Berlin and Prague Are Taken

At the end of the war, only nine fronts with their UKRs remained in Europe (Table 22-1 lists seven of them, there were also the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian fronts). The Red Army that was moving through Germany toward Berlin looked like anything but the disciplined troops that had crossed the Soviet border in 1944. Captain Mikhail Koryakov, who served in the troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front, recalled just after the war:

The waves of [Marshal Konev’s] troops moving west out of the east had a colorful, exotic appearance. The grimy, bespattered tanks were covered with bright, brilliantly colored rugs on which sat dirty tankmen in uniforms soaked in machine oil. A soldier pulled a bottle out of his pocket, threw back his head and took a long swallow. Then he passed it to his neighbor and, trying to drown out the roar of motors and the screech of caterpillar tractors, in a hoarse, cracking voice began to shout the words of a song…

The artillerymen…threatened the tankmen with their whips, and hit the horses covered with dressy horse blankets weighted down with tassels. The gun crews who jogged on the caissons had lined their seats with soft cushions embroidered with silk and made themselves comfortable. They played German mouth-organs and accordions richly inlaid with mother-of-pearl and silver.

Amid the stream of tanks, guns, motor transports, and Army wagons there appeared every so often an old-fashioned, closed carriage with crystal lanterns or a large landau with a shiny folding top. These carriages were occupied by young officers and men in regulation Army coats with shoulder stripes and automatic rifles behind their shoulders, but who wore top hats and carried umbrellas. Some of them cracked long whips, played mouth-organs, and laughed; others sat very straight and with affected solemnity looked through lorgnettes at the troops moving down the highway…

The Marshal established Draconian rules in an effort to restore discipline among the troops that entered Germany. The order gave a long list of officers who had been degraded and sent to disciplinary battalions. But the gory, drunken wave of debauchery rose high and swept over the dam of official orders.1

Finally, three fronts—the 1st and 2nd Belorussian and the 1st Ukrainian—surrounded Berlin. On April 30, units of the 1st Belorussian Front took the Reichstag, the symbol of the German government. The battle for Berlin continued until May 2, 1945, but sporadic fighting with the resisting groups, mostly SS units, continued until May 11.


The Red Army paid an enormously high price for the victory. During the Berlin Operation, Marshal Georgii Zhukov, commander of the 1st Belorussian Front, continually repeated the order ‘to break through to the city’s suburbs at any price and immediately inform me [so that I can] report to Comrade Stalin and release an announcement to the press.’2 ‘At any price’ translated to 361,367 servicemen killed and wounded in Berlin from April 16 to May 8, 1945—an average of 15,712 men a day.3 Compare this to casualties during the battle for Moscow (autumn 1941–winter 1942), when losses amounted to 10,910 men a day, or during the Battle of Stalingrad (1942–43): 6,392 men a day.

The war with Germany ended on May 8, 1945, after Major General Alfred Jodl signed the ‘Instrument of Surrender’ of the German forces in the presence of American General Walter Bedell Smith, French Major General François Sevez, and General Ivan Sousloparov, Soviet representative at the Allied Headquarters.4 Stalin was not happy that this extremely important document was signed in Rheims (France) instead of Berlin, and that the little-known Sousloparov represented the Soviet Union instead of Marshal Zhukov, the conqueror of Berlin. Stalin telephoned Zhukov to inform him that he had ordered Deputy Foreign Commissar Andrei Vyshinsky immediately to Berlin to sign the German surrender together with Zhukov.5

The next day Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, and General Horst Stumpff signed the Act of Military Surrender of Germany.6 British General Arthur W. Tedder and Marshal Zhukov affixed their signatures on behalf of the Allies and the Soviets, respectively. When Keitel, after signing the act, removed his monocle and tried to say something, Zhukov announced: ‘The German delegation may leave the hall.’ From that day on, the Western Allies have celebrated V-day on May 8, and the Soviets (now Russians), on May 9. Later, in Nuremberg, Jodl and Keitel were sentenced to death and hanged on October 16, 1946.

After the signing, the Soviets threw a lavish banquet. Zhukov’s personal cook recalled that to impress the Allied military leaders, delicacies such as smoked sturgeon meat, black caviar, and special Crimean wines were brought from the Soviet Union to the ruined Berlin, and trophy German wines were also served.7 While waiting for the coming victory, on May 2 the GKO ordered the creation of a new position: Deputy Front Commander in charge of the Management of Civil Affairs.8 These deputies also had a second title, NKVD Plenipotentiary in Charge of Combating Spies, Saboteurs, and Other Enemies on German Territory. Ivan Serov (1st Belorussian), Lavrentii Tsanava (2nd Belorussian), and Pavel Meshik (1st Ukrainian) became Civil Affairs deputy commanders at the fronts that conquered Berlin. Operational groups of SMERSH, NKVD/NKGB officers, and units of NKVD troops were assigned to these three plenipotentiaries. They also had the right to organize their own prisons and concentration camps. Besides policing and repression, they were in charge of organizing local administrations in the occupied territory.

