To the subterranean bunker, on April 20, 1945, came some usual and some unusual visitors, bringing their formal, and for the most part insincere congratulations on the Führer's birthday. From noon onwards they came and went, and the day was taken up by receptions, speeches and conferences. In spite of the catastrophic situation, they found the Führer still confident; the Russians, he still believed, were going to suffer their bloodiest defeat of all before Berlin. In the Chancellery garden he received a delegation of boys from the Hitler Youth, under their leader Artur Axmann, and in the presence of Himmler, Göring and Göbbels (but no soldiers were there to overshadow these young warriors) he thanked and decorated them for their efforts in this now decisive battle. Then he withdrew to his small conference room and received, singly, and in turn, Dönitz, Keitel, Jodl. The rest were then lined up in his presence, and he shook hands and spoke with all. To Keitel he was particularly affable. 'I will never forget you,' he said; 'I will never forget that you saved me on the occasion of the Plot [On 20 July 20, 1944, Hitler had fallen into Keitel's arms] and that you got me out of Rastenburg. Those were the right decisions, and the right actions, for the times.' Among others present on this last ceremonial occasion were Bormann, Ribbentrop and Speer.
After the receptions came the conference. The great question before the conference concerned the imminent threat to the geographical unity of the Reich. In a few days, perhaps hours, the last land route to the south would have been cut. Would Hitler, or would he not, move his headquarters to the south, whither all the service headquarters and ministries had gone or were going? His advisers were unanimous that the Russian ring around the city would ultimately close; that once caught in it, there would be no escape; that the only alternative was to withdraw to the south, to Obersalzberg; while the road remained open, or perhaps never.
Göring, Keitel, Himmler and Bormann, Göbbels, Krebs and Burgdorf all entreated Hitler to leave the doomed city; but Hitler would neither agree nor disagree. The most he would do was to implement the decision reached ten days earlier against such a situation as had now arisen. Then it had been decided that if the Allied armies should cut the Reich in half, two separate commands should be set up in the two disconnected areas. In the north, Grand Admiral Dönitz, in the south Field Marshal Kesselring should command all the German forces, unless Hitler himself chose to move his headquarters to one or other of the two theatres. Now Hitler decided to confer upon Dönitz full military powers in the north; but in regard to the south he still made no appointment. It was not that he distrusted Kesselring, or knew the truth - that even this favourite Field Marshal had now abandoned hope, and was meditating unconditional surrender. [The unconditional surrender of all German armies in Italy was actually negotiated by Kesselring's successor in Italy, General Vietinghoff, and SS General Wolff; but the first steps had been taken by Kesselring before his transfer]. Hitler simply had not yet made up his mind. Sooner or later he would decide - or rather, as he put it, he would leave it to Providence to decide.
For Hitler's indecisions were not, like Himmler's, a permanent state of mind; they were a preliminary to decision; and once he had declared his decision, it was as impossible for any other man to alter it, as it would have been futile to have sought to hasten it. How he would decide, no one as yet could tell. When the conference was over, Bormann assured his secretary that in a day, or at most two days, Hitler and the rest of his staff would leave Berlin. Others were less certain. Colonel Nicolaus von Below, Hitler's air force adjutant, who had worked with him for eight years, was convinced that now he would never leave.
After the conference, the visitors left the Bunker, and a long convoy of lorries and aircraft led the general exodus from Berlin to Obersalzberg. Among those to leave were the high commanders of the Luftwaffe. They left with relief. In Obersalzberg at least they would be free from the endless insults, the impossible [...]
Hugh Trevor-Roper - The Last Days of Hitler
That afternoon, Berlin was bombarded by Soviet artillery for the first time.
In denial about the increasingly dire situation, Hitler placed his hopes on the units commanded by Waffen SS General Felix Steiner, the Armeeabteilung Steiner ("Army Detachment Steiner"). On 21 April, Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the encircling Soviet salient and the German Ninth Army, south-east of Berlin, was ordered to attack northward in a pincer attack. By that evening, Red Army tanks reached the outskirts of Berlin.
