Exit from the Führerbunker
January 1945, Germany was crumbling and the brains guiding this floundering Nazi war machine were flocking to Hitler’s side in the subterranean stronghold under the Reich Chancellery in battle scarred Berlin. I was one of those summoned to the German capital to serve on Hitler’s staff in the terrible spring of 1945, and became the only non-German to actually work within the Führer’s personal headquarters in the bunker.
I will describe for you the incredible days I spent in the Führerbunker, cut off from the outside world, as Adolf Hitler raved against his Generals, his armies, his own people - and the enemy who was then preparing the death thrust into the heart of the much-vaunted Thousand Year Reich.
We lived in the constant shadow of a deranged genius in a chaotic world of our own, out of which has grown a thousand theories and a mass of conflicting stories telling the fate of Hitler and the elite of the Nazi Party. I was there and I can tell you the truth as I lived it, of those fantastic days.
I know the truth about the reported suicide of Hitler and Eva Braun. I shall tell you of my flight from Berlin under fire from the Russians and my final escape from Germany. And how, after my return to Spain, I assisted in the flight of Adolf Eichmann from Europe after finding him in a Swiss monastery two years after the war ended. Perhaps most important of all, I can now reveal the fate of Martin Bormann, that shadowy eminence who was Hitler’s top Lieutenant in the halcyon days of the Nazi regime.
How do I know these things? Because I was chosen by the underground Party movement to escort Hitler’s top deputy when he made his dramatic dash for freedom beneath the Atlantic in a U-Boat in May, 1946. Many years have passed since I first entered the service of the Nazis. They considered me one of their most trusted agents with access to their closely guarded plans for re-emergence as a world power.
I know the power of these men and their underground organization. I have seen the determination with which they plot their return to power, and have helped with the formation of secret action groups on two continents. They are well organized. The High Command still exists and meets each year in Western Germany, where they do not lack support.
This then, is my story. I had been head of the Nazi espionage ring in Spain throughout the War and as such, was one of their most trusted agents, but it was not until January of 1945 when British, American and Russian armies were smashing their way across the borders of the Fatherland, that I was called to the Führer’s side.
On January 15th, Hitler returned to Berlin from Bad Nauheim, where he had been directing the ill-fated Ardennes Offensive, the last drive of the smashed and demoralized Wehrmacht. After gambling away the remains of the once-invincible Panzer armies, the Führer retreated in a towering rage to the Führerbunker beneath the Reich Chancellery. It was in almost total defeat that Hitler, his enemies closing in from all sides, his defenses overrun, his armies outnumbered, returned to his blitzed & ruined capital.
On the day he returned, I had been working in SS Intelligence Headquarters, close to the old Reichstag. I had then been in Germany for seven months, directing the activities of certain foreign agents abroad.
The following day I was informed by SS Commander Willie Oberbeil - at that time, my immediate superior in the Intelligence Service - that we had been ordered to Hitler’s bunker where we would be responsible for passing our agents’ reports directly to the Führer himself.
That night, Berlin was subjected to a heavy air raid, and smoke hung over the city as Oberbeil and myself picked our way through streets littered with rubble and broken glass to the Reich Chancellery.
This vast mausoleum-like building, which Hitler had designed himself with the purpose of overawing ambassadors and foreign heads of state who came to pay homage to him in his days of power, was now almost completely destroyed. All that remained was a blackened shell. The great marble walls had collapsed and the heavily carved doors and costly fittings were scattered about the floors in crazy disorder. At the head of the steps leading into the building, our passes were inspected by a steel-helmeted SS guard, who directed us to a part of the building that was still intact. Another guard ushered us down a narrow staircase leading to a small pantry. We found ourselves led down a second, steeper flight of steps at the bottom of which was a thick steel door. This was the entrance to the bunker.
It was part of a steel and concrete bulkhead airtight, watertight, and blast proof which when closed, effectively shut off the fifty-foot deep underground shelter from the outside world. Our passes were again inspected by a black uniformed SS Sergeant before we were allowed to pass through. The doorway was so narrow we were forced to pass through sideways.
We entered into a brightly lit, low roofed corridor with a second larger bulkhead midway along on our left. This door opened into the upper bunker which contained kitchens and servant’s quarters. A central corridor, twelve feet wide, was furnished with tables and chairs, and was used as a dining room by the Führer’s staff. At the far end of this corridor, a curved concrete stair descended to a second and larger bunker, where Hitler had his offices and command headquarters.
Oberbeil and I followed the armed guard to the foot of the stairs, which opened into another wide corridor, at the far right of which was a wooden partition and a door guarded by two more SS men. Beyond the door, I discovered, were Hitler’s private apartments. As we entered the Führerbunker, a slim, gray-suited man rose from the armchairs lining the walls of the corridor and came towards us.