SMERSH in Berlin

During the Battle of Berlin all SMERSH units of the Soviet fighting troops captured and interrogated prisoners. Ivan Klimenko, head of the OKR SMERSH of the 79th Rifle Corps (3rd Shock Army, 1st Belorussian Front), later recalled that in the first days of May, SMERSH operatives captured about 800 high-ranking prisoners around the Reichstag and Hitler’s Chancellery alone.9 The most important generals and witnesses of Hitler’s suicide on April 30 were caught on May 2, including SS-Gruppenführer Johann Rattenhuber, head of Hitler’s personal RSD guards, Rear Admiral Hans Erich Voss, a representative of the German Navy at Hitler’s Headquarters, General of Artillery Helmuth Weidling, commander of the Berlin defense; and Wilhelm Möhnke, the 33-year-old Waffen-SS General whom Hitler had appointed commander of the central area of Berlin only ten days earlier.

Rattenhuber and Möhnke participated in one of Hitler’s last bizarre actions. On April 28, Hitler appointed a military tribunal, with Möhnke presiding and Rattenhuber as a member; two other members, generals Hans Krebs and Wilhelm Burgdorf, committed suicide four days later. The tribunal court-martialed Eva Braun’s brother, and, therefore, Hitler’s brother-in-law, Waffen-SS General Hermann Fegelein (a man close to Heinrich Himmler), as a deserter.10 However, Hitler ordered Rattenhuber’s RSD guards to execute Fegelein on the next day, after it became known that Himmler was trying to negotiate surrender to the Allies through the diplomat and head of the Swedish Red Cross, Count Folke Bernadotte. According to Traudl Junge, one of Hitler’s surviving secretaries, Hitler suspected Himmler of planning to poison him, and Fegelein was allegedly part of the conspiracy. As she recalled, Fegelein ‘had been shot like a dog in the park of the Foreign Office.’11

Escapees from Hitler’s bunker in the Chancellery fled in three groups after Hitler’s death.12 Yelena Rzhevskaya, a translator of Klimenko’s SMERSH group, recalled: ‘The group that included…Rattenhuber and Hitler’s driver [Erich] Kempke, was getting through under the cover of a tank. But a grenade thrown from a window hit the tank at the left side…“I was wounded,” wrote Rattenhuber [later in his testimony], “and was taken prisoner by the Russians.”’13 Möhnke and Vice-Admiral Voss were captured in another group. SMERSH operatives additionally arrested Major Ernst Keitel, Field Marshal Keitel’s son, and Hans Fritzsche, head of the Radio Department in the Propaganda Ministry and future defendant in Nuremberg.

On the same day, Colonel Klimenko and his men found the burned bodies of Paul Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda in the garden of Hitler’s Chancellery, and the bodies of their six children, poisoned by their mother, inside the bunker.14 More exactly, a small competing SMERSH searching group of the 5th Shock Army commanded by Major Zybin found Goebbels’s body first. As Zybin’s superior, Leonid Ivanov, recalled later, ‘Zybin was a short guy, but he stood up in front of the colonel [Miroshnichenko, Klimenko’s superior] and, with his chest sticking out, pronounced: “This is my trophy, I won’t give it to you!” The colonel swung his arm and struck the major [Zybin]. This is how the 3rd Army got Goebbels’s corpse.’15

Voss, Karl Schneider, a member of Hitler’s military guards, and some others identified the bodies, while Hitler’s personal doctor Werner Haase testified about Hitler’s suicide. Major Boris Bystrov, a member of Klimenko’s SMERSH group, told Rzhevskaya about the identification of the dead Goebbels children by Voss:

Bystrov asked Voss: ‘Did you know these children?’

Voss nodded positively and, exhausted, after asking permission, slipped into a chair.

‘I saw them only yesterday. This is Heidi,’ he pointed to the youngest girl.

Before he moved into this room, he had identified [the bodies of ] Goebbels and his wife…

Voss was shaken; he was sitting with stooped shoulders…

Suddenly he…jumped up and ran away. Bystrov rushed after him along a corridor of the dark dungeon…When he overtook Voss, [Bystrov] understood that it was Voss’s gesture of desperation, without any intention or desire to escape.16

Voss even tried to commit suicide by cutting his veins with a small knife, but Klimenko’s men interrupted his attempt.

The next day, Major General Aleksei Sidnev, deputy head of the UKR SMERSH of the 1st Belorussian Front, sent two reports to Abakumov and Beria. The first mentioned the finding and identification of the bodies of the members of the Goebbels family, and the second described testimony by Dr. Haase. Haase stated that, on April 30, he had seen Hitler for the last time, but he knew that after the meeting Hitler had poisoned himself and his body had been burned.

Possibly, both Abakumov and Beria reported the news to Stalin. SMERSH and the NKVD began competing to find out what, in fact, had happened to Hitler. Unfortunately, most of the sources published in English failed to identify two separate investigations by the two Soviet security services.17 Here I will mention only some of SMERSH’s efforts.

SMERSH operational groups began an intensive search for Hitler’s body and for additional witnesses who could identify the corpse. On May 4, the captured SS-guard Harry Mengershausen provided the first detailed information that the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun had been burned in the garden of the Chancellery.18 The next day the badly burned bodies of a man and a woman were found by accident in a bomb crater in the Chancellery’s garden. Nobody could identify them, and Klimenko ordered that they be buried again. Later he realized that the bodies could have belonged to Hitler and Eva Braun. Since now the 5th Army, and not Klimenko’s 3rd Shock Army, controlled the territory of the Chancellery, Klimenko and his men stole the bodies from the site and kept them.

