It was late April, 1945. The formidable Germany army that once cast a shadow over much of Europe and beyond now desperately fought to defend an ever shrinking perimeter around Berlin. Deep inside the Reichstag bunker, Fuhrer Adolf Hitler considered his options as the situation grew more precarious with each passing hour. Earlier, Hitler had expressed to his staff his desire to commit suicide on May 5, the date of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death. However he was informed by SS Brigadfuhrer Wilhelm Mohnke that the Russians would most likely make their final assault on May 1, or May Day, a symbolic day for the Russians. After receiving Mohnke’s unsettling information, Hitler prepared to end his life on April 30. Or did he?
Confusion In The Bunker
Over the years a vast array of Hitler death and survival theories have continued to provide new generations with a glimpse into the psyche of the man who envisioned world conquest built on genocide. For many years, the Russians claimed to have a skull fragment complete with bullet hole taken from the Hitler burial plot outside the bunker. Joseph Stalin even reportedly used it as an ashtray. However recent testing (2009) has shown the fragment to be that of a woman. The woman could not be Hitler’s mistress/wife, Eva Braun, because she committed suicide by poisoning. The revelation of the disproven skull fragment reignited interest in the survival theories.
Following the German capitulation, the confusion within the occupying forces and the inability to produce a corpse resulted in rampant stories, rumors and myths as to the whereabouts of the ex-Fuhrer. These tales ranged from the plausible to the ludicrous. The fact the Russians were able to produce at least 20 photographs of fellow bunker resident Propaganda Minister Josef Gobbels but none of Hitler, only fueled the survival mania.
Supposed Photo of Hitler at 90 taken in Argentina or Chile.
Escape to Argentina
One of the more plausible Hitler survival theories centered around a daring U-boat escape from Germany. This story is among the most circulated because many of the circumstances related in the story can be documented. Hitler’s eyebrow raising appointment of Grand Admiral Karl Donitz as his successor is a matter of record. Hitler knew Donitz’s naval position and influence would allow him to facilitate the transport of high-ranking Nazis to South America. It is also a matter of record that on April 29, Hitler ordered the entire Berlin subway system to be flooded from the city’s waterways. Every subway, that is, except the one that ran near the Reich Chancellery to the Havel River. It was at the river where Hitler is said to have boarded a boat or seaplane for the trip to a waiting U-boat. It is also documented that Josef Mengele, the Nazi “Angel of Death” and Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the holocaust, did escape to Argentina in u-boats.
In the book "Bariloche Nazi-Guía Turística", author Abel Basti provides documents, affidavits, photographs and blueprints that essentially amount to a tour guide of escaped Nazi war criminal hideouts including Hitler, Mengele and Eichmann. No one knows whether Hitler was on one of the U-boats, but despite the denials of an officer on board many people still believed the words from the only official report issued at the time. In his report to Josef Stalin, Russian Marshall Gregori Zhukov stated, “We have found no corpse that could be Hitler’s.”
The Case of the Duplicate Dictator
In this Hitler survival scenario, the Fuhrer uses a look-alike as a stand in during the last days of the Third Reich. It was a well-known fact that Hitler employed a double, which lent credence and longevity to this theory. According to a 1997 report, the father of a female Nazi officer named Magda Zeitfeld was an accomplished plastic surgeon in Berlin. In late 1943, three top-ranking Nazis reportedly made an undercover visit to the doctor to undergo drastic cosmetic alterations. Zeitfeld stated one of the men was Adolf Hitler.
Hitler was no stranger to cosmetic surgery; he had his nose worked on in 1942. After the German public began to notice his different appearance, the propaganda office issued a statement confirming the Nazi nose job. Time magazine also independently confirmed the surgery in an article about Hitler that same year.
Hitler also admitted to using a double. In 1944, after several unsuccessful plots against his life, Hitler was not seen in public. Rumors ran rampant that Herr Hitler had left the country and was living in Spain, Argentina, Japan or Antarctica. Obviously there are no proven “Fuhrer sightings”. However, the aforementioned author Abel Basti reports the FBI searching Spain for Hitler in 1947. Logically, the Hitler double theory is not credible because of Hitler’s involvement in the December 1944-January 1945 Battle of the Bulge. Hitler was intimately involved in the planning, development and launch of the Ardennes Offensive. He was in contact with his commanding generals every day and his micro-management military style would not include a stand-in for the last major European operation of the war. If Hitler left a double in charge, it would have been after the Battle of the Bulge, as Germany reeled on its heels.
If in fact Hitler did somehow manage to make his way to South America, how did he manage to remain undetected for the remainder of his life? One somewhat fanciful yet popular survival theory suggests the man responsible for millions of deaths spent his final years in the Ecuadorian mountains as a Roman Catholic priest named Father Crespi.
In this scenario, the indomitable Magda Zeitfeld once again plays a pivotal role. During a trip to Ecuador in 1981, retired U.S. Army colonel Wendell Stephens met a priest in the mountain town of Cuenca. Stephens became convinced Crespi was Hitler but could convince no one, even after describing priceless artwork at the priest’s residence. Enter Magda Zeitfeld. Apparently Magda was a recent widow to a friend of Stephens and he was coming to pay his respects to the bereaved wife. After telling her of his suspicions, she agreed to accompany him on a trip to Ecuador. Upon meeting Crespi, she also suspected he was the dictator in hiding. She also claimed to have recognized one of Hitler’s favorite pieces of artwork that used to hang in his office at the Reich Chancellery.
Father Crespi did have an unusual and somewhat mysterious background. He worked for years at the Vatican, beginning in the mid-1940s and rarely left the walled city. He had a position as curator of Artwork, which was highly unusual for a simple priest. He spoke fluent Italian, Hitler’s first language. In 1953 he was transferred to Cuenca, a known Nazi sanctuary. Upon his death in 1993, Crespi was found to have millions of dollars and thousands attended his funeral.
Could This Man Be Adolf Hitler?
There are many fanciful Hitler survival theories that are based on little documentable information and should be considered borderline fantasy. But they do give some insight into the keen interest and curiosity for any information regarding Hitler in the years following World War II.
One of these theories involves Hitler traveling by U-boat to Antarctica and establishing a German colony there called New Berlin. This was justified based on the supposed territorial claims from a German expedition in 1938. The colonists, under the guidance of the Fuhrer, built an underground city and base where UFO technology was advanced. Eventually, the US got wind of the colony and deemed it such a threat that nuclear bombs were used to destroy it in the 1950s. Subsequent research of declassified documents indicated that a German contingent near the South Pole was impossible for several reasons. First, it has been demonstrated that u-boats could not reach the claimed Antarctic regions at that time. In addition, despite popular belief and Nazi disinformation, the Germans did not have any type of base in Antarctica during the war. The 1938 expedition was a whaling feasibility voyage. A 1947 “invasion” by the U. S. Navy was revealed to be a training operation for arctic operations against the Soviets. Finally, the nuclear attacks on the German base were actually atmospheric tests done several thousand miles to the north.
As the decades pass, the various Hitler survival sagas have been relegated to the realm of “interesting reading”. We many never know what happened to Hitler during the final tumultuous days of the war. If he did manage to escape Berlin, it was most likely a combination of the scenarios described here that allowed him to make his way to a semblance of safety.