The last days of Hitler
The Film "Downfall" (2004), directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
The scenario of the film “Downfall” was based on the books of Joachim Fest and Melissa Müller (ghost-writer of the secretary Traudl Junge.). From this, the importance of Traudl Junge in the film, when she was in the hierarchy the less important of the four secretaries. It is probable that the film used also other sources.
For instance, the film follows the testimony of the nurse Erna Flegel to the CIA, made public in 1977, and which can be read here.
I wonder if they used also the book by David Irving, an English ultra-rightist who generally is not taken seriously, and who put his book in the Internet, here. D. Irving put his critic to the film here.
Surely the screenwriter consulted also the fine book of Antony Beevor, “Berlin – Downfall 1945
Another secretary of Hitler was Christa Schroeder. Read an article by her, here.
The nurse Erna Flegel (11 July 1911 – 16 February 2006)
After the soviet capture of Berlin, the nurse Erna Flegel was interrogated by the Americans. In June 20, 1977, documents including her interrogation were declassified.
SUBJECT: Statements of Erna Flegel, R.N., Red Cross nurse from the Training School “Markisches Haus”, Scharnhorststrasse 3. Born 1911.
I was employed as a surgical nurse in the University Hospital on Ziegelstrasse. Since there was a shortage of doctors in Berlin, a nurse always had to be present it the air raid shelter in the Reichs Chancellery when there was an air raid alarm, for first aid in case it was necessary for injuries, etc. The same was true for the Fuehrer’s shelter, which belonged to his private residence, Wilhelmstrasse 77. This air raid service was first assigned to me in January 1943. For this purpose, when there was an alert, I was called for with a car at the University Hospital, transported there, and after the end of the raid transported back to the hospital again. During the raid I stayed in the First Aid room of the shelter. When Berlin came under direct artillery fire, I stayed there all the time. It was a small room, to which a second room belonged, the operating room in the Reichs Chancellery on Vossstrasse. Properly, only SS units who had been injured were brought there. The physician in charge there was Oberarzt and Obersturmbannfuehrer Professor Haase from the University Hospital. When the ring around Berlin kept drawing closer and closer, we had to keep the injured there who had formerly been carried away to the hospitals after air raids. In the course of the fighting, we grew to be a large hospital — about 500 wounded.
After November 1944, Hitler stayed in Berlin continuously, with the exception of the Christmas holidays — and then one time he had been at the Oder front. Besides Hitler and the staff of the Chancellery, the Mohnke Combat Group was always present. Mohnke himself had his quarters in the Reichs Chancellery.
In the middle of April, Goebbels had his family come in from Schwanenwurder, at first to the Propaganda Ministry, but on the 20 April he moved over with his wife and the six children into the shelter of the Reichs Chancellery. Hitler was very fond of Goebbels children. They gave him a great deal of pleasure; even in the last days he invited them for chocolate, which made the children very happy. In Hitler’s shelter there was only one bathtub, which was naturally provided for him. He allowed the Goebbels children to bathe in it, which likewise afforded them treat pleasure.
Besides these, Martin Bormann was also present. His brother, Paul Bormann, who didn’t get along with him, had left Berlin some time before, as his wife was expecting a baby.
Schaub went to Upper Bavaria; be had a house in Kitzbuehl, Austria, and had left Berlin previously.
The following aides were present: Brigadefuehrer Albrecht, who shot himself after Hitler’s death; Colonel von Below of the Air Force, who also shot himself; General Burgdorff, who later carried on the surrender negotiations with the Russians.
On 26 April, Field Marshal Ritter von Greim landed on the Pariser Platz; his pilot was Hanna Reitsch. In lending Greim was injured below the knee, and after its injury bad been treated he was to have been carried in to Hitler, but he bluntly refused. Greim said concerning Hanna Reitsch: “She was my good angel, she piloted me marvelously.” He was there only one day; he had been summoned to Hitler in order to take over the supreme command of the Air Force as Goering’s successor, and in order to receive Hitler’s orders in this connection. I had a long talk with Hanna Reitsch in the shelter in the presence of Eva Braun.
All the other generals, etc., were with Keitel, outside the cauldron of Berlin.
There were present also orderlies and soldiers and the SS bodyguards, the kitchen personnel and the cleaning women. Up to the end Hitler received his special diet, whit consisted of fresh vegetables; he took his meals regularly.
On 21 April, for the last time, personnel of the Reichs Chancellery were taken out of Berlin by air.
When parts of Berlin were already occupied, and the Russians were coming closer and closer to the center of the city, one could feel, almost physically, that the third Reich was approaching its end. Marines were supposed to land by plane to protect Berlin until the Wenk Army Group had arrived for the relief of the city. Wenk with his troops was already at Beelitz. But suddenly we heard that Wenk’s Army Group absolutely required a twenty-four rest; the soldiers were completely exhausted. Later they were entirely wiped out there. It wasn’t that anything had gone wrong - it could have been expected, since in the last weeks end days so much treachery, so much cowardice and neatness had revealed itself in Hitler’s immediate entourage.
Hitler required no care; I was there exclusively for the care of the wounded. To be sure, he had aged greatly in the last days; he now had a lot of gray hair, and gave the impression of a man at least fifteen or twenty years older. He shock a good deal, walking was difficult for him, his right side was still very much weakened as a result of the attempt on his life. In the period immediately after the attempt he always shook hands with us with his left hand, but that had gone away again, and toward the end he was using his right hand. It was not until November that I saw Hitler again for the first time after the attack, when he was in Berlin for a state funeral. He was taking great care to favor his right hand. At that time he was very animated, and made all sorts of jokes. When Hitler was in the room, he filled, it entirely with his personality — you saw only him, aside from him nothing else existed. The fascinating thing about him was his eyes; up to the end, it was impossible to turn away from his eyes.
I assume that Hitler recognized the hopelessness of his position; he is said to have expressed himself on the subject to Prof. Kane, For that very reason, I regard every rumor that Hitler is still alive as senseless; he would never have had the spiritual and physical strength to build up a new Germany. Hitler experienced too many disillusionments at the hands of his closest friends. He no longer believed in the loyalty of Himmler. The liaison officer between then, namely, Fegelein, the brother-in-law of Eva Braun, had betrayed him. He was caught on the point of leaving Berlin in civilian clothes. This treachery affected Eva Braun very deeply.
