Happy May Day!! It’s hard to believe we’re already beginning 2011’s fifth month. For Today’s History Lesson, this year has been really out-of-sorts as compared to years past. Pieces have been few and far between. Where most months would see 15 to 20+ articles, the last 3 months have seen 10 or fewer. A heavy workload at the office, slow progression through Madison’s biography, and maybe even a bit of burnout have all combined to create something of a writing drought. But May is here and the big project at work is nearing completion. I finished the year-long slog through Madison’s bio, and “refreshed” myself with a bit of fiction, so hopefully things can get back on track.
Joseph Goebbels’ tenure as Chancellor of Germany was incredibly short, easily measured in hours. The world around him was crumbling in more than one sense. Literally, the incredible rain of bombs, bullets, and artillery pieces were turning the heart of Berlin (and much of the rest of Germany) to dust. Figuratively, the last vestiges of the Third Reich and its National Socialist platform were being blown to smithereens. His boss, Adolf Hitler, was now mostly ashes outside the Chancellery, having committed suicide with his new wife.
But still, in the flickering light of May 1, 1945, Germany’s new Chancellor was able to conduct business, though there were just a couple of tasks to complete. First, there was ordering General Krebs to take a message to Russian General Vasily Chuikov informing him that Hitler was dead and requesting a ceasefire. That probably wouldn’t have taken too terribly long since the Russians were, at this point, just down the street.
And second, there was settling his own disposition and that of his family. He had decided to follow Hitler’s example and commit suicide. His wife had decided to do the same. But their children? The parents reasoned that, as survivors of the parents, the kids would be subject to all sorts of terrible things. So Frau Goebbels, with help from Hitler’s doctor, injected the children with morphine as they slept and then crushed cyanide capsules in their mouths.
And then husband and wife took care of their last act. It gets a little fuzzy here since, in the confusion of battle (and the remaining Germans attempting to escape), the true account has been lost. But the best evidence points to Joseph Goebbels shooting himself while his wife took cyanide, duplicating the deaths of Hitler and Eva Braun. An attempt to burn their bodies was made, but poorly executed, and they were identified within days.
But of course, the next day would see (and hear) the gunfire end at 3:00pm. For the Allies (and the Russians in particular) however, the biggest prizes had escaped the hangman’s noose.