Despite the implorations of his staff, Hitler refused to leave Berlin, and finally, realising the war was truly lost, he decided to end his life. Shuffling around with a stoop, Hitler looked much older than his fifty-six years. A new pain in his eye required daily doses of cocaine drops, and, perhaps from the onset of Parkinson’s disease, his left hand shook constantly. His eyesight had become so poor he had to have his documents written in extra-large print on specially-made ‘Fuhrer’ typewriters.
He ate poorly – devouring large portions of cake. He’d fallen out with many of his senior colleagues – in particular Hermann Goring and Heinrich Himmler, both of whom he accused of treachery and ordered to be arrested on sight and court-martialled. Joseph Goebbels, however, remained loyal to the last, broadcasting to the nation, demanding greater effort and sacrifice against the enemy.
Hitler the General
In his final days Hitler ordered a scorched-earth policy throughout eastern Germany and the destruction of anything that could be of use to the Soviets. What happened to the German citizen was not of Hitler’s concern – as far as Hitler was concerned, they had proved themselves unworthy of him.
From within the bunker, Hitler continued to dictate operations but his grip on reality had deserted him. He refused to listen to the glum reports from the front and ordered a constant stream of counterattacks deploying non-existent troops and refusing the troops that did exist room to retreat and re-group.
On his 56th (and last) birthday on 20 April 1945, a group of nineteen Hitler Youth boys lined-up in the Chancellery garden for Hitler to inspect and decorate with Iron Crosses. Lined-up from the eldest to the youngest, Hitler, with his shaking left hand behind his back, shook hands with each child, pinching the cheek of the last, the youngest child, a 12-year-old boy called Alfred Czech. ‘The Führer shook my hand,’ said Mr Czech decades later, ‘then he pinched my left cheek. He told me, “Keep it up!” I certainly had the feeling that I had done something remarkable.’ Hitler delivered a short speech and thanked them for their bravery before shuffling back into the bunker. It was to be Hitler’s last appearance in public.
Hitler and Eva
On April 20, Hitler celebrated (of sorts) his 56th birthday. A week later, just past midnight on April 29 in a ten-minute ceremony, Hitler married his long-term partner, Eva Braun (pictured). Twenty-three years his junior, the German people knew nothing of her. Her presence, although not a secret amongst the Nazi hierarchy, was not something Hitler wished publicized lest it should diminish the adoration of Germany’s women. Goebbels and Martin Bormann stood as witnesses as a hastily-found registrar nervously asked the couple whether they were of pure Aryan descent and free of hereditary diseases.
That night, following the subdued and rather surreal marital celebrations, Hitler dictated his last political testament and private will to his secretary, where, in the former, he drew-up the make up of the government following his death. The admiral, Karl Donitz, was named as his successor, not as ‘Fuhrer’ but as president, and Goebbels as Chancellor.
Death of Hitler
On April 29 Hitler made preparations for his death. 200 litres of benzene were delivered into the bunker. Hitler insisted that his body be burnt, not wanting his corpse to finish up in Soviet hands like an “exhibit in a cabinet of curiosities”. He also ordered the testing of the newly-arrived batch of cyanide capsules. The chosen victim was Hitler’s much loved Alsatian dog, Blondi.
On April 30, with the Soviets only 300 metres away, Goebbels tried one last time to convince the Fuhrer to leave Berlin but Hitler had already made it plain a week earlier, bellowing at his generals, “If you gentlemen think I’m going to leave Berlin you are very much mistaken. I’d rather blow my brains out”.
Near four o’clock, after a round of farewells, Hitler and his wife of forty hours retired to his study. Hitler wore upon his tunic, his Iron Cross (First Class) and his Wounded Badge of the First World War. His entourage waited nervously outside. A shot was heard. Hitler had shot himself through the right temple. Braun was also dead. She had swallowed the cyanide. The pistol Hitler had used was the same one that his niece, Geli Raubal, had used when she committed suicide almost 14 years before.
The bodies, covered in blankets, were carried out into the Chancellery garden. There, with artillery exploding around them and neighbouring buildings ablaze, Hitler’s wishes were honoured – the benzene was poured on the corpses and set alight. With the bodies blazing, the entourage gave one final Hitler salute before scampering back into the bunker.
The official announcement, the following day, stated that “Hitler had fallen at his command post fighting to his last breath against Bolshevism and for Germany”.
He had come to power as German Chancellor, aged 43, in January 1933. But with the death of Hitler, the Third Reich, which was meant to last a thousand years, had come to an end after just twelve.
Rupert Colley’s novella, set during World War Two and Paris in 1968, The Woman on the Train, is now available.
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