Saturday, September 24, 2005

Adolf Hitler: Hitler of the Andes

Most people think that Hitler and Eva Braun killed themselves in a bunker on 30 April 1945, as Allied forces closed in on Berlin. Braun died by taking poison; Hitler probably shot himself. But that 'probably' expresses the sort of seed of uncertainty from which a myth can grow.
When the Soviets found the partially burned remains of a man and a woman near Hitler's bunker, their forensic specialists concluded that these were the corpses of Hitler and Braun and that both had died from cyanide poisoning. But the discovery was kept secret – perhaps because Stalin was not completely convinced. Russian officials even said that they thought Hitler might have escaped from the bunker.
A further Soviet investigation of the site in 1946 found bloodstains on Hitler's sofa, and also skull fragments, and concluded – echoing the official inquiry conducted by British intelligence officer (and later historian) Hugh Trevor-Roper – that Hitler had, in fact, shot himself. But still the Soviets remained silent.
That silence, whatever its motives, fuelled the doubts of the Americans, who went on to conduct an 11-year investigation into the possibility that Hitler was hiding out in the foothills of the Andes or in a remote part of Argentina.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the archive detailing the Russians' discoveries at the bunker was finally made available to outsiders. It revealed that the corpses had had an interrupted and rather undignified journey back to Moscow after the war, being repeatedly buried and dug up at various stages to confuse prying eyes. Both bodies had then been destroyed in the 1970s.
However, part of Hitler did indeed survive: his teeth. One of the few things on which almost everyone agrees in the strange story of Hitler's posthumous career is that the teeth in question once belonged to the Führer. They were positively identified in the Russians' first investigation by two former dental assistants who had worked on Hitler's teeth. Skull fragments also survived.
For some, however, such evidence can never be as compelling as contemporary reports suggesting, for example, that Hitler was working as a croupier in a French casino.


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