Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Day Hitler Died

"Outside in the passageway, Dr. (Joseph) Goebbels, (Martin) Bormann and a few others waited. In a few moments a revolver shot was heard. They waited for a second one, but there was only silence. After a decent interval they quietly entered the fuehrer's quarters. They found the body of Adolf Hitler sprawled on the sofa dripping blood. He had shot himself in the mouth. At his side lay Eva Braun. Two revolvers had tumbled to the floor, but the bride had not used hers. She had swallowed poison."

William L. Shirer
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

World War II and Adolf Hitler and the Nazis all came before my time so I only know what I have read or seen in documentaries.

It was real for my parents, though. They were not quite grown when the war began, not even when the war ended, but they were old enough to know who was fighting and what the stakes were.

And when the news that Hitler had committed suicide 70 years ago today reached them, they must have known that the war in Europe would be over soon.

I don't know if that means they felt the war in general was over — or if they realized that the war in the Pacific continued.

My guess is that, in 1945, most people who were old enough to remember Pearl Harbor knew there would still be a fight to finish in the Pacific. There was considerable angst about the prospect of an invasion of Japan — widely believed in April 1945 to be the only way to end the fighting but just as widely believed to be likely to claims hundreds of thousands of American lives in the process.

The Japanese were determined fighters, and no one thought they would go down easily. The invasion of Japan was expected to be won by whoever was the last man standing.

But that was a matter to consider some other time. Seventy years ago today, Hitler was dead, and the German surrender was only days away.

Hitler's death, TIME magazine recalls, was shrouded in mystery.

"It wasn't immediately clear what had happened on April 30, 1945," wrote TIME. "This much the world knew: Adolf Hitler was gone, one way or another."

And Hitler had been at the core of Nazi Germany. The tide had turned against the Nazis — it was why Hitler committed suicide — and, when Hitler was gone, all motivation to continue fighting was gone, too.

Questions remain, though, about Hitler's final hours, even after seven decades. Was his suicide the last act of an irrational man who had been waiting vainly for the arrival of Nazi troops who never came? Or was it the cool, deliberate act of a man who had considered all the possible endings to the scenario and concluded suicide was the best choice? The people who were with him in the bunker insist they heard a single gunshot — and that Eva Braun's revolver was not fired. Papers in the Russians' files indicated that Hitler poisoned himself. Were both accounts true? Did Hitler shoot himself after (or while) biting down on the poison capsule? Or did someone else pull the trigger?

We'll probably never know — and it really doesn't matter, does it?

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