History

As in Life so in His Death, Hubris and Delusion Defined Adolf Hitler

When he died on April 30, 1945, Hitler demonstrated to the world that the war had only whetted his appetite for more violence.

A little after midnight on April 28/29, 1945, Adolf Hitler asked his secretary Gertraud Junge to help him with some paperwork.

Junge happened to be one of the two secretaries working for Hitler in the last few weeks of his life; Gerda Christian being the other. Joseph Goebbels with his wife and six children, Martin Bormann, Nicholas von Below (Hitler’s adjutant) and Generals Hans Krebs and Wilhelm Burgdorf made up the rest of the Fuehrer’s entourage. Besides, of course, Eva Braun, whom Hitler had married just a little while earlier that night in a modest civil wedding, where a junior functionary of the Berlin city administration, pulled out from his Nazi guard duty, officiated as the marriage registrar.

The wedding breakfast was in progress in a large room inside the Fuehrerbunker, champagne bottles were being uncorked, and everyone was congratulating the newly-married couple when Hitler motioned to Junge to follow him into one of his workrooms on the same floor. The Red Army was within whistling distance of Hitler’s last refuge. Relentless artillery fire was pounding the Reich Chancellery garden above, but 50 feet inside the ground, the formidable bunker fortifications held up quite well still.

Also read: Reading the History of Nazi Germany as a Cautionary Tale for Today

Hitler told Junge that he was going to dictate his political and personal testaments, which he would leave behind for posterity’s sake. He had already made it known that he would kill himself before the Russians got to him, so the young secretary, always in awe of the Fuehrer, “sat in nervous excitement, expecting to hear a profound explanation of the great sacrifice’s true purpose”.

Hitler then proceeded to spell out first My Personal Will and My Political Statement. He kept referring to some notes and documents he had with him, presumably provided by Goebbels, but the whole thing took quite some time. By the time the typing was done, the documents signed and Hitler’s seal affixed to the documents in presence of witnesses, it was a little after 4 am on April 29.

Goebbels, Bormann, Burgdoff and Krebs set their hands as witnesses to the political testament while Bormann and Nicholas von Below did the honours for the Fuehrer’s personal will. Bormann (‘my most faithful Party comrade’) was named as the executor of the will. Hitler was to die about 36 hours later (on April 30), the Goebbels’s on the following day, and Bormann the day after.

Unlike the others who took their own lives (the Goebbels children having been poisoned by their parents), Bormann probably died while fleeing the Red Army outside Berlin.

The Fuehrer in the full panoply of his power

Hitler’s will

Hitler’s last will and testament are fascinating documents for a variety of reasons, though they do not appear to have received even a fraction of the attention that Mein Kampf  always did, or does even today.

This is surprising, given that we usually believe a man is apt to reveal a lot about himself when taking leave of life. Indeed, Hitler’s ‘swan song’ throws more light on the man than ten learned biographies could have hoped to do together. And it does so with the panache we associate with Hitler in the full panoply of his powers.

So, it should be worth our while going over these two statements briefly today.

Also read: Why Hitler Watched Hollywood Films

The ‘will’ is a short document of about 275 words, and it touches upon three things: Hitler’s decision to marry Eva Braun just before they were to die; how his personal effects were to be disposed of; and his resolve to die (with his newly-wedded wife) at the precise place from where he rendered ‘12 years’ service to my people’. It contains the appropriately grand statement that:

What I possess belongs – in so far as it has any value – to the Party. Should this no longer exist, to the State; should the State also be destroyed, no further decision is necessary.

The most significant part of the will refers to Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress of many years, whom the Fuehrer formally recognised as his companion just a day before her death. Before that, for nearly 14 years, Eva was there but yet not quite there. She lived in the Reich’s shadows, never allowed to take part in official ceremonies or banquets.

Twice, she attempted suicide – apparently in the hope that Hitler would give his long-time lover her due – but the Fuehrer had very different ideas on the subject. He was to be the messiah, Germany’s guardian angel, chaste and celibate, untouched by the temptations of the flesh. So how could he attest to his own susceptibility to the charms of an ordinary woman, however pretty and dainty? (It has also been suggested that, till the very end, Hitler relished the idea of his  being irresistibly attractive to the entire feminine half of Germany as the nation’s most eligible bachelor.)

The Fuehrerbunker lies buried under this vacant lot today.

In his will, Hitler recognises the ‘many years of true friendship’ that Eva had given him, also that she chose, ‘of her own free will’, to be by his side till the bitter end (even though she had been offered other options). But, incredibly, he does not once name her. So, the 33-year-old Braun  is simply referred to by her 56-year-old lover as ‘the woman’, thus to remain as anonymous in death as she had been for much of her life.

Instead, Hitler waxes eloquent on how ‘during the long years of struggle (he) believed that (he) could not undertake the responsibility of marriage’, but that, ‘before the end of (his) life’, he had decided to make this grand gesture of legitimising his relationship with a devoted soul. Even in his dying hour, the megalomaniac remained as manically self-absorbed as ever.

Hitler’s political testament

Hitler’s political testament, split in two parts, is a more elaborate affair. The first part is a recapitulation of his weltanschaung set out in the specific context of his years as the helmsman of the Reich. The second section addresses the question of succession in the Nazi leadership after him.

In this section, he also vents his ire on two former aides, Hermann Goering and  Heinrich Himmler who, he says, had abused his trust and thus merited the denunciation (and expulsion from the Nazi leadership) which he sets down in his testament.

