Between coming to power in Germany in January 1933 and the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, Adolf Hitler was personally responsible for the deaths of over 42 million people. The Austrian-born Führer, or leader, of the murderous Nazi Party oversaw the murder of millions whom he deemed 'undesirable' as well as ordering the most notorious genocide the world has ever known as he waged a dark crusade against an entire people, with 11 million Jews perishing as a direct result of Hitler's virulent antisemitism. Hitler also lead Germany into the deadliest conflict in human history and at the zenith of his power in the early 1940s, his evil megalomania cast its shadow over much of continental Europe. Six years of conflict with the British empire, the largest on the planet, combined with ambitious declarations of war on the largest army in the world, the Soviet Union, and on a fledgling superpower in the United States ended with Hitler's Third Reich being squeezed on all sides and facing ultimate annihilation. On the anniversary of Nazi dictator's death, we explore the apocalyptic nightmare of 1945 Berlin and the last days of arguably the most evil man ever to have walked the earth.
By the spring of 1945, it had long been clear that Hitler's war was lost. With the British and Americans closing in from the west and the Red Army swarming in from the east and breaching the gates of Berlin, a delusional Adolf Hitler was the only man refusing to see the gravity of his situation as he walled himself up inside his Führerbunker alongside his mistress Eva Braun and a few of his most loyal henchmen. On April 20th, Hitler emerged into the skeletal shell of a bombed-out Berlin for what would be one of his final appearances. With the end near, he greeted young Hitler youth recruits and presented them with the Iron Cross for destroying Russian tanks in what would become one of the most famous pieces of footage of the entire war.
On April 28th, Adolf Hitler emerged from the Führerbunker once again to survey the ruins of Berlin's Reich's Chancellery. Twelve years previously, this was the very building in which Hitler had been made Chancellor of Germany by the President Paul von Hindenburg, paving the way for his murderous Nazi regime to take full power over the nation. By now, the building had been almost completely obliterated by US and British air raids on Berlin and by Soviet artillery fire as the Red Army advanced further into Berlin in the final, bloody days of World War II in Europe. Allegedly, this was the last photograph of Adolf Hitler taken before his death as he surveys the ruins of the Reich's Chancellery accompanied by his adjutant, Julius Schaub.
On May 2nd, 1945, the Soviet hammer and sickle flag was raised over Berlin's Reichstag, signalling Russian victory in the Battle of Berlin and symbolising the final and absolute defeat and destruction of Adolf Hitler's evil and murderous Nazi regime. Along with a similar raising of the Stars and Stripes by American GIs during the Battle of Iwo Jima against Japan in the Pacific theatre of World War II, the photograph became one of the most famous of the entire war and the two Red Army soldiers who had the honour of raising the flag were Meliton Kantaria and Mikhail Yegorov, with Yevgeny Khaldei snapping the iconic shot. The photograph was first published in Ogonyok, one of Russia's oldest weekly magazines, and was later reproduced in magazines and media all over the world as a symbol of the annihilation of the Third Reich.
Despite capturing the German capital after their victory in the Battle of Berlin, the Red Army were unable to capture Adolf Hitler alive when they entered the the Führerbunker at 9am on May 2nd, 1945. The Nazi dictator had escaped certain capture, trial and execution at the hands of either the Soviets or an Allied military tribunal by shooting himself in the head while simultaneously biting down on a cyanide capsule, along with his wife Eva Braun shortly after a marriage ceremony which had taken place on April 29th. Johannes Hentschel, the bunker's electrician and mechanic, was the last of Hitler's entourage to surrender when the Red Army entered the complex, with the remainder fleeing Berlin or committing suicide.
When the Red Army finally entered the Reich's Chancellery and the nearby Führerbunker, the scene they came across was almost as nightmarish as the brutal and bloody Battle of Berlin which had just come to a close. As well as the bodies of the remaining Nazis who committed suicide shortly before, the Soviet soldiers came across the bodies of six murdered children who had been poisoned by cyanide. The six children were those of Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, and his wife Magda, often considered to be the 'First Lady of the Reich'. On May 1st, Goebbels and his wife had committed suicide in the Reich's Chancellery garden before his adjutant, Günther Schwägermann, shot both bodies again to ensure they were dead. The remains of the couple were then doused in petrol and partially burnt, without being buried.
News of Hitler's death had been reported on German radio at 22:30 local time on the night of May 2nd by Admiral Karl Doenitz, who had been named Hitler's successor. Hitler's ally, Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, had been captured and executed near Lake Como by Italian Communists in the northwest of the country four days earlier on April 28th and news of the death of both dictators rapidly spread all over the world. In the UK and the US, the Daily Mail and the military newspaper Stars and Stripes both ran with the capitalised 'HITLER DEAD' headline, similar to countless other publications.
After the surrender of Germany, Soviet records claimed the Red Army soldiers had discovered Hitler's remains in a bomb crater in the garden behind the Reich's Chancellery shortly after entering the Führerbunker. The photograph taken as part of a Soviet propaganda movie was taken with the supposed corpse of the Nazi dictator with an image of the actual Adolf Hitler placed on its chest. Suspicions were soon aroused that the body was in fact a 'Hitler Doppelganger' and theories began to spread that Hitler was alive and had escaped and fled Berlin before the Soviets could capture him. Interestingly, conspiracy theorists point to Hitler's personal photographer and public image specialist and the man who created the image on the corpse's chest, Heinrich Hoffman, being well known for his skills of photographic trickery and image deception and that, if Hitler's suicide was a hoax, Hoffman would have been directly involved with selecting and preparing a Hitler body double.
The common belief that Hitler had committed suicide in the Führerbunker in 1945 is backed up by the myriad of examinations of his medical records and the state of his health in the closing days of the war. X-Rays taken by the Nazi dictator's medical staff show just how much his health had deteriorated by the end of the war - including the loss of all but four of his adult teeth. A charred jawbone discovered at the Reich's Chancellery by Soviet soldiers which, after forensic examination, was apparently matched up with dental x-rays of Hitler's skull remains the most credible evidence that the tyrant did commit suicide at the end of April 1945.
Regardless of the apparent evidence provided by x-rays and dental records, theories of Hitler fleeing Berlin before imminent capture by the Red Army are still widespread, with outlandish theories even suggesting that the Nazi leader was taken to Antarctica to begin a kind of subterranean 'Nazi Utopia' under the snow and ice of the South Pole. More credibly, hundreds of Nazi criminals are known to have fled to South America after the war to avoid capture and trial at the hands of Allies and by far the most common belief among 'Hitler escape' theorists is that the dictator joined his henchmen in Latin America. In the decades after World War II, dozens of sensational reports in the media told the world how Hitler had been spotted, alive and well, in some of South America's largest cities such as São Paulo, Bogota and Asunción.
The media reports of Hitler sightings in South America even featured mock-ups of what Hitler would look like if he had fled across the Atlantic. Stories have also emerged, along with 'photographic evidence', of Hitler living a normal life in South America, including attending lavish dinner parties in the 1960s at the Eden Hotel in the town of La Falda, in the Argentine province of Córdoba, and even on sightseeing trips in the mountains of Bolivia. Other reports suggested that Hitler had settled in Brazil's Mato Grosso region after fleeing to Paraguay via Argentina and was living in the town of Nossa Senhora do Livramento. Astonishingly, the report also claimed that Hitler had changed his name to 'Adolf Leipzig' and married a Brazilian Jew to further help conceal his true identity.