Military history

HITLER’S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT

These two documents survive, as Hitler meant them to, and like others of his papers they are significant to this narrative. They confirm that the man who had ruled over Germany with an iron hand for more than twelve years, and over most of Europe for four, had learned nothing from his experience; not even his reverses and shattering final failure had taught him anything. Indeed, in the last hours of his life he reverted to the young man he had been in the gutter days in Vienna and in the early rowdy beer hall period in Munich, cursing the Jews for all the ills of the world, spinning his half-baked theories about the universe, and whining that fate once more had cheated Germany of victory and conquest. In this valedictory to the German nation and to the world which was also meant to be a last, conclusive appeal to history, Adolf Hitler dredged up all the empty claptrap of Mein Kampf and added his final falsehoods. It was a fitting epitaph of a power-drunk tyrant whom absolute power had corrupted absolutely and destroyed.

The “Political Testament,” as he called it, was divided into two parts, the first consisting of his appeal to posterity, the second of his specific directions for the future.

More than thirty years have passed since I made my modest contribution as a volunteer in the First World War, which was forced upon the Reich.

In these three decades, love and loyalty to my people alone have guided me in all my thoughts, actions and life. They gave me power to make the most difficult decisions which have ever confronted mortal man …

It is untrue that I or anybody else in Germany wanted war in 1939. It was wanted and provoked exclusively by those international statesmen who either were of Jewish origin or worked for Jewish interests.

I have made too many offers for the limitation and control of armaments, which posterity will not for all time be able to disregard, for responsibility for the outbreak of this war to be placed on me. Further, I have never wished that after the appalling First World War there should be a second one against either England or America. Centuries will go by, but from the ruins of our towns and monuments the hatred of those ultimately responsible will always grow anew. They are the people whom we have to thank for all this: international Jewry and its helpers.

Hitler then repeated the lie that three days before the attack on Poland he had proposed to the British government a reasonable solution of the Polish–German problem.

It was rejected only because the ruling clique in England wanted war, partly for commercial reasons, partly because it was influenced by propaganda put out by the international Jewry.

Next he placed “sole responsibility” not only for the millions of deaths suffered on the battlefields and in the bombed cities but for his own massacre of the Jews—on the Jews. Then he turned to the reasons for his decision to remain in Berlin to the last.

After six years of war, which in spite of all setbacks will one day go down in history as the most glorious and heroic manifestation of the struggle for existence of a nation, I cannot forsake the city that is the capital of this state … I wish to share my fate with that which millions of others have also taken upon themselves by staying in this town. Further, I shall not fall in the hands of the enemy, who requires a new spectacle, presented by the Jews, to divert their hysterical masses.

I have therefore decided to remain in Berlin and there to choose death voluntarily at that moment when I believe that the position of the Fuehrer and the Chancellery itself can no longer be maintained. I die with a joyful heart in my knowledge of the immeasurable deeds and achievements of our peasants and workers and of a contribution unique in history of our youth which bears my name.

There followed an exhortation to all Germans “not to give up the struggle.” He had finally forced himself to recognize, though, that National Socialism was finished for the moment, but he assured his fellow Germans that from the sacrifices of the soldiers and of himself

the seed has been sown that will grow one day … to the glorious rebirth of the National Socialist movement of a truly united nation.

Hitler could not die without first hurling one last insult at the Army and especially at its officer corps, whom he held chiefly responsible for the disaster. Though he confessed that Nazism was dead, at least for the moment, he nevertheless adjured the commanders of the three armed services

to strengthen with every possible means the spirit of resistance of our soldiers in the National Socialist belief, with special emphasis on the fact that I myself, as the founder and creator of this movement, prefer death to cowardly resignation or even to capitulation.

   Then the jibe at the Army officer caste:

May it be in the future a point of honor with the German Army officers, as it already is in our Navy, that the surrender of a district or town is out of the question and that, above everything else, the commanders must set a shining example of faithful devotion to duty unto death.

