Military history


Two more interesting visitors had meanwhile arrived in the madhouse of the Fuehrer’s bunker: Hanna Reitsch, the crack woman test pilot who, among other qualities, had a capacity for monumental hatred, especially of Goering, and General Ritter von Greim, who on April 24 had been summoned from Munich to appear personally before the Supreme Warlord and had done so, though the plane in which he and Reitsch flew the last lap on the evening of the twenty-sixth had been torn over the Tiergarten by Russian antiaircraft shells and Greim’s foot had been shattered.

Hitler came into the surgery, where a physician was dressing the general’s wound.

HITLER: Do you know why I have called you?

GREIM: No, my Fuehrer.

HITLER: Because Hermann Goering has betrayed and deserted both me and his Fatherland. Behind my back he has established contact with the enemy. His action was a mark of cowardice. Against my orders he has gone to save himself at Berchtesgaden. From there he sent me a disrespectful telegram. It was …

At this point, says Hanna Reitsch, who was present, the Fuehrer’s face began to twitch and his breath came in explosive puffs.

HITLER: … an ultimatum! A crass ultimatum! Now nothing remains. Nothing is spared me. No allegiances are kept, no honor lived up to, no disappointments that I have not had, no betrayals that I have not experienced, and now this above all else! Nothing remains. Every wrong has already been done me.

I immediately had Goering arrested as a traitor to the Reich, took from him all his offices, and removed him from all organizations. That is why I have called you.17

Then and there he named the startled General lying wounded on his cot the new Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe—a promotion he could have made by radio, which would have spared Greim a crippled foot and left him at headquarters, the only place from which what was left of the Air Force could be directed. Three days later Hitler ordered Greim, who by now, like Fräulein Reitsch, expected and indeed desired to die in the bunker at the side of the Leader, to depart in order to deal with a new case of “treachery.” For “treason,” as we have seen, was not confined among the leaders of the Third Reich to Hermann Goering.

During those three days Hanna Reitsch had ample opportunity to observe the lunatic life in the underground madhouse—indeed, she participated in it. Since she was as emotionally unstable as her distinguished host, the account she has left of it is lurid and melodramatic, and yet it is probably largely true and even fairly accurate, for it has been checked against other eyewitness reports, and is thus of importance for the closing chapter of this history.

Late on the night of her arrival with General von Greim—it was April 26—Russian shells began falling on the Chancellery and the thud of the explosions and the sound of crashing walls above increased the tension in the bunker. Hitler took the aviatrix aside.

“My Fuehrer, why do you stay?” she said. “Why do you deprive Germany of your life? … The Fuehrer must live so that Germany can live. The people demand it.”

“No, Hanna,” she says the Fuehrer replied. “If I die it is for the honor of our country, it is because as a soldier I must obey my own command that I would defend Berlin to the last.”

My dear girl [he continued], I did not intend it so. I believed firmly that Berlin would be saved on the banks of the Oder … When our best efforts failed I was the most horror-struck of all. Then when the encirclement of the city began … I believed that by staying all the troops of the land would take example from my act and come to the rescue of the city … But, my Hanna, I still have hope. The army of General Wenck is moving up from the south. He must and will drive the Russians back long enough to save our people. Then we will fall back to hold again.18

That was one mood of Hitler that evening; he still had hope in General Wenck’s relieving Berlin. But a few moments later, as the Russian bombardment of the Chancellery reached great intensity, he was in despair again. He handed Reitsch a vial of poison for herself and one for Greim.

“Hanna,” he said, “you belong to those who will die with me … I do not wish that one of us falls to the Russians alive, nor do I wish our bodies to be found by them … Eva and I will have our bodies burned. You will devise your own method.”

Hanna took the vial of poison to Greim and they decided that “should the end really come” they would swallow the poison and then, to make sure, pull a pin from a heavy grenade and hold it tightly to their bodies.

A day and a half later, on the twenty-eighth, Hitler’s hopes seem to have risen again—or at least his delusions. He radioed Keitel:

“I expect the relief of Berlin. What is Heinrici’s army doing? Where is Wenck? What is happening to the Ninth Army? When will Wenck and Ninth Army join?”19

Reitsch describes the Supreme Warlord that day, striding

about the shelter, waving a road map that was fast disintegrating from the sweat of his hands and planning Wenck’s campaign with anyone who happened to be listening.