[On 16 April 16, Helmuth Weidling prepared to take part in the Battle of the Seelow Heights which was part of the broader Battle of the Oder-Neisse. Weidling's LVI Tank Corps was in the center with the CI Army Corps to his left and the XI SS Tank Corps to his right. All three corps were part of General Theodor Busse's 9th Army which was defending the heights above the Oder River. While all three corps were in generally good defensive positions, all three were conspicuously short of tanks. Weidling's commander, Heinrici, had seen that earlier in the day, Hitler had transferred three tank divisions from Army Group Vistula to the command of recently promoted Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) Ferdinand Schörner.
Colonel (Oberst) Theodor von Dufving was Weidling's Chief-of-Staff and Colonel (Oberst) Hans-Oscar Wöhlermann was his Artillery Officer during the time that Weidling commanded the LVI Tank Corps.
By 19 April, Schörner's Army Group Centre was collapsing and the position of Army Group Vistula was becoming untenable. Heinrici was forced to pull back what was left of his forces, including Weidling's LVI Tank Corps. The defensive line on the Seelow Heights was the last major defensive line outside of Berlin. With the loss of this position, the road to Berlin lay wide open. To escape envelopment and total annihilation, Weidling pulled his corps back with the rest of Army Group Vistula.]
On April 22, German dictator Adolf Hitler ordered that Weidling be executed by firing squad. Hitler believed that, as commander of the LVI Tank Corps, Weidling had ordered his tank corps to retreat in the face of advancing Soviet forces. Ordering a retreat would be in defiance of Hitler's standing orders to the contrary. As such, Weidling's actions required a death sentence. This situation turned out to be a misunderstanding and it was cleared up before Weidling's execution could take place.
At his afternoon situation conference on April 22, Hitler fell into a tearful rage when he realised that his plans of the day before were not going to be carried out. Hitler openly declared for the first time the war was lost—and blamed the generals. Hitler announced he would stay in Berlin until the end and then shoot himself. In an attempt to coax Hitler out of his rage, General Alfred Jodl speculated that the German Twelfth Army, under the command of General Walther Wenck, that was facing the Americans, could move to Berlin because the Americans, already on the Elbe River, were unlikely to move farther east. Hitler immediately seized on the idea, and within hours Wenck was ordered to disengage from the Americans and move the Twelfth Army north-east to support Berlin. It was then realised that, if the Ninth Army moved west, it could link up with the Twelfth Army. In the evening Heinrici was given permission to make the link-up.
On April 23, Hitler appointed Weidling as the commander of the Berlin Defense Area. He replaced Lieutenant General (Generalleutnant) Helmuth Reymann, Colonel (Oberst) Ernst Käther, and Hitler himself. Reymann had only held the position since 6 March. Starting 22 April, Käther had held the position for less than one day. For a short period of time, Hitler took personal control of Berlin's defenses with Major General Erich Bärenfänger as his deputy. Weidling was ordered by Hitler to defend the city of Berlin. Specifically, he was ordered not to surrender and to fight to the last man.
The forces available to Weidling for the city's defence included roughly 45,000 soldiers in several severely depleted German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) and Armed SS (Waffen-SS) divisions. These depleted divisions were supplemented by the Berlin police force, boys in the compulsory Hitler Youth, and about 40,000 elderly men of the Home Guard (Volkssturm). The commander of the central district was Protective Squadron (Schutzstaffel, SS) Brigade Leader (SS Brigadeführer) Wilhelm Möhnke. Möhnke had been appointed to his position by Hitler himself and he had over 2,000 men under his direct command. The Soviets were to later estimate the number of defenders in Berlin at 180,000. But this was based on the number of prisoners that they took. The prisoners included many unarmed men in uniform, such as railway officials and members of the Reich Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst).
Weidling organized the defences into eight sectors designated "A" through to "H". Each sector was commanded by a colonel or a general. But most of the colonels and generals had no combat experience. To the west of the city was the 20th Motorized Infantry Division. To the north of the city was the 9th Parachute Division. To the north-east of the city was the "Müncheberg" Tank Division (Panzer Division Müncheberg). To the south-east of the city and to the east of Tempelhof Airport was the 11th SS Volunteer Armored Infantry Division "Nordland" (SS Nordland Panzergrenadier Division). Weidling's reserve, the 18th Armored Infantry Division (18th Panzergrenadier Division), was in Berlin's central district.
