Did Adolf Hitler Really Die in 1945?
A friend asked me this recently, did Hitler really die in 1945? It was a staple mystery of my youth, the circumstances of his death were muddy, so there was lots of idle speculation after the war. I even remember it coming up in a third grade classroom, and the teacher saying that even if he was alive, he’d be a very old frail man by then (1967 or so.) There were a couple of pictures of his supposed corpse floating around, none of them very convincing. To the best of my knowledge now, these photos have all been long debunked, one was even a snapshot of Hitler taking a nap. Granted most people accepted that he died in the bunker as history says, but what’s the real story?
The real story gets muddy very early on. For whatever reason, Stalin decided to confuse and obscure Hitler’s fate after the war, ordering his minions into secrecy, and giving conflicting stories to his American and British allies. The Allies themselves were in fact confused in the immediate aftermath of the war. I mean, yes, the Nazis had indeed announced Hitler’s death in the final days of the regime, so most believed he was indeed dead, but no one knew for sure. However, within a year or two of the end of the war, both historians and Allied intelligence agencies had extensively interviewed the survivors of the last days of the war in Hitler’s bunker, and satisfied themselves that the essential details of Hitler and Eva Braun’s death were accurate.
And that’s where the story stood for decades. Historians satisfied, popular belief tinged by understandable rumours and speculations. And then the Soviet Union collapsed, and the details of the Soviet investigation and corpse recovery became available to the west. And the story was that the Soviets had recovered Hitler’s charred bones, confirmed they were his through his dentist, hidden the bones for decades, then dug them up and destroyed them. And that was that, mystery solved.
Well, not really. I think it’s safe to say that the preponderance of the evidence, and the lack of any evidence of any escape, indicates that the historical account of his death is accurate. And until recently, I would have argued that it was a slam dunk. Today, not so sure. What triggered my re-evaluation was the discovery of the story of the submarine pictured below. This is U-530, a German U-boat active from 1943 until the end of the war, sinking three allied ships and surviving the war. So how does U-530 figure into the mystery of Hitler’s death?
Maybe it doesn’t, but there is a mystery. When the war ended U-530 was at sea. And instead of surrendering to the Allies, she sailed to Argentina and surrendered in July 1945, two months after the war ended. The Allies had some questions for the captain of U-530. Why had it taken him two months to sail to Argentina? He couldn’t say. Why had he jettisoned his ship’s deck gun? Shrug. Why did none of his crew have any identification? Silence. And where was the ship’s log? Oberleutnant Otto Wermuth didnt know. Mysterious, eh? Especially since U-53o had a prior history of top secret missions, rendezvousing with a Japanese submarine in mid 1944.
Conspiracy theorists maintain that it dropped Hitler and supplies off at a secret base in Antarctica, where the Nazi’s plot to rule the world to this day as they develop flying saucer technology. Yeah, right. Good comic book idea there. However, it is within the realm of possibility that U-530 stopped somewhere off the coast of Argentina and put someone ashore. Many Nazis fled to Argentina and Paraguay after World War Two, there was a sizable German immigrant population, and its a good bet the Nazis had intelligence assets there that survived the war. (Safe houses, money, agents, connections.) If there was anywhere on Earth where Hitler might be able to go to ground, Argentina was it.
Anything else trigger my re-evaluation? Consideration of the extreme muddiness of the evidence. Reading that a skull fragment the Soviets had purported to be Hitler’s was revealed that of a young woman by DNA testing. Realizing that if Hitler had gotten away, both the allies and the Russians had good motivation to hide the fact. Realizing that if anyone had the resources and fanatical followers to pull off such a deception, it would be Hitler. So while I think there is every possibility that Hitler died in the bunker, and an excellent case can be made that he did so, it’s not incontrovertible. Granted, at this point he would be over 120 years old, so it’s a safe bet that he’s dead now.
Right? Still, the Nazis did all sorts of medical experiments that others would never conduct due to ethical concerns, could Hitler still be enjoying a tall glass of apple juice (his favourite dink) at some obscure Argentine cafe? Until further evidence emerges, who can say?
(The above images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. The first two are absolutely public domain. The third one is all over the web and I can’t find its origin, if anyone knows I will properly attribute it. The top image is the last known photograph of Hitler, taken just outside the bunker two days before his death. The middle image is the U-530 interred in Argentina. The bottom image requires no explanation.)