Forget your chemtrails, your big pharma, your New World Order; forget UFO abductions, Bigfoot and GMOs. This is the granddaddy conspiracy theory of them all. This one makes all the rest look like grade school gossip. It makes the petty conspiracies of local bloggers look like the diaphanous piffle they really are.*
What is it? That Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun escaped from Berlin in 1945 and survived until the 1960s in exile in South America. And his dog, Blondi, got out with them, too. And, in their marital bliss Adolf and Eva had two children after the war, living in their idyllic home in the Andean foothills.
No suicide, no bodies burned outside the bunker. Alive in Patagonia for 17 years after the war ended… the wet dream of neo-Nazis, racists, ISIS militants and soccer hooligans everywhere.
Of course, it’s not new: this tale has been around in one form or another since 1945, causing despair and hope (depending on your political leanings) for the past 70 years. It resurfaced recently in the book Grey Wolf, by Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams (Sterling, New York, 2011). The great conspiracy of our times, it is, and they tell it well.
As we quickly approach the 70th anniversary of Der Fuhrer’s death (or alleged death if you believe in this stuff), I’m sure it will raise its ugly head again in May of this year.
I remember reading books about the escape of Nazi leaders to South America – not necessarily Hitler – back in the 70s. The butchers Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele both escaped to South America (the former was caught in Argentina, the latter escaped capture and died in Brazil in 1976). Other Nazis could have escaped and lived out the remainder of their lives there, too – an estimated 30,000 escaped Germany after the war, many ending up in South America.
But Hitler? Braun? Bormann, too? That’s a stretch. it would be difficult if not impossible for that to be kept so secret for so long.
I don’t buy into the story the authors tell about Hitler and Braun. It’s constructed of flimsy material; the authors seem to confuse anecdote with fact, and allegation with truth (much like the local bloggers). They put too much effort into conjecture and guesswork (which they call deductive reasoning) and far too many crucial statements made in the book are not backed by primary material, but rather – when they are supported in the endnotes – by someone else saying the same thing, or by anecdote.
But you have to admit, it’s a fascinating story. Unlike many other conspiracy theories, and unlike most of the Hitler-escaped theories that were touted in the past, this one is well constructed and much of it supported by historical data. Ah, but it is also buttressed by circumstantial and coincidental material. If you haven’t read a lot of WWII history, or are prone to believe in conspiracies, a lot of the latter may seem more plausible than it really is.
Much of the background story illuminates some of the darker corners of WWII: it reveals details about the collapse of the Nazi party amidst vicious infighting, about South American politics, weapons development, about intelligence agencies and secrecy. That material is actually well written and enlightening. Fortunately, like the other conspiracy theories, the rest of it is mostly bunk – entertaining, but seriously questionable.
The Daily Mail tells of some of the conspiracy stories that emerged from 1945:
In September 1945, it was claimed that Hitler and his private secretary, Martin Bormann, had boarded a luxury yacht in Hamburg and had sailed to a secret island off the coast of Schleswig-Holstein.
The next month, staff at the British Legation in Copenhagen informed the Foreign Office that a Danish woman had told them that a friend had dreamed that Hitler was disguised as a monk and living in Spain.
In December, the Americans were ‘reliably informed’ that Hitler had boarded a submarine off the island of Majorca, where he had been living in a hotel with a group of nuclear scientists. Then there were claims that he was living as a hermit in a cave in Italy, or working as a shepherd in the Swiss Alps.
There were those who stated that he’d hidden himself in Antarctica, or even further away still — the Moon! All these reports, no matter how ridiculous, had to be taken seriously and investigated. One after the other, they were found to be groundless.
Some were undoubtedly the products of a Soviet disinformation campaign. For a long time, the Russians believed that the Allies were sheltering Hitler, and they put about these fake stories in an attempt to flush out what they thought to be the truth…
There’s not a serious historian who would give the story any more credence than they would to Elvis Presley being alive and well and still hip-swinging in Tennessee.