On 25 April, Weidling ordered Major-General of the Reserve (Generalmajor der Reserve) Werner Mummert, commander of "Müncheberg" to take command of the German LVI Army Corps. Weidling ordered that the command of "Müncheberg" be handed over to Colonel (Oberst) Hans-Oscar Wöhlermann. Wöhlermann was the artillery commander for the city.
Despite the commands issuing from the Führerbunker, by April 25 the Soviets had consolidated their investment of Berlin, and leading Soviet units were probing and penetrating the S-Bahn defensive ring. By the end of 25 April there was no prospect that the German defence of the city could do anything but delay the capture of the city by the Soviets, as the decisive stages of the battle had already been fought and lost outside the city.
On 26 April, Weildling ordered "Müncheberg" and "Nordland" to attack towards Tempelhof Airport and Neukölln. At first, with its last ten tanks, "Müncheberg" made good progress against a surprised Soviet foe. However, the surprise wore off and was replaced with fierce defensive fire and several local counter-attacks. These soon halted the tank division's advance.
Sometime around April 26, 1945, Weidling chose as his headquarters the old army headquarters on the Bendlestrasse, the "Bendlerblock. " It possessed well-equipped air-raid shelters and it was close to the Reich Chancellery. In the depths of the Bendlerblock, his staff did not know whether it was day or night.
Around noon on 26 April, Weidling relieved Wöhlermann of command and Mummert was reinstated as commander of the "Müncheberg" Tank Division.
Hitler summoned Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim from Munich to Berlin to take over command of the Luftwaffe from Hermann Göring. On 26 April, while flying over Berlin in a Fieseler Storch, von Greim was seriously wounded by Soviet anti-aircraft fire. Hanna Reitsch, his mistress and a crack test pilot, landed von Greim on an improvised air strip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate.
General Hans Krebs made his last telephone call from the Führerbunker. He called Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel Chief of German Armed Forces High Command (OKW) in Fürstenberg.[disambiguation needed ] Krebs told Keitel that if relief did not arrive within 48 hours, all would be lost. Keitel promised to exert the utmost pressure on Generals Walther Wenck, commander of the Twelfth Army, and Theodor Busse commander of the Ninth Army. Meanwhile, Bormann wired to German Admiral Karl Dönitz: "Reich Chancellery a heap of rubble." He went on to say that the foreign press was reporting fresh acts of treason and "that without exception Schörner, Wenck and the others must give evidence of their loyalty by the quickest relief of the Führer".
Late in the evening of 26 April, Weidling presented Hitler with a detailed proposal for a breakout from Berlin. When Weidling finished, Hitler shook his head and said: "Your proposal is perfectly all right. But what is the point of it all? I have no intentions of wandering around in the woods. I am staying here and I will fall at the head of my troops. You, for your part, will carry on with your defence. "
On 27 April, very early in the morning, Hitler ordered the flooding of the Berlin underground to slow the advancing Soviets. Hitler's order resulted in the drowning of thousands of German soldiers under Weidling's command and civilians who had taken refuge in the tunnels.
At 0500 hours, after a violent bombardment and with very strong air support, the Russians attacked on both sides of the Hohernzollerndamm and the Potsdamer Platz and Leipzigerstrasse were under heavy artillery bombardment. During the day we both Tempelhof and Gatow airports were lost, and that put a stop to the landing of airborne supplies. Although an emergency landing strip had been prepared in the Zoo, only small machines could land there.
By the end of the day on 27 April, Weidling and the forces under his command in Berlin found themselves to be completely cut off from the rest of Germany. As "Müncheberg" was engaged in desperate fighting in Wilmersdorf, the encirclement of Berlin was completed and the remnants of the city's defenders were trapped. The Soviet Information Bureau announced that troops of the 1st Belorussian Front had broken through strong German defenses around Berlin and, approaching from the east and from the south, had linked up in Berlin and northwest of Potsdam. These link ups cut Berlin off from the outside world. The Soviet Information Bureau went on to announce that troops of the 1st Belorussian Front took Gartenstadt, Siemenstadt, and the Görlitzer Railway Station in eastern Berlin.
When Weidling discovered that a major part of the last line of the German defenses in Berlin were "manned" by Hitler Youth, he ordered German Youth Leader (Reichsjugendführer) Artur Axmann to disband the Hitler Youth combat formations in the city. But, in the confusion, his order was never carried out. In the end, many German youths did die defending Berlin.
