Nazi Leader Adolf Hitler's Death by Suicide

The Death of the Führer

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Goss, Jennifer L. "Nazi Leader Adolf Hitler's Death by Suicide." ThoughtCo, Aug. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/hitler-commits-suicide-1779305. Goss, Jennifer L. (2017, August 24). Nazi Leader Adolf Hitler's Death by Suicide. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hitler-commits-suicide-1779305 Goss, Jennifer L. "Nazi Leader Adolf Hitler's Death by Suicide." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hitler-commits-suicide-1779305 (accessed October 19, 2017).
A picture of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler eating with mistress Eva Braun.
German dictator Adolf Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun dine in a still from a private home movie made by Braun's sister Gretl Fegelein. (circa early to mid 1940s). Express Newspapers/Getty Images

With the end of World War II imminent and the Russians nearing his underground bunker under the Chancellery building in Berlin, Germany, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler shot himself in the head with his pistol, likely after swallowing cyanide, ending his own life just before 3:30 pm on April 30, 1945.

In the same room with Hitler was his new wife, Eva Braun, who ended her life by swallowing a cyanide capsule.

After their deaths, SS men carried their bodies up to the Chancellery’s courtyard, covered them with gasoline, and lit them on fire.

The Führer

Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, beginning the era of German history known as the Third Reich. On August 2, 1934, German President Paul Von Hindenburg died, allowing Hitler to solidify his position by becoming der Führer, the ultimate leader of the German people.

In the years following his appointment, Hitler led a reign of terror that embroiled many millions in the Second World War and murdered an estimated 11 million people during the Holocaust.

Hitler promised that the Third Reich would reign for 1,000 years; it only lasted 12.

Hitler Enters the Bunker

As Allied Forces closed in on all sides, the city of Berlin was partially evacuated to prevent approaching Russian troops from seizing valuable German citizens and assets.

On January 16, 1945, despite advice to the contrary, Hitler chose to hole up in the vast bunker located below his headquarters (the Chancellery) rather than leave the city. He stayed there for over 100 days.

The 3,000-square-foot underground bunker consisted of two levels and 18 rooms; Hitler resided on the lower level.

The structure was an expansion project of the Chancellery’s air raid shelter, which had been completed in 1942 and located under the building’s diplomatic reception hall. Hitler contracted Nazi architect Albert Speer to build an additional bunker under the Chancellery’s garden, which was located in front of the reception hall.

The new structure, the Führerbunker (schematic), was officially completed in October 1944; however, it underwent several upgrades after that date, such as reinforcement and the addition of new security features. The bunker had its own electricity feed and water supply.

Life in the Bunker

Life in the bunker exhibited some signs of normalcy, despite the abnormal environs. The upper quarters of the bunker, where Hitler’s staff lived and worked, were largely plain and functional.

The lower quarters, which contained six rooms specifically reserved for Hitler and Eva Braun, contained some of the luxury that they had become accustomed to during his reign. Furniture was brought in from the Chancellery offices to decorate this portion of the bunker.

Hitler also decorated his personal quarters with a portrait of Frederick the Great, which witnesses report he stared at on a daily basis to steel himself for the continued fight against outside forces.

Despite the attempts of Hitler and his staff to create a more normal living environment in their underground locale, the strain of this situation could not be ignored.

The electricity in the bunker intermittently flickered and the sounds of war reverberated throughout the structure as the Russian advance grew nearer. The air was stuffy and oppressive.

During the final months of the war, Hitler controlled the German government from this dismal lair. The bunker’s occupants maintained access to the outside world via telephone and telegraph lines.

High-level German officials made periodic visits to conduct meetings on items of importance related to the government and military efforts. Visitors included Hermann Göring and SS Leader Heinrich Himmler, among several others.

From the bunker, Hitler continued to dictate German military movements but was unsuccessful in his attempt to stop the forward march of Russian troops as they approached Berlin.

Despite the claustrophobic and stale atmosphere of the bunker, Hitler rarely left its protective atmosphere. He made his last public appearance on March 20, 1945, when he surfaced to award the Iron Cross to a group of Hitler Youth and SS men.

Hitler’s Birthday

Just a few days before Hitler’s last birthday, the Russians had made it to the edge of Berlin. They encountered resistance from the last remaining German defenders; however, since those were mostly old men, Hitler Youth, and policemen, it didn’t take long for the Russians to sweep past them.

On April 20th, 1945, Hitler’s 56th and final birthday, Hitler hosted a small gathering of German officials to celebrate the occasion. The event was overpowered by the imminence of defeat but those in attendance tried to put on a brave face for their Führer.

Officials in attendance including Himmler, Göring, Reich Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop, Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and Hitler’s personal secretary Martin Bormann.

Several military leaders also attended the celebration, among them were Admiral Karl Dönitz, General Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, and recently appointed Chief of the General Staff, Hans Krebs.

The group of officials attempted to convince Hitler to evacuate the bunker and flee to his villa in Berchtesgaden; however, Hitler put up great resistance and refused to leave. In the end, the group gave in to his insistence and abandoned their efforts.

A few of his most devoted followers decided to remain with Hitler in the bunker. Bormann remained along with Goebbels. The latter’s wife, Magda, and their six children also chose to remain in the bunker rather than evacuate. Krebs also remained below ground.

Betrayal by Göring and Himmler

Others did not share Hitler’s dedication to remaining in Berlin and instead chose to leave the bunker, a fact that is reported to have upset Hitler deeply.

Both Himmler and Göring left the bunker shortly after Hitler’s birthday celebration.

This did not help Hitler’s mental state and he is reported to have grown increasingly irrational and desperate in the days following his birthday.

