Adolf Hitler’s Final Days
April 20, 1945 was Adolf Hitler’s fifty-sixth birthday. If history had been different and Germany was on the winning side, the atmosphere in his underground bunker would have been celebratory and full of the typical Nazi enthusiasm that was so prevalent at the beginning of the war, when they were securing easy victories across Europe.
But things were quite the opposite. In the Fhrerbunker located near the Reich Chancellery, Adolf Hitler was a broken man. He knew the end was near, and the likelihood of escape was getting smaller every minute. The subsequent events of the last ten days of his life illustrated the desperation and madness of the Nazi dictator as the Soviet noose tightened around his neck.
The Russians were approaching from the east and the south, commanded by two generals, Georgi Zhukov and Ivan Koniev. Within the Zitadelle, a line of Hitler youth had stood to greet the Nazi leader on his birthday and to receive decorations for bravery. The Fhrer handed out Iron Crosses to them all and went back down to the bunker. This was his last trip above ground and final public appearance. Three top Nazis joined Hitler on his last birthday. They were the ultra-loyal Heinrich Himmler, leader of the dreaded Schutzstaffel and chief instigator of the Final Solution; Hermann Gring, head of the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force); and Joseph Goebbels, the venomous Minister of Propaganda.
Riding on a wave of hysterical optimism, Hitler ordered Waffen-SS officer Felix Steiner, one of his favourite commanders, to attack the Soviets at the northern edge of Berlin. Ignoring comments about the inadequate numbers of combat troops to do the job, Hitler responded, “The Russians are about to suffer the bloodiest defeat of their history at the gates of Berlin.”
Steiner’s men of course didn’t attack at all. Upon hearing this Hitler, in one of his most famous documented outbursts, pounded his fist into his palm and screamed, “The war is lost!” His rattled staff tried to reassure him, but now he was convinced that defeat was inevitable. Bent over in a permanent stoop and clutching the walls for support, Hitler was ragged and exhausted.
Hermann Gring, who had fled to Berchtesgaden in southern Germany a few days before ostensibly to command the Luftwaffe, sent a carefully worded telegram stating that he should be the one to take charge of Germany should Hitler be incapacitated. Hitler snapped and ordered Gring to be arrested immediately.
More bad news awaited Hitler when he heard that the Soviet encirclement of Berlin was complete. He then ordered a large road in the capital to be turned into an improvised landing strip.
American and Russian soldiers had met, shaken hands, and embraced on the Elbe River at Torgau. This put a quick end to Hitler’s last hope that the alliance between those two countries would collapse.
Russian artillery fire made some direct hits on the Chancellery buildings above the bunker. That same evening, a plane carrying female test pilot Hanna Reitsch and Luftwaffe General Ritter von Greim landed near the bunker after being wounded by Russian ground fire. Hitler informed Greim he would replace Gring as commander of the Luftwaffe.
The Soviet onslaught was getting louder and closer as they occupied Tempelhof Airfield in Berlin. Hitler told his staff that upon his death Field Marshal Ferdinand Schrner would take command of the German Army.
Late in the afternoon Hitler dictated his personal and political testament to his secretary, Traudl Junge. Later he was furious when he learned Heinrich Himmler was trying to surrender himself to the Allies and ordered his execution.
The Russians were close enough to knock on Hitler’s door. He learned of the death of his friend Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy. Hitler swore to avoid the same fate. He tested cyanide pills on his favourite dog, Blondi. Shortly after midnight, he married Eva Braun.
The exact time of Hitler’s suicide is unknown. What is known, however, is that his wife had used cyanide and he used a combination of cyanide and a pistol. Their bodies were taken outside, covered with petrol, and set on fire.
The Third Reich had crumbled. Goebbels and Himmler had committed suicide. Gring was captured, found guilty at the Nuremberg Trials and sentenced to death. He killed himself by swallowing a potassium cyanide capsule the night before he was to be executed.
- The Second World War – Ambitions to Nemesis Bradley Lightbody, Routledge
- Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich Joachim C. Fest, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
- Hitler 1936-45: Nemesis Ian Kershaw W.W. Norton & Company