Photos of the underground world where Hitler spent his final days.
William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Published April 30, 2018
Published 5 months ago
Even by the grisly standards of World War II, the Battle of Berlin in the spring of 1945 was horrific. Around 80,000 Soviet troops, upwards of 100,000 German soldiers, and as many as 175,000 civilians were killed in the last two weeks of April. (That spring, Red Army soldiers also raped an estimated 100,000 women and girls ― "every German female from 8 to 80," according to one Soviet war correspondent.)
But two deaths in particular, that of Adolf Hitler and his wife of two days, Eva Braun, on April 30, 1945, signaled the true, sordid end of the "Thousand-Year Reich." Here, FOTO presents photos taken in the underground bunker where Hitler, Braun, and others took their own lives as the Red Army closed in....
William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesBlood by CandlelightIn a picture by LIFE magazine's William Vandivert ― the first Western photographer to descend into the bunker after Red Army troops had looted it ― war correspondents examine a sofa stained with blood. (They use candles, because there were few lights working in the bunker ― or in Berlin, for that matter ― in the summer of '45.) The blood on the sofa is almost certainly Hitler's, who shot himself in the head on the afternoon of April 30. Eva Braun, Hitler's longtime mistress who married him just days before, died by cyanide poisoning.William Vandivert/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty ImagesStolen BeautyA 16th-century painting looted from a museum in Milan rests among the other debris inside Adolf Hitler's command bunker. The Nazis, of course, looted thousands of works of art from private homes and museums around Europe from the mid-1930s until the end of the war. (The notorious founder of the Gestapo and longtime drug addict Hermann Göring's collection of stolen paintings, drawings, and sculptures numbered in the thousands.)William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesSeat of SqualorLooted by Red Army troops, the bunker beneath Berlin's Reich Chancellery looks less like a seat of power and more like a den of fear, chaos, and squalor. By the time Vandivert took this picture in the summer of 1945, the war in Europe had been over for months, after German General Alfred Jodl surrendered to the Allies on May 7, at Reims, France.William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesNot SafeAn emptied safe with its door burned or blown open stands empty at the foot of a small bed inside Hitler's bunker.William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesStanding GuardA Russian soldier stands on sodden cushions in Hitler's "Führerbunker," or "shelter for the leader." The bunker was an impressive engineering feat: a two-level, 3,000-square-foot series of rooms, corridors, and stairs located 50 feet below ground level, with its own electricity, water, and heating.William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesSuicide RoomAnother view of the sofa on which Hitler likely committed suicide. At the end of the war, when Hitler and Eva Braun were living underground, Joseph Goebbels moved his wife and children into the bunker. The Nazi Minister of Propaganda, whose virulent antisemitism was notable even in a party defined by a hatred of Jews, Goebbels told associates he did not want to be far from his leader as the end drew near. After Hitler's suicide, Goebbels and his wife, Magda, arranged the killing of their own six children, by morphine and cyanide, and then committed suicide themselves rather than surrender to the Soviets.William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesPaper TrailA common sight that greeted photographer Vandivert and others when they entered the bunker, long after Red Army troops and Soviet intelligence agents had scoured the rooms: drawers largely (but not wholly) emptied of Reich documents.William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesPortrait of BanalityBottles, papers, spoons, and other detritus litter a room in the bunker months after Hitler's suicide. The "Aryan" Reich, or realm, that Hitler envisioned lasting a millennium or more was, in fact, destroyed by the Allies in five years. Most historians put the number of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and civilian men, women, and children killed around the world in that half-decade at around 80 million.William Vandivert/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty ImagesIn the GardenIn what was once the Reich Chancellery's orderly, lush garden, Time magazine war correspondent Percy Knauth (crouching, at left) sifts through dirt and debris in a trench where the bodies of Hitler and Braun were reportedly burned after their suicides. According to the British historian Sir Antony James Beevor, the Soviets kept possession of Hitler's remains after the war, occasionally moving them to new burial sites, until 1970, when "the Kremlin finally disposed of the body in absolute secrecy."William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesBustedA bust of Hitler rests near a battered, dusty globe amid rubble in Berlin, 1945.William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesFallenAn SS cap, its death's head insignia still visible beneath mold and other filth, sits on the floor inside Hitler's bunker. For a decade, the SS ("Schutzstaffel," or "protection squadron") was one of the most vicious and feared paramilitary groups in the world. After the war, countless SS members were tried and hanged or jailed for war crimes, while others were hunted down and killed by those they had imprisoned and tortured. At the Dachau concentration camp, American soldiers ― revolted and enraged by scenes of mass starvation and death ― summarily executed SS guards.
In later years, many SS men who had escaped the Allies were employed by American and Soviet intelligence agencies. Their talents, deemed criminal in the 1940s, were embraced by the two superpowers that emerged from WWII ― superpowers that found themselves fighting a new kind of war, a Cold War, with any weapon that came to hand.