Also read: Demagogues Today Have Much in Common With Nazi Ideology: Filmmaker Marshall Curry

After invoking his ‘modest contribution as a volunteer in the first world war’, Hitler quickly moves to his main thesis, which is that neither he ‘nor anybody else in Germany wanted war in 1939’.

Who did, then?

‘(T)hose international statesmen who were either of Jewish origin or worked for Jewish interests’.

Indeed, Hitler himself ‘made too many offers of limitation and control of armaments’ for the responsibility of World War Two to be laid at his door. But all went in vain, because ‘International Jewry and its helpers’ were hell-bent on forcing the war upon Germany. A mere three days before Germany’s  invasion of Poland (Hitler’s euphemism for it being ‘the outbreak of the German-Polish war’), Hitler had ‘again proposed to the British ambassador in Berlin a solution to the German-Polish problem’, but ‘partly under influence of propaganda by International Jewry’, Britain failed to act on that excellent suggestion. 

After this, Hitler launches into a spirited defence of what he was ‘obliged’ to resort to in course of a war he presumably never wanted to wage:

I also made it quite plain (before the hostilities began) that if the peoples of Europe were again to be regarded merely as pawns in the game played by the international conspiracy of money and finance, then the Jews, the race which is the real guilty party in this murderous struggle, would be saddled with the responsibility for it. I left no one in doubt that this time not only would millions of children of the European Aryan races starve, not only would millions of grown men meet their death and not only would hundreds of thousands of women and children be burnt and bombed to death in the cities, but this time the real culprits would have to pay for their guilt, even though by more humane means than war.

It is difficult to find a clearer (also more chilling) statement of intent in all of recorded history. Hitler had, he says, put everyone on notice what they were to expect from him, and he could not now be faulted for being true to his word.

The Holocaust was the only sensible –and civilised – response to the onslaught on the ‘European Aryan races’ (unleashed by the ‘International Jewry’), and Hitler could not but have exercised that option. Come to think of it, wasn’t  gassing men, women and children to death a ‘more humane means than war’?

Here was a man whose many delusions (of ‘the pure race’, the thousand-year Reich, of Germany being perpetually under attack from the Jews and the Slavs…) precipitated the most catastrophic war in history, a war that claimed no fewer than 85 million human lives. Over 55% of all European Jews were murdered, with countries like Poland, the Netherlands, Greece and Yugoslavia losing over 90% of their Jewish populations.

Also read: In Holocaust Study, a New Attempt to Measure the Pace of Nazi Genocide

The Soviet Union lost to the war one in every seven citizens (one of her constituent republics, Belarus, lost one in every four) and Hitler’s own Germany one in 12. And yet we have this extraordinary spectacle of the hangman calmly musing over his macabre exploits! Remorse is the furthest from his heart. He has never known horror, except the horror of possible defeat. He is not merely unrepentant: he grieves that he did not do enough harm.

“The word fell asleep, as that world awoke,” Karl Kraus had said about the world of national socialism.  It’s not hard to see what Kraus meant.

The Reichstag at the end of the war.

As his make-believe world crumbled all around him, Hitler yet clung tenaciously to his ludicrous fantasies:

I die with a joyful heart in my knowledge of the immeasurable deeds and achievements of our soldiers at the front, of our women at home, of our peasants and workers and of the contribution, unique in history, of our youth which bears my name… (It’s my) wish that they should therefore not give up the struggle under any circumstances, but carry it on wherever they may be against the enemies of the fatherland…

For perspective, of the eight million German deaths in World War Two, more than half were accounted for by the war’s last seven months, when even the most die-hard Nazi fanatic knew that the game was up, that countless civilian lives were to be sacrificed unless Hitler ended his insane campaign.

Indeed, even after Berlin was taken by the Red Army on May 1/2, SS officers paid homage to their Fuehrer by summarily executing civilians who happened to put up the white flag of surrender to the rampaging Russians.

The brutalised, utterly dehumanised culture of superiority that Hitler so assiduously cultivated in his men scarred the souls of many, maybe most, ordinary Germans as well.

Also read: When a Long, Dark Night Lit up with Music: The Story of the Leningrad Symphony

Even in death, Hitler was as hubris-ridden as he was at the pinnacle of his power. While expelling Goering (whom, by a June 1941 decree, Hitler had named as his successor) and Himmler for their suspected treachery, he could not help the typical fuehreresque flourish.

Told that Himmler was negotiating with the Allies for surrender, Hitler had Hermann Fegelein, a close aide of Himmler’s and at the time part of Hitler’s personal staff, executed on April 28.

Fegelein was married to Gretl, Eva Braun’s sister, who was heavily pregnant at that point. Eva pleaded with Hitler for clemency. Hitler rebuffed her – and married her a few hours later. In his testament, with usual pompousness, he named the cabinet that would succeed him, regardless of the fact that it was to take office in the most surreal circumstances. And even in this, he made sure that there was to be no ‘claimant’ to his own status: he apportioned his powers to three of the most-faithful – Goebbels, Donitz and Bormann.

“Hitler clearly wanted to continue his policy of divide and rule from beyond the grave, even on the most spectral administration ever assembled,” as historian Anthony Beevor noted.

Appropriately, Hitler’s last call to his country, recorded in the concluding paragraph of his political testament, harked back to his greatest delusion:

Above all, I enjoin the government of the nation and the people to uphold the racial laws to the limit and to resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations – International Jewry.

Anjan Basu is a literary critic, commentator and translator. He can be reached at basuanjan52@gmail.com.