Lieutenant Commander Franz Kuhlmann and Hitler’s possible escape from Berlin
Franz Kuhlmann was a naval officer seconded by Donitz in the dying days of World War 2 who, assuming Hitler did escape from Berlin, may have been a key liaison in this attempt. These excerpts are taken from Walter Kempowski’s Swansong.
page 143 Wednesday 25 April 1945. Stralsund-Berlin
After a lengthy flight we made out the capital below us, unmistakable because of the blazes and the dark glowing zones, partly caused by the last air raids, but probably also from the recent bombardments by the Russians. It was a gruesome picture with apocalyptic overtones.
For some reason the pilot couldn’t risk landing immediately, and then at last we descended. We slid out of the plane on to the runway and went crashing wildly into each other. At the same moment a loud, sharp command rang out: take cover! To the bunkers!
Nearby we saw a huge concrete bunker, which we reached at a run. The military air traffic controllers were in the bunker.[…]
After a certain amount of waiting, an SS-Sturmbannfuehrer appeared. He greeted me, and said he’d been ordered to take us to the Zoo bunker. When I objected that I’d been told to go straight to the Reich Chancellery he said slightly condescendingly, ‘Well, leave that to me. You will get to the right place.’ We then marched eastwards with him, towards the military road, but were repeatedly forced to take cover as the sky was full of Russian fighters.
Our SS guide accompanied me to Mohnke’s command post, which was in one of the bunker spaces under the Reich Chancellery. He told me I could report to the General; then he himself disappeared. SS General Mohnke, the commander of the citadel, was clearly very interested in our arrival, as I was able to tell because we all received a great deal of attention and interest that was completely out of proportion to the fighting power that might have been expected from us. He inquired very precisely into the number, weapons and training of my soldiers, and was clearly impressed, as they were officer candidates, though he was plainly disappointed by my unit’s lack of equipment. Overall he seemed benevolent and genial, until I made gaffe of telling him I had orders to report to Hitler in person. Then his friendly tone suddenly changed: he said it would be even better if every little commander wanted to report personally to the Fuehrer.
Mohnke gave me instructions to lodge my soldiers in the cellar of the Foreign Office for the time being, and to keep myself ready for deployment and await further orders.[…]
Over the next few hours we were completely ignored and kept in the dark. That was all the more surprising because the shelling of the Reich Chancellery was becoming increasingly more fierce, and the soldiers of the Red Army – as we learned from some orderlies – were making progress in their advances on the citadel. I think a night had passed when I was urgently summoned to the telephone by my adjutant. On the phone was Admiral Voss, who was representing Grand Admiral Doenitz in the Fuehrerbunker. In an ungracious voice he said to me, ‘I have just learned that you have been here for some time. You were ordered to report to the Fuehrer as soon as you arrived. Why did you not carry out that order?’ I explained to him that I had been brought initially to Brigadier Mohnke, but he had thought the idea of reporting to the Fuehrer was absurd. To which Voss said, ‘Aha! Well, come to the Fuehrerbunker straight away! I’ll be waiting for you by the doors to the entrance.’
I immediately set off. You had to climb out of a cellar window at the Foreign Office into a courtyard, cross a patch of garden that was under heavy enemy fire, and then climb down through side entrances into the subterranean labyrinth that connected the Fuehrerbunker and the big bunker under the Reich Chancellery. I was in full military uniform, steel helmet on, my sub-machine gun over my shoulder, etc., and was very surprised how easy it was for me get all the way to Hitler fully armed. The sentries were satisfied with my explanation: ‘I’ve been summoned to see the Fuehrer.’
Admiral Voss welcomed me on the steps leading to the bunker. After announcing myself I wanted to give him an explanation for my previous behaviour. But he waved my words away and just said, ‘Afterwards – first I want to introduce you to the Fuehrer.’ We went down the stairs and into the big conference room. There was a big table right beside the entrance. On it, legs dangling, sat Reich Minister Goebbels. He was chatting to General Krebs, the Chief of Staff, who was sitting at the head of the table. As we entered the room, Goebbels immediately came towards me as if electrified, asked with great interest about my soldiers, about our numbers, weapons, etc. But suddenly he broke off and said to me, ‘Please report to the Fuehrer.’
