In 1936, when Hitler’s top driver suddenly died, SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant-colonel) Erich Kempka was appointed as Hitler’s personal chauffeur. He served as Adolf Hitler’s chauffeur until April, 1945. Hitler was particular in providing his drivers the best accommodation and food. He once said: “My drivers and pilots are my best friends! I entrust my life to these men!”
On April 30, 1945, around 3:45 pm, 1945, Kempka was in the underground garages. Hitler’s SS personal adjutant Otto Günsche, phoned him. His voice hoarse with excitement, he said: “I must have 200 litres of petrol immediately.”
At first Kempka thought it was a joke and told him it was out of the question. Günsche began shouting: “Petrol, Erich, petrol!”
“Why would you need 200 liters of petrol?” Kempka asked.
“I cannot tell you on the phone. But believe me, Erich, I simply must have it. Whatever it takes, it must be here right now at the exit to the Führer-bunker!” Günsche shouted back.
Kempka knew that the only source was the Berlin Zoo bunker, where the Nazis had buried a few thousand liters of petrol. But, he also knew that it would be certain death for his men to go there under bombardment. So, Kempka told Günsche: “Wait until at least 5 pm because the firing generally dies down a bit around then.”
“I cannot wait another hour. See how much you can collect from the damaged vehicles and send your men at once to the exit to the Führerbunker in the Chancellery garden. And, then come yourself immediately!” Gunsche ordered and hung up.
The concrete roof of the underground garages had caved in. Except for a few, most of the vehicles there were covered with masonry. Kempka ordered his men to siphon out whatever petrol they could find.
While a heavy Russian bombardment was in progress, Kempka returned to the Führerbunker. As he entered he saw Günsche leaving Hitler’s sitting room. His face was as white as chalk. Kempka hurried over to Günsche.
“For God’s sake, Otto, what is it?” Kempka asked.
Günsche went to the two outer doors with Kempka following hin and shut them. Then he turned and said: “The chief is dead.”
Kempka was shocked. He said: “How could that happen, Otto? I spoke to him only yesterday. He was healthy and calm.”
Gunsche raised his right arm, imitated holding a pistol with his fist and pointed to his mouth.
Hermann Karnau, an SS bodyguard of Hitler, saw four men, subordinates of Erich Kempka, arrive with gasoline cans outside the bunker, which they said was for the air conditioning system inside the bunker. Remembering the air conditioning system was fuelled by diesel, Karnau denied them entrance into the Führerbunker. When pressed he allowed one of the men to enter the bunker. The subordinate found Kempka and told him that he and his men had placed around 180 to 200 litres of petrol at the exit to the bunker. Kempka sent the man back to the surface.
At that time the door of Hitler’s sitting room opened and his SS valet Heinz Linge shouted desperately at Kempka: “The petrol, where is the petrol?”
Kempka replied: “It is in position.”
According to Erich Kempka, he saw the dead Führer in his study. Hitler had fallen across the table with the revolver in his hand and Eva sat at an angle beside him. She had taken poison. Her right arm was hanging over the side of the sofa and on the ground nearby was the pistol.
Linge returned to the sitting room. Seconds later the door opened again. Hitler’s doctor, Ludwig Stumpfegger, and Linge emerged carrying Hitler’s body wrapped in a blanket. Hitler’s face was covered as far as the bridge of his nose and his left arm was dangling out of the blanket.
Bormann followed with Eva in his arms, her head inclined backwards. Kempka took Eva’s body from Bormann. Her side was wet. Kempka assumed that she had also shot herself, but later Günsche told him that when Hitler’s body collapsed across the table it overturned a vase and the water flowed over Eva.
There were 20 steps up to the bunker exit. Halfway up, Kempka’s strength failed and he had to stop. Günsche hurried to help him and together they carried Eva’s body into the open.
It was around 5 pm. The Reich Chancellery was under siege. The Russian shells exploded all around them, sending fountains of sand and grit into the air.
Stumpfegger and Linge placed Hitler’s body wrapped in the blanket on the ground in a shell crater about three metres from the bunker exit with his legs towards the bunker stairway. Günsche and Kempka placed Eva at an angle to her husband.
Kempka rushed back to the bunker exit. Panting, he seized a can of petrol. He came back and placed the can near the two bodies. As he was about to remove the cap of the petrol can, shells exploded close by, spattering them with earth and dust. So, all ran to the bunker entrance for cover. When the shelling died down, Günsche, Linge and Kempka poured petrol over the corpses. Goebbels, Bormann and Stumpfegger watched from the entrance to the bunker.
Kempka protested when someone suggested that they should ignite the bodies with a hand grenade. He saw a large piece of rag at the bunker exit.
“Get that cloth!” Kempka shouted.
Günsche tore the rag in half. Opening the petrol can Kempka soak the rag with petrol.
“A match!”, Kempka again shouted.
Goebbels took a box of matches from his pocket and handed it to him. Kempka lit the rag and lobbed it on the petrol-soaked corpses.
In seconds a bright flame flared up, accompanied by billowing black smoke. Slowly the fire nibbled at the corpses. For the last time, Joseph Goebbels, Martin Bormann, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Heinz Linge, Otto Günsche, and Erich Kempka, stood at attention and gave the Hitler salute as they watched the two bodies burn.
Under the most difficult conditions, Kempka’s men supplied several hundred more litres of petrol and kept on pouring petrol over the burning corpses.
After the flames had died, Heinz Linge touched the remains of the burnt bodies with his boot and a few scorched bones crumbled into dust. Later, along with Hermann Karnau and some other men the charred remains of the bodies were gathered up and interred in a shallow grave at the side of the house fronting the garages. They covered the grave with rubble and stamped on them.
Back inside the bunker everyone seemed to be relaxed. Now that the Führer was no more, they smoked without any inhibition because he had generally forbidden smoking in his presence.
