16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler's Bunker
16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker

D.G. Hewitt - December 14, 2018

The Third Reich was supposed to last a thousand years. In the end, it lasted less than 15. By the beginning of April 1945, the Red Army was advancing on Berlin from one side, with the Americans advancing on the other flank. Hitler retreated to an underground Bunker deep beneath the Reich Chancellery building. Here, surrounded by his most loyal and fanatical followers, he attempted to stall, even reserve, Germany’s inevitable defeat.

Few people made it out of that bunker alive. Hitler himself famously chose to commit suicide rather than be captured. A number of his devoted SS servants followed his example. But some did make it out. And thanks to their testimonies, we have a good idea of what life was like below ground in those dark days. It was, as you might expect, grim and terrifying. But the horror also brought people closer together. Combined with a sense of impending doom – and the contents of the Chancellery’s wine cellars – this produced a strange atmosphere of terror and decadence. While Hitler ranted, others partied like it was the end of the world.

So, here, in 16 steps, we take you through what life was like at the last stand of the evil Nazi regime:

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
For a few weeks, the Bunker in Berlin was the center of the Nazi Reich. Signs of War.

16. Hitler didn’t just hide in his Bunker, he also thought he could dictate the outcome of the war from his underground headquarters

The Bunker wasn’t just a shelter for Hitler and his top aides to shelter in. Instead, it was a fully-functioning control room. From there, Hitler intended to control the course of the whole war and not just the Battle of Berlin waging above his head. Joining him down below ground were several of his key men, including his personal secretary Martin Bormann and Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, and his family. And then Hitler also ordered his secretaries, including Traudl Junge, his own nurse, Erna Flegel, and a private switchboard operator, Sergeant Rochus Misch, underground with him.

One of the 30 rooms in the Bunker was a dedicated map room or situation room. It was here that Hitler attempted to control the war. He would meet his generals at least once a day and, in cramped conditions, pore over maps of Berlin, attempting to find a way to block the Russian advance. However, as we shall see, he would draw up impossible plans, directing units that no longer existed and issuing orders to generals who no longer believed the war could be won.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
By the end, Hitler was forced to get updates on the war from Berlin households. Wikimedia Commons.

15. The Bunker was cut off from the rest of the Reich, and as the Red Army advanced, Hitler was forced to rely on everyday Berliners and message boys for his updates

The Bunker was completely cut off from the rest of Berlin, and, thus, the rest of the world. Of course, since he was still the ultimate power in Nazi Germany, Hitler still needed to give orders, plus he needed to be informed of all the latest developments above ground. Which is why the radio was so important. The Bunker had its own outside antenna. It also had a telephone exchange which was manned around-the-clock. However, as the Red Army began advancing through the streets of Berlin, the Bunker became increasingly isolated.

According to the historian Antony Beevor, as the Red Army advanced and won ground, they would take over the German Army’s communications. On several occasions, the Bunker would try to issue orders to a general above ground only to be greeted by the sound of mocking Russian soldiers on the other end. By mid-April, the generals were often relying on householders to give them information on the fighting. Then, at the very end, Hitler had to rely on messengers to get his orders out. Boys from the Hitler Youth dodged bullets and mortar shells to get in and out of the Bunker.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Hitler moved his partner and his dog down into the Bunker with him. Sydney Morning Herald.

14. While Berliners died in their thousands above, below ground, Hitler continued with his daily routines – including his late, lazy mornings

Even though things had changed – and changed for the worse – for the Nazi regime, its leader insisted on following his usual routines, hopeful that he might be able to mastermind a comeback. Hitler liked to sleep in late; he would get up just before midday and then take a quick bath and breakfast before he held his first conference with his generals at noon. Even though millions of people were starving thanks to the war he had dragged Germany into, Hitler always made time for a proper lunch, made by his personal chef.

For the rest of the afternoon and evening, Hitler would receive generals and other key figures in the Nazi regime in his private study. Conferences would sometimes go on until the early hours of the morning. Understandably, no general wanted to show any signs of tiredness or suggest they wanted to leave. They simply waited until Hitler had finished his ranting. On many occasions, such desperate meetings would go on until 5am. After that, the Fuhrer would retreat to his private quarters in the lower part of the Bunker and not emerge again until lunch the following day.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
A reconstruction of Hitler’s private quarters in the Bunker. The Local Germany.