But Wenck’s “campaign,” like the Steiner “attack” of a week before, existed only in the Fuehrer’s imagination. Wenck’s army had already been liquidated, as had the Ninth Army. Heinrici’s army, to the north of Berlin, was beating a hasty retreat westward so that it might be captured by the Western Allies instead of by the Russians.

All through April 28 the desperate men in the bunker waited for news of the counterattacks of these three armies, especially that of Wenck. Russian spearheads were now but a few blocks from the Chancellery and advancing slowly toward it up several streets from the east and north and through the nearby Tiergarten from the west. When no news of the relieving forces came, Hitler, prompted by Bormann, began to expect new treacheries. At 8 P.M. Bormann got out a radiogram to Doenitz.

Instead of urging the troops forward to our rescue, the men in authority are silent. Treachery seems to have replaced loyalty! We remain here. The Chancellery is already in ruins.

Later that night Bormann sent another message to Doenitz.

Schoerner, Wenck and others must prove their loyalty to the Fuehrer by coming to the Fuehrer’s aid as soon as possible.20

Bormann was now speaking for himself. Hitler had made up his mind to die in a day or two, but Bormann wanted to live. He might not succeed the Fuehrer but he wanted to continue to pull the strings behind the scenes for whoever did.

Finally, that night Admiral Voss got out a message to Doenitz saying that all radio connection with the Army had broken down and urgently requesting the Navy to send over the naval wave length some news of what was happening in the outside world. Very shortly some news came, not from the Navy but from the listening post in the Propaganda Ministry, and it was shattering for Adolf Hitler.

Besides Bormann there was another Nazi official in the bunker who wanted to live. This was Hermann Fegelein, Himmler’s representative at court and typical of the type of German who rose to prominence under Hitler’s rule. A former groom and then a jockey and quite illiterate, he was a protégé of the notorious Christian Weber, one of Hitler’s oldest party cronies and himself a horse fancier, who by fraudulence had amassed a fortune and a great racing stable after 1933. Fegelein, with Weber’s help, had climbed quite high in the Third Reich. He was a general in the Waffen S.S. and in 1944, shortly after being appointed Himmler’s liaison officer at Fuehrer headquarters, he had further advanced his position at court by marrying Eva Braun’s sister, Gretl. All the surviving S.S. chiefs agree that, in alliance with Bormann, Fegelein lost no time in betraying his own S.S. chief, Himmler, to Hitler. But disreputable, illiterate and ignorant though he was, Fegelein seems to have been possessed of a simon-pure instinct for survival. He knew a sinking ship when he saw one.

On April 26 he quietly left the bunker. By the next afternoon Hitler had noticed his disappearance. The Fuehrer’s easily aroused suspicions were kindled and he sent out an armed S.S. search party to try to find the man. He was found, in civilian clothes, resting in his home in the Charlottenburg district, which the Russians were about to overrun. Brought back to the Chancellery, he was stripped of his S.S. rank of Obergruppenfuehrer and placed under arrest. Fegelein’s attempt at desertion made Hitler immediately suspicious of Himmler. What was the S.S. chief up to, now that he had deliberately absented himself from Berlin? There had been no news since his liaison officer, Fegelein, had quit his post. It now came.

   April 28, as we have seen, had been a trying day in the bunker. The Russians were getting close. The expected news of Wenck’s counter attack, or of any counterattack, had not come through. Desperately the besieged had asked, through the Navy’s radio, for news of developments outside the encircled city.

The radio listening post of the Propaganda Ministry had picked up from a broadcast of the BBC in London one piece of news of what was happening outside Berlin. It was a Reuter dispatch from Stockholm and it was so sensational, so incredible, that one of Goebbels’ assistants, Heinz Lorenz, had scampered across the shell-torn square late on the evening of April 28 to the bunker with copies of it for his Minister and for the Fuehrer.

The dispatch, says Reitsch, struck “a deathblow to the entire assembly. Men and women alike screamed with rage, fear and desperation, all mixed into one emotional spasm.” Hitler’s spasm was the worst. “He raged,” says the aviatrix, “like a madman.”