Next, they collectively began plotting ways and means to flee from Berlin, avoiding capture by the Russians.
Around 2:30 am on April 30, 1945, the personal staff of Hitler assembled in the dining area. Hitler emerged from his private quarters. With glazed eyes, he went around the room shaking the hands of each staff member silently. Everyone in the room knew that the time had come. Hitler bade farewell to them.
After Hitler had retired back into his quarters, the officers and the staff members pondered over the significance of what they had just witnessed. The great tension that prevailed in the past few days seemed to suddenly dissipate with the realization that Hitler was nearing the end of his days.
A few hours later Krebs received Alfred Jodl’s reply:
“Firstly, Wenck’s spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, Twelfth Army therefore unable to continue the attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of Ninth Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste’s Corps on the defensive.”
By dawn, Russian troops had reached Potsdamer Platz and the sounds of battle were all around. Russian shells were hitting the government district and the Reich Chancellery continuously. The streets around the Chancellery were just piles of rubble.
Hitler attended his last military situation conference in the Führerbunker.
At 2:00 pm Hitler and Eva sat down for their last lunch, a vegetarian meal as usual.
The Russians were now only a few blocks away from the Reich Chancellery. Hitler began making systematic preparations to commit suicide.
Hitler gave precise instructions for the disposal of his dead body. He ordered his adjutants to burn his corpse. He said: “I do not wish my corpse to be displayed after my death in a Russian panopticon like Lenin.“
He gave his butler, Arthur Kannberg, gold and silver cigarette cases engraved with his name and said: “Look after these until we meet again.”
Shortly after 3:00 pm the personal staff of Hitler assembled in the bunker. Hitler and Eva emerged from their suite. They went around the room shaking hands of each staff member silently. Everyone in the room knew that the time had come.
Hitler gave poison capsules to his female secretaries to use if the Soviets stormed the bunker. He asked them to forgive him as he did not have better parting gifts to give them.
At 3:30 pm, the couple bade farewell to their staff and retired to their private room, to carry out their decision to commit suicide.
Hitler and Eva carried a small box of cyanide capsules. He had two guns and she had one. After closing the door of their room, with his “Thousand-Year Reich” already in its death throes, Hitler and Eva bit into thin glass vials of cyanide. Hitler also shot himself in the head with a 7.65mm Walther pistol. Eva made no use of the revolver at her side, preferring to let the poison take its course.
Traudl Junge later wrote that while she was playing with the Goebbels children she heard gunshots:
“Suddenly […] there is the sound of a [gun] shot, so loud, so close, that we all fall silent. It echoes on through all the rooms. ‘That was a direct hit,’ cried Helmut [Goebbels] with no idea how right he was.“
Hearing a gunshot, Heinz Linge, Otto Günsche, and Martin Bormann, entered Hitler’s suite.
Author of the book “The Bunker“, James P. O’Donnell, a Signal Corps captain, and one of the first Americans to enter the bunker complex in July of 1945, investigated Adolf Hitler’s death from a journalistic perspective. He claimed that nobody heard the shot that killed Hitler as the double doors to Hitler’s study were thick enough to muzzle such a sound. He states that when he asked witnesses, who had been standing outside this door, they claimed they heard nothing; the people, who made the claim retracted their statements later saying that Allied interrogators pressured them into saying it; also some people who claim to have heard a shot were not even present at the scene.
Later, on October 25, 1956, in a courtroom in Berchtesgaden, the site of the Fuehrer’s mountaintop home in Bavaria, Heinz Linge recalled that he saw Hitler almost upright in a sitting position on a blood-soaked sofa. He said:
“Hitler had his head bent forward somewhat and I could see a bullet hole on his right temple and a trickle of blood ran slowly down over his check.”
The pistol was on the floor where it had dropped from Hitler’s right hand. Eva Braun was lying on the sofa beside him, her lips puckered from the poison, with the unused revolver at her side. “It was as though she had fallen asleep ..“, Linge said.
Otto Günsche said:
“Hitler sat on the arm of the sofa with his head hanging down on the right shoulder which was itself hanging limp over the back of the sofa. On the right side was the bullethole.“
The pair testified that when they first entered Hitler’s study, Martin Bormann, was with them.
Later on, Rochus Misch, Hitler’s telephone operator, said that he peered through the door and saw Adolf Hitler had committed suicide.
Two weeks after the couple’s death, and when the battle for Berlin ended,William Vandivert, a 33-year-old LIFE photographer, was the first Western photographer to gain access to Hitler’s Führerbunker. Vandivert photographed the almost eerie scenes inside the unlit bunker and the room where Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun killed themselves.
In his typewritten notes to his editors in New York, Vandivert described in detail what he saw. For the above photograph published in LIFE magazine in July 1945, he wrote:
“Pix of [correspondents] looking at sofa where Hitler and Eva shot themselves. Note bloodstains on arm of soaf [sic] where Eva bled. She was seated at far end … Hitler sat in middle and fell forward, did not bleed on sofa. This is in Hitler’s sitting room.”
The above narration by Vandivert indicates that Eva Braun was also shot.
On the forenoon of Sunday, April 29, 1945, Hitler received news of the execution of Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, by the Italian partisans. Mussolini was then hung upside down and thrown into the gutter.
By the afternoon, Soviet ground forces were about a mile away from the Führerbunker. Hitler immediately ordered his staff to be prepared to face the worst. He began sorting through his own papers and selected documents to be burned by his SS bodyguards.
Hitler then signed the order to allow those in the bunker to breakout. According to a version on record, Eva was overheard crying, “I would rather die here. I do not want to escape.“
Late in the evening, General Hans Krebs contacted Alfred Jodl, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High 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.”
