Hitler, Stalin, and "Operation Myth"
Source: CIA Article
An exhibit titled "The Agony of the Third Reich: Retribution," which opened last April at the Russian State Archives in Moscow, celebrates the 55th anniversary of the Red Army's capture of Berlin and victory over Nazi Germany. On display are such trophies as Adolf Hitler's and Josef Göbbels' personal papers, Martin Bormann's diary, the surrender agreement ending the Soviet-German war, several of the Führer's uniforms, and a blood-stained section of the sofa where Hitler shot himself after swallowing a cyanide ampoule. The artifacts are from the State Archives as well as the holdings of the Foreign Ministry and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a fragment of a human skull measuring about 3 x 4 inches, approximately the size of a hand. The fragment has jagged edges and a bullet hole on one side. It is one of four such fragments that a Red Army soldier found in a bomb crater turned into a makeshift grave in the garden of Hitler's Reichskanzelei (Imperial Chancellery) in Berlin. Russia's chief archivist says he is "99.9 percent" certain the fragment was once part of Adolf Hitler's cranium.
The Russian curators apparently do not lack a sense of irony. One of the displays is an interrogation report from an SS officer who served as Hitler's adjutant. In it, the SS man claims that Hitler ordered him to burn his mortal remains because he did not want to end up on display in the Soviet Union. So in a way the Russians had the last laugh, thwarting what may have been the Führer's final order.
Lord Dacre, better known as former Oxford professor Hugh Trevor-Roper and the author of Hitler's Last Days, called the exhibit "sordid." Macabre might be a better word. Ostensibly, it celebrates Russia's VE Day, which falls on the 9th of May, the official opening date. But the actual opening date, 30 April, was--not by coincidence--the anniversary of Hitler's suicide in the Führerbunker located beneath the garden of the bombed-out Reichskanzelei, once the seat of the Nazi government. By exhibiting the skull fragments and other Hitler memorabilia, the Russians are in effect finally exorcising the Führer's ghost and closing the books on one of the most bizarre Soviet intelligence operations of the Cold War--Operatsiya Mif (Operation Myth).
The Hitler Myth
The Soviet government kept the Hitler file completely secret until 1968, when it revealed some of the truth--along with some deliberate distortions--in the West but not in the USSR. That was the year in which a journalist named Lev Bezymensky published the results of the official Soviet investigation into Hitler's death and two autopsies performed on the Nazi leader's remains. The book appeared in English in the United States and Britain, but not in Russian and not in the USSR. In 1993, the Yeltsin government granted access to the KGB's Mif files and released photographs of the skull fragments to a Russian and a British journalist. But their book also was published only in English and only in the United States and Britain. Now, thanks to the Moscow exhibit, foreigners will be able to examine artifacts that they may have heard about but were never allowed to see, while Russians will see for the first time objects and documents that they never knew existed.
By late March 1945, the Red Army had encircled Berlin and begun its final assault with a massive artillery shelling. The Germans' strong resistance, however, forced the Soviets to fight block by block and house by house before they raised the hammer-and-sickle ensign over the Reichstag. Stalin dispatched special "trophy brigades," organized by Smersh (military counterintelligence), to search for art and other valuables, official records and archives, and anything else of exceptional material and intelligence value. But the most prized trophy was Hitler himself, and selected Smershisti received extensive briefings on how to locate and identify the Führer. On 4 May, a unit attached to the 79th Rifle Corps of the Third Shock Army and under the command of Lt. Col. Ivan Klimenko discovered the badly charred remains of 11 humans and two animals (Hitler's dogs) in shallow graves--actually bomb craters--a few meters away from the entrance to the bunker, where Hitler and his entourage had taken refuge since March.
The badly burned bodies were taken to a clinic commandeered as a makeshift morgue in the north Berlin suburb of Buch, where a four-man military medical team headed by a physician with the improbable name of Dr. Faust Shkravaski concluded that Hitler's remains were among those found near the bunker. Shkravaski did not have much to work with, but there was enough left of Hitler's teeth, lower jaw, and dental work to make a positive identification. Odontological evidence collected from the office of Hitler's dentist, the dentist's assistant, and a dental technician who had made bridgework for the Führer formed the basis of the evidence. By 9 May, when the autopsies were completed, the Soviets knew that Hitler was dead.
Stalin and Operation Myth
But the one man whose opinion mattered the most--Josef Stalin--refused to accept the findings recorded in Shkravaski's forensic report. He dispatched his secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, to Berlin to review the autopsy results and associated evidence and bring everything back to Moscow. (For reasons that remain unclear, however, Smersh had already removed and reburied the human and canine corpses that Shkravaski's team had examined, and refused to dig them up and turn them over to the secret police.) Stalin rejected the autopsy's conclusions out of hand.
