Eva Braun was as different from the popular image of a dictator’s mistress as one could imagine. She came from a simple middle-class family . . . and she was a simple, middle-class person. This woman, pretty rather than beautiful, had in her twelve years courtship spent little more than a few weeks alone with Hitler since their first meetings in a photographer’s studio in 1933.
And now, with the Führer alternately raving at the break-up of his empire and directing impossible orders at the badly mauled armies, she found it no less difficult to have him to herself. It is difficult to say what she did with herself in the Führerbunker. She came in with no luggage but carrying a fur coat, and disappeared beyond the door to Hitler’s personal quarters. I saw her only once more.
On April 16, Wagner ordered Oberbeil and myself to remove all the office records from their files. Box by box, was carried them into an adjoining room where they were burned in a boiler. Even then, those reports which arrived during the following few days were destroyed as soon as they had been read by Hitler. On the 21st, we were ordered to evacuate the bunker.
An hour before we were told, I had gone upstairs to the upper level of the bunker and I saw Martin Bormann arrive. His face was stern, his uniform had been torn and spattered with mud - which gave support to a rumor in the bunker that he had been personally directing rear guard action of our troops in Berlin. He entered the bunker in a hurry, ignoring the greetings of those Party officials standing, waiting for him in the entrance corridor. I followed downstairs and, as I stopped to enter my own office, I saw him brush aside the SS guard outside the door to Hitler’s quarters and stride in. From the look of unsmiling resolve on his face, I got the impression that he had arrived at some important decision. But even this did nothing to sweeten the air of defeat which hung like a shroud around the bunker. A state of mind which was summed up in a phrase which I heard more and more often:
“ALL IS LOST EXCEPT HONOR.”
Bormann was closeted with the Führer when Wagner joined Oberbeil and myself in our office and announced:
‘Today will be our last day in the bunker, gentlemen.’
He sat on his deck and handed ‘round cigarettes. Then, in a steady voice, more composed than he’d been for many weeks, he went on:
‘Our work here is finished. There is nothing left for us to do.’
‘Nothing?’ I queried.
‘No. At least, not here. I have been told that we are leaving for another part of the Reich. I imagine we shall continue our work there.’ Wagner replied.
Then he strode out of the office and left us to our own thoughts. Mine turned around the problem of how we would ever get out of Berlin alive. I was technically a neutral citizen - but I had a strong suspicion that Russian shells did not respect neutrality and that if I were captured by Soviet troops, I would be shot anyway. But, however great the odds against living in that battleground upstairs, I was perfectly willing to take them; anything rather than die in this hole in the ground.
I must have been in my office for some two hours after Wagner’s announcement when I heard the sounds of unusual activity in the central corridor of the bunker. I went out and looked. I was in time to see Martin Bormann leaving Hitler’s quarters in company with General Zimmermann and half a dozen other men, most of them out of uniform. Bormann seemed much more relaxed than he had on entering, and I even saw him smile weakly at some remark of Zimmermann’s.
From the other end of the corridor, a group of officers had entered and now stood in groups along both sides of the corridor. One group stood within a yard of me and it was in front of these officers that Zimmermann stopped and spoke. He told them:
“The war is not lost. Although the situation is both heavy and dangerous, I am convinced that the faith and courage of the Wehrmacht will enable us to make a last stand which will, I am sure, oblige the Allies to await negotiations.”
Despite the Patriotic assurances of this SS General, the officers near me received his words with little enthusiasm. I could see from their faces they quite plainly did not believe a word he said. But Bormann seemed in a hurry to get away and took the General by the arm to lead him toward the stairs and the exit from the bunker.
Another two hours passed - though to me, anxious to leave, it seemed like two years - before anything more happened.
There was another commotion in the corridor outside and once more I went to investigate. This time I counted about thirty officers and officials standing in small groups along the corridor. Now and again, they glanced towards the door leading to Hitler’s quarters, outside which the SS guard still stood, impassively, to attention.
Somewhere, an unseen radio crackled an announcement. I caught only these words: ‘The Führer ...’ before someone switched it off. I sensed that something big was about to happen.
