Großadmiral Karl Dönitz had left the Führerbunker on April 21, 1945. He was in a remote hideout at Plön, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. He received the following message from Martin Bormann:
“The Führer has appointed you, Herr Admiral, as his successor in place of Reichsmarschall Göring. Confirmation in writing follows. You are hereby authorized to take any measures which the situation demands. — Bormann.”
This surprised Dönitz. In his memoirs, he describes his reactions:
“… This took me completely by surprise. Since July 20, 1944, I had not spoken to Hitler at all except at some large gathering. … I had never received any hint on the subject from anyone else…. I assumed that Hitler had nominated me because he wished to clear the way to enable an officer of the Armed Forces to put an end to the war. That this assumption was incorrect, I did not find out until the winter of 1945-46 in Nuremberg, when for the first time I heard the provisions of Hitler’s will…. When I read the signal I did not for a moment doubt that it was my duty to accept the task … it had been my constant fear that the absence of any central authority would lead to chaos and the senseless and purposeless sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives … I realized … that the darkest moment in any fighting man’s life, the moment when he must surrender unconditionally, was at hand. I realized, too, that my name would remain forever associated with the act and that hatred and distortion of facts would continue to try and besmirch my honor. But duty demanded that I pay no attention to any such considerations. My policy was simple — to try and save as many lives as I could ...“
On the morning of May 1, 1945, Dönitz received the following radio message, classified as “Secret and Personal,” from Bormann:
“[Hitler’s] Will now in force. Coming to you as quickly as possible. Pending my arrival you should in my opinion refrain from public statement.“
On perusing this message, Dönitz presumed that Hitler was dead, but knew not how. The public had to be told of the Führer’s death expressed in respectful terms:
“… To denigrate him … as, I felt, many around me would have liked me to do, would, in my opinion, have been a mean and cheap thing to do … I believed that decency demanded that I should word my announcement in the manner in which it was, in fact, worded. Nor, I think, would I do otherwise today…“
The same day, Dönitz received a third and final radio message from the Berlin chancellery classified as “Personal and Secret” but signed this time by Goebbels and Bormann:
“Führer died yesterday, 1530 hours. In his will dated April 29 he appoints you as President of the Reich, Goebbels as Reich Chancellor, Bormann as Party Minister, Seyss-Inquart as Foreign Minister. The will, by order of the Führer, is being sent to you and to Field Marshal Schoerner and out of Berlin for safe custody. Bormann will try to reach you today to explain the situation. Form and timing of announcement to the Armed Forces and the public is left to your discretion. Acknowledge.“
Then the voice of Großadmiral Karl Dönitz, named by Hitler in his political testament as his successor with the title of Reichspräsident, was relayed from his remote hideout in North Germany. He said:
“German men and women, soldiers of the armed forces: Our Führer, Adolf Hitler, has fallen. In the deepest sorrow and respect the German people bow.
At an early date he had recognized the frightful danger of Bolshevism and dedicated his existence to this struggle. At the end of his struggle, of his unswerving straight road of life, stands his hero’s death in the capital of the German Reich. His life has been one single service for Germany. His activity in the fight against the Bolshevik storm flood concerned not only Europe, but the entire civilized world.
Der Führer has appointed me to be his successor.
Fully conscious of the responsibility, I take over the leadership of the German people at this fateful hour.
It is my first task to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevist enemy. For this aim alone the military struggle continues. As far and for so long as achievement of this aim is impeded by the British and the Americans, we shall be forced to carry on our defensive fight against them as well. Under such conditions, however, the Anglo-Americans will continue the war not for their own people, but solely for the spreading of Bolshevism in Europe.
What the German people have achieved in battle and borne in the homeland during the struggle of this war is unique in history. In the coming time of need and crisis of our people I shall endeavor to establish tolerable conditions of living for our women, men and children so far as this lies in my power.
For all this, I need your help. Give me your confidence because your road is mine as well. Maintain order and discipline in town and country. Let everybody do his duty at his own post. Only thus shall we mitigate the sufferings that the coming time will bring to each of us; only thus shall we be able to prevent a collapse. If we do all that is in our power, God will not forsake us after so much suffering and sacrifice.“
Even as he announced the death of Adolf Hitler, Dönitz was not aware of the suicide of Joesph Goebbels and his wife, and the murder of their children.
Dönitz then authorized a withdrawal of the German forces to the west hoping to save the army and the nation by negotiating a partial surrender to the allied forces. This move enabled about 1.8 million German soldiers to avoid capture by the Soviets. However, the troops continued to fight until May 8, 1945.
