Skull tests reignite theories Hitler escaped bunker

By Uki Goni

Hitler was believed to have killed himself.
Hitler was believed to have killed himself.

In countless biographies of Adolf Hitler the story of his final hours recounted is the traditional version: committing suicide with Eva Braun, he took a cyanide pill and then shot himself on April 30, 1945, as the Russians bombarded Berlin.

Some historians expressed doubt that the Fuehrer had shot himself, speculating that accounts of Hitler's death had been embellished to present his suicide in a suitably heroic light. But a fragment of skull, complete with bullet hole, which was taken from his bunker by the Russians and displayed in Moscow in 2000, appeared to settle the argument.

Until now. In the wake of new revelations, the histories of Hitler's death may need to be rewritten - and left open-ended.

American researchers claim to have demonstrated that the skull fragment, secretly preserved for decades by Soviet intelligence, belonged to a woman under 40, whose identity is unknown.

DNA analyses performed on the bone, now held by the Russian State Archive in Moscow, have been processed at the genetics lab of the University of Connecticut. The results, broadcast in the United States by a History Channel documentary, Hitler's Escape, astonished scientists. According to Connecticut archaeologist and bone specialist Nick Bellantoni, it was clear from the outset that something was amiss.

"The bone seemed very thin; male bone tends to be more robust. And the sutures where the skull plates come together seemed to correspond to someone under 40."

In April 1945 Hitler turned 56.

Bellantoni had flown to Moscow to inspect the gruesome Hitler trophies at the State Archive.

They included the skull fragment as well as bloodstains from the bunker sofa on which Hitler and Braun were believed to have committed suicide.

He was allowed only one hour with the Hitler trove, during which time he applied cotton swabs and took DNA samples.

"I had the reference photos the Soviets took of the sofa in 1945 and I was seeing the exact same stains on the fragments of wood and fabric in front of me, so I knew I was working with the real thing."

The samples were then flown back to Connecticut. At the university's centre for applied genetics, Linda Strausbaugh closed her lab for three days to work exclusively on the Hitler project.

"We used the same routines and controls that would have been used in a crime lab," she said.

A small amount of viable DNA was extracted. Strausbaugh then replicated this through a process known as molecular copying to provide enough material for analysis.

The result was extraordinary.

According to witnesses, the bodies of Hitler and Braun were wrapped in blankets and carried to the garden just outside the Berlin bunker, placed in a bomb crater, doused with petrol and set ablaze.

But the skull fragment the Russians dug up outside the Fuehrerbunker in 1946 could never have belonged to Hitler.

The skull DNA was incontestably female. The only positive physical proof that Hitler had shot himself had suddenly been rendered worthless.

The result is a mystery reopened and, for conspiracy theorists, the tantalising possibility that Hitler did not die in the bunker.

The head of the Russian State Archive in Moscow, Sergei Mironenko, said he had no doubt the skull fragment was authentic.

"It is not just some bone we found in the street, but a fragment of a skull that was found in a hole where Hitler's body had been buried," he said.

In the wake of Bellantoni and Strausbaugh's findings, Mironenko's confidence was clearly misplaced.

But could the fragment of skull belong to Eva Braun, who died at 33 and was laid alongside her beloved Fuehrer in the same crater?

"We know the skull corresponds to a woman between the ages of 20 and 40," said Bellantoni, but he is sceptical about the Braun thesis.

"There is no report of Eva Braun having shot herself or having been shot afterwards. It could be anyone. Many people were killed around the bunker area."

Sixty-four years later, the world is still in the dark about what really happened in Hitler's bunker on 30 April 1945.

* Uki Goni is author of The Real Odessa (Granta Books), about the escape of Nazi war criminals from Europe.

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