Then, on 26 May, during a Kremlin meeting with President Roosevelt's chief adviser Harry Hopkins, and diplomats Averell Harriman and Charles (Chip) Bohlen, Stalin said that he believed Hitler had escaped from Berlin and was hiding in the West. Stalin was not making diplomatic small talk; he was launching a disinformation campaign that he had personally devised and directed.
The next version of this myth appeared in the 28 May edition of Time, which featured Hitler's portrait on its cover with a large cross through it. According to a certain "Pvt. Ivan Nikitin," a German SS officer had revealed under interrogation that he had heard Hitler ranting and raving about a coming conflict between the USSR and its western Allies once the war had concluded. (Hitler, in fact, anticipated the Cold War in a document known as "My Political Testament.") But, "Nikitin" claimed, Hitler said that as long as he was still alive the wartime alliance would remain intact. The world would have to be convinced that he was dead. Once the former allies found themselves in conflict, he would reappear and lead the German people to their final victory over Bolshevism. The same "Nikitin" claimed that behind an armoire in the bunker was a moveable concrete wall with a man-size hole in it. On the other side of the wall was a passageway leading to a tunnel where an army troop train was waiting to take Hitler and his entourage to safety.
Next, Stalin dispatched Andrei Vyshinsky, the notorious prosecutor in the Moscow show trials of the late 1930s, to Berlin to brief Marshal Georgy Zhukov on the new line on Hitler. (Zhukov said on record that he believed Hitler was dead.) The Soviet marshal was at the height of his fame and popularity, and had been called the greatest Russian commander since Suvorov. For Stalin, who feared and usually eliminated potential rivals, it was time to cut him down to size. At a 9 June press conference--the first since the Western press had been allowed into the Soviet-controlled city--Zhukov, with Vyshinsky at his side, offered a new version of Hitler's fate. The Führer's "present whereabouts are unknown," he said. Zhukov denied reports circulating in Berlin that the Soviets had found a corpse that "could be Hitler's." He added that: "Based on personal and official information, we can only say that Hitler had a chance to get away with his bride [Eva Braun, who married the Führer hours before they committed suicide]. Hitler could have flown out at the very last minute." Zhukov's "personal view" was that Hitler had taken refuge in Spain.
The new Soviet version went out over the press wires the next day, providing grist for hundreds if not thousands of Hitler sightings for many years to come. Vyshinsky then accompanied Zhukov to Frankfurt, where the marshal briefed Gen. Eisenhower on the new Soviet line. Eisenhower later told the press that he had changed his mind about Hitler and believed the Nazi dictator might still be alive.
In July Stalin acted again. At the Big Three summit in Potsdam, Germany, Stalin told US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes that he believed Hitler was living in Spain or Argentina. He repeated this in the presence of Adm. William D. Leahy, President Truman's military adviser. On other occasions, Stalin speculated that Hitler had made his way to Hamburg and left Germany for Japan on board a U-boat; or that he was hiding in Germany in the British occupation zone.
Operation Myth was officially launched in December 1945. Its mission was threefold: To (1) gather and review all records and forensic evidence collected during May-June 1945; (2) check and recheck interrogation reports from Hitler's bunker entourage; and (3) reconcile or explain inconsistencies and contradictions in the evidence. A commission chaired by the USSR's preeminent criminologist, Dr. Pytor Semenovsky, and controlled from behind the scenes by Beria, began by tearing up Shkravaski's autopsy and rejecting the evidence on which it was based. This gives some idea of what the commission's unstated purpose was: to produce a report that confirmed or at least was compatible with Stalin's belief that Hitler was--or at least might be--still alive. After reexamining all the evidence, the Semenovsky commission concluded it was "not...possible to arrive at a final conclusion" regarding Hitler. That may have been less decisive than Stalin wanted, but apparently it was as far as the scientists believed they could go in stretching the truth to please Stalin.
Above all, the brutal interrogation of witnesses demonstrated how obsessed Stalin was with finding proof that Hitler might be alive. Smersh detained some 800 (!) persons, and 21 of 35 key witnesses were arrested and interrogated in Berlin and Moscow--often repeatedly and brutally. Some of the witnesses were imprisoned for 10 years or more on trumped up war crimes charges. The Soviets went to great lengths to locate Hitler's relatives. They even arrested his half-sister, a simple Austrian peasant woman whom Hitler had last seen in 1907, as well as her husband and a half-brother Hitler had never even laid eyes on. The focus of the endless interrogations, which filled tens of thousands of pages, was to prove that Hitler could have survived and that the people he spent his last days with had engaged in a systematic deception to convince the world otherwise.
