For the occupants of Hitler’s private bunker the news could scarcely have been bleaker. The Soviet army was advancing so rapidly that it was now within a few hundred yards of the bunker’s perimeter fence.
The nearby Schlesischer railway station had already been captured. The Tiergarten was also in Soviet hands and the tunnel in the Voss Strasse was in the process of being occupied. Soon the bunker itself would also be overrun and the Führer would be taken prisoner. Hitler knew all too well that the Third Reich was in its final death throes.
In the small hours of 28–29 April 1945, he summoned a loyal official named Walter Wagner into his private conference room. Wagner’s position as city administrator gave him the right to officiate at a wedding ceremony. Hitler announced that he and his long-term mistress, Eva Braun, were to be married without further ado.
The formalities were kept brief for there was no time to lose. The couple declared themselves to be of pure Aryan descent and free from hereditary disease. Then, having given their assent by simple word of mouth, they were declared to be man and wife.
The newlyweds walked out into the corridor to be congratulated by Hitler’s faithful secretaries, Gerda Christian and Traudl Junge. They then sat together for several hours, drinking champagne and talking of happier times. The conversation took a rather more depressing turn as Hitler spoke of his impending suicide. National Socialism, he said, was dead. It would never be revived.
His resolve to kill himself was given fresh impetus by the shocking news that he received early in the morning of the 29 April. He was told that Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, had been executed by partisans and strung up by their feet in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan.
‘I will not fall into the hands of an enemy who requires a new spectacle to divert his hysterical masses!’ he shouted.
In the afternoon of that same day, he had his favourite Alsatian dog Blondi destroyed with poison. His two other dogs were shot by their keeper. Hitler then distributed cyanide capsules to his secretaries for use in extremity. He expressed his regret at not giving them abetter parting gift, adding that he wished his generals fighting against Stalin had been as faithful and reliable as they were.
At two thirty in the morning, some twenty faithful servants assembled to greet Hitler as he emerged from his private quarters. He offered them his final farewells and then returned to his private quarters. Everyone was sure that his suicide was imminent.
Yet he was still alive as dawn broke the sky on the following morning and he continued to receive military reports on the situation across Berlin. At 2 p.m., he even sat down to eat lunch with his two secretaries. His SS adjutant, Sturmbannführer Günsche, was meanwhile fulfilling the Führer’s orders to acquire 200 litres of petrol.
When Hitler had finished eating, he emerged from his private quarters accompanied by his new wife. Another farewell ceremony took place, this time with Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels and others. Eva embraced Traudl Junge and said:
‘Take my fur coat as a memory. I always like well-dressed women.’
Hitler then turned to address the little group for a final time. ‘It is finished,’ he said. ‘Goodbye.’
He led Eva back into his private room. Soon afterwards, a single shot was heard.
The group who had gathered to say their farewells to Hitler lingered for a few minutes in the corridor before entering his private room. Hitler himself was lying on the sofa, drenched in blood. He had shot himself through the mouth.
Eva Braun was also sprawled on the sofa. A revolver was by her side but she had not used it. She had swallowed poison instead.
Two SS men were summoned to the room, among them Hitler’s faithful servant, Heinz Linge. The two of them wrapped the Führer’s body in a blanket and carried it into the courtyard outside.
Eva Braun’s body, too, was taken outside. One of the men who helped to carry her body noted she was wearing a blue summer dress made of real silk and that her hair was artificially blonde.
The two corpses were doused in petrol and then set alight. A small group of mourners stood to attention, gave the Nazi salute and then withdrew back inside the bunker. Just beyond the bunker walls, the deep boom of the Soviet artillery lent a theatrical eeriness to the scene.
More petrol had to be poured on the corpses because they would not burn properly. Even after many hours, when most of the flesh had burned away, Hitler’s blackened shinbones were still visible.
Shortly before midnight, as the Soviet troops neared the perimeter of the bunker, the two charred corpses were tipped into a bomb crater and covered with soil.
According to Russian reports, the bodies were later exhumed by the Soviet troops who captured the bunker. They were then transferred to Magdeburg in East Germany. It was in Magdeburg – it is claimed – that Hitler’s body was finally destroyed by KGB officers in spring 1970.
Yet even that was not quite the end of the story. Two fragments of bone, his jawbone and skull, were preserved as grisly relics. They were last displayed in an exhibition at the Russian Federal Archives in Moscow in April 2000.