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.