Three days after the gathering, Göring telegraphed Hitler from the villa at Berchtesgaden. Göring asked Hitler if he should assume leadership of Germany based on Hitler’s fragile state and the decree of June 29, 1941 that placed Göring in the position of Hitler’s successor.

Göring was startled to receive a reply penned by Bormann that accused Göring of high treason. Hitler agreed to drop the charges if Göring resigned all of his positions. Göring agreed and was placed on house arrest the following day. He would later stand trial in Nuremberg.

Upon leaving the bunker, Himmler took a step that was even brasher than Göring’s attempt to seize power. On April 23, the same day as Göring’s telegram to Hitler, Himmler began movements to negotiate surrender with U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower.

Himmler’s attempts did not come to fruition but word reached Hitler on April 27. According to witnesses, they had never seen the Führer so infuriated.

Hitler ordered Himmler to be located and shot; however, when Himmler could not be found, Hitler ordered the execution of SS-General Hermann Fegelein, Himmler’s personal liaison who was stationed in the bunker.

Fegelein was already on bad terms with Hitler, as he had been caught sneaking out of the bunker the previous day.

Soviets Surround Berlin

By this point, the Soviets had started bombarding Berlin and the onslaught was unrelenting. Despite the pressure, Hitler remained in the bunker rather than make a last minute escape attempt to his hideaway in the Alps. Hitler worried that fleeing could mean capture and that was something he was unwilling to risk.

By April 24, the Soviets had the city completely surrounded and it appeared that escape was no longer an option.

Events of April 29

On the day that American forces liberated Dachau, Hitler began the final steps toward ending his life. It is reported by witnesses in the bunker that shortly after midnight on April 29, 1945, Hitler married Eva Braun. The pair had been romantically involved since 1932, although Hitler was determined to keep their relationship fairly private in its initial years.

Braun, an attractive young photography assistant when they met, worshipped Hitler without fail. Although he is reported to have encouraged her to leave the bunker, she vowed to stay with him until the end.

Shortly after Hitler married Braun, he dictated his last will and political statement to his secretary, Traudl Junge.

Later that day, Hitler learned that Benito Mussolini had died at the hands of Italian partisans. It is believed that this was the final push towards Hitler’s own death the following day.

Shortly after learning about Mussolini, Hitler is reported to have asked his personal physician, Dr. Werner Haase, to test some of the cyanide capsules he had been given by the SS. The test subject would be Hitler’s beloved Alsatian dog, Blondi, who had given birth to five puppies earlier that month in the bunker.

The cyanide test was successful and Hitler was reported to have been rendered hysterical by Blondi’s death.

April 30, 1945

The following day held bad news on the military front. Leaders of the German command in Berlin reported that they would only be able to hold off the final Russian advance for another two to three days, at most. Hitler knew that the end of his Thousand Year Reich was fast approaching.

After a meeting with his staff, Hitler and Braun ate their final meal with his two secretaries and the bunker’s cook. Shortly after 3 pm, they said goodbye to the staff in the bunker and retired to their private chambers.

Although there is some uncertainty surrounding the exact circumstances, historians believe that the pair ended their lives by swallowing cyanide while sitting on a couch in the sitting room. For added measure, Hitler also shot himself in the head with his personal pistol.

Following their deaths, Hitler and Braun’s bodies were wrapped in blankets and then carried up into the Chancellery garden.

One of Hitler’s personal assistants, SS Officer Otto Günsche doused the bodies in gasoline and burned them, per Hitler’s final orders. Günsche was accompanied to the funeral pyre by several of the officials in the bunker, including Goebbels and Bormann.

The Immediate Aftermath

Hitler’s death was publicly announced on May 1, 1945. Earlier that same day, Magda Goebbels poisoned her six children. She stated to witnesses in the bunker that she did not wish them to continue to live in the world without her.

Shortly thereafter, Joseph and Magda ended their own lives, although their exact method of suicide is unclear. Their bodies were also burned in the Chancellery’s garden.

On the afternoon of May 2, 1945, Russian troops reached the bunker and discovered the partially burned remains of Joseph and Magda Goebbels.

Hitler and Braun’s charred remains were found a couple of days later. The Russians photographed the remains and then reburied them twice in secret locations.

What Happened to Hitler’s Body?

It is reported that in 1970, the Russians decided to destroy the remains. A small group of KGB agents dug up the remains of Hitler, Braun, Joseph and Magda Goebbels, and the Goebbel’s six children near the Soviet garrison at Magdeburg and then took them to a local forest and burned the remains even further. Once the bodies had been reduced to ash, they were dumped into a river.

The only thing not burned was a skull and part of a jawbone, believed to be Hitler’s. However, recent research questions that theory, finding that the skull was from a woman.

The Fate of the Bunker

The Russian army kept the bunker under close guard in the months following the end of the European front. The bunker was eventually sealed to prevent access and attempts were made to detonate the remains of the structure at least twice over the next 15 years.

In 1959, the area above the bunker was made into a park and the bunker entrances were sealed. Because of its proximity to the Berlin Wall, the idea of further destroying the bunker was abandoned once the wall was built.

The discovery of a forgotten tunnel renewed interest in the bunker in the late 1960s. The East German State Security conducted a survey of the bunker and then resealed it. It would remain this way until the mid-1980s when the government built high-end apartment buildings on the site of the former Chancellery.

A portion of the bunker’s remains were removed during excavation and the remaining chambers were filled with earthen material.

The Bunker Today

After many years of attempting to keep the location of the bunker secret to prevent Neo-Nazi glorification, the German government has placed official markers to show its location. In 2008, a large sign was erected to educate civilians and visitors about the bunker and its role in the end of the Third Reich.