Prof. Morell was not there; he actually had a serious heart ailment, and was at Obersalzberg, where later on he died of heart disease. For some time he had been unable to move around unnecessarily.
Dr. Stumpfecker was present as his personal surgeon; also the dentist, Dr. Kunz. Both doctors were later taken away by the Russians. Dr. Kunts was the one who poisoned Goebbels children.
The marriage of Hitler to Eva Braun took place on the 28 April. When I learned about it, it was immediately clear to me that this signified the end of the Third Reich, for if Hitler had believed a continuation of it possible he would never have taken this step. Now, with death facing him, he wishes to thank this woman for her self-sacrificing loyalty by giving her his name. After all, she was still young and had voluntarily stayed with him in order to share his fate. On the afternoon of the 28 April the marriage was performed. This incident was of little importance to us; at any rate, we saw nothing unusual in it, for Eva Braun s a completely colorless personality. When she was with a crowd of stenographers, she was in no way conspicuous among them. For example, the fact that Hitler had poisoned his wolfhound somehow affected us more. The dog received in Hitler’s presence a large dose of the poison with which later other were also poisoned. He was very fond of the dog and took his death very much to heart.
On the day of his marriage Hitler dictated his political testament until late into the night. The secretary was Miss Schroeder. On that day, he probably did not go to bed until about four o’clock, or even six.
On the morning of the 29th, nothing special happened. I had to go over a few tines to the Fuehrer’s shelter — I went there only when I needed something urgently from the First Aid room. Thus I saw Hitler a few times. He always took his meals alone and with great regularity too, up to the end. His food was very well prepared; this was easy to manage, in view of the tiny portions that were involved. The only luxury he allowed himself throughout the war was that he always had fresh vegetables supplied to him from Holland.
The ring around us was now drawing closer and closer, and the radio connection was broken off. It was impossible to get information from now on, except through shock troops who went out and brought report as to where the Russian had newly established themselves in the meantime. We had water and light until the end, thanks to the technical excellence with which the installations in the shelter functioned. Also, a rather large staff of technicians had stayed behind, who constantly supervised the equipment.
At the end we were like a big family: it was a common fate which we were experiencing in an atmosphere of true comradely association. The terrific dynamics of the fate which was unrolling, held sway over all of us. We were Germany, and we were going through the end of the Third Reich and of the war, concerning the outcome of which we had hoped, up to the end, for a favorable and tolerable issue. Everything petty and external had fallen away.
On the 29 April in the evening, we were told that we were all to be received by Hitler. It was half past ten when we were instructed to hold ourselves in readiness. Then we went over at half past twelve. There were Prof. Haase, Dr. Kunz, Prof. Stumpfecker1 and two or three Medical Corps enlisted men. About twenty-five or thirty people were already gathered there, the secretaries, the cleaning women, and a few strangers who had taken refuge in the shelter. They were all standing in a row. Hitler bad the names of the persons, he didn’t know told to him, and shook hands, with each one as he walked down the line. A “brown sister”, who was a stranger and who had perhaps not grasped the seriousness of the moment, and the ultimate fate, expressed her thanks to Hitler because she had been admitted into the shelter, and said in conclusion “Fuehrer, we believe in you and in a good outcome”. Whereupon Hitler replied; ‘Each one must stand in his place and hold out, and if fate requires it, there he must fall”. I had a feeling that for Hitler we were the forum of the German people to which he was presenting himself once more since he had no more extensive one.
On 30 April then, in the afternoon, he departed this life. We asked no questions as to how, none at all, for each one of us had the feeling on the previous evening that this was farewell. I learned of his death in a special way. Because of this feeling I have just described, my first question to the doctor each morning was: ‘Is Hitler still alive?’ The answer: “Yes”. The same anxious question at each meeting with Dr. Haase. When the latter came out of the Fuehrer’s shelter at six o’clock, I asked an: ‘Is Hitler still alive ?’ As he gave me no answer, I knew the truth. It was natural that such an event was not discussed, and that it affected us all very deeply, also that at such a time unimportant matters were of no interest at all. For, of course, we all believed that we, too, should not come out of this hell alive; we knew precisely what might be in store for us, everyone had made up his mind to that; there was no more questions about it, we were paying attention only to what was essential.
Then later we learned that Hauptsturmfuehrer Schneider was required to bring gasoline from the garage of the shelter. Dr. Stumpfecker burned Hitler’s body in the garden.
On the next morning after Hitler’s death we were all conscious of a vacuum, our fate could not be postponed. I saw that the end was about to come. Upon the news that Hitler was dead, we were told that now we were released from our oath, and everyone was permitted to choose his own fate. The able-bodied men prepared to make a sally. We others decided not to go out with the combat group; we stayed, naturally, at our place beside the wounded. Goebbels carried on the government as well as he could and General Brockdorf was in command. On 30 April no orders were given to the sally, for reasons which I do not understand; they were given only on the first of May, and as a result there were an unbelievably large number of dead to mourn.
Martin Bormann was among the man who took part in the sally. It is to be assumed that he met death there; for, as most of the young battle-experienced SS men fell, a relatively older man cannot have come through alive.
Flight Captain Bauer also joined in the sally.
As I have said, the Mohnke combat group then equipped itself to make the sally out of the shelter. All the able—bodied men who were still there joined with them. They tried first to get out at the exit to Potsdamer Platz, which was impossible, then they were turned toward the north and in individual cases got as far as the Stettiner Bahnhoff; we hear nothing more from them.
Albrecht shot himself when the combat group started out.
Goebbels died on 30 April. Mrs. Goebbels, had been his guiding genius. I cannot judge whether he was wavering. Mrs. Goebbels yes having a dental treatment and I often talked with her for an hour at a time. She was far superior to the average human being. It took a resolute spirit to decide to sacrifice her own children; indeed, it required more resolution than for Hitler to take his life. She said: ‘Now, we too, will give up our lives.” About the children, furthermore, she said: “Where shall my children go? The shame of being Goebbel’s children will always rest upon them.” (She said this to me on the day when the marines were summoned. We were present when an admiral gave the order over the telephone that the marines were to start). The last time that I saw Mrs. Goebbels was on the morning of 30 April. We shook hands without a word, for there was nothing to say. The children died in the afternoon and the parents in the evening. Mrs. Goebbels had told the children that they would have to live in the shelter quite a long time, and that with this in view they had to be inoculated. Of course, the children were accustomed to inoculations as a result of the war. The children’s bodies were not burned — the Russians found them. I heard only in the evening of the same day that Goebbels and his family were dead. All the new reports that there were came from the Fuehrer’s shelter.
