Jonathan Sale goes on the trail of reporters who attempted to track down Hitler’s second in command



t was like the start of A Christmas Carol: Martin Bormann was dead – to begin with. But, like Marley’s ghost, he returned to haunt the living. There should have been

no doubt about the fate, 75 years ago, of Hitler’s number 2. He met his end on May 2 1945 during the fighting in Berlin with a reliable witness (the leader of the Hitler Youth, appositely named Herr Axmann) definitely seeing his corpse not far from the Fuhrerbunker. Bormann was the man they couldn’t hang at the Nuremberg Trials a few months later because he wasn’t in court. This was on account of him being dead. Or was he? (Yes – Ed.)

In a more straightforward world, this would

have been the end of my article. Talk among yourselves for the next 1200 words. However, in 1945, living German war criminals were two a pfennig. Wernher von Braun gave up his day job with V2 rockets and moved from the Nazis to NASA. Those who were less employable went to ground, frequently to somewhere with a South American postal address. According to rumours, a host of Third Reich folk, from Hitler downwards, did a runner from Berlin’s burning ruins. So prolific are these tales that you could give a course of fascinating academic lectures on them – and this is precisely what historian Luke Daly-Groves, author of Hitler’s Death: the Case Against Conspiracy, does at the University of Leeds. The Führer, who in reality had for once done the decent thing and killed himself, lived on afterwards in tall tales about him shaving off his moustache and, together with Bormann, taking a getaway submarine to Argentina. “I think that those who in the 40s and 50s may

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have seriously believed the Bormann and Hitler escape stories – and wanted them to be true – were Nazis and neo-Nazis,” says Daly-Groves. Others were journalists swept away by the

blitzkrieg of a very good story. While Hitler would have taken his place in the history of infamy even without rumours of his surviving the end of the Second World War, his sidekick Bormann became more famous for his imaginary exploits after his death than for what

LORD LUCAN killed the family’s nanny in 1974 and is thought to have thrown himself off a cross-Channel ferry or been eaten by a lion, a tiger or perhaps pigs at his friend John Aspinall’s friend’s zoo. With friends like that… This year, the nanny’s

son identified an elderly Buddhist in Australia as being in fact his lordship. Lucan’s son disagrees. In the same year, John

Stonehouse really did come back from a (bogus) death. Facing fraud charges, the MP (and, it turned out much

later, Czech spy) faked his death by leaving his clothes on a beach in Miami and doing a runner to Australia (what is it about Australia?), where police initially suspected he was Lord Lucan. “There’s a guy works down the chip shop

he did in his despicable life. There’s no business like no-show business. Admittedly, some of the reincarnations did not

give him a long ‘life’. As its title suggested, I Killed Martin Bormann! by ‘British army intelligence agent’ Ronald Gray demonstrated that, even if he had escaped having a funeral in Berlin, the subject of the book was no longer available for interviews. Serialised in the News of the World, the

narrative relates how Gray encountered a German who could have been Bormann and who in March 1946 accompanied him through a defeated Germany to the Danish border, where he led the British agent into an ambush. Understandably, Gray promptly opened up on the war criminal he was escorting: “Bormann is dead, his body riddled by a burst from a Sten gun. And it was my finger that pulled the trigger.” This meant that Bormann had died twice, both in fact and in Gray’s elegy – three times pushed off his perch if you include the Nuremberg sentence. But was he, in fact, three times lucky? A wide variety of other ‘sightings’ gave the (deluded) impression that his deaths were, as Mark Twain didn’t quite put it, much exaggerated. The best of accounts had him up a Tibetan

mountain with Hitler: two war criminals for the price of one. A corroborative detail was that the Führer looked rather pale, as would be expected of someone who was reincarnated and on the run. An increasingly exasperated MI5 accumulated

a large number of press cuttings about Bormann’s whereabouts, of which the least helpful was an Egyptian newspaper’s tip-off: ‘the Middle East’

Back from the dead?

swears he’s Elvis,” in the words of Kirsty MacColl. According to

conspiracy theorists, ‘The King’ faked his death. Admittedly, there were 80,000 mourners who saw him in his funeral casket. However, the body

could have been a wax dummy – his nose looked flat, as if melted, for a start. In 1969, the student

newspaper of Drake University, Iowa, printed a rumour that went round the globe: Paul McCartney had gone to the Great Recording Studio in the Sky. The evidence was

that if you put the needle on Revolution 9 on the White Album and played it backwards (as you do), you would hear what sounded to a stoned listener like “Turn me on, dead man.” The former Beatle is

still with us.


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