30th April 1945HITLER's greatest fear in the Berlin bunker in April 1945 was that he would be captured alive by the Russians and displayed in Moscow as some sort of freak exhibit. His suicide on 30 April 1945 and the burning of his body, alongside that of his wife of one day, Eva Braun, was intended to avoid what, for Hitler, was quite literally a fate worse than death. But it did not avoid a posthumous, somewhat sordid, freak-show more than half a century later.
In April this year, as the centrepiece of an exhibition on 'The Agony of the Third Reich', the Russians displayed in Moscow part of what they claim was Hitler's skull. Is it authentic? A DNA test would prove it one way or the other. But so far the Russians have resisted one. However, it is not just the reluctance to carry out a DNA test that provides reasonable grounds for doubt. The strange and contradictory stance of the Soviet authorities after 1945 on the question of Hitler's end and the dubious nature of some of the evidence they presented allows for justifiable scepticism about whether they found much of Hitler at all when they dug in the Reich Chancellery garden.
Hitler's badly-burnt body was allegedly discovered on 4 May 1945, two days after Soviet troops had entered the garden. An autopsy was carried out on 8 May. But even the Soviet authorities recognised its deficiencies. A year later, they concluded a second investigation into Hitler's death by criticising the work of the first, saying the deficiencies of the evidence meant 'we cannot just state: this was Hitler.' This lingering uncertainty that the remains were indeed Hitler's could be the explanation for the stubborn refusal of the Soviet leadership, above all of Stalin himself, to believe that Hitler had committed suicide. Stalin's paranoia meant that he did not believe that Hitler's body had been found. Perhaps he was right.
A part of Hitler's jawbone and some dental fittings were indeed identified. But they may not have been enough to convince Stalin. In the light of eyewitness testimony it can be concluded with little doubt that Hitler shot himself in the right side of his head. This, however, conflicts diametrically with the Soviet autopsy evidence. This found no evidence of shooting in the case of the corpse taken to be Hitler's. Within minutes of establishing that Hitler and Eva Braun were dead, their bodies were carried up the steps of the bunker, placed outside the entrance, and set on fire. When two of the guards went across to view the scene around 6.00 pm, they found, in the words of one of them, 'two charcoaled, shrivelled, unrecognisable bodies'. There was probably little to dispose of. The mortal remains of Hitler and Eva Braun joined the numerous unidentifiable bodies rapidly thrown into bomb-craters and improvised graves during the previous days. The intense shelling also contributed to destroying and scattering the human debris in the garden. When the Soviet victors arrived, there was most likely little of Hitler and Eva Braun left for them to find. The cigar-box containing Hitler's dental fittings may indeed have held the sole remains of the German dictator.
© BBC History Magazine
Labels: Hitler's Death