17 Notable Figures Who Really Wielded the Power in the Shadow of those They Were Sworn to Serve

According to some, Martin Bormann was the man pulling the strings at the end of the Third Reich. Wikimedia Commons.

3. Martin Bormann was more than Hitler’s secretary – he decided who the dictator should see and what orders he passed on

Short, fat and uncouth: Martin Bormann was a long way from the archetypal Aryan superman. He was also more likely to be found in a grey suit in an office than in an immaculately-tailored uniform being photographed at a rally or at the frontline of the war. But appearances can be deceiving. Bormann served as Adolf Hitler’s private secretary. To get to Hitler, people, including the most senior of Nazi officials, needed to go through him, giving him a unique position of power within the Third Reich. Indeed, he was often referred to as the ‘Brown Eminence’ in reference to his dull personality and clothes as well as to the way be pulled the strings behind the scenes.

According to some scholars of the Nazi regime, as Hitler became increasingly unstable and paranoid, Bormann used his position at the head of the Reich Chancellery to shape policy not just at home but also in the theater of war too. In the words of the historian Louis L. Snyder, “He was, indeed, the power behind Hitler’s throne. Under his unprepossessing exterior was the classic manipulator, the anonymous power seeker who worked in secrecy and outmaneuvered all his rivals seeking Hitler’s ear.”

For his part, Hitler was often open in his praise of Bormann. He would rant that his generals needed to be more like Bormann, both in their work-rate and in their reliability. Inevitably, many senior Nazis, including Himmler and Goering, grew jealous and suspicious of Bormann. However, he used his position as the gatekeeper to Hitler to pit his rivals off against one another, allowing him to retain his position of power and influence right up until the very end of the Third Reich.

Bormann took control of the regime following Hitler’s suicide in 1945. Within a matter of days, however, he too had taken his own life, most likely jumping off a bridge on the outskirts of Berlin. He was tried in absentia and sentenced to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity, proof, if it was needed that this seemingly-unremarkable administrator was at the very heart of the worst excesses of Nazism.