- For almost 30 years, J. Edgar Hoover
and the FBI maintained a detailed dossier on Adolf Hitler and closely investigated
any report that indicated he still was alive.
- Adolf Hitler lives -- in cyberspace,
that is, where 734 pages of Hitler's raw FBI file can be downloaded from
the Internet. The files contain speeches, rare photographs, old newspaper
clippings, details about discovery of the Führer's personal notes
and chinaware and assassination plots -- as well as an extensive 11-year
probe into the possibility that Hitler faked his own death with a bogus
suicide in 1945.
- At times these files read like a supermarket
tabloid, with outrageous conspiracy theories that remind readers that FBI
Director J. Edgar Hoover was a suspicious man. At other times, the files
reveal how serious the FBI considered allegations that one of this century's
most evil despots may have escaped his Berlin bunker.
- The records begin with President Franklin
Roosevelt becoming enraged upon learning of a 1933 New York conspiracy
to kill Hitler and continue into the fifties with a Western Union telegram
declaring, "I have positive proof that Hitler is living."
- There are seven volumes of these records.
A photographic exhibit of Hitler in uniform dominates the final volume.
Scattered throughout are clippings from newspapers. The last story is a
1956 article about the plans of Hitler's sister, Paula Wolf, to write a
book about her brother to "set some facts straight" as soon as
a Munich court declares her brother dead. "The readers will forgive
me," she says, "if I abstain from depicting my brother at all
costs as a wicked character just for the sake of profit." An accompanying
Associated Press article noted boldly, "He Is Officially Alive 'Til
Court Issues Certificate."
- As for that Western Union tipster, the
FBI never tracked down the sender nor did it ever identify the members
of the 1933 conspiracy plot to kill Hitler. But that plot sure kept Hoover's
G-men busy. The file reveals that the plot began when the German Embassy
asked the State Department to initiate an investigation based upon a letter
signed by a "Daniel Stern," which said that unless FDR rebuked
Hitler for his outrages against Jews, then "I notify you that I shall
go to Germany and assassinate Hitler."
- The State Department handed off the probe
to the FBI, which never found Stern. But the probe opened the door for
Hoover to look at pro-Nazi organizations. Don Whitehead, one of the few
authors to research the plot, wrote about it in his book, The FBI Story,
A Report to the People. He calls it a "diplomatic fumble" by
the German ambassador in Washington, who probably wished he never had called
the State Department. That's because Hoover's investigation ultimately
became "a valuable reference when the Department of Justice requested
additional investigations. And Hoover passed the information to the president,"
- All of this is in Hitler's FBI file --even
Whitehead's observations -- and now is available at www.fbi.gov. Between
the poor copies -- some nearly impossible to read because, says FBI Freedom
of Information Officer Linda Gloss, the copies were not made from originals
-- and the heavy black ink blocking out what today still is considered
classified, there rests a fascinating tale of the FBI's role during the
World War II era.
- For example, deep in the files are a
series of memos written by Hoover on Oct. 5, 1939, reviewing intelligence
from a confidential informant. The Hoover memos to various U.S. military-intelligence
agencies and the president's chief of staff warned of future Japanese aggression
and Germany's attack on France. "The Japanese will attack British
Indochina and other colonies without warning, simultaneously with the German
advance on France," Hoover wrote.
- And there is ample evidence in the files
to undermine rumors that Hitler's personal physician tried to poison him
or "administer narcotics that might have contributed to the impairment
of Hitler's health" or that "Hitler inherited certain [psychophysical]
traits in his childhood and later on, and that these might account for
his crimes and other actions," according to an FBI investigation into
- The FBI's Hitler files have been available
for some time to anyone who cared to schedule an appointment at FBI headquarters
in Washington, but few have done so. Two recent critically acclaimed books,
Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet by Fritz Redlich and Explaining
Hitler by Ron Rosenbaum, fail to mention the FBI files -- although some
of the records used to support these authors' opinions, such as Hitler's
medical records, are duplicated in the files from other sources.