Fritsche, the only ranking official left (he had been in the Air Ministry) took the greatest pains after the death of Goebbels to keep everything more or less orderly and to find the best way of making the surrender with the Russians.
On 2 May, about ten o’clock in the morning, the Russians were there. We had marked our section with Red Cross flags. At first they went through the shelter, and respected the Red Cross absolutely. Nothing happened either to the wounded or to us, nor did they take anything away from us. We were even permitted to lock ourselves in at night; the Russian Commandant’s behavior was exemplary. Naturally it was a surprise to us that he gave us permission to lock our doors, but he said he could not vouch for his soldiers. We were accustomed to seeing soldiers obey orders very strictly, in contrast to which the Russian commanding officer did not seem to have this authority over his soldiers. The Russian headquarters was established at Mohnke’s battle post.
The following were present in the shelter with us, in addition to the wounded: Dr. Kunz, Prof. Haase, the nurses, the civilian personnel of the Fuehrer’s residence and of the Reichs Chancellery, working girls who had taken refuge there, BDN girls and their leaders. The latter, coming from the Reichsportfeld, had fled more and more into the center of the city instead of going out of Berlin. Later on these girls went to work admirably, and when the Hotel Adlon burned down, with their feeble strength they carried the wounded from that shelter to our shelter, they cared for the badly wounded soldiers, a task which was giving us trouble, and after all, these girls were not at all accustomed to wounded people and to the oppressive air in the shelter. The German boys also showed a model behavior; with their slight strength they shifted ammunition; indeed, up to the end Hitler had an unshakeable faith in the German youth.
Then on 2 May individuals were taken to the Reichs Institute for the Blind on Oranien Strasse, where the Russians had set up one of their GPU offices.
I was taken there on 3 May and stayed until 10 May; was lodged in the cellar there, and was questioned daily. Then I came back to the hospital, and just in time, for on the same day the departure by car was to take place, to the Herzberge Hospital, where we stayed until the middle of August. From there I was taken to Karlsdorf for another interrogation by the GPU. We worked in Herzberge until we were taken as prisoners of war to Koenigswusterhausen. At first we worked under direct supervision of the Russians, but when they saw that we understood our work they let us carry on freely. Of course, we were behind barbed wire there the whole time.
Berlin, 23 November 1945
Hitler's nurse breaks 60 years of silence
Luke Harding in Berlin
Monday May 2, 2005
A German Red Cross nurse who shook hands with Hitler on the evening before his suicide yesterday gave a gripping and extraordinary account of the final, desperate days in the Führer's Berlin Bunker.
In an interview with the Guardian, Erna Flegel, who has not spoken previously about her role in the Third Reich, describes how she tried to persuade Magda Goebbels, the wife of the Nazi propaganda minister, to spare her six children.
Instead, she recalls, Mrs Goebbels told her: "The children belong to me", poisoning them after Hitler's death.
Ms Flegel, now 93, also describes how an ageing Hitler "sank into himself", as the Russians fought their way into the centre of Berlin, and it became clear that Germany had lost the second world war.
She dismisses Hitler's mistress, Eva Braun, as a "young girl" who "had no meaning" and says that the death of Hitler's dog Blondi "affected us more than Braun's suicide".
She told the Guardian: "The circle got increasingly small. People were pushed together. Everyone became more unassuming."
Ms Flegel is one of only two survivors from the bunker who are still alive. Her existence only emerged after a transcript of an interview she gave to American interrogators immediately after the war surfaced in a CIA archive.
In the interview Ms Flegel, who worked as a nurse in the Reichschancellery in Berlin from January 1943, described the moment when Hitler said goodbye to his medical staff. It was the early hours of April 30 1945.
"He came out of the side-room, shook everyone's hand, and said a few friendly words. And that was it," she said. Hitler shot himself that afternoon.
After Hitler's death, SS officers staged a largely doomed attempt to break out of the bunker. Ms Flegel stayed behind. She was one of six or seven people still there when the Russians arrived on May 2 1945, 60 years ago today.
'His authority was extraordinary. He was charming' - Hitler's nurse on his final
Survivor of bunker tells of admiration for Goebbels' wife and hatred for Eva Braun
of the interview with Erna Flegel
Luke Harding in Berlin
Monday May 2, 2005
She is the last witness. For 60 years, Erna Flegal said nothing about her starring role in the Third Reich. Her family knew that in the last, desperate weeks of the second world war she had lived in Berlin. But she never spoke of her job as Hitler's nurse and of her time in the Führer's Berlin bunker.
Now, as the 60th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe nears, Ms Flegel has spoken out for the first time about her experiences - of Hitler's final hours, of her friendship with the "brilliant" Magda Goebbels, and her jealous loathing for Eva Braun. Her testimony casts fresh light on the last days of the Nazi era and has never appeared in the countless books written about Hitler.
In an interview with the Guardian, Ms Flegel, now 93 and living in a nursing home in north Germany, yesterday described how she began working as a Red Cross nurse at the Reichschancellery in Berlin in January 1943. She had been transferred there from the eastern front.
As the German army collapsed, Hitler stayed in Berlin continuously from November 1944, eventually retreating into the bunker with his entourage. From then on, Ms Flegal saw him frequently.
"I was in the building and someone said, 'The Führer is here,'" she said. "The first time it didn't particularly affect me. He was away from Berlin for a long time before someone announced again, 'The Führer is back.' Hitler shook hands with all the people he hadn't greeted before. After that he talked to us regularly.
"His authority was extraordinary. He was always polite and charming. There was really nothing to object to."
As the Russians approached, and Berlin came under direct artillery fire, the mood in the bunker changed. "The circle got increasingly small. People were pushed together. Everyone became more unassuming."