On May 5, Weidling gave a detailed testimony stating that ‘Hitler and his wife committed suicide by taking poison, after which Hitler also shot himself.’19 Three days later Rattenhuber said that Hitler did not shoot himself, but ordered his valet, Heinz Linge, to shoot him.

On May 8, a special medical commission of the 1st Belorussian Front headed by Lieutenant Colonel Faust Shkaravsky, chief medical forensic expert of this front, conducted an autopsy of Hitler and Braun’s presumed bodies. As Rzhevskaya writes, ‘it was really incredible that Doctor Faust [Shkaravsky’s first name] directed an autopsy of Adolf Hitler!’20 The commission concluded that death was caused by cyanide poisoning, and not shooting. However, the commission also noted that part of Hitler’s skull was missing.

Colonel Vasilii Gorbushin, head of a SMERSH operational group, called up Rzhevskaya:

He handed me over a box and said that it contained Hitler’s teeth and that I was responsible for its safety…

It was…a dark-red box with a soft lining inside made of satin…

It was a great obligation for me to have that box in my hands all the time, and I turned cold every time I thought that I might have left it somewhere…

For me…the deaths of the leaders of the [Third Reich] and the surrounding circumstances had become something ordinary.

And not only for me. When I came to the headquarters, my friend Raya, a telegraph operator, tried on Eva Braun’s evening dress. Senior Lieutenant Kurashov, who was in love with her, brought her this dress from the dungeon of the Reich’s Chancellery. It was long, almost down to the floor, with a deep décolleté on the front, but Raya didn’t like it. And she was not interested in it as in a historical souvenir.21

Later the lower jaws of Hitler and Eva Braun, and both jaws of Magda Goebbels, were sent to the 2nd MGB Main Directorate (internal counterintelligence) in Moscow and have been kept in the MGB/KGB/FSB archive since then.22

In the early 2000s, the German forensic scientist Mark Benecke examined Hitler’s and Braun’s jaws in the FSB archive.23 The fragments were still kept in the same perfume or cigar boxes that Rzhevskaya put them in, back in 1945. Benecke wrote: ‘The teeth are stored inside of large overseas travel suitcases, packed together with Hitler’s uniform and the original files of the death investigation. The reports of Hitler’s dentist, [Hugo] Blaschke (who had formerly studied in the U.S.), and other witnesses clearly show that the teeth in that little cigar box must indeed be the Führer’s.’

In the meantime, on May 9, 1945, the Soviet Victory Day, most SMERSH arrestees and high-level generals were flown to Moscow. However, some witnesses of Hitler’s death, and Fritzsche, remained in prison in Berlin and were further interrogated. Later all of them were also transported to Moscow. The witnesses were held in investigation prisons until 1951–52, when they were finally sentenced to long prison terms, and the most important of them were sent to Vladimir Prison.24 Dr. Haase died under investigation in 1946, and Weidling died in Vladimir Prison on November 17, 1955, just before repatriation to Germany. That same year, the survivors were released and returned to Germany.

Also on May 9, Gorbushin’s SMERSH operational group, which included Rzhevskaya, found and arrested Käthe Heusermann, the assistant to Dr. Blaschke, Hitler’s chief dentist.25 Heusermann’s testimony concerning dental work on Hitler and Braun was crucial in identifying the bodies. Also, with her help Hitler’s dental X-rays and a bridge prepared for Hitler were found in the bunker. On May 11, based on Heusermann’s description and on an even more detailed description from another dentist, Fritz Echtmann, Dr. Shkaravsky concluded that the burned corpse was, in fact, Hitler.26

A week later, the Stavka in Moscow sent a high-level general to inspect the bodies and interrogate the witnesses again; his name remains unknown.27 Exhumed for the general’s viewing were the bodies of Hitler, Eva Braun, members of the Goebbels family, and General Hans Krebs, who also committed suicide in the bunker on May 1, after he unsuccessfully contacted General Vasilii Chuikov with Goebbels’s offer of surrender. The Stavka general was perhaps in contact with Abakumov because on May 22, Abakumov complained to Beria about Ivan Serov’s (NKVD Plenipotentiary at the 1st Belorussian Front) attempts to control the SMERSH investigation.28 At the same time, in Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison, Möhnke and Rattenhuber wrote detailed accounts of Hitler’s last days.

On May 23, Beria received a report from Serov. Attached was the report of Aleksandr Vadis, head of the UKR SMERSH of the 1st Belorussian Front, in which Vadis described the interrogations of additional witnesses who positively identified Hitler’s body.29

At the end of May 1945, the 79th Rifle Corps along with the whole 3rd Shock Army was relocated to the town of Rathenau, west of Berlin. Klimenko and his OKR SMERSH took the bodies along with them, ultimately moving them several times.

On June 16, 1945, Beria forwarded all materials on the SMERSH investigation, collected by Serov, to Stalin and Molotov. Therefore, Stalin knew since the end of June 1945 that Hitler was dead. Mysteriously, he kept this information a secret from the Western Allies. In 1968, Colonel Gorbushin, former head of the SMERSH operational group, recalled that in early June 1945, Abakumov ordered him to Moscow. Instead of listening to Gorbushin’s report on developing investigations in Berlin, Abakumov revealed the following order from Stalin: ‘Let’s be silent. Hitler’s double might suddenly appear, and he could announce himself a Nazi leader. At that moment we will unmask him.’30 In fact, on May 4, 1945, Soviet troops had already found and filmed the body of Hitler’s double, Gustav Weler, in the bunker.

