THE squalid end of Adolf Hitler and his murderous Third Reich in an underground lair in Berlin is laid bare by these previously unpublished photographs. Allan Hall reports from the German capital
At the height of its power, Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich stretched from Calais to the shores of the Volga in Russia, and from the Arctic Circle to North Africa.
Yet the sordid nature of its end has now been revealed by stunning images – seen for the first time – of the bunker where Hitler ended his life with his bride, Eva Braun, in April 1945.
Life magazine in America published the photographs after a trawl through archives showed that in a special edition, released immediately after the war in 1945, many of the scenes captured by photographer William Vandivert had been left out.
Vandivert was the first western photographer allowed into the bunker, constructed beneath the Reich Chancellery – which was reduced to dust by Allied bombs and Russian artillery shells.
“These pictures were made in the dark with only a candle for illumination. Our small party of four beat all the rest of the mob who came down about 40 minutes after we got there,” said Vandivert.
One of the pictures shows war correspondents examining the sofa upon which the couple died, Hitler having put his service pistol in his mouth and fired. A spreading bloodstain can be seen on the fabric. On the floor of one room a badly scarred SS officer’s cap with its Death’s head skull is caught in Vandivert’s lens while yet another previously unpublished picture shows Life correspondent Percy Knauth sifting through debris in the shallow trench in the garden of the Reich Chancellery, where it is believed the bodies of Hitler and his wife – he married her hours before their suicide pact – were doused with petrol and set ablaze.
Russian soldiers who fought their way street by street and building by building to the heart of Nazism, are seen in a photo moving a huge bronze swastika – that once loomed over the entry to Hitler’s Chancellery – on to a pile of rubble. Also reproduced for the first time is a photo of a crushed globe together with a toppled bust of the fascist leader.
At the time, Vandivert, who died in 1989, reported for Life: “Almost every famous building in Berlin is a shambles. In the centre of town GIs could walk for blocks and see no living thing, hear nothing but the stillness of death, smell nothing but the stench of death.”
The Life website says: “A few of those images are republished here; most of the pictures in this gallery, however, never appeared in Life. Taken together, they illuminate the surreal, disturbing universe Vandivert encountered in the bunker itself, and in the streets of the vanquished city beyond the bunker’s walls.”