Bormann’s Last Gasp

Aftermath: Martin Bormann and the Fourth Reich

by Ladislas Farago
Simon & Schuster, 479 pp., $10.95

Martin Bormann is certainly very hard to kill. For nearly thirty years he has been neither proved dead nor proved alive. There is evidence of his death in Berlin on May 2, 1945—but it is the evidence of a single witness who perhaps thereby sought to protect a friend. There is also evidence that he escaped to Italy—but it is equally inconclusive. And there have been rumors—but so far they have been rumors only—of his survival in South America.

In all these years, the only solid piece of evidence to appear has been Bormann’s diary of his last weeks in Berlin. I am satisfied that this document, which was produced by the Russians, is genuine; but the circumstances of its discovery are obscure, and it is not very informative, for it ceases with the word Ausbruchsversuch—the attempted escape from the Bunker. It is possible that Bormann discarded this document in his flight to safety; but it is equally possible that it was taken from his unrecognized body. Apart from this one document, the only additional evidence comes from the mere passage of time: for the very fact that, in nearly thirty years, no evidence of Bormann’s survival has been found is itself of some force. It is easier to generate a myth about a man who is really dead than to conceal, for so long a period, and from a vigilant world, a man who is really living.

Recently two attempts have been made to solve this problem finally. First, in November, 1972, Mr. Ladislas Farago published a series of articles proving, to his own satisfaction, that Bormann was still alive in South America. Then, a few days later, the West German authorities produced a skull which they declared to be that of Bormann and which proved, to their satisfaction, that he had died in Berlin in 1945. They haughtily declined to notice Mr. Farago’s evidence of survival, and he, equally haughtily, rejected their evidence of death.

Mr. Farago’s evidence, as published in the popular press, was not very convincing. It consisted of confident assertions based on documents allegedly abstracted from Argentine government files. These documents, not being available for inspection, could not be tested and no responsible authority admitted their authenticity. In addition, Mr. Farago’s argument was damaged by an unfortunate gaffe. His articles were illustrated by an alleged photograph of Martin Bormann in conversation with an Argentine security officer, Juan José Velasco. In fact it was soon revealed that there had been (in Mr. Farago’s words) “a bona fide case of mistaken identification.” The person identified as Bormann was in fact not Bormann at all but “a highly respected Buenos Aires schoolteacher named Nicolas Siri,” who highly resented the insinuation. I am satisfied that Mr. Farago was not responsible for this mistake and indeed sought to prevent its publication. However, the episode has some significance, to which I shall return.

The evidence of the German authorities for Bormann’s death in 1945 is at first sight much stronger.…

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