Why you should care
Because history is sometimes stranger than fiction.
Quentin Tarantino reimagined the end of World War II as only he could — with Hitler being machine-gunned to death in a movie theater by Jewish GIs. Inglourious Basterds, the director’s 2009 eight-time-Oscar-nominated moneymaker of a flick, made absolutely no effort to tell the truth, and maybe we’re all better off for it. But film is not history, and that may be precisely why it’s much more satisfying than whatever constituted the real story connected to the not-rapid-enough exit of Adolf Hitler.
The real story, according to the consensus? Hitler died in his bunker on April 30, 1945, victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But confusion surrounding an initial postmortem — not to mention plenty of alternative theories — have fueled speculation since then, leading many researchers to dig deeper into the whos, whats and wherefores of the dictator’s passing. Some of them, dismissing the official story altogether, fervently believe Hitler didn’t die that day, but instead fled to Spain and then Argentina.
As early as the summer of 1945, there were headlines asking ‘Where is Hitler?’ all over the world.
Pablo Weschler, researcher
When U.S. intel officers debriefed former Gestapo chief Heinrich Mueller prior to his going to work for American intelligence to aid the anti-communist push, he “disclosed that Hitler escaped to Spain after the war and that his place in the bunker — and the grave — was taken by a double, a distant blood relative of the Führer’s,” says American talk-radio host and political researcher Dave Emory.
Joseph Stalin publicly waffled on whether or not Hitler was dead, expressing dissatisfaction until bodies were produced, and suspicion after they were. An initial autopsy — one that notably failed to mention a bullet — led Stalin to take a view that has evolved into an oft-repeated question: What really happened to Hitler? The pro-suiciders’ believe in the standard Hitler–Eva Braun double-suicide story that has dominated the airwaves. But since 1945 there have been anti-suiciders — first derided as wackos, now perhaps less so — who have made compelling counterclaims, all thoroughly documented in a cottage industry of books, articles and TV shows.
In a 2012 interview with The Jerusalem Post about their documentary, Revealed: Hitler in Argentina, director-producer Noam Shalev and researcher Pablo Weschler said a treasure trove of evidence for alternative theories about Hitler’s fate existed. “No one believed the Russians’ story of Hitler’s suicide in the bunker,” Weschler said. “As early as the summer of 1945, there were headlines asking ‘Where is Hitler?’ all over the world.”
Now even some Russians have doubts, thanks to a 2009 report by Pravda detailing how researcher Linda Strausbaugh ran some DNA samples and found that the bone fragments — collected by the Soviets — came from a woman, not a man. This culminated in one writer’s call for the samples to be compared to ones from Hitler’s sister, who died in 1960. (That has yet to happen.) In Hitler’s Exile: Proof of the Escape of the Führer to Argentina, Argentine author Abel Basti doubles down, suggesting that the Nazi leader was flown from Berlin to Spain in a Messerschmitt Me-262, and then traveled, with Braun, to Argentina by submarine.
Simple, right? “Look, Hitler was concerned that the Soviets would dig him out of the bunker alive, ‘by some sly trick,’ ” says David H. Lippman, author of World War II Plus 75: The Road to War. But, Lippman adds, he “was not going to flee.… He was going to die like a Wagnerian character, in the burning fires he had created.” Lippman also notes that Hitler talked a great deal about his impending suicide.
So while most historians agree that Hitler died in that bunker almost 71 years ago, there are those will always insist otherwise. When it comes to the darkest figure of the 20th century — who’s most assuredly dead now — Shalev believes that “in the chaos and confusion of Berlin at the end of April 1945, and in face of the global lack of interest in Argentina … Hitler arrived in Argentina and lived there a few years.” He denies that it was a conspiracy, saying it was instead a “successful, last-minute escape from death with the support of a few loyalists.”
And so round and round it goes.