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The remains of Hitler’s bunker. Photo Getty Images.

Adolf Hitler?s Last Days

At one time, Adolf Hitler was the most powerful individual in the world. Yet he ended his life cowering in a foetid bunker, surrounded by enemy troops and raging against those he believed had betrayed him. Hitler’s last days were a humiliating final chapter in the life of a man once revered by millions. But they were also the last days of a man who had been mentally and physically unravelling for months.

By April 1945, Hitler’s health was deteriorating fast. His left arm often shook, his skin was sallow and his face was puffy. An assassination attempt in 1944 had damaged his eardrums. Witnesses reported that his eyes were often filmed over. He suffered from intense stomach cramps at moments of crisis. He was taking Benzedrine and cocaine-laced eye drops to get him through the day and barbiturates to help him sleep at night. His diet cannot have helped his situation. A committed vegetarian and paranoid about being poisoned, he was only eating mashed potatoes and thin soup by the end.

In late April 1945, chaos reigned in Berlin. Years of war had turned former superpower Germany into a battleground, and its cities from strongholds into places under siege.?The Red Army had completely circled the city, which now called on elderly men, police, and even children to defend it. But though a battle raged on in the streets, the war was already lost. Adolf Hitler?s time was almost up.

Despite the hopeless situation, he was now in, visitors to the bunker were amazed that Hitler was still able to work himself up into a megalomaniacal frenzy in which Berlin would be saved and the Nazi dream fulfilled.

While in one of these moods, Hitler would pore over maps, moving buttons to represent military units. In truth, the divisions he imagined himself to be directing were broken remnants. What was left of Berlin was defended by old men and teenagers hurriedly conscripted from the Hitler Youth.

Hitler (right) visiting Berlin defenders in early April 1945 with Hermann G?ring (centre) and the Chief of the OKW Field Marshal Keitel (partially hidden).

The people of Germany?had already taken leave of their F?hrer. Since a public appearance on his birthday, April 20, he had been disconcertingly absent from the public eye. In reality, he was holed up in a bunker near the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin, surrounded by his command staff and a few private citizens, including his mistress Eva Braun.

For the last few months of the war, Hitler lived in the fetid air of the bunker, concealed beneath eight metres of concrete, occasionally going outside to play with his dog.Hitler got up at around midday. The main event was the afternoon meeting on the military situation. It would be announced, ” Meine Herren, der F?hrer kommt “, and everyone made the Nazi salute. Hitler entered the room, shook everyone’s hand – it was a limp handshake – and sat down. He was the only one allowed to sit at the map table, which he adored because he was obsessed by detail, and occasionally made concessions to older officers, allowing them to sit on a stool.

Hitler’s only military experience had been as a corporal during the First World War. He knew only one thing – the ‘ fanatischer Widerstand ‘ (fanatical resistance). Blitzkrieg was not devised by him but by military strategists whom he later sidelined. As soon as they suffered the first setbacks he became deaf to calls to switch to modern, mobile defence techniques. He saw them as defeatist since they sometimes required giving up territory. Hitler could be very aggressive but towards the end, he was very controlled. He could be pleasant and even warm. He could be very charming – he was a real Austrian. People were impressed when he asked them questions about their lives. It was a way of controlling them. He played with people.’

Hitler swore by his doctor, Theodor Morell, a charlatan who gave him glucose injections and stimulants. ‘Morell made a lot of money during the war, not least with a louse powder we were given on the eastern front which smelt awful and was useless.

For weeks, bad news drifted into Hitler’s hideaway. As American forces advanced from the west, and?the?relentless Soviet tanks from the east,?Hitler?s generals began to lose their heads. Suspicious of a coup by his closest advisors, Hitler raged and planned and raged again. When he?learned that Felix Steiner, one of his SS commanders, had ignored his orders to stage a heroic last stand south of the city, he began to rant and cry, declaring the war lost. Later that day, he consulted with Werner Haase, his private doctor, about the best ways to commit suicide.

