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 1945.11
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.12 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,13 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.”14 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.
One of the Soviet prisoners, SS Brigadeführer Hans Rattenhuber, went even further in his description of what occurred that afternoon. According to his testimony before Soviet interrogators, he claimed that Linge had shot Hitler after the latter had taken poison.15 According to Rattenhuber, Hitler was worried that the cyanide would not work since he had been taking so many other drugs per the ministrations of the nefarious Dr Morrell (about whom more later). This reasoning, of course, is nonsense but it does go towards Hugh Thomas’s speculation that it was, indeed, Linge who killed Hitler although neither with a pistol nor with poison (see below).
It was Günsche and Linge who, according to some accounts (including the Soviet version), were the ones charged with burning the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun. They first took Hitler—in some versions wrapped completely in a blanket, in others without—outside the bunker and then returned with Eva’s body without any blanket or other covering over her blue dress. They poured gasoline over the bodies and set them aflame. This story has been examined and criticized on numerous grounds and we won’t get into all of them here but will only highlight significant problems.
One of the leading critics of the Hugh Trevor-Roper account is Hugh Thomas, whose The Murder of Adolf Hitler16 is a good source for many of the inconsistencies between the various eyewitness testimonies (most of which were by SS officers devoted to Hitler, men who could be expected to lie egregiously to the Allies). Thomas published his book in 1995, fully ten years before the Soviet archives on Hitler would be (at least partially) revealed and even further inconsistencies came to light. However, some important and potentially devastating material did surface when Linge was released by the Soviets and was interviewed by the press.
Both Linge’s account—and that of Hans Baur, Hitler’s personal pilot, released from Soviet custody at the same time—conflicted with Trevor- Roper’s narrative in substantial ways. For instance, according to Baur both Hitler and Eva Braun shot themselves; there was no mention of cyanide capsules. Bizarrely, however, the Soviets did not believe that Baur had any useful information and in the end he was placed in a separate facility, away
from Günsche and Linge who were charged with writing the document that would become The Hitler Book. Even that arrangement was problematic, according to the Russians, for Günsche and Linge fought over what had actually taken place in the bunker on that fateful day. Günsche was characterized as a fervent Nazi who had no desire to be truthful in his account; Linge, however, greeted the task of writing the definitive text on Hitler’s death as his “salvation” and was ready to write whatever the Soviets desired.17 That doesn’t mean, however, that he was trusted entirely by the Soviets who planted an informer in his prison cell.18
Thus, we have Günsche who is not afraid of lying outright to the Russians and Linge who will tell the truth…unless, of course, the truth is not what the Russians want to hear, in which case he will amend the story accordingly. Both were SS men. Both were devoted to the Führer. Both presumably had been tortured and subjected to the harshest interrogation methods available to the Soviet secret police who were desperate to learn the fate of Hitler. And this is the source of the Russian version of events.
None of this fazed Trevor-Roper, however, who insisted that the newly obtained access to Linge’s version did nothing to contradict his original story. This is perhaps evidence of a particular form of arrogance among certain academics: Hugh Trevor-Roper was considered (and considered himself) an authority on Nazi Germany and specifically on Hitler and Hitler’s inner circle. He had no academic background in German history or politics; he did not even speak or read German. Today, that would have been considered grounds for dismissing his claims to expertise in the field. Certainly no thesis or dissertation would have been accepted from a graduate student in history or international affairs under these circumstances. Then why was he chosen for this delicate task? The only conclusion one can draw is that MI6—which created Operation Nursery— was not interested in an honest, full-blown investigation but only in a story that would sound plausible and which would undermine Soviet propaganda.
We must add to this the evidence of Trevor-Roper’s own characterizations of the German psyche as prone to fantasy and hysteria:
For mythopoeia is a far more common characteristic of the human race (and perhaps especially of the German race) than veracity; and the evidence for this statement has increased formidably since these incidents made it obvious to me.19
And later on he references “…the immature Teutonic mind.”20 This type of (unconscious?) stereotyping had to have influenced the final product of his investigation. Virtually nowhere in his book does he treat the subject matter dispassionately. His distaste for his material is evident on every line. It is no mystery to him that Hitler would have committed suicide, for it is consistent with Trevor-Roper’s own point of view. He finds witnesses who support this point of view and, when he doesn’t, he ignores them or dismisses their inconsistencies with one argument or another. On the one hand he discusses the propensity of the “German race” for myth-making; on the other hand, he accepts the testimony of these same mythopoetic Germans as fact (when it suits him).
Take, for instance, his acceptance of the death scene.
As Linge and Bormann—according to his version—burst into Hitler’s study, they find Hitler on one side of the couch and Eva Braun on the other side. Hitler has shot himself through the mouth. Eva has taken cyanide and she is curled up on the sofa.21 According to Artur Axmann, the Hitler Youth leader who was one of the last to leave the bunker, Eva’s head was resting gently on Hitler’s shoulder.22
One aspect of this scene in particular attracted Hugh Thomas’s contempt: the idea that Eva Braun, after taking potassium cyanide, would have been peacefully sitting on the sofa next to Hitler. The effects of potassium cyanide poisoning are far more dramatic than this tableau would have us believe. There would have been seizures, for one thing. No one takes a poison capsule of that nature and rests calmly, waiting for death to arrive. Indeed, this fact—among several others—lead Thomas to believe that Eva Braun not only did not die in the bunker at all but that she was enabled to escape and a double planted in her place.23
Before the readers throw up their hands in dismay at this outlandish suggestion, I beg them to recall that there were, indeed, doubles in use in the entourage around Hitler. One of these Gustav Veler was even interrogated by the Soviets24 and another was photographed as a corpse by the Russian Army who evidently believed the body was that of Hitler.25 Videos of this moment have been preserved for posterity, and can be seen on the Internet. British intelligence knew of these doubles as well, as revealed in a declassified memo detailing the interrogation of a German prisoner of war, one SS Schütze Obernigg who was captured in France July 19, 1944. An Austrian, the prisoner had served at the Obersalzberg area
from August 1943 to May 1944 where Hitler had his country home. According to the prisoner, there were at least two doubles in evidence at the time. One of these worked at the Chancellery in Berlin and wore the same uniform as Hitler. His name was unknown to the prisoner, but was identified as a “ministerial aide.” Another double was identified as one Brillmeyer, a “work master” who bore an astonishing resemblance to Hitler except for the way he combed his hair.26
The existence of some of these various doubles has been verified and accepted by Soviet intelligence and Veler was referred to by them in Hitler’s Death.