“For us, we have burnt our bridges. We cannot go back, but neither do we want to go back. We are forced to extremes and therefore resolved to proceed to extremes.” – Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.
On May 1, 1945, after Hitler committed suicide, Joseph Goebbels looked very depressed. He said:
“It is a great pity that such a man is not with us any longer. But there is nothing to be done. For us everything is lost now and the only way left for us is the one which Hitler chose. I will follow his example.“
Though Hitler in his political testament had appointed Joseph Goebbels as Reich Chancellor, the latter considered it as an empty title. He knew that Karl Dönitz whose sole concern was to negotiate with the western Allies to save Germany from Soviet occupation, would not want a notorious figure like him to be the head of his government.
Even though Hitler had signed the order to allow a breakout from the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker on April 29, 1945, Goebbels told Vice-Admiral Hans-Erich Voss that he would not entertain the idea of either surrender to the Soviets or escape:
“I was the Reich Minister of Propaganda and led the fiercest activity against the Soviet Union, for which they would never pardon me.”
Moreover, Goebbels could not escape because he was Berlin’s Defense Commissioner and he considered it would be disgraceful for him to abandon his post.
In the morning on May 1, 1945, Joseph Goebbels, in his official capacity as the new Chancellor, dictated a letter and ordered German General Hans Krebs, under a white flag, to deliver the letter to General Vasily Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army, commanding the Soviet forces in central Berlin. In this letter, Goebbels informed Chuikov of Hitler’s death, and requested a ceasefire, hinting that the establishment of a National Socialist government hostile to Western plutocracy would be beneficial to the Soviet Union.When this request was rejected, Goebbels knew that further efforts were futile.
Shortly after, he dictated a postscript to Hitler’s testament:
“The Führer has given orders for me, in case of a breakdown of defense of the Capital of the Reich, to leave Berlin and to participate as a leading member in a government appointed by him. For the first time in my life, I must categorically refuse to obey a command of the Führer. My wife and my children agree with this refusal. In any other case, I would feel myself… a dishonorable renegade and vile scoundrel for my entire further life, who would lose the esteem of himself along with the esteem of his people, both of which would have to form the requirement for further duty of my person in designing the future of the German Nation and the German Reich.“
In the afternoon on May 1, 1945, before the start of the breakout from the Führerbunker, Vice-Admiral Hans-Erich Voss and about 10 generals and officers, went individually to Goebbels’s shelter to say goodbye, and asked Goebbels to join them. But he replied:
“The captain must not leave his sinking ship. I have thought about it all and decided to stay here. I have nowhere to go because with little children I will not be able to make it.”
Magda Goebbels bore six children to Nazi propaganda minister Dr. Joseph Goebbels between 1932 and 1940 – five daughters and one son. According to some writers the names of all the children began with ‘H’ as a tribute to Adolf Hitler, but there is no evidence to support this contention; rather, it supports that Magda’s ‘H’ naming was the idea of her first husband, Günther Quandt who named his other two children after his first wife beginning with ‘H’.
Magda and Joseph Goebbels hated each other, and were estranged for a long period since the husband blackmailed his wife emotionally. Their marriage was held together on Hitlers’s orders only.
The Goebbels sought the help of Helmut Kunz, an SS dentist, to kill their six children.
Magda Goebbels told her children that they needed an inoculation. According to Kunz’s testimony, he injected the children with morphine. Magda then put the children to bed. She then asked Kunz to help her give the children cyanide once they were asleep, but he refused. She then turned to one of Hitler’s doctors, Ludwig Stumpfegger. He helped her crush cyanide vials between the children’s teeth as they slept.
Around 8:15 pm, Goebbels and his wife left the Vorbunker and went up and out to the garden of the Reich Chancellery. They were followed by Goebbels’s adjutant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Günther Schwägermann. While Schwägermann was busy preparing the gasoline, Magda bit a vial of cyanide and, Goebbels shot her with a pistol, to make doubly sure that she died, before turning it on himself. Schwägermann ordered one of the soldiers to shoot Goebbels again because he was unable to do it himself.
The bodies of Joseph Goebbels and his wife were then burned in a shell crater, but owing to the lack of petrol, the burning was only partly effective. The remains were not buried.
In the above manipulated vintage image, the visage of the uniformed Harald Quandt, stepson of Joseph Goebbels born to Magda Behrend Rietschel and Günther Quandt, was inserted and retouched. Actually Harald was away on military duties when the photo of the Goebbels family was taken. He was not present when his half-siblings were killed. He was safe in Canada, incarcerated in a prisoner-of-war camp.
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.