13. The Bunker might have been a ‘concrete coffin’, but Hitler’s own quarters were made as comfortable and luxurious as possible

The Bunker may have been an air raid shelter, but Hitler was still the head of the Third Reich (or at least what was left of it) and so he was treated as such. In fact, the bunker was surprisingly luxurious, at least for the Fuhrer. According to contemporary accounts, Hitler’s private quarters were a long way from the sparse, grey, cell-like rooms his staff were forced to live in. On the contrary, his loyal staff made every effort to make him feel at home, perhaps hopeful that, if he was comfortable, he could mastermind a remarkable military comeback.

To this end, red carpet was put down on the floor of the Bunker’s corridors, ensuring Hitler could walk in comfort from his private quarters to the various meeting rooms and the radio room. The walls of the Bunker, meanwhile, were decorated with paintings, some of them notable and very valuable works of German art. Most importantly of all, a portrait of Frederick the Great was taken from Hitler’s old office and hung up in his makeshift study. It was said that Hitler liked to compare himself to the great Prussian, idolizing him for his strength and military prowess.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Hitler and Goebbels were deeply suspicious and paranoid of traitors in their midst. DPA.

12. The Red Army might have been at the door – but Hitler and his top Nazis were often more concerned with the ‘enemy within’

The Red Army wasn’t the only thing the occupants of the Fuhrerbunker worried about. Beneath the Reich Chancellery, paranoia was rife. The aristocratic Freytag von Loringhoven was a regular German Army solider who served in the Bunker for more than 100 days. While underground, he personally observed Hitler purposefully divide and rule among sycophants and soldiers. “He created parallel command structures that competed for resources and he appointed political officers to spy on military professionals. Right until the end, he kept all the cards in his hand,” the former aide-de-camp. Unsurprisingly, summary executions of supposed traitors were not uncommon.

Hitler even had his wife’s brother-in-law, an SS officer, shot for desertion. Goebbels, meanwhile wrote in his diary of “the delirium of treachery which surrounds the Fuhrer”. This was made even worse when the Bunker received a telegram from Hermann Goering. In it, the head of the Luftwaffe stated his intention to take over as Fuhrer given that Hitler was pinned underground. This was seen as the ultimate betrayal and unleashed what some described as being Hitler’s most explosive rant of all. Given such a lack of loyalty, Hitler concluded, he had no choice but to take his own life.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Hitler’s secretary, here with her husband, revealed how adversity brought people together in the Bunker. Praxis Magazine.

11. Amid the horror of the Bunker, a sense of solidarity emerged – some survivors even said they felt ‘like a family’ down there

The sense of solidarity felt among the staff became even more intense as the war drew towards its inevitable conclusion. As Erna Fegel, Hitler’s nurse in the Bunker, recalled: “The circle became increasingly small. People were pulled together. Everyone became more unassuming.” Not only did the secretaries and nurses try and keep one another’s morale up, they also drew up plans on how they could make it out of Berlin alive. Once it was confirmed that Hitler was dead, many put their plans into action, heading above ground and getting as far away as possible.

At the very end, even the officers came together with the lowly staff. During her interrogation by the Soviets after the war, Frau Fegel concluded: “At the end we were like a big family. The terrific dynamics of the fate which was unrolling held sway over all of us. We were Germany, and we were going through the end of the Third Reich and the war. Everything petty and external had fallen away.” Without a doubt, if it hadn’t been for this sense of solidarity, the number of people who killed themselves down in the Bunker would have been much higher.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Hitler continued to delude himself, even when Berlin was in ruins above him. Wikimedia Commons.

10. To the very end, Hitler was convinced he could turn things around – and he wasn’t the only one in denial

By early 1945, most of the top officers in the German Army knew that the war was all but over. But Hitler himself was in a profound state of denial – understandably, his generals were very reluctant to give him bad news. On 21 April 1945, Hitler ordered the SS General Felix Steiner to launch an attack in the north of the city. The following afternoon, Hitler was informed that the attack had not been a success. In fact, Steiner had not even attempted to make a move. Only then did the dictator concede that the war was lost.

