īHis authority was extraordinary. He was charmingī - Hitlerīs nurse on his final hours - Survivor of bunker tells of admiration for Goebbelsī wife and hatred for Eva Braun (GUARDIAN UK) Luke Harding in Berlin 05/02/05)
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She is the last witness. For 60 years, Erna Flegal said nothing about
her starring role in the Third Reich. Her family knew that in the
last, desperate weeks of the second world war she had lived in
Berlin. But she never spoke of her job as Hitlerīs nurse and of her
time in the Führerīs Berlin bunker.
Now, as the 60th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe nears,
Ms Flegel has spoken out for the first time about her experiences -
of Hitlerīs final hours, of her friendship with the "brilliant" Magda
Goebbels, and her jealous loathing for Eva Braun. Her testimony casts
fresh light on the last days of the Nazi era and has never appeared
in the countless books written about Hitler.
In an interview with the Guardian, Ms Flegel, now 93 and living in a
nursing home in north Germany, yesterday described how she began
working as a Red Cross nurse at the Reichschancellery in Berlin in
January 1943. She had been transferred there from the eastern front.
As the German army collapsed, Hitler stayed in Berlin continuously
from November 1944, eventually retreating into the bunker with his
entourage. From then on, Ms Flegal saw him frequently.
"I was in the building and someone said, īThe Führer is here,ī" she
said. "The first time it didnīt particularly affect me. He was away
from Berlin for a long time before someone announced again, īThe
Führer is back.ī Hitler shook hands with all the people he hadnīt
greeted before. After that he talked to us regularly.
"His authority was extraordinary. He was always polite and charming.
There was really nothing to object to."
As the Russians approached, and Berlin came under direct artillery
fire, the mood in the bunker changed. "The circle got increasingly
small. People were pushed together. Everyone became more unassuming."
Ms Flegelīs existence only emerged after the transcript of an
interview she gave to American interrogators in November 1945 was
declassified four years ago by the CIA. The Guardian discovered her
insiderīs account of Hitlerīs final hours in a Washington vault and
But her fate remained a mystery. Two months ago a Berlin-based
newspaper, the BZ, tracked down her relatives via the German Red
Cross and war archives. To the paperīs astonishment, her family
revealed that Ms Flegel was still alive.
She is the last surviving female witness to have been inside the
bunker. Traudl Junge - Hitlerīs secretary, whose memoirs provided the
inspiration for the Oscar-nominated film Downfall, and who gave
numerous interviews to journalists and historians - died in 2002. The
only other survivor, 88-year-old Rochus Misch, Hitlerīs telephonist,
refuses to talk.
Speaking at her nursing home, which has a picturesque river view, Ms
Flegel yesterday said that as the Russians had drawn closer to
Berlin, those inside the bunker began to live "outside reality".
In the middle of April 1945, Joseph Goebbels, the Naziīs propaganda
chief, his wife Magda and their six children moved in. Ms Flegel,
whose original job had been to look after wounded SS soldiers, said
she had got to know Magda Goebbels well. When it became clear that
the situation was hopeless, she had tried to persuade her to send her
children out of Berlin.
"She was a brilliant woman, on a far higher level than most people,"
Ms Flegel told the Guardian. "I wanted her to take at least one or
two of them out of the city. But Mrs Goebbels simply said, īI belong
to my husband. And the children belong to me.ī
"One evening she told me, īI have to go to the dentist and canīt be
with them. I would like you to say goodnight to the children.ī I
said, īOf course. Iīll do it. Donīt worry.ī"
Ms Flegel, then 33, sang the children to sleep. "The children were
charming. They would have delighted anybody. They played with each
other in the bunker," she said. "They should have been allowed to
live. They had nothing to do with what was going on around them. Not
to spare the children was madness, dreadful."
Hitler was fond of them, she added, and drank hot chocolate with them
and allowed them to use his bathtub.
Magda Goebbels, meanwhile, tolerated her husbandīs frequent and well-
known infidelities. "She didnīt say anything. Nobody liked Goebbels.
There were always people who hung around him, of course. They
included many women who were young and pretty, who had an easier time
of it than the rest of us. I donīt know the details. It was all
gossip and trash."
In her original testimony, Ms Flegel also described how in the final
days before his suicide on the afternoon of April 30 1945, Hitler had
begun to crumble before her eyes. "When parts of Berlin were already
occupied, and the Russians were coming closer and closer to the
centre of the city, one could feel, almost physically, that the Third
Reich was approaching its end," her statement said.
"Hitler required no care; I was exclusively there for the care of the
wounded. To be sure, he had aged greatly in the last days; he now had
a lot of grey hair, and gave the impression of a man at least 15 to
20 years older. He shook a good deal, walking was difficult for him,
his right side was still very much weakened as a result of the
attempt on his life."
Yesterday Ms Flegel said that before his wedding to Eva Braun on the
night of April 28 Hitler "sank into himself".
In her statement she gives a shrewish portrait of Eva Braun, whom she
dismisses as "a completely colourless personality". She would not
have been conspicuous among a crowd of stenographers, she said.
Hitlerīs decision to marry Braun made it "immediately clear to me
that this signified the end of the Third Reich", she added, claiming
that the death of Hitlerīs wolfhound Blondi "affected us more" than
Yesterday Ms Flegel made little effort to hide her dislike of a
woman, who, she suggested, was little more than a Hitler groupie. "Oh
dear God. She didnīt have any importance. Nobody expected much of
her. She was just a young girl, really," she said of Braun, who was
only six months her junior. "She wasnīt really his wife."
