Hitler’s Last Minute

The Death of Adolf Hitler, Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives

by Lev Bezymenskl
Harcourt, Brace & World, 114 pp., $3.95

Hitler's Skull
Hitler's Skull; drawing by David Levine

A few months ago, the German publisher Christian Wegner offered to his Western colleagues a share in a great scoop. From Russia he had obtained a book which, he said, would be “a sensation to all, not only the historians”; for it would, “for the very first time,” show to the world the true story of Hitler’s death, as documented from Soviet archives. This new story, he said, would “considerably alter the picture which the world has had of Hitler’s death.”

In making his offer, Dr. Wegner gave nothing away. The author of the new book was not named. The text was not to be divulged till it had been paid for. A similar technique, it may be recalled, was adopted in respect of Svetlana Stalin’s memoirs, which might or might not encourage the purchaser. Finally, after sale, no advance review copies were sent out: the bomb was to explode all at once.

Now it has exploded. The author is revealed as Mr. Lev Bezymenski, co-editor of the Soviet journal Novoe Vremia. Mr. Bezymenski was evidently an interpreter during the war and was present at the battle for Berlin. He has since written, we are told, “numerous articles on current events which were published throughout the Eastern countries.” This makes it all the more remarkable that his present book is apparently for Western consumption only. No publication in communist countries (I am told) is envisaged. No Russian text has been seen. The newly published Russian documents will not be available in the original tongue. The English translation has been made from the German, in which Bezymenski appears to have written it. No explanation is offered of these interesting facts, which suggest a propagandist rather than an historical purpose.

But let us examine the book objectively, on its merits and its claims. How new, how explosive is it? We can best approach this question by summarizing the evidence concerning Hitler’s death which was available before Bezymenski’s book appeared.

The fact of Hitler’s death was first announced privately to the Russian commander in Berlin, General Zhukov, by the German Chief of Staff, General Hans Krebs, on the morning of May 1, 1945. Later in the same day it was published by the German radio, on the orders of Admiral Doenitz, at Flensburg. Next day the Russians took Berlin and the world waited for confirmation and details. None came. Admittedly, by the beginning of June, the Russians in Berlin stated unofficially that they had discovered Hitler’s body and identified it “with fair certainty.” They also revealed that, before his death, he had married the hitherto unknown Eva Braun. But this brief flicker of unofficial light was soon officially extinguished, and darkness was restored, thicker than ever. Stalin in Moscow, Zhukov in Berlin, pronounced firmly that there was no evidence of Hitler’s death. On the contrary, they said, he was most probably still alive, in Spain…

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