18 October 2022
Tim Heath takes us inside Hitler’s bunker during the last days of the Reich with two exclusive interviews.
Berlin, Friday 20 April 1945, Adolf Hitler’s 56th birthday, yet there is little to celebrate. The 1st Belorussian Front led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, advancing from the east and north, begins to shell the city centre. Berlin is a vision of hell itself, few buildings remain intact, fires rage out of control and thick smoke blankets the streets of what was once the very heart of the Third Reich. The remaining German military forces faced with the task of defending the city are representative of the hopelessness of the situation. The Berlin defenders are comprised of disparate Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht units along with civilian men and women of the Volkstsurm (Peoples Storm). Girls and boys of the Hitler Youth have already been mobilised, many form into what were known as Werewolf groups, eager to see action against their enemy.
On this day Hitler briefly appeared above ground in the ruined garden of the Reich Chancellery, where he decorated boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth with Iron Crosses. It was the last time Hitler ventured out of the Führerbunker. Having refused all pleas to flee, he was determined that when the time came, he would take his own life rather than attempt any escape.
Left: Hitler decorates boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth as the Soviets close in
Left: Soviet tanks roll through the shattered remains of Berlin
Hitler had moved into the Führerbunker on 16 January 1945, followed by members of his senior staff, which included Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels (accompanied by his wife Magda and their six young children), Traudl Junge (Hitler’s youngest secretary), a nurse named Erna Flegel, and SS Sergeant Rochus Misch (the Führerbunker telephone switchboard operator and Hitler’s bodyguard). Other administrative and senior military staff would come and go from the bunker as the situation steadily deteriorated.
Left: Who was in the Bunker and where they could usually be found. Click on the photo to zoom in
Getting in touch
It was back in the early 1990s, when I began seriously researching and documenting Third Reich history. Intrigued by the many conflicting histories on Hitler’s last days I felt compelled to write to, perhaps, the last two surviving individuals who were there - Traudl Junge, via the Rathaus at Munich, and Rochus Misch, via the Rathaus in Berlin. Surprisingly, three weeks later, Traudl Junge wrote back about her experiences. I wrote to her with more questions on two further occasions, and what follows is the result. With no TV cameras, media or accusers to sit in judgement she was able to voice opinions kept to herself since the end of the war.
Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary
‘In the Führerbunker in April 1945, what was it like and what particular events do I recall the most? The atmosphere within the bunker was sad and depressing. Eva Braun, who I had come to adore much like a sister, was doing her best to be cheerful. Eva even threw a cocktail party for everyone. It was a cocktail party to the backdrop of the Russian artillery. Eva tried to lift the mood by telling everyone, “Come on and dance.” It was all false though, it felt like a funeral wake in advance of their (hers and Hitler’s) suicides. I remember how Eva came over to me took me by the hand and said, “Traudl, please dance with me.” I think she was probably a little bit drunk from the champagne, Russian artillery brought the party to a close and we all had to go back down into the bunker.
Above: Traudl Junge pictured here with her husband Hans Junge
The stench of melancholy was everywhere. The air within the bunker now putrid with the smell of fear and sweat mixed with cigarette smoke. People sat around consumed within their own thoughts. Some were sitting down with their backs to the walls, drunk out of their heads, others sat and cried to themselves. It felt as if we were all in some kind of a tomb, which in many senses it was just that, a concrete tomb.
Hitler and Eva had a little wedding ceremony, afterwards I was called by Hitler as he wanted to dictate his last will and testament. As I sat behind the typewriter and waited for him to speak it felt as if I were now a part of a significant piece of the history of this war, that is how I felt. When Hitler had finished, I carefully checked through my text to ensure everything was correct, I took it from the typewriter and handed it to him. I just passed it to him saying, “Here it is my Führer.” At that point there was nothing more left for me to do personally. Eva came to say goodbye and we both hugged and cried, I could not believe that this would be the last time I would ever see her again. She gave me some trinkets by which to remember her by, which included a photograph of her.
Left: Hitler and Eva Braun having breakfast before they spent their final days in the Bunker
Eva and Hitler retired to Hitler’s private room where they would carry out the deed (kill themselves). I joined the six Goebbels children of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda. The children lived on one of the upper floors of the bunker complex with their mother and father, yet seemed they enjoyed the company of both me and telephone switchboard operator SS Sergeant Rochus Misch. Rochus also served as a bodyguard to the Führer. I was sat playing a board game with the Goebbels children when a shot rang out. The sound of the shot startled me, the Goebbels children appeared unconcerned by it. In fact Helmut Goebbels shouted, “Bullseye,” the instant the shot was heard. He shouted it out in such a comical tone, as if it was all part of the game we were then playing. The shot we had heard was that of Hitler shooting himself in the head with a pistol.