Ms Flegel's existence only emerged after the transcript of an interview she gave to American interrogators in November 1945 was declassified four years ago by the CIA. The Guardian discovered her insider's account of Hitler's final hours in a Washington vault and published it.
But her fate remained a mystery. Two months ago a Berlin-based newspaper, the BZ, tracked down her relatives via the German Red Cross and war archives. To the paper's astonishment, her family revealed that Ms Flegel was still alive.
She is the last surviving female witness to have been inside the bunker. Traudl Junge - Hitler's secretary, whose memoirs provided the inspiration for the Oscar-nominated film Downfall, and who gave numerous interviews to journalists and historians - died in 2002. The only other survivor, 88-year-old Rochus Misch, Hitler's telephonist, refuses to talk.
Speaking at her nursing home, which has a picturesque river view, Ms Flegel yesterday said that as the Russians had drawn closer to Berlin, those inside the bunker began to live "outside reality".
In the middle of April 1945, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi's propaganda chief, his wife Magda and their six children moved in. Ms Flegel, whose original job had been to look after wounded SS soldiers, said she had got to know Magda Goebbels well. When it became clear that the situation was hopeless, she had tried to persuade her to send her children out of Berlin.
"She was a brilliant woman, on a far higher level than most people," Ms Flegel told the Guardian. "I wanted her to take at least one or two of them out of the city. But Mrs Goebbels simply said, 'I belong to my husband. And the children belong to me.'
"One evening she told me, 'I have to go to the dentist and can't be with them. I would like you to say goodnight to the children.' I said, 'Of course. I'll do it. Don't worry.'"
Ms Flegel, then 33, sang the children to sleep. "The children were charming. They would have delighted anybody. They played with each other in the bunker," she said. "They should have been allowed to live. They had nothing to do with what was going on around them. Not to spare the children was madness, dreadful."
Hitler was fond of them, she added, and drank hot chocolate with them and allowed them to use his bathtub.
Magda Goebbels, meanwhile, tolerated her husband's frequent and well-known infidelities. "She didn't say anything. Nobody liked Goebbels. There were always people who hung around him, of course. They included many women who were young and pretty, who had an easier time of it than the rest of us. I don't know the details. It was all gossip and trash."
In her original testimony, Ms Flegel also described how in the final days before his suicide on the afternoon of April 30 1945, Hitler had begun to crumble before her eyes. "When parts of Berlin were already occupied, and the Russians were coming closer and closer to the centre of the city, one could feel, almost physically, that the Third Reich was approaching its end," her statement said.
"Hitler required no care; I was exclusively there for the care of the wounded. To be sure, he had aged greatly in the last days; he now had a lot of grey hair, and gave the impression of a man at least 15 to 20 years older. He shook a good deal, walking was difficult for him, his right side was still very much weakened as a result of the attempt on his life."
Yesterday Ms Flegel said that before his wedding to Eva Braun on the night of April 28 Hitler "sank into himself".
In her statement she gives a shrewish portrait of Eva Braun, whom she dismisses as "a completely colourless personality". She would not have been conspicuous among a crowd of stenographers, she said.
Hitler's decision to marry Braun made it "immediately clear to me that this signified the end of the Third Reich", she added, claiming that the death of Hitler's wolfhound Blondi "affected us more" than Braun's suicide.
Yesterday Ms Flegel made little effort to hide her dislike of a woman, who, she suggested, was little more than a Hitler groupie. "Oh dear God. She didn't have any importance. Nobody expected much of her. She was just a young girl, really," she said of Braun, who was only six months her junior. "She wasn't really his wife."
By April 29, the once mighty German Reich had been reduced to an area the size of a large football field, stretching between Potsdamer Platz and Friedrichstrasse. Heavy fighting engulfed the city centre. Radio communications with the outside world ceased. Shock troops brought news of the latest Russian positions.
At 10.30pm that evening, Ms Flegel was summoned with the rest of the medical team to line up and take their leave of the Führer. "He came out of the side room, shook everyone's hand, and said a few friendly words. And that was it," she told the Guardian.
During her interrogation after the war she said: "At the end we were like a big family. The terrific dynamics of the fate which was unrolling held sway over all of us. We were Germany, and we were going through the end of the Third Reich and the war. Everything petty and external had fallen away."
The next afternoon Hitler shot himself. Braun took prussic acid. "There were a few people who heard it [the shot]. Others didn't," Ms Flegel said yesterday. "The remaining staff then had to decide whether to stay or not stay. I knew that Hitler was dead because there were suddenly more doctors in the bunker. I didn't see his body. But it was taken up to the chancellery garden and burned."
The next morning the survivors were told that they were released from their oath of loyalty and some, including Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary, joined an ill-fated attempt to fight their way out to the west. Others shot themselves. Ms Flegel said she had been convinced there was no way that Bormann, "an older man", could have survived.
Ms Flegel stayed and witnessed the deaths of the Goebbels family. Dr Helmut Kunz, a dentist, had injected the children aged four to 12 with poison, she said. Later the same evening their parents killed themselves.
Until Hitler's death Ms Flegel had not even considered survival, she said. "We simply didn't think about it," she told the Guardian. "We knew naturally, who was in charge, and until he was gone, we couldn't talk about it. The soldiers gradually left. Then they were suddenly gone. Many people tried to reach the U-Bahn in the hope that they could escape the Russians. Everybody was trying as bravely as they could to get out of this bedlam intact."
On the morning of May 2, 60 years ago today, Russians soldiers poked their head round the bunker's entrance.
"By this stage there were only six or seven of us left in the bunker," Ms Flegel said. "We knew the Russians were approaching. A [nursing] sister phoned up and said, 'The Russians are coming.'
"Then they turned up in the Reichschancellery. It was a huge building complex. The Germans were transported away."
Ms Flegel insists that the Russians she had encountered treated her "very humanely", despite the mass rape of German women by Russian soldiers elsewhere in the city. They had a "look round", discovered the bunker's underground supplies, and then left, she said, advising her to lock her front door.
The Red Army allowed her to continue work as a nurse for the next few months, treating wounded Russians, until she ended up in the hands of the US Strategic Services Unit, one of the precursors of the CIA.
