Some of the SS personnel, who did not join any of the breakout groups, opted to commit suicide. General Hans Krebs, Deputy Chief of the Army General Staff, and General Wilhelm Burgdorf, the Chief Adjutant to Adolf Hitler, along with SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Franz Schädle of the SS-Begleitkommando des Führers, stayed behind.
Since the field hospital in the Reich Chancellery above needed power and water, Johannes Hentschel, the master electro-mechanic for the bunker complex, opted to stay even after everyone else had either left or committed suicide.
At 6 am, on May 2, 1945, General Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the Berlin Defense Area, unconditionally surrendered the city to General Vasily Chuikov, the commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army.
Around 9 am,, the first Russian combat troops arrived at the bunker complex unopposed. They were followed by the Russian search teams of “SMERSH”, equivalent of CIC of the Allieds.
SMERSH (acronym of Spetsyalnye MEtody Razoblacheniya SHpyonov or Special Methods of Spy Detection, but also referred to as SMERt‘ SHpionam; “Death to spies”) was an umbrella name for three independent counterintelligence agencies in the Red Army formed in late 1942 or even earlier, but officially founded on April 14, 1943.
The Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) abbreviated НКВД (NKVD) soldiers captured more than 50 officers and men who were still there in the bunker complex, including Johannes Hentschel. Then they found out that the bulk of the Reich Chancellery group had decamped during the night.
Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Klimenko, the leader of one of the search teams found the cadaverous remains of the partly burnt corpses of the Goebbels and filmed them. He immediately sent the remains to the Russians headquarters in Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison.
Another search team found an old oak water tank which contained many dead bodies. They pulled out a particular body that resembled Hitler.
The dead man was one of Hitler’s doubles, named Gustav Weler. The Russians mistakenly believed the body to be that of Hitler because of his identical moustache and haircut. They photographed and filmed the dead body of was Weler.
The security personnel in the bunker, responsible for Hitler’s safety, may have had Gustav Weler, a doppelgänger or Body-double of Adolf Hitler, to camouflage and help Hitler escape, if Hitler decided to take part in a breakout. But, after Hitler’s death, they would have realized that any double if found would be an embarrassment, and therefore disposed him by shooting in the forehead, in an attempt to confuse the Russian troops.
Gustav Weler’s body was taken to Lefortovo prison in Moscow, for further investigations, and was laid to rest in its yard.
When Ivan Klimenko returned to the bunker the next day, May 3, 1945, he found the body resembling Hitler, displayed prominently in the main hall of the Reich Chancellery. Ignoring the darned socks, worn by the dead man, Klimenko assumed the crucial problem of finding Hitler dead or alive had been solved.
Then probing inside the darkened bunker the Russians found the bodies of many Germans who had committed suicide, including that of General Hans Krebs. The bodies of General Wilhelm Burgdorf and SS-Obersturmbannführer Franz Schädle were never found.
The Russians then discovered the bodies of the six Goebbels children lying in their beds in the Vorbunker. They were wearing white nightclothes with the clear mark of cyanide shown on their faces. According to the autopsy the Russians carried out, bruising on the face of 12-year-old Helga Goebbels indicated that she was forced to ingest cyanide.
Finding Hitler’s body
On the following day, May 4, 1945, Ivan Churakov, a Russian soldier, climbed into a nearby bomb crater strewn with burned paper. He saw some partly burnt furry object and he hollered, “Comrade Lieutenant Colonel, there are legs here.“
They started to dig and pulled from the crater two dead dogs, and digging further they found the burnt bodies of a man and a woman. At first Klimenko did not even think that the two burnt corpses might be that of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. Since he believed that Hitler’s corpse was already displayed prominently in the Chancellery and only needed to be positively identified, he therefore ordered the newly discovered burnt cadavers to be wrapped in blankets and reburied.
On Saturday, May 5, 1945, Comrade Klimenko while pondering over his finding the burnt bodies of a man and a woman from the burnt crater rushed back and exhumed the two bodies. He transported both bodies to Plötzensee Prison. There he was ordered to send them on to the 496th Field Hospital in Buch, a German locality within the Berlin borough of Pankow.
On May 8, 1945, the Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day), the first preliminary forensic autopsy was performed on both bodies. Positive identification took place in a very simple yet quite foolproof.
A few days later, the Russians moved Hitler’s body to a different gravesite outside Berlin. This would be just one of several moves the corpse would make in the next few decades.
In early June 1945, the Russians re-buried the body of dead male identified as that of Hitler, in a forest near the town of Rathenau. Eight months later, they moved it again, to the SMERSH facility in the Soviet Army garrison in Magdeburg on February 21, 1946.
