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Martin Ludwig Bormann (17 June 1900 – 2 May 1945) was a prominent Nazi official. He became head of the Party Chancellery (Parteikanzlei) and private secretary to Adolf Hitler. He gained Hitler's trust and derived immense power within the Third Reich by controlling access to the Führer.

Early life and family

Born in Wegeleben (near Halberstadtmarker) in the Kingdom of Prussiamarker in the German Empiremarker, Bormann was a son of Theodor Bormann (1862-1903), a post office employee, and his second wife, Antonie Bernhardine Mennong. He had two half-siblings (Else and Walter Bormann) from his father's earlier marriage to Louise Grobler, who died in 1898. Antonie Bormann gave birth to three sons, one of whom died in infancy. Martin (born 1900) and Albert (born 1902) survived to adulthood.

Bormann dropped out of school to work on a farm in Mecklenburg. He served in an artillery regiment in the last days of World War I, but never saw combat. He then became an estate manager in Mecklenburg, which brought him into contact with the Freikorps residing on the estate. He took part in their activities, mostly in assassinations and the intimidation of trade union organizers.

On 17th March 1924, Bormann was sentenced to a year in prison as an accomplice to his friend Rudolf Höss in the murder of Walther Kadow, who they thought had betrayed Freikorps Albert Leo Schlageter to the Frenchmarker during the occupation of the Ruhr District.

On 2 September 1929, Bormann married 19-year-old Gerda Buch, whose father, Major Walter Buch, served as a chairman of the Nazi Party Court. Bormann had recently met Hitler, who agreed to serve as a witness at their wedding. Gerda Bormann would give birth to 10 children; one died shortly after birth.

The children of Martin and Gerda Bormann were:
  • Adolf Martin Bormann (born 14 April 1930; called Krönzi; named after his godfather Hitler)
  • Ilse Bormann (born 9 July 1931; twin sister Ehrengard died after the birth; named after her godmother Ilse Hess)
  • Irmgard Bormann (born 25 July 1933)
  • Rudolf Gerhard Bormann (born 31 August 1934; named after his godfather Rudolf Hess)
  • Heinrich Hugo Bormann (born 13 June 1936; named after his godfather Heinrich Himmler)
  • Eva Ute Bormann (born 4 August 1938)
  • Gerda Bormann (born 23 October 1940)
  • Fred Hartmut Bormann (born 4 March 1942)
  • Volker Bormann (born 18 September 1943)

Gerda Bormann suffered from cancer in her later years, and died of mercury poisoning on 23 March 1946, in Meran, Italymarker. All of Bormann's children survived the war. Most were cared for anonymously in foster homes. His oldest son, Martin, was Hitler's godson. Martin was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1953, but left the priesthood in the late 1960s. He married an ex-nun in 1971 and became a teacher of theology.

Rise through the Nazi party

In 1925, after his release from prison, Bormann joined the NSDAP in Thuringiamarker. He became the party's regional press officer and business manager in 1928.

Reich Leader and Head of the Party Chancellery

In October 1933, Bormann became a Reich Leader (Reichsleiter) of the NSDAP, and in November, a member of the Reichstag. From July 1933 until 1941, Bormann served as the personal secretary for Rudolf Hess. Bormann commissioned the building of the Kehlsteinhausmarker. The Kehlsteinhaus was formally presented to Hitler on 20 April 1938, after 13 months of expensive construction, and is commemorated on a plaque just above the entrance to the tunnel to the lift up to the Eagles Nest. During this period, Bormann had also managed Hitler's finances through various schemes such as royalties collected on Hitler's book, his image on postage stamps, as well as setting up an "Adolf Hitler Endowment Fund of German Industry", which was really a thinly veiled extortion attempt on the behalf of Hitler to collect more money from German industrialists.

In May 1941, the flight of Hess to Britain cleared the way for Bormann to become Head of the Party Chancellery (Parteikanzlei) that same month. Bormann proved to be a master of intricate political infighting; his mastery of such infighting along with his access and closeness to Hitler, and because of the trust Hitler held in him, he was able to constantly and effectively check and thus make enemies of Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Alfred Rosenberg, Robert Ley, and Albert Speer in the constant infighting between them for power and Hitler's attention that was common amongst the Nazi elite during the Third Reich.

