April 30th in German History: The Death of Adolf Hitler

Death of Adolf Hitler - Wikipedia
The US Armed Forces Newspaper reporting the death of Adolf Hitler. Image Credit: Wikipedia.

At around 3:30 pm on April 30th of 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide via gunshot and poison in his bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. Hitler’s suicide would destroy the heart of the Nazi ideology and lead to the rapid capitulation of what was left of the Nazi leadership.

In the days and weeks leading up to his death, Hitler had become more and more desperate regarding the military situation. This desperation manifested in his lashing out against many of his subordinates. On April 28th, Hitler had had the SS representative Hermann Fegelein executed for desertion. He had also reorganized the line of succession after hearing that Heinrich Himmler had tried to negotiate a peace treaty and after Hermann Goring asked if he could assume power when he heard that Hitler had asked for cyanide capsules. Hitler married Eva Braun on April 29th, which I talk more about here, and shortly after had his secretary Traudl Junge transcribe his last will and testament. In it he designated Karl Doenitz the head of state and Joseph Goebbels the Chancellor. That afternoon Hitler learned that Mussolini had been executed and strung up by partisans, an event which I discuss here, and this further convinced him against letting himself be captured by the Allies. He had the cyanide pills tested on his dog Blondi, an exercise which killed her. Almost until the end Hitler had maintained some hope that Berlin would be relieved, but in the morning he had learned that all forces that Hitler had ordered to rescue Berlin had been destroyed. At 2:30 pm Hitler bid farewell to around 20 members of his staff. He then met with Helmuth Weidling, the General commanding the defense of Berlin, who told him that the garrison would run out of ammunition within a day and requested permission to attempt a breakout. Hitler eventually granted his request. He then went into his study with Eva and the two committed suicide. A few minutes later, Hitler’s valet entered the study and found the two bodies. The bodies were burned along with the study and the remains buried in a shallow crater. News of Hitler’s death was first released by the Germans on May 1st and Doenitz was declared the successor. The Soviets were suspicious of the news at first, and when they captured the Reich Chancellery they exhumed the bodies and instructed Hitler’s dentist to examine the remains. He confirmed the identity of them and the Soviets moved the remains to a facility in Magdeburg where they were reburied. The remains would finally be destroyed in 1970 for fear of their becoming a neo-Nazi shrine. In the first years after World War II the Soviet Union entertained conspiracy theories regarding Hitler’s death, Stalin saying that he was in Spain or Argentina. In the 1950s the CIA also investigated several stories regarding the whereabouts of Hitler, but did not take any of them seriously.

Following the death of Hitler his successor Karl Doenitz attempted to organize a fighting retreat so as to allow German troops to surrender to the Western Allies rather than to the Soviets. Doenitz was only able to delay the inevitable for less than a week though, as on May 7th he was forced to unconditionally surrender to the Allies. In the end, Hitler’s suicide was not a militarily important event. Hitler certainly would not have been able to effect the outcome of the war, and it is doubtful if he could have led any sort of resistance from hiding as he was by that time nearly universally disliked by the German people and would have been hunted relentlessly had he gone into hiding. Hitler’s death is, however, a symbolically important event. That the man who was supposed to lead Germany into a new age of greatness, marshaling the people to overcome all odds, was forced to take his own life to prevent his enemies from capturing him is perhaps the best example of the irony of Nazism. The ideology which had the sole purpose of strengthening the state and the people resulted in the near complete destruction of the nation it was supposed to elevate. The greatest fundamental flaw in Nazism is that in its inherent aggression, its ingrained barbarism, it dooms any nation that follows it to destruction by its neighbors even as it destroys itself.

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