But it wasn’t just Hitler who continued to have delusional faith in his own powers. Many SS officers believed he was all-powerful and, if wasn’t surrounded by treacherous generals, would be able to turn things around. Hitler’s nurses and secretaries likewise later revealed that many of the staff, some of whom were in their 20s and had grown up on a diet of propaganda about how brilliant their Fuhrer was, also believed he would save them all. Indeed, only when Hitler finally said goodbye to his staff did many realize, for the first time, that the war was lost.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Goebbels would pester female staff, despite his wife being below ground with him. Irish Times.

9. Danger was an aphrodisiac, with men and women of all ages turning to carnal relations to try and escape the horror for just a few moments

The Bunker was filled with both men and women, most of them young, in their 20s or 30s. Gertraud Junge, one of Hitler’s personal secretaries, later revealed what went on in those dark days. She recalled: “An erotic fever seemed to have taken possession of everybody. Everywhere, even on the dentist’s chair, I saw bodies locked in lascivious embraces. The women had discarded all modesty and were freely exposing their private parts.” Some of the women coupling up were secretaries or typists. But others were apparently desperate women SS men picked up on the streets of Berlin.

And it wasn’t just the lowly staff who were using sex as a coping tactic. Martin Bormann fully embraced this lowering of inhibitions and decadent atmosphere. He was a notorious womanizer and liked seducing younger female staff. What’s more, his wife Gerda actively encouraged his philandering, even inviting his conquests to their home. Similarly, it’s alleged that Hitler himself also engaged in copious amounts of sex in the build-up to his marriage with Eva Braun, possibly since he knew the end was close or because he was high on a cocktail of drugs.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Hitler finally agreed to give his girlfriend Eva Braun the wedding she always wanted. The Local Germany.

8. Beneath the streets of Berlin, Hitler and Eva Braun got married in possibly the darkest wedding in history

On the evening of April 28, 1945, a Berlin lawyer called Walter Wagner was summoned to the Bunker. To his amazement, he was told he would be officiating the wedding of the Fuhrer. He must have been terrified when he informed Hitler and Goebbels that they were lacking the necessary paperwork. Undeterred, Wagner went back above ground and returned soon after with the appropriate forms. Goebbels served as Hitler’s best man and then the wedding party celebrated the union with a toast. Even the supposedly tee-total Hitler is said to have shared a glass of champagne with his new bride.

The wedding took place around midnight. By 9am the next morning, Hitler was informed that the last line of defense had been breached. The Red Army were almost upon them. There and then, Hitler made the decision to die. According to some accounts, he wanted Braun to try and escape. However, having been denied the status of his wife for so long – apparently, Hitler believed being a married man would make him less attractive to his millions of female admirers across Germany – she chose to stay by her husband’s side and share his dark fate.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Movie depictions of drunken orgies during the last days in the Bunker are only too accurate. YouTube.

7. As the Soviets advanced, the Chancellery wine cellars were emptied and the booze flowed like water in the Bunker

Famously, Hitler liked to boast of his strict vegetarian diet. He also didn’t smoke – in itself relatively rare for the 1930s and 1940s – and was never a fan of alcohol. Even if he wasn’t completely tee-total as some historians insist, he certainly was no heavy drinker, only ever having an occasional glass of wine or beer, usually to steady his nerves before a big speech. However, he recognized the importance of alcohol to his underlings and turned a blind eye as the inhabitants of the Bunker drank themselves into oblivion as the Red Army advanced.

In her account of Hitler’s downfall, Brunhilde Pomsel, the head secretary of Joseph Goebbels, revealed that she was specifically instructed to “continuously supply alcohol to the Nazis in their final hours”. Since traditional German beer was hard to come by, most people in the Bunker got drunk on schnapps or other cheap, strong spirits. She also noted that even Hitler himself recognized that booze was “urgently needed in order to retain the numbness” of the skeleton crew of staff left underground. Pomsel even suggested that Hitler got drunk with Goebbels right at the very end, though most historians disagree.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
The Nazi regime was fueled by rampant drug use, and life in the Bunker was no exception. Pinterest.