Heinz Linge, who was Hitler’s valet, entered Hitler’s private room first. He cautiously opened the door and peered around it into the room. Linge was followed by SS Adjutant Otto Gunsche. Hitler and Eva were both on the sofa dead in there. There was blood visible on Hitler’s temple, but no visible wounds on Eva. Rochus Misch also witnessed this scene. Both bodies were rolled up in carpet and taken up above ground. A lot of petrol was poured over the bodies and they were then set alight. The resulting fire was so intense that there would have been little left, which is what Hitler had wanted. He had been fearful of his corpse becoming a tourist attraction, as he put it. In my opinion the worst thing of all was yet to come.
Left: Joseph Goebbels and his six children who were all to die rather than live without National Socialism
Magda Goebbels had been discussing the fate of her six children for some months. I know one of the other older secretaries attempted to reason with Magda and persuade her not to take the lives of her children. Magda’s argument was that it would be impossible for her and Joseph’s children to survive in a world without Hitler and National Socialism and that the children would die first, then she and Joseph would take their own lives and follow their Führer. It was on 1 May 1945 that Magda, with the assistance of Helmut Kunz who was an SS dentist and Ludwig Stumpfegger who was Hitler’s personal physician, that Magda Goebbels murdered her six young children. I believe Magda gave the children a sedative to make them sleep and then also crushed a cyanide capsule in each child’s mouth. Knowing the children well I don’t think they would have let anyone else near them, Magda would have done this, that I am sure of.
Right: Helga Goebbels in happier times. She knew something was wrong.
It was Helga, the eldest daughter, I felt most desperately sorry for. Helga was a very bright clever child and she knew something was going on, that something was not right. She may have even had suspicions of her mother’s intentions. I sensed a change in the mood between Magda and Helga and they were not getting on as they had used to. There were arguments and Magda would complain about, “Her insolent daughter.” I didn’t really think about it at the time, but during those last days of the lives of those children, it was Helga who was the focus of her mother’s anger. I have never said this before, but I noticed bruises on Helga’s arms in the days prior to the murders. Helga often sat with her head in her arms crying. I considered taking her and running away, but where would we have gone and how far could we have got before being caught? Then there was the question of what would have happened to the child once her identity had become known? It was all so heart-breaking, and with everything going on around us I didn’t do anything. I wish now I had just tried to do something, tried to save at least some of the Goebbel’s children. They are now ghosts and, as I have told you, I have had to carry those ghosts on my conscience.
The six children were rendered unconscious and then cyanide was crushed between their teeth, death would have been in an instant. With Helga there was evidence of a struggle. She would have fought even her mother to try and stop her from killing her. There were fresh bruises on Helga’s arms, indicative of a struggle in the last seconds of her life. I believe the doctor restrained her while Magda then did the rest. I know the six children were given drinks before this happened, the drinks very likely containing the sedatives.
Left: The bodies of the six Goebbels children killed by their mother Magda 1945
When I spoke with Herr Misch afterwards about the children he said, “Traudl, my one regret is that I didn’t save those children, I could have and should have saved them. Hitler was dead, and I could have pulled out my pistol on them (Magda and Joseph) and stopped them. It is troubling to think about even now all these years on.” So, you see Misch was as troubled as I was, over it all.
I was, maybe, a naïve stupid young girl, I never sensed evil the first day I met the man I often called “The boss”. He seemed so genuine and caring and he was very good to me. I could have lifted the veil and discovered what it was all about, but I didn’t. What could I have done anyway, had I acted against the system I would have been put in one of the camps or even shot? I am not asking anyone’s sympathy or forgiveness, it is too late for that. All I can say is that we must learn from the mistakes we have made and ensure that this never ever happens again in the world.
It was on 1 May 1945 that we made our preparations to leave the Führerbunker. Was I afraid you ask? Yes, I was petrified of leaving what I felt was the relative safety of the bunker. I left with SS General Willhelm Mohnke, Hans Baur, Hans Rattenhuber, Gerda Christian, Else Kruger, Constance Manziarly and Dr Ernst Gunther Schenck. Three of us, myself Christian and Kruger made it out of Berlin to the banks of the River Elbe. The other members of our escape group were captured by Russian soldiers while hiding in the cellar of a building in the Schonhauser Allee. When I reached the Elbe I found there was no way of getting across to the western Allied lines, so I had no choice but to turn back and head back to Berlin.