The Smershisti tried to beat confessions out of their prisoners. Heinz Linge, Hitler's valet, was stripped, tied down, and then beaten with whips as his German-speaking interrogators shouted: "Hitler is alive! Hitler is alive!" Two other key witnesses, Hitler's SS adjutant Otto Günsche, and the Führer's personal pilot, Hans Baur, reported similar experiences after returning home in 1956. In Baur's case, interrogators spent hours trying to force him to admit that it had been possible for Hitler to fly out of the Berlin inferno. Witnesses were forced to write and rewrite their accounts of the final days in the bunker. The Soviets even partially reconstructed the bunker and, using mannequins, had witnesses reenact Hitler's and Eva Braun's suicides. Tables and charts were used to plot testimonies against one another in an effort to identify inconsistencies as well as corroborating information.
Imprisoning Hitler's entourage was not aimed so much at uncovering the truth as concealing it. Other steps were taken in the same direction. Stalin ordered that the human and animal remains found in Berlin be hidden. (Strangely, he did not demand their return to Moscow, where they presumably would have been of value to Semenovsky's team.) The Smershisti buried the remains first in Rathenow, then in Stendal. In February 1946, in Magdeburg, the remains were finally buried in the courtyard of an apartment house commandeered by the Red Army. There they remained until April 1970, when KGB chief Yuri Andropov, with Politburo approval, ordered Meropriyatiya Arkhiv (Measure or Operation Archive). Under the guise of searching for long-lost Nazi records, a KGB team excavated what was by then a garage on a Soviet military base and removed the remains of nine persons, including Hitler and Eva Braun. (The base was about to be turned over to the East German government.) The remains, now a "jellied mass" according to a KGB report, were pulverized, soaked in gasoline, and then completely burned up. The ashes were mixed with coal particles and then taken 11 kilometers north of Magdeburg, where they were dumped into the Bideriz, a tributary of the Elbe river.
Hitler Is Alive and Well and Living In...
Why did Stalin go to such lengths to deceive the West while trying to convince himself that Hitler could still be alive? The short answer is: no one knows. Some historians believe that the Soviet dictator wanted to send Western intelligence services on a never-ending wild-goose chase. Whether that was his purpose or not, that in fact is what happened. For 30 years the FBI investigated every report it received regarding Hitler sightings or claims that the Führer was still alive. (A 734-page file of such reports is available on the Internet.) The Bureau conducted its own 11-year probe into the possibility that Hitler had escaped and was still alive. Other historians maintain that Stalin manipulated the Hitler myth to put the onus on the West for "hiding" the German dictator and protecting Nazi war criminals or that he wanted to use rumors that Hitler was in Spain to settle an old score with Franco and avenge the communist defeat in the Spanish Civil War.
From the very first day, Stalin had the idea that Hitler could have escaped to Spain (as quoted by Trevor-Roper). General Berazin said: "My opinion is that Hitler has gone into hiding and is somewhere in Europe, possible with General Franco". Stalin said that he was alive "in hiding... possibly with General Franco". Pravda declared in an article entitled "Hitler's Agent, General Franco!" (6 July, 1945) that the Fascist regimen in Spain should be destroyed as soon as possible.
Hitler’s Spanish sojourn
August 18, 2008 • National News
Nazi leader Adolf Hitler spent a month in Spain before fleeing Europe for South America, according to an Argentine investigator. Abel Basti claims to have found an FBI document, which states Hitler did not commit suicide in his Berlin bunker.
Instead, he flew to Spain with lover Eva Braun and 13 high-ranking Nazi officials.
“They took off from Berlin and landed in Barcelona on April 27, 1945, via Linz in Austria,” claims the journalist, who is investigating post-World War II Nazi activity in his native Argentina.
The FBI paperwork claims the Nazi leader and his party travelled in a Junkers 290 aircraft, which had the serial number 0163.
In the summer of 1945, Allied forces discovered this plane in the Travemünde airbase, close to the German city of Hamburg.
Using its flight documentation, the military traced the aeroplane’s movements to Spain.
In 1947, the US army searched for the Führer, but the Nazi leader had long gone.
“Hitler used Spain as a ‘trampoline.’ He spent a month in the country before escaping to South America by submarine.
“By the time, US soldiers started their search for him, Hitler was in Argentina,” Basti claims.
