Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Search of... Eva Braun

On this date in 1945, Nazi leader Adolph Hitler married his long-time mistress Eva Braun in the 'Fuhrerbunker' in Berlin, with the Red Army just a few hundred yards away and shells exploding around them.  The two committed suicide together the next day.  She was 33 years old. He was 56. The German public was totally unaware of Braun until after her death, despite the fact that she and Hitler were together for almost 15 years.

I really liked the TV show 
In Search of... as a kid in the 1970's. I have enjoyed re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the explanations proffered for the mysteries the show examined. In Search Of... once did an episode examining the possibility that Eva Braun may have survived this 1945 dual suicide. It first aired in February 1982. You can watch a 10 minute segment from this episode by clicking HERE. "Did she escape, as persistent rumors claim?" asks narrator Leonard Nimoy near the start of this episode. "Is it possible that Eva Braun is alive today?"

As it turns out there is more of a genuine "mystery" about this than many may have realized, one riddled with more uncertainty and contradictory scientific evidence than is commonly assumed.  It has been generally accepted for decades that Eva Braun committed suicide just before Hitler by biting on a cyanide capsule, and that Hitler then followed suit shortly thereafter by shooting himself in the head with a pistol, perhaps while also biting down simultaneously on another cyanide capsule.  But the forensic evidence for this scenario is limited.  

The Germans hastily burned and then buried Hitler's and Braun's bodies in a shallow grave just outside the 'Fuherbunker' immediately afterward, as instructed.  The invading Red Army found the remains shortly thereafter, however, and returned them to Moscow.  Nonetheless, Hitler's and Braun's deaths remained shrouded in mystery for decades afterward, even after Stalin's death in 1953. The Soviets never made public any photographs or other proof (other than copies of their own autopsy reports) that they had found these charred remains, instead interring them in a secret East German facility until 1970, at which time they were secretly dug up by the KGB, cremated, and the ashes scattered in a local river. Even this was only confirmed conclusively last year. (Why was this done only in 1970?  You can read the CNN article HERE.) Only a jawbone, a skull fragment and a bloodstained sofa survived, and they languished in Soviet archives until after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  This was further complicated by the fact that at the end of the War, after first claiming Hitler was dead, Stalin suggested cryptically to the Allies that Hitler may have survived and fled to Argentina.

The jawbone fragment has been confirmed to be Hitler's based on his dental records.  But it has never been put on public display or DNA tested.  It is kept today in the archives of the FSB (a successor to the KGB).  The skull fragment was also assumed to be Hitler's, in particular because it had a bullet hole in it, which was consistent with the story of his death.  But last September this skull fragment was DNA tested as part of a History Channel show called Mystery Quest.  To everyone's surprise, the DNA testing revealed that it was actually from a woman aged between 20 and 40.  Could this actually be the remains of Eva Braun?  You can watch a 2 minute promo clip from this episode of Mystery Quest by clicking HERE.

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