The Truth about Hitler's Death

Some people like to posit conspiracy theories: Elvis is still alive; Princess Diana was murdered by British intelligence; the Moon landing was a hoax; Protocols of the Elders of Zion is genuine, not a tsarist forgery.  And Adolf Hitler did not kill himself and Eva Braun in his bunker on April 30, 1945, but escaped through a set of secret tunnels and was flown to Denmark, then to Spain, where he was protected by General Francisco Franco, and finally to Argentina.

The world was told by Josef Stalin at the Potsdam Conference of July-August 1945, attended by the Soviet Union, the U.S. (Harry Truman), and the U.K. (Winston Churchill and then Clement Attlee), that Hitler was not dead.  This was reinforced by Marshall Georgy Zhukov, at the time commander and military governor of the Soviet Zone in Germany, who declared on June 9, 1945 that "[w]e have found no corpse that could be Hitler's."

Throughout the years after World War II conspiracy theories in German and in English abounded, and various people have claimed to have sighted Hitler, as many claim to have seen the eternal Elvis.  They have persisted despite refutation by many reputable historians such as Hugh Trevor Roper (The Last Days of Hitler), Alan Bullock (Hitler: A Study in Tyranny), and Ian Kershaw (Hitler: A Biography).  They agree on the daily events.  At midnight on April 28, 1945, Hitler married his mistress, Eva Braun, and the register was signed by Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann.

The next day, Hitler dictated his political testament on the war: "it will go down in history as the most glorious and heroic manifestation of the people's will to live."  A day later, Hitler ended his will to live.  He shot himself in the mouth, and Braun took cyanide.  Goebbels and his family all committed suicide.  Bormann probably killed himself when trapped by Soviet troops while trying to escape, his body unidentified until years later.  One important inference from this narrative is that Germany had not been "stabbed in the back," an allegation that had been used by Hitler and others to explain Germany's defeat in World War I.  In fact, the Soviet group SMERSH (Death to Spies, three counterintelligence agencies in the Red Army, later fictionalized as the evil opposition in James Bond movies) searched for the body of Hitler, which was found.

A personal version of the truth is now revealed in a remarkable book published in English, The Memories of a War-Time Interpreter, by Yelena Rzhevskaya (original name Kagan), who died on April 1, 2017, aged 97.  She was in Berlin, aged 25, at the time when the city was in ruins at the end of the war, while the Red Army was tracking down die-hard Nazi fighters.  Her nominal role in counterintelligence was interrogating captured Germans.

To her surprise, she was given by her commanding officer a box that was said to contain Hitler's teeth.  A burnt body, thought to be that of Hitler but unrecognizable, had been found by a Red Army soldier, and the jawbone had been removed to provide possible identification.  Yelena was given the task, she said, because she was a woman and less likely to get drunk in the heady atmosphere of Berlin and lose the items.

Yelena recounts what is akin to a detective story, examining the fragments of Hitler's jaw to match it with dental records and x-rays.  She began tracking down Germans who had information about Hitler's teeth, first one dentist, then a clinic, and then another dentist whose office was in fashionable Kurfurstendamm, where she found the dental records but not the X-rays.  Then she finally found the X-rays in another surgery, compared the records with the teeth she had, and concluded they were the same.

In this search, she was helped by a woman named Kathe Heusermann, an assistant in dental surgery to Hitler's dentist, Dr. Hugo Blaschke.  Josef Stalin's cruelty needs no further illustration, but this innocent and helpful woman was arrested and deported to the Soviet Union.  She was sentenced to a prison term of ten years in a Gulag, six in solitary confinement, because she "voluntarily helped a bourgeois state prolong the war."

Yelena had proved that Hitler had not escaped and was sure that "in a few days the whole world will know we had found the corpse," but she was unaware of the political machinations.  The Soviet press spread reports that Hitler was missing.  Stalin would not allow the truth of Hitler's death to be known, and it was only at an exhibition in Moscow in 2000, the 55th anniversary of the end of World War II, that Hitler's teeth were put on display.  

Stalin was opposed to a policy of détente, thought the Soviet Union "remained in capitalist encirclement," and believed there would be less pressure on the Soviet Union if people thought Hitler was still alive.  One implication was that Hitler was hidden in Bavaria, which was part of the U.S. zone of occupation in Germany, and that the U.S. had used Hitler to get in touch with remaining Nazis.

One reason for this belief was Russian suspicion of Operation Sunrise.  The Nazis had a plan that after the fall of Berlin, they would continue the war from fortresses in Bavaria where Hitler and other leaders lived.  The area had miles of tunnels built in the mountains.  Operation Sunrise consisted of negotiations between Allen Dulles and Waffen general Karl Wolff over the surrender of a Germany Army group of about a million located in northern Italy and western Austria.  Stalin believed that the plan indicated an anti-Soviet alliance and that the allies had made an agreement to give Hitler safe passage.

The argument still continues, with some believers in the conspiracy that Hitler did not die in the Berlin bunker and even that the dental records may have been faked.  But anyone reading Yelena's fascinating and honest book will reject the view that in some way and for some reason the U.S. and allies helped Hitler escape.  There was no Western version of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939.