Background: By the end of the war, German newspapers were reduced to single sheets. This is the commentary on Hitler’s death by a Hamburg newspaper, dated Wednesday, 2 May 1945. The rest of the issue includes grim military news (Allied forces were nearing Hamburg), a surprising bit of sports news (including an upcoming table tennis match), and many brief death notices. I here translate three items dealing with Hitler’s death.
Herman Okraß, the author of the first article, an obituary for Hitler, was an early Nazi who had written a book on the early years of the movement. He was the paper’s editor. After the war, he was sentenced to a prison term, but was released due to time already served. The second item is an appeal to keep fighting from Hamburg’s Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann The third item is on world press reaction to the approaching end of the war.
The source: Hermann Okraß, “Abschied von Hitler,” Hamburger Zeitung, 2 May 1945, p. 1.
He once said: “I wish nothing on my gravestone other than my name.” Even his name will probably not stand over his grave, for we know that he must have perished while fighting bitterly in the Reich Chancellery. We know that the enemy will be able to find a body in the ruins caused by countless artillery shells and countless flame throwers, and that they may say that it is the Führer’s body, but we will not believe it. If the enemy says that, we will not believe it. That his body is dead we believe, what is mortal of him has perished, has passed away, but he has fulfilled his most beautiful oath, this affirmation: “The most valuable thing God has given me on this world is my people. My faith rests on it, I serve it with my will, and I give my life to it.” His life is fulfilled. He began by fighting for his people, and he ended that way. A life of battle.
Now the world will attempt to explain him. Books will be written about him, some praising, others cursing him. People will criticize him, people will pray for him. A great one has left this world, and where a strong, bright light is extinguished, creatures suddenly appear in the twilight that had hidden from the bright light. That is all foreign to us, far from our way of thinking. For this we affirm: We swore an oath to this man and his teachings, we pledged ourselves to him during our people’s dark days, we rose with him to the heights to which he led our people in the brief, beautiful years of peace, and like all good Germans, we stood by him in battle. The world should not appear small and shabby to us because the victors can rejoice. We can confidently leave his judgment to world history. We today cannot decide it.
But will posterity be able to understand him fully? It is hard for contemporaries to pass judgment about someone of their own era, particularly if it is one as unique as Adolf Hitler. Posterity sees the great from a distance, reads his words, reads our words, but it cannot understand the world of our day in all of is breadth. One can only hope that they believe the great words of the great man. “One could give me whole parts of the earth, but I would rather remain the poorest citizen of this state. — I am not so crazy as to want war. — I was a worker in my youth, and have remained one in my inmost being. — We are not fighting for theories, nor for dogmas. It make no difference whether or not we live. The only thing that is important is that our people lives!”
How will these words sound to posterity? Will they be able to understand why a whole people, in the midst of its deepest poverty, affirmed this man? We may only hope so, for we know that world history will then truly understand this man, his teachings, and our age. We see that more clearly today than ever before, we see it proven by the immeasurably hard battle that our people has withstood so bravely, we see it in the silent unspoken loyalty of the poorest sons of our people that Adolf Hitler gathered as a lens that focuses all light on a single point; the most beautiful virtues, the most fervent desires, the noblest longings, the beautiful will of our people, the longing for the Reich, the drive for social justice, the will for freedom, for clear leadership, our people saw that all united in Adolf Hitler and his idea. That little minds darkened the image of his clear will, that traitors and bad counselors deserted and betrayed him, that finally he was overcome by a great superiority of steel and money, that cannot change the image of him that is in the deepest heart of our people. The present hour may perhaps dim that image, the enormous sacrifices, the sorrow and misery, may distort it, but when one day the senses clear, when thoughts are once again free, he will appear once more even to the last people’s comrade as he did in days in which the whole nation joyfully affirmed him.
The man is dead. He fell fighting. He remained loyal to himself. He wanted the best for his people, which is why it loved him so much. We know that he will continue to live in our land not as a war hero in the form of a metal statue, but rather as a child of the people whose pure will the people understood, and whose most beautiful words will remain a memorial for us, his words that in a people’s deepest need, one must love his people more than himself.
Karl Kaufmann, Gauleiter and Reich Governor of Hamburg, spoke over the radio to the population of Hamburg. He said:
Party comrades! People’s comrades!
It was the gravest hour of our people as the news reached us today that our Führer died fighting in the Reich capital. History will one day proclaim what he was to us old National Socialists, what he strived to achieve for his people. He leaves behind the immortal idea of the National Socialist Reich, which obligates us to remain true to our people in our people’s deepest need, to work for this people, to live and die for it.
In this hour, my citizens of Hamburg, my most fervent wish is this: that you put your fate and your future confidently in my hands, as before, and that you follow me in unshakable faith and unshakable discipline along the hard path that I will follow to the end for the good of the city and its people that are entrusted to me. [The next day, Kaufmann surrendered the city without a fight.]
In the world press, the news of Adolf Hitler’s death overshadowed the numerous accounts of Count Folke Berndadotte’s mission, which had been the center of attention in recent days. Bernadotte, who returned to Stockholm on Tuesday, stated that he had not had a new meeting with Himmler, and had therefore received no offer of surrender from him. Sources in Stockholm claim that the Count did hold talks with other German leaders, among them General Field Marshal von Busch and Grand Admiral Dönitz.
In contrast to the high expectations that the reports of surrender has caused in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Churchill replied to the question of whether he wanted to make a statement by saying: “No, other than that the situation is more satisfying than it was five years ago.” Churchill also made no statement about the withdrawal of German troops from areas they still occupy. He was unable to say what form the news about the actual end of the war would take, or whether weapons would be laid down simultaneously on all fronts. If a statement became necessary, he would not withhold it for a moment, but would ask the speaker for time to make a statement. During the course of the debate, it became clear that Prime Minister Churchill himself will announce a surrender or armistice over the radio, and that the King of England intends to speak to his people and to the British Empire. The King wishes that the following Sunday be a day of prayer and thanksgiving.
The Allied powers have accepted a German offer to release Allied prisoners of war held in its camps.
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