Ms Flegel said her "interrogation" by the Americans in November 1945 was little more than an informal chat over dinner. "They invited us to have dinner with them and treated us to six different courses in order to soften us up. It didn't work with me, though."
Ms Flegel's testimony - including her conviction that Hitler was dead, an important statement for the victorious allies - was deemed sufficiently important that it remained classified.
The interview went missing until 1981, when a Connecticut doctor and amateur historian stumbled on it in an army archive and sent it to Richard Helms, the US intelligence chief in 1945 Berlin and later CIA director. He wrote back saying: "It is probably one of the most accurate interviews obtained and has thus far never been quoted, as far as I know, in any of the massive books about Hitler's Germany."
Yesterday Ms Flegel was evasive about her own attitude to the Nazi era and her role in it. Asked why she had kept quiet for so long about her job as Hitler's nurse, she replied: "After 1945 people started pointing fingers at each other. A great many people didn't say anything. Later it was still a source of controversy. I didn't discuss it."
She had never been tempted to write her memoirs. "I didn't want to make myself important."
The film Downfall, which she watched in her nursing home, gave an accurate portrayal of the Third Reich and its final hours, she said. "They got a few small details wrong. But generally it was correct," she said, adding: "I even recognised myself as a nursing sister."
After the war, Ms Flegel continued her career as a nurse, and also worked as a youth social worker and travelled to remote regions including Ladakh and Tibet. She never married. At the age of 90 she visited Crimea where she had worked as a nurse during the war before her transfer to Berlin.
At 93, she is still mobile and lucid. She has few visitors. The only memento in her tiny room of her time at Hitler's side is a Reichschancellery tablecloth.
Interview: Erna Flegel
Transcript of an interview between the Guardian's Luke Harding and Erna Flegel, German Red Cross nurse who was with Hitler in his Berlin bunker during the final weeks of the second world war
Monday May 2, 2005
Guardian: Frau Flegel, you were in Hitler's bunker at the end of the second world war?
Flegel: Yes. I was in the bunker when the war ended in 1945. I was working at the university clinic (in Berlin's Ziegelstrasse) and was transported from the clinic by car to the Reichs Chancellery. Towards the end we were always there. We lived there.
Guardian: How did you get the job?
Flegel: I was working as a nurse on the eastern front. One day an order came through...and the head sister said would I be interested, there was a post free in the Reichs Chancellery. I said yes. We were used, when there was an order, to carry it out. If I did the opposite, well...I thought I could do something in the Reichs Chancellery. I went there and had a look. It was beautiful. And that how I ended up there. Later I had my own apartment. It was very agreeable. But then (as the Russians approached) the circle got increasingly smaller. People were pushed together and lived more unassumingly. I was sharing a room with another nurse.
Guardian: You met Magda Goebbels, the wife of the Nazi propaganda minister, in the bunker. What did you think of her?
Flegel: She was a very clever woman, on a higher level than most people...She was married before and decided one day that it wasn't working, that it had become boring, and so she separated from her first husband. Then came the second marriage. It's hard to say from the outside that it was happier (than the first). Goebbels enjoyed many affairs to the full. I don't know details. That was all gossip and trash.
Guardian: What were the Goebbels children like?
Flegel: The Goebbels children were charming. Each one of them was absolutely delightful. That she (Magda Goebbels) killed them cannot be forgiven.
Guardian: Did you try and persuade Frau Goebbels not to kill her own children?
Flegel: You have to understand that we were living outside normal reality. I wanted her to at least take one or two children out of Berlin. But Frau Goebbels told me: 'The children belong to me. Everything belongs to me.' But I still didn't understand how she could kill six children. Generally, Frau Goebbels looked after the children. But one evening she said to me: 'I have to go to the dentist and can't be with them, and I would like you to say good night to them. I said: 'Of course. I'll do it. Don't worry.' In the room where the Goebbels children were sleeping there were two bunk beds, one on top of another. The children had a piece of string attached to their beds, and if they wanted something they just had to pull it. The kids were so charming. They played with each other. They should have been allowed to live. They had nothing to do with what was going on. It was impossible. But she (Frau Goebbels) didn't want it. She said: 'I belong to my husband and the children belong to me.' Not to spare one or two of the children was madness, dreadful.
Guardian: What did you think of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief, who moved with his family into the bunker on April 20 1945?
Flegel: I didn't like him. Nobody liked him. There always people who hung around him, of course, relatives and so on, but they were only there because they wanted to help their careers. There were also lots of women there who were young and pretty. They used to hang round his ministry. They had easier time of it than the rest of us, for whom things were more difficult.
Guardian: And did Frau Goebbels object to his numerous affairs?
Flegel: She didn't say anything.
Guardian: What did you think of Eva Braun? In the interview you gave to US interrogators after the war you dismiss her as a 'completely colourless personality'. You also say that when Hitler agreed to marry Eva Braun it was 'immediately clear to you that this signified the end of the Third Reich'. What was she like?
Flegel: Oh dear God. She didn't have any importance. Nobody expected much of her. She wasn't really Hitler's wife.
Guardian: There were rumours at the time that Eva Braun was pregnant, and that the father of the child wasn't Hitler?
Flegel: I didn't hear anything about this and I don't believe it. It's true that in the Reichs Chancellery next to the room where the Führer slept there was accommodation where Eva Braun also stayed. She was really nothing. She was a young girl back.
Guardian: When did you first meet Hitler, who stayed in Berlin from November 1944? What was your impression of him?
Flegel: I was in the house (the Reichs Chancellery) and then someone said: 'The Führer is here.' Well, please. It didn't particularly affect me then. That was the first time. Then the Führer was away for a long time from Berlin. Suddenly, he was back. Someone said: 'The Führer is in the building.' That was an experience. Everyone was discussing it. Hitler then shook hands with all the people he hadn't greeted before. It was very interesting. Obviously this wasn't a (formal) meeting. After this he talked to us regularly, and not just about the weather. They were very interesting discussions but not in a substantial sense.
Guardian: Can you describe the mood in the Bunker in the days leading up to Hitler's death?
Flegel: In the last few days Hitler sank into himself. Everybody has their own style, either negative or positive.