It was a month after I had originally left and I had hoped to get a train to the west. I was there around one week, and I had used a covering name, which was Gerda Alt. However, I was arrested by two civilian members of the Soviet military administration and I was held in Berlin where I was questioned. The Soviet’s then told me of the things that the Germans had been responsible for. The guards told me of the brutality that their own families had suffered under the German military. It then began to dawn on me of what I had been a part of. There was no abuse or rape and they treated me well, though I was moved through several prisons, each time a fresh interrogation began. I was released in December 1945, but my movements were heavily restricted to the Soviet sector of Berlin.
It was a dismal scene, just ruins of bombed out houses and the state of the people was terrible. I remember seeing young women wandering around with their children scratching through piles of rubble and rubbish looking for something to eat. I felt uneasy walking around the Soviet sector as I had heard that the Soviet soldiers often grabbed any woman they felt they wanted and took them for prostitutes. When I walked around I did so with my coat collars pulled up and my head hung down. It was a hope of not attracting any attention. I had begun to feel unwell with a raging sore throat and bad cough, my neck and face began to swell too, and it was on the New Years Eve of 1946 that I was admitted to a hospital in the British sector. The doctors examined me and diagnosed I was suffering from Diptheria.
Left: Traudl Junge sits in the middle, next to Musmanno, prosecutor of Nazi war criminals at the Nuremburg Trials
It was during my time in hospital in the British sector of Berlin that my mother rescued me in a way. My mother had managed to secure the permits to allow me to move out of the British sector of Berlin to Bavaria. Upon receiving my permit, I travelled from Berlin across the Soviet occupation zone over to the British zone. From there I travelled south into Bavaria, which was then under control of the United States. I was again taken and interrogated, this time by the Americans. It was just the same things, about my role and what happened in the Führerbunker, during the last days, what happened to Hitler and Eva Braun and the other people who were in the Führerbunker. There were so many questions but at that time I had grown used to telling the story over and over again. I became quite sick of it all to be honest. I was very lucky, and I knew things could have been far worse for me. After the interrogation by the Americans I was allowed to go free and pick up the pieces of my life in post-war Germany and in the western zone.
Poor Misch (Rochus Misch) was not so fortunate. He was sent to the east into captivity, brutality and forced labour. As he had been a member of the SS he was classed as a criminal by all of the Allied authority. He was lucky to have survived his ordeal, though I did not see or hear anything from him for many years afterwards.
My life has been subject to so much scrutiny over the years. I felt that by telling my story initially to the World at War series it may dispel many of the rumours. I have written about my life in my memoirs and I receive many letters each week. I don’t feel like a celebrity at all, I live as quietly a life as I can. I can only hope that god will forgive me for being a part of what was an evil and corrupt regime. I was young, stupid and naïve and I just didn’t see the dangers at the time. Of course, there will be those who will always point their finger in judgement, but these people were not there, they were not me, so how can they judge me?’
Traudl Junge died in Munich on 10 February 2002, aged 81. She is buried at Nordfriedhof Munchen.
Right: A recreation of how the Bunker looked, for a museum exhibition
Rochus Misch, Hitler’s telephonist
It was well known in the 1990s that former SS Sergeant Rochus Misch would receive hundreds of letters a week, mostly requests for his autograph. It was a bit of a joke that he would receive so many that he often piled them up in his bath, where he lived in a modest flat in Berlin. However, he endeavoured to answer every oner he received, even if it took him months. I understood this and, after writing to him, was surprised when a received a reply, just a month later. The following interview is, again, from the letters we exchanged.
Left: A young Rochus Misch in SS uniform
‘One thing I have always stood by is that, no, I don’t have any regrets of having been a serving soldier with the Waffen-SS where I served with 1 SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. It was an elite organisation, the very best there was, and I am proud of that.
Like anyone, I have certain regrets about certain things that happened during the war, things that were not conducive to the conduct or the normal execution of warfare. In war soldiers kill, people are killed, that is the business of war and continues to be the business of war to this day, doesn’t it. You ask me firstly about Hitler and Eva and how they killed themselves? I recall they retired to a room after their wedding, it was quiet for some minutes and then a shot was heard. Everyone looked up and I heard someone mutter, “Its done.” Hitler’s valet entered the room and Hitler and Eva were on a sofa in the room, Eva had her legs drawn up as if she were making herself comfy at the very moment of death. Hitler had a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head while Eva had taken poison. The bodies were checked, and it was confirmed that both were dead.
Left: Hitler, one day before suicide, surveying ruins of Reich Chancelleroy
Linge and Gunsche entered the room and witnessed the bodies too. Instructions had been left by Hitler of how his and Eva’s bodies should be disposed. They were rolled up in carpets, taken from Hitler’s rooms, then the bodies were carried up to the top and taken outside. There was a shallow pit, or shell crater, near the ventilation shaft. Petrol had been procured specially for the purpose of burning the remains. SS soldiers brought the petrol and it was emptied over the bodies, a match was thrown in and it went woosh! The heat from the fire was immense, after even a few seconds had passed. There was nothing that could be stolen as trophies or anything, as nothing would have survived that heat.