Strangely, in 1968 Marshal Zhukov claimed that in 1945 he had no knowledge of the results of SMERSH’s investigation. When Rzhevskaya told Zhukov that Stalin knew about Hitler’s death in June 1945, Zhukov was shocked and could hardly believe that Stalin had concealed Hitler’s suicide from him.31

Colonel Klimenko expressed skepticism about Zhukov’s statement: ‘Although the fact that Hitler’s corpse had been found was not widely announced, it was not a secret, and many people in the [79th] Corps knew about it, including [its commander] Lieutenant General S. N. Perevertkin, and Colonel I. S. Krylov, head of the Political Department. After May 13, 1945, when the autopsy report was written, the circle of persons who knew became quite wide…I personally reported on Hitler’s dishonorable death to Lieutenant General Vadis…and Lieutenant General Serov…when they visited the Chancellery. They could not conceal this information from Zhukov.’32 Klimenko may have been right because at the time Serov was very close to Zhukov.

In July 1945, when Stalin arrived in Berlin to attend the Potsdam Conference (July 17 to August 2), he refused to see Hitler’s body. The writer Konstantin Simonov, who visited Berlin in 1945, recalled: ‘Somebody, Beria or Serov, reported to Stalin [about Hitler], and suggested bringing the corpse for [Stalin] to see or taking Stalin to look at it. Stalin said: “OK, tomorrow morning I’ll go to look at it.” Then in the morning, when it was time to go, he waved his hand and said: “No, I won’t go. Let Molotov and Beria go and look. I won’t go.”’33 However, while talking to American Secretary of State James Byrnes in Potsdam, Stalin denied that Hitler’s body had been found.34

In February 1946, the 3rd Army moved to the city of Magdeburg, and all fourteen bodies were reburied there. But this was not the end of the story, because the NKVD/MVD conducted its own investigation, directed by Amayak Kobulov, head of the Directorate for POWs and Interned Persons. During the Battle of Berlin, NKVD operatives arrested another group of witnesses that included Hans Baur, Hitler’s personal pilot; SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Günsche, Hitler’s adjutant; and Heinz Linge, Hitler’s valet. They were held in NKVD/MVD prisons in Moscow, separately from SMERSH prisoners, and brutally interrogated.

In May 1946, while searching the bunker area in Berlin, a team of MVD investigators found two cranium fragments, one with a clearly visible bullet hole.35 The investigators decided that the fragments were from Hitler’s skull. Noted medical expert Pyotr Semenovsky studied the fragments and concluded that the shot was upward to the mouth or temple. In other words, it looked as if Hitler shot himself. The MVD team also found bloodstains on the sofa where Hitler was sitting during the suicide. Since 1946, the skull fragments and small pieces of bloodstained fabric and wood have been kept in secret archives along with the file on the NKVD/MVD investigation.

However, the results of a DNA study conducted in 2009 did not support the MVD’s conclusion about the fragment with a bullet hole.36 Most probably, this fragment belonged to the skull of a woman and, therefore, could not have been a fragment of Hitler’s cranium. However, male DNA was identified in bloodstains on the sofa. Although this DNA study needs confirmation, it leaves open the question of whether Hitler only took poison or shot himself as well (or was shot by Linge).

Finally, from August 1948 to September 1949, Otto Günsche and Heinz Linge were held at the secret MVD Special Object no. 5, an MVD safe house in Moscow.37 Colonel Fyodor Parparov, an intelligence officer, was in charge of overseeing them. In 1944, Parparov was awarded the Order of Patriotic War of the 1st Class for his propaganda work with captured Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus.38 Now, with the assistance of a group of MVD officers, Parparov translated into Russian what Günsche and Linge had written about Hitler and his death. Finally, Parparov heavily edited and altered the text in conformance with Soviet propaganda style. In December 1949, the manuscript was published as a single-copy book called Unknown Hitler, and was sent to Stalin as a gift for his seventieth birthday.

The manuscript was discussed again later, in 1959, at the Central Committee, but it was not until 2005 that two German historians published a German translation of it under the title Das Buch Hitler.39 Writing the manuscript did not help Günsche and Linge, who, in 1950, were sentenced like the other witnesses to twenty-five years in labor camps, and released and returned to Germany only in 1955.

The story of Hitler’s body ended only in March–April 1970, when on the order of KGB Chairman Yurii Andropov, the remains of Hitler, Braun, and members of the Goebbels family were exhumed again.40 The Central Committee approved this operation under the code name Arkhiv(Archive), and Lieutenant General Vitalii Fedorchuk, head of the 3rd KGB Directorate, a successor of SMERSH, was in charge. According to the documents, the remains were burned to ashes and thrown into the river Ehle near Biederitz in Sachsen-Anhalt.

