Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 14: The Fate of the Three Messengers


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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In the early morning of April 29, 1945, while the Red Army closed in on the Reichstag building, Hitler after his wedding ceremony, retired to a room with Traudl Junge, his youngest private secretary, and dictated in a hurry, his last Testaments: a Private Testament – a will (see Appendix A), and a Political Testament (see Appendix B).

Hitler ordered that three copies of these testaments to be taken out of the Führerbunker in the besieged city of Berlin by three messengers to ensure their presence for posterity.

Three officers: Adolf Hitler’s Deputy Chief Press Secretary Heinz Lorenz, Bormann’s adjutant SS-Standartenführer Wilhelm Zander, and the last adjutant to Adolf Hitler Major Willy Johannmeyer, were chosen as messengers to hand-deliver these testaments to Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner in Czechoslovakia, Karl Dönitz in Schleswig-Holstein, and Paul Giesler in Tegernsee.

After the three messengers said their farewell to Hitler, Martin Bormann gave each of them a white dossier containing the testaments. Later that day, armed with automatic weapons, the trio left the besieged Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker. They escaped from Berlin, passing through Soviet lines without being captured.

The arrest of Heinz Lorenz

Heinz Lorenz, Adolf Hitler's Deputy Chief Press Secretary
Heinz Lorenz, Adolf Hitler’s Deputy Chief Press Secretary

The British arrested Heinz Lorenz, traveling under alias as a journalist from Luxembourg, for possessing false identity papers. The documents were hidden in Lorenz’s coat-lining. After a lengthy process of interrogation, Lorenz finally confessed the truth.

Lorenz  revealed the existence of two more copies smuggled out of the Führerbunker, and the names of the other two messengers as SS-Standartenführer Wilhelm Zander, and Major Willy Johannmeyer.  He told the British interrogators that they left the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker on April 29, 1945, after receiving a set of documents each.

The next problem that faced the interrogators was how to pursue the two absconding messengers, and find out whether they still had the documents with them.

The arrest of Major Willy Johannmeyer

Major Willy Johannmeyer, the last adjutant to Adolf Hitler.
Major Willy Johannmeyer, the last adjutant to Adolf Hitler.

Major Willy Johannmeyer was found living quietly under his own name in his hometown of Iserlohn. He was a straightforward soldier of unconditional loyalties to his Führer and courageous. He firmly asserted and almost convinced his interrogators that he was merely sent as a military escort to the other two, to guide them through the Russian lines.

Eventually, under pressure Johannmeyer coughed up: “Ich habe die Papiere”. Then, he led his interrogators to a corner of his garden, dug up a bottle containing Hitler’s political testament and a covering note from Burgdorf to Schoerner.

The arrest of SS-Standartenführer Wilhelm Zander

Hans Arnold Wangersheim was born in Nuremberg on July 25, 1924. His parents divorced when he was six years old, and he was put in a Jewish orphanage.

On 9–10 November 1938, a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria was carried out by SA paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians while the German authorities looked on without intervening. This series of coordinated attacks is referred to as Kristallnacht (English: “Crystal Night”), also known as Reichskristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass as the result of the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues had their windows smashed.

The pretext for the attacks was the assassination on November 9, 1938, of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old German-born Polish Jew living in the French capital.

On November 15, 1938, five days after the Kristallnacht in Germany and Austria, a delegation of British Jewish and Quaker leaders appealed to Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. They requested the British government to permit temporary admission of unaccompanied Jewish children into Britain, without their parents.

The Kindertransport (children transport), a rescue mission was born. In the months between the Kristallnacht Pogrom to the start of World War II, nearly 10,000 children were sent, without their parents, out of Nazi Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Free City of Danzig, to safety in Great Britain. These children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms. Often they were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust. A similar, but a much less organized effort to transport unaccompanied children, mostly Jewish, to the United States was known as the One Thousand Children (OTC). The program brought about 1,400 children aged between 14 months and 16 years to the United States.

In 1938, about a year before the Second World War began, Arnold Wangersheim was rescued by a Jewish social service organization.

Arnold was 13 when he arrived in the United States, with only a cardboard suitcase and $5 cash. He did not know anyone in America, nor knew a single word of English. Eventually, he was placed with a family that owned a jewelry store in Janesville, Wisconsin. He changed his surname “Wangersheim” to “Weiss” – a name he borrowed from Howard Weiss, a Wisconsin football star and was known as Arnold Hans Weiss thereafter.

Arnold Hans Weiss in 1945
Arnold Hans Weiss in 1945

He studied at the University of Wisconsin–Madison before joining the Army. In the Army, Weiss trained as a tail gunner until a crash landing broke both his legs. During his recuperation, since he spoke German, he was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II intelligence service, the precursor of the CIA.

In 1945, in the months following the fall of Nazi Germany, the 21-year-old Weiss was back in Germany as a U.S. military intelligence officer in the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC).

