A few days later Speer braved the Soviet encirclement and flew into Berlin for one final meeting with his master. In his post-war memoir, “Inside the Third Reich,” Speer describes Hitler's deteriorating state: “Trembling, the prematurely aged man stood before me for the last time; the man to whom I had dedicated my life 12 years before. I was both moved and confused. For his part, he showed no emotion when we confronted one another. His words were as cold as his hand: 'So, you're leaving? Good. Auf Wiedersehen.' No regards to my family, no wishes, no thanks, no farewell. For a moment I lost my composure, said something about coming back. But he could easily see that it was a white lie, and turned his attention to something else. I was dismissed.”
With the Soviets now completely surrounding central Berlin, and tightening their ring every minute, even Hitler had to admit the end was finally near. He gave permission for many of his Führerbunker staff to leave and try to break through the Soviet lines. Finally, on April 29, he married Eva Braun, his companion since the early 1930s. It has been suggested that Hitler, ever the sentimentalist when it came to his closest companions, married her more to reward her for her long devotion that out of any genuine sense of love, though no one can say for sure.
Together they had decided to commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Russians. Seeing the way the body of his Axis partner Benito Mussolini had been desecrated by Italian partisans a few weeks earlier, Hitler ordered his followers to burn his and his wife's bodies. In her post-war memoir, “Hitler's Last Secretary: A First-Hand Account of Life with Hitler,” Traudl Junge writes of her last meeting with Hitler and his wife before their deaths:
“He comes very slowly out of his room, stooping more than ever, stands in the open doorway and shakes hands with everyone. I feel his right hand warm in mine, he looks at me but he isn't seeing me. He seems to be far away. He says something to me, but I don't hear it. I didn't take in his last words. The moment we've been waiting for has come now, and I am frozen and scarcely notice what's going on around me. Only when Eva Braun comes over to see me is the spell broken a little. She smiles and embraces me. 'Please do try to get out. You may yet make your way through. And give Bavaria my love,' she says, smiling but with a sob in her voice. She is wearing the Führer's favorite dress, the black one with the roses at the neckline, and her hair is washed and beautifully done. Like that, she follows the Führer into his room — and to her death. The heavy iron door closes.”
On April 30, Hitler bit down on a cyanide capsule as he simultaneously shot himself in the head. His wife also bit a cyanide capsule. The two bodies were carried outside into the gardens and placed into a pit, covered in petrol and set ablaze.
Before his death, Hitler had deconstructed the legal office of Führer into its constituent positions — president and chancellor — and named in his will Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was continuing to fight in northwest Germany, Reich president, while naming Goebbels chancellor. After serving in his new office for one day Goebbels and his wife also committed suicide, but not before poisoning their six children.
Dönitz continued the struggle for one week after Hitler's death, largely to ensure that more German soldiers could flee west and surrender to the Americans and the British, rather than the brutal and vengeful Russians. Finally, on May 7-8, after U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower threatened to close Allied lines to more prisoners, Dönitz agreed to Germany's complete surrender.
As the Allied armies drove deeper into the Third Reich in 1944-45, they had discovered the full extent of Nazi evil in concentration camps and death camps scattered throughout central Europe. In addition to those killed in a war created solely to feed Hitler's mania, millions of innocents perished in such camps. The victims included the mentally and physically challenged, Slavs, Gypsies, Christian clergy, POWs, homosexuals, communists, social democrats and the Jews, who bore the brunt of Nazi hatred.
Hitler's death signaled the end of Nazi barbarism, which he had created.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the popular History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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