Read an Excerpt
Soviet Spies Nazi Priests, and the Disappearance of Adolf Hitler
By Peter Levenda
NICOLAS-HAYS, INC.Copyright © 2012 Peter Levenda
All rights reserved.
The Official Story
Anyone who undertakes an inquiry of such a kind is soon made aware of one important fact: the worthlessness of mere human testimony.
The authoritative and definitive narrative since 1947 on the death of Adolf Hitler has always been The Last Days of Hitler, by Hugh Trevor-Roper. It is a well-written and compelling account of the final moments of the Third Reich, with all the pettiness, office politics, meanness, sniping, and gossiping that characterized the end of the Nazi regime. One reads this book with the same breathless intensity that one passes the scene of a traffic accident on the highway: too fascinated and appalled at this demonstration of human mortality to turn away and look somewhere else. The figures of Hitler, Bormann, Goering, Goebbels and others are all sharply and theatrically drawn. Their weaknesses and pathos come across strongly and there is no space in Trevor-Roper's account for any other point of view, any other perspective, any other characterization. It reads like an abridged version of Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. With tanks.
And this is its problem. In it's strident tone and impatience with critics it has presented posterity with certain difficulties, not the least of which is the fact that the lack of forensic evidence of any kind seemed to have been no impediment to the conclusion of the author that Hitler committed suicide with a pistol, alongside his wife Eva Braun who died of cyanide poisoning, and both around three o'clock in the afternoon of April 30, 1945.
What we have in the case of the deaths of Hitler and Braun is a purely circumstantial case: one with no corpus delicti, no forensic evidence (or forensic evidence whose provenance is uncertain or unproven), and conflicting eyewitness testimony. Add to that the almost unbearably arrogant and self-assured tone of Trevor-Roper's report—based on research that was conducted over the space of only six weeks and included testimony from prisoners of war with every motivation imaginable to deceive, embellish, and create out of whole cloth—and you are left with exactly the report that was intended: a piece of psychological warfare, an artfully-created and stylistically elegant propaganda device.
Trevor-Roper glides over the various inconsistent testimonies of Nazi officers with the blithe air of someone too busy with weightier concerns to concentrate on the minutiae. He ridicules those who disagree with him, even as he admits that eyewitness testimony is the least reliable of all sources of evidence. He reveals that the motive behind his report was an intelligence agenda, set by MI6: to counteract the effects of the Soviet insistence that Hitler was still alive and being protected by ... British intelligence.
With all of that in hand, and admitted as such in writing by its author, how is it possible to come to any other conclusion than the report was a work of fiction—a cover story—camouflaged as fact?
Yet, there the report would stand, a Maginot Line erected against all other interpretations of the events of April 30, 1945. One criticized or objected at one's peril, for certainly the insidious might of British Intelligence was its foundation and its champion. Dick White, the MI6 officer who had commissioned Trevor-Roper in September of 1945 to write the report, later became head of MI6 itself and was knighted in the process. As far as the British (and, to a large extent, the Americans) were concerned, Trevor-Roper had put paid to any speculation about the survival of the twentieth century's most notorious political leader. Trevor-Roper himself admits that British Intelligence not only approved his writing of The Last Days of Hitler, but that they supported it as well. It is a revealing admission, for it proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the Trevor-Roper narrative is a work of art—the "craft of intelligence"—and not history. There is certainly no science in his text, no pretense towards establishing the facts of the case by anything other than comparing testimonies of various Nazis and coming up with the distillation of these interrogations that best serves the cause. It was, after all, this same approach to intelligence that presented the world with the "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq.
In order for us to gaze, calmly and without prejudice, on the data that suggests Hitler may have escaped Berlin before its capture by the Russians and may have survived in another country, on another continent, we should examine certain elements of Trevor-Roper's work of imagination in order to address—and dispense with—the "facts" that he insists are the critical issues. We begin with the intelligence agenda itself, the one that MI6 called (appropriately enough) "Operation Nursery."
For my book was written, in the first place, for exactly the same reason which made the Russians frown upon it: to prevent (as far as such means can prevent) the rebirth of the Hitler myth.