- Redlich and Rosenbaum may have avoided
Hitler's FBI file because some of the information there concerns allegations
that border on the absurd -- for instance, that Hitler survived the war.
Historians generally accept that Hitler committed suicide April 30, 1945,
in a Berlin bunker as Allied troops closed in on him. The Soviets recently
made available forensic proof of this in their possession since the war's
end. But there was no such certainty in the West 50 years ago when opinion
polls showed that two of every three Americans believed Hitler indeed was
alive. Hoover didn't rule it out but never concluded that the Nazi dictator
was dead. Besieged with letters from witnesses swearing they had spotted
the defeated Nazi dictator, the files show, the Hitler hunt began.
- Some tips were considered credible. One
of these came from a doctor who claimed to have treated Hitler for an intestinal
disorder in St. Louis -- an alarming story because the FBI obtained Hitler's
classified medical records and verified that Hitler suffered from a similar
condition. That information was not publicly known at the time.
- Other reports simply were bizarre. A
77-year-old man claimed to have found a letter written by Hitler in 1947.
"Call it a Hitler hoax, if you will," the man wrote Hoover, "and
believe its delivery in German over a USA radio would be the most startling
sensation since Orson Welles' attack of the Martians."
- During an FBI interview with the elderly
man, he admitted to "perpetrating this hoax to create a sensation,"
according to the interrogating agent's notes. "He seemed to be a psychopathic
case," the agent wrote. And that was far from the only nut to roll
out of the barrel. Others told tales of Hitler dining in a Washington restaurant
in 1946; jumping out of a New Orleans train in 1948; purchasing 8,960 acres
of land near Kit Carson, Colo.; and finding work as a butler in London
- Most of the letters had one thing in
common: suspicions and allegations but no proof -- such as this Oct. 15,
1945, letter from a New York man who wrote, "I'll bet a dollar to
a doughnut that Hitler is located right in New York City. There's no other
city in the world where he could so easily be absorbed. No doubt you have
considered this possibility, but I mention it for what it is worth anyway."
- As incredible as all of this sounds now,
the FBI treated such matters very seriously. If the G-men couldn't chase
down the tip, they made every effort to find the tipster and either expose
a mistake or identify a prankster or mental case. For instance, on Oct.
10, l948, a Washington woman who operated a boardinghouse wrote to the
FBI, claiming one of her borders was Hitler. She mostly was worried about
whether she might be prosecuted for harboring him and wanted to know if
any "action could possibly be taken against her." The FBI dismissed
the complaint with the note: "She is obviously demented."
- But while some sightings were dismissed
without an intense investigation, others weren't. The files show that Hoover's
G-men conducted a massive manhunt for Hitler on a scale not seen since
Charles Lindbergh's baby was kidnapped and murdered, with agents trekking
to the four corners of the globe in search of the Nazi leader.
- The most frequent sighting was in South
America -- a notoriously safe haven for Nazi war criminals, according to
the FBI files. And so the FBI dispatched a team of G-men to investigate
reports from newspaper articles (many contained in the FBI file) and independent
witnesses apparently claiming Hitler was in Argentina.
- The Argentina stories intrigued Hoover.
In 1944, a year before Hitler's reported death, Hoover received a tip that
Hitler would receive refuge in Argentina, according to a Sept. 4, 1944,
memo written by an FBI agent. The memo noted that Argentine political leaders
had plans to conduct clandestine meetings with Hitler "for the arranging
of importing arms and technicians into Argentina." The memo notes
that bicycle factories there had been converted to plants for manufacturing
munitions and that a "large wealthy German colony in Argentina affords
tremendous possibilities" as a refuge for Hitler and his henchmen.
