WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
Adolf Hitler was a terrible, terrible human. An Austrian-German politician, he was the leader of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945 where he advocated for and executed the genocide of millions of Jewish people, along with LGBTQ+ people, the disabled and anyone else that didn't fit into his horrifying view of the world.
On April 30, 1945, he committed suicide by gunshot, and his wife killed herself along with him by taking cyanide. He provided after-death instructions which included putting their bodies in a garden, dousing them in gasoline and setting them on fire.
Hitler's death remains a point of contention among historians. Some believe that the couple died from poison only, with no gunshot, while others believe he died from the gunshot while biting down on the cyanide tablet. Others believe that he wasn't actually dead, but had faked his death in order to flee.
LEADING UP TO HIS DEATH, AND HIS DEATH (1)
In early 1945, Germany was not doing so hot. Poland had fallen to the Soviets, Germany had lost allies to the Ardennes Offensive, American forces were advancing, and German forces in Italy were withdrawing.
As it became clear to the Nazi leadership that the battle for Berlin would be the final battle of the war in Europe, Hitler retreated to his Fuhrerbunker on January 16, 1945. American forces were quickly advancing on Berlin.
On April 22, Hitler had a nervous breakdown when he was informed that orders he had given had not been obeyed, which ultimately ended in the declaration that they had lost the war. He planned to stay in Berlin until the bitter end, and then shoot himself. He asked physician Dr. Wesner Haase about the best way to commit suicide, and he told him the "pistol and poison method" - a gunshot with a dash of cyanide.
By April 27, Berlin was cut off from the rest of Germany, communication had been lost. (A lot of war stuff happened here, guys, but I'm not as interested in recapping World War 2 as I am the actual death of Hitler, so I'm mostly skipping that.)
On April 29, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small ceremony within his bunker and then had breakfast with his new wife. Then, he dictated his last will and testament with the directions of what to do with him after death.
On the afternoon of his last full day alive, he learned that Benito Mussolini had been executed, and the bodies of he and his mistress had been strung up by their heels, and thrown into the gutter once cut down. It is assumed that these events further supported his plan to be burned after death, as to not be made a spectacle of.
Before deciding to use the cyanide tablets to end his life, Hitler ordered Dr. Haase to test one on his dog, Blondi, to ensure its efficacy. It worked, and his dog died.
At around 2:30 PM on April 30, Hitler appeared in a hallway where about 20 people gathered to say their farewells. He walked down the line and shook hands with them. He talked to some more people, ate lunch, and ultimately retired to his study with Eva.
Gunshots were heard at approximately 3:30 PM. When people went inside to see, they found the newlyweds' lifeless bodies on the couch. Eva was next to Hitler, slumped over. Hitler had blood dripping out of his right table, his head lying on the table in front of him. Blood was pooling on the carpet.
His written instructions details his after-death wishes. They carried the corpses up the stairs through the emergency exit into the garden. They were doused in gasoline and set ablaze. Word spread of their death the following day.
REMEMBERING HITLER... AS THE WORST PERSON EVER ALIVE
On Hitler's death day, I would like to choose not to remember him and instead, remember the victims and survivors of some of the worst atrocities imaginable.
"It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed." - Elie Weisel (2)
Something I've heard a lot more commonly since having such an, ahem, terrible leader here in the U.S. is that the Holocaust didn't happen overnight. Jewish people didn't go from living their lives without a care in the world to concentration camps and gas chambers overnight. They were first outcasted, separated. They were seen as "other", and when making a group of people be persevered as "other", it allows the non-others to more easily accept the treatment of others.
"We were sent to Buna and were set to work. After a few months there, I went for a walk one day and saw a few tomatoes growing. I was starving by then so I tried to take them and was given a beating so severe, I don't know how I survived it. I still have scars from it today. I was taken to the hospital and knew the rule: if you didn't heal in 4-5 days, they'd take you to Birkenau and you'd be gassed." -Joseph Mandrowitz (2)
You've seen the pictures of the people in Auschwitz. They were so skinny and starved that their bones were completely visible. So not only were they starved, but when they got even the tiniest opportunity to eat, they were beaten within inches of their lives.
"My mother was 4 months pregnant when we arrived. Had we arrived just 2 days earlier, we would have been gassed"..."We arrived on 2 November and on 30 October, 18,000 mothers and children who had arrived from Theresienstadt were killed." -Eva Umlauf (2)
I remember learning about the Holocaust (albeit briefly) in middle school, and remember so clearly reading about how people would arrive and immediately be put into gas chambers by the thousands. To have your life spared by a couple of days seems miraculous, but to still have to live in a concentration camp only to be liberated to find that everyone you knew and loved had died doesn't make either option sound good.
"From the moment I arrived in Auschwitz with my mother and brother in 1944, the terror of it just invaded my whole being. My mother was immediately taken away and I later learned that she had been gassed." -Susan Pollack (2)
The concentration camps and gas chambers are some of the most inhumane, horrific things I've ever heard of, but further, the separation of young children from their parents makes my heart sink. To be taken from your home, thrown onto some sort of transportation and dropped off at a completely new, scary place, only to have your mother, the only source of protection you have, taken away, makes me feel so sad.
"He [Mengele] told us to undress and stand in line and he went through the ranks deciding who was strong and healthy and fit for work, and who was only fit for the gas chamber. After inspecting me, he put his thumb up high, so they gave me the striped uniform and sent me to get a number tattooed on my arm. I don't remember the number. It's there still, but I never look at it because it brings back too many painful memories." -Henry Korman (2)
"We could not have imagined they would kill little children, until we realized that killing children was their primary goal to prevent any new generations. Because desperate people will always look for some sign of hope, we thought to ourselves even if we have to work, at least we'll see each other occasionally. But the German system was full of this sort of deception. It counted on people's normal perception of things. Thinking we were going to a work camp. Thinking that you were going to take a shower when in fact you were going to the gas chambers - that was the ultimate deceit." -Irene Fogel Weiss (2)
Vera Alexander recalls how Mengele impregnated a girl with the sperm of a twin, pampered the mother and attended to the birth. "But when he saw there was only one baby and not twins, he tore the baby right out of the mother's uterus, threw it into an oven and walked away." (3)
"SS German Shepard dogs, belonging to the commander of the SS Oberstrmfuehrer Rosenbaum, with special poison on their teeth... We had to run and the dogs had to chase us. Afterwards, they examined our wounds, the blood. A doctor ripped the flesh of my legs and examined it." -Mr. G (4)
"I was used as a guinea pig for medical experiments. I was never even given painkillers or anesthetics. Everyday I suffered excruciating pain. I was injected with drugs and chemicals. My body most of the time was connected to tubes which inserted some drugs in to my body. Many days I was tied up for hours. Some days they made cuts in my body and left the wounds open for them to study." -Ms. M (4)
I could go on and on. Quotes from concentration camp survivors, people who narrowly avoided the gas chambers, labor camp survivors, medical experimentation survivors. So many people endured the worst pain imaginable but came out the other side - better or worse, it is hard to say. Others didn't get the chance to come out the other side. Gassed upon arrival, shot for their religious beliefs, succumbing to the torture at the camps or medical experimentation.
All of this to say, Adolf Hitler, though not personally the one to carry out much of the pain and torture, gave the okay to thousands of people to dig into the worst, most animalistic parts of themselves to make the lives of the "others" as miserable as possible. He should be remembered - historians can learn a lot from him and the slow burn tactics to "other" people he didn't like are worth learning from, as well.
But for me, not a historian or a politician, just a mere blog writer, I'm going to choose to remember him only for being the worst person I can imagine and will celebrate the anniversary of his death as a good day for the world.