It was Hitler’s insistence that “a district or town” must be held “unto death,” as at Stalingrad, which had helped bring about military disaster. But in this, as in other things, he had learned nothing.

The second part of the Political Testament dealt with the question of succession. Though the Third Reich was going up in flames and explosions, Hitler could not bear to die without naming his successor and dictating the exact composition of the government which that successor must appoint. First he had to eliminate his would-be successors.

Before my death, I expel former Reich Marshal Hermann Goering from the party and withdraw from him all the rights that were conferred on him by the decree of June 20, 1941 … In his place I appoint Admiral Doenitz as President of the Reich and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Before my death, I expel the former Reichsfuehrer of the S.S. and the Minister of Interior Heinrich Himmler from the party and from all his state offices.

The leaders of the Army, the Air Force and the S.S., he believed, had betrayed him, had cheated him of victory. So his only possible choice of successor had to be the leader of the Navy, which had been too small to play a major role in Hitler’s war of conquest. This was a final jibe at the Army, which had done most of the fighting and lost most of the men killed in the war. There was also a last parting denunciation of the two men who had been, with Goebbels, his most intimate collaborators since the early days of the party.

Apart altogether from their disloyalty to me, Goering and Himmler have brought irreparable shame on the whole nation by secretly negotiating with the enemy without my knowledge and against my will, and also by illegally attempting to seize control of the State.

Having expelled the traitors and named his successor, Hitler then proceeded to tell Doenitz whom he must have in his new government. They were all “honorable men,” he said, “who will fulfill the task of continuing the war with all means.” Goebbels was to be the Chancellor and Bormannthe “Party Minister”—a new post. Seyss-Inquart, the Austrian quisling and, most recently, the butcher governor of Holland, was to be Foreign Minister. Speer, like Ribbentrop, was dropped. But Count Schwerin von Krosigk, who had been Minister of Finance continuously since his appointment by Papen in 1932, was to retain that post. This man was a fool, but it must be admitted that he had a genius for survival.

Hitler not only named his successor’s government. He imparted one last typical directive to it.

Above all, I enjoin the government and the people to uphold the racial laws to the limit and to resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations, international Jewry.21

With that the Supreme German Warlord was finished. The time was now 4 A.M. on Sunday, April 29. Hitler called in Goebbels, Bormann and Generals Krebs and Burgdorf to witness his signing of the document, and to affix their own signatures. He then quickly dictated his personal will. In this the Man of Destiny reverted to his lower-middle-class origins in Austria, explaining why he had married and why he and his bride were killing themselves, and disposing of his property, which he hoped would be enough to support his surviving relatives in a modest way. At least Hitlerhad not used his power to amass a vast private fortune, as had Goering.

Although during the years of struggle I believed that I could not undertake the responsibility of marriage, now, before the end of my life, I have decided to take as my wife the woman who, after many years of true friendship, came to this city, already almost besieged, of her own free will in order to share my fate.

She will go to her death with me at her own wish as my wife. This will compensate us both for what we lost through my work in the service of my people.

My possessions, insofar as they are worth anything, belong to the party, or, if this no longer exists, to the State. If the State too is destroyed, there is no need for any further instructions on my part. The paintings in the collections bought by me during the years were never assembled for private purposes but solely for the establishment of a picture gallery in my home town of Linz on the Danube.

Bormann, as executor, was asked

to hand over to my relatives everything that is of value as a personal memento or is necessary for maintaining a petty-bourgeois [kleinen bürgerlichen] standard of living …*

My wife and I choose to die in order to escape the shame of overthrow or capitulation. It is our wish that our bodies be burned immediately in the place where I have performed the greater part of my daily work during the twelve years of service to my people.

Exhausted by the dictation of his farewell messages, Hitler went to bed as dawn was breaking over Berlin on this last Sabbath of his life. A pall of smoke hung over the city. Buildings crashed in flames as the Russians fired their artillery at point-blank range. They were now not far from the Wilhelmstrasse and the Chancellery.