Most of his staff left and headed south for the area around Berchtesgaden using a convoy of trucks and planes. Only a handful of Hitler’s personal staff remained, including Martin Bormann, the Goebbels family, SS and military aides, and two of Hitler’s secretaries.
Killing of the dogs
Hitler was very fond of Blondi, the seven-year-old female German Shepherd, gifted to him in 1941 by Martin Bormann, such that he let her sleep in his bedroom in the bunker during his final days. But Eva Braun did not share this affection because she preferred her two Scottish Terrier dogs named Negus and Stasi to Blondi. According to one of Hitler’s secretaries, Eva hated Blondi and was known to kick the dog under the dining table.
From 1944, Ludwig Stumpfegger, a German SS doctor was Adolf Hitler’s personal surgeon. He started working directly for Hitler in the Führerbunker under the direction of Dr. Theodor Morell.
After discovering that his Interior Minister Heinrich Himmler was trying to negotiate with the Allies, Hitler no longer trusted the SS. He wondered whether the cyanide capsules given to him by Ludwig Stumpfegger, the SS doctor, would be effective. So, Hitler, gave his physician, Werner Haase, the grim task of testing the cyanide capsules on his favorite dog, Blondi.
Here is an eyewitness account by Armin Lehmann, Hitler’s last youth courier, of what happened to Blondi:
“That afternoon Hitler summoned Professor Werner Haase from the emergency hospital to the bunker to stage a dress rehearsal of his own suicide. Hitler no longer trusted the SS and he wanted an assurance that the poison capsules he had been provided with by the SS doctor Ludwig Stumpfegger actually worked. The guinea pig chosen for this experiment was his beloved Alsatian Blondi.
The dog was led into the toilets off the waiting-room at the foot of the steps to the upper bunker by Hitler’s dog attendant Sergeant Fritz Tornow. Inside, Tornow forced Blondi’s jaws open and crushed the capsule with pliers as Haase watched. The dog collapsed on the ground instantly and didn’t move.
Tornow was visibly upset. Hitler couldn’t bear to watch the scene himself. However, he entered the room shortly afterwards and, seeing the results for himself, departed without saying a word. Tornow was further mortified to be given the task of shooting Blondi’s four young puppies. The Goebbels children were understandably upset when their sprightly little playthings were wrenched from them.
Tornow took them up to the Chancellery Garden where they were put to death along with several other pets of the bunker inmates. Later, Hitler met the medical staff to thank them in the lower bunker. As Professor Schenck records in his memoirs, one of the nurses became hysterical.”
Three years after the war, Hitler’s air force aide Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven said: “Hitler was emotionless. He only wanted to know if it [cyanide] worked and it did.”
After the battle of Berlin, the dead body of Blondi was exhumed and photographed by the Soviets. In 2005, Hitler’s nurse, Erna Flegel, said that Blondi’s death had affected the people in the bunker more than Eva Braun’s suicide had.
According to a report commissioned by Stalin and based on eyewitness accounts, Hitler’s dog-handler, Sergeant Fritz Tornow, took Blondi’s pups from the arms of Joseph Goebbels’ children, who had been playing with them, and shot them in the garden above the bunker. Tornow then killed Eva Braun’s two Scottish Terrier dogs and his own dachshund by lethal injection.
In the evening of April 28, 1945, General Wenck reported to Keitel that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front and it was no longer possible for his army to relieve Berlin. Keitel gave Wenck permission to break off the attempt to relieve Berlin.
Adolf Hitler began preparing for his own death, with the imminent advancing of the Soviets deep in Berlin, compounded by the disloyalty and betrayal by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler.
Sunday, April 29, 1945
The region surrounding the bunker was bombarded constantly by British and American air raids that included parachuted mines. On Sunday, April 29, 1945, there was a direct bomb hit on the Führerbunker and the electrical wiring and water pipes were rummaged.
For days there had been rumours of the impending marriage of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun.
Just before midnight Hitler married Eva Braun in a brief civil ceremony in the map-room. It took place against a backdrop of exploding shells.
Nevertheless, there was a festive mood as Hitler and Eva stood before a table flanked by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and Hitler’s private secretary Martin Bormann as witnesses. Walther Wagner, a minor official of the Propaganda Ministry officiated at the marriage. In keeping with the Nazi requirements, the official asked both Hitler and Eva Braun whether they were of pure Aryan blood and whether they were free from hereditary illnesses. (See Appendix C to view the marriage certificate.)
The marriage ceremony was followed by a celebration in the conference room. Champagne was brought out. Heinz Lorenz, Adolf Hitler’s Deputy Chief Press Secretary said:
“There was champagne but Hitler didn’t drink any. He was concerned about getting his last will and testament down.“
Those left in the bunker listened to Hitler reminisce about better days gone by. He admitted that the war was lost. Hitler concluded, however, that death would be a release for him after the recent betrayal by his oldest friends and supporters – Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler, and confided that he would rather shoot himself than fall alive into the hands of the Russians or the other victorious powers.
Hitler shook hands with all, saying a few words of encouragement and thanks to each.
According to Gerda “Dara” Christian, one of Hitler’s private secretaries, Eva showed her the wedding ring on her finger. Hitler talked mostly of the past and of happier times and admitted that the war was lost and said that he would rather shoot himself than fall alive into the hands of the Russians or the other victorious powers. Gerda said she left the room, unable to bear the atmosphere of gloom and despondency.
Hitler confided to Gertraud Junge that the wedding had been an emotional experience for him. He told her that suicide would be the only means to end his many worries.
Hitler’s Last Testaments
After the wedding ceremony, while the Red Army closed on the Reichstag building, Hitler 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).
After the war, Traudl Junge said:
“When I came to type his final testament in the bunker … I thought he would justify his actions and explain why Germany is in this position. That he had a way out from our terrible tragedy. But he repeated only the old slogans which he had used in his speeches.”