On 28 April, Hitler learned that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had contacted Count Folke Bernadotte in Lübeck to offer Germany's surrender to the western Allies; the offer had been declined. Himmler had implied that he had the authority for such a surrender. Hitler considered this treason and his anger poured out into a rage against Himmler. Hitler had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot, and ordered von Greim (with Reitsch) to fly to Dönitz's headquarters at Plön and arrest Himmler.
During the evening, von Greim and Reitsch flew out from Berlin in an Arado Ar 96 trainer. Field Marshal von Greim was ordered to get the Luftwaffe to attack the Soviet forces that had just reached Potsdamerplatz (only a city block from the Führerbunker). Fearing that Hitler was escaping in the plane, troops of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army, which was fighting its way through the Tiergarten from the north, tried to shoot the Arado down. The Soviet troops failed in their efforts and the plane took off successfully.
During the night of 28 April, General Wenck reported to Keitel that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. This was particularly true of XX Corps, which had been able to establish temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. According to Wenck, it was no longer possible for his army to relieve Berlin. This was even more apparent, as support from the Ninth Army could no longer be expected. Keitel gave Wenck permission to break off the attempt.
On 29 April, the Soviet Information Bureau announced that troops of the 1st Belorussian Front continued to clear the streets of Berlin, occupied the northwest sector of Charlottenburg as far as Bismark Street, the west half of Moabit, and the east part of Schoeneberg. Troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front occupied Friedenau and Grünewald in northwest Berlin.
During the evening of 29 April, Weidling's headquarters in the Bendlerblock was now within metres of the front line. Weidling discussed with his divisional commanders the possibility of breaking out to the southwest to link up with the Wenck's Army. Wenck's spearhead had reached the village of Ferch on the banks of the Schwielowsee near Potsdam. The breakout was planned to start the next night at 22:00.
Late in the evening of April 29, Krebs contacted Jodl by radio: "Request immediate report. Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck's spearheads. Secondly of time intended to attack. Thirdly of the location of the Ninth Army. Fourthly of the precise place in which the Ninth Army will break through. Fifthly of the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste's spearhead." In the early morning of April 30, Jodl replied to Krebs: "Firstly, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, Twelfth Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of Ninth Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste's Corps on the defensive."
After midnight on April 29, as the Soviet forces continued to fight their way into the center of Berlin, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony in a map room within the Führerbunker. Thereafter, Hitler then took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his last will and testament. At approximately 04:00, Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Göbbels, and Bormann witnessed and signed the documents. Hitler then retired to bed.
On April 30, the Soviet Information Bureau announced that troops of the 1st Belorussian Front captured Moabit, Anhalter Railway Station, Joachimsthal to the north of Berlin, and Neukölln, Marienwerder, and Liebenwalde. Troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front occupied the southern part of Wilmersdorf, Hohenzollerndamm, and Halensee Railway Station.
During the morning of April 30, SS Brigadeführer Wilhelm Möhnke, commander of the centre (government) district of Berlin, informed Hitler he would be able to hold for less than two days. Later that morning, with the Soviets less than 500 metres from the bunker, Weidling informed Hitler in person that the defenders would probably exhaust their ammunition that night and again asked Hitler for permission to break out. Hitler did not answer at first and Weidling went back to his headquarters in the Bendlerblock where at about 13:00 he got Hitler's permission to try a breakout that night.
During the afternoon Hitler shot himself and Braun took cyanide. In accordance with Hitler's instructions, the bodies were burned in the garden behind the Reich Chancellery. In accordance with Hitler's last will and testament, Göbbels became the new "Head of Government" and Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler). At 03:15, Reichskanzler Göbbels and Bormann sent a radio message to Dönitz informing him of Hitler's death. In accordance with Hitler's last wishes, Dönitz was appointed as the new "President of Germany" (Reichspräsident).
Afterwards, when Weidling reached the Führerbunker, he was met by Göbbels, Bormann, and Krebs. They took him to Hitler's room, where the couple had committed suicide. They told him that their bodies had been burned and buried in a shell crater in the garden above. Weidling was forced to swear that he would not repeat this news to anybody. The only person in the outside world who was to be informed was Josef Stalin. An attempt would be made that night to arrange an armistice, and General Krebs would inform the Soviet commander so that he could inform the Kremlin.
