Sample History IA- How Did Hitler Die?





Identification and Evaluation of Sources

Hitler’s death is among the most researched and controversial topic nearly 80 years after. This essay will use many well referenced sources however the two main sources that will be used are Hugh Trevor-Roper’s book The Last Days of Hitler and the Russian autopsy report by Lev Bezymenski. These sources are of particular value to this investigation because they allow for a medical account of Hitler’s death and a historian's perspective. Moreover, the autopsy report is the only finalized medical report in regards to Hitler’s death making it essential to this investigation. Trevor-Roper was a British historian who was sent by the British government to determine a definitive account for Hitler’s death therefor making it valuable to this investigation due to its reliability.


The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Document from Soviet Archives by Lev A. Bezymenski

Published the month the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia during the so-called Prague Spring, the book provided, after 23 years, the Soviet autopsy conducted on Hitler’s body. That it took so long and only released during such a crucial event indicates, as so much about the USSR, its use for a political purpose than merely informative. A journalist, historian, and intelligence officer in Zhukov’s staff,  Bezymenski confirmed Hitler’s suicide on April 30, 1945, describing the nature of his body’s recovery, and revealed the findings of a medical report dated May 8, 1945 of an autopsy conducted by Dr. Faust Shkaravski, principal forensic pathologist of the Soviet Forensic Commission describing a severely charred male body with the conclusion that this was “presumably Hitler’s corpse.”[1] Through a detailed study of the teeth and interviews with Hitler’s dentists, it was established that the body was indeed Hitler’s. The autopsy findings nevertheless were covered up on Stalin’s insistence- again, for political reasons as Stalin would claim at the Potsdam Conference that the Russians had not found the corpse and that Hitler was hiding in Spain or South America. Bezymenski alleges the report had been withheld in case “someone might try to slip into the role of the Führer saved by a miracle” and to exclude all possibility of error which seems scarcely convincing considering the credibility of the autopsy record could not increase in the course of years.[2] The autopsy contradicted the earlier accepted view that Hitler had shot himself to claim he instead used poison. We have only the KGB’s word that fragments of a cyanide phial were found in Hitler’s jaw and contemporary historians have rejected Bezymenski's account of Hitler's death and autopsy, claiming among other things that Hitler was found to have had only one testicle as Soviet propaganda to add to further discredit the view that Hitler died a soldier’s death with a gun rather than that of a dog.

Source: Trevor- Roper book Last Days of Hitler published in 1947

Regarded as the foremost expert on Hitler’s death, Roper is of particular importance to this investigation because he was the first historian to investigate Hitler’s death. In this book he provides a strong account for the cause of death whilst still maintaining a professional and in-depth analysis of witness reports, firsthand account of the place of death, and the backing of the British government. Published only two years after Hitler’s death this book paramount to this investigation because there are no other credible books written from this time. However, as the book gives valuable information utilizing statements and knowledge only Trevor-Roper would know, the book does have limitations. Trevor-Roper admitted how his investigation was being pushed to be finished with a conclusion that would satisfy the British government but also the world. Over the past few decades since the book has been published historians such as Smith Geordan state that “Roper was a curious choice”[3] citing points of concern in his report and his background in German history or lack of it, however, Roper is still considered the leading historian in Hitler’s death.





Investigation

In June 1945 British intelligence sent Trevor-Roper to Germany to uncover the truth of Hitler’s alleged escape. Having spent ten days in Germany, Trevor-Roper reported that Hitler had died in the Führerbunker on April 30 1945, concluding the method of death being a fatal gunshot to the head. Trevor-Roper had the backing of two of the most powerful countries, America and Britain, funding and helping with the research that was spent investigating Hitler’s death. Moreover, Britain and America were closing in on the Potsdam conference in which they required a clear answer as to if Hitler escaped or died further pushing the importance of the investigation. Furthermore, one could conclude that Britain would choose the best person for the job when considering its importance. Trevor-Roper had then been a well-known and respected historian of 16th and 17th century British history, acclaimed for his strong intuitive skills and ability to conduct and produce confident results in a swift manner as seen in his book “Archbishop Laud, 1573-1645” in which he dedicated an immense amount of study to  a man that we had no physical body of.[4] This in the eyes of the British government qualified Trevor-Roper for the sensitive task despite his young age (31 at the time). His conclusion that Hitler shot himself in the mouth while taking cyanide has been the accepted majority version and made Trevor-Roper the leading authority in Hitler’s cause of death.[5] This began with his first press conference on November 1, 1945 followed by his eventual book in which he explained his methodology and reasoning. Moreover, Trevor-Roper was the only historian to ever see the Führerbunker in person and analyse the blood spray patterns left behind at the crime scene.[6] Along with Trevor-Roper being able to analyse the bunker in depth within his book he gave first-hand experience regarding interviews conducted on Hitler’s informants in the bunker at the time of his death. Trevor-Roper also had access to Hitler’s informants in the bunker with him as well as ground zero where and when the suicide was committed. Decades later Kenyon would describe how “some of [Trevor-Roper's] short essays have affected the way we think about the past more than other men's books."[7]

