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.
Previous – Part 9: Suicide of Joseph Goebbels and His Wife
Next Part 11: The Breakout from the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Prelude (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 1: The Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 2: Hitler retreats to the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 3: Life in the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 4: The Doubts About Loyalty to the Führer (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 5: Hitler’s Marriage and Last Testaments (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 6: Preamble to Suicide (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 7: Suicide of Hitler and Eva Braun (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 8: Burning the Bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 9: Suicide of Joseph Goebbels and His Wife (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 11: The Breakout from the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 12: The Breakout by Martin Bormann
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 13: What Happened to Hitler’s Body?
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 14: The Fate of the Three Messengers
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Appendix A: Adolf Hitler’s Private Testament (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Appendix B: Adolf Hitler’s Last Political Testament (tvaraj.com)
- Death of Adolf Hitler – Appendix C: Marriage Certificate of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun (tvaraj.com)
- Battle of Berlin (en.wikipedia.org)
- Death of Adolf Hitler (en.wikipedia.org)
- The Death of Hitler (hhistoryplace.com)
- Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz: Last President of a United Germany (ihr.org)