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 Posted Sunday, July 7, 2002

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 Reviews of Ian Kershaw's work

Hitler 1936-45: Nemesis

Ian Kershaw Allen-Lane £25, pp1,168

The Times

London, September 27, 2000



Hitler screamed: 'You have all betrayed me'

Hitler's last days


In the final extract from his biography of Adolf Hitler, Ian Kershaw charts Hitler's despair in his Berlin bunker as he realised that he had lost the war

   THE atmosphere in the bunker on April 20, 1945, Hitler's 56th birthday, was more funereal than celebratory. There was no trace of the pomp and circumstance of earlier years. The gaunt ruins of the Reich Chancellery were a stark reminder, if one was needed, that there was no cause for celebration. Hitler felt this himself. His birthday with the Russians at the gates of Berlin was an embarrassment to him. He trudged down the assembled line of his staff to receive their murmured birthday greetings with a limp handshake and a vacant expression. Afterwards, Hitler drank tea in his study with Eva Braun. It was approaching nine o'clock in the morning before he finally went to bed, only to be disturbed almost immediately by General Burgdorf with the news of a Soviet breakthrough and advance towards Cottbus, some 60 miles southeast of Berlin.

After breakfast, playing with his alsatian puppy for a while, and having his valet administer his cocaine eyedrops, he slowly climbed the steps into the Reich Chancellery park. Waiting with raised arms in the Nazi salute were delegations from the Courland army, from the SS-Division "Berlin", and 20 boys from the Hitler Youth who had distinguished themselves in combat. Was this what Berlin's defence relied on, one of Hitler's secretaries wondered? Hitler muttered a few words to them, patted one or two on the cheek, and within minutes left them to carry on the fight against Russian tanks.

By now, most of the leading figures in the Reich -- at least those in the Berlin vicinity -- were assembled. No one spoke of the looming catastrophe. They all swore their undying loyalty. Everyone noticed that Goering had discarded his resplendent silver-grey uniform with gold-braided epaulettes for khaki -- "like an American general", as one participant at the briefing remarked. Hitler passed no comment.

The imminent assault on Berlin dominated the briefing. The news from the southern rim of the city was catastrophic. Goering pointed out that only a single road to the south was still open; it could be blocked at any moment.

Hitler was pressed from all sides to leave at once for Berchtesgaden. He objected that he could not expect his troops to fight the decisive battle for Berlin if he removed himself to safety. Nevertheless, Hitler seemed indecisive. Increasingly agitated, he declared moments later that he would leave it to fate whether he died in the capital or flew in the last moment to the Obersalzberg.

There was no indecision about Goering. He had sent his wife Emmy and daughter Edda to the safety of the Bavarian mountains more than two months earlier. Half a million marks had been transferred to his account in Berchtesgaden. Goering lost no time at the end of the briefing in seeking a private word with Hitler.

It was urgent that he go to southern Germany, he said, to command the Luftwaffe from there. He needed to leave Berlin that night. Hitler scarcely seemed to notice. He muttered a few words, shook hands absent-mindedly, and the first paladin of the Reich departed, hurriedly and without fanfare. It seemed to Albert Speer, standing a few feet away, to be a parting of ways that symbolised the imminent end of the Third Reich. It was the first of numerous departures. Most of those who had come to proffer their birthday greetings to Hitler and make avowals of their undying loyalty were waiting nervously for the moment when they could hasten from the doomed city.

Convoys of cars were soon heading out of Berlin north, south and west, on any roads still open. Dönitz left for the north, armed with Hitler's instructions to take over the leadership in the north and continue the struggle. Himmler soon followed. Speer left later that night in the direction of Hamburg without any formal farewell.

Late in the evening, the remaining adjutants, secretaries, and the Führer's young Austrian diet cook, Constanze Marzialy, gathered in his room for a drink with Hitler and Eva Braun. There was no talk here of the war.

Hitler's youngest secretary, Traudl Junge, had been shocked to hear him admit for the first time in her presence earlier that day that he no longer believed in victory. He might be ready to go under; her own life, she felt, had barely begun. Once Hitler -- early for him -- had retired to his room, she was glad to join Eva Braun, and the other bunker "inmates", even including Bormann and Morell 's doctor in an "unofficial" party in the old living room on the first floor of Hitler's apartment in the Reich Chancellery.