Nevertheless, his conclusion has not been universally accepted. Firstly, Trevor-Roper was sent to determine the death of Hitler in under two weeks, without the body and with it an autopsy report. Moreover, the witness reports that Trevor-Roper referenced within his book were summaries from British and American interrogations.[8] This is crucial because one can’t gain a full understanding of the interrogations through summary reports due to a lack of emotion revealed on the page. It is clear that emotion and the way a suspect answers the questions can lead to different conclusions of whether or not they are lying. Another problem surrounding Roper’s book was that recently it came to light that one of the witness reports was ‘fabricated’. German aviatrix Hanna Reitsch claimed that “at least parts of the account attributed to her in the 'Last Days of Hitler' had been fabricated” and only after her death would she allow this interview go public.[9]  Lastly, Roper stated in his report and book that some of the prisoners interrogated did not state the same cause of death. Heinz Linge was Hitler’s personal assistant who claimed to have heard a gunshot and when entering the room saw a “small hole the size of a German silver mark on his right temple”.[10] Additionally,  Peter Watson, citing "new evidence", claims that the Russians believed that Hitler’s pilot knew something about his death that he was not bringing forward suggesting neither Soviet nor British interrogators had gathered sufficient evidence given contradictory prisoners' statements regarding the cause of death. [11] Lastly, Roper had no experience with German history leading up to is approval for the investigation leading Peter Levenda to argue that “the choice of Trevor-Roper for a politically-sensitive task of determining Hitler’s fate would seem curious”. [12] Geordan Smith states “Given that his only previous publication was a biography of a 17th-century archbishop… he neither read nor spoke German, Trevor-Roper was a curious choice for the task”. [13] It is clear that there were points within Roper’s investigation that did cause for worry among historians and there were times that people doubted his report.

Finally, in 1968 Russia dropped a bombshell, releasing Hitler’s autopsy report which claims the cause of death was due to “cyanide Compounds”.[14] This report seemed to completely discredit everything that the Soviets had previously stated when, in 1945, they had claimed Hitler had escaped and no body had been recovered. Historians such as Roper, Ian Kershaw, and Norman Stone described the report as “propaganda” or “intentionally misleading” being used to display Hitler as dying a coward’s death rather than that of a soldier.[15] [16] Furthermore, within this autopsy report statements such as claiming that “only the right testicle was found” further agreeing with statements from Stalin emasculating Hitler, more a dog not even a man.[17] The fact that the report was published in 1968 alone can be concluded that it has its own guided purpose at the height of the invasion of Czechoslovakia to deflect attention and distract when all eyes were on Russia. Lev Bezymenski who wrote the autopsy report stated that “it was kept a secret in case someone tried to slip into the role of the Fuhrer”.[18] Although the report contain sflaws and discrepancies historians have concluded that it does contain valid information such as a cyanide vial found in Hitler’s molar[19]  which coincided with information from Hitler’s dentist in which he drew the jaw lines in which he stated that there was a molar that contained cyanide.[20] One could conclude that there were clear discrepancies with Lev’s autopsy, however it does prove certain points that other historians believed such as the cyanide in the molar.

In conclusion it appears that despite discrepancies with Trevor-Roper’s book, Hitler did shoot himself while biting down on a cyanide capsule. Hitler shooting himself in the right temple would be more likely when considering the blood spray and the witness reports in which the majority claimed that there was a bullet hole in his right temple. Moreover, the autopsy report does play a role in supporting the idea that Hitler did take cyanide directly before his death due to Hitler’s dentist drawings matching almost exactly to the autopsy report presented by the Russians.