Right: Russian soldiers examine the couch Hitler killed himself on.
When Joseph and Magda Goebbels killed themselves the same instructions for the disposal of their bodies were left, only there had not been enough petrol to do the job properly and Joseph Goebbels remains were still recognisable, you could see it was him. The Goebbels’ corpses were paraded and made a grim spectacle for everyone to see. The bodies of the six Goebbels children had lain in their beds where they had been poisoned by their mother. When they were later brought up above ground, they were laid out in a line for the world to see. This is where, for me, is the saddest part of it all. The Goebbels’ six young children were delightful little things. They played in the corridors and rooms of the bunker up until the day it was decided they would be killed. Magda made this decision considering the war situation. She did not want her children to fall into the hands of the Soviets. Magda was of the opinion that if the children lived the Soviets would capture them and do terrible things to them. There was no question of Magda allowing anyone to try and get the children out of the Führerbunker to safety, even in the west. She was adamant that her children would be worse off in a world with no Adolf Hitler and no National Socialism. It would be a Germany devoid of any future where no true German would deserve to live.
I wish I had done something, I really do. The children used to run up to me and say “Misch, Misch, fish, fish” like a rhyme that they had made up. I saw the sadness in the eyes of Helga Goebbels. Being the eldest child at 12 years she was more aware of things than the others. I think she had figured it all out, as she wasn’t stupid. After Hitler’s suicide I could have maybe intervened and stopped Magda from killing the children. To have prevented Magda from doing what she did would have meant me drawing my pistol pointing it at her and her husband’s heads and saying, “If you try and stop me, I will shoot you.” Yes, I did consider pulling my pistol on them, but I didn’t. I talked about this with Frau Junge and it upsets both of us still today, after all these years since it all happened. I wish I could turn back time and do things differently and saved those children. In such instances you just have that one moment in which to react, to change things, to try and do the right thing. It is a huge psychological burden. Had I saved the lives of the children, what then? We would have waited for the Russians to come and the children would have been placed at their mercy. How would they have grown up, how would the world have treated them? It’s not easy to answer is it?
As for the lies being told about Hitler surviving the war, it is all ridiculous and obvious fabrication to sell newspapers, promote television programmes, magazines or for other commercial purposes. Remember, I worked for Hitler and I was in his company for long periods of time, I knew him better than these conspiracists and I knew him alive and I saw him as that corpse back in that room in 1945. Hitler died in the Führerbunker, along with Eva Braun, their bodies were almost totally incinerated, virtually nothing left. Neither survived and neither escaped to Southern America. Fantasists will always try to rewrite history, but so long as those of us who were there are alive their fabrication has no foundation.
Left: The wreckage in the Bunker as the Nazi regime finally came to an end
As for the mood in the Führerbunker in those last days, it was mixed. Many had resigned themselves to the fact the war was lost, there were many soldiers who were just blind drunk, laying in the corridors. Some of the young soldiers went into rooms with their wives or girlfriends and spent their time getting up to things and drinking. The atmosphere was stifling and oppressive and somewhat gloomy. Nobody was celebrating the fact that the war could soon be over, as we all knew what was coming. Many were worried about what the Soviets were going to do with us.
Right: Soldiers sift through the papers and scattered posessions in the Bunker
I left the Führerbunker on 2 May, two hours before the Soviets arrived. With other soldiers we used the U-Bahn tunnels to get away, though escape was impossible, and I was soon captured by the Soviets. I was transported to Moscow as they wanted to know everything about what happened to Hitler. I told them all that I knew yet they still used torture on me. They would start off asking you questions then they would beat you up, they would sit you on a chair, tie your hands behind your back and then punch you full force in the head and face. They would burn you with cigarettes on sensitive areas of your body.
Once they had had their fun, I was sent to a forced labour camp and was kept there for eight years. Many other German soldiers who were there with me did not survive. On my release in 1953 I returned home to Germany to get on with my life. On the question of my own family, yes, I have a wife and children. I prefer to keep my family away from any correspondence I have.
As far as I am concerned, I have to say Hitler was a great boss and he was very good to me. I was punished for my part in the war and punished quite severely when compared to the criminals like Mengele who lived well after the war. I am happy that I was not a murderer or a criminal. I was a soldier and I have no regrets over that.’
Rochus Misch was a popular figure with historians from all over the world and regularly gave tours and lectures of the area where the Führerbunker once stood. He died in Berlin on 5 September 2013, at 96 years of age.
Left: Rochus Misch, in his later years, was a popular guide in Berlin, here at the site of the Bunker
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