In the ghostly surrounds of a room stripped of almost all its former splendour, with the gramophone scratching out the only record they could find -- a schmaltzy prewar hit called Red Roses Bring You Happiness -- they laughed, danced and drank champagne, trying to enjoy an hour or two of escapism -- before a nearby explosion sharply jolted them back to reality.

When Hitler was awakened at 9.30 the following morning, it was to the news that the centre of Berlin was under artillery fire. The dragnet was closing fast. As the day wore on, he seemed like a man at the end of his tether, nerves ragged, under intense strain, close to breaking point.

The drowning man clutched at yet another straw. The Soviets had extended their lines so far to the northeast of Berlin that it opened up the chance, thought Hitler, for the Panzer Corps, led by SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner, to launch a successful counter attack.

Throughout the day he ex- uded confidence in Steiner's attack. When told of the inadequacies of Steiner's forces, Hitler replied: "You will see. The Russians will suffer the greatest defeat, the bloodiest defeat in their history before the gates of the city of Berlin."

It was bravado. At the briefing that began at 3.30pm on April 22, Hitler looked haggard, stony-faced, though extremely agitated, as if his thoughts were elsewhere. He twice left the room to go to his private quarters. Then, as dismaying news came through that Soviet troops had broken the inner defence cordon and were within Berlin's northern suburbs, Hitler was told -- after a frantic series of telephone calls had elicited contradictory information -- that Steiner's attack, which he had awaited all morning, had not taken place after all.

At this, he seemed to snap. He ordered everyone out of his briefing room, apart from Keitel, Jodl, Krebs and Burgdorf. Even for those who had long experience of Hitler's furious outbursts, the tirade that thundered through the bunker for the next half an hour was a shock. One who witnessed it reported that evening: "Something broke inside me today that I still can't grasp."

Hitler screamed that he had been betrayed by all those he had trusted. He railed at the long-standing treachery of the army. Now, even the SS was lying to him. The troops would not fight, he ranted, the anti-tank defences were down. As Jodl added, he also knew that munitions and fuel would shortly run out.

Hitler slumped into his chair. The storm subsided. His voice fell to practically a whimper. The war was lost, he sobbed. It was the first time any of his small audience had heard him admit it. They were dumbstruck. He had therefore determined to stay in Berlin, he went on, and to lead the defence of the city. He was physically incapable of fighting himself, and ran the risk of falling wounded into the hands of the enemy. So he would at the last moment shoot himself.

All prevailed on him to change his mind. He should leave Berlin and move his headquarters to Berchtesgaden. The troops should be withdrawn from the western front and deployed in the east. Hitler replied that everything was falling apart. He could not do that. Goering could do it. Someone objected that no soldier would fight for the Reich Marshal. "What does it mean: fight?" asked Hitler. "There's not much more to fight for, and if it's a matter of negotiations the Reich Marshal can do that better than I can."

By dawn the next morning, areas close to the city centre had started to come under persistent and intense artillery fire. Around midday the spearhead of Kon- ev's army, skirting round Berlin to the south, met up with forward units from Zhukov's army, heading round the city to the north. Berlin was as good as encircled. About the same time, Soviet and American troops were smoking cigarettes together at Torgau, on the Elbe, in central Germany. The Reich was now cut in two.

Amid the burning ruins of the great city, living conditions were deteriorating rapidly. Food was running out. The water-supply system had broken down. The old, infirm, wounded, women and children, injured soldiers, refugees, all clung on to life in the cellars, in packed shelters, and in underground stations as hell raged overhead.

In Hitler's bunker there was a "doomsday" mood alleviated only by alcohol and food from the Reich Chancellery cellars. In the early hours of April 28, despairing calls were made from the bunker to Keitel and Jodl urging all conceivable effort to be made to relieve Berlin as absolute priority. Time was of the essence. There were at most 48 hours, it was thought.