Guardian: In your interrogation you describe how Hitler said farewell to his medical staff on the evening of April 29 1945, just before his suicide. What happened?
Flegel: He came out of the side-room, shook everyone's hand, and said a few friendly words. And that was it. There were a few people who then heard it (the shot, when Hitler killed himself the next afternoon) and there were others who didn't. The Führer suddenly wasn't there any more. The staff then decided whether to stay or not stay. I knew that the Führer was dead. Suddenly there were more doctors in the bunker, including Professor (Werner) Haase (one of Hitler's doctors). I didn't see Hitler's body. It was taken up to the garden. The Führer had such an authority that when he was there you knew it. It felt so extraordinary. He was so informal. He would talk to you quite normally.
Guardian: What happened next?
Flegel: Word spread that Hitler was dead. That meant that people no longer had to follow the oath of loyalty they had sworn to him.
Guardian: Did you think you would leave the Bunker alive?
Flegel: We simply didn't think about it. We knew, naturally, who had the say, who was in charge, and couldn't talk about it. The soldiers gradually left. Suddenly they were gone. Afterwards many of us went to the U-Bahn in the hope that when they got there they could escape even if they met the Russians. Everybody was trying as bravely as they could to get out of this bedlam intact. And then it was finished.
Guardian: After Hitler's death most of the SS officers tried to break out. You stayed behind. What happened?
Flegel: We knew the Russians were approaching. As we were in the bunker a (nursing) sister phoned up and said: 'The Russians are coming'. Then they turned up in the Reichs Chancellery. It was a huge building complex. The Germans were transported away and we were left. The Russians treated us very humanely. They came to the entrance and we negotiated with them. First of all they sent someone to talk to us and to have a look round. By this stage there were only six or seven of us left, not more. They looked here and there. They (the Russians) were selected personnel and they behaved quite decently. They found everything stored downstairs. Anyone who needed anything went downstairs. The Russians respected this. The Germans were no longer responsible for anything. It worked. I stayed in the bunker for another six to ten days.
Guardian: After the war, in November 1945, US intelligence officers interviewed you about your time in the bunker. Do you remember much about the interview?
Flegel: They invited us to have dinner with them and treated us to six different courses in order to soften us up. It didn't work with me, though. They tried to soften us up with exquisite food. I did have a couple of meals with them.
Guardian: Why did you choose to remain silent for 60 years about your experiences?
Flegel: It was because after 1945 people started pointing fingers at each other and suggested that so and so was infected (ie a Nazi). There were a great many people who didn't say anything. And after that it remained a source of controversy. I didn't discuss it with my family. While I was in the bunker I had no idea whether my parents were alive or dead. In fact, they both survived the war. We were just glad to have survived.
Guardian: You recently saw Downfall, the Oscar-nominated film about the bunker and Hitler's final days. What did you think of it?
Flegel: It was good. They got a few small details wrong but generally it was right. I even recognised myself as a nurse.
Guardian: Do you regret your role in the Third Reich? Or was this an exciting period for you?
Flegel: It's difficult when you have a society (the Nazis) and it's discussed afterwards by the left or the right. Often it's seen wrongly. Everyone has their own opinion.
Christa Schroeder (March 19, 1908 – June 18, 1984)
I was Hitler's secretary
As Hitler's right-hand woman, Christa Schroeder had a unique insight into his intelligence, his temper, and his quirks. In this exclusive extract from her memoir, she describes her time at his side
by Christa Schroeder
When replying to a tiny job advertisement in the German newspaper, Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten, I had no premonition that it was to determine the future course of my life.
It was 1930, and aged 22, I had just arrived in Munich from Bavaria, eager to explore a new part of Germany. The post was a secretarial one and I was invited by an unknown organisation, the 'Supreme SA leadership (OSAF)' to present myself in the Schellingstrasse. In this almost unpopulated street the Reich leadership of the NSDAP, the Nazi Party, was located at No. 50 on the fourth floor of a building at the rear.
In the past, the man who would later become Adolf Hitler's official photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, had made his scurrilous films in these rooms. The former photographic studio was now occupied by the Supreme SA-Führer, Franz Pfeffer von Salomon and his chief of staff, Dr Otto Wagener. Later I learned that I had been the last of 87 applicants. That the post was awarded to me, someone who was neither a member of the NSDAP nor interested in politics nor aware of whom Adolf Hitler might be, must have resulted purely from my being a 22-year-old with proven shorthand/typing experience who could furnish good references.
Once Hitler had become Reich Chancellor, stenotypists were requested to volunteer for the NSDAP Liaison Staff in Berlin. In March 1933 I arrived in the capital.
Tea with the Führer
After seizing power, Hitler had installed himself in Berlin's Radziwill Palace. His study, the library, his bedroom and later, alongside it, Eva Braun's apartment were all on the first floor.
Directly opposite the door to Hitler's study a couple of steps led to a long corridor, beyond which was the so-called adjutancy wing with the rooms for Hitler's aides. The first room was the Staircase Room (Treppenzimmer), where at least one of us would be permanently on standby, regardless of the hour, should Hitler need to give a dictation. Then came the rooms of Julius Schaub, Hitler's rather unprepossessing factotum, Dr Dietrich (Reich press officer), Sepp Dietrich (commander of SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Hitler's personal bodyguard unit) and Hitler's chief adjutant, Wilhelm Brückner.
If one descended the staircase beyond these one came to the so-called ladies' saloon, actually the reception room, to the left of which wing doors, always pegged open, led into the film room. To the right was the Bismarck Room, also known as the smoking room. The dining hall was next to it and annexed to the Winter Garden, which ended in a fine semicircular path. Breakfast was taken in the Winter Garden and in the afternoon Hitler held most of his talks strolling its length.
One day Hitler happened to pass the Staircase Room at teatime, saw us sitting there and asked if he might join us. This hour of easy chatter was so much to his liking that he later came to tea almost daily. The Staircase Room was a place where he felt unburdened and I always had the impression that what he said there came from a secret memory box which at all other times he kept locked shut.
He would often recall pranks played in late childhood, for example, the time as a 12 year-old when he wagered his classmates that he could make the girls laugh during a religious service. He won the bet by intently brushing his non-existent moustache whenever they glanced at him.