Moments later, the door of the Führer’s quarters opened and Eva Braun appeared. A fur coat was folded over her arm and in her right hand, she was holding a black vanity case. Behind her came two young girls in civilian clothes, and an elderly woman followed by three uniformed SS officers carrying cases.
Eva Braun had changed terribly in the few days since I had seen her. She seemed to be sleep-walking. Her hair was tangled and uncombed, and the rings beneath her eyes were dark and startling as if she had not slept for days. Her eyes lifeless, as if all life had been drained from her. She walked slowly along the corridor, turning to murmur a vague ‘Goodbye’ to some of the men who now lined the corridor and were looking at her incredulously. Her feet appeared to drag and scuff along the floor, as if walking was an effort. After nerve-wracking minutes, she reached the foot of the stairs where a young Colonel stepped forward and took her arm. She gave him a quick, weak smile and leaning heavily on him, disappeared from sight.
The last of my courage seemed to go with her and at that moment, I felt the greatest coward in the world. To me, this tragic figure was a living symbol of our defeat.
Hardly had she disappeared when the door of the conference room opened again and Hitler himself appeared in the doorway. A group of Generals; Keitel and Jodl among them, and Grossadmiral Dönitz followed close behind him. The Führer shuffled down the corridor, his left leg dragging slightly, shaking hands with every one of us assembled there.
EDITOR NOTE - At this point in Don Angel’s letter, it appeared that we had caught him in a lie. We did not think that Admiral Dönitz could be in Berlin at that late stage of the War. I telephoned immediately to Sharkhunters Member PETER-ERICH CREMER (114-1985), nicknamed “Ali”. He was head of the personal guard of Dönitz at Flensburg and so should have personal knowledge.
I did not give him any specific date - I only asked if Admiral Dönitz was in Berlin anytime in March or April of 1945. He said very quickly that it was not possible for Dönitz to be in Berlin in those months because he was in Flensburg, commanding the Navy and Berlin was under constant siege and nearly encircled by the Red Army. At this point, I believed that DON ANGEL was lying. I put his letter into a file and went on about my work.
Two days later, ‘Ali’ CREMER called me back from his home in Germany. He said that he had looked at his personal notebook of the War years and he told me that Grossadmiral Dönitz WAS in the Führerbunker over 21st April. I had not given him a date in my earlier question, only “March or April” and he told this precise date, the same as claimed by DON ANGEL.
I realized that the letter from DON ANGEL was not a lie, and I pulled it again from its dusty file.
Three U-Boat Skippers at our 1988 Sharkhunters Convention in Hamburg. CREMER is on the right.
Hitler’s complete degeneration was there in every movement he made. He was like a puppet without strings, an empty shell of a man whose power alone prevented his complete collapse. Step by step he moved nearer, pausing in front of each of my companions for a handshake and a mumbled word. My eyes were glued on him; fascinated. I who had thrilled to his stirring oratory and responded to his call to war could hardly believe that this hobbling creature had come so close to ruling the world.
Yet when he came to me and I held his limp, thin hand in mine, I felt a great force - like an electric shock in my arm. It was as if all his distress and sickness were being passed into me. His eyes were down cast and when he spoke, his voice was so low I could hardly catch his words. I craned forward lest he had some vital message of hope and encouragement. But all he said was:
‘Where goes this man without a motive?’
To this day, I don’t know what he meant but considering the situation then, he could hardly have muttered more apt words. He turned away from me. He stumbled, and Keitel and Admiral Dönitz leapt forward and took him under the armpits to stop him falling. But with a tremendous effort, Hitler shrugged them away and continued down the corridor without assistance. Throughout this funereal walk, he waved his right hand aimlessly. It was as if he was trying to say:
‘My dear friends, excuse me.’
I, and I imagine everyone else, had been expecting some kind of excuse or explanation.....some word to tell us what was to happen now. But there was nothing.
Bormann had promised that the Führer would find some way of pulling through, but now it was plain to us all that neither Hitler; a finished and broken old man on the evidence of my own eyes; not Bormann; nor anyone else believed this promise any longer. Indeed Bormann, who for so long had diligently worked in Hitler’s shadow night and day, was conspicuous by his absence.