While Goebbels was questioning me, I had seen an old man in civilian clothes standing at the end of the room beneath an arch leading to another room, and was deeply shocked to realize it was Hitler himself. I announced myself, Hitler shook my hand and the first thing he said as, ‘You have come to hell!’ Then there followed something like a quick interrogation. But what Hitler said sounded so strange and disconnected that I was completely at a loss. At that time I had no idea how poor Hitler’s health really was.
Voss was plainly trying to soften the impression he sensed I was getting, by making his own interventions in the questions and answers. But Hitler’s complete degeneration couldn’t be hidden from me. His body had collapsed in on itself, his hands and legs were trembling violently. and much of what he said sounded if he was speaking in a state of feverish delirium. I still remember fragments. So often he would say something like, ‘Oh, these Berliners, these Berliners!’ or, ‘One would need a Hanna Reitsch!’ At the time I knew nothing of the events that had played out down there, and couldn’t make head or tail of the scraps that I was hearing.
Then Hitler dismissed me, shaking hands with me again, and I climbed the bunker steps with Admiral Voss once more. Although I was profoundly shaken, I said nothing to Voss about my impression. He didn’t mention Hitler’s condition either. But I knew that he had noticed my discomfort. Then he gave a few hints that there had been a plan to smuggle larger navy units to Berlin. The attempt had failed, and we were the only ones who had managed to get through.
A few hours after I had been with Adolf Hitler, a delegate of Reich youth leader Axmann came to see me, He and I were to discuss how the members of a Hitler Youth training course that had been held in Potsdam but had been surprised there by the rapid encirclement of Berlin by the Red Army and transferred to the Palais Hess on Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin, along with my young officer cadets, could be deployed for the defence of the Reich Chancellery and the Fuehrerbunker. Before I could authorize this acquisition, I asked to take a look at the boys, and was shocked when I saw a group of 12-15 year old children before my eyes.
I refused to let them be deployed, but even today I can’t forget those boys standing in front of me, pleading over and over again, ‘Staff Lieutenant, please take us! We are willing and able to fight for the Fuehrer!’ They were probably deployed by SS Brigadier Krukenberg, and by chance I was able to witness Goebbels gathering these boys around him again over dinner on 30 April, to say goodbye to them and award the Iron Cross to many of those who had distinguished themselves in service.
Page 292-293 Reich Chancellery, Berlin. April 30
On the afternoon of 30 April, it may have been between 3:00 and 4:00, I was on the way to some groups of my soldiers who were supposed to defending the northern flank of the Reich Chancellery. I was about to leave the big bunker to cross the Kohlenhof to the path that lead up to the Fuehrerbunker, when one of my staff sergeants spoke to me and asked me to go with him to the so-called Green Room in the Reich Chancellery. I followed him, and thus became witness to the farewell party that Goebbels had organized for his Hitler Youth members. His wife, Magda Goebbels, came too, as well as almost all the Minister’s children, secretaries from the Fuehrerbunker, some civilians I didn’t know and cadets from my unit. I too was immediately asked to sit a long table, had a dish of pea soup set before me and saw the Minister sitting diagonally opposite me in lively conversation with some Hitler Youth Members. My staff sergeant was sitting in a different room next to Frau Goebbels, and some of my cadets had taken the younger children on their laps. After dinner, accompanied by a concertina, Hitler Youth songs were sung, and, at the Minister’s request, the old fighting songs of the National Socialists. In between, Goebbels said a few words and awarded the Iron Cross to a row of Hitler Youth who had come in from outside, who had already destroyed some Russian tanks with anti-tank grenades.
I was able to observe Goebbels very carefully, and saw the tears running down his cheeks at the old fighting songs. There was a curious atmosphere in the room, very hard to describe, which no one among the crowd of participants would have been able to escape. Everyone felt somehow that this was a farewell for ever, the end of a world for which millions had fought and shed their blood, and that all the sacrifices had been in vain.
The fierce, relentless bombing outside, all the dead who couldn’t even be granted shelter, the singing in here, all the very young faces that were already marked by the terrible handiwork of war, then the innocently playing children – it all created an atmosphere that was ghostly and unreal, and yet will continue to have its effect throughout the lives of those once gripped by it.
