Black and white images taken by the first Western photographer to enter the squalid bunker where Hitler and his wife Eva Braun killed themselves have been compiled in a LIFE.com gallery for the first time.
Many of the photos did not make the final cut for the special edition published immediately after the war in 1945, but have been flagged up now after a trawl through the magazine’s archives.
Photographer William Vandivert was the first Western snapper to be granted access into the bunker carved beneath the pompous Reich Chancellery which was reduced to brickdust by Allied bombs and Russian artillery shells.
Traces of the dictator: War correspondents examining the arm of sofa stained with blood while one of them uses a candle to search the floor for evidence of suicide in Adolf Hitler’s underground shelter
HQ: Adolf Hitler’s command center conference room partially burned out by SS troops and stripped of evidence by invading Russians, in bunker under the Reichschancellery after Hitler’s suicide
Office: Burned and scattered papers on desk inside Adolf Hitler’s command bunker where he and his mistress Eva Braun were said to have committed suicide
Secret lovers: Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun kept their affair hidden for many years. but new images collated by Life magazine shed fresh light on their final moments
Hitler’s Reich, which once stretched from Calais to the shores of the Volga in Russia, and from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, was reduced to a few spartan rooms in a stinking cement submarine where he and his wife killed themselves on April 30 1945.
‘These pix were made in the dark with only a candle for illumination … our small party of four beat all rest of mob who came down about forty minutes after we got there,’ said Vandivert whose evocative photographs have lost none of their power to shock and awe.
One of the pictures shows war correspondents examining the sofa upon which the couple ended their days, and the spreading dark stain of the monster’s blood upon the fabric after he shot himself in the mouth with his service pistol.
Remnants: A mould-covered SS officer’s cap, with the infamous death’s-head skull emblem barely visible – this photo was not originally published in LIFE
Discovery: A Russian soldier standing amid the rubble. They fought their way to the heart of Nazism, in a crusade of revenge for the 27 million deaths Hitler’s forces caused in their homeland
Abandoned furniture and debris: Photographer William Vandivert was the first Western photographer to gain access to Hitler’s Führerbunker after the fall of Berlin
Another is a relic of war, a rare 16th century painting looted from Italy to adorn a wall of the bunker’s study where self-appointed ‘artist’ Hitler issued his final commands to non-existent armies in the dying days of his rule.
On the floor of one room a badly scarred S.S. officer’s cap with it’s grinning death’s head skull is caught in Vandivert’s lens while yet another previously unpublished picture shows LIFE correspondent Percy Knauth sifting through debris in the shallow trench in the garden of the Reich Chancellery where the bodies of Hitler and his wife – he married her hours before their suicide pact – were doused with petrol and set ablaze.
Source: Empty jerrycans of gasoline reportedly used by SS Troops to burn bodies of Adolph Hitler & Eva Braun after their suicides in his command bunker
Examination: LIFE correspondent Percy Knauth sifting through the dirt & debris in the shallow shell hole where the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were thought to have been burned after their suicides, in the garden of the Reichstag. This photo was not originally published in LIFE
Burnt out: Wreckage, left, inside Adolf Hitler’s command bunker and right, hand touching destroyed hinge of door to Adolf Hitler’s command bunker, burned off by advancing Russian combat engineers. These photos were not originally published in LIFE magazine
After the Fall: In the garden of the Reich Chancellery, Berlin, 1945. This photo was not originally published in LIFE
Symbolic: A crushed globe and a bust of Hitler amid rubble outside the ruined Reich Chancellery. This photo was not originally published in LIFE
Other never-before-seen images are those of the ventilation tower of the bunker, pockmarked with shrapnel from bombs and shells, a desk used by Hitler strewn with papers and the entrance to the troglodyte warren.
A particularly poignant shot are the empty jerry cans of petrol used for the Fuehrer’s funeral pyre, lying abandoned in the rubble of the Chancellery garden.
Russian soldiers who fought their way street by street and building by building to the heart of Nazism, in a crusade of revenge for the 27 million deaths Hitler’s forces caused in their homeland, are seen in a photo taken on the same day moving a huge bronze swastika that once loomed over the entry to Hitler’s Chancellery on to a pile of rubble.
Defiant: At the Reichstag, evidence of a practice common throughout the centuries: soldiers scrawling graffiti to honor fallen comrades, insult the vanquished or simply announce, I was here. I survived.’ This photo was not originally published in LIFE
Heavy work: Russian soldiers and a civilian struggle to move a large bronze Nazi Party eagle that once loomed over a doorway of the Reich Chancellery, Berlin, 1945. This photo was not originally published in LIFE
It’s over: A U.S. soldier, PFC Douglas Page, offers a mocking Nazi salute inside the bombed-out ruins of the Berliner Sportspalast where the Third Reich often held political rallies. This photo was not originally published in LIFE
Bitter: A man on bicycle and young boy going past smashed vehicles and abandoned artillery which fill Oberwallstrasse street, where some of the most bitter fighting for control of Berlin took place
Other hitherto unpublished photos include a shot of an American serviceman giving the Hitler salute in the bombed out Sportspalast stadium in Berlin, from where in 1943 propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels made his infamous ‘total war’ speech, and inside the Reichstag, where Russian soldiers carved their names and graffiti on the walls of the parliament building.
A crushed globe of the sort Hitler used to gaze at and dream of world conquest, together with a bust of him made of bronze, are also reproduced for the first time.
At the time Vandivert, who died in 1992, reported for LIFE; ‘Almost every famous building in Berlin is a shambles. In the centre of town GIs could walk for blocks and see no living thing, hear nothing but the stillness of death, smell nothing but the stench of death.’
Death pact: Adolf Hitler with mistress Eva Braun – the pair died together in the bunker
Vandivert was the first Western photographer to gain access to Hitler’s Führerbunker after the fall of Berlin, and a handful of his pictures of the bunker and the ruined city were published in LIFE magazine in July 1945.
On the LIFE website today WEDS it states; ‘A few of those images are republished here; most of the pictures in this gallery, however, never appeared in LIFE. Taken together, they illuminate the surreal, disturbing universe Vandivert encountered in the bunker itself, and in the streets of the vanquished city beyond the bunker’s walls.’
Fascinating… but very eery!