While Hitler slept, Goebbels and Bormann made haste. In his Political Testament, which they had signed as witnesses, the Fuehrer had specifically ordered them to leave the capital and join the new government. Bormann was more than willing to obey. For all his devotion to the Leader, he did not intend to share his death, if he could avoid it. The only thing in life he wanted was power behind the scenes, and Doenitz might still offer him this. That is, if Goering, on learning of the Fuehrer’s death, did not try to usurp the throne. To make sure that he did not, Bormann now got out a radio message to the S.S. headquarters at Berchtesgaden.

… If Berlin and we should fall, the traitors of April 23 must be exterminated. Men, do your duty! Your life and honor depend on it!22

This was an order to murder Goering and his Air Force staff, whom Bormann had already placed under S.S. arrest.

Dr. Goebbels, like Eva Braun but unlike Bormann, had no desire to live in a Germany from which his revered Fuehrer had departed. He had hitched his star to Hitler, to whom alone he owed his sensational rise in life. He had been the chief prophet and propagandist of the Nazi movement. It was he who, next to Hitler, had created its myths. To perpetuate those myths not only the Leader but his most loyal follower, the only one of the Old Guard who had not betrayed him, must die a sacrificial death. He too must give an example that would be remembered down the ages and help one day to rekindle the fires of National Socialism.

Such seem to have been his thoughts when, after Hitler retired, Goebbels repaired to his little room in the bunker to write his own valedictory to present and future generations. He entitled it “Appendix to the Fuehrer’s Political Testament.”

The Fuehrer has ordered me to leave Berlin … and take part as a leading member in the government appointed by him.

For the first time in my life I must categorically refuse to obey an order of the Fuehrer. My wife and children join me in this refusal. Apart from the fact that feelings of humanity and personal loyalty forbid us to abandon the Fuehrer in his hour of greatest need, I would otherwise appear for the rest of my life as a dishonorable traitor and a common scoundrel and would lose my self-respect as well as the respect of my fellow citizens …

In the nightmare of treason which surrounds the Fuehrer in these most critical days of the war, there must be someone at least who will stay with him unconditionally until death …

I believe I am thereby doing the best service to the future of the German people. In the hard times to come, examples will be more important than men …

For this reason, together with my wife, and on behalf of my children, who are too young to be able to speak for themselves and who, if they were old enough, would unreservedly agree with this decision, I express my unalterable resolution not to leave the Reich capital, even if it falls, but rather, at the side of the Fuehrer, to end a life that for me personally will have no further value if I cannot spend it at the service of the Fuehrer and at his side.23

Dr. Goebbels finished writing his piece at half past five on the morning of April 29. Daylight was breaking over Berlin, but the sun was obscured by the smoke of battle. In the electric light of the bunker much remained to be done. The first consideration was how to get the Fuehrer’s last will and testament out through the nearby Russian lines so that it could be delivered to Doenitz and others and preserved for posterity.

Three messengers were chosen to take copies of the precious documents out: Major Willi Johannmeier, Hitler’s military adjutant; Wilhelm Zander, an S.S. officer and adviser to Bormann; and Heinz Lorenz, the Propaganda Ministry official who had brought the shattering news of Himmler’s treachery the night before. Johannmeier, a much decorated officer, was to lead the party through the Red Army’s lines. He himself was then to deliver his copy of the papers to Field Marshal Ferdinand Schoerner, whose army group still held out intact in the Bohemian mountains and whom Hitler had named as the new Commander in Chief of the Army. General Burgdorf enclosed a covering letter informing Schoerner that Hitler had written his Testament “today under the shattering news of Himmler’s treachery, It is his unalterable decision.” Zander and Lorenz were to take their copies to Doenitz. Zander was given a covering note from Bormann.

DEAR GRAND ADMIRAL:

Since all divisions have failed to arrive and our position seems hopeless, the Fuehrer dictated last night the attached political Testament. Heil Hitler.