A rather dazed Weidling rang Colonel Hans Refior, his civil Chief of Staff, in the Bendlerblock headquarters soon afterward. Weidling said that he could not tell him what had happened, but he needed various members of his staff to join him immediately, including Colonel Theodor von Dufving, his military Chief-of-Staff.
By the end of that same day, April 30, or during 1 May 1, the Soviets had captured the Reichstag, which was of huge symbolic importance to the Soviets and one of the last German strong-points defending the area around the Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker.
On May 1, within hours of Hitler's suicide, Reichskanzler Josef Göbbels sent German General Hans Krebs and Weidling's Chief-of-Staff, von Dufving, under a white flag to talk with General Vasily Chuikov. Chuikov, as commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army, commanded the Soviet forces in central Berlin. Krebs arrived shortly before 04:00, taking Chuikov by surprise. Krebs spoke Russian fluently and informed Chuikov that Hitler and Eva Braun, his wife, had killed themselves in the Führerbunker. Chuikov, who was not aware that there was a bunker under the Reich Chancellery or that Hitler was married, calmly said that he already knew. Chuikov was not, however, prepared to negotiate with Krebs. The Soviets were unwilling to accept anything other than unconditional surrender. Krebs was not authorized by Göbbels to agree to an unconditional surrender.
The meeting between Krebs and Chuikov ended with no agreement. According to Hitler's personal private secretary Traudl Junge, Krebs returned to the bunker looking "worn out, exhausted". The surrender of Berlin was thus delayed until Göbbels himself committed suicide.
In the late afternoon of 1 May, the Göbbels children were poisoned by their father and mother. At about 20:30, Göbbels ordered an SS guard to accompany him to the garden of the Reich Chancellery. He also ordered the guard to shoot both him and his wife and to burn the bodies.
It was now up to Weidling to negotiate with the Soviets.
Weidling had given the order for the survivors to break out to the northwest starting at around 21:00 on 1 May. The break-out started later than planned, at around 23:00. The first group from the Reich Chancellery, led by Möhnke, avoided the Weidendammer bridge, over which the mass break-out took place. His group crossed by a footbridge, but became split. Möhnke could not break through the Soviet rings and was captured the next day. Like others from the Führerbunker who were captured, he was interrogated by SMERSH. A Tiger tank that spearheaded the first attempt to storm the Weidendammer bridge was destroyed. On the third break-out attempt from the Reich Chancellery, made around 01:00 (2 May), Bormann managed to cross the Spree. Arthur Axmann, who followed the same route, reported seeing Bormann's body a short distance from the bridge.
The last defenders of the bunker complex were the French SS volunteers of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French), who remained until the early morning of May 2 to prevent the Soviets from capturing the bunker on May Day.
On May 2, General Weidling had his Chief-of-Staff, von Dufving, arrange a meeting with General Chuikov. At 01:00 the Soviets picked up radio message from the German LVI Corps requesting a cease-fire and stating that emissaries would come under a white flag to Potsdamer bridge.
Per Chuikov's direction, Weidling put his order to surrender in writing. The document written by Weidling read as follows:
On April 30, 1945, the Führer committed suicide, and thus abandoned those who had sworn loyalty to him. According to the Führer's order, you German soldiers would have had to go on fighting for Berlin despite the fact that our ammunition has run out and despite the general situation which makes our further resistance meaningless. I order the immediate cessation of resistance. Weidling, General of Artillery, former District Commandant in the defence of Berlin.
The meeting between Weidling and Chuikov ended at 8:23 am on 2 May 1945. Later that same day, loudspeakers announced Weidling's surrender and copies of his order were distributed to the remaining defenders. With the exception of scattered areas of resistance and of desperate efforts to break out, the Battle for Berlin was over.
Early in the morning of May 2, the Soviets stormed the Reich Chancellery. General Weidling surrendered with his staff at 06:00.
General Burgdorf (who played a key role in the death of Erwin Rommel) and General Krebs chose to commit suicide rather than attempt to break out. A few people remained in the bunker, and they were captured by Soviet troops on May 2. Soviet intelligence operatives investigating the complex found more than a dozen bodies (including the six Göbbels children), along with the cinders of many burned papers and documents.
