The Führer Bunker
Hitler´s Last RefugeISBN 978-3-86368-020-6
erschienen Dezember 2011 Zum Buch...
Einleitung/IntroductionYet another book about Adolf Hitler. No figure in modern history has been written about more. In the past 50 years at least 67 reasonably serious biographies on the German dictator have been published in various languages, not counting translations, abridged versions, and scores of glorified writings by Neo-Nazis and dubious authors such as historian David Irving. Numbering in the hundreds, not tens, of thousands are scholarly studies in every language about individual aspects of Hitler’s life, his regime and the consequences of his reign. Volumes have been written simply covering his last weeks in Berlin and the bunker in which he committed suicide on April 30, 1945. In 2002 alone, three bestsellers concerning that time came out in Germany.
Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge gives an account of Hitler’s last days in her memoir Until the Final Hour. Joachim Fest, the long-time publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany’s foremost daily newspaper, devotes his book Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich to the two weeks between the beginning of the Soviet offensive on Berlin and Hitler’s suicide. In typical British battle-reporting style, the English author Anthony Beevor covers the last six months of the Third Reich in his lengthy book, Berlin: The Downfall, 1945. He focuses on the hard life and frighteningly easy death in the Reich capital.
Playing a major role in these works, as well as in most other books about Hitler’s end, is the Führer and Reich Chancellor’s last refuge, the Führerbunker (Führer bunker). There is likely no other underground construction that has been as frequently described as the Reich Chancellery’s air raid shelter, which lay beneath the Ministry Gardens in Berlin’s old government quarter. Certainly there’s no other inaccessible and largely destroyed structure that’s been shown in so many reconstructions. There are more than a dozen different depictions of the Führer bunker, from the first belatedly drawn up sketches that were made public in 1946, to artistic illustrations. That’s not counting the versions and plagiarisms that most often appeared in newspaper articles and books. Hardly a single Hitler biography or Hitler photo book is published without an image of this cement den. None of the numerous books waive rights to the stage of Hitler’s suicide. For example, Anton Joachimsthaler’s meritorious work, The Last Days of Hitler: Legend, Evidence and Truth, contains a plan of the rooms down to the exact centimeter, even though not a single original blueprint was ever discovered. The books of the small, but thriving community of German “bunker researchers” have many depictions of the Führer bunker. Not all research is as well done as that of the Berliners Dietmar and Ingmar Arnold. In their books (only available in German) Dunkle Welten (Dark Worlds; with Frieder Salm), Potsdamer Platz von unten (Potsdamer Platz From Below), and Sirenen und gepackte Koffer (Sirens and Packed Suitcases; with Reiner Janick) they’ve produced very detailed and reliable plans of Hitler’s air raid shelters.
So why another book about Hitler and his demise in the Führer bunker?
For one, because the structure still grips the imagination after nearly 60 years. Tourist groups visit the unmarked, entombed site daily. Although what’s visible to the eye is merely a socialist-era apartment complex and parking lot, the knowledge that the bunker was located beneath them still manages to send a shiver down people’s spines. It’s by no means former Nazis or Neo-Nazis that seek out the historic place, but predominately people from around the world who are interested in history. But the spot is not easy to find. Even in the heart of the German capital, in the middle of a landscape unusually rich in history — with numerous exhibits, memorials, and information panels — nothing points the way to this structure or points out its history.
This leads to the next reason for this book. Until now there was no succinct and serious information about the Führer bunker, either at the site itself or on the German book market, and certainly not in other languages. At best, the available knowledge is scattered among the numerous books on Hitler’s life and death, on the last battle of the Reich’s capital, and on the history of Berlin’s underground worlds. Not one of these books has built a narrative bridge between the actual building of the bunker deep beneath the Ministry Gardens and the dramatic events in the last 105 days of Hitler’s existence.