Weiss’s unit was given the responsibility of confirming Adolf Hitler’s death because there were endless rumors that Hitler was still alive. Since Berlin was part of the Russian zone, and no witness and neither the body of Hitler nor of Eva Braun had been produced by the Soviets, many Germans refused to believe the Fuhrer was dead. However, Weiss and his unit were certain that he had committed suicide in his bunker. Weiss questioned many members of the Nazi hierarchy in advance of their trials.

The British and the Americans believed that Martin Bormann, the highest-ranking Nazi, the Brown Eminence, the Nazi Party secretary and Hitler’s gatekeeper was still on the loose. If anyone knew what had really happened to Hitler, then it would none other than Bormann. Weiss vaguely remembered that his adjutant Wilhelm Zander hailed from Munich and was still unaccounted for. So, Weiss surmised that there was a good chance that Zander had been in the Führerbunker just before the Red Army stormed it and might know where his boss, Bormann, was hiding. So, Weiss referred the Munich phone book and found several Zanders listed in it.

He rounded up Zander’s mother and sister. They seemed just ordinary people. They insisted that Zander had done nothing wrong. Eventually, he found out from them that the 34-year-old Zander had a young 21-year-old girlfriend in Munich and lived with her parents.

Weiss had Zandeer’s girlfriend arrested. He lodged her in a large jail, on the outskirts of Munich which housed common criminals.  There, he let her sit alone in a cell to ponder over her fate. After two days, she was ready to talk. She said she saw Zander six weeks earlier and that he was working as a farmhand for someone named Irmgard Unterholzener in a village not too far from Munich called Tegernsee. She also told Weiss that Zander was using the alias “Friedrich Wilhelm Paustin“.

Hugh Trevor-Roper, British intelligence officer and historian (1950)
Hugh Trevor-Roper, British intelligence officer and historian (1950)

 Weiss immediately sent a coded communique to CIC headquarters in Frankfurt. The U.S. intelligence notified British Intelligence, which dispatched its lead investigator Hugh Trevor-Roper, to join Weiss in the chase.

In November 1945, Trevor-Roper, the British intelligence officer and historian who wrote “The Last Days of Hitler,” was ordered by Dick White, then head of counterintelligence in the British sector of Berlin to investigate the circumstances of Adolf Hitler’s death, and to rebut the Soviet propaganda that Hitler was alive and living in the West.

Weiss and Trevor-Roper made hasty arrangements to raid the farmhouse, but by the time they arrived, Zander had vanished. For the next three weeks, Weiss chased down blind leads without luck. Then, just before Christmas, Weiss got a call from the CIC field office in Munsingen, Germany. A Paustin had registered for a residence permit.

Weiss, Trevor-Roper and a junior American CIC Special Agent Rosener, along with several MPs reached the old stone building where Zander was hiding before 4 am on Christmas Eve.

As the MPs broke down the door, a shot rang out from the house. They found the startled Zander naked in bed with a woman, not the girlfriend Weiss had arrested earlier, and quickly overpowered him.

Arnold Weiss took part, largely as a translator, in the interrogation of Wilhelm Zander. Initially, the arrested person claimed that he was a victim of misidentification. They grilled him for 10 hours. They confronted him with all the facts of his life. Finally, Weiss said: “We have your mother and sister.” This was not true. Weiss had arrested only the girlfriend. But Zander didn’t know that and he solemnly accepted that he was SS-Standartenführer Wilhelm Zander.

That same day Zander led Weiss and Trevor-Roper back to Tegernsee, where he had originally been hiding. He took them to a dry well at the back of the Unterholzener property, and he pointed down it. They retrieved a fake-leather suitcase lying at the bottom of the well. It contained Zander’s discarded SS uniform. But upon closer inspection, they found a hidden compartment and in it was a plain manila envelope containing the Mein privates Testament, the Mein politsches Testament and the marriage certificate of Hitler and Eva Braun, and a covering letter from Bormann to Doenitz.

 The documents were sent to the United States. In Washington, a forensic analysis of the paper and ink by the FBI confirmed their authenticity.

With that the last of the documents in the case was in the hands of the Allieds. Thus, one of the copies fell into the hands of the British while the other two copies of the documents ended up in the hands of the Americans.

By January 1946, the texts of these documents were published widely in the American and British press. However, the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, considered restricting access to these documents. He feared they might become cult objects among the Germans. But the Americans did not share these concerns since they were already public knowledge, but nonetheless agreed to refrain from further publication of them.

Letter to President Truman from the Secretary of War ((Source: eisenhower.archives.gov)
Letter to President Truman from the Secretary of War ((Source: eisenhower.archives.gov)

Hitler’s political testament and his marriage certificate were presented to American President Harry S. Truman by the Secretary of War. One set was placed on public display at the National Archives in Washington for several years.

Thus, one of the copies fell into the hands of the British while the other two copies of the documents ended up in the hands of the Americans.

 

 Previous – Part 13: What Happened to Hitler’s Body?

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