Debunking the conspiracies about the death of Hitler

The death of Adolf Hitler – 72 years ago today – always intrigues me because of the way it has been so shrouded in conspiracy thinking.

Clement Attlee, Harry S. Truman and Joseph Stalin at Potsdam, July 1945. Rising tensions between the Soviets and their former Allies contributed to Stalin’s decision to hide Hitler’s death from them. Public domain, via Wikipedia.

These conspiracies – none of which are consistent – all claim that Hitler did not die, grubbily by his own hand, in his Berlin bunker.  They range from the notion that Hitler staged his death and was snatched out of the city by crack pilot Hannah Reitsch, who flew a Fieseler Storch into a rubble-filled street to get him. Or he had never been there and the body found was one of his six doubles. Where he allegedly went was also never nailed down. Either he escaped to Argentina by U-boat where he lived under an assumed name until 1962, or later.

Or perhaps he flew by Focke-Wulf FW-200 Kondor to Brazil. Or maybe he went by Nazi flying saucer to the Moon, or to Antarctica where he ended up riding a tamed T-Rex in an underground Lost World. Yeah, I’m getting at the Norwegian ‘Iron Sky’ comedies, but it’s about as likely.

The problem with the conspiracy theories that there is no direct evidence whatsoever for such an escape and survival – whereas the evidence of Hitler’s death was well documented and proven. The files were published in 2015. The issue wasn’t lack of hard evidence, it was the fact that the Soviets obfuscated it at the time, giving traction to wild speculation.

In point of fact the more realistic place for Hitler to have gone – and the one feared by the Allies – was in the complex of tunnels and fortifications the Nazi regime were frantically building in the Bavarian mountains. The fact of this large-scale refuge was known to the Allies, and it would have been extremely time-consuming and costly in lives to conquer. We forget, these days, that in 1945 there were concerns of Nazi guerrilla resistance after the war was over. Nobody anticipated that Nazi-ism, as an organised social phenomenon among the German people, would collapse as quickly as it did in 1945.

So how did these conspiracies get traction to begin with? There are several reasons, but the main one was political – coupled with the confusion into which Berlin had fallen as the Soviets took it. By the time Hitler shot himself at 3.30 pm on 30 April 1945, his bunker beneath the Chancellery building was effectively in the battlefield. The Soviets were just 400 metres distant in the Reichstag. Hitler’s aides dragged his body and that of his mistress, Eva Braun, up to the Chancellery garden and spent the next two and a half hours burning them to the point where identification, later, was possible only through dental remains.

When the Soviets arrived at the Chancellery on 2 May they found the bunker and the bodies in the courtyard. Hitler’s dentist, Hugo Blaschke, confirmed to SMERSH agents that the bodies in the Chancellery courtyard were Hitler and Braun. Other remains were then also found in the garden – Joseph Goebbels, his wife, their children; and Hitler’s two dogs – one of which had been sacrificed to test the cyanide that Braun used to kill herself. The remains, after being put in various places, were eventually taken to an air base in Magdeburg and buried.

The Allies were very keen to get their hands on all the senior Nazis; but the issue of Hitler’s death became wrapped up in Stalin’s paranoia and the politics of the emerging Cold War. It suited Stalin to obfuscate the death of Hitler, even denying that he had the body to the Allies. That stood against what the Allies already knew: and so the British had sent a young intelligence officer (and qualified historian), Hugh Trevor-Roper, to find out what had happened in the bunker. His account remains the most likely. But the story did not end until some 25 years later, when Soviet authorities – concerned that any discovery of Hitler’s remains might provoke neo-Nazi sympathies in their staunch ally, East Germany, ordered the bodies dug up and destroyed.