He also spoke of his mother, to whom he was very attached, and of his father's violence: 'I never loved my father,' he used to say, 'but feared him. He was prone to rages and would resort to violence. My poor mother would then always be afraid for me. When I read Karl May once that it was a sign of bravery to hide one's pain, I decided that when he beat me the next time I would make no sound. When it happened – I knew my mother was standing anxiously at the door – I counted every stroke out loud. Mother thought I had gone mad when I reported to her with a beaming smile, "Thirty-two strokes father gave me!" From that day I never needed to repeat the experiment, for my father never beat me again.'
For Hitler, clothing was purely functional. He hated trying things on. Since he made lively hand and arm movements to emphasise points he was making in his speeches, and also liked to extend his body while strolling in conversation, especially when the subject was one which excited him and which he did mainly by raising the right shoulder, he had an aversion to a close fit. His tailor had to shape all uniforms and suits for comfort in this regard. This occasional raising of the right shoulder may have been due to the left shoulder being stiff. During the putsch of November 9 1923 Hitler fell to the pavement, dislocating his left shoulder. Dr Walter Schultze, the leader of the SA medical corps, could not convince Hitler to have it X-rayed. Hitler feared being 'bumped off' at the hospital. The shoulder was therefore never properly fixed and remained stiff ever afterwards.
'Imagine my face without a moustache!'
I found Hitler's eyes expressive. They could look friendly and warm-hearted, or express indignation, indifference and disgust. In the last months of the war they lost expressiveness and became a more watery, pale light blue, and rather bulging. One could always tell his mood from his voice. It could be unusually calm, clear and convincing, but also excited, increasing in volume and becoming overwhelmingly aggressive. Often it would be ice-cold. 'Ice-cold' or 'Now I am ice-cold' were much-used phrases of his. 'I am totally indifferent to what the future will think of the methods which I have to use,' I heard frequently. 'Ruthless' (rücksichtslos) was common in his vocabulary: 'Force it through ruthlessly, whatever the cost!'
Hitler's nose was very large and fairly pointed. I do not know whether his teeth were ever very attractive, but by 1945 they were yellow and he had bad breath. He should have grown a beard to hide his mouth. During the years of his friendship with Ada Klein, who worked on the Nazi party newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter, he told her: 'Many people say I should shave off the moustache, but that is impossible. Imagine my face without a moustache!' and at that held his hand below his nose like a plate. 'My nose is much too big. I need the moustache to relieve the effect!'
'His face turned to stone'
Hitler set great store on hygiene. He bathed daily, often several times a day, particularly after meetings and speeches, from which he would return sweating. Harsh and inflexible as Hitler could be with others, he did not exempt himself. He would reject tiredness and would call upon endless reserves of energy. No wonder that the trembling left hand was such an embarrassment to him. The knowledge from 1944 onwards that he was no longer master of his own body was a heavy burden. When surprised visitors saw his trembling hand, he would cover it instinctively with the other. Yet to the end he remained master of his emotions. Should bad news arrive during a private conversation the only clue would be a movement of his jaw. I remember him receiving the report about the destruction of the Möhne and Eder dams, which flooded much of the Ruhr. As he read it his face turned to stone, but that was all. Nobody could have gauged how deeply the blow had struck him. It would be hours or days before he would refer to such an event, and then give full vent to his feelings.
From his youth onwards Hitler had a great lust to read. He told me one day that during his youth in Vienna he had read through all 500 volumes at the city reference library. I was always amazed at how precisely he could describe any geographical region or speak about art history or hold forth on very complicated technical matters. In the same way he could describe with amazing detail how theatres, churches, monasteries and castles were built. The Oberbürgermeister of Munich, with whom Hitler enjoyed discussing the expansion and beautification of the city, related how surprised he was when Hitler recalled the minute details of a conversation they had had months previously. Hitler had reproached him: 'Six months ago I told you I wanted it done this way!' and then repeated word for word their conversation, a fact confirmed by architects Speer and Giesler post-war.
It is confirmed that from his youth onwards Hitler had the gift of an unusual memory, but his secret was that he trained and expanded it every day. He said that when he was reading he tried to grasp the essence of a thing and fix it in his mind. It was his practice or method during the tea hours and when chatting at the hearth over a subject he had been reading about to repeat it several times in order to anchor it more firmly in his memory. Despite the effort Hitler made to surprise people with his rich trove of knowledge, and to show them his superiority, he made sure he never let them know the sources of this knowledge. He was expert at convincing his listeners that everything he said was the result of his own deliberations and critical thinking. Nearly everybody was convinced that Hitler was a profound thinker, and a wonderfully sharp, analytical spirit.
Once I began working for him, I wanted to get the thing straight. One day Hitler launched into a philosophical dissertation on one of his favourite themes. To my astonishment I realised that he was reciting a page from Schopenhauer, which I had just finished reading myself. Summoning all my courage I drew the fact to his attention. Hitler, taken a little aback, threw me a glance and explained in fatherly tones: 'Do not forget, my child, that all knowledge comes from others and that every person only contributes a minute piece to the whole.'
Dictation with the dictator
Back in the Staircase Room I would wait on standby until a valet shouted through the wing door: 'The chief is asking you to come for dictation!' He would open the door to the library and shut it as he withdrew, hanging a notice on the latch: 'Do not disturb.' As a rule Hitler would be standing at or bent over his desk, working on the punch lines for a speech, for example. Often he would appear not to notice my presence. Before the dictation I would not exist for him, and I doubt whether he saw me as a person when I was at my typist's desk. A while would pass in silence. Then he would close in on the typewriter and begin to dictate calmly and with expansive gestures. Gradually, getting into his stride, he would speak faster. Without pause one sentence would then follow another while he strolled around the room.
Occasionally he would halt, lost in thought, before Lenbach's portrait of Bismarck, gathering himself as it were before resuming his wandering. His face would become florid and the anger would shine in his eyes. He would stand rooted to the spot as though confronting the particular enemy he was imagining. It would certainly have been easier to have taken this dictation in shorthand but Hitler did not want this. Apparently he felt himself as if on wings when he heard the rhythmic chatter of the typewriter keys.