Reflection
It was evident that when researching and analyzing historians one could argue that the Trevor-Roper’s book was as much about the Cold War when considering Roper 's lack of Russian sources to argue his case. This can be seen that governments are using documents and information to cloud what happened for ideological agendas as seen with Stalin withholding Hitler’s body and fabricating an autopsy report that is seen as ‘propaganda’. It was clear to me that I had to evaluate sources such as the Russian autopsy report and look at more than just the information inside them but look at what the underlying ideology behind it to fully determine what I believed to be true and relevant to my investigation. Moreover, when considering the fact that nearly 80 years have passed and to this day we have only received a small fracture of Hitler’s cranium and have not yet be able to fully study the full cranium that is safeguarded in Moscow. It was important to understand that everything about Hitler’s death has a cloud surrounding it distorting the full picture. This created the difficult situation of trying to see through the mist and create a strong a coherent argument that is backed by what is seen as factual information.

However, it is clear that what we believe now can be turned on its head as seen with Russia’s involvement with Hitler’s body. It calls into question what Russia’s political objectives are and what they are hiding with still no release date on Hitler’s full cranium. It is striking here in Germany that with the release of “Mein Kampf” the topic of Hitler is still a very sensitive area that many Germans will not discuss. Creating the belief that Hitler was a great man in the sense that to this day people continue to raise the question of what actually happened to him. This also raised the point that the pursuit of knowledge regarding Hitler’s death was difficult at best when considering the only witnesses of Hitler’s death are dead and many don’t believe what they stated in their testaments.




Bibliography
1.)   Admin. “Menu.” NL-Aid, www.nl-aid.org/suicide-hitler-proven-the-seduction/.

2.)   Ada Petrova, Peter Watson, The Death of Hitler: The Full Story with new evidence from secret Russian achieves published 199

3.)   Bezymenski, L. The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives. Jove Publications, 1978.

4.)   Eberle and Uhl, ''The Hitler Book: The Secret Dossier Prepared for Stalin from the Interrogations of Hitler's Personal Aides'

5.)   “Hitler's Death The Final Report - Operation Myth.” YouTube, YouTube, 30 Dec. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJL1P7D2wa0.

6.)   Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB. Chaucer Press, 2005.


7.)   Hugh Trevor – Roper. The Last Days of Hitler: 1945 University of Chicago print published 1947

8.)   Kershaw, Ian. Hitler 1936-45: Nemesis. Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 2000.

9.)   Levenda, Peter. Ratline: Soviet spies Nazi priests, and the disappearance of Adolf Hitler. York Beach, Me.: Nicolas-Hays, 2012

10.)Smith, Giordan. “Fabricating the Death of Adolf Hitler.” Feb. 2008, pp.

11.)Toland, John. The Last 100 Days: The Tumultuous and Controversial Story of the Final Days of World War II in Europe. Blackstone Audio, 2014.


[1] Bezymenski, L. The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives. Jove Publications, 1978, pp. page 44
[2]Bezymenski, L. The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives. Jove Publications, 1978, pp. page 54
[3]Smith, Geordan. Fabricating the Death of Adolf Hitler. Feb. 2008, pp Page 38

[4]  Quoted at Adam Sisman, Hugh Trevor-Roper (2010) p. 414
[5] Hugh Trevor – Roper. The Last Days of Hitler: 1945 university of Chicago print published 1947 page 178
[6]  Hugh Trevor – Roper. The Last Days of Hitler: 1945 university of Chicago print published 1947 Introduction to the Third Edition Page Iv
[7] Quoted at Adam Sisman, Hugh Trevor-Roper (2010) p. 414
[8] Smith, Geordan. Fabricating the Death of Adolf Hitler. Feb. 2008, pp Page 37
[9] Smith, Geordan. Fabricating the Death of Adolf Hitler. Feb. 2008, pp Page 37
[10] Hugh Trevor – Roper. The Last Days of Hitler: 1945 university of Chicago print published 1947 page 47
[11] Ada Petrova, Peter Watson, The Death of Hitler: The Full Story with new evidence from secret Russian achieves published 1995 page 111
[12] Levenda, Peter. Ratline: Soviet spies Nazi priests, and the disappearance of Adolf Hitler. York Beach, Me.: Nicolas-Hay, 2012 page 1907
[13] Smith, Geordan. Fabricating the Death of Adolf Hitler. Feb. 2008, pp Page 38
[14] Bezymenski, L. The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives. Jove Publications, 1978, pp. page 49
[15] Kershaw, Ian. Hitler 1936-45: Nemesis. Allen Lane the Penguin Press, 2000. Page 936
[16] Hugh Trevor – Roper. The Last Days of Hitler: 1945 University of Chicago print published 1947 page 51
[17] Bezymenski, L. The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives. Jove Publications, 1978 page 46.

[19] Bezymenski, L. The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives. Jove Publications, 1978 page 38
[20] Bezymenski, L. The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives. Jove Publications, 1978 page 46.