On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler took his life in his subterranean Berlin bunker. The impact of Hitler's suicide on the war was more emotional than strategic. He killed himself because he understood that surrender and capture were inevitable. Still, in the aftermath of Hitler's suicide, there were many consequences and reactions on an individual and a collective level.
Individual German government figures and the German people had radical and diverse reactions to the news of Hitler's demise. Some officials rightfully anticipated that it was time to vanish to avoid arrest and responsibility for the unspeakable crimes of the Third Reich. Here are some of the causes of the things that happened immediately after Hitler killed himself.
When Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun killed themselves on the afternoon of April 30, 1945, a simple logistical detail became a source of panic among the group of officers who were charged with destroying his body. Hitler told aide Martin Bormann that he and Eva were to be cremated as quickly as possible so their bodies could never be displayed by the victorious allies. The immediate problem facing Hitler's inner circle was where to find gasoline to accomplish this task. The Russians were so close to the bunker that attempting to fetch the fuel elsewhere in Berlin was impossible.
The only option was to siphon gas from damaged vehicles in the bunker's underground garage which were covered in collapsed concrete and masonry. Approximately 200 liters were quickly extracted and placed near the entrance to the bunker. Hitler's chauffeur, Erich Kempka, and adjutants Otto Gunsche and Hans Linge placed Hitler's and Braun's bodies in the courtyard while Russian shells landed in the area, throwing up columns of dust and soil. The three poured gasoline over both bodies and ignited the pyre with a gasoline-doused rag, under the watchful eye of Bormann and Joseph Goebbels.
When the fuel was consumed, the bodies were still not completely destroyed, so the group repeated the process for the rest of the afternoon, finding and dumping hundreds more gallons of gasoline on the Führer and Eva. The charred remains of the bodies and those of Hitler's two dogs were then buried in a shallow trench beside the bunker.
The final days of the Third Reich set off various attempts by individuals to either improve their own political stature or desperately attempt to bargain with the Allies and avoid punishment after the war. When Hitler heard of the perceived treacheries of Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler, who both fled Berlin after Adolf's birthday party, he immediately rewrote his last political will and testament to reflect his contempt and anger over these developments.
Surprisingly, completely apolitical admiral and U-boat commander Karl Dönitz was named the new President of the Reich and Joseph Goebbels would become the new Chancellor. Martin Bormann was named executor of Hitler's estate. He expelled Göring and Himmler from the party and rescinded his order designating Göring his successor. At least for a few days, Karl Dönitz was head of the German government.
When Hitler shot himself, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and his wife, Magda, had already determined they would not only kill themselves but also murder their six young children. Magda, especially, seemed determined to not want her children to survive, believing they would suffer a life of scorn and ridicule. She coerced an SS medical officer with a background in dentistry, Helmut Kunz, assigned to the Reich Chancellery, to assist with her scheme. Kunz initially refused and even fled the bunker to avoid the horrible task. Magda threatened to tell her husband of his desertion.
Kunz returned, and on the night of May 1, 1945, as the children prepared for bed as usual, Magda ordered Kunz to give them an injection of morphine to knock them out. While they were unconscious, someone forced each child to ingest a cyanide capsule, which killed them. It's believed the cyanide was administered by Magda and another doctor, Ludwig Stumpfegger, based on an account provided by Kunz (who has obvious reasons to lie about whether he killed children).
A few minutes later, at about 8:15 p.m., Joseph and Magda went into the garden of the Chancellery, accompanied by Goebbels' SS adjutant, Gunther Schwagerman. Magda took poison and was shot in the head by her husband. Goebbels shot himself in the head, and Schwagermann ordered another soldier to shoot Goebbels again to ensure he was dead. Magda and Joseph Goebbels were then partially burned; the absence of petrol left recognizable cadavers.
The Russians found the six Goebbels children. Stumpfegger died while trying to escape past the Russians in Berlin; Kunz survived and was ultimately tried and acquitted of colluding in the slaying of the Goebbels children, the court essentially ruling he was coerced by Magda and Joseph Goebbels.
"So the bastard's dead? Too bad we didn't capture him alive!" was purportedly Stalin's reaction to hearing of Hitler's demise. Typically, he wanted absolute proof of his rival's demise - physical evidence. So, Stalin ordered elements of the elite Soviet investigation unit known as SMERSH to bring tangible verification of Hitler's passing.
On May 2, SMERSH operatives sealed off the chancellery garden and bunker area and began a systematic search of the grounds. After three days, a Russian officer dug up what appeared to be the bodies of two dogs, then the remains of Hitler and Eva Braun. Too badly burned to be visually identified, the bodies were moved to a secret location, where Hitler's jaw was removed, its distinctive major dental work a possible means of identification.
Jaw in hand, the SMERSH unit tracked down Hitler's dentist's office only to find the dentist himself had fled successfully to the west. They detained the dentist's assistant, Käthe Hauserman, who described Hitler's teeth, distinctively bad from the Führer's love of cake and sweets, and produced the Führer's dental x-rays. Her punishment for providing dental work for the Nazi regime was 10 years in Soviet labor camps.
Although Stalin knew the truth and accepted Hitler's end, he never announced it publicly, preferring instead to promote various rumors about Hitler's escape to Argentina, Spain, or elsewhere in the world. Some believe he used this strategy to support his own political agenda of maintaining tension amongst other world powers.