The three messengers set out on their dangerous mission at noon, edging their way westward through the Tiergarten and Charlottenburg to Pichelsdorf at the head of the Havel lake, where a Hitler Youth battalion held the bridge in anticipation of the arrival of Wenck’s ghost army. To get that far they had successfully slipped through three Russian rings; at the Victory Column in the middle of the Tiergarten, at the Zoo Station just beyond the park, and on the approaches to Pichelsdorf. They still had many other lines to penetrate, and much adventure lay ahead of them,* and though they eventually got through it was much too late for their messages to be of any use to Doenitz and Schoerner, who never saw them.

The three messengers were not the only persons to depart from the bunker that day. At noon on April 29, Hitler, who had now been restored to a period of calm, held his customary war conference to discuss the military situation, just as he had daily at this hour for nearly six years—and just as if the end of the road had not been reached. General Krebs reported that the Russians had advanced farther toward the Chancellery during the night and early morning. The supply of ammunition of the city’s defenders, such as they were, was getting low. There was still no news from Wenck’s rescue army. Three military adjutants, who now found little to do and who did not want to join the Leader in self-inflicted death, asked if they could leave the bunker in order to try to find out what had happened to Wenck. Hitler granted them permission and instructed them to urge General Wenck to get a move on. During the afternoon the three officers left.

They were soon joined by a fourth, Colonel Nicolaus von Below, Hitler’s Luftwaffe adjutant, who had been a junior member of the inner circle since the beginning of the war. Below too did not believe in suicide and felt that there was no longer any useful employment in the Chancellery shelter. He asked the permission of the Fuehrer to leave and it was granted. Hitler was being most reasonable this day. It also occurred to him that he could utilize the Air Force colonel to carry out one last message. This was to be to General Keitel, whom Bormann already suspected of treason, and it would contain the warlord’s final blast at the Army, which, he felt, had let him down.

No doubt the news at the evening situation conference at 10 P.M. increased the Fuehrer’s already monumental bitterness at the Army. General Weidling, who commanded the courageous but ragged overage Volkssturm and underage Hitler Youth troops being sacrificed in encircled Berlin to prolong Hitler’s life a few days, reported that the Russians had pushed ahead along the Saarlandstrasse and the Wilhelmstrasse almost to the Air Ministry, which was only a stone’s throw from the Chancellery. The enemy would reach the Chancellery, he said, by May 1 at the latest—in a day or two, that is.

This was the end. Even Hitler, who up until now had been directing nonexistent armies supposed to be coming to the relief of the capital, saw that—at last. He dictated his final message and asked Below to deliver it to Keitel. He informed his Chief of OKW that the defense of Berlin was now at an end, that he was killing himself rather than surrender, that Goering and Himmler had betrayed him, and that he had named Admiral Doenitz as his successor.

He had one last word to say about the armed forces which, despite his leadership, had brought Germany to defeat. The Navy, he said, had performed superbly. The Luftwaffe had fought bravely and only Goering was responsible for its losing its initial supremacy in the war. As for the Army, the common soldiers had fought well and courageously, but the generals had failed them—and him.

The people and the armed forces [he continued] have given their all in this long and hard struggle. The sacrifice has been enormous. But my trust has been misused by many people. Disloyalty and betrayal have undermined resistance throughout the war.

It was therefore not granted to me to lead the people to victory. The Army General Staff cannot be compared with the General Staff in the First World War. Its achievements were far behind those of the fighting front.

At least the Supreme Nazi Warlord was remaining true to character to the very end. The great victories had been due to him. The defeats and final failure had been due to others—to their “disloyalty and betrayal.”

And then the parting valediction—the last recorded written words of this mad genius’s life.

The efforts and sacrifices of the German people in this war have been so great that I cannot believe that they have been in vain. The aim must still be to win territory in the East for the German people.*

The last sentence was straight out of Mein Kampf. Hitler had begun his political life with the obsession that “territory in the East” must be won for the favored German people, and he was ending his life with it. All the millions of German dead, all the millions of German homes crushed under the bombs, even the destruction of the German nation had not convinced him that the robbing of the lands of the Slavic peoples to the East was—morals aside—a futile Teutonic dream.

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