcement caused a predictable flurry of "Hitler sightings" across Europe. Allied officers sought to establish beyond possible doubt that Hitler had indeed died in his bunker. To that end, they interrogated various members of Hitler's personal staff who had been with the dictator in late April 1945.
The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who served as a British military intelligence officer during the war, used these accounts to investigate the circumstances of Hitler's death and rebut claims that Hitler was still alive and living somewhere in the West. He published an account of his findings in 1947 in his book The Last Days of Hitler.
At the end of the Second World War various members of Hitler's personal staff, who had been with him in the bunker during April 1945, were interrogated by Allied officers seeking to establish beyond possible doubt that Hitler had died.
Their questioning concentrated on the events that took place in the Bunker during the last days of April. By then the Red Army had surrounded Berlin and the sound of shellfire could be heard clearly from within the Führerbunker.
On the morning of 29 April the inhabitants of the bunker received news of the execution by Italian partisans of Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci. One of those interrogated commented that this would have served to reinforce Hitler's determination that neither he nor Eva Braun should face this fate.
Hitler ordered his staff to prepare for the end. An eyewitness noted that Hitler's SS bodyguards were destroying his personal papers. Elsewhere one of the doctors was instructed by Hitler to poison Blondi, his Alsatian dog, and Eva Braun's spaniel. The eyewitnesses also described how in the afternoon of 29 April Hitler went from room to room shaking hands with all but his immediate staff, saying a few words of encouragement and thanks to each.
By the morning of 30 April Russian forces had reached the nearby Potsdamer Platz and the sounds of battle were all around. One version on record suggests that Eva was overheard crying, "I would rather die here. I do not want to escape". She and Hitler later emerged from their suite, their personal staff having been assembled, and went round the room shaking hands silently. Everyone knew that the time had come.
Junge recalled that she and Christian both asked Hitler for a poison capsule, having noted the rapid effect that the poison had had on Hitler's dog. Hitler gave them one each, saying as he did so that he was sorry he had no better parting gift and that he wished his generals had been as poised and brave as they were. Eva embraced Junge and, in what seems to have been her last recorded words said, "Take my fur coat as a memory. I always like well-dressed women". Then, saying "It is finished, goodbye", Hitler took Eva back into their rooms for the last time. During the afternoon Hitler shot himself and Eva took the poison capsule that he had given her.
Reconstruction of the gruesome end of Adolph Hitler
Soon afterwards their bodies were carried up the stairs to a small garden outside the door to the bunker complex. Hitler's driver, another of those interrogated, helped carry Eva's body some of the way and noted that once there it was placed on the ground beside Hitler's. He told his interrogators he had noticed that she had been wearing a blue summer dress made of real silk, that her shoes had cork heels, and that her hair was "artificially blonde".
Moments later the same witness saw a party including Goebbels and Bormann gathered beside the bodies. One of them poured petrol from a can over the bodies. They then retired to the safety of a doorway with the sound of Russian artillery all around them. Hitler's adjutant lit a petrol-soaked rag and threw it on the bodies, which immediately burst into flames. The group made the Hitlergruss (the Nazi salute) and withdrew.
One of the bunker guards arrived late on the scene. He described how he was greatly startled to see the two bodies burst into flames as if by spontaneous combustion. He had been unable to see the Goebbels party concealed in a doorway and only later was told the true circumstances.
The bodies were only partly destroyed by the fire and were later hastily buried in a shallow bomb crater. According to Russian reports, the bodies were exhumed by Soviet troops and taken to Magdeburg in East Germany where Hitler's body was said to have been finally destroyed in April 1970 by the KGB. Two fragments of the body, a jawbone and skull, were preserved. They were displayed in an exhibition at the Russian Federal Archives in Moscow in April 2000.
Hitler's final days in the Berlin bunker have been portrayed in several films, most recently Oliver Hirschbiegel's 2004 film Der Untergang ("Downfall").
HISTORY FILM: "DOWNFALL"
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The riveting subject of Downfall is nothing less than the disintegration of Adolf Hitler in mind, body, and soul. A 2005 Academy Award nominee for best foreign language film, this German historical drama stars Bruno Ganz (Wings of Desire) as Hitler, whose psychic meltdown is depicted in sobering detail, suggesting a fallen, pathetic dictator on the verge on insanity, resorting to suicide (along with Eva Braun and Joseph and Magda Goebbels) as his Nazi empire burns amidst chaos in mid-1945. While staging most of the film in the claustrophobic bunker where Hitler spent his final days, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Das Experiment) dares to show the gentler human side of der Fuehrer, as opposed to the pure embodiment of evil so familiar from many other Nazi-era dramas. This balanced portrayal does not inspire sympathy, however: We simply see the complexity of Hitler's character in the greater context of his inevitable downfall, and a more realistic (and therefore more horrifying) biographical portrait of madness on both epic and intimate scales. By ending with a chilling clip from the 2002 documentary Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, this unforgettable film gains another dimension of sobering authenticity.
351 REVIEWERS OF THIS FILM GAVE IT A FIVE STAR RATING. 63 GAVE IT FOUR STARS. A MUST SEE OSCAR NOMINATED FILM