As so often, the bunker inmates thought they smelt the scent of disloyalty and treason. These suspicions seemed dramatically confirmed. Heinz Lorenz appeared in the bunker when a message was picked up from Reuters confirming that the Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler, had offered to surrender to the western Allies, but that this had been declined.

For Hitler, this was the last straw. That his "loyal Heinrich", whose SS had as its motto "my honour is loyalty", should now stab him in the back: this was the end. It was the betrayal of all betrayals. The bunker reverberated to a final elemental explosion of fury. All his stored-up venom was now poured out on Himmler in a last paroxysm of seething rage. It was, he screamed, "the most shameful betrayal in human history".

By now, Soviet troops had forced their way into Potsdamer Platz and streets in the immediate vicinity of the Reich Chancellery. They were no more than a few hundred yards away. It was time to make preparations. As long as Hitler had had a future, he had ruled out marriage. His life, he said, was devoted to Germany. There was no room for a wife. But Eva Braun had chosen to come to the bunker. And she had refused Hitler's entreaties to leave. She had committed herself to him once and for all, when others were deserting. The marriage now cost him nothing. He did it simply to please Eva Braun, to give her what she had wanted more than anything at a moment when marrying him was the least enviable fate in the world.

Not long after midnight on April 29, in the most macabre surrounds, with the bunker shaking from nearby explosions, Hitler and Eva Braun exchanged marriage vows. Goebbels and Bormann were witnesses. The rest of the staff waited outside to congratulate the newly wedded couple. Champagne, sandwiches and reminiscences -- with somewhat forced joviality -- of happier days followed.

A short time later, Hitler dictated his last will and testament. His last words for posterity were a piece of pure self-justification. Despite all its setbacks, the six-year struggle would one day go down in history as "the most glorious and valiant manifestation of a nation's will to existence".

It had turned 4am when Hitler, looking weary, took himself off to rest. He had completed the winding-up order on the Third Reich. Only the final act of selfdestruction remained.

The mood in the bunker sank to zero-level. Despair was written on everyone's face. All knew it was only a matter of hours before Hitler killed himself and wondered what the future held for them after his death. There was much talk of the best methods of committing suicide. Secretaries, adjutants and any others who wanted them had by then been given the brass-cased ampoules containing prussic acid.

At dawn, Soviet artillery opened up an intensive bombardment of the Chancellery and neighbouring buildings. The battle for Berlin would in all probability be over that evening. Hitler sent for Bormann. It was around noon. He told him the time had come; he would shoot himself that afternoon. Eva Braun would also commit suicide. Their bodies were to be burnt. Hitler took lunch as usual around 1pm with his secretaries and his dietician. Eva Braun was not present. Hitler was composed, giving no hint that his death was imminent. Some time after the meal had ended, the secretaries were told that Hitler wished to say farewell to them. They joined Martin Bormann, Joseph and Magda Goebbels, General Burgdorf and General Krebs, and others from the inner circle of the bunker community. Looking more stooped than ever, Hitler, dressed as usual in his uniform jacket and black trousers, appeared alongside Eva, née Braun, who was wearing a blue dress with white trimmings. He held out his hand to each of them, muttered a few words and, within a few minutes and without further formalities, returned to his study. Eva Braun followed him. It was shortly before 3.30pm. For the next few minutes, Goebbels, Bormann and the remaining members of the bunker community waited. The only noise was the drone of the diesel ventilator. In the upstairs part of the bunker, Traudl Junge chatted with the Goebbels children as they ate their lunch. After waiting ten minutes or so, still without a sound from Hitler's room, Linge took the initiative. He took Bormann with him and cautiously opened the door. In the cramped study, Hitler and Eva Braun sat alongside each other on the small sofa. Eva Braun was slumped to Hitler's left. A strong whiff of bitter almonds -- the distinctive smell of prussic acid -- drifted up from her body. Hitler's head drooped lifelessly. Blood dripped from a bullet-hole in his right temple. His 7.65mm Walther pistol lay by his foot.



David Irving

David Irving comments:


We are flattered that Professor Kershaw has thought so highly of our Hitler's War that he has relied heavily on it for his own work. Of course he has felt it needful to place a different spin on things.

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