Soviet leaders were quite worried about leaving Hitler’s body in the garrison or burying it somewhere away from their watchful eye. They feared Hitler’s gravesite would eventually turn into a shrine for neo-Nazis.
Hitler’s body remained in Magdeburg until March 1970, when the Soviets decided to abandon the garrison and turn it over to the East German civilian government.
KGB director Yuri Andropov decided that Hitler’s remains should be destroyed. He authorized an operation to dispose the body. The KGB kept the fragments of a jawbone and skull, and stored it in government buildings in Moscow.
Yuri Andropov selected a KGB officer Vladimir Gumenyuk to pick a secret final resting place for Hitler’s remains. Armed with a secret coordinate to the last burial spot in the Soviet Army garrison in Magdeburg, Gumenyuk led a three-man team to dig out the remains and take them away for destruction.
Since the Soviet garrison was surrounded by German-built high-rise buildings in Magdeburg, to avoid being seen, Gumenyuk’s men pitched a tent over the spot where the bones had been buried. After some digging with no results, the team realized they had counted 45 meters instead of 45 paces while following the directions to the corpse. They put the dirt back, and moved the tent to the correct spot measuring in paces.
After securing the remains, Gumenyuk’s team disguised themselves as fishermen and drove to the mountains. They stopped along a small stream. There, they lit two campfires. One to make soup and the other to burn the remains further and turn them to ashes.
On September 26, 2009, the History Channel aired a documentary called Hitler’s Escape. For the making of the film, Connecticut archaeologist and bone specialist Nick Bellantoni flew to Moscow to inspect the Hitler trophies at the Russian State Archive which included the skull fragment with a bullet hole through it, which the Russians dug up outside the Führerbunker in 1946, as well as bloodstains from the bunker sofa on which Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun were believed to have committed suicide. The Russian government has been publicly claiming since 2000 that these articles belonged to Hitler.
“I had the reference photos the Sovietstook of thesofa in 1945 and I was seeing theexact samestains on the fragments of wood and fabric in front of me, so I knew I was working with the real thing.” (sic)
Examination of the skull by Bellantoni revealed it belonged to a young woman and not that of the 56-year-old dictator. “The bone seemed very thin. Male bone tends to be more robust,” he said. “And the sutures where the skull plates come together seemed to correspond to someone under 40.”
Bellantoni applied cotton swabs and took samples for DNA tests during the one hour he was allowed with the Hitler trove. The swabs were then flown back to Connecticut. At the university’s Centre for Applied Genetics, Linda Strausbaugh, worked for three days on the samples sent byBellatoni. “We used the same routines and controls that would have been used in a crime lab,” she said.
The DNA analysis revealed that the skull undoubtedly belonged to a female, and the only positive physical proof that Hitler had shot himself had suddenly been rendered worthless. The result of the DNA analysis reopened the mystery surrounding Hitler’s death.
If Hitler allegedly shot himself in the right temple, then why did the Russians exhibit what is claimed to be Hitler’s cranium, showing a bullet hole in the back of his head?
Russian officials, however, rejected the findings of Nick Bellantoni.
On May 1, 1945, around 11:00 pm, Martin Bormann left the Führerbunker in one of the ten breakout groups that included Adolf Hitler’s personal surgeon Ludwig Stumpfegger, Hitler Youth leader Artur Axmann, Hitler’s pilot Hans Baur, Erich Kempka and Werner Naumann, State Secretary in Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.
They made their way north along the Friedrichstrasse to the Weidendammer Bridge, which was under heavy Russian fire and blocked by an anti-tank barrier at its north end. So, they withdrew to the south end of the bridge where a few German tanks soon gathered.
A Tiger B (Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. B) tank spearheaded the first attempt to storm across the bridge, but it was destroyed by the Soviet artillery. The violent explosion stunned Bormann, Stumpfegger, and Baur; and the bright flash almost blinded Kempka. Hans Baur was left with gunpowder burns that remained in his pores for many months. Baur then rejoined Bormann, Stumpfegger and Axmann at a ruined tenement. He crawled up the stairs and through a window counted around 20 Russian soldiers in the courtyard and reported to Bormann, and they moved on.
The German tanks made two more attempts and on the third attempt, made around 1:00 am, Bormann’s group using the tanks as their shield managed to cross the bridge and pressed forward as far as the Ziegelstrasse, but retreated back to the Weidendammer Bridge.
Realizing they were not going to move ahead as a group, Bormann, Stumpfegger, and Axmann left the rest of their group and walked along the railway tracks towards Lehrter station.
On reaching the station, Bormann and Stumpfegger decided to go east on Invalidestrasse and Axmann decided to go alone in the opposite direction of his two companions.