In his Private Testament, Hitler stated specifically who was to be the executor of his will, what he wanted done with his body after he died, and the names of people to receive his worldly possessions.
Hitler named no successor as Führer or leader of the Nazi Party. Instead, he appointed Joseph Goebbels as Reich Chancellor; Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was at Flensburg near the Danish border at that time, as Reich President; and Martin Bormann, Hitler’s long-time chief of staff, as Party Minister.
In his Political Testament, he typically blamed the Jews for everything, including the Second World War and expressed many of the same sentiments he had proffered back in 1923-24 in his book Mein Kampf. He also made a reference to his 1939 threat against the Jews along with a subtle reference to the subsequent gas chambers.
It is untrue that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war in 1939. It was wanted and provoked solely by international statesmen either of Jewish origin or working for Jewish interests. I have made too many offers for the limitation and control of armaments, which posterity will not be cowardly enough always to disregard, for responsibility for the outbreak of this war to be placed on me. Nor have I ever wished that, after the appalling First World War, there would ever be a second against either England or America. Centuries will go by, but from the ruins of our towns and monuments the hatred of those ultimately responsible will always grow anew against the people whom we have to thank for all this: international Jewry and its henchmen.
Only three days before the outbreak of the German-Polish war I proposed a solution of the German-Polish problem to the British Ambassador in Berlin – international control as in the case of the Saar. This offer, too, cannot be lied away. It was only rejected because the ruling clique in England wanted war, partly for commercial reasons and partly because it was influenced by the propaganda put out by international Jewry.
I have left no one in doubt that if the people of Europe are once more treated as mere blocks of shares in the hands of these international money and finance conspirators, then the sole responsibility for the massacre must be borne by the true culprits: the Jews. Nor have I left anyone in doubt that this time millions of European children of Aryan descent will starve to death, millions of men will die in battle, and hundreds of thousands of women and children will be burned or bombed to death in our cities without the true culprits being held to account, albeit more humanely.
Hitler accused Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Reichsführer-SS and Interior Minister Heinrich Himmler, of betraying him and bringing “irreparable shame on the whole nation” by negotiating with the Allies. He expelled Hermann Göring from the party and sacked him from all of his state offices. He also canceled the 1941 decree naming Göring as his successor in the event of his death. To replace him, Hitler named Großadmiral Karl Dönitz as president of the Reich and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Joseph Goebbels was appointed as chancellor.
Heinrich Himmler was also expelled from the party and sacked from all of his state offices for attempting to negotiate peace with the western Allies without his knowledge and against his permission.
Hitler signed his Testaments at 4:00 am, witnessed by Martin Bormann, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, General Wilhelm Burgdorf, and General Hans Krebs. One source says that though the adjutant to Adolf Hitler, Nicolaus von Below’s name had been included, he was an “unofficial” witness and did not sign the document.
Hitler then retired to bed.
The three messengers
To ensure the presence of these two documents for posterity, three messengers were assigned to take them with an attendant document, an explanatory note by Goebbels, out of the besieged Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker.
The three messengers were: Heinz Lorenz, Adolf Hitler’s Deputy Chief Press Secretary; SS-Standartenführer Wilhelm Zander, Bormann’s adjutant; and Major Willy Johannmeyer, the last adjutant to Adolf Hitler.
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.
Your loyal Hermann Göring
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.
Tuesday, April 24, 1945
Professor Ernst-Robert Grawitz was the head of the German Red Cross and a physician in Adolf Hitler’s Führerbunker. As many officials were leaving Berlin to escape from advancing Soviet armies, Grawitz beseeched Hitler a few days before, to allow him to leave, but his request was denied.
So, on April 24, 1945, Grawitz committed suicide with his family, by detonating two hand grenades under the dining table, while having their supper with his wife, and their two children were.
Following Grawitz’s death, Heinrich Himmler appointed Professor Karl Gebhardt, a lieutenant general and his physician as head of the German Red Cross.
Wednesday, April 24, 1945
In the afternoon of April 24, 1945, Professor Karl Gebhardt arrived at the Führerbunker by flight to request the Führer to confirm his appointment by Himmler as president of the German Red Cross. Hitler granted the request, though he considered it idiotic and scornfully turned to his secretaries and others present and said: “Any woman here who wants to fly off with Professor Gebhard may now do so.” Though there were four women in the room at that time, none volunteered.
Gebhardt, then left the room, bashfully, with his aide.
Thursday, April 26, 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.
In the evening, Ludwig Weidling, the last commander of the Berlin Defense Area, presented Hitler with a detailed proposal for a breakout from Berlin. When Weidling finished, Hitler shook his head and said:
“Your proposal is perfectly all right. But what is the point of it all? I have no intentions of wandering around in the woods. I am staying here and I will fall at the head of my troops. You, for your part, will carry on with your defence.“
During the last days of the war, Adolf Hitler’s pilot SS-Gruppenführer Hans Baur, had devised a plan to allow Hitler to escape from Berlin. A Fieseler Fi 156 Storch liaison aircraft was held on standby which could take off from an improvised airstrip in the Tiergarten, near the Brandenburg Gate. However, Hitler refused to leave Berlin.
Later in the evening, a small plane carrying Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Robert Ritter von Greim, the last commander of the Luftwaffe, in response to an order from the Führer, landed on the improvised landing strip.
The aircraft was flown by one of the most famous female pilots of all time, the pretty 33-year-old Hanna Reitsch, a Nazi test pilot, and the only woman awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the Luftwaffe Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds during World War II. With her long experience at low-altitude flying over Berlin and having already surveyed the road as an escape route with Hitler’s personal pilot Hans Baur, Reitsch landed on the improvised airstrip.
During the daring flight von Greim was wounded in the foot by Soviet ground fire hit the light aircraft during its approach.
