It wasn’t his worst characteristic, but Hitler had lousy teeth. By the time of his suicide, he had just five of his adult choppers left. This gave his inner mouth a distinctive appearance full of gold crowns, porcelain veneers, and bridges, including one that spanned a crown in his lower jaw.
These deplorable dental doings are one of the stronger points against the notion that Hitler escaped his bunker and lived for another 17 years or more. Doctors took X-rays of his head following a 1944 assassination attempt and these were used for comparison on his charred corpse. Also, two dental assistants who worked on Hitler were shown pieces of a jaw the Soviets had retrieved and both immediately confirmed the teeth and bone were Hitler’s. So if Hitler did escape, he lived out his life without his jaws or mouth, a bigger miracle than him managing to slip past Allied troops.
Of course, many Nazis did escape to South America. Joseph Mengele even used his real name part of the time and lived until 1979. Adolph Eichmann spent 15 years escaping justice until captured by Israeli special agents. So wondering if the Nazi leader got away was perhaps inevitable, and speculation he may have gotten away began almost immediately.
The first deniers were SS officers and other Nazi soldiers, which is understandable. They had spent the previous 12 years in a propaganda fog and evidence vacuum, where Hitler’s majesty and the inevitability of the Third Reich’s 1,000-year duration were constantly drilled into the populace. Hearing that this had fallen apart would have caused an extreme case of cognitive dissonance, so reports of his death were dismissed as Allied propaganda. There were bunkers, underground tunnels, and emergency escape plans in place, so this would not have been too crazy for brainwashed Germans to swallow in May of 1945. We must be less charitable to the so-called History Channel for embracing this idea in its schlockfest, “Hunting Hitler.”
Most of this show’s episodes include a kernel of truth in a bushel of bullshit. For instance, one tale has a submarine aiding in Hitler’s escape since one U-boat ended up near Argentina. But the reasons why had nothing to do with a genocidal stowaway. On May 8, 1945, the Kriegsmarine ordered all German subs to surrender. Most U-boats did so, but some believed it was a trick and laid low until receiving confirmation. U-530, commanded by Lt. Otto Wermuth, eventually arrived at an Argentine submarine base and surrendered. There is no evidence Wermuth had transported his Fuhrer to a hideout. Instead, hoping for better treatment, Wermuth decided to go to South America instead of the United States, a decision also made by other U-boat commanders.
“Hunting Hitler” treats any discovery as strong proof that the Nazi dictator got away. A compound deep in the Argentine jungle, presumably built by leftover Ancient Aliens, is one such example. In another example, a sonar device revealed a false wall concealing a tunnel running from a Berlin subway station to the airport. In the post hoc, hell yes, world of the History Channel, this is proof Hitler scurried though this clandestine route and caught a flight to freedom.
At the time Hitler was allegedly doing this, Nazis weren’t the only ones suggesting he might have escaped. Stalin expressed sympathy for this view and the senior Soviet officer, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, said they found no corpse that could be the Nazi dictator. They likely floated these ideas because the premise had Hitler escaping to the West through bumbling Americans.
These suspicions have manifested in many forms since. The late, great tabloid Weekly World News reported in 1989 that the 100-year-old dictator was a grandfatherly figure to South American children. Other rumors had him escaping to the moon, Mars, inside a hollow Earth, or chilling with penguins at the South Pole. An attempt at a more serious claim was made by Gerrard Williams and Simon Dunstan in “Grey Wolf,” in which the authors deduce he died in Argentina in 1962.
History, however, reveals that on April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide. Soviet shells were shaking his bunker and he didn’t dare give Stalin a chance to take him alive. Hitler was so image conscious that he lambasted Mussolini for allowing himself to be photographed in a bathing suit. How much worse it was to be photographed swinging upside down, as Il Duce was after his death at the hands of a mob. Hitler knew deep public humiliation and torture would follow if Stalin got the chance. So he swallowed cyanide, a seemingly superfluous step since he followed that by shooting himself in the head. Next, his valet and three SS guards took his body to an outdoor garden, doused it with gasoline, and set it afire. By the time the Soviets reached it, only fragments remained and even those had been further damaged by shelling, but there was enough left for forensic proof.
The Soviet soldiers proved themselves to be poor makeshift morticians. What was left of Hitler’s body was not taken care of properly and was even mixed with other corpses when they were buried, then moved and reburied multiple times. The Soviets said the remains were kept in their counterintelligence headquarters until they destroyed them in 1970 to prevent them from ever becoming used in a Nazi shrine. All that was left was the skull fragment that featured the fatal bullet hole. However, a 2009 DNA test revealed the skull was actually that of a woman likely in her 30s. While this proved the skull was not Hitler’s, it’s still a long ways from this being evidence he had survived the shelling of his bunker, made it past Soviet troops that were overrunning Berlin, and gotten from the middle of Europe to South America undetected.
In a rare Cold War collaborative effort between the Reds and Yanks, the two superpowers worked together in the mid- and late-1940s to ascertain what had taken place in Hitler’s final days and minutes. Leading the way was a Soviet intelligence officer, Maj. Hugh Trevor-Roper. He examined every piece of evidence and interviewed every witness. This included Hitler’s valet, Heinz Linge, and his bodyguard, Rochus Misch, who ended up being the last living bunker survivor. Trevor-Roper cataloged all this in his book, “The Last Days of Hitler,” which includes a moment-by-moment account of Hitler losing touch with reality, his suicide, and the disposal and recovery of the bodies.
One might reasonably give little credence to the initial accounts of Hitler’s handlers, who had been indoctrinated to protect and revere the Fuhrer, and to think they might have lied to help him get away. That’s less easy to do with subsequent reports and very difficult to do with a Soviet officer tasked with verifying what happened. To dismiss his report and its hundreds of pieces of corroboration, including dental X-rays, could likely appeal only to the most resolute conspiracy theorist, for whom fuzzy photos, excited whispers, and jumped-to conclusions are the preferred evidence.