Germany was an close ally of General Franco, the right-wing dictator who ruled Spain following his victory in the Civil War in 1939 until his death in 1975.
The Germans supplied Franco’s rebellion in the first days of the Civil War with supplies, such as ammunition, weapons and military intelligence.
The German Air Force – the Luftwaffe – is claimed to be behind the bombing of the Basque town, Guernica, in 1937.
Basti, who will soon publish Destino Patagonia. Cómo Escapó Hitler – his third book on Nazi movement in Argentina, believes the accepted suicide of Hitler was “a ruse,” so that the leader of the Third Reich could escape the advancing Allied soldiers.
“The Germans left the body of Hitler’s double in the bunker. The Nazis also left unknown corpses, which had in their pockets the paperwork of the hierarchy that escaped with the Fuhrer. This deceived everyone into thinking they had all killed themselves.”
Basti believes that Hitler, Braun and the 13 officers arrived in Argentina, “between July and August 1945. He then moved between the provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Mendoza and La Rioja.”
The 51-year-old journalist claims Hitler died in the South American country in 1960.
All in all, the evidence supporting Hitler's escape to Argentina is pretty flimsy. And yet, so is the evidence that Hitler died in the bunker. It rests on testimony provided by fellow Nazis who were fanatical devotees of Hitler. As such, its not hard to imagine they might've lied to help their former leader. It's also hard to ignore the fact that major intelligence agencies believed that Hitler might've survived the war. The FBI conducted "an extensive 11-year probe into the possibility that Hitler faked his own death with a bogus suicide in 1945."
Soviet officials gave conflicting reports on whether or not they had found Hitler's remains. Meanwhile, Josef Stain, Premier of the Soviet Union, maintained a strong belief that Hitler escaped Germany, a fact which he relayed to President Truman in 1945.
While most people believe the official version of Hitler's suicide, others are unconvinced. Perhaps the most diligent and respected researcher in this area is Argentina-based journalist and historian Abel Basti. In 2010, Basti published El exilio de Hitler / Hitler's Exile: Las pruebas de la fuga del fuhre a a la Argentina, in which he claimed that the official story was a fabrication.
According to Basti Hitler escaped the Allies and fled across the ocean, ultimately taking up residence in Argentina.
Hitler escaped via air from Austria to Barcelona. The last stage of his escape was in a submarine, from Vigo, heading straight to the coast of Patagonia. Finally, Hitler and Eva Braun, in a car with a chauffeur and bodyguard—a motorcade of at least three cars—drove to Bariloche (Argentina). He took refuge in a place called San Ramon, about 15 miles east of that town. It is a property of about 250,000 acres with a lake-front view of Lake Nahuel Huapi, which had been German property since the early twentieth century, when it belonged to a German firm by the name of Schamburg-Lippe.
Here is some of the evidence Basti uses to back up his various claims.
Hitler escaped to Spain?:
Several eyewitnesses, including a still-living Jesuit priest "whose family members were friends of the Nazi leader," spotted him in Spain after his supposed death. FBI documents indicate they were looking for Hitler in Spain after the end of World War II. And an "authenticated secret German document...lists Hitler as one of the passengers evacuated by plane from Austria to Barcelona on April 26, 1945."
The Secret Submarine?:
A British secret services document indicates that a Nazi submarine convoy left Spain around that time. It stopped in the Canary Islands before finally reaching Argentina.
Life in Argentina?:
Hitler's post-war life appears to be a bit of a mystery. Basti has met numerous South American eyewitnesses who say they had known Hitler. They state that the former Nazi leader shaved his head and mustache and had several meetings with other Nazi officials. Also, FBI documents show that there were claims of Hitler living in Argentina after the war.
As for physical evidence, the Soviet Union has long been in possession of skull fragments taken from the bunker. These have always been considered definitive proof that Hitler committed suicide via gunshot. In 2009, forensic investigators examined these fragments and determined that they came from a woman instead. And just like that, all physical evidence pointing to suicide vaporized into smoke. If there is other physical evidence pointing to suicide (or to his escape), its either lost to time or locked away somewhere (the U.S. government continues to keep many of its Hitler-related files classified, supposedly for National Security purposes - this same obsession with secrecy led to the nearly century long classification of World War I documents showing how to create invisible ink).
So, did Hitler fake his death and escape to Argentina? While it's impossible to say for sure, it certainly seems reasonable. Lesser Nazi officials successfully fled Germany and took up residence in South America. And the testimony supporting the suicide theory seems questionable at best.
Basti is presently searching for Hitler's grave in Argentina, hoping to prove his case once and for all. If Hitler escaped, the world deserves to know the truth about how he got away...and why his escape remained a secret for so long.
