Adolf Hitler was a German politician who was the leader of the Nazi Party, Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and Führer of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945. He killed himself by gunshot on 30 April 1945 in his Führerbunker in Berlin. Eva Braun, his wife of one day, committed suicide with him by taking cyanide. In accordance with Hitler’s prior written and verbal instructions, that afternoon their remains were carried up the stairs through the bunker’s emergency exit, doused in petrol, and set alight in the Reich Chancellery garden outside the bunker. Records in the Soviet archives show that their burnt remains were recovered and interred in successive locations until 1970, when they were again exhumed, cremated, and the ashes scattered.
Accounts differ as to the cause of death; one version stated that he died by poison only and another view claimed he died by a self-inflicted gunshot while biting down on a cyanide capsule. Contemporary historians have rejected these accounts as being either Soviet propaganda or an attempted compromise in order to reconcile the different conclusions. One eyewitness stated that Hitler’s corpse showed signs of having been shot through the mouth, but this has been proven unlikely. There is also controversy regarding the authenticity of skull and jaw fragments that were recovered. In 2009, American researchers performed DNA tests on a skull fragment that Soviet officials had long believed to be that of Hitler. The DNA tests and examination revealed that the skull was actually that of a woman less than 40 years old. The recovered jaw fragments were not tested.
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By early 1945, Germany’s military situation was on the verge of total collapse. Poland had fallen to the advancing Soviet forces, who were, by then, preparing to cross the Oder between Küstrin and Frankfurt with the objective of capturing Berlin, 82 kilometres (51 mi) to the west. German forces had recently lost to the Allies in the Ardennes Offensive, with British and Canadian forces crossing the Rhine into the German industrial heartland of the Ruhr. American forces in the south had captured Lorraine and were advancing towards Mainz, Mannheim, and the Rhine. In Italy, German forces were withdrawing north, as they were pressed by the American and Commonwealth forces as part of the Spring Offensive to advance across the Po and into the foothills of the Alps. In parallel to the military actions, the Allies had met at Yalta between 4–11 February to discuss the conclusion of the war in Europe.
Presiding over a rapidly disintegrating Third Reich, Hitler retreated to his Führerbunker in Berlin on 16 January 1945. It was clear to the Nazi leadership that the battle for Berlin would be the final battle of the war in Europe. Some 325,000 soldiers of Germany’s Army Group B were surrounded and captured on 18 April, leaving the path open for American forces to reach Berlin. By 11 April the Americans crossed the Elbe, 100 kilometres (62 mi) to the west of the city. On 16 April, Soviet forces to the east crossed the Oder and commenced the battle for the Seelow Heights, the last major defensive line protecting Berlin on that side. By 19 April the Germans were in full retreat from Seelow Heights, leaving no front line. Berlin was bombarded by Soviet artillery for the first time on 20 April which was Hitler’s birthday. By the evening of 21 April, Red Army tanks reached the outskirts of the city.
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