When Axmann came across a Soviet patrol, he hurried back to catch up with Bormann and Stumpfegger. Axmann was stunned when he saw the dead bodies of Bormann and Stumpfegger near the railroad switching yard. He knew it was them because he saw their faces clearly under moonlight. He could see no signs of an explosion. He did not have time to check the bodies. So, he did not know how they died. He assumed that they had been shot in the back. Axmann avoided capture by Soviet troops and disappeared from Berlin.
After Bormann, Stumpfegger, and Axmann left him at the Weidendammer Bridge, Hans Baur was shot in the legs. Gangrene set in and his right lower leg was amputated later in Posen on June 10, 1945.
The breakout by others
Otto Günsche left the Führerbunker after midnight on May 1, 1945. He was captured by Soviet troops encircling the city on May 2, 1945 and was flown to Moscow for interrogation by the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs).
The last courier of the Hitler, the 17-year-old Hitler Youth, Armin Lehmann, mislead to the end, until the suicides of the top Nazis, caught him off guard. After hiding in cellars and disused buildings, he succeeded in reaching the American Occupation Zone two months later. He realized that he was just a minor figure in the grand scheme of things placed in a critical location at a critical time.
SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Georg Betz left the Reich Chancellery as part of one of the groups attempting to break out. By midnight Betz was part of a large group of German soldiers and civilians who crossed the Weidendammer Bridge that was under heavy fire from Soviet tanks and guns. Betz was wounded during the crossing.
Heinz Linge, valet of Adolf Hitler, was one of the last to leave the Führerbunker in the early morning hours of May 2, 1945. He teamed up with Hitler’s chauffeur SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Erich Kempka. They left the bunker complex on the night of May 1, 1945, along with one of the SS-Hauptscharführer Heinrich Doose, a driver who was a member of his staff. During their escape, they came across the wounded Betz and left him in the care of Kaethe Hausermann, but Betz succumbed to his wounds the following day.
Linge got separated from Kempka and was captured near Seestraße station. Several days later, after his identity was revealed, two Russian officers escorted Linge by train to Moscow, where he was thrown into the notorious Lubjanka Prison.
Rochus Misch, bodyguard, courier, telephone operator and attendant of Adolf Hitler, fled the bunker on May 2, 1945, only hours before the Red Army seized it. He was captured by the Russians shortly thereafter. Misch was sent to the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, where he was tortured in an attempt to extract information regarding Hitler’s exact fate because the Soviets did not believe Hitler was dead.
The surrender of Berlin
In the early morning of May 2, 1945, the Soviets captured the Reich Chancellery.
General Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the Berlin Defense Area, unconditionally surrendered the city to General Vasily Chuikov, the commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army at 6 am.
Some of the SS personnel, opted to commit suicide. General Hans Krebs and General Wilhelm Burgdorf, along with SS SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Franz Schädle of the SS-Begleitkommando des Führers, stayed behind.
In the early morning hours of May 2, 1945, the trio committed suicide by gunshot to the head.
Johannes Hentschel, the master electro-mechanic for the bunker complex, stayed after everyone else had either left or committed suicide as the field hospital in the Reich Chancellery above needed power and water. He surrendered to the Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) abbreviated НКВД (NKVD) search teams that entered the bunker complex at 09:00 am on May 2, 1945.
The NKVD soldiers captured more than 50 officers and men who were still there in the bunker complex and found out that the bulk of the Reich Chancellery group had decamped during the night and did not know where they were.
They saw the macabre remains of the partly burnt corpses of the Goebbels and filmed them. Then inside the bunker they found the bodies of many Germans who had committed suicide including that of General Hans Krebs, General Wilhelm Burgdorf, and SS-Obersturmbannführer Franz Schädle.
The Russians discovered the bodies of the Goebbels’ six children only on May 3, 1945. They were lying in their beds in the Vorbunker, wearing white nightclothes with the clear mark of cyanide shown on their faces. According to the autopsy the Russians carried out, bruising on the face of 12-year-old Helga Goebbels indicated that cyanide was administered to her forcibly.
A few days later, Hans-Erich Voss captured by the Russians and brought back to the bunker identified the partly burned bodies of Joseph and Magda Goebbels and the bodies of their children.
Although Hitler had appointed General Helmuth Weidling as the defense commandant of Berlin, SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke remained free of Weidling’s command to maintain his defense objectives of the Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker. The aggregated total for the Berlin’s defense of General Weidling’s LVI Panzer Corps and the other few units, and Mohnke’s SS Kampfgruppe (combat group), totaled roughly 45,000 soldiers and 40,000 Volkssturm (people’s militia). They faced a superior number of Soviet soldiers. There were about 1.5 million Soviet troops allocated for the investment and the assault on the Berlin Defence Area.