It was believed by some of the bunker staff that Bormann, in collusion with Dönitz, was attempting to negotiate with the Russians. Wagner himself told me this, adding:
‘It is probably the only way of getting free of this cemetery in which we are living.’
He did not seem to question the rights and wrongs of it. Survival was all that mattered. But I, who later heard Bormann condemn the Communists and all they stood for, could not accept that this fervent Nazi could betray us so easily to the enemy. As he told me himself, eight months after the War ended:
‘I was not concerned that day with making excuses for Adolf Hitler. I was only concerned with saving his life.’
And he told me then:
‘Our Führer can still unify Germany and make it free from spiritual and geographical division.’
From what Bormann told me and from what I saw in those last hours in the bunker I have almost satisfied myself as to what actually happened to Hitler. I know that many people who remained in the bunker after I have left have given their own explanation of what took place there and their accounts are possibly more acceptable than mine. In fact, I do not attempt to discredit them.
But on the evidence as I know it, this is my reconstruction. A few minutes after Hitler had disappeared up the steps leading out of the Führerbunker I saw for myself a man who bore a startling resemblance to Hitler in stature and facial features being escorted by three uniformed SS officers into the Führer’s private apartments. It was commonly accepted that there was on the Führer’s staff, a man who was said to be his double.
EDITOR NOTE – It is generally accepted that this is not the real Hitler in this photo shot in the last days of the war. The nose, the ears and cheekbones are quite different than the real Hitler.
In conversations with Bormann, he was insistent that Hitler had been removed from the bunker under the influence of drugs on April 21st - the day I shook hands with him in the bunker corridor. Bormann would not give me any explanation as to how many apparently reliable witnesses had claimed to have seen and spoken to Hitler in the bunker right up until his reported suicide on April 30th, except to say that as creator of the Hitler suicide myth he had seen to it that all participants had been carefully briefed.
It is only left to me to believe that it was Hitler’s double who, nine days after I left, was destined to play this most important role in the history of Nazism. It was this man who was shot through the mouth and whose body, dressed in Hitler’s uniform, was burned alongside that of Eva Braun in the Chancellery garden that same afternoon.
I cannot swear to the truth of this story. I was not there. But seven years later I was to witness an incredible scene which was to reinforce my view that Adolf Hitler did not die in Berlin in April 1945.
Three hours after shaking hands with Adolf Hitler I left the Reich bunker and staggered up to ground level into a scene of the most appalling confusion and noise. Russian artillery was pounding Berlin to ruins. The capital seemed on fire. The sky itself was dark but the jagged outlines of the battered city showed starkly against a red backcloth of fire.
I lay close to a bomb shattered wall in the burnt out ruin of the Chancellery, waiting for a lull in the heavy shellfire from the Russian lines half a mile away. It didn’t seem possible for one to live in this inferno; but in a momentary lull, a voice yelled in my ear:
‘Come on! Run!”
and I was jerked onto my feet. I recognized the voice of Colonel SS Wagner, Chief of Intelligence in Hitler’s underground headquarters. With him was Commander SS Willi Oberbeil and together the three of us stumbled across the cratered ruins of the Chancellery garden. Wagner took the lead and we pounded after him. Staggering and occasionally sprawling, we scrambled over mounds of shattered masonry which littered the darkened streets outside. I might have been running for three minutes or three hours. I was so frightened that afterwards I found I could not reckon in terms of time - only of terror.
The streets of Berlin were full of dead and dying men and women, rubble and dirt and broken scaffolding. But around us the spattering of machine gun fire drove us on. I did not know how far I ran or where I was going. But suddenly the shadowy figure ahead of me stopped and seconds later, friendly hands were guiding me into the back seat of a large, black Mercedes. I fell into a deep leather seat, not knowing what was happening; only glad to be alive.
I felt rather than saw Oberbeil slump into the seat by my side, followed by Wagner and a fourth man unknown to me. The steel-helmeted driver let in the clutch and the powerful car surged forward. The great exodus from Berlin had begun. Although the capital was lost, the brains of the Nazi party remained intact.
