Adolf Hitler's Secret FBI
Files Now On The Net
By Timothy W. Maier
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," Whitehead observes.
All of this is in Hitler's FBI file --even Whitehead's observations -- and now is available at 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 matter.
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 in 1946.
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 a haven."
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 and incompetence."
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 now.
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