In 2005, Major General Vladimir Shirokov, one of the few participants in the Archive operation, briefly described it in an interview. Shirokov’s superior, Nikolai Kovalenko, head of the 3rd Section of the KGB Special Department of the 3rd Shock Army (located in Magdeburg), was in command of the operation. Shirokov recalled:

There were remains of ten individuals (four adults and six children). By the way, the information that [Hitler’s] jaws are kept in an archive, is not true because they were taken only for a while for an expert evaluation… We put the bones in a new box… In the morning, we brought it to a particular place near Magdeburg, poured napalm on it, burned it and dispersed the ashes. Nikolai Grigorievich [Kovalenko] told us: ‘Lads, we need to mention the place where we’ve dispersed the ashes. But who knows what can happen, let’s write down another place.’41

If this is true and all the bones of the adults, including both jaws, were in place, Shirokov and Kovalenko did not destroy the bones of Hitler, Eva Braun, and Magda Goebbels, but of somebody else. Also, it would be very unusual for a KGB officer like Kovalenko to misinform KGB leaders regarding the location where the ashes were thrown away. Therefore, there are still unanswered questions about what became of Hitler’s remains.

Back in 1945, SMERSH had many other problems besides finding Hitler’s body, including discipline in the Soviet troops. On May 11, 1945, Meshik, deputy commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front in charge of the management of civil affairs, reported to the Soviet high command in Berlin: ‘Despite Comrade Stalin’s [April 20, 1945] order about the necessity of having a more lenient attitude toward the Germans, unfortunately, robberies of the local population and rapes of German women continue.’42

Capturing Andrei Vlasov

Unexpectedly, after the fall of Berlin, fighting with the Germans continued in Prague. On May 5, the Czech resistance broadcast a call to the Czech nation to rise up against the Germans. The next day, the radio also appealed to the American troops that were not far from Prague. The Czechs did not know that the Americans and Soviets had agreed upon a line of demarcation according to which Prague was in the Soviet zone.

On May 7, Waffen SS and SS Panzer troops stationed outside the city launched several severe attacks on the insurgents. Within a few hours the situation had become grave for the resistance. Suddenly, the uprising gained support from the 1st Division of Andrei Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army (ROA) under the command of Major General Sergei Bunyachenko.43 A. I. Romanov, a member of the UKR SMERSH of the 1st Ukrainian Front, recalled:

Vlasov’s men took Prague by storm, took many German prisoners, SS troops in particular, and raised two flags on the town hall roof; the Czech national flag and the blue and white flag of St. Andrew, the flag of Free Russia. Vlasov was well aware that he and his men could not remain in Prague. Our [Soviet] tanks were already within a day’s journey of the city. Behind the tanks came the Smersh operational groups of the First, Second, and Fourth Ukrainian Fronts.44

On May 7, Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner, appointed commander in chief of the German Army by Hitler on April 27, shortly before his suicide, ordered his troops to retreat to the west and deserted the army. He tried to escape to Bavaria by plane, but the plane crashed in Austria. In Prague, the SS troops continued to fight.

On May 11, troops of the three Ukrainian fronts completed the Prague Offensive. A week later Schörner was captured by the Americans, and on May 26, they handed him over to SMERSH.45 Schörner was sent to Moscow and became one of GUKR SMERSH’s important prisoners, along with Fritzsche, Voss, and Stahel, who were interrogated as possible defendants in Nuremberg.

SMERSH operatives of the three Ukrainian fronts immediately began making arrests in the city. Nicola Sinevirsky recalled the night before the SMERSH Operational Group of the 4th Ukrainian Front moved into the city: ‘The SMERSH men were preparing themselves for a big purge… Prague was…the headquarters for Russian émigrés, Ukrainian separatists, and Czech politicians of all shades and descriptions… SMERSH agents had begun to show a far greater interest in Czechs and the anti-Communist element in Russian émigré circles, than in the Germans.’46

Sinevirsky was right. Between the two world wars, Prague became a capital of Russian and Ukrainian émigré culture.47 In 1925, the number of emigrants from Russia was more than 25,000, 9,000 of whom were Ukrainians. Russian periodicals, literary magazines, and numerous books were published. There were Russian departments in Charles University, the Pedagogical Institute, the Institute of Agricultural Cooperation, the Institute of Commercial Knowledge, and there were also the Russian Public University, Archaeological Institute, the Russian Archive, the Museum of Russian Emigration, a gymnasium, and a seminary. These institutions were funded by the ‘Russian Action’ program of the Czechoslovak president, Tomas Masaryk, and his administration. Masaryk naively believed that the Bolshevik regime would not last long, and that after the fall of the Soviet Union the Russians from Prague would create an administration in the new democratic Russia. In 2003, the Czech government proclaimed May 11, 1945, as ‘the day of the destruction of Russian intellectuals’ in Prague.

Some SMERSH arrestees in Prague were immediately interrogated. Sinevirsky gave examples when he translated an interrogation that started during the day and continued through the night:

Vlasta sat silent, motionless, quiet.

‘Speak! You whore!’ The Captain [Stepanov] moved toward her and caressed her hair…

Vlasta wept silently.

‘Look here,’ Stepanov continued, ‘you are a beauty and there is nobility in your whole being. But if you are not going to answer my questions, I will simply beat all the teeth out of your goddamned mouth.’

