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World War II: November 1998 From the Editor

Originally published by World War II magazine. Published Online: August 19, 1998 
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Modern science has laid to rest the mystery of
Martin Bormann's death once and for all.

A few months ago, a wire service story trumpeted the news that the bones of Martin Bormann, private secretary to Adolf Hitler, had been positively identified through genetic testing. Finally, the mystery surrounding Bormann's demise has been solved–hopefully to everyone's satisfaction.

In life Bormann had been an architect of the Holocaust and had risen to a station by which he controlled virtually all access to Hitler. He also read much of the daily mail coming into the Führer's office and kept track of Hitler's personal finances. Bormann was a stocky, brutish man of insatiable ambition who had managed to make numerous enemies among the Nazi hierarchy. Nevertheless, he exerted tremendous influence. Bormann disliked publicity, though. Unlike numerous other high-ranking Nazis, he shunned the spotlight and rose to power in Hitler's shadow.

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During the trials of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, prosecutors read a litany of charges against Bormann, who had been missing since the night of May 1, 1945, when he attempted to escape the Führerbunker amid the smoking rubble of Berlin in a desperate flight from the advancing Red Army. Bormann, it was said, had been responsible for sending millions of Jews to the death camps. Further, he had encouraged the German people to execute captured Allied airmen on the spot.

The hunt for Bormann began virtually on the day of his disappearance. In his book Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial, Joseph Persico describes the setting at Nuremberg: "The posters had long since become faded and tattered–some 200,000 of them, bearing the photograph of Martin Bormann, plastered on walls, trees, telephone poles and boxcars all over Germany. Bormann was a wanted man. As the Führer's secretary, he had exercised only borrowed power, but he had wielded it with ingenious malice….His proximity to Hitler and his rabid hatred of Jews and Slavs meant that he had full knowledge of the regime's foulest crimes. The problem with the Bormann case was that the man had disappeared in the last days of the war. The prosecution, nevertheless, wanted Bormann indicted, and the court agreed…." The Führer's secretary was tried in absentia, found guilty and sentenced to death.

Rumors of Bormann's whereabouts were rampant. Some said that he had been in the service of the Soviet Union all along and was now safely ensconced in Moscow. Others asserted that Bormann had fled to Argentina and sanctuary under the protection of President Juan Perón. Still others sighted him in Spain. Through the years, Bormann was "seen" in such far-flung places as Australia, Egypt, Chile, North Africa, Italy, Brazil and Ecuador. Those who perpetuated the possibility of a living Bormann included former Chief of German Intelligence Reinhard Gehlen, famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. The latter was not long among the living himself, however, as he committed suicide to avoid paying for his crimes against humanity at the end of a rope.

For nearly three decades after his disappearance, the hunt for Bormann or for proof of his death ebbed and flowed. Witnesses had seen him leave the Führerbunker with others attempting to escape Berlin. Some told of seeing him near a German tank that was engaging Soviet armor in a city street and said that he was killed during the encounter. Others said he fell victim to a hail of bullets from a Soviet burp gun.

In November 1972, remains thought to be those of Bormann were uncovered. East German construction workers were excavating the site for a new park near the Lehrter Railway Station, where Bormann was last seen alive. The workers had stumbled across two skeletons, one approximately 5 feet 7 inches in height and the other much taller at 6 feet 6 inches. Both skeletons had the glass splinters of cyanide vials in their jawbones, suggesting that they had committed suicide. The bones were taken to a laboratory for examination.

"The forensic scientists realized that the skeletons had been under the earth for a long time," wrote Charles Whiting in his book The Hunt for Martin Bormann: The Truth. "They concluded too that, as they could find no other sign of injuries, the two men had taken poison. It was then that someone told them that, seven years earlier, a retired postal worker, Albert Krumnow, had claimed that he had buried the bodies of Martin Bormann and Dr. Ludwig Stumpfegger in this very area, indeed only twelve meters away from where the skeletons had been unearthed."

Comparisons of dental records were made, and two of Bormann's sons reported that he had broken his collarbone in 1939 while riding a horse. The dental records were a match according to the dentist who treated both Hitler and Bormann. The shorter skeleton, which matched Bormann's height, showed where a broken collarbone had healed. A photographic montage and plastic reconstruction of the head were made, revealing features very similar to photos of Bormann taken in 1945. The West German government declared Bormann officially dead in 1973.

Last spring, DNA expert Wolfgang Eisenmenger postively matched samples from the skeleton to DNA taken from one of Bormann's living relatives, according to the Welt am Sonntag newspaper and Der Spiegel magazine. This should end the rumors and speculation. The mystery of Martin Bormann turns out to be no real mystery at all. As decades of intrigue unfolded, his body lay buried in an unmarked grave in a Berlin he never left.


Michael E. Haskew, Editor,World War II



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