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World War Two: The Hunt For Hitler

Updated on January 22, 2012

Was the world lied to about Adolf Hitler's apparent suicide?, was it possible that the barbarous Nazi leader had escaped as Berlin came crashing down around him?, if not, then why was there such a prolonged and frenzied hunt for the evil tyrant in the post-war period?

Ruins of the Reichchancellery in Berlin in 1945
Ruins of the Reichchancellery in Berlin in 1945

Is He Dead?

Berlin, 2nd May 1940

The battle for Berlin is officially at an end, the Soviet Army has captured the city and Adolf Hitler is formally declared dead. News of his demise had been reported on the radio the previous day at around 9:00 o'clock in the evening.

The official declaration read "This afternoon our Fuhrer Adolf Hitler died at his command post in the Chancellery of the Reich fighting to his last breath for Germany and against Bolshevism".

This short bulletin was the only information given as to the fate of the man Germany had so blindly followed for 12 years, and no one questioned it. The man who captured the city of Berlin Marshall Georgy Zhukov, inspected personally the ruins of the Reichchancellery and there was no trace of the Fuhrer.

In early June, Soviet military officials unofficially disclosed that Hitler's remains had been found, but the government in Moscow immediately put a stop to the story, stating only that some corpses had been discovered, but that it wasn't known if Hitler's body was among them.

Hitler and Stalin
Hitler and Stalin

Escape To South America?

Soviet leader Stalin arrived in Berlin on the 17th July 1945 to attend the Potsdam conference. When enquired upon how Hitler had met his demise, Stalin's reply was incredibly unexpected. For he believed that Hitler was still alive and had possibly fled into hiding in either Spain or Argentina.

Neither the British or the American governments could confirm that Hitler was dead either and this uncertainty was strongly felt amongst the Allied powers.

According to one survey at the time, 17% of American citizens polled believed that Hitler was dead and another 15% were undecided. This meant that two thirds of Americans questioned, considered Hitler to be alive having survived the battle for Berlin.

The U.S. National Archives near Washington DC contains files on the quest for confirmation of Hitler's death. The F.B.I opened a new file on the German Fuhrer in 1945 and astonishingly, regular witnesses came forward claiming to have spotted him, one of these trails led to Argentina.

Myths Abound of Hitler's Escape

A constant theory in many reports stated that Hitler and high ranking Nazis were thought to have escaped across the Atlantic in a submarine and went into hiding in Argentina.

After the fall of Nazi Germany, many German U-boats had fled to the coasts of north and south America and only when reaching there did they surrender, several of which had arrived weeks after the end of the war in Europe.

In mid July of 1945, a German U-boat showed up at the Argentinian naval base at Mar Del Plata, some 10 weeks afetr the end of the war on May 8th.

The ship's captain had destroyed all of boat U-530's logs and speculation surrounding where the boat had been for over 2 months was rife. It would have been relatively easy for Hitler and his closest aides to have gone into hiding in such a sparsely occupied Argentina of the 1940s.

When a second U-boat arrived at Mar Del Plata in August 1945, speculation was fuelled still further. U-977 had put to sea in Norway in early May, so could Hitler have really fled Berlin for south America?

Argentina's German Heritage

The FBI received more and more relevant tip-offs and informants were constantly reporting that Hitler was alive, hiding in northwestern Argentina in a location where the Nazis were believed to be developing a long range missile and other weaponry.

Witness reports sited Hitler in the southern Andes at an underground bunker guarded by the SS. Even after defeat in the war, Hitler remained a popular figure in Argentina's outback and had many supporters there after his rise to power in the 1930s.

Part of the population there is of German lineage and there was even an outpost of the German Labour Front in Argentina where adolescent boys and girls underwent drills and sang German songs.

The Schwabenland in 1938
The Schwabenland in 1938

Building in Antarctica

Before the war had begun in 1939, German explorers had travelled to Antarctica on board a research vessel known as the Schwabenland during a secret expedition devised by Hermann Goerring. The expedition consisted of a number of eminent German scientists and pilots who would carry out reconnaissance for the possible establishment of a base for the German whaling fleet in Antarctica.