Three hours earlier, I had watched Hitler shuffle his way out of the bunker, attended by his Generals and personal staff. My spirits could not have been lower. For me, this seemed the end. My Nazi masters were defeated and the cause which I had followed with so much enthusiasm seemed crushed beyond repair.
After Hitler’s strange behavior, I found the bunker even more oppressive than usual and was relieved when Wagner announced we were leaving. He told Oberbeil and me that by the morning everyone of importance would be gone. But at this time, there seemed to me little point in running away. The messages I had seen the previous week spelled only one thing; Germany had suffered total defeat.
Yet here I was, being driven - apparently unhindered - out of Berlin. I had no idea where we were going, but the simple fact that there was still somewhere to go helped to repair my badly damaged faith. But we were far from safe. The Russians by this time had almost entirely surrounded Berlin. Only the southwestern sector was still in the hands of the Germans. Several platoons of our troops backed by Artur Axmann’s Hitler Youth battalions, had succeeded in holding off the enemy long enough for us to make our escape
No one spoke as we twisted and turned through the city’s back streets. Anxiously we watched for signs of enemy troops who might yet end our bid for freedom. Many streets were partially blocked where blitzed buildings had collapsed. Three times we were forced to stop and claw a way through the rubble with our bare hands. Once our driver careened straight over a three foot mound of bricks and broken concrete. Once clear of the deserted suburbs, our driver stopped the car. He told us it would be safer to wait for the others before going on to Munich. Within ten minutes, headlights flashed on the road behind, illuminating a convoy of about eighteen other cars coming in our direction.
EDITOR NOTE - When the top brass said they would fight to the last man; do you think they really meant they would fight to the last of everyone else while they and their families escaped? Keep reading - the defeat of Germany was anticipated more than a year before it finally ended and those at the top made sure that as many of them as possible could escape. Keep reading as this well-planned, well-executed escape operation becomes apparent.
The last I saw of Berlin was a smudgy glow on the skyline. The sound of gunfire had died to a distant rumble and with the immediate danger behind me, I took stock of my companions. At my side, little Oberbeil was complaining that he had lost his spectacles and could not see. Wagner was examining a deep gash in his right ankle - he had caught it on a half buried girder on our sprint from the bunker. And our other passenger, a round faced and pot bellied SS Colonel, his uniform crumpled and stained, was still sprawled in the seat where he had fallen. Fear and unaccustomed physical exertion had left him exhausted.
I found a half finished pack of cigarettes in my pocket and passed them ‘round. Only when I came to light my own did I discover how badly I was shaking.
We continued south throughout the night, and dawn found us rushing through the German countryside, fresh and pleasant in contrast to the hell we had left behind us in the night. Only now in daylight, did I realize the extent of our getaway operation. We were the last car of a convoy of nearly two dozen vehicles. Practically all the key men who had staffed the bunker in those last desperate weeks were here. The nucleus of the Nazi High Command was moving en bloc to the last stronghold of the Thousand Year Reich. Many of them were destined to arrive.
Death swooped from the clear blue sky in the shape of a British fighter patrol. In seconds, the air was full of exploding cannon shells. Our driver braked and swerved into a hedgerow as the leading car of the convoy vanished in an eruption of flame.
I threw myself from the car and fought my way into the hedge. I was dimly conscious of the screams of the wounded above the roar of the aircraft engines, and saw a burst of fire from one of the planes above, cut a swath of death less than a yard in front of me. I didn’t see what happened to the others - I hugged the ground with my belly, my head buried in my hands. In that kind of situation you don’t worry about the others. The world ends with the person by your side; the rest cease to exist.
It was all over in a minute; yet in that minute twenty three people had died and at least a dozen others lay badly wounded along the roadside. Ten of the cars were destroyed completely. Some of the less badly wounded, we took in the remaining cars but the rest we left behind, wrapped in blankets and greatcoats, hoping that our own ambulance service or the Allied Red Cross would discover and take care of them.