"One of the members [of the postwar German planners], Count Luxburg,
has been mentioned as operating a ranch which would serve in providing
- Within a year witnesses began flooding
the FBI with Hitler sightings in Argentina. Some of these, the FBI rationalized,
resulted from tabloid press reports claiming Hitler had escaped and was
waiting for war to break out between the Soviet Union and the United States
before emerging as a leader in the new world. And there were outspoken
Nazi sympathizers such as Otto Abetz, Germany's wartime ambassador to France,
boasting that Hitler "is certainly not dead" and was "not
a coward -- I believe one day he will return."
- The most sensational story appeared June
20, 1948, in El Tiempo, a Spanish newspaper published in Colombia, claiming
Hitler had escaped via submarine to Bogotà. The paper provided a
detailed account of Hitler's supposedly cowardly flight and fueled dozens
of similar stories around the world. Many of those appeared in the FBI
files as clippings ranging from obscure magazines to the Associated Press.
- One such story claimed that the Swedes
observed a mysterious yacht moving in and out of inlets on the North Sea
or a Brazilian ship reportedly sunk by an unidentified submarine transporting
a woman some claimed to be Eva Braun, Hitler's wife. Braun landed from
that submarine off the coast of Argentina, one article claimed. The same
article suggested a Japanese navy staff officer had volunteered details
of a plan to evacuate Hitler and Braun to Japan after the fall of Germany.
- Closer to home a mysterious submarine
reportedly was seen about 1,300 miles north of Catalina, Calif., in a location
where Theodore Donay, a wealthy Detroit importer, disappeared. According
to wire reports, Donay was convicted in 1943 as a traitor for aiding Hans
Peter Krug, an escaped Nazi, and never was found.
- But none of these reports apparently
could be directly linked to Hitler and the FBI repeatedly concluded they
were baseless rumors. One agent expressed shock in the files that the Chicago
Times carried such rumor and innuendo and chastised an unnamed writer.
"His reputation is extremely poor and he is generally considered to
be a journalist of the most sensational and unreliable nature."
- One reason that Hitler's death was not
believed for so long was that the Russians deliberately withheld information,
writes Redlich. In fact, it wasn't until Russian journalist Lev Bezymenski
wrote a book translated into English in 1968 that the West learned that
the Russians performed autopsies on corpses recovered May 2, 1945, in shallow
graves in a garden near the Berlin bunker. The bodies were believed to
be Hitler, his wife and their two dogs.
- The United States was angered by the
slow Russian revelations -- but the Russian government defended its actions,
saying 30 years was customary for declassification of secrets. Meanwhile,
at the Yalta conference in 1945, Stalin declared that Hitler had escaped.
- Further adding to continuing suspicions
are the autopsy reports concerning a missing testicle and superficial accounts
of main body organs. Indeed, Bezymenski since has acknowledged that the
autopsy reports were false, casting more mystery on Hitler's death. Redlich
says, "This only confirms what Western historians and forensic experts
suspected: that the Soviet investigation was fraught with deceit, secrecy
- Compounding the mystery was how Hitler
died. It generally was believed by historians that Hitler bit down on a
glass ampoule containing potassium cyanide while shooting himself in the
head on April 30, 1945. But Redlich observes, "The question can be
raised as to whether Hitler's Parkinson's tremor would have allowed him
to follow this procedure." Proving that theory ended after it was
learned that Hitler's remains had been transferred nine times from one
burial site to another and, finally, to the Lefortove prison in Moscow
where they were cremated.
- It wasn't until 1973 when two Western
experts in forensic dentistry compared Russian medical reports and X-rays
of Hitler's teeth that it became evident that the corpse found outside
the bunker indeed was the Führer. For Redlich and others that is enough
proof. "It is certain that Hitler, who at present would be over 100
years old, is dead and that he died by suicide. No serious student of history
maintains that he escaped with the help of his paladins."
- Meanwhile, the definitive proof that
the X-rays of the corpse provided by the Russians to that forensic dentistry
team are legitimate, rests in a Russian classified vault. What's inside
that archive? Hitler's lower jawbone. At least that's what the Russians
claim. Such details no doubt are being added to Hitler's FBI file even
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