The territory they were focusing on, now known as Queen Maud Land, was an unclaimed territory and the Germans were going to try to effect a 'land-grab' there and colonise it. They claimed the land in the name of Nazi Germany.

Widespread myths were now abound that the Nazis were building a huge military base there with underground caverns and submarine docks under the ice.

Rumours of Hitler's alleged escape to this area at the end of the war persisted and it is believed that the Russian Secret Service still hold maps for navigating Antarctica which they siezed from the Nazis in 1945.

These alleged genuine maps are supposed to substantiate the theaory that a convoy of German U-boats and submarines took Hitler and his staff through navigation channels to sub-terranian headquarters in Antarctica. However, many experts believe that this would not have been possible for U-boats to navigate through and under ice. They would have to surface every 2 days for air, forcing their wat through the ice, so as to continue on their journey, a feat many experts consider highly unlikely to succeed.

The Soviet Intelligence Service had supposedly deployed two submarines to the Antarctic in 1945, with orders to locate the alleged German base in the ice, but no reports on the outcome of the mission were ever filed.

Montgomery and Zhukov, 1945
Montgomery and Zhukov, 1945
Winston Churchill inspecting the ruins of the Reichchancellery in 1945
Winston Churchill inspecting the ruins of the Reichchancellery in 1945

The Story That Wouldn't Go Away

In the summer of 1945, it was mainly American newspapers that speculated upon the whereabouts of HItler. Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery and Russian General Georgy Zhukov demonstrated the apparent unity of the Allies at a victory the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in July 1945.

But the uncertainty surrounding Hitler's fate put a definite strain on the proceedings and the relationship between the two powers. Back in June, Zhukov had declared that Hitler may well have escaped. Myths had circulated since of Hitler's whereabouts and in September a Russian official had even declared that Britain were deliberately hiding the Fuhrer and his wife Eva Braun in their zone of Germany.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill had personally inspected the ruins of the Reichchancellery in July. A couple of months later, British Intelligence were alerted to officially investigate the circumstances of Hitler's disappearance.

British military police were ordered to trace 33 of Hitler's personal entourage in the ruins of Berlin, who were believed to have been at the Fuhrer's bunker in the final days of the battle for Berlin. After they had all been rounded up and questioned, British Intelligence concluded their testimonies to be sound and they confirmed the apparent suicide of Hitler and Braun and the subsequent cremation of his body.

However, in an American led investigation and examination of the Reichchancellery and it's grounds in December 1945, they reported no trace of any evidence that a cremation or a burial had taken place anywhere in the surrounding area.

Unbeknown to the British and Americans however, apparently the Russians had already learned the truth of Hitler's demise and had taken the key witnesses of Hitler's entourage off to Moscow.

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Soviet excavation of Hitler's body
Soviet excavation of Hitler's body
Only alleged real picture of Hitler's remains
Only alleged real picture of Hitler's remains

The Truth?

It wasn't until 10 years later that the Fuhrer's faithful followers testified as to what really happened on the 30th April 1945. Soviet leader Stalin had stated in the summer of 1945 that Hitler had probably escaped to either Spain or Argentina.

U.S. soldiers examining the Reichchancellery in December 1945 had only discovered the remains of Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda.

Directly after the surrender of the last German defenders in May 1945, a special Soviet unit named Smersh was ordered with the task of locating Hitler's remains.

The first clues led them to the garden of the Reichchancellery which they proceeded to dig up. It took them until May 5th to discover Hitler's body and after locating Hitler's dentist's assistant they confirmed that they had indeed found the right body and Hitler's life had indeed ended at the Reichchancellery.

The charred remains of Eva Braun were also identified beyond doubt, but it was to be decades later that the general public would find out what really happened to the bodies.

They were hidden away by Soviet forces to a Red Army base at Magdeburg until they were finally destoyed in 1970.

Time and again Russian officials acting on Stalin's orders had declared their doubts on the suicide and cremation theory as portrayed to British and American intelligence.

Hitler's death had also become an issue at the Nuremburg trials where his personal chauffeur had declared the Fuhrer had died on April 30th.

