Baron Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven was Wehrmacht Staff officer who was a witness to the last gloomy days in Fuehrer's bunker in April 1945
Baron Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven, was born on February 6, 1914. He died on February 27, 2007 aged 93
As an aide to army chiefs he had had daily contact with Hitler.
He describes the order to join his boss Gen Krebs in Hitler's bunker, just over a week before the dictator's suicide, as a death sentence.
He had already survived the fighting on the Russian front and was one of a few to escape from Stalingrad.
He met Hitler for the first time in July 1944. His predecessor had been executed for his part in the bomb plot against Hitler.
The young Maj Freytag von Loringhoven, who was not a Nazi party supporter, says he was "completely flabbergasted" when he saw Hitler just days after the blast.
"I had the image of a very strong, vital person with charisma, but what I saw was a sick old man. His right arm was injured by the attempt and his figure had changed, his head was sunk into his shoulders.
"His left hand was very weak and his left foot dragged behind him."
As for reports that Hitler had had a charismatic spell, he says: "I felt nothing, the eyes were pale and without any expression anymore."
He said he was surprised that Germany was in the hands of such a "sick prematurely old man".
Inside the bunker he describes wild mood swings. There would be a temporary explosion of hope and then confidence would collapse again. The main topic of conversation was suicide - whether they should take cyanide pills or shoot themselves in the head when the Russians arrived.
He also recalls the drunkenness in the bunker, but not the orgies that some accounts speak of. He says he was too busy preparing for situation conferences.
When he met Hitler's mistress Eva Braun - soon to be the Fuhrer's wife - he had no idea who she was. The Nazi elite had been very discreet.
Just days before the end, Magda Goebbels, the wife of Hitler's Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, arrived with her six children.
They would later be poisoned by their parents in the bunker with the help of an SS doctor.
He recalls their pale faces peering out in fear from inside their dark coats.
"When I saw these poor children it pressed my heart," he says.
He feared there was no chance of getting out.
News that his trusted SS Chief Heinrich Himmler had made peace feelers to the Allies had a devastating affect on Hitler in the final days.
"This was like a bomb. Hitler called it treason," the former major says.
But with his work done, just 24 hours before Hitler's suicide, Maj Freytag von Loringhoven was given permission to break out.
He said he had no wish to die "like a rat in the bunker". He took his leave from Hitler with one last meeting which lasted around 20 minutes.
"I personally got the impression that he was a bit envious," he says. "We were 29 or 30 years old and we had a chance to get out because we were sound and young and he had no chance because he was a wreck."
He disputes portrayals of Hitler as raving and foaming at the mouth in the final days.
"I was present at these rages but they were not so excessive," he says.
He never saw him screaming with anger but says he could be "ice cold in his expressions and very aggressive, especially towards the generals".
Hitler was by the end resigned to his fate. His Reich, which was to have lasted 1,000 years, was in ruins.
But looking back, one thing still puzzles him. Hitler, he says, "was still so quiet and realistic just 24 hours before he shot himself".
The young officer escaped, was captured by the western Allies and held as a prisoner of war. He re-joined the army in 1956 and later served Germany in Nato.
He maintains that the divide between the army and the Nazi elite was very real and that although there were rumours, no-one discussed the fate of the Jews in top military circles. It was "taboo" he says.
Asked for his abiding memory of Hitler 60 years on? He pauses at first, then says simply: "He was a terrible creation. Yes, a being, but a being full of evil and cruelty... he was a monster."
After the failed plot to assassinate Hitler with a briefcase bomb at his field headquarters, the Wolfsschanze at Rastenburg in East Prussia on July 20, 1944, Guderian was appointed Chief of the Army General Staff and Loringhoven became his ADC.
His post in British Army terms would be “military assistant”, the operationally-experienced officer responsible for daily briefing, operational papers and maps, and for passing the general’s instructions to staff branches and subordinate commands. This function took him first on twice-daily visits to Hitler’s East Prussia command post and later, after this had been overrun by the Red Army advance, to the Chancellery bunker.
In his book In the Bunker with Hitler, written with François d’Alançon and published in 2005, Loringhoven provides a vivid account of Hitler’s mental deterioration in the final months of the war in Europe. The Fuehrer’s preoccupation with the minutiae of military deployment, his absolute refusal to accept that divisions represented by flags on his battle map were reduced to the strength of battalions or even companies, and his outright rejection of sound professional advice left experienced generals such as Guderian exasperated and helpless.
One particularly obdurate decision was Hitler’s refusal to order the evacuation by sea of the 200,000 men of Army Group North cut off in the Courland peninsula, on the Gulf of Riga, who might have been used in the defence of Berlin.
On the morning after Hitler had married Eva Braun, Loringhoven watched as the Fuehrer's brother-in-law of 24 hours standing, SS Major-General Hermann Fegelein, married to Eva’s sister, was led away to be shot in the Chancellery garden for alleged complicity with Himmler over the succession in anticipation of Hitler’s suicide.
When the Russians shot down the captive balloon relaying radio signals to the Army command east of Berlin, Loringhoven decided that his work was at an end and determined to leave the bunker before the Russians reached it.
Strangely, in view of his vindictive nature, Hitler raised no objection to Loringhoven and two other senior ADCs making an attempt to reach safety. On taking their formal leave of the Fuehrer, the three were astonished to be advised on the best route out — across the Havel lake — using a boat with an electric motor to reduce the sound.
Even within hours of death by his own hand, Hitler could not resist meddling in detail.
One of the three became separated but the others reached an island on the Havel, where they joined some remnant German units and, after changing into workers’ clothes, swam the River Mulde to safety from the Russians only to be arrested by the US Army.
In the bunker, Freytag von Loringhoven observed Hitler divide and rule among sycophants and soldiers. 'He created parallel command structures that competed for resources and he appointed political officers to spy on military professionals. Right until the end, he kept all the cards in his hand.
'Hitler's only military experience had been as a corporal during the First World War. He knew only one thing - the ' fanatischer Widerstand ' (fanatical resistance), and I can still hear him say the words. Blitzkrieg was not devised by him but by military strategists whom he later sidelined. As soon as we suffered the first setbacks he became deaf to calls to switch to modern, mobile defence techniques. He saw them as defeatist since they sometimes required giving up territory.
'Hitler could be very aggressive but towards the end he was very controlled. He could be pleasant and even warm. He could be very charming - he was a real Austrian. People were impressed when he asked them questions about their lives. It was a way of controlling them. He played with people.'
Hitler swore by his doctor, Theodor Morell, a charlatan who gave him glucose injections and stimulants. 'Morell made a lot of money during the war, not least with a louse powder we were given on the eastern front which smelt awful and was useless.' The baron holds Morell in particular contempt: 'I shall never forget how he begged, on 22 and 23 April, when the women were allowed to leave. He sat there like a fat sack of potatoes and begged to fly out. And he did.'
For the last few months of the war Hitler lived in the fetid air of the bunker, concealed beneath eight metres of concrete, occasionally going outside to play with his dog.
'Hitler got up at around midday. The main event was the afternoon meeting on the military situation. It would be announced, " Meine Herren, der Führer kommt ", and everyone made the Nazi salute. Hitler entered the room, shook everyone's hand - it was a limp handshake - and sat down. He was the only one allowed to sit at the map table, which he adored because he was obsessed by detail, and occasionally made concessions to older officers, allowing them to sit on a stool.'