A British intelligence officer, Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003) crafted the narrative concerning Hitler's ultimate fate, beginning in September 1945 on a mission—called Operation Nursery—from the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6. This intelligence operation is the source of the story we have all been told since then. It is the authoritative version. It is based on a handful of interviews with former members of Hitler's personal staff, only some of whom served in the bunker up until the fall of Berlin in May, 1945. This eventually became Trevor-Roper's best-selling book entitled The Last Days of Hitler. It stands today as the definitive account of Hitler's alleged suicide, even though there are barely thirty-five pages in the original edition that deal directly with the death itself. The reason for this is simple: there was no forensic evidence to work from. There were only statements of eyewitnesses, all of whom were Nazis and most of whom were in the SS. And, according to Trevor-Roper himself, eyewitness testimony is ultimately unreliable.
Such is the value of unchecked human testimony, on which, however, much of written history is based.
If one were to take all the testimony of all of the witnesses who have since written books or who have left behind transcripts of their interrogations by British, American and Russian intelligence officers, and compared them to each other we would soon begin to realize that there is virtually no consensus on critical points of the story. Some of this we can put down to the chaos and trauma of the last days of the war and the fact that the witnesses were not members of the victorious Allied forces but were the losers in that conflict, running in fear for their lives when they were captured and imprisoned. Germany had been completely overrun. Entire cities had been reduced to rubble, including Berlin. There was widespread hunger, disease, and reportedly terrible abuse at the hands of the Soviet forces who raped and killed, seemingly without restraint.
Thus, that there would be discrepancies in these stories is understandable. But that leaves us with a problem. Whom to believe? Which version is really authoritative?
That depends on the agenda you wish to promote. History was being written by the victors to satisfy intelligence objectives and not to illuminate this dark matter of defeat and violent death. This was war, and the Allied forces were themselves about to discover that their respective agendas did not match. The Soviets had one set of goals in mind at the end of the conflict, and the Americans another.
And the British, another still. Hugh Trevor-Roper admitted he did not speak or read German. His experience in the war up to that point was limited to signals intelligence and the code-breaking teams that were intent on decoding Abwehr radio communications. Prior to the war, Trevor-Roper had been an Oxford-educated historian and had published a study of the life of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of Charles I and the English Civil War of the seventeenth century. Trevor-Roper was an accomplished stylist with an acerbic wit who wrote history with an eye towards communicating the sweep of events and the stature (and idiosyncracies) of history's personalities ... and in denigrating or ridiculing the attempts of other historians who did not agree with him. The choice of Trevor-Roper for the politically-sensitive task of determining Hitler's fate would seem curious if not for the fact that his superior, Brigadier Dick White (later to become Director of MI6), intended that a narrative be crafted that would counter the effects of Soviet insistence that Hitler was still alive. What was required was not the services of a lawyer or a scientist building a legal case from evidence but the services of someone who could build a historical text from odd bits of documents and dubious testimony, hobbled together with an eye towards presenting a single point of view. In other words, the mission objective of Trevor-Roper in Operation Nursery was a foregone one: to disprove Soviet statements that Hitler was still alive. Thus, it had to begin with the premise (presented as fact) that Hitler was dead and had committed suicide in the bunker on April 30, 1945, and then be worked backward from there. No other interpretation or presentation was acceptable. All he had to do was collect enough "eyewitness" testimony—in German, a language he did not understand—that supported (or at least did not contradict) this version of events, and compile them into a neat story that tied together all the loose ends that then would stand as the official version. The official British version.
At the same time as Trevor-Roper was conducting interviews of witnesses among prisoners and informants under British control (and being provided with written accounts from prisoners under American control, some of whom he was not permitted to interview personally), the Soviets were doing the same with witnesses they had in their prison camps and interrogation cells. The methods may have been somewhat dissimilar. The Soviets had no problem with torture and what the Americans now call "enhanced interrogation" techniques, especially when it came to the Germans. After all, the Russians lost millions of their people due to Nazi aggression against the homeland. The hatred they had for the Nazis—and for Germans in general—was deep and extensive.
There were several Nazi prisoners whose testimony was deemed of utmost importance to the task of coming to a final evaluation of Hitler's whereabouts, and their testimony was not made available either to Trevor-Roper or to anyone else in British or American intelligence. In fact, no access to these prisoners was provided at all until ten years after the war's end. One might say that the Cold War began with the isolation of these important witnesses from the British and American forces in Germany in 1945. The aura of distrust between the west and the east was already evident in this development of competing narratives concerning the disposition of their mutual enemy, Adolf Hitler.
