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April 26, 2000

Hitler's Skull Fragment Displayed

By Anna Dolgov
Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW -- What officials claim is a fragment of Adolf Hitler's skull went on display Wednesday, along with documents revealing what happened to the dictator's remains after they were seized by Soviet troops in 1945.

click to enlargeThe four-inch fragment -- with a hole where a bullet reportedly exited through the left temple -- was displayed under thick glass at Russia's Federal Archives Service. The exhibition, called "The Agony of the Third Reich: The Retribution," was timed to mark the 55th anniversary next month of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The piece of skull and the jaw are the only surviving remains of Hitler's body, according to officials at the archive service and at the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor of the KGB.

Photographs of the jaw went on display Wednesday. But the jaw itself, with the dental work tßhat originally allowed the Soviets to identify Hitler's body, is still in secret archives.

"The jaw is the main piece of evidence" in the decades-old Soviet investigation into Hitler's death," said Yakov Pogony, head of the FSB archive department. "And the main piece of evidence must be preserved."

After Hitler shot himself in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, his body was taken outside by his staff, doused with gasoline and set ablaze along with the remains of his longtime companion, Eva Braun.

Soviet troops seized the remains when they captured the bunker. But what happened later has been shrouded in mystery and speculation.

Secret communications between Soviet counterintelligence units in Germany and the government in Moscow tell of repeated burials and exhumations of the remains, and of their final destruction by fire in 1970.

According to the documents, which also went on display Wednesday, the remains had been kept by the counterintelligence unit of the Soviet 3rd Army, part of an intelligence organization called SMERSH -- a Russian acronym for "Death to Spies." The soldiers buried and dug up the remains at least three times in 1945-46 as the army moved around Germany.

They were finally interred on SMERSH-controlled grounds in Magdeburg, a town about 70 miles west of Berlin -- until the Soviet government in 1970 ordered the remains be dug up and burned, the documents say.

The Magdeburg base was about to be transferred to East German authorities, and the Soviets feared "possible construction or excavation work on this territory that might lead to the discovery of the remains," according to a report by KGB boss Yuri Andropov.

Hitler's jaw, however, had been removed and brought to Moscow in 1945, to be included as evidence in an investigation into Hitler's death, said Sergei Mironenko, head of Russia's State Archive.

The skull fragment was found separately in 1946, when the Soviet secret police opened a second investigation, prompted by rumors that Hitler had survived. They again dug up the hole outside Hitler's bunker, Mironenko said. The fragment they found was sent to Moscow.

Russia announced it had the skull fragment in 1993, and some Western experts argued it was not Hitler's. But Mironenko insisted his service had "no doubts that it is authentic."

"It is not just some bone we found in the street, but a fragment of a skull that was found in a hole where Hitler's body had been buried," Mironenko said in an interview.

Still, the archives service has asked Russia's Forensic Medicine Institute -- a top agency for genetic testing -- to help in positively identifying the skull fragment, Mironenko conceded.

So far, there seems to be no conclusive evidence.

"I have not seen any documents providing evidence that this is the skull of Hitler," said Alexander Kalganov, an official at the FSB's archives department.

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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