The films of the interviews conducted by Michael Musmanno, an American judge at the Nuremberg trial of top Nazi war criminals, had disappeared and were presumed lost until they were rediscovered two years ago in a Pittsburgh archive.
Now assembled into a documentary, “The Day Hitler Died” will premiere Nov. 16 on the Smithsonian Channel.
Holed up in the bunker in Berlin and surrounded by Soviet troops, Hitler simultaneously bit down on a cyanide capsule and fired a bullet through his head on April 30, 1945.
But so strong was the mystique of the Fuehrer that many refused to believe that the man whose name had become a synonym for absolute evil was actually gone for good. To settle the matter once and for all, Musmanno decided to conduct the filmed interviews with 22 men and women who had shared the 18 rooms of the bunker with Hitler in his last four months.
In 1956, a German court finally declared that Hitler was officially and legally dead.
Up until a week before the end, Hitler still deluded himself that Germany could stave off defeat.
Finally, when Benito Mussolini, his old fascist mentor, was executed by Italian partisans on April 27, 1945, and strung by his heels from a metal girder, Hitler swore that he would kill himself before enduring a similar humiliating end.
But he had one piece of unfinished business, which was to marry Eva Braun, his longtime mistress. After the ceremony on April 29, 1945, the bunker inmates congratulated and toasted the new husband and wife, who then excused themselves to plan for their suicide the following day.
Finally, Hitler dictated his last will and testament to his private secretary. At 56 and after 12 years in power, leaving a trail of mass graves and rubble-strewn cities, the dictator’s foremost obsession had not changed. He had always been a man of peace, Hitler asserted in the opening paragraph of his testament. The people who bore the ultimate responsibility for the devastation, he said, were “international Jewry and its helpers.”
The next day the newlyweds had lunch, and then the new Mrs. Hitler changed into a dress favored by her husband. At 3:30 p.m., Hitler Youth leader Artur Axmann entered the Fuehrer’s room and found that the couple had committed suicide. Their bodies were carried outside the bunker, doused with gasoline and set on fire. The charred remains were buried in a shell crater.