There is a lesson in all this. It seems to me that the multiple stories, the ‘holes’ spotted in the tales by conspiracy theorists – all these things – give what happened a ring of truth. The reality of history is that it is going to be messy. Individual observers will have different tales of the same events – often contradictory, even – depending on viewpoint. In short – and paradoxically – a single and consistent tale of the dramatic last hours in the Fuhrerbunker would smack of fabrication. Confusion does not. It’s a reality of how humans observe things, particularly in dramatic moments.

The unfortunate part of was that Hitler was never brought to justice and put on trial for his monstrous crimes against humanity – crimes that remain the darkest and most evil ever perpetrated.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Debunking the conspiracies about the death of Hitler

  1. Excellent piece. I’m quite sure Hitler is dead as described. There are two factors consistent with many conspiracy theories of this nature. One is that they rely heavily on what isn’t known and fill in the gaps with fanciful speculations. Those speculations are frequently based on an unsupported premise. But once such a premise is granted credence, any extraordinary edifice can be built on that foundation and seem to have the ring of truth about it. The second is that they blithely ignore the good sense of Occam’s Razor. Any escape theory is necessarily a more complex and less probable explanation than we have in the historical evidence.

    1. Yes, in absence of anything else, Occam’s Razor suggests that the simpler explanation of Hitler’s death is the correct one. It’s intriguing, though, how those conspiracy theories emerged – and how similar thinking seems to swirl around anything else on which people might try to cast doubt, including the moon landings. Our tendency – as a society – to follow ‘conspiracies’ is, I suspect, an integral part of the human condition.

      As an aside on the ‘Hitler escape’ notion, the other point none of the conspiracy theories seem to accept is that by 1945 Hitler was physically in decline – a prematurely aged man, filled up with insane quantities of weird drugs and potions prescribed by his personal quack, Morell, and apparently with symptoms of Parkinsons Disease. Escaping from front-line Berlin demanded a good deal of physical fitness which Hitler simply didn’t have. Then there’s the issue of withdrawal symptoms when Morell’s drugs were stopped. It’s possible that if he HAD fallen into Allied hands as a prisoner, he might not have lived long enough to stand trial.

      1. The drug use by Hitler (and others) is something I’d always known vaguely about but never really read up about. Most of what seemed available was sensationalist documentaries for the History Channel, which in a just world would be reliable but boy, even when they were decent they were suckers for an exciting story. There was a book recently published about the subject that at least looks reliable; I’ll have to look closer at it.

        1. I’m not familiar with any new work – sounds interesting. I have a copy of the edited Morell diaries which were published by Sigdwick and Jackson in 1983. The editor (unfortunately) was David Irving, who I don’t regard as particularly balanced. However, the diary entries are interesting. Hitler sacked Morell on 21 April 1945. Heinz Assman, who met Hitler two days later, reported that the Fuhrer was in terrible shape, a ‘physical wreck who could barely walk, doing so with stooped back and a shuffling gait, his right leg dragging, his head shaking, and his left hands violently trembling on the limply dangling arm.’

  2. These conspiracy theories are quite maddening, but I’ve learnt in recent years some people really do like to mindlessly pursue them and treat them as fact. Hitler was alive and well and escaped to Jupiter, all the 9/11 ones, the JFK assassination, aliens (my previous boss was convinced aliens regularly visit the Earth and are monitoring us) etc. They’re interesting, but then someone intelligent is typically forced to go out of their way to debunk the madness.

    The Hitler one I found particularly disturbing as a lot of people believe it didn’t all end in a bunker.

    1. Yes, it’s incredible how people simply don’t accept stuff however well-proven it may be – true of all the conspiracy theories really. The reality is that the mundane explanations are usually the ones that are true – in the case of Hitler, not merely mundane but also somehow grubby. Here was someone who was responsible for the worst crimes in the history of humanity, and at the end his power had shrunk to what was around him in a handful of rooms.

  3. Haha yes, these conspiracy stories are completely crackers. I actually went to where he shot himself (now a carpark) and the guide talked a bit about this. Really interesting to read why these theories arose in the first place.

Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s