When von Greim was inside the Führerbunker, Hitler informed him that he was promoted to Field-Marshal in command of the Luftwaffe and was to be Hermann Göring’s successor.
In the evening of April 28, 28, 1945, Hanna Reitsch flew von Greim out on the same road-strip and Hitler suggested to Hans Baur that he and Martin Bormann evacuate in the same manner.
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
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.
Hitler, Himmler, and Bormann acted as witnesses at his marriage. However, Fegelein was a known playboy and had many extramarital affairs.
Flooding of the Berlin underground on April 27, 1945.
Facing total defeat and engulfed with fury, Adolf Hitler had reached his limits and wanted the earth scorched. He was now prepared to sacrifice everything and everybody, including his army and the German people. He ordered his troops to keep on fighting.
In the early morning of April 27, 1945, Hitler ordered the flooding of the Berlin underground to slow the advancing Soviet troops.
Hitler’s order resulted in the drowning of thousands of German soldiers under Weidling’s command and civilians who had taken refuge in the tunnels. The diary of the officer with the Müncheberg Panzer Division went on to describe the flooding:
“New command post: Anhalter subway station. Platforms and control rooms look like an armed camp. Women and children huddle in niches and corners. Others sit about in deck chairs. They all listen for the sounds of battle. Suddenly, water starts to pour into the station. Screams, sobs, curses. People fighting around the ladders that run through the air shafts up to the streets. Masses of gurgling water rush over the stairs. Children and wounded are abandoned and trampled to death. The water covers them, rises three feet or more and then slowly goes down. The panic lasts for hours. Many are drowned. Reason: On somebody’s orders, engineers have blasted the locks of the canal between Schöneberger and Möckern Bridges to flood the tunnels against the advancing Russians. Meanwhile, heavy fighting has been going on above ground level. Change of position to Potsdamer Platz subway station in the late afternoon. Command post on the first floor, as tunnels still under water. Direct hits on the roof. Heavy losses among wounded and civilians. Smoke pours in through the shell holes. Outside, stacks of Panzerfausts go up in the air. Another direct hit, one flight below street level. A horrible sight: Men, soldiers, women, and children are literally glued to the wall.“
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.
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“.
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.
The atmosphere was oppressive in the crowded bunker. Air raids occurred daily. Hitler stayed mostly on the lower level, where it was quieter and he could sleep. Conferences often took place for much of the night, sometimes often until 5:00 am.
Even after Hitler moved to the underground Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker he continued to use his large study in the undamaged wing of the Reich Chancellery, where he held afternoon military conferences. After the meetings, he would have tea with his secretaries before going back down into the bunker complex for the night. After several weeks of this routine, Hitler seldom left the bunker except for short strolls in the Chancellery garden with his dog Blondi.
On his 56th birthday on April 20, 1945, Hitler made his last trip to the ruined garden of the Reich Chancellery, where he awarded Iron Crosses to boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth. That afternoon, the Soviet artillery of the 1st Belorussian Front led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov bombarded Berlin’s city centre for the first time. At the same time, Marshal Ivan Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front had pushed from the south through the last formations of German Army Group Centre.
Despite the appalling civilian and military casualties in Berlin, Hitler believed his German Army would defeat Zhukov’s eight armies that had entered Berlin. He placed his hopes on the units commanded by Waffen-SS General Felix Steiner. On April 21, Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the encircling Soviet salient and ordered the German Ninth Army, southeast of Berlin, to attack northward in a pincer attack.
But in reality, the German defenses were mainly led by Helmuth Weidling and consisted of several depleted, badly equipped, disorganized, and exhausted Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS divisions that had reached the end of their fighting ability, as well as poorly trained Volkssturm and Hitler Youth members armed with the anti-tank weapon, the Panzerfaust – a cheap, single shot, recoilless German anti-tank, and the elderly men forced into a civilian’s militia.
During the last ten days of Hitler’s Berlin, thirty thousand German teenagers belonging to the Hitler Youth troops perished in the Allied onslaught while defending their beloved Führer.
Hitler’s last Courier.
Armin D. Lehmann was a high-flying member of the Hitler Youth, the sole official youth organization in Germany that was partly a paramilitary organization for male youth aged 14 to 18. In April 1945, a fanatical Nazi aged 16, convinced that he was part of a “new order” destined to last 1,000 years, was chosen as a Courier to run messages between the radio room below the party Chancellery and Hitler’s secret Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker in Berlin. He gained his privileged place in the bunker after earning an Iron Cross for saving two comrades, while wounded, while fighting in January 1945.
Though Armin Lehmann, who idolized Adolf Hitler, would have gladly given his life for his leader like every other member of the Hitler Youth, he and a few other boy soldiers escaped the bloodbath. Destined not to be sacrificed to the enemy at the gate, he was chosen to serve the most notorious and bizarre Nazis of Hitler’s hated Reich: Bormann, Himmler, Goebbels, and, of course, the Führer himself in the German High Command’s Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker as a Hitler Youth Courier. In fact, Lehmann was Hitler’s last Courier.
In his book “In Hitler’s Bunker: A Boy Soldier’s Eyewitness Account of the Führer’s Last Days“, co-authored by Tim Carroll, Armin D. Lehmann wrote:
“Hitler seized power before I was five years old. It was not my choice to grow up under the form of government in which absolute power is held by a dictator.
At the age of ten, it was mandatory that I join the Deutsche Jungvolk (DJV), the junior branch of the Hitler Jugend or Hitler Youth. In January, 1945, I was drafted into the Volkssturm, the home defense. I was decorated (with the Iron Cross) for pulling battle-injured comrades out of the line of fire, after I had been seriously wounded myself. I was selected by Reichsjugendfuehrer Artur Axmann to be a member of a Hitler Jugend Helden (Hitler Youth Heroes) delegation to visit the Fuehrer in Berlin on his birthday. I met Adolf Hitler in the Reich Chancellery garden (also known as the Hinterhof or backyard) outside his bunker on his last birthday, April 20, 1945. I became one of his last couriers as a member of Artur Axmann’s staff.”