By April 29, the situation had taken a turn for the?worse. Though Hitler married Eva Braun that morning, people were more interested in discussing suicide than celebrating a wedding. Hitler had learned that Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, had given the Allies an offer of immediate surrender?an offer they promptly refused. Outraged, Hitler demanded that Himmler?once his close and powerful compatriot?be arrested. Then Hitler heard of the death of Benito Mussolini, his counterpart in Italy. Executed and defiled by an angry mob, the dictator?s end was a powerful warning about what might be in store for the man who had promised his now-devastated country an?endless empire. Mussolini?s death set the last 24 hours of life in?the bunker into motion.

Hitler depicted by the United States Secret Service in 1944 to show how he might disguise himself to try to escape capture.

Many people have tried and failed to accurately portray or document the final hours of Adolf Hitler.?There have been very few corroborative first-hand accounts that have?revealed the true inner workings of the F?hrer’s bunker and his mindset as his master plan came crashing down around him.

In 2005 a 93-year-old woman claiming to have been Adolf Hitler’s nurse in the final days of the Third Reich spoke of her experiences in the Berlin bunker.

Erna Flegel, a 93-year-old, claims to have been the Nazi leader’s nurse at the end of World War II and to have been in his bunker when Hitler took his own life. Under the headline “I was Hitler’s nurse”, Flegel told a fascinating and tragic story of how she provided medical treatment to Hitler and his inner circle from 1943 until the Nazi leadership gave up their dogged resistance and hope in the face of the advancing Red Army and Allied forces two years later.

Flegel’s insight into the last days reveals that contemporary accounts have been more or less accurate concerning the mental state of the F?hrer. Hitler was paralyzed by paranoia in his last days.

The former nurse revealed in the interview that Hitler was almost paralyzed with paranoia as the end neared, even fearing that the cyanide capsules with which he was planning to take his own life had been switched and filled with fake poison. “By the end, he didn’t trust anyone anymore – not even the cyanide capsule he swallowed,” she is quoted as saying.

Conflicting reports suggest that only Hitler’s wife Eva took cyanide while the Nazi leader himself died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Both bodies were allegedly burned by aides shortly after being discovered.

That afternoon, in accordance with Hitler’s prior instructions, their remains were carried up the stairs through the bunker’s emergency exit, doused in petrol, and set alight in the Reich Chancellery garden outside the bunker. Records in the Soviet archives show that their burnt remains were recovered and interred in successive locations until 1970, when they were again exhumed, cremated, and the ashes scattered.

After Hitler committed suicide, Flegel stayed in the bunker as the Nazi regime crumbled around her. Flegel said that after Hitler’s suicide, Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, took over as the leader, but by then there was little sense of command and Goebbels was ignored.

She also revealed her desperate attempts to save Goebbels’ six children from Magda, their “merciless” mother, but was ultimately powerless as she poisoned them. It was then that the Nazi hierarchy within the bunker began to implode.

“(Hitler’s) last subordinates shot themselves in succession,” she said. “And those who didn’t shoot themselves tried to flee.” Still, Flegel remained underground. “I had to look after the wounded,” she added.

In the interview, she remembers the approach of the Soviet Army and the realization that Hitler’s brutal regime and his plans for world domination were ending in the dust and rubble of Berlin above. “You could feel that the Third Reich was coming to an end,” she said. “The radios stopped working and it was impossible to get information.”

She recalled that the Russians treated her well and advised her to remain where she was and to keep the door closed and locked. Flegel stayed for several more days in the bunker and was one of the last to leave. She was then interviewed by US secret service agents, the last time that she spoke about her life as Hitler’s nurse until 2005…

“I don’t want to take my secret with me to the grave,” she said.

Heinz Linge, Hitler’s valet, was one of the first people into Hitler’s study after the suicide.

Hitler’s valet, Heinz Linge, stayed with his leader until the end. In a series of interviews given to his Russian captors, Linge shed light on the complex and bizarre personality of the man he worked for. Apparently, Hitler was terrified that his body would be ridiculed by Stalin’s men. Linge reported Hitler as saying:

You must never allow my corpse to fall into the hands of the Russians… They would make a spectacle in Moscow out of my body and put it in waxworks.

Linge also recalled Hitler’s bizarre sense of humour: “He would laugh at Eva Braun’s lipstick on a serviette and then say, ‘During wartime lipstick is produced out of dead bodies.'”