After the death of the Führer the occupants of the Führerbunker were now free to make their escape from Berlin based on the orders issued by Hitler the day before he committed suicide along with his wife Eva Braun. Most planned was to escape from Berlin to the Allies on the western side of the Elbe or to the German Army to the North.
The breakout by SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke’s group
Prior to the breakout, Wilhelm Mohnke briefed all commanders who could be reached within the Zitadelle sector about Hitler’s death and the planned break out. They split up into ten main groups. Mohnke, split up the Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker soldiers and personnel into ten main groups.
Mohnke planned to break out towards the German Army which was positioned in Prinzenallee. His group included: secretary Traudl Junge, secretary Gerda Christian, secretary Else Krüger, Hitler’s dietician, Constanze Manziarly, Dr. Ernst-Günther Schenck, Walther Hewel and many others.
Before leaving the Führerbunker, Traudl Junge approached General Hans Krebs to say goodbye. Hans straightened up and smoothed his uniform before greeting her for the last time.
On the night of May 1, 1945, Mohnke led the group out of the Reich Chancellery. It was an apocalyptic moment for him because he had been the first duty officer of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) at the building and now was leaving it as its last battle commander.
As planned, the group headed along the subway, to the Friedrichstrasse station, but their route was blocked because of the flooding of the Berlin underground on April 28, 1945, to slow the advancing Soviet troops. So, they went above ground and found Berlin in flames, and Russian shells bursting everywhere around them.
At noon, Wilhelm Mohnke’s group joined hundreds of other Germans, military and civilian, bent on seeking refuge at the “Schultheiss-Patzenhofer Brewery” on Prinzenallee. Although the brewery housed large air-raid shelters, it had hardly been hit by the enemy aircrafts and was unscathed.
There was a large courtyard, forming the center of the main building. The morale and discipline was deteriorating rapidly among the simple soldiers and lower ranks in the German army. Not certain of where the Russians were, the soldiers decided it was good a time as any to take a sunbath, on this sunny afternoon of Wednesday, May 2, 1945.
The Russians were not far-off. Having heard the news of the capitulation by the Germans, they were simply biding their time by prolonging the May Day celebrations of the day before.
General Mohnke mustered his senior officers for a last staff meeting. Most officers thought the Red Army would storm the brewery by nightfall. Mohnke decided to surrender to the Russians.
Around 2:30 pm, Mohnke along with a non-SS officer named Clausen, sought out the Russian general commanding the Wedding sector in Berlin. However, Mohnke returned soon, leaving Clausen to mediate.
Knowing that it was impossible to get through the Soviet cordons, Mohnke told the soldiers what the officers already knew — that Adolf Hitler was dead. But he did not tell them that Hitler committed suicide. He took upon himself the responsibility of telling all officers and men that their oath of allegiance was binding only up to the Führer’s death and advised them, to escape capture, at the first chance, even by changing into civilian clothes.
While many eagerly slipped out of the brewery that same afternoon, and headed north and west, some others had located stored kegs of beer; and drinking parties were in progress. Several hysterical women fleeing the invading Russians, threw modesty into thin air and flung themselves into the arms of startled and exhausted men and paved the way to group sex.
Most of the SS officers discreetly retreated into the cellar caverns of the brewery and spent a serene afternoon.
A while later, the Russians encircled the brewery and ordered those inside to surrender.
Mohnke turned to the women in his party and asked them to try to get out of Berlin and go north to Admiral Dönitz’s headquarters and give him a report he had in his hand. Gerda Christian, one of the secretaries of Hitler and two other women persuaded Traudl Junge to carry the report.
They were still about ten miles to the outskirts of Berlin. A Luftwaffe sergeant, a Berliner who knew his way around the city, volunteered to escort the women out of Berlin. The women took off their steel helmets, pistols and military jackets, shook hands with the men and left.
When the small group came out to the courtyard, they saw members of the Volkssturm who had already thrown down their weapons and surrendered. The Russian soldiers were handing out cigarettes and schnapps to them. The small group ambled through the crowd in the courtyard surrounded by victorious Russian soldiers as if they were invisible.
Led by the Luftwaffe sergeant, the women managed to slip out of Berlin. They reached the River Elbe that evening and hid overnight in the woods. They eventually made it to the west.
General Mohnke was captured by the Soviets on the morning of the following day, while hiding in a cellar off the Schönhauser Alle, one of the most important streets of the Prenzlauer Berg district.