Just for comparison, here is Artur Axmann describing the same day and the same time 30 April Fuehrerbunker Berlin, page 296
We looked at one another in silence. Then Dr Goebbels asked, ‘Wasn’t that a gunshot?’ A moment later Otto Guensche appeared and reported, ‘The Fuehrer is dead.’ It was about 3:30 pm. I followed Guensche into Hitler’s living room with Goebbels and Bormann. We stopped in the doorway and raised out arms. Hitler lay dead against the wall facing us, in the right-hand corner of a small sofa. He was wearing uniform, long black trousers and a field-grey coat with the golden party insignia and the Iron Cross 1st Class. His torso was tilted to one side and his head had fallen slightly backwards. His face and forehead were remarkably white. A thin trail of blood trickled from both temples…The pistol lay on the carpet, The fact that his lower jaw was pushed to one side led me to assume at first that death was caused by a bullet fired into the mouth. Later I learned from Otto Guensche that Hitler had shot himself in the right temple.
Heinz Linge page 296
Adolf and Eva Hitler were sitting on the sofa. Both were dead. Hitler had shot himself in the temple with his 7.65 mm pistol. The 7.65 and his 6.35, which he had kept in reserve in case the large weapon failed, lay on the floor beside his feet. His head was turned slightly to the wall, there was a pool of blood on the carpet beside the sofa. His wife sat on his right. Her legs were drawn up on the sofa. Her contorted face revealed the manner of he death: cyanide poisoning. Her features showed that her teeth were clenched. The box in which the cyanide had been lay on the table
SS-Sturmbannfuehrer Erich Kempka page 297
Dr Stumpfegger and Linge carried Adolf Hitler’s corpse, wrapped in a big dark field blanket, though the antechamber. The face of the ‘boss’ was covered to the base of his nose. Under his hair, which was by now very grey, lay his forehead, the waxen pallor of death, […] I quickly bent down and placed Hitler’s left arm closer to his body. His hair flapped unkempt in the wind.
Traudl Junde Fuehrerbunker, Berlin. 25 April. Page 189-190
When I think back today on the exclusiveness and gruelling precision with which everyone constantly discussed the best possible way of dying, even I can’t understand how it is that I am still alive […]
‘I do not want to fall into the hand of the enemy, either dead or alive. When I’m dead my corpse is to be burned, to remain undiscoverable for all time.’ Hitler decreed. And as we mechanically took our meals, without noticing what we were eating, we talked about the most thorough and certain ways of dying. ‘It’s best to shoot yourself in the mouth. Then the skull explodes, and you don’t notice a thing. Death is instantaneous,’ Hitler explained to us. Be we women were horrified at the idea. ‘I want to be a beautiful corpse,’ said Eva Braun. ‘I’m taking poison.’ And from the pocket of her elegant dress she drew a little brass capsule containing a phial of cyanide. ‘Is it very painful? I’m so afraid of having to suffer for a long time,’ she admitted. ‘And if I’m prepared to die a heroic death, it should at least be painless.’ Hitler explained to us that death by this poison was completely painless. Through the paralysis of the nervous and respiratory system, death would occur within a few seconds. And that ‘comforting’ knowledge led me and Frau Christian to ask the Fuehrer if we too could have such an ampoule. He had been given ten of them by Himmler, and when we left him after dinner, he gave us one each, with the words, ‘I’m very sorry I can’t give you a nicer farewell present than this.
Benito Mussolini, Palazzo Monforte, Milan, 20 Friday 1945, page 88. On secret weapons.
The famous annihilating bombs are being manufactured. I received precise information only a few days ago. Perhaps Hitler doesn’t want to strike before he has absolute certainty that it will be decisive. There seem to be three bombs of incredible power. The manufacture of each one is terribly complicated and tedious. The betrayal of Romania has also had an influence on that, to the extent that the petrol shortage was one of the main reasons for the loss of supremacy in the air. Twenty or thirty thousand static or destroyed aeroplanes. Lack of fuel. The most terrible tragedy of all.