‘Good morning, gentlemen.’
He said, in a piping, well-educated voice. I assumed Willie Oberbeil already knew him for, turning to me he continued,
‘I am Colonel Wagner. I am in charge of SS Intelligence down here.’
He clicked his heels, bowed, and with a thin smile said,
‘You gentlemen are my staff.’
He led us through one of two doors leading off to the right into a small room, where two secretaries were busy typing. On the right, behind the door, a third typist was working in a small partitioned cubicle.
Finally, Wagner ushered us into our own office. This room had been ordered created by erecting a floor to ceiling partition at the far end of the typist’s room. It had been put up following Hitler’s decision to have a permanent intelligence staff operating within his defense headquarters. The concrete walls of the office had been sprayed with a watery gray paint which did nothing to lessen the dismal appearance of the room, which was cramped and airless. A brand new radio transmitter and receiver, and a decoding machine had been set against the wall to the right and there was barely room to move between the desk, filing cabinets and chairs which had been crammed into the eight foot by ten foot cubicle.
I didn’t relish the idea of spending long in this place. It was clear that, should we ever become shut up for any length of time that the lack of space, the stuffy atmosphere, and the strain of working on top of one another would be intolerable. On top of this was the maddening throb which penetrated to every corner of the bunker. I had become aware of it the moment I had entered, but now, in this office it was so intense that the wooden partition actually vibrated.
Wagner sensed my discomfort.
“Do not let the noise upset you. What you hear is the diesel engine in the next room, on which we depend for lights and air.’
In time, I got used to the noise and the cramped conditions and the ever-burning lights, but never the lack of fresh air.
There were at least two other large bunkers beneath the Chancellery and a series of smaller ancillary shelters, used as dormitories by the bunker personnel. Willie Oberbeil and myself were assigned to one of these cement-walled dormitories, which we shared with sixteen others. It was about fifteen feet below the Chancellery cellars, immediately above the main bunker. We nick-named this depressing tomb the ‘LAGER’, the German word for camp. The lager was badly ventilated and all eighteen of us who slept there were constantly complaining about the claustrophobic effect it had on us.
This unnatural life would have been unbearable had we not been occupied by working 16 hours a day. Living like moles, not knowing day from night and in the bunker itself, subjected twenty four hours a day, to the unblinking glare of harsh electric lights - one lived an automatic routine. The absurdity of this existence was illustrated by a little pantomime devised by Hitler to regiment our lives. Each day at noon, a uniformed guard would enter our office, snap to attention and formally announce:
‘Today is the 23rd of February.’
or whatever the date happened to be. Then he would salute, turn sharply around and stamp out. It was laughable - or would have been if laughter, like every other normal show of emotion were not a stranger in that place.
The bunker resembled a giant ant-heap and at times, the hurried coming and going of messengers, officials, officers and their staffs made it difficult to move about inside. There was a universal lack of space. The High Command, with its staff of many hundreds pressed together in this labyrinth of burrows had, with the usual lack of foresight, failed to provide adequately for such elementary human needs as space to move and breath.
Many nights I woke on my bunk bed in the lager, half suffocating, and groping my way, afraid, to the roofless Chancellery above. I sucked in great lungfulls of cold night air and longed for the cool breezes of my native Spain. It seemed a lifetime ago that I had last seen my home.
It had been six months since I had left Madrid where, for four years, I had organized the activities of a German espionage ring, unhindered either by the Spanish government or the many Allied agents operating in my neutral country.
But in June of 1944, I narrowly escaped death at the hands of British and American secret service agents in Madrid, who were attempting to abduct me to England for interrogation.
I had been betrayed by a certain Conrado Blanco, a man whom I had called my friend. He telephoned me in the middle of the night and said that he had a group of highly important men waiting for me at his house.
.....Waiting for me was the right expression!
The door of Blanco’s house was ajar when I arrived, and all was silent. I found him in his study. He seemed slightly embarrassed. In that instant, my long experience made me sense that something was wrong. My fears were confirmed by a quiet English voice from behind me.
‘How good of you to come, Mr. Velasco.’
I spun around and there behind me, with a smile on his face, was my old foe, the English secret service agent John Fulton. He was joined by two other men I knew to be Allied agents - one American and the other Canadian. Outwardly friendly, they offered me a glass of whiskey which I took. It was while we stood drinking that Fulton announced that he would be taking me back to England. My only comfort was the .32 revolver I had slipped into my jacket pocket before leaving my home. Now was the time to use it!
I pulled the pistol from my pocket and fired two shots blindly as I dived for the French windows. I heard them stumbling after me in the darkness as I raced down the garden and scaled the rear wall. I was lucky and found a taxi a few streets away.