By April 29, the once mighty German Reich had been reduced to an area
the size of a large football field, stretching between Potsdamer
Platz and Friedrichstrasse. Heavy fighting engulfed the city centre.
Radio communications with the outside world ceased. Shock troops
brought news of the latest Russian positions.
At 10.30pm that evening, Ms Flegel was summoned with the rest of the
medical team to line up and take their leave of the Führer. "He came
out of the side room, shook everyoneīs hand, and said a few friendly
words. And that was it," she told the Guardian.
During her interrogation after the war she said: "At the end we were
like a big family. The terrific dynamics of the fate which was
unrolling held sway over all of us. We were Germany, and we were
going through the end of the Third Reich and the war. Everything
petty and external had fallen away."
The next afternoon Hitler shot himself. Braun took prussic
acid. "There were a few people who heard it [the shot]. Others
didnīt," Ms Flegel said yesterday. "The remaining staff then had to
decide whether to stay or not stay. I knew that Hitler was dead
because there were suddenly more doctors in the bunker. I didnīt see
his body. But it was taken up to the chancellery garden and burned."
The next morning the survivors were told that they were released from
their oath of loyalty and some, including Martin Bormann, Hitlerīs
private secretary, joined an ill-fated attempt to fight their way out
to the west. Others shot themselves. Ms Flegel said she had been
convinced there was no way that Bormann, "an older man", could have
Ms Flegel stayed and witnessed the deaths of the Goebbels family. Dr
Helmut Kunz, a dentist, had injected the children aged four to 12
with poison, she said. Later the same evening their parents killed
Until Hitlerīs death Ms Flegel had not even considered survival, she
said. "We simply didnīt think about it," she told the Guardian. "We
knew naturally, who was in charge, and until he was gone, we couldnīt
talk about it. The soldiers gradually left. Then they were suddenly
gone. Many people tried to reach the U-Bahn in the hope that they
could escape the Russians. Everybody was trying as bravely as they
could to get out of this bedlam intact."
On the morning of May 2, 60 years ago today, Russians soldiers poked
their head round the bunkerīs entrance.
"By this stage there were only six or seven of us left in the
bunker," Ms Flegel said. "We knew the Russians were approaching. A
[nursing] sister phoned up and said, īThe Russians are coming.ī
"Then they turned up in the Reichschancellery. It was a huge building
complex. The Germans were transported away."
Ms Flegel insists that the Russians she had encountered treated
her "very humanely", despite the mass rape of German women by Russian
soldiers elsewhere in the city. They had a "look round", discovered
the bunkerīs underground supplies, and then left, she said, advising
her to lock her front door.
The Red Army allowed her to continue work as a nurse for the next few
months, treating wounded Russians, until she ended up in the hands of
the US Strategic Services Unit, one of the precursors of the CIA.
Ms Flegel said her "interrogation" by the Americans in November 1945
was little more than an informal chat over dinner. "They invited us
to have dinner with them and treated us to six different courses in
order to soften us up. It didnīt work with me, though."
Ms Flegelīs testimony - including her conviction that Hitler was
dead, an important statement for the victorious allies - was deemed
sufficiently important that it remained classified.
The interview went missing until 1981, when a Connecticut doctor and
amateur historian stumbled on it in an army archive and sent it to
Richard Helms, the US intelligence chief in 1945 Berlin and later CIA
director. He wrote back saying: "It is probably one of the most
accurate interviews obtained and has thus far never been quoted, as
far as I know, in any of the massive books about Hitlerīs Germany."
Yesterday Ms Flegel was evasive about her own attitude to the Nazi
era and her role in it. Asked why she had kept quiet for so long
about her job as Hitlerīs nurse, she replied: "After 1945 people
started pointing fingers at each other. A great many people didnīt
say anything. Later it was still a source of controversy. I didnīt
She had never been tempted to write her memoirs. "I didnīt want to
make myself important."
The film Downfall, which she watched in her nursing home, gave an
accurate portrayal of the Third Reich and its final hours, she
said. "They got a few small details wrong. But generally it was
correct," she said, adding: "I even recognised myself as a nursing
After the war, Ms Flegel continued her career as a nurse, and also
worked as a youth social worker and travelled to remote regions
including Ladakh and Tibet. She never married. At the age of 90 she
visited Crimea where she had worked as a nurse during the war before
her transfer to Berlin.
At 93, she is still mobile and lucid. She has few visitors. The only
memento in her tiny room of her time at Hitlerīs side is a
Shot himself in the head on the afternoon of April 30 1945. His body
Hitlerīs mistress, who married him in the bunker and later committed
suicide with him. Her body was burned next to his
Hitlerīs secretary, whose memoirs provided the inspiration for the
film Downfall. She died in 2002
Goebbels and his wife Magda
Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, and his wife killed
themselves on May 1 1945
Hitlerīs personal secretary fled the bunker after Hitlerīs death and
was almost certainly shot dead by Russians but his body was never
Hitlerīs telephone operator. The only other survivor from the bunker
still alive. Now 88, he lives in Berlin (Guardian Unlimited Đ
Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004 05/02/05)
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