In the thick of the prevailing chaos, the Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary death squads brutally dealt with any signs of surrender primarily by shooting. In the Kurfürstendamm Boulevard, the SS squads shot people who put white flags outside their houses.
During the following days, the Soviet army rapidly advanced through the city and reached the city centre where close-quarters combat raged.
On April 22, 1945, during his afternoon military situation conference in the bunker, Hitler learned that the forces of General Steiner had not moved. He fell into a tearful rage and let loose a hysterical, shrieking denunciation of his generals. Hitler blatantly declared for the first time that the war was lost and his Reich was a failure. He said there was nothing left for him to do, but stay in Berlin and fight to the very end, and then shoot himself.
Hitler’s staff tried to convince him to escape to the mountains around Berchtesgaden and direct the remaining troops from there. But Hitler was adamant and told them his decision was final. He even insisted a public announcement be made.
Faced with the inevitability of defeat and determined to await defeat and death along with the Führer, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, took residence in the upper Vorbunker.
Magda Goebbels, quite attached to Hitler psychologically, was more devoted to Hitler than to her own husband. Adolf Hitler’s chauffeur, Erich Kempka, once remarked: “When Magda Goebbels was around Hitler, you could hear her ovaries rattling.”
While other leading Nazis had sent their children into the mountains or out of the country to protect them from the impending catastrophe, Magda Goebbels decided that she and her children would join her husband to bring their lives to what she called “the only possible and honourable conclusion”. She moved into the Vorbunker on April 22, 1945, along with her six children.
In March 1985, after the restoration of democracy in Uruguay, a law was passed granting amnesty to people who had been prosecuted by the dictatorship due to ideological reasons. The Tupamaro prisoners were set free under this law that covered political and related military crimes committed since 1962.
Raúl Sendic and José Mujica were released after imprisonment for over 14 years.
The MLN-T publicly renounced armed struggle and committed itself to left-wing parliamentary politics.
When academic freedom and university autonomy were restored in 1985, student organizations, repressed during the military regime, reestablished themselves. Several professors, dismissed for ideological reasons during the repression, were allowed to return to their posts.
During the late 1980s, labor unions and labor activists, targets of repression under the military regime resumed their labor activities leading to several labor actions and strikes that caused localized disruption of day-to-day activities.
Almost all labor grievances were resolved quickly, and none of the labor actions and strikes led to serious violence. In 1986, during a strike by the staff of the state-owned Administración Nacional de Combustibles, Alcohol, y Portland (ANCAP), the military stepped in to ensure distribution of fuel, but did not act in a law enforcement capacity.
During the late 1980s, human rights groups – local and international – were allowed to operate freely in Uruguay and these groups did not publish any credible reports of killings or disappearances during this period because the constitution forbade brutal treatment of prisoners, and there were fewer accusations of torture of prisoners after 1985. The most dramatic exception took place in mid-1989, when a bricklayer died while in police custody. This led to charges of police brutality and mistreatment. Although the police maintained the man hanged himself in his cell, controversy over the case led to the resignation of the minister of the interior and to the conviction of a deputy police chief for misconduct.
Raúl Sendic was afflicted with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He died on April 28, 1989 in Paris. His remains rest today in Montevideo.
In July 1986, a reorganized MLN-T appeared in the political arena with a marginal force of some several hundred members, and so, was politically insignificant. It was not legally recognized until May 1989. In order to run candidates in the November 1989 elections, the MLN-T, together with other ultra-leftist forces – the PVP, PST, and MRO – created the Movimiento de Participación Popular (MPP), a political party that was accepted within the Frente Amplio coalition.
At the end of 1986, Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado (The Law on the Expiration of the Punitive Claims of the State), called in short Ley de Caducidad (the Expiry Law) granted amnesty of sorts to the members of the military who committed crimes against humanity during the civic-military dictatorship of Uruguay. This law, co-written by legislators of Colorado and National parties and supported by the main opposition leader, Wilson Ferreira Aldunate was proposed by the first government of Julio María Sanguinetti. The Frente Amplio and other political and social organizations vehemently opposed the law. However, the law was passed by the Uruguayan Parliament on December 22, 1986 and published bearing the number 15848.
Human rights groups took serious exception to this law providing amnesty for military and police personnel charged with committing human rights abuses under the military regime. According to a study by the General Assembly, about 46 members of the military and police benefited from the amnesty. Human rights groups, however, claimed that the real number was well over 100. Military and police officers charged with corruption or with financial irregularities were not covered under the amnesty.
Though extremely controversial in nature, this law is still in force. In 1989 and 2009, Uruguayans voted in referendums and both times decided to keep the law.
Frente Amplio (English: Broad Front)
Until the 1971 elections, the Colorado and National parties together accounted for 90 percent of the votes cast; the remaining 10 percent of the votes were divided among various small parties. From 1984 onwards, some of the minor parties followed the lead of the major parties and sought to enhance their electoral chances through coalitions, such as the Frente Amplio (FA) (English: Broad Front).
Frente Amplio was founded in 1971 as a coalition of more than a dozen fractured leftist parties and movements. General Liber Seregni was the inaugural president of the front and its first nominee for the presidency of the nation. The front was declared illegal during 1973 military coup d’état. It emerged again in 1984 when democracy was restored in Uruguay.
In July 1986, a reorganized MLN-T appeared in the political arena with a marginal force of some several hundred members, and so, was politically insignificant. It was not legally recognized until May 1989. In order to run candidates in the November 1989 elections, the MLN-T, together with other ultra-leftist forces – the PVP, PST, and MRO – created the Movimiento de Participación Popular (MPP), a political party that was accepted within the Frente Amplio coalition.