6. It wasn’t just alcohol that people turned to in order to numb the pain – drugs were some survivors’ crutch of choice as they faced almost certain death

Recent research has revealed how Nazi soldiers went into battle fueled not just by their belief in their Fuhrer’s warped philosophy. And nowhere was this more the case than in the Bunker, where secretaries and lowly aides were required to stay awake and alert almost constantly. As supplies of proper drugs fell as the Reich’s enemies encircled Berlin, those left in the Bunker took whatever they could get their hands on. One doctor who visited the Bunker to deliver supplies noted that it was like a scene out of hell with people lying everywhere, in a trance or knocked out.

Ironically, just about the only person who wasn’t on some kind of drug high during those 105 days in the Bunker was Hitler himself. For years he had been prescribed opiates by his personal physician, Dr Morell. In April 1945, he realized he had become addicted to them. He reputedly summoned his doctor and screamed: “You have been giving me opiates the whole time! Get out of the bunker and leave me alone!” Dr Morell did leave, taking his drugs with him. So it’s possible that, far from being high, the Fuhrer was actually suffering from withdrawal symptoms while underground.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Hitler preferred to die than be captured by the approaching Soviet Army – and he wasn’t the only one. Pinterest.

5. Hitler came to see suicide as the only way out, and he wasn’t the only one to take his own life in the Berlin Bunker

It’s estimated that as many as 7,000 people killed themselves in Berlin alone in 1945. The figure could be much higher, however, as many suicides were simply not reported. One suicide report remains certain: Adolf Hitler himself. The Fuhrer famously shot himself in the Bunker, dying alongside his new wife, just hours after getting married. But Hitler wasn’t the only person to die in the Bunker. Even when the outcome of the war wasn’t certain, both Hitler and Goebbels made it clear to the German people that suicide was preferable to being captured. And lots of people heeded their advice.

Goebbels and his wife committed suicide, right after killing their children. As with Hitler, they ordered that their bodies be burned immediately so that they would not become trophies of the Red Army. Similarly, Germany Army generals Wilhelm Burgdorf and Hans Kreb both shot themselves in the head with their service pistols in the Bunker. While there is no exact figure on the number who died by their own hands in the Bunker, many eyewitness accounts allude to a dozen, maybe more, such deaths in the closing days of April 1945, many out of desperation as well as fanaticism.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Erna Flegel, a nurse in the Bunker, was freed from her oath to Hitler at the very end. DW.com.

4. At the very end, Hitler gathered his loyal staff and released them from their oath to him, even if there was no way out

When it became clear that all was lost, Hitler resigned himself to his fate. Before he did so, he explicitly freed his staff from their oath of duty to him. Up until this point, they had all vowed to die before leaving their leader. This meant that his secretaries, as well as other staff such as his young couriers or radio operators, were free to leave. For instance, Heinz Linge was given permission to leave the Bunker by Hitler himself – but only after he had performed one last duty, guarding the Fuhrer’s bedroom while he committed suicide and then burning his body afterwards.

In her memoirs, Erna Flegel, who served as Hitler’s nurse in the Bunker, revealed that the Fuhrer personally thanked and said goodbye to his staff on the evening of April 28, 1945. He even handed them all cyanide capsules, half-joking that he wished he could give them nicer gifts. That evening, he would kill himself. The following morning, the staff were advised that they were free from their oaths to the Fuhrer and the Nazi Reich and could leave the Bunker – even if few dared to venture above ground, where the feared Red Army were taking Berlin street by street.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
When the Red Army finally came, they found a handful of staff still in the Bunker, fearing the worst. Wikipedia

3. Not everyone tried to escape – some preferred to take their chances below ground than run the risk of facing the Red Army on the street of Berlin

It wasn’t just the secretaries and typists who were allowed to leave the Bunker. One of Hitler’s final orders had been to give permission for German soldiers to try and break out of Berlin, on the proviso, of course, that they carry on fighting. Under Wilhelm Mohnke, the remaining troops were divided into ten groups, each escaping on a different day. Gunther Schwagermann, adjutant to Josef Goebbels, was one of those who made it out only to be captured by advancing American troops. Martin Bormann also got out but was killed by Soviet soldiers a few streets away.