[ …]

Without a word of warning, the Captain slugged her. His fist smacked into the girl’s teeth. She reeled, but did not fall. He hit her a second time. This time she fell to the floor…The Captain kicked the prostrate girl in the face. His heavy boots left an angry mark and the blood began to flow from the cuts they left. He began trampling on her breasts in a mad dance. Blood streaked the girl’s face and ran down the front of her dress…

It was three o’clock the next morning before Captain Stepanov completed his preliminary questioning of Vlasta.48

Many arrestees were sent to Moscow, and their fates are not well known. Sergei Maslov, a leader of the emigrant Labor Agrarian Party, and Alfred Bem, a historian of Russian literature, were famous within the Russian community. SMERSH operatives arrested Maslov after he had just been released from a German concentration camp. According to rumors, the operatives executed him soon after his arrest. Bem was brought to Moscow and sentenced; he later died in a Soviet labor camp.

On June 9, SMERSH operatives arrested Prince Pyotr Dolgorukov.49 He and his twin brother, Pavel, were among the founders of the liberal Constitutional Democratic (Cadet) Party in Czarist Russia. After the Bolshevik revolution, Pavel became one of the organizers of the White movement. In exile, Pavel Dolgorukov continued his political activity. In 1926, after illegally crossing the Soviet border with Romania, he was arrested, charged with plotting the assassination of Pyotr Voikov in Warsaw (see Abakumov’s above-mentioned accusation of Kutepov Jr.), and executed in June 1927.

On account of his brother, Pyotr Dolgorukov’s fate was sealed. He was accused as follows: ‘In November 1920, he organized anti-Soviet and counterrevolutionary formations in Czechoslovakia, and from 1939 on, chaired the “Union of Russian Emigrant Organizations in Czechoslovakia.”’50 The OSO of the NKVD sentenced Dolgorukov to five years in prison. In September 1946, he arrived in Vladimir Prison.51 Three years later the OSO of the MGB extended his term, and on November 10, 1951, the 86-year-old prince died in the Vladimir Prison hospital.

Sergei Postnikov, founder of the Russian Archive in Prague, was also arrested in May 1945. The Gestapo had arrested him previously in 1941, but released him in 1943. SMERSH was interested in Postnikov because Soviet security services were extremely anxious to get access to the Russian Archive. It contained information about the majority of the Russian emigrants in Europe. After the war the Czechoslovak government decided to give the archive to the Soviet Academy of Sciences.52 However, it was taken by the NKVD, and in December 1945, a train consisting of nine cars loaded with 650 boxes of documents and guarded by NKVD troops arrived in Moscow. The documents were immediately classified and the NKVD used them to compose a list of 18,000 names of wanted emigrants in Europe. On June 6, 1946, a new wave of arrests of Russians named on the list began in Prague.

The OSO sentenced Postnikov to five years in the labor camps. After his term he was exiled to the city of Nikopol in Southern Russia. Luckily, he survived, and returned to Prague in 1955.

Additionally, in May 1945, SMERSH operatives of the 1st Ukrainian Front arrested about 1,000 Ukrainian emigrants. They were brought to Kiev, where their cases were investigated by the Ukrainian NKGB. Tried by the Military Tribunal of the NKVD troops of the Kiev Military District, most of the arrestees were sentenced to terms of ten to twenty-five years in labor camps.

Thousands of ROA privates and officers became SMERSH’s main target in Czechoslovakia. As Romanov wrote, on May 7, 1945, ‘not far from Pibran, the Czechs [Czech partisans] seized General Vlasov’s assistant, his chief of staff General [Fyodor] Trukhin, and handed him over to a Smersh operational group. The Czechs hanged Trukhin’s deputy, Colonel [Vladimir] Boyarsky, on the spot.’53 Later, American officials handed more of Vlasov’s soldiers over to SMERSH.

On May 12, Vlasov was caught near Prague in the American zone. Major Gen. Yevgenii Fominykh, Commander of the 25th Tank Corps, and Colonel Zubkov, his head of staff, reported to the Military Council of the 1st Ukrainian Front:

Intelligence reconnaissance…showed that Vlasov’s 1st Division under the command of former General Buyanichenko [incorrect spelling of Bunyachenko], Vlasov, and his staff were there…

Captain [Mikhail] Yakushev [commander of a battalion in the 162nd Tank Brigade] drove to the head of the column [of the 1st ROA Division] and stopped his car across the road…

After approaching Vlasov’s car, Com.[rade] Yakushev found Vlasov hiding under a blanket and shielded by a translator and a woman.

Vlasov refused to follow Yakushev’s order to get out of his car and follow Yakushev to the headquarters of the 162nd Tank Brigade. His reason was that he was going to the American Army headquarters and that they were on the territory controlled by American troops.

Only after Yakushev threatened to shoot Vlasov on the spot was Vlasov forced to take a place in the car. On the way Vlasov tried to jump out of the car, but he was recaptured…

Yakushev handed Vlasov over to Colonel Mishchenko [Commander of the 162nd Tank Brigade].

In a conversation with Com.[rade] Mishchenko, Vlasov repeated that he needed to go to the American headquarters.

After a short conversation, on May 12 [1945], at 18:00, Com.[rade] Mishchenko brought Vlasov to me…

After questioning Vlasov and talking to him, I suggested that he write an order to all [his] units to give up arms and join our side.

Vlasov agreed and immediately wrote the order.

