The toilets overflowed. The air reeked of sewage and too many bodies. The ground shook from a constant artillery bombardment that knocked concrete chunks from the ceiling. Some inmates risked death aboveground just to get a breath of less rancid air.
Under the ruined flower beds in the garden of the New Reich Chancellery, diehard loyalists huddled in the Fuhrerbunker. Most stayed drunk, even in the presence of Hitler who was a teetotaler. He didn’t notice because he was higher than a kite on drugs.
For years, a quack named Dr. Morell had given Hitler pills that contained a variety of ingredients from herbs to strychnine. Hitler also began using cocaine to reduce pain from injuries he sustained in the July 1944 assassination attempt. In the last two weeks of his life, Hitler took ten times the prescribed daily dosage of cocaine.
A steady stream of visitors flowed through the bunker. Party functionaries sought promotions in a soon-to-be-outlawed political party. Government ministers promised undying loyalty to their Leader before fleeing from the Soviets. Military men attended meetings at which Hitler shuffled non-existent armies around the map. Everyone knew the end was near. Soviet Russian armies swarmed around Berlin.
Hitler could never win because he offered a world without hope. He saw everyone as a pawn to be used to serve his personal interests. He demanded absolute loyalty but casually betrayed everyone. He believed in survival of the fittest and winning at any cost. Like Putin’s Russia today, in Nazi Germany, the powerful jockeyed to get close to Hitler and then used their position to steal what they wanted. The law existed to protect the powerful.
To disguise the inequities of his regime, Hitler told ordinary citizens that life was unfair to them because of the malign influence of Jews, communists and journalists who reported the regime’s excesses and anyone who opposed him. He promised to make Germany great again by erasing the degradation of losing World War I.
But it was all a lie. There was no glorious Aryan past because Germany was a brand-new nation formed in 1870 after the wars of unification engineered by Otto von Bismarck. The Aryan myths pedaled by Hitler were actually Norse myths recycled through the operas of Richard Wagner. Both the Norse myths and Wagner’s operas end in the destruction of the world.
As the war losses mounted, Hitler ordered his troops to scorch the earth. If he couldn’t win, then no one deserved to live. On the eastern front, his troops left a swath of destruction hoping to slow the Soviet advance. But Paris and Rome are mostly intact today because their military commanders ignored Hitler’s orders to burn them to the ground.
As Hitler huddled in his Berlin bunker and finally accepted that the war was lost, he blamed his followers, saying they weren’t worthy of him. On April 30, 1945, Hitler and his wife of one day, Eva Braun committed suicide in the bunker. Their bodies were burned in a bomb crater in the garden using gasoline siphoned from Chancellery vehicles. The war in Europe ended May 8, 1945.
An authoritative account of Hitler’s last days is Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich, by Joachim Fest (2004 translation by Margot Bettauer Dembo). An account with a wider cast of witnesses is The Bunker, by James P. O’Donnell (1978). An account told primarily from the viewpoint of Hitler’s youngest secretary, Traudl Junge, is Voices From the Bunker, by Pierre Galante and Eugene Silianoff (1989). Rochus Misch, the last eyewitness, died in 2013.
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