Accounts differ as to the cause of death; one states that he died by poison only and another that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot while biting down on a cyanide capsule. Contemporary historians have rejected these accounts as being either Soviet propaganda or an attempted compromise in order to reconcile the different conclusions. One eyewitness recorded that the body showed signs of having been shot through the mouth, but this has been proven unlikely. There is also controversy regarding the authenticity of skull and jaw fragments which were recovered. In 2009, American researchers performed DNA tests on a skull Soviet officials had long believed to be that of Hitler. The tests and examination revealed that the skull was actually that of a woman less than 40 years old. The jaw fragments which had been recovered were not tested.

Soviet troop movements, 16 to 26 April 1945.

Rochus Misch said he still remembers the sight as if it were yesterday. He looked through a doorway and saw Adolf Hitler had committed suicide. “Hitler was sitting at the table, slumped forward, and Eva Braun was lying next to him. I saw that with my own eyes,” Misch said from his home in the German capital. “But we had been expecting it. It didn’t come out of the blue. We had been waiting for the end.”

On April 30, 1945, with Soviet forces just 300 meters (yards) from the bunker and his armies beaten, Hitler bade farewell to his staff and went into his private rooms. There, the man who had plunged the world into conflict and sent millions of Jews to their deaths in the Holocaust poisoned a willing Braun and shot himself in the head. Historians believe their bodies were then soaked with fuel and burned.

“My work room was opposite the entrance to Hitler’s rooms,” recalled Misch, who was a 28-year-old staff sergeant in the Nazi SS with responsibility for maintaining the telephone lines in the bunker.

“I remember that he said goodbye in the corridor and went into the rooms. He said he didn’t want to be disturbed. I don’t know how long it took, maybe one hour, maybe two. I didn’t hear the shots myself because I was working on the telephones. But then I heard someone shout ‘Linge, Linge, I think it has happened.’ (Heinz Linge was Hitler’s servant). We waited maybe 20 minutes. Then we opened the door to his office and the one to the living room. Hitler was sitting at the table, slumped forward, and Eva Braun was lying next to him. It wasn’t a surprise. The commanders had all wanted to evacuate Hitler, but he said no, he was staying in Berlin.”

He said one of the biggest mistakes in reconstructions of the suicide is to show Hitler’s bunker as a giant complex of rooms. “People confuse the F?hrer’s bunker with the upper bunker or the bunker at the Reichs Chancellery. In fact the bunker we were in was so small. We were not a whole company, there were just five people. Only five of us could have witnessed the death, no more.”

“Hitler had already told his adjutant that he did not want his body to be publicly abused as Mussolini’s had been and that he wanted his corpse to be burned.”

He added: “Everyone in the bunker waited nervously. Then there was some commotion. The study door was opened and Misch looked inside.”

Misch said: “My glance fell first on Eva. She was seated with her legs drawn up, her head inclined towards Hitler. Her shoes were under the sofa. Near her ? the dead Hitler. His eyes were open and staring, his head had fallen forward slightly.”

Misch also added he walked in on Eva in a “flimsy nightie” in the guestroom, which had a private passageway into Hitler’s room, and she put a finger to her mouth telling the bodyguard to keep quiet. Misch, who thought he would be sacked over the incident, also said he heard Ms Braun and Magada Goebbels swearing to die with their respective men. Misch was kidnapped by the Soviet Red Army, and imprisoned in labour camps for eight years, after trying to escape into hiding.

Arthur Kannberg, Hitler’s butler, revealed how a song called ‘Blood Red Roses’ was the favourite of Hitler and Eva, a record they listened to ‘over and over.’

He added; ‘The boss was always particular about the afternoon tea. The cups and silverware always had to be pristine and he insisted that Eva was present at his holiday home on the Obersalzberg for such occasions. ‘Hitler and Eva were very much in love, but perhaps not to the extent that he ever wanted children with her.

‘Before the end he gave me gold and silver cigarette cases engraved with his name. When he handed them over he said; ‘Look after these until we meet again.”?’He also spoke of a ‘secret stash’ of treasure of Hitler’s which he hid near to his home at Berchtesgaden, but it has never been found. August Wollenhaupt, the barber of Hitler, was also interviewed and he described a ‘genial, soft spoken man’ who enquired after his family and who always wanted to know what ‘the gossip from the man in the street was.’

