. By T.V. Antony Raj
Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring
Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring
During the afternoon on April 23, 1945, Adolf Hitler received a telegram from Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, president of the Reichstag, the second-most powerful man in Germany. On June 29, 1941, Hitler designated him as his successor and deputy in all his offices. Now, Hitler was taken aback with the contents of the telegram.
In view of your decision to remain in the fortress of Berlin, do you agree that I take over at once the total leadership of the Reich, with full freedom of action at home and abroad as your deputy, in accordance with your decree of June 29, 1941? If no reply is received by 10 o’clock tonight, I shall take it for granted that you have lost your freedom of action, and shall consider the conditions of your decree as fulfilled, and shall act for the best interests of our country and our people. You know what I feel for you in this gravest hour of my life. Words fail me to express myself. May God protect you, and speed you quickly here in spite of all.
An enraged Hitler, prompted by Martin Bormann, sent Göring a message saying though he had committed high treason that warranted a death penalty, due to his long years of service, he would be spared, if he would immediately resign all of his offices. Bormann then ordered the SS near Berchtesgaden to arrest Göring and his staff.
Göring was arrested on April 25, 1945.
On April 26, 1945, reports of Soviet troops looting and raping as they advanced were circulating in Berlin. Soviet artillery fire made the first direct hits on the Chancellery buildings and grounds directly above the Führerbunker. The Red Army had reached the city centre and were fighting within only a few hundred yards of Hitler’s refuge.
That evening a small plane containing Luftwaffe General Ritter von Greim flown by Hanna Reitsch, a female test pilot landed in the street near the bunker. During the daring flight Greim had been wounded in the foot by Soviet ground fire. When he was inside the Führerbunker, the wounded Greim was informed by Hitler that he was promoted to Field-Marshal in command of the Luftwaffe and was to be Hermann Göring’s successor.
Erich Kempka, Hitler’s personal chauffeur, had known Eva Braun well since 1932. That day he had a long chat with her. She told Kempka:
“Under no circumstances will I leave the Fuhrer and, if I have to, I will die at his side. Initially, he insisted that I should take an aircraft out of Berlin. I told him, ‘I will not. Your fate is also mine.‘”
Hans Georg Otto Hermann Fegelein
SS-Gruppenführer Hans Georg Otto Hermann Fegelein.
Hans-Georg Otto Hermann Fegelein, an SS-Gruppenführer (group leader) was a general of the Waffen-SS and a member of Adolf Hitler’s entourage. He was the brother-in-law of Eva Braun through his marriage to Gretl Braun, one of her two sisters.
In August 1941, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered the SS Cavalry Brigade to be formed under the command of Hermann Fegelein from the 1st and 2nd SS Cavalry Regiments.
On July 17, 1941, Himmler assigned Fegelein’s regiment to the general command of HSSPF Erich von dem Bach for the “systematic combing” of the Pripyat swamps, an operation designed to round up and exterminate Jews, partisans, and civilians in that area of the Byelorussian SSR. Fegelein reported to von dem Bach that his men had killed 13,788 Jews and what he claimed were “soldiers in civilian clothes” during the first stage of the operation. At the end of the second stage, which ran during the last two weeks of August, Fegelein reported that all 3,500 Jewish men in the Rogatschew region had been killed.
Fegelein was wounded a couple of times in action. After he was wounded for a third time, on the Russian front, Himmler reassigned him on January 1, 1944, to Hitler’s headquarters staff as his liaison officer and representative of the SS. He was promoted to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant (group leader and lieutenant-general) of the Waffen-SS.
On July 20, 1944, Fegelein was present at the failed attempt on Hitler’s life at the Wolf’s Lair headquarters in Rastenburg, East Prussia, and he received a minor wound on his left thigh from the bomb blast.
Historians William L. Shirer and Ian Kershaw picture him as cynical and disreputable. Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect, called him “one of the most disgusting people in Hitler’s circle”.
