- 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 Hitler's nurse and of her time in the
Fuhrer's 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 Hitler's 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, 'The F¸hrer
is here,'" she said. "The first time it didn't particularly affect
me. He was away from Berlin for a long time before someone announced again,
'The F¸hrer is back.' Hitler shook hands with all the people he hadn't
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 Flegel's 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 insider's
account of Hitler's final hours in a Washington vault and published it.
- 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 paper's 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 - Hitler's 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, Hitler's 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 Nazi's
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
- "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, 'I belong to my husband. And the children belong to me.'
- "One evening she told me, 'I have to go to the dentist
and can't be with them. I would like you to say goodnight to the children.'
I said, 'Of course. I'll do it. Don't worry.'"
- 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 husband's frequent
and well-known infidelities. "She didn't 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 don't know the details. It was all gossip and
- 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
- Hitler's 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 Hitler's wolfhound Blondi "affected us
more" than Braun's suicide.
- 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 didn't 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 wasn't 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 F¸hrer.
"He came out of the side room, shook everyone's 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 didn't,"
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 didn't 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,
Hitler's 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
- 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 Hitler's death Ms Flegel had not even considered
survival, she said. "We simply didn't think about it," she told
the Guardian. "We knew naturally, who was in charge, and until he
was gone, we couldn't 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 bunker's 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, 'The Russians are coming.'
- "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 bunker's 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
- 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 didn't work with me, though."
- Ms Flegel's 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 Hitler's 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 Hitler's nurse, she replied: "After 1945 people
started pointing fingers at each other. A great many people didn't say
anything. Later it was still a source of controversy. I didn't discuss
- She had never been tempted to write her memoirs. "I
didn't 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 sister."
- 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
- At 93, she is still mobile and lucid. She has few visitors.
The only memento in her tiny room of her time at Hitler's side is a Reichschancellery
- Who's who
- Adolf Hitler Shot himself in the head on the afternoon
of April 30 1945. His body was burned.
- Eva Braun Hitler's mistress, who married him in the bunker
and later committed suicide with him. Her body was burned next to his.
- Traudl Junge Hitler's 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.
- Martin Bormann Hitler's personal secretary fled the bunker
after Hitler's death and was almost certainly shot dead by Russians but
his body was never found.
- Rochus Misch Hitler's telephone operator. The only other
survivor from the bunker still alive. Now 88, he lives in Berlin.
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