For a time, we didn’t feel like talking and once again I was thankful just to be alive. But soon my mind began to sort out the tremendous events I had witnessed in the past few days. Suddenly the SS Colonel, his name I believe was Lachner, broke into my thoughts and caught the attention of us all.
“The Führer wanted nothing more than to be left to die with his people.” He shrilled. “But Bormann wanted him out alive.”
I felt Wagner stiffen and Oberbeil peering intently at the Colonel. It was obvious he knew a lot more than we did about Hitler’s fate.
“Bormann had left orders that the Führer was to be drugged, by force if necessary & taken out of Berlin. That’s what happened.”
Lachner, who had held a responsible position close to Bormann in the Party Chancellery, told us the full story of what had happened.
When Bormann appeared at the bunker the last time, Hitler was still determined to stay and if necessary, prepared to die defending the capital with the phantom legions which by then, existed only in his mind. But Bormann had already assumed command and gave orders that both Hitler and Eva Braun were to be evacuated from the bunker. They were both forcibly drugged with, it turned out, fatal results for Eva Braun.
EDITOR NOTE – DON ANGEL received faulty Intel of Eva’s death as we interviewed people in Argentina who knew her. There is even a bit of evidence that she was still living into the 21st Century. This is not difficult, as she was born in 1912 so in 2002 she would be 90.
As Lachner spoke, I recalled Hitler’s ashen grey face and his stutter which had been even more pronounced than usual. I had assumed his appearance had been due to the strong emotion he must have felt on leaving Berlin - but now it seemed more likely due to the side effects of the drugs he had been given.
The knowledge that Bormann had countermanded the Führer’s last wish left us stunned. It seemed incredible that Martin Bormann, the man who had been Hitler’s faithful lieutenant for twenty years could perform such a ‘volte face’. I had to wait almost a year to hear from Bormann himself, the true reason for this seeming piece of treachery.
Our flight across Germany lasted almost twenty hours. I still have a vague picture of the shattered towns and the blank faced people we passed on the long drive south. As the hours dragged past, Lachner grew more and more voluble, chattering endlessly on and on about the backstage intrigue at Hitler’s court. Lachner was insistent that many of Hitler’s worst blunders were due to the misguided advice he was given by a covey of astrologers whom he regularly consulted.
Some years after the war, I myself discovered how the British Secret Service had managed to bribe the so-called prophets and gave them certain information to pass on to the Führer in the form of predictions. An English Secret Service agent told me that without their advice, Hitler would never have attacked Russia. If this were true, and I had no reason then or now to doubt it, then this can be considered as probably the biggest single triumph in the long history of espionage.
At dusk on the evening of April 22nd, our depleted convoy arrived at its destination - Rottach am Egern; Germany’s natural redoubt in the Bavarian mountains. It was here the Nazis planned to make their last stand against the advancing Allies. And as we approached the heavily guarded mountain fortress, I recalled the words of General SS Zimmermann, that here we might yet win an honorable peace.
2008 Sharkhunters Members in some of the bunkers still there in the “Southern Redoubt”
Long queues of vehicles waited to pass through the checkpoints along the road. At each point, we were thoroughly scrutinized by SS guards, and stage by stage, we penetrated deeper and higher into the redoubt; each car directed to its different section according to the number hastily painted on the sides. We were told to follow a narrow rutten track which wound us up the steep incline from the foot of one of the mountains. The driver finally pulled up outside the entrance to a tunnel, guarded by more SS men with sub-machine guns.
The tunnel at Rottach-am-Egern
Without a word, a young lieutenant led us through a steel doored entrance into a miniature bunker - smaller but similar in layout to the Führerbunker in Berlin.
For the first time in two days, our small intelligence unit was alone again; Lachner having left us at the main barrier of Rottach am Egern to rejoin his colleagues in another section. We had been allocated a tiny office near the bunker entrance, the new headquarters for Nazi Germany’s espionage work.
Wagner exploded when he saw our miserable quarters. Apart from a heavy wooden table and four hard backed chairs, the room was completely bare. We were equipped neither with radio nor transmitter or files, code books and the necessary paraphernalia for our job yet we were expected to cope, we discovered, with the escape plans of some of Nazi Germany’s leading figures.