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A heavy price for identifying Hitler

Käthe Heusermann and Elena Rzhevskaya

Käthe Heusermann (left) and Elena Rzhevskaya. [Frames taken from the documentary The Death of Hitler: The Story of a State Secret.]

Käthe Heusermann and Elena Rzhevskaya were two women whose destinies crossed in Berlin at the end of World War II. The first was the assistant in the clinic of Dr. Hugo Blaschke, Adolf Hitler's personal dentist. The second, an interpreter for the Russian Army who was entrusted with custody, «as if it were her own life», of a small box in order to try to verify the identity of its contents: the alleged remains of Führer's teeth, found in the gardens of the Reich Chancellery, where Russian soldiers discovered the completely charred bodies buried and which supposedly corresponded to those of the dictator and his partner, Eva Braun. Precisely because of the state in which they were found, and taking into account the means of forensic science in the mid-1940s, the dental pieces -including some made of gold- seemed like the only way to confirm or rule out their identities.

Once it was known that the dental surgeon had left the German city, the last hope for Rzhevskaya was Heusermann, whom they quickly located, interrogated and asked to make a sketch of Hitler's teeth before showing her the alleged remains of it. Both the drawing and the subsequent statements by Dr. Blaschke's assistant, once the teeth were shown to her, seemed to confirm that they were those of Adolf Hitler. Both women never saw each other again and Rzhevskaya never imagined what would happen to Heusermann. The young German, after being again interrogated for hours by Russian agents, and insisting that the remains of the teeth belonged to the Führer, would end up being arrested and sent to a prison in Moscow, where she would spend several years, before being transferred to a gulag -forced labor camp- in Siberia. Crude accusations weighed against her -being a collaborator in the maintenance of a bourgeois regime- were engineered to justify her imprisonment and thus prevent her from revealing the great secret that the Russian dictator Stalin treasured. For Käthe Heusermann, this nightmare would last a decade until her final release.

And what was that great secret that the Soviet regime so carefully guarded? Well, precisely the confirmation of Hitler's death, something that Stalin himself would have hidden from the US President, Harry S. Truman, and the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, during the Potsdam Conference (1945), where precisely he would have told them the opposite: that Hitler had fled and was alive. Hence the importance for the Kremlin of ensuring the silence of Käthe Heusermann, the only one capable of revealing this privileged information held by the Russians.

An Unexpected List

Our other protagonist, Rzhevskaya, turned into a renowned writer, decided in 1965 to publish the book Berlin, May 1945 about her experience 20 years ago, as well as about the procedure of the Russian secret services, seeking to bring to light the truth of what she had experienced in the first person, and that had little or nothing to do with the lies fabricated by the Stalinist regime in this regard. To do this, despite great difficulties, she managed to access the archives of the then KGB, where she would come across a document containing a list of names of German citizens who had been deported to Russia. To her great astonishment, among them was that of Käthe Heusermann, with whom two decades earlier, if not a friendship as is logical, the now writer maintained a cordial relationship during those difficult days after the war.

Dentadura de Hitler
Alleged remains of Hitler's teeth. [Frames taken from the documentary The Death of Hitler: The Story of a State Secret.]

In any case, Elena Rzhevskaya's book, although published, would be previously censored by the Russian secret service itself, so it would be necessary to wait for the fall of the Soviet Union at the dawn of the 1990s to be made public a large number of classified documents related to the death and remains of Hitler. According to them, the Russians had secretly not only had pieces of his teeth in their possession, but also parts of his skull, in one of which there was a bullet hole, which would confirm the Führer's suicide. Among these documents there would be a key one, signed in 1970 by the then head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, in which the destruction of Hitler's remains is authorized, closing the file.

The information collected in this article is based on the documentary The Death of Hitler: The Story of a State Secret, directed by Nina Beliaeva and Jean-Pierre Bozon, which clashes with those who maintain that Hitler's death is by no means a closed file, but rather it is still too open to settle the matter.