Nine days later Germany surrendered and the guns of World War II fell quiet in Europe.

Rochus Misch pictured at home shortly after his 90th birthday in 2007 John MacDougall/AFP/Getty.

April 30, 1945

All times are approximate

1 a.m.:?Field Marshal William Keitel reports that the entire Ninth Army is encircled and that reinforcements will not be able to reach Berlin.

4 a.m.:?Major Otto G?nsche heads for the bathroom, only to find Dr Haase and Hitler?s dog handler, Fritz Tornow, feeding cyanide pills to Hitler?s beloved German Shepherd, Blondi. Haase is apparently testing the efficacy of the cyanide pills?that Hitler?s former ally Himmler had provided him. The capsule works and the dog dies almost immediately.

10:30 a.m.:?Hitler meets with General Helmuth Weidling, who tells him that the end is near. Russians are attacking the nearby Reichstag. Weidling asks what to do when troops run out of ammunition. Hitler responds that he?ll never surrender Berlin, so Weidling asks for permission?to allow his troops to break out of the city as long as their intention never to surrender remains clear.

2:00 p.m.:?Hitler and the women of the bunker?Eva Braun, Traudl Junge, and other secretaries?sit down for lunch. Hitler promises them that he?ll give them vials of cyanide if they wish to use them. He apologizes for being unable to give them a better farewell present.

3:30?p.m.:?Roused by the sound of a loud gunshot, Heinz Linge, who has?served as Hitler?s valet for a decade, opens the door to the study.?The smell of burnt almonds?a harbinger of cyanide?wafts through the door. Braun and Hitler sit side by side. They are both dead. Braun has apparently taken the?cyanide, while Hitler has done the?deed with his Walther pistol.

4:00 p.m.:?Linge and the?other residents of the bunker wrap the bodies in blankets and carry them upstairs to the garden. As shells fall, they douse the bodies in gas. Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda, will kill himself tomorrow. Meanwhile, he holds out a box of matches. The survivors fumble and finally light the corpses on fire. They head down to the bunker as they burn.

On?May 1, Germans who can find time between shells to listen to the radio are greeted with the tones of Wagner?s G?tterd?mmerung??The Twilight of the Gods.??Hitler, they are told, has??fallen at his command post in the Reich Chancery fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism and for Germany.? The F?hrer is dead.

The situation of World War II in Europe at the time of Hitler?s death. The white areas were controlled by Nazi forces, the pink areas were controlled by the Allies, and the red areas indicate recent Allied advances.

In June 1945, the Soviets announced – falsely – that Hitler’s remains had not been found and that he was probably still alive. This announcement caused a predictable flurry of “Hitler sightings” across Europe. Allied officers sought to establish beyond possible doubt that Hitler had indeed died in his bunker. To that end, they interrogated various members of Hitler’s personal staff who had been with the dictator in late April 1945. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who served as a British military intelligence officer during the war, used these accounts to investigate the circumstances of Hitler’s death and rebut claims that Hitler was still alive and living somewhere in the West. He published an account of his findings in 1947 in his book The Last Days of Hitler. At the end of the Second World War various members of Hitler’s personal staff, who had been with him in the bunker during April 1945, were interrogated by Allied officers seeking to establish beyond possible doubt that Hitler had died.

Their questioning concentrated on the events that took place in the Bunker during the last days of April. By then the Red Army had surrounded Berlin and the sound of shellfire could be heard clearly from within the F?hrerbunker.

Hitler retreated to the bunker in January 1945 as the Russians advanced across Poland towards eastern Germany and the Allied airforces devastated Berlin with bombing raids. By the start of April 1945, 2.5 million Russian soldiers had reached the German capital. Two weeks later, they had reached the city centre and were fighting within only a few hundred yards of Hitler’s refuge.

In the small hours of 28-29 April Hitler dictated his will, in the form of a political and personal testament, to Gertrud “Traudl” Junge, who was one of his secretaries. Soon afterwards Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun were married.

