Martin Bormann has a Stomachache

ASUNCION -- In his last day in the Bunker, to ensure that his beloved Alsatian Blondi would never walk at the end of a Soviet leash, Hitler ordered her poisoned. About the fates of his closest human companions the Fuehrer was not so careful. Many (Goebbels, Eva Braun) killed themselves, but in the chaos of the last days, at least one emerged and made a run for safety. Whether that run ended in Paraguay is the subject of the second document I examined at the terror archive in Asuncion.

Blondi was a gift to Hitler from Martin Bormann, the Reichsleiter and a trusted confidant. Hitler famously said that "to win this war we need Bormann." As Hitler's secretary, he signed papers for Hitler and gave orders in Hitler's name. He mastered back-room minutiae to complement Hitler's own broad-stroke statesmanship. Bormann was, to use an unfortunate analogy, Hitler's Rahm Emanuel.

Did he make it out of Berlin alive? For decades, Bormann's survival was an open question. (It is no longer: he would be 109 years old, to Mengele's youthful 97, if he still lived.) We know he left the Chancellery after Hitler's suicide on April 30, and was seen on May 2 on the streets of Berlin. In the years that followed, people caught glimpses of Bormann all over Europe and South America, and said he had died of natural causes at several different places and times. No one knew for sure, and Nazi hunters never gave up looking.

Not until late 1972 did forensic evidence surface. At a construction site in Berlin, just a few meters from where Albert Krumnow, a retired postal worker, claimed to have buried Bormann as an enlisted soldier in May 1945, a crew happened upon a skeleton. Hugo Blaschke, dentist to Hitler and Bormann, had reconstructed dental records for the Allies just after the war. The skeleton's teeth nearly matched. The evidence seemed to prove that Bormann died with most of the rest of Hitler's inner circle, and of similar causes: prussic acid, which left glass splinters in his jawbone after he bit down on the glass ampule that contained it.

But it is not so easy to kill off a Nazi. Conspiracy theorists think Bormann lived beyond the Battle of Berlin and died in exile, only to have his bones moved to Krumnow's site later. The site was thoroughly excavated before 1972 and yielded no bones at all. And occasionally a document will surface with remarkably specific details of Bormann's life and death on the run.

The Asuncion archive has just such a document. In 1964, a Paraguayan Interior ministry functionary wrote a memo describing intelligence passed along by Reinhard Gehlen, the head of the West German intelligence apparatus and a serial producer of strange theories about former Nazis. According to the document, Gehlen told the Paraguayans that Martin Bormann lived in Paraguay in the late 1950s and died in Asuncion in 1959, under the care of Josef Mengele himself.

Bormann summoned Mengele, known as "Don Fritz," to the home of Werner Jung, a prominent Nazi sympathizer in town. Bormann had stomach pains that according to Gehlen turned out to be cancer. When he died in February, Mengele and a handful of others took the body to Ita, a small town about an hour away, and interred it in an unmarked grave in the municipal cemetery.


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There is strong evidence that Bormann died in 1945. As the infamous David Irving notes, the plundered possessions from Bormann's coat later appeared in Soviet hands, and a corpse found next to the Bormann skeleton appears to be that of Ludwig Stumpfegger, Hitler's last physician and Bormann's alleged getaway partner. On the other hand, the conspiracy theorists point out that Bormann's skull was flecked with red clay -- something absent from Berlin but ubiquitous in Paraguay.

Evidence of Bormann's continued survival would have embarrassed Paraguayan and German officials. For years the Paraguayans had had to live down their harboring Mengele, and the Germans had had to explain why they hadn't hunted him down more vigorously. The bones discovery was convenient for many parties.

Tomorrow I'll go to the cemetery to find the supposed grave and see if anyone remembers a covert Paraguayan-German exhumation in the early 1970s. Stranger things have happened. This is Paraguay, after all.

Presented by

Graeme Wood is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His personal site is gcaw.net.

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