Fegelein was an opportunist. He sought favour with Himmler, who granted him the best assignments and rapid promotions. Even his courting of Gretl Braun, one of the two sisters of Eva Braun, was a calculated move to advance his career.
Gretl Braun and Hermann Fegelein at their wedding.
Hitler, Himmler, and Bormann acted as witnesses at his marriage. However, Fegelein was a known playboy and had many extramarital affairs.
Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Luitpold Himmler
Friday, April 27, 1945
Fegelein left the Reich Chancellery bunker complex, but was apprehended on April 27, 1945, by SS-Obersturmbannführer Peter Högl in his Berlin apartment while preparing to flee to Sweden or Switzerland, wearing civilian clothes, carrying German and foreign cash and jewelry, some of which belonged to Eva Braun. Högl also confiscated a briefcase containing documents with evidence of Himmler’s attempted peace negotiations with the western Allies. According to most accounts Fegelein was intoxicated when arrested. He was brought back to the Führerbunker.
When Fegelein was arrested, his wife, Gretl was heavily pregnant. Hitler considered releasing him without punishment or assigning him to Waffen-SS General Wilhelm Mohnke ‘s troops. However, Hitler ordered Mohnke to set up a tribunal to inquire into Fegelein’s desertion. The court martial panel consisted of Wilhelm Burgdorf, Hans Krebs, Johann Rattenhuber, and presided by Wilhelm Mohnke.
Fegelein was still drunk when he was produced before the martial panel. Unable to stand up, he vomited and even urinated on the floor. Since the German military law required the defendant to be of sound mind and body during a court martial, Mohnke was in a predicament.
Fegelein refused to accept the authority of Hitler, and stated that he would answer only to Himmler. Although Mohnke was certain Fegelein was “guilty of flagrant desertion,” he ended the proceedings and turned the defendant over to General Rattenhuber and his RSD security squad. Mohnke never saw Fegelein again.
On the night of April 27, Soviet bombardment of the Chancellery buildings reached its peak with numerous direct hits. General Hans Krebs made his last telephone call from the Führerbunker to Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of German Armed Forces High Command (OKW) in Fürstenberg. Krebs told Wilhelm 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 the Twelfth Army, and Theodor Busse, commander of the Ninth Army.
Meanwhile Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, wired to Großadmiral Karl Dönitz:
“Situation very serious … Those ordered to rescue the Führer are keeping silent … Disloyalty seems to gain the upper hand everywhere …Reichskanzlei a heap of rubble.”
Since the foreign press was reporting fresh acts of treason, Bormann said:
“that without exception Ferdinand Schörner, Walther Wenck, and the others must give evidence of their loyalty by the quickest relief of the Führer.”
Saturday, April 28, 1945
On April 28, 1945, Hitler was told by Goebbels that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had left Berlin on April 20, 1945, and that British news services were reporting that Himmler was trying to discuss terms of surrender with the Western Allies through Count Folke Bernadotte and surrender the German armies under his command in the west to Eisenhower. Hitler was furious. Considering this as treason, he ordered Himmler’s arrest and according to certain sources ordered the immediate execution of Hermann Fegelein.
Gertraud Junge – Hitler’s youngest private secretary
Traudl Junge, Hitler’s youngest private secretary from December 1942, an eyewitness to events in the Führerbunker, later stated that Eva Braun pleaded with Hitler to spare her brother-in-law and tried to justify his behaviour. However, on April 28, 1945, Fegelein was taken to the garden of the Reich Chancellery and was “shot like a dog“.
Rochus Misch, Hitler’s courier, bodyguard and telephone operator.
In 2007, in an interview with Der Spiegel, Rochus Misch, Hitler’s courier, bodyguard and telephone operator, and the last surviving person from the Führerbunker, disputed aspects of Traudl Junge’s account. According to Misch, Hitler ordered only Fegelein’s demotion and not his execution. Misch claimed to know the identity of Fegelein’s killer, but refused to reveal his name.
Previous – Part 3: Life in the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker
Next Hitler’s Marriage and Last Testaments