Accounts from two of the secretaries present recorded that they had been called together to see the newly married couple. Hitler and Eva emerged from the map-room where the marriage ceremony had taken place, accompanied by Goebbels, his wife Magda and Hitler’s private secretary Martin Bormann. Turning to Hitler’s personal secretary, Gerda Christian, Eva pointed to the wedding ring on her finger and received her congratulations.

A party followed to celebrate the occasion. According to Christian, Hitler talked mostly of the past and of happier times. However, he admitted to her that he knew the war was lost. He added that he would never allow himself to be taken prisoner by the Russians but intended to shoot himself. He confided to Junge that the wedding had been an emotional experience, but that for him death would only mean a personal redemption of his many worries and of what had been a very difficult life.

Christian, who was accustomed to joining Hitler and Eva for certain meals, was invited to the wedding breakfast after the ceremony but left early, telling Junge that she had been unable to stand the atmosphere of gloom and despondency.

The front page of the U.S. Armed Forces newspaper, Stars and Stripes, 2 May 1945.

On the morning of 29 April, the inhabitants of the bunker received news of the execution by Italian partisans of Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci. One of those interrogated commented that this would have served to reinforce Hitler’s determination that neither he nor Eva Braun should face this fate.

Hitler ordered his staff to prepare for the end. An eyewitness noted that Hitler’s SS bodyguards were destroying his personal papers. Elsewhere one of the doctors was instructed by Hitler to poison Blondi, his Alsatian dog, and Eva Braun’s spaniel. The eyewitnesses also described how in the afternoon of 29 April Hitler went from room to room shaking hands with all but his immediate staff, saying a few words of encouragement and thanks to each.

By the morning of 30 April Russian forces had reached the nearby Potsdamer Platz and the sounds of battle were all around. One version on record suggests that Eva was overheard crying, “I would rather die here. I do not want to escape”. She and Hitler later emerged from their suite, their personal staff having been assembled, and went round the room shaking hands silently. Everyone knew that the time had come.

Hitler and Braun lived together as husband and wife in the bunker for fewer than 40 hours. By 01:00 on 30 April, General Wilhelm Keitel had reported that all forces which Hitler had been depending on to rescue Berlin had either been encircled or forced onto the defensive. Late in the morning of 30 April, with the Soviets less than 500 metres (1,600 ft) from the bunker, Hitler had a meeting with General Helmuth Weidling, commander of the Berlin Defence Area, who told him that the garrison would probably run out of ammunition that night and that the fighting in Berlin would inevitably come to an end within the next 24 hours. Weidling asked Hitler for permission for a breakout, a request he had made unsuccessfully before. Hitler did not answer, and Weidling went back to his headquarters in the Bendlerblock. At about 13:00 he received Hitler’s permission to try a breakout that night. Hitler, two secretaries, and his personal cook then had lunch, after which Hitler and Braun said farewell to members of the F?hrerbunker staff and fellow occupants, including Bormann, Joseph Goebbels and his family, the secretaries, and several military officers.

Schematic diagram of the F?hrerbunker.

Junge recalled that she and Christian both asked Hitler for a poison capsule, having noted the rapid effect that the poison had had on Hitler’s dog. Hitler gave them one each, saying as he did so that he was sorry he had no better parting gift and that he wished his generals had been as poised and brave as they were. Eva embraced Junge and, in what seems to have been her last recorded words said, “Take my fur coat as a memory. I always like well-dressed women”. Then, saying “It is finished, goodbye”, Hitler took Eva back into their rooms for the last time. During the afternoon Hitler shot himself and Eva took the poison capsule that he had given her.

Soon afterwards their bodies were carried up the stairs to a small garden outside the door to the bunker complex. Hitler’s driver, another of those interrogated, helped carry Eva’s body some of the way and noted that once there it was placed on the ground beside Hitler’s. He told his interrogators he had noticed that she had been wearing a blue summer dress made of real silk, that her shoes had cork heels, and that her hair was “artificially blonde”.

Moments later the same witness saw a party including Goebbels and Bormann gathered beside the bodies. One of them poured petrol from a can over the bodies. They then retired to the safety of a doorway with the sound of Russian artillery all around them. Hitler’s adjutant lit a petrol-soaked rag and threw it on the bodies, which immediately burst into flames. The group made the Hitlergruss (the Nazi salute) and withdrew.

