Secret evidence of Hitler's identity

IN the smouldering ruins of Berlin, Elena Rzhevskaya stooped by a radio to hear the announcement of the Nazis' final capitulation, a small box clutched to her side. It was 8 May 1945 and at Karlshorst, on the edge of the city, the German high command had surrendered to Russian, British and American forces.

But the young interpreter from Soviet military reconnaissance was subdued as her comrades across the city broke into wild celebrations.

Tucked in the satin-lined box she was clutching were the flesh-specked jawbones of Adolf Hitler, wrenched from his corpse just hours earlier by a Russian pathologist.

A burnt body thought to be the Führer's had been found by a Red Army soldier near his bunker days before, but Joseph Stalin ordered the discovery be concealed.

"Only two officers knew what I was carrying and I had to keep my tongue," Rzhevskaya (85) told The Observer in a rare interview at her Moscow apartment.

Hitler's teeth would be key to proving the corpse was his and only a select few knew what had been entrusted to Rzhevskaya.

It was not until the 1960s that her secret would be revealed, and the full truth only emerged in Russia a decade ago.

Her story is a telling reminder of the jealousy and rivalries that split the Allies even in their hour of victory, and foreshadowed the Cold War.

On 8 May, as Soviet soldiers in Berlin's streets shouted with joy at the news of German surrender, Rzhevskaya poured wine for her colleagues with one hand -- while clamping the little box to her side with the other.

"Can you imagine how it felt? A young woman like me who had travelled the long military road from the edge of Moscow to Berlin; to stand there and hear that announcement of surrender, knowing that I held in my hands the decisive proof that we had Hitler's remains.

"For me it was a moment of immense solemnity and emotion; it was victory."

Rzhevskaya was ordered to carry the bones by Colonel Vassily Gorbushin, the head of a tiny secretive Soviet team tasked with identifying the remains.

Soviet troops were obsessed with finding Hitler and competing groups roved around hunting for him.

A Red Army soldier spotted the edge of a blanket poking from freshly turned earth in a bomb crater, near the bunker.

Adolf and Eva Hitler's bodies were soon unearthed and forensic experts were delighted to find the Nazi leader's jaw bones in perfect condition. "These are the key," said one doctor.

After a brief pause to celebrate VE Day and a frantic search through the ruined city, Rzhevskaya and her two superior officers tracked down an assistant [Käthe Häusermann] to Hitler's dentist [Hugo Blaschke] who was able to confirm his identity.

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