Happened on the Day Hitler Died
Musmanno’s interviews and their blow-by-blow retelling of Hitler’s final moments.
Photo Credits: Yesterday Channel
In 1948, a film containing entirely new information about the last few years of Adolf Hitler’s life was released to the American public. The film featured former Nuremberg trials judge and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Musmanno, who informed viewers that he had,
“brought a number of eyewitnesses on the subject of Hitler’s disappearance. In their own words, they will tell you what happened to the Fuhrer of Germany.”
These eyewitnesses and interviewees gave detailed accounts of Hitler’s final moments, involving everything from the time he spent in his underground bunker, his marriage to Eva Braun, his last meal, and eventual suicide.
Musmanno and the U.S. Investigation that Confirmed Fuhrer’s Death
Michael Musmanno was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1923 and worked as an attorney for several years after that. He served at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for 4 years, before he began his lifelong career as a jurist.
In 1951, he rose to become a Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. During the Second World War, Captain Musmanno was appointed naval aide to General Mark Clark, during the invasion of Italy. Musmanno is well-known today for leading the U.S. investigation into Adolf Hitler’s death at the end of the war, and for serving as the presiding judge at the Nuremberg War Crime Trials.
Michael Musmanno | Photo Credits: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For a long time, Musmanno funded the project himself; he also personally tracked down and interviewed surviving members of Hitler’s civilian and military staff, especially those who had spent time with him during his final days in the Bunker. Musmanno’s project is now known as “The Day Hitler Died.”
Musmanno conducted over 100 interviews before he turned to Hollywood to produce a professional documentary from the footage he had collected. However, he saved some of his most ‘prized’ interviews for himself; it was not until 2013 that this hidden footage was discovered and released to the public.
Before the interviews, many believed Hitler to be a fearless leader — one who was “deathly afraid of being captured and being put on display or humiliated.”
According to reports, Hitler had committed suicide through self-poisoning, to avoid that kind of humiliation. Many people, however, believed that it seemed anti-climactic, the way he had died, and they wanted desperately to believe that he had escaped (despite all the evidence that suggested otherwise). Even Stalin believed that he had faked his death so he could flee Berlin and spend the rest of his life in hiding. Musmanno’s interviews confirmed Hitler’s death, while also revealing information surrounding it that had been unknown until then.
The Fuhrerbunker | Photo Credits: Wikipedia
The Day Hitler Died was the documentary that contained most of the interview footage Musmanno had compiled, along with a detailed account of Hitler’s fate. The film opened with a shot of Hitler emerging from the Fuhrerbunker to award Iron Crosses to Hitler Youth for their services during the fight against the Soviet Army. Hitler is seen shaking the youth’s hands, patting them on the shoulders, and conversing with them on occasion. He is then shown to retreat to the bunker, a secret underground facility located 30 feet below the Reich Chancellery (his headquarters).
The Fuhrerbunker contained a total of 16 rooms, each of which had 12-feet thick ceilings and walls. The corridors in the bunker were lined with stolen art and the rooms were crammed with furniture moved there from the headquarters. The only way to tell what time of the day it was in this location was through a grandfather clock that was positioned in Hitler’s study room. His meetings were mostly scheduled in a tiny room, and were attended by 15 generals and aides-de-camp; only Hitler was allowed to sit.
Surviving Comrades and Officials Reveal the Grisly Details of Hitler’s Plans
Photo Credits: History
One of the interviewees, Baron von Loringhoven (who had risen to the rank of major, but never joined the Nazi Party), claimed that,
“No one dared mention defeat to Hitler… To do so, one could lose one’s life. In addition, one’s entire family would be jeopardized…”
Another one of the interviewees was Hitler’s secretary; Gertraud “Traudl” Junge had started working for Hitler in 1942. Traudl claimed that when the Soviets had started moving in was when Hitler had first started to talk of suicide. She also said that,
“After April 22, he talked about [suicide] constantly… In order that there should be no doubt about his death, he made plans to take poison and at the same time shoot himself with his pistol… His health was very bad… For years, he had been taking medicines — drugs and injections. During his last days, he had a constant tremor in his hands. And in front of strangers, I think he was a little ashamed of this affliction, and would try to hide it.”
