On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his subterranean Berlin bunker. The impact of Hitler's suicide on the war was more emotional than strategic. Hitler's death occurred when it did because the German leader understood 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 basis.
Because only the Russian military had access to the bunker and its vicinity, the Russian government was in charge of what the world learned of Hitler suicide facts. Always willing to deceive and manipulate, Stalin deliberately misrepresented what he knew about Hitler's death, adding to one of the many mysteries surrounding Nazi Germany.
Individual German government figures and the German people had radical and diverse reactions to the news of Hitler's demise. Some officials rightfully determined 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 all of the things that happened immediately after Hitler killed himself.
What was left of the German government took a day to officially announce the death of Hitler publicly. The announcement was deceptive and manipulative. Broadcasting on the Reichssender Hamburg, the last short wave radio station in German-controlled territory in Hamburg, the announcement was preceded by the somber music of Wagner and Bruckner. The new leader of the government, Admiral Karl Doenitz was introduced with these words:
From the Fuhrer's headquarters it is announced that our Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, this afternoon at his command post in the Reich Chancellery, fighting till his last breath against Bolshevism, fell for Germany. On April 30, the Fuhrer appointed Admiral of the Fleet Doenitz his successor. The Admiral and successor of the Fuhrer will now speak to the German people.
Doenitz then presented a lengthy oration praising Hitler's heroic death without mention of suicide, and imploring the German people to fight against "annihilation by the advancing Bolshevist enemy." The decision to postpone inevitable surrender prolonged the fighting until May 8, a week later.
Many German Nazis followed Hitler's and Goebbels's lead, committing suicide. The Mayor of Leipzig, his wife, and many other city officials held a party in the town hall, then killed themselves by taking poison. In Demmin, 1,000 civilians killed themselves in less than 72 hours leading up to the capture of the town by Russian invaders, specifically to avoid falling into Soviet hands.
Ernst-Robert Grawitz, a Nazi doctor involved in concentration camp experimentation, sat down with his wife at the dinner table and detonated two grenades, killing his entire family. Across Germany, many thousands of people, either ardent Nazis who couldn't bear the idea of defeat or individuals culpable of horrific crimes, chose suicide rather than capture or escape.
Within Berlin, many units continued to fight after Hitler's suicide. These troops were mostly children or old men, impressed into the militia and charged with stopping the Russian capture of the capital. Desertion from these units was punishable with death; the streets of Germany in 1945 featured many individuals strung up by roving bands of SS hangmen.
Even after the Russians encircled the city, German forces of the Twelfth Army, under Walter Wenck, was ordered to stop fighting Americans on the western front and return to Berlin by fighting through enemy lines. This was done to allow as many civilians and soldiers as possible to make their way to western lines controlled by the US and Britain. No one wanted to be in territory controlled by the Russians. Although Wenck failed to pierce Russian lines, his action is believed to have allowed for the westward escape of approximately 250,000 Germans.
Devious creature that he was, Heinrich Himmler secretly began negotiations in late 1944 in an attempt to escape responsibility for his atrocious behavior. Although Hitler wished to fight to the end, Himmler acknowledged to his contact within the Swedish government, Count Folke Bernadotte, the war was lost and he wished to minimize further death and destruction, secretly hoping Bernadotte could be his conduit for a successful negotiation with the West.
Thousands of concentration camp prisoners were saved, but for Himmler, it did no good. Surrender feelers conveyed by the Swedish government were secretly forwarded to the Allies, who gave a single unyielding response: unconditional surrender. Even worse for Himmler, in the last week of Hitler's life, Western radio was reporting news of his secret negotiations.
Hitler predictably grew enraged. He removed Himmler from all government posts, expelled him from the party, and ordered his arrest. He also ordered Himmler's liason officer, Hermann Fegelein, to be shot for desertion despite Fegelein's marriage to Eva Braun's sister. By then, Himmler had implemented his final desperate plan, attempting to blend into the masses of unidentified German soldiers fleeing to the West. He shaved off his mustache, put on an eye patch, removed his glasses, and headed for the British zone in Northern Germany.
Detained at a roadblock, Himmler was interrogated and admitted his identity. When he was searched, a doctor detected a capsule of some kind in Himmler's mouth. The former Reichsfuhrer bit down on it, releasing cyanide. He died within minutes and was buried in a secret location near Luneberg.