Some historians have focused on the Hitler myth to question whether Stalin was rational. A clever, cunning, and malicious Stalin might have misled and lied to his top aides and wartime allies for some inexplicable political or psychological purpose and still have been rational. But the fantastic effort carried out under the rubric of Mif suggests something else--that Stalin was trying to bend the evidence to conform to his own distorted version of reality. Here Stalin was not attempting to mislead someone else but was trying to prove his own delusion--or at least destroy the evidence that contradicted it.
None of this would have occurred if there had been a corpus delecti. Or would it have? Even with a corpse in better condition at hand, would Stalin have buried and reburied the body, as he did the remains, to cover up the evidence of Hitler's death?
What about the skull fragments? The first autopsy noted that a piece of the cranium was missing. In early 1946, a Smersh unit sent to search the area where Hitler's remains had been found discovered the fragments, and apparently they fit the skull that had been examined in Buch. We do not know when or how the skull fragments reached Moscow. We do know that they were stored in the NKVD/KGB/FBS archives and that their existence was not revealed until 1995--and then only in the West, and not in Russia until this past April! Today, just as in 1945, the skull fragments may hold the final answer. Genetic testing should be able to determine once and for all whether they are the missing pieces of Hitler's cranium. Some of Hitler's closest relatives disappeared into Stalin's Gulag, but others, including several of his closest relatives living in the United States, survived. The Russian government, however, cannot afford expensive test procedures; although it is willing to let someone else pick up the tab. So far, no one has offered to do so. In the final analysis, this lack of interest in Hitler and the end of the Third Reich, while disappointing to historians, may not be a bad thing.
CIA History Staff
Hitler’s skull: did the Führer really commit suicide and die in the bunker in Berlin?
by Kathryn Hadley
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Hitler's skull is that of a woman. Maybe Hitler and his wife Eva Braun did not commit suicide. Maybe they did not die in the bunker in Berlin where they retreated to at the end of April 1945 as Soviet troops closed in on the German capital. Maybe they instead hid in Germany, or fled to South America alongside many other Nazi officials. These are just some of the questions that have recently resurfaced following the latest research by experts from the University of Connecticut.
As part of the filming of a new series on The History Channel, Nicholas Bellantoni, Linda Strausbaugh and Dawn Pettinelli from the University of Connecticut investigated what happened to Hitler’s remains in the aftermath of the Second World War. They concluded that the fragment of a skull with a bullet wound discovered by Russian scientists in 1946 and believed to have belonged to Hitler in reality belonged to an unknown woman. The skull has been on display in Moscow since 2000.
The general consensus is that Hitler shot himself after taking a cyanide pill on April 30th, 1945, to avoid capture. Witnesses in the bunker at the time claimed that his body was thereafter burnt and buried. In May 1945, after the Soviet army took control over Berlin, a Russian forensic team dug up what was presumed to be Hitler’s body and post-mortem examinations and dental records revealed that the body was that of the Führer.
However, part of the skull was missing, allegedly as a result of the gun shot, and Stalin sent out a second team of scientists to investigate further. It was during this second mission that the skull fragment was discovered. Stalin thereafter imposed a secrecy order on all matters relating to Hitler’s death and the body was secretly buried in Magdeburg in East Germany. It was not until 1970 that the body was dug up and cremated. All that remained was the jawbone, the skull fragment and bloodstained remnants from the sofa where Hitler and Eva Braun were believed to have died, which were preserved in the archives of the Soviet intelligence.
Nicholas Bellantoni recently inspected the remains at the Russian State Archive. He collected DNA samples which were thereafter examined by geneticist Linda Strausbaugh. The results revealed that the skull fragment belonged to a woman under the age of 40; Hitler had just turned 56 at the time of his death. Bellantoni explained in an article published on the webiste of the Daily Express:
The bone seemed very thin and male bone tends to be more robust. And the sutures where the skull plates come together seem to correspond to someone under 40.
Could the skull instead belong to Eva Braun who was 33 when she died? Bellantoni claimed in an article published on MailOnline that it was unlikely:
There is no report of Eva Braun having shot herself or having been shot afterwards. Many people died near the bunker.
Since the end of the Second World War there have been several claims that Hitler did not die. Stalin was convinced that Hitler did not die and instead escaped to Spain or Argentina. In 1947, Eisenhower was also allegedly handed a secret dossier compiled by CIA agents, which claimed that Hitler was in hiding Heidelberg. Soldiers thereafter raided the area; however, nothing was found.
The recent research has paved the way for similar theories to be suggested once again.