One of the bunker guards arrived late on the scene. He described how he was greatly startled to see the two bodies burst into flames as if by spontaneous combustion. He had been unable to see the Goebbels party concealed in a doorway and only later was told the true circumstances.

The bodies were only partly destroyed by the fire and were later hastily buried in a shallow bomb crater. According to Russian reports, the bodies were exhumed by Soviet troops and taken to Magdeburg in East Germany where Hitler’s body was said to have been finally destroyed in April 1970 by the KGB. Two fragments of the body, a jawbone and skull, were preserved. They were displayed in an exhibition at the Russian Federal Archives in Moscow in April 2000.

There can be no doubt that conditions in Hitler’s bunker during the fall of Berlin were vile. Accommodation was cramped, the air was foul and Russian artillery units were constantly shelling what remained of the Chancellery building above. But, following the death of Hitler, one minor aspect of life improved for those left in the bunker. The Fuhrer was violently opposed to smoking and no one had dared to smoke while he was still alive. But, with Hitler dead, his staff all lit up in an attempt to calm their shredded nerves.

Eva Braun and Hitler (with Blondi), June 1942.

The first inkling to the outside world that Hitler was dead came from the Germans themselves. On 1 May the radio station Reichssender Hamburg interrupted their normal program to announce that an important broadcast would soon be made. After dramatic funeral music by Wagner and Bruckner, Grand Admiral Karl D?nitz (appointed as Hitler’s successor in his will) announced that Hitler was dead. D?nitz called upon the German people to mourn their F?hrer, who died a hero defending the capital of the Reich. Hoping to save the army and the nation by negotiating a partial surrender to the British and Americans, D?nitz authorized a fighting withdrawal to the west. His tactic was somewhat successful: it enabled about 1.8 million German soldiers to avoid capture by the Soviets, but it came at a high cost in bloodshed, as troops continued to fight until 8 May.

On the morning of 1 May, thirteen hours after the event, Stalin was informed of Hitler’s suicide. General Hans Krebs had given this information to Soviet General Vasily Chuikov when they met at 04:00 on 1 May, when the Germans attempted to negotiate acceptable surrender terms. Stalin demanded unconditional surrender and asked for confirmation that Hitler was dead. He wanted Hitler’s corpse found. In the early morning hours of 2 May, the Soviets captured the Reich Chancellery. Down in the F?hrerbunker, General Krebs and General Wilhelm Burgdorf committed suicide by gunshot to the head.

Later on 2 May, the remains of Hitler, Braun, and two dogs (thought to be Blondi and her offspring, Wulf) were discovered in a shell crater by a unit of the Red Army intelligence agency SMERSH tasked with finding Hitler’s body. Stalin was wary of believing Hitler was dead, and restricted the release of information to the public. The remains of Hitler and Braun were repeatedly buried and exhumed by SMERSH during the unit’s relocation from Berlin to a new facility in Magdeburg. The bodies, along with the charred remains of propaganda minister Goebbels, his wife Magda, and their six children, were buried in an unmarked grave beneath a paved section of the front courtyard. The location was kept secret.

Joseph Goebbels, his wife Magda, and their six children. Standing in the back is Goebbels’ stepson, Harald Quandt, the sole family member to survive the war.

For politically motivated reasons, various versions of Hitler’s fate were presented by the Soviet Union. In the years immediately following 1945, the Soviets maintained Hitler was not dead, but had fled and was being shielded by the former western allies. This worked for a time to create doubt among western authorities. The chief of the U.S. trial counsel at Nuremberg, Thomas J. Dodd, said: “No one can say he is dead.” When President Harry S. Truman asked Stalin at the Potsdam Conference in August 1945 whether or not Hitler was dead, Stalin replied bluntly, “No”. But by 11 May 1945, the Soviets had already confirmed through Hitler’s dentist, Hugo Blaschke, dental assistant K?the Heusermann and dental technician Fritz Echtmann that the dental remains found were Hitler’s and Braun’s. In November 1945, Dick White, then head of counter-intelligence in the British sector of Berlin (and later head of MI5 and MI6 in succession), had their agent Hugh Trevor-Roper investigate the matter to counter the Soviet claims. His findings were written in a report and published in book form in 1947.

