The official account of Adolf Hitler’s death arrived in 1946, courtesy of Hugh Trevor-Roper, a British agent ordered to investigate the matter by the then head of counter-intelligence, Dick White.
Drawing on interviews with eyewitnesses who had been present in the so-called Führerbunker with Hitler, Trevor-Roper concluded that the Nazi leader and his wife Eva Braun had indeed committed suicide in Berlin as Soviet forces approached.
Trevor-Roper’s report, which he swiftly expanded into a bestselling book, countered Soviet disinformation insinuating that Hitler had escaped with his wife and was not dead as Allied officials had concluded in 1945. Nonetheless, the seeds of doubt that Stalin had intentionally sown in the aftermath of Hitler’s supposed death proved fertile enough to encourage decades of conspiracy theories.
Ambiguities surrounded Hitler’s death from the moment it was announced, which, given the historic magnitude of the event, were always likely to attract conspiracy theorists. The most persistent of these theories claims that he escaped Europe to forge an anonymous life in South America.
Escape to South America
Though there are numerous variations on the narrative, the thrust of this conspiracy theory is outlined in Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler, a widely discredited book by Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams.
Their account contests that Nazi funds, acquired by looting gold reserves and valuable art in occupied countries, were stockpiled to fund the Führer’s escape to Argentina – a plot that began to take shape when those around him came to accept that the war was almost certainly lost.
The plan utilised a U-boat, which transported Hitler and Eva Braun, who were extracted from Berlin via a secret tunnel, to Argentina, where Juan Peron’s support had already been established. Hitler supposedly lived out the rest of his days in a remote Bavarian-style mansion before passing away in February 1962.
The story is perhaps lent a whiff of credibility by the fact that plenty of Nazis did disappear to South America and that declassified CIA documents suggest the agency was curious enough to investigate the possibility of Hitler living an incognito Latin American retirement.
Alternative accounts have Hitler popping up all over South America and several suitably grainy photos purporting to portray him have emerged over the years.
The final debunking?
Somehow, such fantastical theories have never been conclusively rebuffed, largely because Hitler’s supposed remains have managed to evade credible examination.
But science may finally have brought decades of speculation to a close. Having obtained long-coveted access to fragments of Hitler’s skull and teeth – which have been held in Moscow since the end of World War II – a team of French researchers recently announced that their analysis proves, beyond doubt, that Hitler died in Berlin in 1945.
The 2017 study granted scientists access to Hitler’s bones for the first time since 1946. Though they weren’t permitted to take samples of the skull, they noted a hole on the left side which was most likely caused by a bullet to the head. They also claimed that the skull fragment’s morphology was “totally comparable” to radiographies of Hitler’s skull taken a year before his death.
Forensic analysis of the teeth was more definitive and the paper, which was published by the European Journal of Internal Medicine, posits that the “conspicuous and unusual prostheses and bridgework” observed in the samples matches the dental records obtained from his personal dentist.
Perhaps now we can finally lay the 20th century’s most reviled dictator to rest for good.