The idea that Hitler somehow also managed to escape not only the Bunker but also war-torn Germany, right under the noses of the Soviet soldiers, emerged soon after the end of the war. After all, several high-ranking Nazis did make it out of Germany after 1945. However, the accounts of witnesses, most notably of those people who were in there with him at the very end, plus the fact that dental remains found on a corpse half-buried at the entrance to the Bunker matched Hitler’s own dental records, suggests it’s almost certain the dictator never made it out alive.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Russian soldiers found the room where Hitler committed suicide, but no body. Wikipedia.

2. When the end came, the first Soviet troops in the Bunker behaved respectfully – and were more interested in the food than the young female secretaries

According to Antony Beevor, at least 100,000 German women were raped in Berlin during the Soviet invasion. Of these an estimated 10,000 died, many of them committing suicide out of shame or from the trauma. Small wonder then that the few remaining people holed up in the Bunker at the very end of April 1945 were terrified of what was in store for them. According to Hitler’s nurse Erna Flegel, there were just ‘six or seven’ people, including herself, below ground when the Russians took Berlin. Those who hadn’t tried to escape had simply killed themselves.

Despite their fears, the Russians taking the Bunker was apparently a calm event. Speaking to Allied interrogators in 1945, Frau Flegel explained that the call came on May 2nd; a nurse above ground telephoned down to inform them that the Russians had arrived. Soon after, a handful of Soviet troops “had a look around” and were far more interested in the food supplies they found than in the women. Indeed, the nurse acknowledged that these soldiers treated her and her fellow survivors “very humanely”, even advising her to lock the Bunker door after them when they left.

16 Facts of the Last Days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s Bunker
Hitler’s grim grave is now a parking lot in downtown Berlin. Daily Express.

1. To keep it from being turned into a sick neo-Nazi shrine, all traces of Hitler’s Bunker have been destroyed over the years

Even the Soviet Union had no desire to celebrate their victory by turning the Bunker into a tourist attraction. Shortly after the end of the war, the underground complex was sealed up and the vast Chancellery complex above demolished completely. Then, in the 1980s, the East German regime began work on an apartment block close to the site. Workers opened up the underground bunkers again and then completely destroyed them. At last, all traces of the Nazi past had been removed from this infamous corner of Berlin.

It was only in 2006 that the Berlin authorities actually confirmed that the nondescript parking lot sits on the spot where Hitler killed himself and brought the darkest period of German history to an end. As well as the barest of historical information, the low-key noticeboard also includes a diagram of the layout of the Bunker to give an impression of just how claustrophobic and depressing it was down there in the spring of 1945. Nowadays, the Holocaust Memorial, just a short walk away, attracts far more visitors than the site of the Bunker.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“An orgy of denial in Hitler’s bunker.” The Sydney Morning Herald, May 2003.

“The Brief Luxurious Life of Adolf Hitler, 50 Feet Below Berlin.” Time Magazine.

“Eva Braun: The Lover Germany Never Knew Hitler Had.” The Local Germany, April 2017

“Goebbels’ secretary was instructed to fuel Hitler’s bunker with booze as Berlin fell.” Deccan Chronicle, August 2017.

“The Very Drugged Nazis.” The New York Review, March 2017.

“Hitler’s last 24 hours: I want to be a beautiful corpse, said Eva amid a frenzy of sex and drinking.” Daily Mail, April 2015.

“‘His authority was extraordinary. He was charming’ – Hitler’s nurse on his final hours.” The Guardian, May 2005.

“How Hitler spent his last days.” Alex Duval Smith, The Guardian, March 2005.

“Rare Interviews With Hitler’s Inner Circle Reveal What Truly Happened On ‘The Day Hitler Died’.” The Smithsonian Magazine, November 2015.

“Adolf Hitler suicide 70 years on: what became of the Nazi leader’s bunker?” The Telegraph, April 2015.

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