The idea that Adolf Hitler faked his own suicide on April 30 1945 and escaped to Argentina with his new wife Eva Braun remains a much-loved subject for novelists, film makers and conspiracy theorists. Why do they do it? Cash mainly, because Hitler sells very well indeed. The History Channel’s series “Hunting Hitler” attracted as many million viewers as the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. Yes, Hitler is a cash cow nearly 80 years after the end of the war.
The evidence that Hitler lived on is always circumstantial. In theory, he could have escaped from the Berlin bunker even though the Russians were already in the city: Hitler’s favourite pilot Hanna Reich actually flew and landed a light plane there under shell fire on April 29. Soviet leader Stalin often put forward the idea that Hitler was not dead and remained a threat, but this was to bolster his argument that all of Europe should be communist-controlled for safety’s sake. Various citizens of Argentina decades later gladly cash-sold their stories of seeing a nazi submarine landing Hitler at a local port by night, or eating a German ham and sausages breakfast at a street cafe in Patagonia. In reality, Hitler was a confirmed vegetarian from the 1930s onwards.
Fuzzy photos and technological trickery complete the picture. One supposed picture of Hitler sleeping in a deck chair in the 1950s turned out to be a British guy from a retirement home in Blackpool. Images of Bruno Ganz, who played the Fuhrer in the movie “Downfall”, were copied, altered and faked so many times on the internet that some said the whole business had helped to make the actor terminally ill. One touched-up photo actually claims to show Hitler in a nazi bunker beneath the Antarctic, whilst a made-for-tv movie speculated that the advent of the Fourth Reich would be organized from the dark side of the moon.
The evidence Hitler shot himself, or took cyanide or likely both, in April 1945 is overwhelming. A host of nazi witnesses in Russian captivity, such as personal aides Heinz Linge and Otto Gunsche, saw the petrol being poured on the bodies of Hitler and his wife. Hitler’s secretaries who survived the war told the same story, including Gerda Christian and Traudi Junge, stoutly resisting all attempts by movie makers to tell a different tale. Hitler’s dental records also survived the war and matched the charred oral remains in Hitler’s corpse. Escapees such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele, who did make it to South America, may have planned the Fourth Reich but never even hinted that their former boss had lived on to lead the resurgence.
Even so, the idea that Hitler breathed till the early 1960s is unlikely to die out. We live in a world increasingly captivated by conspiracy theories dominated by social media and politicians seeking personal power and enrichment. For example, the American House of Representatives and Senate has several outspoken holocaust deniers. One even believes Hitler was placed in suspended animation or deep-freezing after the war and is waiting to return to save the world in January 2033, the centennial of his coming to power in Germany. Of course, that assumes the world’s worth saving by then.