She also spoke of Hitler emptying his safe and burning most of its contents during this time.
Von Loringhoven, the first interviewee mentioned that Hitler had been passing around poison vials to his officials, many of whom declared that they did not want to live after the Fuhrer had gone. He said that,
“the poison [cyanide potassium] was contained in a receptacle that looked like lipstick, and those who had received them regarded them as a great treasure.”
The Fuhrer Makes a Final Decision
In April 1945, when the Soviets were getting closer to the bunker by the day, Hitler also learned that the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, had betrayed him and had been attempting to negotiate peace with the Americans. Von Loringhoven stated that had Hitler had been inconsolably furious when he learned of the betrayal and ordered Himmler’s representative in the bunker to be shot. Even though the representative was his future wife’s brother-in-law and she begged him to spare his life, Hitler refused.
On that same night, Hitler drew his final will and testament to his secretary (Traudl); he wrote that the Jews had caused the war, that his body should be cremated, that his followers should continue his fight even after his death, and that he intended to marry Eva Braun, the woman he had been romantically involved with since 1932. Traudl spoke of this night in her interviews, stating that “the will was really disappointing” and that she had thought,
“that in it he would try to justify what he has done and why Germany found itself in the present situation so that he might offer to show some way out of our horrible tragedy, but he repeated the same old arguments he had used over and over in all his speeches.”
Following Himmler’s representative’s execution, Hitler and Eva Braun were pronounced husband and wife and Hitler began to prepare for his suicide. During this time, von Loringhoven said that Hitler had become,
“depressed and suspicious of everybody. He even now suspected that the poison would only make him unconscious and he’d be turned over alive to the Allies, so he decided to test the poison… On his best friend, Blondi… The dog died.”
Preparing for Death
Photo Credits: NY Daily News
On the evening that he poisoned his dog, the pipes in Hitler’s bunker exploded and the rooms began to stink of urine. Later at night, the radio broadcasted the death of Mussolini. Traudl said that,
“this unnerved [Hitler] more than anything else… He had a great fear that, if captured dead or alive, his body would be exposed to ridicule and degradation.”
In the afternoon of April 30, the Soviets had gotten closer to the bunker. Traudl was accompanying Hitler and Braun on their last meal, after which Braun changed into a dress Hitler loved (black fabric with white roses around the neck), painted her nails, and did her hair. Traudl saw Hitler for the last time at 2:30 pm that day.
Artur Axmann, leader of the Hitler Youth, was another one of Musmanno’s interviewees; he said that when he tried to enter Hitler’s room, the door was closed so he returned to the conference room and waited there. At around 3:30 pm that day, Axmann went back to the room and entered it — this was where he found Eva Braun sitting on the sofa, her head resting limply on Hitler’s left shoulder. Hitler’s lower jaw hung slightly open and there were drops of blood on the side of his temples. The sofa was covered with blood and the pistol he had clearly used the law on the foot of the sofa, by Hitler’s feet.
Reports of Discarding the Bodies
Erich Kempka, Hitler’s longtime chauffeur, was another interviewee. He carried Braun’s body into the garden behind the Reich Chancellery and laid it next to her husband’s lifeless body. Kempka said that they then proceeded to pour gasoline over both bodies and lit them on fire. The bunker guard (Rochus Misch) was responsible for watching the funeral pyre, which he did for 2 hours after they had been set on fire. He was also one of the interviewees and stated that,
“the bodies were still burning and the flesh moved up and down… I touched the burning remains which were lying before me with my feet, and they fell apart…” Misch remained unapologetic about his relationship with Hitler until his (Misch’s) last days, saying that “he was no brute. He was no monster. He was no superman.”
Even though the bodies were discovered by Soviet forces a few days later and they were immediately identified as Hitler and his Eva Braun, the Soviets spread false information to the U.S. that the Fuhrer had escaped and was possibly on the run. Even after Musmanno’s investigation, Hitler was not officially declared dead by the U.S. until 1956.
Musmanno’s taped interviews of Hitler’s inner circle offered a detailed and chronological order of the events that transpired during Hitler’s final moments. They also confirmed the death of the notorious dictator for the American public, many of whom had their suspicions for over a decade after his death.