The order was typed in four copies and signed by Vlasov…54

On May 12, 1945, at 22:00, Vlasov was brought to the headquarters of the 13th Army. Colonel Zubkov, head of the Staff of the 25th Tank Corps, and Lieutenant Colonel Simonov, head of the OKR SMERSH, escorted him. On May 13, he was handed over to the OKR SMERSH of the 13th Army. Most probably, Fominykh and Zubkov fabricated the story that Vlasov, a man almost six feet tall, had tried to hide under a blanket in his car. It is also unclear whether Vlasov or Fominykh wrote the order to the troops because Bunyachenko’s name was misspelled in it the same way as in Fominykh’s report. Furthermore, knowing the Soviet treatment of traitors, it is hard to believe that Vlasov himself wrote the order’s last phrase: ‘The safety of everyone’s life and their return to the Motherland without repercussions are guaranteed.’55

In a 1996 interview, Yakushev described the details of Vlasov’s seizure more realistically than in his report, and the story was different.56 In fact, there was a jeep with American officers in Vlasov’s column, and a second jeep with Americans arrived after the officers in the first jeep contacted their headquarters by radio when the incident started. Yakushev claimed that to prevent an American intervention, he told them that Vlasov was a traitor and he would bring him to the American headquarters. It remains unclear how he could explain all this to the Americans in Russian. Probably, the Americans simply did not understand what was going on and did not intervene.

According to Yakushev’s account, he climbed into Vlasov’s car and ordered Vlasov’s driver to turn around and drive to the Soviet-controlled territory instead of going to the American headquarters. Vlasov tried to escape, but Yakushev threatened to shoot him. Apparently, Vlasov was unarmed and could not resist. At 8:00 p.m. Yakushev handed Vlasov over to Major General Fominykh.

Abakumov immediately informed Beria of Vlasov’s capture:

According to the SMERSH Directorate of the 1st Ukrainian Front report, on May 12 of this year [1945], the traitor Vlasov was detained near the city of Prague. He was going by car in the direction of the Allies.

On the suggestion of…Maj. Gen. Fominykh, Vlasov ordered his servicemen to join the Red Army’s side. Yesterday a division of 10,000 men surrendered to our troops.

I have ordered head of the SMERSH Directorate of the 1st Ukrainian Front, Lt. Gen. [Nikolai] Osetrov, to bring Vlasov under heavy guard to the Main Directorate SMERSH.


Vlasov was transported to Moscow and placed in Lubyanka Prison as Prisoner No. 31, which meant that he was held as a secret prisoner in Cell 31. Abakumov was waiting to conduct the first interrogation by himself.


1. Mikhail Koryakov, I’ll Never Go Back, translated from the Russian by Nicholas Wreden (London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1948), 59–61.

2. Zhukov’s orders to the 1st and 2nd Tank Armies on April 20), quoited in O. A. Rzheshevsky, ‘Poslednii shturm: Zhukov ili Konev,’ Mir istorii, no. 5 (2001) (in Russian),, retrieved September 9, 2011.

3. Table on page 171 in G. F. Krivosheev et al., Velikaya Otechestvennaya bez grifa sekretnosti. Kniga poter’ (Moscow: Veche, 2009) (in Russian).

4. Shtemenko, General’nyi shtab, 424–6, 436

5. G. K. Zhukov, Vospominaniya i razmyshleniya Vol. 2 (Moscow: OLMAPress, 2002), 330–2 (in Russian).

6. Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945 (New York: Viking, 2002), 403–5.

7. Memoirs by Lyushen’ka Glushkova, the NKVD cook (the NKVD had its own schools for cooks) in Tat’yana Romashenkova, ‘Lichnyi povar Zhukova,’ Rossiiskaya gazeta, no. 3768, May 13, 2005 (in Russian),, retrieved September 9, 2011.

8. GKO Order No. 8377ss, dated May 2, 1945. Document No. 306 in Lubyanka. Stalin i NKVD, 511.

9. An interview with Colonel Ivan Klimenko in Yekaterina Sazheneva and Yurii Rabotin, ‘Ispoved’ posle smerti,’ Moskovskii komsomolets, May 7, 2005 (in Russian).

10. Details in James P. O’Donnell, The Bunker: The History of the Reich Chancellery Group (New York: Da Capo Press, 2001), 177–215.

11. Traudl Junge, Until the Final Hour: Hitler’s Last Secretary, translated from the German by Anthea Bell (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2004), 180–1.

12. Details in ibid. and Joachim Fest, Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004).

13. Ye. M. Rzhevskaya, Berlin, mai 1945: Zapiski voennogo perevodchika (Moscow: Voennaya literatura, 1986), 146 (in Russian).

14. Details in Martyn Merzhanov, Tak eto bylo (poslednie dni fashistskogo Berlina) (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury, 1975) (in Russian),, retrieved September 9, 2011.

15. An interview with L. G. Ivanov in Il’ya Zubko, ‘Tovarishch polkovnik, ya Gebbelsa nashel!’, Samara segodnya, May 8, 2005,, retrieved September 9, 2011.

16. Rzhevskaya, Berlin, 73–75.

17. For instance, Ada Petrova and Peter Watson, The Death of Hitler: The Full Story with New Evidence from Secret Russian Archives (New York: W. W.Norton and Company, 1995).

18. Rzhevskaya, Berlin, 86–156.

19. Weidling’s testimony on May 8, quoted in Vladimir A. Kozlov, ‘Gde Gitler?’ Povtornoe rassledovanie NKVD–MVD SSSR obstoyatel’stv ischeznoveniya Adolfa Gitlera (1945–1949) (Moscow: Tri kvadrata, 2003), 48 (in Russian).

