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Memoirs From
Hitler's Messenger

By Clare Chapman
6-6-4
 
BERLIN -- He was a high-flying member of the Hitler Youth, just 16 years old and one of the youngest, proudest occupants of the Fuhrer's bunker. Armin Lehmann, brought up to idolise Hitler, revelled in his duties as a courier for the German High Command in the Second World War.
 
The young Lehmann, a fanatical Nazi, was convinced that he was part of a "new order" destined to last 1,000 years. In April 1945, he was chosen to run messages between the radio room below the party Chancellery and Hitler's secret underground bunker in Berlin.
 
Little did he realise that these would be the last days of the war. Nor could Lehmann have known, when he bumped into a dishevelled Hitler on April 30, that the F¸hrer would later that day take his own life. He had distributed Hitler's last orders not to surrender. "It never entered my mind, even then, as the bombs rained down, that we would lose," said Lehmann, whose frank memoirs In Hitler's Bunker: A Boy Soldier's Eyewitness Account of the Fuhrer's Last Days have just been published in Germany.
 
The son of a dedicated Nazi, Lehmann joined the Hitler Youth aged 10 and soon emerged as one of its stars. He gained his privileged place in the bunker after earning an Iron Cross aged 16 for saving two comrades while wounded during fighting in January 1945.
 
In that last encounter with Hitler, Lehmann, who is now 75, recalls: "None of us had slept much in the last 10 days and I guess he was no different. He was like a ghost - he didn't seem to see me or anyone. He just stared ahead, lost in thought. At that moment, the bunker was shaken by a strong tremor as a bomb hit. Dirt and mortar trickled down on us, but he made no attempt to brush it off. He looked so much more unhealthy than 10 days earlier at his birthday reception when I had first met him. It looked like he was suffering from jaundice. His face was sallow."
 
Two weeks earlier, Lehmann had been bussed into Berlin with tens of thousands of other teenage troops. "We all idolised Hitler. We were dedicated to following his path unerringly even though we were dodging Allied bullets."
 
In all, 30,000 troops from the Hitler Youth would die in the Allied onslaught on Berlin. While his comrades were sent to the frontline, Lehmann began relaying messages between Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann. At their first meeting, he said, Hitler greeted him with a "friendly tug on the cheek".
 
The night Hitler died, Lehmann and his fellow couriers fled. Although he was shot, Lehmann was captured by American soldiers who treated his wounds and saved his life.
 
Lehmann is now a peace activist who lectures on the evils of war. At the age of 16, he was taken to see the Nazi death camps and from that moment repented of his involvement with the cause. He moved to America in the 1950s, taking US citizenship in 1967. His memoirs, he says, are an effort to explain the mindset of a youth brought up to serve a dictatorship.
 
"In 1995, 50 years after the end of the war, I was interviewed by a newspaper and I told them I had been a messenger for Hitler. A couple of days after my photo and a story was published, I bumped into a woman neighbour and her 12-year-old daughter. The girl looked at me and asked her mum if I was a Nazi war criminal.
 
"I was so shocked that I decided to set myself the task of writing about the Third Reich and my experiences in such a way that even schoolchildren would understand it. How difficult it must be for all those who live in a democracy, used to a free press and to open exchanges of opinions to understand the one-track mind of a youth in a dictatorship."
 
Born in Weimar in 1929, Lehmann was just four when Hitler came to power. "As a young boy, I witnessed with great excitement the first rally and torchlight procession of a storm trooper unit."
 
His only moment of doubt came in November 1938. "I remember the Kristallnacht, the 'Night of Broken Glass'," he said. "I was shocked that the nice people in a candy store I frequented had been Jewish."
 
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/0
6/06/wleh06.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/06/06/ixworld.html


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