The above-ground portion of the F?hrerbunker shortly before it was destroyed in 1947. Hitler & Eva Braun’s remains were burnt in a shell crater in front of the emergency exit at the left. The circular structure was for generators and ventilation.

The destroyed F?hrerbunker (1947).

In May 1946, SMERSH agents recovered from the crater where Hitler was buried two burned skull fragments with gunshot damage. These remains were apparently forgotten in the Russian State Archives until 1993 when they were re-found. In 2009 DNA and forensic tests were performed on the skull fragment, which Soviet officials had long believed to be Hitler’s. According to the American researchers, the tests revealed that the skull was actually that of a woman and the examination of the sutures where the skull plates come together placed her age at less than 40 years old. The jaw fragments which had been recovered in May 1945 were not tested.

In 1969, Soviet journalist Lev Bezymensky’s book on the death of Hitler was published in the West. It included the SMERSH autopsy report, but because of the earlier disinformation attempts, western historians thought it untrustworthy.

In 1970, the SMERSH facility, by then controlled by the KGB, was scheduled to be handed over to the East German government. Fearing that a known Hitler burial site might become a Neo-Nazi shrine, KGB director Yuri Andropov authorised an operation to destroy the remains that had been buried in Magdeburg on 21 February 1946. A Soviet KGB team was given detailed burial charts. On 4 April 1970, they secretly exhumed five wooden boxes containing the remains of “10 or 11 bodies … in an advanced state of decay.? The remains were thoroughly burned and crushed, after which the ashes were thrown into the Biederitz river, a tributary of the nearby Elbe. According to British historian Ian Kershaw, the corpses of Braun and Hitler were already thoroughly burned when the Red Army found them, and only a lower jaw with dental work could be identified as Hitler’s remains.

Churchill sits on a damaged chair from the F?hrerbunker in July 1945.

In testimony from beyond the grave, the group of aides, secretaries and friends described life in the squalid bunker retreat beneath the?Reich Chancellery in Berlin as Russian troops moved in.? They revealed intimate domestic details of Hitler’s favourite tea, the love letters from his admirers and the love song that he and Eva Braun, the woman he married in the underground hide, listened to over and over again.

But the footage is also full of the horror of the weeks leading up to the fall of Berlin as the dictator prepared for his death. The interviews were conducted at Nuremberg three years after the war by an American film unit and carried out by US judge Michael Musmanno. He had helped to prosecute Nazi war criminals and had been given special access to the remnants of Hitler’s court?because the US Navy believed rumours that the?Fuehrer had escaped to?Argentina after the war.?Historians had long believed that the footage was lost to history. But in 2012 a portion was found in an?archive in Nuremberg. The rest was recovered from relatives of Mr?Musmanno. Raudl Junge, who was Hitler’s favourite secretary, told the cameras how her boss was receiving love letters from besotted followers right up until his suicide in the Berlin bunker in April 1945.

‘That was my first job for him, bringing the post from women who had nothing better to do than write to him. They were love letters, yes,’ she said.

‘But I only remember him as someone paternal who was always worried about me. I never saw him as the statesman, I didn’t attend any of his conferences. We were summoned only when he wanted to dictate and he was as considerate then as he was in private. ‘And our office, both in the Reichschancellery and in the bunkers in the Wolf’s Lair or in Berklin , we were so far removed from his command quarters that we never saw or even heard any of his rages that we heard whispers about. We knew his timetable, whom he received, but except for the few men he sometimes had to meals we attended. ‘My colleagues told me that in the earlier years he talked incessantly, about the past and the future, but after Stalingrad, well, I don’t remember many monologues. ?’We all tried to distract him, with talk about films, or gossip, anything that would take his mind off the war. He loved gossip. That was part of that other side of him, which was basically the only one we saw. ‘When I came to type his final testament in the bunker during the last days of the war I thought he would justify his actions and explain why Germany is in this position. That he had a way out from our terrible tragedy. But he repeated only the old slogans which he had used in his speeches.’

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