By May 1989, the Frente Amplio consisted of a coalition of 14 political parties.
In 1989, the Frente Amplio won in the Montevideo municipal elections, its first win on the national level. The traditional two-party system was threatened for the first time by the victory of Frente Amplio.
The Frente Amplio was organized like the communist party. It had a party congress with decision-making powers, under which was the national plenum, a central committee-like body. A president, headed the 108-member national plenum, which met at least once every two months. A political bureau, which included the president, exercised day-to-day authority.
In 1990, the Colorado and National parties and, to a lesser extent, the Frente Amplio coalition, were the three major political entities in Uruguay.
In 1990, MLN-T published a newspaper and operated a radio station in Montevideo.
In the 1994 general elections, José Mujica was elected deputy. When he arrived at the parliament building on a Vespa scooter, a surprised parking attendant asked him: “Are you going to be here long?”
Mujica replied: “I certainly hope so.”
In 1999, José Mujica was elected senator.
Due in part to Mujica’s charisma, the Movimiento de Participación Popular (MPP) continued to grow in popularity and votes, and by 2004 it had become the largest of any faction within the Frente Amplio. In the elections of that year, Mujica was re-elected to the Senate, and the MPP obtained over 300,000 votes, thus consolidating its position as the primary political force within the coalition and a major force behind the victory of presidential candidate Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas.
On March 1, 2005, President Tabaré Vázquez appointed José Mujica as the Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries since Mujica’s own professional background was in the agricultural sector. Upon becoming minister, Mujica resigned his position as a senator. He held this position until a cabinet change in 2008, and returned to his seat in the Senate.
In 2005, after many years of living together, José Mujica married Lucía Topolansky, a former Tupamaro who orchestrated the raid on Financiera Monty. They have no children. Having declined to live in the opulent presidential palace or use its staff, the couple lives on a farm in the outskirts of Montevideo. They cultivate chrysanthemums for sale.
On November 17, 2006, former president, Juan Maria Bordaberry, and his former foreign minister Juan Carlos Blanco Estradé were placed under arrest following an order by the judge Roberto Timbal, in connection with the 1976 assassination in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of two legislators, Senator Zelmar Michelini of the Christian Democratic Party and House leader Héctor Gutiérrez of the National Party as part of Operation Condor. The prosecution argued the assassinations were a part of Operation Condor in which the military regimes of Uruguay and Argentina coordinated actions against dissidents. Judge Timbal ruled that since the killings took place outside Uruguay, they were not covered by the amnesty enacted after the return of civilian rule in 1985.
In 2009, the Uruguayan election took place amid a series of landmark prosecutions for human rights abuses perpetrated during the 1973-1985 military regime. Gregorio Alvarez, the last of Uruguay’s dictators, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his participation in the bloody “Operation Condor.”
The first round of the presidential election on October 25, 2009, featured three main candidates:
Pedro Bordaberry of the Colorado Party (and son of a former Uruguayan dictator).
Former President Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995) of the center-right National Party.
José “Pepe” Mujica, ex-Tupamaru guerrilla of the ruling and left-leaning Frente Amplio coalition.
In the first round of voting, the charismatic Mujica got about 48 percent of the votes compared to 30 percent for Lacalle.
The second round of voting took place on November 29, 2009. José Mujica won the presidential election with over 50 percent of the votes, expected to continue the moderate left policies of President Tabare Vazquez.
José Mujica took the office of president of Uruguay on March 1, 2010.
Following are the only words he said to the media that day:
“Despite all this lip service, the world is not going to change.”
In 1973, after the military staged a coup, the Uruguayan military’s “Doctrine of National Security,” a pseudo-scientific analysis of society grounded in geopolitics, postulated that sovereignty no longer resided in the people, but derived instead from the necessities of state survival.
This was in essence the same ideology made famous by the Brazilian generals after their takeover in 1964. The core of this doctrine was expressed by Brazil’s General Artur Golbery do Couto e Silva in his book “Geopolítica do Brasil,” which basically, describes a world split into two opposing blocs. The capitalist and Christian West on one side, and the communist and atheistic East on the other, each with its own beliefs that were deemed implacable.
Like the Brazilian generals, the Uruguayan generals too considered themselves factored in the Western bloc and were accordingly involved in a relentless confrontation with the resistance. This struggle warranted a conflict wherein there was absolutely no room for wavering or doubt against a clever, cunning and ruthless antagonist. Consequently, it was essential to compromise on a number of secular freedoms to protect and save the country.
The Uruguayan military regime intensified its “Preventive” repression. Thousands of Uruguayans were jailed, accused of politically motivated crimes. Many were sacked from their government jobs for political reasons. While many were tortured and killed. A whole lot of people, considered by the dictatorship as political or ideological threat to the military junta, just disappeared – another method of the military to silence the opposition and break the determination of the guerillas.
The civil-military dictatorship restricted freedom of the press and associations, and banned political party activities. The junta imprisoned, killed, and tortured hundreds of Tupamaros including most of its leaders.
José Mujica spent most of the 1970s in and out of prison. He escaped several times, only to be caught again.
After the military coup in 1973, Raúl Sendic and other MLN-T leaders including José Mujica were apprehended. They served 14 years of imprisonment.
Sendic and eight other leaders were singled out as “special” prisoners. They were shuttled around in groups of three between military prisons and were placed in solitary confinement in dungeon-like cells with revolting sanitary conditions. At a military base in Paso de los Toros,a city of the Tacuarembó Department in Uruguay, Mujica and other Tupamaro guerrillas were confined for more than two years at the bottom of a drained pool, with sheet metal placed atop to block the sunlight.
The Tupamaros were subjected to continuous physical and psychological torture. At one stage, Mujica went mad. He started hearing static, as if a radio stuck between stations had been left on. He would scream for someone to turn it off. However, even while serving his prison sentence, Mujica continued to maintain his contact with other Tupamaro leaders, including Raúl Sendic.