Although outwardly friendly, I knew Fulton was deadly serious in his plan to abduct me. Every moment I stayed in Madrid, I knew my life would be in danger. I might not be so lucky the next time. I paused at my home long enough to snatch up a few clothes and papers, and put a call through to my Second-in-Command in Madrid.
Explanations weren’t necessary. I merely mentioned the code name ‘MATILDA’. He knew what to do. ‘MATILDA’ was a code word in our ring for an emergency exit from Spain.
Within an hour after leaving Blanco’s house in the Colonia del Viso district of Madrid, I was being driven in a fast car towards the northwest coast of Spain. Throughout the war, German U-Boats had been patrolling the Gallegan coast. Now members of my organization had sent a radio message and arranged a rendezvous.
After a twenty hour journey, I arrived exhausted in the fishing village of Villagarcia. Waiting for me was a powerful diesel launch. I tumbled from the car and jumped aboard, and immediately I was being taken out to sea. A few minutes after 0400, the conning tower hatch on the U-Boat clanged shut behind me. I was on my way to Germany. Our destination was Hamburg. During our trip past England, we dived deeply with the crew at battle stations. The U-Boat Captain explained that the area was alive with ships and we guessed that this must be the assembly point for a huge Atlantic convoy.
I experienced the usual depression which grips me on a U-Boat. It was forbidden for men of my profession to mix with members of the armed forces under all but the most exceptional circumstances. And so on a submarine, it was customary for an agent to eat alone, sleep alone and avoid all contact with the officers and crew.
It was therefore with a feeling of great relief that I stepped onto the jetty of one of the huge U-Boat pens in Hamburg docks - a feeling which soon evaporated when I saw the shattered state of the city. The night and day pounding by Allied bombers had taken its toll. I saw signs of their marksmanship along every street. That is, where it was still possible to make out where streets had been. For in places, whole blocks had been flattened, roads obliterated and all that remained were piles of rubble where once had been houses, shops, churches.
News of my arrival was radioed ahead. I was contacted by local intelligence and ordered to report to Berlin. I arrived in the capital, having ridden in the guard’s van of a troop train, packed with soldiers heading for the Eastern Front.
In Berlin, I was driven to the old Reichstag in a staff car. My orders had been to report to an SS Intelligence unit stationed there. But when I arrived, the whole place was in pandemonium! The officer who was to deal with my case was in a state of great agitation.
‘What is all the panic?’I asked him.
He looked at me incredulously,
‘Haven’t you heard?’ He said, shaking his head in wonder.
‘The Allies have landed in Normandy.’
I thought immediately of the huge armada of ships was passed during the journey from Spain.
Within a couple of days - when I was set to work with SS Intelligence, I was to handle hundreds of top secret telegrams from the front, it became clear to me that our Armies in France had been taken completely by surprise. Despite that, Field Marshall von Rundstedt (photo left), Commander-in-Chief in the West, reported the landings were not of major importance. Our Intelligence Service were hourly receiving what claimed to be authentic reports that he was powerless to prevent the full-scale invasion which would surely take place in the next few days. If the much-praised Atlantic Wall had collapsed so easily, it boded ill for Germany’s more pregnable fronts further east.
EDITOR NOTE - if the handwriting was already on the wall at this stage of the War, do you think it just possible that some of those in positions of great power just might think about putting an escape route into effect?
About the middle of June, I was directed to München where I was to work in the Foreign section of SS Intelligence and so; equipped with a new passport proclaiming me to be Dr. Juan Gomez, a Spanish doctor of medicine, I caught the train south.
Unfortunately, my stay in München was curtailed as the Royal Air Force started to devote their attentions to that city.
Every morning, I noticed a change in the skyline as seen from my hotel window. I was therefore not surprised one morning to learn that a blockbuster had demolished the Intelligence Department offices and, after two days of confusion, I was ordered to Köln; our Central Headquarters.
I was met in Köln by SS Commander Willy Oberbeil. He was a man in his early forties, of medium height and with a short crop of receding brown hair. He wore thick, steel rimmed glasses. He took me into his office on the fifth floor of the headquarters building and he told me something of what had been decided for my future. The Nazi Party he said, were satisfied with the work I had been doing and now that it was no longer possible for me personally to supervise my organization in Spain, I had been chosen to assist him in his work at Intelligence HQ. I was to work in his office and be responsible for editing a mass of reports that came in daily from agents throughout the world. From me, these reports would be wired direct to the Führer. As Oberbeil outlined my duties, I grasped the significance of what he was saying. I was soon to be given a complete panorama of the work of the Nazi espionage service.
Perhaps had I then known what effect this was going to have on my later life, I would have refused this job and walked out on my Nazi masters there and then. But I was flattered by Oberbeil’s verbal pat on the back and by the knowledge that the Nazi High Command considered me valuable enough to be entrusted with a position of such responsibility.