This week in history: Adolf Hitler commits suicide

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, May 1 2013 4:43 p.m. MDT

Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich, committed suicide in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945.

By January 1945, it was obvious to all except the most fanatical Nazis that Germany was going to lose World War II. That month, Hitler took up permanent residence in the Führerbunker, a subterranean complex located in the gardens of the Reich Chancellery in central Berlin. With American bombers attacking the German capitol by day and the British bombers attacking by night, Hitler transferred his command apparatus to this specially constructed air raid shelter.

Despite the move, Hitler claimed to remain steadfast in the face of repeated military defeats on all fronts. The previous June, American and British forces landed in German-occupied France, quickly pushing Hitler's forces before them, and retaking Paris by August. After Hitler's December offensive, the Battle of the Bulge, failed to deliver a knockout blow to the Allies, American and British forces began the invasion of Germany proper.

That same June had seen events deteriorate for the Third Reich in the east, as well. On June 22, 1944, three years to the day that Hitler had unleashed the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Red Army executed "Operation Bagration," a massive offensive that crushed the German Army Group Center and ended in August with Soviet forces at the gates of Warsaw. The Germans had finally been expelled from the Soviet Union and were now preparing to defend the German borders.

With the Americans and the British advancing in the west and the Red Army barreling in from the east, Hitler insisted that any setbacks to Germany were only temporary and reversible. He predicted that the unnatural alliance between the capitalist powers of the west and the communist Soviet Union would break down eventually, and he only had to play for time. What Hitler failed to realize, however, was that he himself was the fundamental cog that held the Allies together. Whatever distrust existed between President Harry Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on one end, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin on the other, they were swept aside when compared with their mutual detestation for Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich.

On March 19, 1945, Hitler issued his famous "Nero" decree, in which he ordered his minister for armaments, Albert Speer, to lay waste all German buildings and infrastructure that the Allies were about to capture. In this he was hoping to emulate the tactics of the Soviet people in Russia during the German advance. Central Europe, however, was not the desolate wastes of Russia, and the order made little sense. Speer, and sympathetic German army commanders, ignored the decree.

A few weeks later Speer confessed to Hitler that he had not carried out the order, and though Hitler was not pleased, he did not take any punitive action against Speer, who had long been his favorite architect. At the same time Hitler's Gestapo was rounding up and executing those suspected of defeatism or shirking their duties, which usually required old men and young boys to stand up to Soviet tanks with little training and poor weapons.

April 20 was Hitler's 56th birthday, and several members of the Nazi leadership attended, including nominal second-in-command Hermann Goering, SS leader Heinrich Himmler and propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. After a grim celebration most departed, hoping to escape the Soviet encirclement of Berlin, which occurred soon after. Goebbels stayed, and soon had his wife and their six children join him at the Führerbunker.

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