At the end of 1945 new interrogations were carried out to establish the background to Hitler's suicide. His former chief pilot Hans Baur had been questioned. Beria wanted to be sure above all that the dictator was actually dead ... The interrogations of Linge and Günsche ... led the NKVD leadership to instigate the operation codenamed Myth at the beginning of 1946. The goal of the operation was to conduct an 'accurate and strict investigation of all the factors' involved in Hitler's suicide on 30 April 1945.
Two of the more important witnesses in question were SS Sturmbannführer Heinz Linge and SS Sturmbannführer Otto Günsche, both prisoners of the Soviets. According to the report on Hitler prepared for Stalin by Soviet intelligence and published in 2005 as The Hitler Book, Günsche was standing outside the door to the antechamber in front of Hitler's study when Linge walked up to him and said he smelled gunpowder coming from the room. This was a few minutes before four o'clock the afternoon of April 30, 1945.
Linge went to get Bormann and the two entered the study to find that both Hitler and Eva Braun were dead. Hitler, they said, had committed suicide with a pistol and Eva Braun had taken a cyanide capsule. (It is useful to remember that there has been tremendous confusion over these circumstances, with some accounts saying that Hitler had taken cyanide and then shot himself ... a situation that is extremely unlikely as the potassium cyanide capsules in use were very fast-acting and, if other reports are to be believed, Hitler was suffering from Parkinson's Disease and the tremor in his hands would have made it virtually impossible to place a gun in his mouth or aim it at his temple and pull the trigger as he was in the throes of cyanide poisoning.)
It is important to point out that there was no report of anyone having heard a gunshot, at least not according to the Soviet report. Other witnesses present in the bunker that day have given contradictory statements, and some (those in British and American custody) have insisted they heard a shot fired. As recent tests have shown, this would have been impossible due to the heavy construction of the bunker's walls and reinforced steel doors. No one at any distance from the antechamber would have been able to hear a pistol shot coming from Hitler's study and, indeed, the Soviet report makes no mention of any such sound. On the contrary, the Soviet report has guards standing in front of the antechamber door unaware that a shot has been fired. It was only the smell of smoke coming from the thick fireproof door that alerted Linge to the possibility that a shooting had occurred.
That means that either the prisoners in American and British custody were lying when they said they heard shots fired, or that the prisoners in Soviet custody were lying when they said it was the smell of gunpowder that was the only clue that someone had used a firearm. That all the prisoners being interrogated on this point were Nazis devoted to Hitler—most of whom were also SS officers—would indicate that lying and dissembling over what really happened to their leader would have been (or should have been) expected, not to mention any desire they may have had to put themselves in the most favorable light with their captors. Yet, this is not the only contradiction between the two versions, as we shall see.
The last surviving member of the Führerbunker—Rochus Misch—has himself changed his story several times over the years. Misch, a member of Hitler's elite SS bodyguard (Liebstandarte SS Adolf Hitler) as well as a courier and telephone operator in the bunker, initially said that he heard the gunshot; he later changed his story and said that he did not hear it, but that someone else—probably Linge—heard it and spread the alarm. Interviewed for the television series Mystery Quest in 2010, he said that he did not hear any gunshot but that he entered the study once the word had spread and saw Hitler's body slumped on the couch and Eva Braun's body next to his. In another, earlier, interview published on Salon.com, he said that he could have been mistaken about the gunshot because "any loud noise echoing through the concrete sounded like a gunshot." More importantly, he doesn't remember how he entered the study where Hitler's body lay: was it with Linge? Or with Günsche? He says he doesn't remember, but according to Linge none other than Martin Bormann opened the door to the study. How could Misch have forgotten the sinister presence of Bormann?
Although both Misch and Linge were in Russian custody for ten years after the war—until 1954 and 1955 respectively—no record of their interrogations by Soviet intelligence has yet to be published, which is exceedingly odd. A brief transcript of one of Günsche's interrogations was made available in Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB, published the same year as The Hitler Book. Linge's testimony is referred to several times in that book but is never quoted directly and no transcripts of any of the (presumably numerous and certainly violent) sessions are provided. One is forced to speculate about the reasons for this omission, and it may simply be that the original transcripts were lost or, for those of a more suspicious inclination, that details provided by Linge (and Misch) were at odds with the official version. This should not have been a problem for the NKVD and later the KGB, however, who obviously edited the transcripts anyway and could have made Linge and Misch "say" whatever they wanted them to say. So, the omission of the interrogations remains a mystery, albeit only one of many.
Excerpted from RATLINE by Peter Levenda. Copyright © 2012 Peter Levenda. Excerpted by permission of NICOLAS-HAYS, INC..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.