The Soviet forces took Weidling into custody as a prisoner of war and flew him to the Soviet Union. He never returned to Germany alive.
On February 27, 1952, a Soviet military tribunal in Moscow sentenced Weidling to 25 years of imprisonment for not surrendering Berlin sooner. Weidling died on 17 November 1955, apparently in the custody of the KGB in Vladimir. KGB records listed the cause of death as "arterial and cardiac sclerosis along with circulatory collapse. "
INSIDE HITLER’S BUNKER:
The Last Days of the Third Reich
by Joachim Fest
He walked with a peculiar gait, lurching from side to side in the narrow corridors as though looking for support from the walls of the bunker. His face was pasty and bloated, his eyes bloodshot. He could scarcely read, even though all papers were typed out for him in letters three times the normal size on special “Führer typewriters”. There was a bad tremor in his left hand. His clothes, which had always been so spick and span, were now spattered with food stains. He would lie on the sofa for hours munching slice after slice of cake, talking of nothing but dogs and dog training, the dangers of eating meat and, of course, how everyone had betrayed him — Göring, Himmler, Speer, the German people — everyone except Eva Braun (shortly and so briefly to become Frau Hitler) and Blondi his Alsatian.
The Bunker was a horrible place. Although it had 20 rooms, nearer 50 if you include the outer bunker above, they were all small and sparsely furnished, with naked light bulbs casting a cold light from the ceiling. Oily puddles collected in the corridors. In the final days, there was a terrible stench of diesel fumes, sweat and urine — although, as ever, Hitler insisted on a strict no-smoking policy. Even Göbbels tried to avoid the Führerbunker because of the desolate mood that infected its inhabitants. In the streets outside, dozens of corpses swung from trees and lampposts, left over from the wave of executions in March. Ever since February, thousands of Berliners had been killing themselves each month, driven to suicide by the approaching end of the Reich that was to last 1,000 years.
There was one exception to this unmitigated despair. Adolf Hitler himself was, no, not happy (of true happiness he was incapable), but he was at ease with himself. This was where he belonged and, when urged to fly south to make his final stand, he had little difficulty in deciding to stay put. “The Führer must not die in a summerhouse,” as Göbbels put it, on message to the last.
Hitler was, after all, a creature of the underground. After seeing him at work in one of his concrete burrows, Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the nearly assassin of July 20, 1944, exclaimed, “Hitler in the bunker — that’s the real Hitler.” Albert Speer recorded that as early as 1933, when they were discussing their grandiose architectural plans for the new Reich, “Hitler kept drawing bunkers, again and again bunkers”.
Joachim Fest, in his unputdownable account of those last worst days, points out how little pleasure Hitler had taken in his Blitzkrieg victories. Even in February 1941 he was worried about the prospects of a peace with Russia and was already planning to attack Afghanistan and India. His initial programme was, in German terms, quite orthodox. As far back as 1926 the German army had plans to liberate the Rhineland, eliminate the Polish Corridor and annex Austria. What was, as Fest puts it, “a break with everything the world had ever stood for” was the limitless nihilism, the unquenchable thirst for destruction that was to include the German people as well as their enemies. The Nero Command of March 1945 had ordered the territory of the Reich to be turned into a desert void of civilisation. The war was to be fought without thought of the civilian population.
Fest’s account nearly 60 years on brings back the full horror as though it were yesterday, though it lacks the majestic sweep and caustic wit of Hugh Trevor-Roper’s The Last Days of Hitler, which was written in the months immediately after on the basis of interviews with survivors and remains an imperishable masterpiece to be compared with Gibbon or Macaulay. Inside Hitler’s Bunker also necessarily repeats a good deal of the material in the last two chapters of Fest’s memorable life of Hitler, the first great German biography of their evil genius.
For all their ingenious efforts, neither Fest nor Trevor-Roper can explain how this passion for destruction took hold of the nation of Göthe and Schubert, but then nor can anyone else. To locate the poison somewhere deep in the German soul, as both writers do, is surely a dangerous business, for Pol Pot and others have shown us that this terrible intoxication is not unique to Germans. And as we now know, Hitler is not the only person to have been thrilled by “the thought of the devastating effects a bomb or rocket attack would have on the canyons of Manhattan”.