The typewriter had its own mechanical noise. As Hitler would never be seen wearing spectacles in public, typewriters were later manufactured with 12mm characters so that he could read the script in public without glasses. The 'Silenta' brand machines had the advantage of typing quietly but the keys tended to tangle if one typed over a certain speed. Since Hitler did not – or did not want to – notice this and kept on dictating, this was naturally very unsettling for the typist and often made her very nervous. One became anxious that while unscrambling the keys a sentence might be missed and the text would not flow.
On one occasion I did not like the way he had phrased something. When I dared mention it, he looked at me, neither angry nor offended, and said: 'You are the only person I allow to correct me!' From the outbreak of war Hitler would never deliver a speech without a manuscript. 'I prefer to speak, and I speak best, from the top of my head,' he told me, 'but now we are at war I must weigh carefully every word, for the world is watching and listening. Were I to use the wrong word in a spontaneous moment of passion, that could have severe implications!'
The smoking ban
The day at FHQ Wolfsschanze had been as dull as any other. After dinner I saw a film in the hope of relieving my boredom, then I went to the officers' mess from where Hitler's manservant winkled me out just as I was getting comfortable. In the hope that the tea session would perhaps not last too long, I promised to return to the mess afterwards. Torn from a convivial environment, I now came to a Führer who wore a frown. I knew that he would be in a bad mood, for the situation at the Russian Front was not good.
Today's theme was that old chestnut, smoking. He would start out with special reference to narrowing of the arteries caused by smoking. How awful a smoker's stomach must look. Smokers lacked consideration for others, forcing them to breathe in polluted air. He had really toyed with the idea of outlawing smoking anywhere in Germany. The campaign would begin by having a death's head printed on every cigarette pack. 'If I should ever discover,' he often said, emphasising the depth of his antagonism to smoking, 'that Eva were secretly smoking, then that would be grounds for me to separate from her immediately and for ever.'
At that time I was a heavy smoker. Hitler said that because tobacco products were distributed to them freely, even young soldiers who had not been smokers previously had now taken up the habit.
They should be given chocolate, not cigarettes. Everybody nodded in agreement, but I, already in a rather spirited frame of mind from my visit to the officers' mess, chipped in and declared: 'Ah, mein Führer, let the poor boys (I might even have used the word 'swine' here) have this pleasure, they don't get any others!' Ignoring my idiotic outburst, Hitler went on to explain how nicotine and alcohol ruined people's health and addled the mind. Now I brought up the big gun and said, referring to photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, 'One cannot really say that, mein Führer. Hoffmann smokes and drinks all day yet is the most agile man in the shop.' At that Hitler clammed up.
Without another word he rose quickly and took his leave – 'ice-cold' and with an aggrieved expression, from which I finally saw what I had done.
Next afternoon when I inquired of the manservant in what mood the boss found himself today, Hans Junge gave a colleague and myself a long look and said that tea would be taken today without the ladies. Albert Bormann had been told to inform us officially. When I asked him, Bormann admitted in embarrassment that the boss was annoyed with me and would not be requiring the ladies' company at tea.
I no longer existed for him. It was to be many months before Hitler forgave my faux pas.
'You are sentimental'
In 1978, Henriette Schirach [the wife of Baldur Benedikt von Schirach, head of the Hitler youth and Reich Governor of Vienna during the Nazi occupation] reminded me of an encounter she had with Hitler on Good Friday, 1943. I remember that evening Eva Braun had sat at Hitler's right before she went upstairs, and to the left of Henriette.
While the other guests were talking, an argument developed between Henriette and Hitler, the subject of which was an occurrence in Amsterdam a few days previously. She had been awoken at night by an unusually loud disturbance and had watched from a hotel window as some weeping women were ordered forward across a bridge and disappeared into the night.
The next day she learned from her friends that this had been a deportation of Jewish women. She promised to bring the matter to the attention of Hitler, which she was now doing. Hitler answered her in a very brusque manner: 'Be silent, Frau von Schirach, you understand nothing about it. You are sentimental. What does it matter to you what happens to female Jews? Every day tens of thousands of my most valuable men fall while the inferior survive. In that way the balance in Europe is being undermined,' and here he moved his cupped hands up and down like a pair of scales.
'And what will become of Europe in one hundred, in one thousand years?' In a tone which made it evident that he considered the matter closed, he declared: 'I am committed by duty to my people alone, to nobody else!'
'He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolf Hitler's Secretary' by Christa Schroeder, introduced by Roger Moorhouse (Frontline Books, £19.99).
WHO WAS CHRISTA SCHROEDER?
Working as Hitler’s secretary from 1933 until his suicide in 1945, the young Christa Schroeder never knew a private life. In 1938, she became engaged to Yugoslav diplomat Lav Alkonic. When Hitler refused to give his blessing to the liaison, Schroeder raised the possibility of leaving his employment. Hitler replied: ‘I would know how to prevent that.’ The engagement was broken off in 1941.
After the collapse of the Third Reich Schroeder was arrested by the US Army Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC). Initially convicted as a war criminal, she was later reclassified as a collaborator and released days later, on 12 May 1948. Dr Karl Brandt, formerly Hitler’s emergency surgeon, described Schroeder under interrogation at Nuremberg: ‘Clever, critical and intelligent, she had a turnover of work which no other secretary matched, often spending several days and nights almost without a break taking dictation. She would always express her opinion openly...and in time became sharply critical of Hitler himself. Her boldness undoubtedly put her life in grave danger.’ In civilian life, she worked in the metal and insurance industries, retiring at 59, and living in Munich until her death, aged 76, on 28 June 1984.
Christa Schroeder was never a National Socialist in the true sense: ‘I was told I had to join the Party since only NSDAP members could be employees. I suppose I went a few times to the big assemblies, but I felt nothing in common with the speakers or the masses and I must have appeared terribly stupid.’
An alternative view of her appears in a US Army intelligence report of May 22 1945: ‘Mr Albrecht… interrogated her. She was rather stupid, dumpy and an ardent Nazi.’ Schroeder wrote of this event: ‘After the interrogation was over, Lt Albrecht...had a very friendly conversation with me. When I expressed regret that my whole life, all the years, had been for nothing, he replied, “No, everything has a purpose, nothing is wasted”.’
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