Case closed

NIGEL JONES is unim­pressed by a fresh in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a con­spir­acy-laden ‘mys­tery’ that was solved long ago

BBC History Magazine - - Books / Reviews -

The Death of Hitler: The Fi­nal Word on the Ul­ti­mate Cold Case By Jean-Christophe Bris­ard and Lana Parshina Hod­der & Stoughton, 336 pages, £25

Around 3.30pm on 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler, a cor­nered rat in a trap, sat on a sofa in his Ber­lin bunker and put a bul­let through his head. His bride, Eva Braun, seated next to him, bit down on a cyanide cap­sule. His staff car­ried their bod­ies to the sur­face, placed them in a shell hole, doused them with petrol and im­per­fectly cre­mated them. Th­ese facts have been known for decades, but, like Elvis, the fallen führer has lived on in many peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tions.

The myth of Hitler’s sur­vival – that he en­joyed a long and un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally quiet re­tire­ment in South Amer­ica after ar­riv­ing there by U-boat – was orig­i­nally prop­a­gated by Josef Stalin. Sus­pi­cious by na­ture, Stalin re­fused to be­lieve that Hitler was dead un­til it was con­firmed by his own in­tel­li­gence agen­cies who had Hitler’s charred re­mains in their cus­tody. Even then, for pro­pa­gan­dist pur­poses, Stalin con­tin­ued to spread the story that the dead führer was alive and well and be­ing pro­tected by the wicked west.

The leg­end of Hitler’s sur­vival lives on among con­spir­acy the­o­rists: only last year a pop­u­lar US TV se­ries was still ped­dling the same old garbage.

In fact, the ba­sic cir­cum­stances of Hitler’s death were es­tab­lished just after the war by the Bri­tish his­to­rian Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Last Days of Hitler, based on his in­ter­views with sur­vivors of the bunker who had es­caped to the west. But con­crete ev­i­dence, in the shape of Hitler’s car­bonised bones, was in the hands of the Rus­sians, and with the Cold War be­gin­ning, they weren’t telling.

French in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Jean-Christophe Bris­ard and Rus­sian re­searcher Lana Parshina set out to find, pho­to­graph, and pub­li­cise the sparse ev­i­dence that still sur­vives, buried in the Moscow ar­chives of Rus­sia’s FSB (for­merly KGB) in­tel­li­gence ser­vice. This book has two strands: a fa­mil­iar chrono­log­i­cal his­tory of the last days in the bunker, and a pro­tracted and frankly te­dious ac­count of the in­trepid duo’s bat­tle to get the ob­struc­tive bu­reau­crats guard­ing those ar­chives to give them a glimpse of the crown jew­els in their care.

It took two frus­trat­ing years, and when they did get to see the smok­ing guns, it must have been anti-cli­mac­tic. Hid­den in an old com­puter disc box was a skull frag­ment com­plete with bul­let hole, and four teeth (Hitler had no­to­ri­ously poor oral hy­giene), along with the KGB re­ports de­tail­ing the find­ing of the führer’s re­mains, and what be­came of the rest of them. Buried in an un­marked grave in east Ger­many, Hitler and Braun’s scorched bones, along with those of the Goebbels fam­ily, were ex­humed in 1970 on the or­ders of KGB boss Yuri An­dropov, in­cin­er­ated again, and the ashes poured into a lo­cal river.

If this is in­deed the thrilling clo­sure of a cold case, as the over-hyped book pub­lic­ity claims, Her­cule Poirot need not be trou­bled: most of us knew who­dun­nit ages ago.

Nigel Jones is the au­thor of Countdown to Valkyrie: The July Plot to As­sas­si­nate Hitler (Front­line, 2009)

Con­spir­acy the­o­rists have long spec­u­lated on the deaths of Hitler and Braun

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