20. Rzhevskaya, Berlin, 154.

21. Ibid., 158–9.

22. Photos of fragments of Hitler’s and Braun’s jaws in Hitler’s Death: Russia’s Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB, edited by J. E. Pogonyi et al., 97–98 (London: Chaucer Press, 2005).

23. Mark Benecke, ‘Hitler’s Skull and Teeth,’ Annals of Improbable Research 9 (2003), no. 2, 9–10; Hitler%C2%B4s_Skull_%26_Teeth, retrieved September 9, 2011.

24. This group included Rattenhuber, Voss, Weidling, Möhnke, and Wilhelm Eckhold, head of Goebbels’s guards.

25. Rzhevskaya, Berlin, 171–2. Dr. Hugo Blaschke was captured by the Americans and released in 1948.

26. Shkaravsky’s medical report in Lev Bezymensky, Operatsiya ‘Mif,’ ili skol’ko raz khoronili Gitlera (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 1995), 92–98, 121 (in Russian).

27. Rzhevskaya, Berlin, 173–4.

28. Abakumov’s letter to Beria, dated June 22, 1945, quoted in Petrov, Pervyi predsedatel’ KGB, 60–61.

29. Kozlov, Gde Gitler?, 66–67; the report by Vadis, in Bezymensky, Operatsiya ‘Mif,’ 111–7.

30. An interview with Vasilii Gorbushin in ibid., 121.

31. Rzhevskaya, Berlin, 453–4.

32. Klimenko’s recollections quoted in Boris Sokolov, Neizvestnyi Zhukov: Portret bez retushi v zerkale epokhi (Minsk: Rodiola-Plus, 2000), 545–6 (in Russian).

33. K. Simonov, Glazami cheloveka moego pokoleniya (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo APN, 1988), 414 (in Russian).

34. R. C. Raack, ‘With Smersh in Berlin: New Light on the Incomplete Histories of the Führer and the Vozhd’,’ World Affairs 154, no. 2 (1991), 47–55.

35. Photos on pages 114–5 in Hitler’s Death. Also, reports in Bezymensky, Operatsiya ‘Mif,’ 162–7.

36. Uki Gonui, ‘Tests on Skull Fragment Cast Doubt on Adolf Hitler Suicide Story,’ The Observer, September 27, 2009,, retrieved September 8, 2011.

37. Details in Kozlov, Gde Gitler?, 168–76.

38. Boris Khavkin, ‘“Satrap” i general “Prezus”,’ Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, February 4, 2006 (in Russian), html, retrieved September 9, 2011.

39. The English version: The Hitler Book: The Secret Dossier Prepared for Stalin from Interrogations of Otto Guensche and Heinz Linge, Hitler’s Personal Aides, edited by Henrik Ederle and Matthias Uhl, translated from German by Giles Mac-Donogh (New York: PublicAffairs, 2005).

40. Documents on the Operation ‘Archive’ in Hitler’s Death, 331–7.

41. Vladislav Kramar, ‘Gruppa v Drezdene byla nebol’shaya, no moshchnaya,’ Voenno-promyshlennyi kur’er, no. 47 (114), December 14–20 (2005), 7 (in Russian),, retrieved September 9, 2011.

42. Quoted in Petrov, Pervyi predsedatel’ KGB, 49.

43. Details in Aleksandrov, Russkie soldaty Vermakhta, 319–56. c

44. Romanov, Nights Are Longest There, 150.

45. The date of Schörner’s arrest on his prisoner card in Vladimir Prison Archive.

46. Nicola Sinevirsky, SMERSH (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1950), 141–2.

47. For instance, Catherine Andreyev and Ivan Savicky, Russia Abroad: Prague and the Russian Diaspora, 1928–1939 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004).

48. Sinevirsky, SMERSH, 163.

49. Dolgorukov’s prisoner card from Vladimir Prison Archive.

50. Quoted in Tatiyana Galanshina, Igor Zakurdaev and Sergei Loginov, Vladimirskii tsentral (Moscow: Eksmo, 2007), 74 (in Russian).

51. A note on Pyotr Dolgorukov’s prisoner card, the Vladimir Prison Archive.

52. Lyudmila Bobrovskaya, ‘Rozhdenie i gibel’ Russkogo Arkhiva v Prage,’ Russkii zhurnal, October 3 (2003) (in Russian), sovr/20031003_bobrov.html, retrieved September 9, 2011.

53. Romanov, Nights Are Longest, 150.

54. Report to the Military Council of the 1st Ukrainian Front signed by Major General Fominykh and Colonel Zubkov. Document No. 129 in Russkii Arkhiv. Velikaya Otechestvennaya. Bitva za Berlin. Dokumenty i materially, T. 15 (4–5) (Moscow: Terra, 1995), 170–2 (in Russian).

55. Document No. 128 in Russkii Arkhiv. Velikaya Otechestvennaya. Bitva za Berlin, T. 15 (4–5) (Moscow, Terra, 1995), 170.

56. M. I. Yakushev, ‘Kak ya vykral generala Vlasova,’ Argumenty i fakty, No. 19 (May 1996) (in Russian).

57. Cited in O. S. Smyslov, General Abakumov. Vsesil’nyi khozyain SMERSHa (Moscow: Veche, 2005), 273 (in Russian).

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