Heinrich Himmler—der treue Heinrich—had also deserted the sinking ship of state. The Reuter dispatch told of his secret negotiations with Count Bernadotte and his offer to surrender the German armies in the West to Eisenhower.

To Hitler, who had never doubted Himmler’s absolute loyalty, this was the heaviest blow of all. “His color,” says Reitsch, “rose to a heated red and his face was virtually unrecognizable … After the lengthy outburst Hitler sank into a stupor and for a time the entire bunker was silent.” Goering at least had asked the Leader’s permission to take over. But the “treue” S.S. chief and Reichsfuehrer had not bothered to ask; he had treasonably contacted the enemy without saying a word. This, Hitler told his followers when he had somewhat recovered, was the worst act of treachery he had ever known.

This blow—coupled with the news received a few minutes later that the Russians were nearing the Potsdamerplatz, but a block away, and would probably storm the Chancellery on the morning of April 30, thirty hours hence—was the signal for the end. It forced Hitler to make immediately the last decisions of his life. By dawn he had married Eva Braun, drawn up his last will and testament, dispatched Greim and Hanna Reitsch to rally the Luftwaffe for an all-out bombing of the Russian forces approaching the Chancellery, and ordered them also to arrest Himmler as a traitor.

“A traitor must never succeed me as Fuehrer!” Hanna says he told them. “You must get out to insure that he will not.”

Hitler could not wait to begin his revenge against Himmler. He had the S.S. chief’s liaison man, Fegelein, in his hands. The former jockey and present S.S. General was now brought out of the guardhouse, closely questioned as to Himmler’s “betrayal,” accused of having been an accomplice in it, and on the Fuehrer’s orders taken up to the Chancellery garden and shot. The fact that Fegelein was married to Eva Braun’s sister did not help him. Eva made no effort to save her brother-in-law’s life.

“Poor, poor Adolf,” she whimpered to Hanna Reitsch, “deserted by everyone, betrayed by all. Better that ten thousand others die than that he be lost to Germany.”

He was lost to Germany but in those final hours he was won by Eva Braun. Sometime between 1 A.M. and 3 A.M. on April 29, as a crowning award for her loyalty to the end, he accorded his mistress’s wish and formally married her. He had always said that marriage would interfere with his complete dedication to leading first his party to power and then his nation to the heights. Now that there was no more leading to do and his life was at an end, he could safely enter into a marriage which could last only a few hours.

Goebbels rounded up a municipal councilor, one Walter Wagner, who was fighting in a unit of the Volkssturm not many blocks away, and this surprised official performed the ceremony in the small conference room of the bunker. The marriage document survives and gives part of the picture of what one of the Fuehrer’s secretaries described as the “death marriage.” Hitler asked that “in view of war developments the publication of the banns be done orally and all other delays be avoided.” The bride- and groom-to-be swore they were “of complete Aryan descent” and had “no hereditary disease to exclude their marriage.” On the eve of death the dictator insisted on sticking to form. Only in the spaces given to the name of his father (born Schicklgruber) and his mother and the date of their marriage did Hitler leave a blank. His bride started to sign her name “Eva Braun,” but stopped, crossed out the “B” and wrote “Eva Hitler, born Braun.” Goebbels and Bormann signed as witnesses.

After the brief ceremony there was a macabre wedding breakfast in the Fuehrer’s private apartment. Champagne was brought out and even Fräulein Manzialy, Hitler’s vegetarian cook, was invited, along with his secretaries, the remaining generals, Krebs and Burgdorf, Bormann and Dr. and Frau Goebbels, to share in the wedding celebration. For a time the talk gravitated to the good old times and the party comrades of better days. Hitler spoke fondly of the occasion on which he had been best man at the Goebbels wedding. As was his custom, even to the very last, the bridegroom talked on and on, reviewing the high points in his dramatic life. Now it was ended, he said, and so was National Socialism. It would be a release for him to die, since he had been betrayed by his oldest friends and supporters. The wedding party was plunged into gloom and some of the guests stole away in tears. Hitler finally slipped away himself. In an adjoining room he summoned one of his secretaries, Frau Gertrude Junge, and began to dictate his last will and testament.

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