This conspiracy is really nothing new: similar stories have been made public ever since the war ended. More recently, in 2009 Abel Basti, an Argentinean writer who subsequently accused Dunstan and Williams of plagiarism, published his own book about Hitler’s escape to Argentina. In 2014, another writer claimed Hitler lived until 95 under the assumed name Adolf Leipzig, in a small, remote Brazilian town. Not all of the conspiracies are that coherent, as The Telegraph notes:
Among the theories of Hitler’s whereabouts after the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945 was that he was smuggled out of Germany and onto a U-Boat.
From there, the story goes, the Nazi leader was taken to a secret military base in Antarctic. In the late 1950s British and American forces found the base and destroyed it with atomic weapons…
It was also suggested that the Nazis had made contact with UFOs and that they had made it to the Moon as early as 1942. Furthermore, Russian and American astronauts actually made it there in the 1950s, and stayed at a Nazi lunar base.
For added measure, it is claimed that the Moon is perfectly habitable for humans, but that NASA claims it is barren and airless in order to stop Third World countries visiting it.
And every time this conspiracy raises its head, someone rushes in to debunk it, although, it seems, often unsuccessfully:
Hitler’s well known dental issues and his custom bridge work were positively identified by his dentist and the dental assistant. The jaw bones found in the Kremlin archives combined with the X-Rays from the Post-Mortem report, which matched these with other images known to be that of Hitler, plus the eye-witness testimony of those who were there prove that Adolf Hitler died in 1945. The evidence is conclusive and there is no “escaping” it.
The Daily Mail reported this week that Soviet archives about Hitler’s death are to be put on display to help debunk the latest theory:
Seventy years after he ended his life in the flaming ruins of Berlin, the secret file detailing what happened to Adolf Hitler and his bride is poised to go on display in Moscow.
It will finally hammer the coffin lid down on bizarre conspiracy theories – among them that the world’s greatest murderer escaped from his squalid bunker at the 11th hour to live in Argentina, raise children and die of natural causes.
Still, doubts and skepticism aside, I found much of the book fascinating. Apart from the conspiracy, it’s a treasure trove of little-known (or perhaps little-acknowledged) history: the rape of Europe’s art treasures, the banks conniving to move Nazi loot and money, the American firms cozying up to and financing Hitler, the intelligence communities, the internal Nazi squabbles in the final years… there is a lot of well-researched, well-written material, especially in the first half of the book.
You don’t even get to the alleged escape until page 114, when the authors almost casually toss in a line about martin Bormann being “safely ensconced in Argentina during the summer of 1948…” After that, you start to run into italicized sections where the authors note, “Italics are used in the following section to identify conclusions based on deductive research…” That’s where it goes off the rails.
“Deduction” means the authors are guessing – or fabricating – scenarios to help bolster their claims where actual evidence is lacking. Some of it is based on plausible possibilities – but other sections strike me as the two-and-two-equals-five equation.
I doubt there will ever be an end to these conspiracies. There are unanswered questions (at least until we get to read those Russian archives) that will spawn new theories. There are too many people who want to believe them, and not just the neo-Nazis and soccer hooligans.
We keep resurrecting Hitler because the arguments over how and why the Nazis happened, how the war happened and how the Holocaust happened are still unresolved. The war ended but that end didn’t close everything, didn’t resolve all the issues nor bring justice. **
And we keep circulating conspiracy theories of all flavours because in part we want to believe there is something big going on outside our ken, and in part because we love to be told stories, even such dark fairy tales.
As professor Gavriel D Rosenfeld wrote in The Conversation:
In the end, it is the present that probably best explains why we keep treating Hitler like a zombie, as a figure who – though dead in reality – we bring back to life in our imagination. We need him as a moral yardstick to measure ourselves against and see how, if at all, we are learning the lessons of history and applying them to our own imperfect world.
* Okay, they always looked like that to anyone with even a modicum of intelligence or wit, but I can’t resist the shot…yeah, I know, it’s fish in a barrel…
** In a similar vein, theories Napoleon escaped from St. Helena persist even today.