Some Tupamaros became insane, while others slowly changed their ideological outlook.
In 1973, when the military took power into their hands, they did so in the face of a decade and a half of economic stagnation, high inflation, and increased social unrest. Massive repression by the armed forces brought the social unrest under control and eliminated the urban guerrilla threat. Economic policy and performance soon became the regime’s ultimate claim to legitimacy and justification for its harsh rule.
In 1976, as reported by Amnesty International, Uruguay had more political prisoners per capita than any other nation around the world, and around 10% of its population emigrated for economic or political reasons.
Operation Condor (Spanish: Operación Cóndor; Portuguese: Operação Condor) was formally launched in 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America. Condor’s key members were the governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. The governments of Ecuador and Peru joined later in more peripheral roles.
This clandestine operation was created to expunge communist and Soviet influence and ideas, and to suppress active or potential opposition movements against the participating governments. It was a campaign of political repression and terror involving intelligence operations and assassination of opponents.
By 1976 Operation Condor, which had already accumulated centralized information from South American intelligence agencies for years, was at its peak.
Operation Condor, took place in the context of the Cold War between Western societies and the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) documents released in 2002, Operation Condor’s policies and brutal methods were known and tolerated by the State Department of the United States, led by Henry Kissinger under the Gerald Ford’s presidency. In fact, Operation Condor had the tacit approval of the United States, which provided technical support and supplied military aid to the participants until at least 1978, and again after Republican Ronald Reagan became president in 1981.
Some estimate the actual number of deaths directly attributable to Operación Cóndor to 60,000, and possibly more.
National elections were to be held in Uruguay in 1976. Unfortunately, on May 18, 1976, Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz, a Uruguayan political figure and member of the National Party, was abducted by a paramilitary group of Operación Cóndor. On May 21, 1976, his body along with three other bodies were found in an abandoned Torino sedan, at the corner of Perito Moreno and Dellepiane in Buenos Aires. The other three were Zelmar Michelini, former senator and member of the Broad Front, and two Tupamaros militants, William Whitelaw and Rosario del Carmen Barredo. All four of them had been tortured before they were killed.
On June 1976, President Bordaberry submitted a proposal to the military calling for the elimination of political parties and the creation of a permanent dictatorship with himself as president. The armed forces forced him to resign. Bordaberry was replaced by Alberto Demichelli Lizaso, president of the Council of State, who, through Institutional Act No. 1, decreed the suspension of elections. Three months later, Aparicio Méndez, succeeded Demichelli. Méndez essentially decreed the political participation of all individuals who had taken part in the 1966 and 1971 elections. Political life in Uruguay came to a halt.
In 1977, the military government made public its political plans, namely, over the following few years, the National Party and the Colorado Party would be purged, a new constitution would be submitted to a referendum.
In 1980, a charter that bestowed the military implicit veto power over all government policies was drafted up by the chiefs of the armed forces, and they chose to legitimize themselves by submitting this constitution to a referendum. This constitutional project was opposed by Batlle Ibáñez, Carlos Julio Pereyra, Pachequist dissidents, a Herrerist faction led by Luis Alberto Lacalle de Herrera, and the Broad Front. They considered it authoritarian and in conflict with Uruguay’s democratic way of life.
When the citizens of Uruguay voted, they expressed their dissent by rejecting the proposed new constitution by 57% to 43% thereby dealing a tremendous blow to the military regime.
The Reemergence of Political Parties (1980-84)
After the electoral defeat of the military’s constitution, retired Lieutenant General Gregorio Alvarez Armelino, one of the leaders of the coup, became president of Uruguay. Political dialogue was slowly restored and the “1982 Political Parties Law” was enacted to regulate the election of political leaders, the functioning of political conventions, and the preparation of political platforms. The new law excluded the left from participating to avoid a return to the situation prior to 1973.
In 1982, the candidates of the National Party, the Colorado Party, and the Unión Cívica, a small conservative Catholic party, were elected. Although officially banned, candidates belonging to a divided left also participated. Some Uruguyans cast blank ballots, while others believed it would be more useful to back the democratic sectors of traditional parties.
The election results were once again a blow to the military because sectors in both traditional parties opposing the dictatorship won overwhelmingly.
After the 1982 elections, the dialogue between politicians and the military gathered momentum though there were setbacks.
In 1964, the Convención Nacional de Trabajadores (CNT) was founded, but it was dissolved in the wake of a general strike in 1973, when 18 council members just “disappeared”. The Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores (PIT) reclaimed the banner of the CNT and was authorized to hold a public demonstration on May 1, 1983. Later, the union was restored under the present name Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores – Convención Nacional de Trabajadores (PIT-CNT) to show its link with the earlier organization.
In November 1983, all opposition parties including the left staged a massive political rally, demanding elections with full restoration of democratic norms and without political proscriptions.
Students, united under the Asociación Social y Cultural de Estudiantes de la Enseñanza Pública (ASCEEP), were allowed to march through the streets of Montevideo.
In March 1984, the PIT organized a civil strike and freed General Líber Seregni Mosquera, leader of the Broad Front, imprisoned since January 11, 1976, by the military regime.
By mid-1984 yet another civil strike took place, this time organized by political parties and social groups.
On November 25, 1984, general elections were held in Uruguay. Julio María Sanguinetti Coirolo, a Uruguayan politician, lawyer and journalist, and former Minister for Industry and Commerce, during the presidency of Jorge Pacheco, won 31.2% of the votes, defeating Alberto Zumarán of the National Party.
After being sworn in as president on March 1, 1985, Sanguinetti led the transition to democracy with dignity and fairness, although the legacy of human rights violations under the dictatorship proved a fly in the ointment.