Hitler's Berghof on the Obersalzberg mountain.
Hitler's Berghof on the Obersalzberg mountain.

Dividing Up Hitler's Assests

Hitler's former subjects slowly came to terms with their defeat and currency reforms in the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany opened new economic prospects. However, the German people were still sceptical and according to an opinion poll at the time, more than 50% of Germans still believed that Nazism had been a good idea, though badly practised.

Hitler had now become an object of ridicule, but in 1952, the judges in the district court of Berchtesgaden had to occupy themselves with the fate of the dictator once again.

A Munich court had awarded Hitler's entire fortune to the Bavarian state, however, this ruling was legally frail as the Fuhrer had never been officially declared dead. The assets in question were valuable properties in Munich and Obersalzberg and the rights to Hitler's book Mein Kampf had also been awarded to the Bavarian state.

Loyal supporters continually bequeathed valuable assets to Hitler, even after his apparent death in 1945. The Public Prosecutors Offices in Berlin and Vienna showed an interest in the case, but in the end the trial took place in Berchtesgaden as Bavaria was keen to claim the majority of the Fuhrer's assets.

It wasn't until the 25th October 1956 that Adolf Hitler was officially declared dead. Ther is no doubt that he committed suicideĀ  on the 30th April 1945 at the Reichchancellery in Berlin. He died of a single gunshot from his own hand to the right temple.

Two days later on the 2nd May 1945, a letter arrived at the Berchtegaden District Court, it read: "I am still alive, in 10 years tme the whole world will be talking about me again" signed, Adolf Hitler.


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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Here I am back again, three years or so behind. This is one I hadn't heard of. The Nazis were well established in Argentina with Juan Peron's blessing.

      Trouble is, even if he hadn't taken cyanide and shot himself, he'd have been in poor shape and would've had to seek medical help. He'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's by his own doctor, and witnesses - when he made rare appearances in Berlin in the last month of the war - said how he shook. He'd have given himself away one way or another, wherever he went.

      I daresay Stalin still had notions of putting him on trial until his scientists verified Hitler's remains from the Reichs Chancellery garden.

      He proved to be the Allies' best general in their defeat of Germany after Rommel's departure. The other generals - aside from Von Manstein - had no stomach for arguing with Hitler.

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      6 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Hi UnnamedHarald, I am glad you found the hub of interest and thankyou for commenting and voting me up.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I enjoyed reading this very much, Dave; you write very well. I believe Hitler died at the Reichchancellery but, for the reasons you covered, there will always be a shred of doubt. The only thing we can be sure of is he's dead now! Voted up and interesting.

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      6 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Hi just History, you never know, as you say conspiracy theories are always going to follow where the real facts are not given.... or believed!

      Hi phdast7, thankyou once again for very kind comments, I believe it is important that those times are remembered and it's heroes not forgotten, thanks for reading!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very thorough, very informational and great pictures and artwork. I am a European historian and reading a Hub like yours is a pleasure. Great work!

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 

      6 years ago from England

      A very interesting hub- there would always be intrigue where a body was not found- compare it with the intrigue over the death of Osama Bin Laden- always a conspiracy theory. I cant help but think that some of the Nazi money is hidden away though- maybe that is what the submarines were doing!

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      7 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Hi there Wesman, that's very flattering of you, just trying to keep the memory of that period and it's heroes alive. New hub on the exploits of the S.O.E nearly ready.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      You do some of the highest quality work on this entire site, Mr. Harris.

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      7 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Hi rcgal, thankyou for reading, yes amazing isn't it, amazing too to think more than half the post-war German population still considered Nazism too have been a good idea!

    • rcgal profile image


      7 years ago

      A great hub for history buffs and conspiracy theorists alike! I didn't know it took them over 10 years to officially declare him dead.

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      7 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Thanks RedxVelvet, it must have been an uncertain time for many people not knowing if Hitler was dead or alive and the possibility of him returning elsewhere, thanks for commenting!

    • RedxVelvet profile image


      7 years ago from California, United States

      It's certainly something to wonder about and try to speculate. This subject has been brought to my attention in the past, but i never really thought much about it until now. Wonderfully put together, dear.


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