A third essential reason for this book is the wealth of sources about the history of the Führer bunker that have only now been systematically evaluated. This book is based on information from the files of the Reich Chancellery in the Federal Archive Berlin and of the former Ministry for State Security (the East German intelligence agency also known as the Stasi). It is also based on the private collection of the Berlin painter, graphic designer and illustrator Erhard Schreier, who documented the demolition of the bunker’s ceiling in 1988. All of these sources were consulted to a small extent in other books on this theme, but a detailed, explicit presentation has been missing until now.
So it’s no wonder that even in the 1990s, Hitler’s alleged bunker in the Ministry Gardens area was “found” approximately a half-dozen times. Newspapers and magazines that consider themselves serious publications, such as Zurich’s Weltwoche and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Der Spiegel and the Berliner Zeitung based their reports about the mysterious construction on outdated or completely false information. Tabloids downright outdid themselves with sensational headlines. The daily Super!, which folded in 1992, used a patriotic, “father knows best” saying from the days of Hitler’s reign (“If the Führer knew …”) and printed it in the Nazi’s favorite Gothic font: “If the Führer Knew — His Bunker As Monument” (July 2, 1992). In the meantime, authors such as Daniel Goldhagen repeatedly called for “opening” the supposedly still accessible Führer bunker as a memorial, which in reality had been largely removed in 1988.
Today the former Ministry Gardens belong to the new government district in the heart of Berlin. Several representative houses of German states are located there, and several thousand residents live in the last prestigious housing development planned by East Germany. In the immediate vicinity, the Holocaust memorial’s “field of stelae,” made up of more than 2,700 concrete blocks, will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year after completion in May 2005. The goal of this book is to inform readers about the construction, use, and demolition of the Führer bunker, and to expose the continuing myths about this sinister but fascinating building.
The graphics on the front inside cover of this book give the likeness of the bunker as exactly as is possible to reconstruct today. Taken into consideration are every type of information, from files from the time it was built, descriptions by surviving bunker occupants and bunker “tourists” of the Allied forces, as well as research conducted by the East German Ministry for State Security in the 1970s and private sketches made during its final demolition in the late 1980s. The emergence of additional, more exact resources — for example, some original blueprints — is unlikely. However, it can not be completely ruled out: archives in Moscow have unpublished investigative reports from 1946, which predate the first, unsuccessful blasting of the bunker complex. Since the archive is closed to researchers, the reports’ quality is unknown. Substantial information that would require altering the reconstructions presented here is hardly imaginable.
Whoever writes a book about National Socialism (Nazism), and especially about the top level of the regime, is unavoidably bound to using the jargon of the perpetrators. Indeed, many concepts of the “Lingua Tertii Imperii,” the term Victor Klemperer, the Romance language and literature scholar, used to describe the language of the Third Reich in his brilliant work LTI, demand the distance of quotation marks. Out of pure practical considerations — the contemporary sources of course employ none — this book foregoes surrounding terms like Führer, Greater Germany or Third Reich with quotation marks. The same goes for the usual vocabulary of the Nazi regime, such as Wolfsschanze, Final Victory (Endsieg), or V-Weapons. Quotation marks are used only where words’ Nazi origins, or their reinterpretation within a murderous ideology, would not be recognized without further explanation.
A book such as this can only come about through the joint effort of various people. Wieland Giebel from the bookstore Berlin Story had the idea. Kathrin Hirthammer created the graphics and designed the book. Swantje Kaposty researched photo rights Europe-wide. Erhard Schreier, perhaps the very last visitor to the Führer bunker, supported the work with his vast knowledge and contributed important documents. Dietmar and Ingmar Arnold, as well as Klaus Topel, kindly reviewed parts of the manuscript. Jörg Rudolph, from the private Historical Research Institute Facts & Files, made use of his archive contacts. Lars-Broder Keil is always a perfect proof-reader. Gabriele Dietz, an attentive editor, saddled the author with more work in order to make the text as clear as possible. Thanks are due to all of them by the author. Despite the support of these friends and colleagues, mistakes may remain. The author carries the responsibility for these; corrections are gratefully accepted at the publisher’s address.
Sven Felix Kellerhof