Bormann took charge of all Hitler's paperwork, appointments, and personal finances. Hitler came to have complete trust in Bormann and the view of reality he presented. During a meeting, Hitler was said to have screamed, "To win this war, I need Bormann!". Many historians have suggested Bormann held so much power that, in some respects, he became Germany's "secret leader" during the war. A collection of transcripts edited by Bormann during the war appeared in print in 1951 as Hitler's Table Talk 1941–1944, mostly a re-telling of Hitler's wartime dinner conversations. Some speculate the Table Talk may be inaccurate particularly in regards to Hitler's religious adherence, as it directly contradicts some of Hitler's publicly held positions.

Bormann's bureaucratic power and effective reach broadened considerably by 1942. Faced with the imminent demise of the Third Reich, he systematically went about the organizing of German corporate flight capital, and set up off-shore holding companies and business interests in close coordination with the same Ruhr industrialists and German bankers who facilitated Hitler's explosive rise to power 10 years before. (See Ratlines)

In February 1943, the crushing German defeat at the Battle of Stalingradmarker produced a crisis in the regime. Bormann exploited the disaster at Stalingrad, and his daily access to Hitler, to persuade him to create a three-man junta representing the State, the Army, and the Party, represented respectively by Hans Lammers, head of the Reich Chancellery, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, chief of the OKW (armed forces high command), and Bormann, who controlled the Party and access to the Führer. This Committee of Three would exercise dictatorial powers over the home front. Goebbels, Speer, Göring and Himmler all saw this proposal as a power grab by Bormann and a threat to their power, and combined to block it.

However, their alliance was shaky at best. This was mainly due to the fact that during this period Himmler was still cooperating with Bormann to gain more power at the expense of Göring and most of the traditional Reich administration; Göring's loss of power had resulted in an overindulgence in the trappings of power and his strained relations with Goebbels made it difficult for a unified coalition to be formed, despite the attempts of Speer and Göring's Luftwaffe deputy Field Marshal Erhard Milch, to reconcile the two Party comrades.

However, the result was that nothing was done—the Committee of Three declined into irrelevance due to the loss of power by Keitel and Lammers and the ascension of Bormann and the situation continued to drift, with administrative chaos increasingly undermining the war effort. The ultimate responsibility for this lay with Hitler, as Goebbels well knew, referring in his diary to a "crisis of leadership," but Goebbels was too much under Hitler’s spell ever to challenge his power.

At the Nurembergmarker trials, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Reich Commissioner for The Netherlandsmarker, testified that he had called Bormann to confirm an order to deport the Dutch Jews to Auschwitzmarker, and further testified that Bormann passed along Hitler's orders for the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust. A telephone conversation between Bormann and Heinrich Himmler, who was his main antagonist in the struggle for power within the Nazi elite, was overheard by telephone operators during which Himmler reported to Bormann about the extermination of 40,000 Jews in Poland. Himmler was sharply rebuked for using the word "exterminated" rather than the codeword "resettled," and Bormann ordered the apologetic Himmler never again to report on this by phone but through SSmarker couriers.


Bormann, his adjutant, SSmarker-Standartenführer Wilhelm Zander, and his secretary, Else Krüger, were with Hitler in the Führer's shelter (Führerbunkermarker) during the Battle of Berlin. The Führerbunker was located under the Reich Chancellerymarker (Reichskanzlei) in the centre government district of Berlin.

On 28 April, Bormann wired the following message to German Admiral Karl Dönitz: "Situation very serious . . . Those ordered to rescue the Führer are keeping silent . . . Disloyalty seems to gain the upper hand everywhere . . . Reichskanzlei a heap of rubble."

At 04:00 on 29 April 1945, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Joseph Goebbels, Hans Krebs, and Bormann witnessed and signed Hitler's last will and testament. Hitler dictated this document to his personal secretary, Traudl Junge. Bormann was Head of the Party Chancellery (Parteikanzlei) and was also the private secretary to Hitler. Shortly before signing the last will and testament, Hitler married Eva Braun in a civil ceremony.Antony Beevor Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Penguin Books, 2002, p. 343. Records the marriage as taking place before Hitler had dictated the last will and testament. Hitler's last days: "Hitler's will and marriage" on the website of MI5marker, using information that Trevor Roper (an WWII MI5 agent) based his book The Last Days of Hitler, records the marriage as taking place after Hitler had dictated the last will and testament.

The Sovietmarker forces continued to fight their way into the centre of Berlin. Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide during the afternoon of the 30 April. Braun took cyanide and Hitler shot himself in the temple while simultaneously biting a cyanide capsule. Per instructions, their bodies were taken to the garden and burned. In accordance with Hitler's last will and testament, Joseph Goebbels, the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, became the new "Head of Government" and Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler). Martin Bormann was named as Party Minister, thus officially confirming his position as de facto General Secretary of the Party.

At 03:15 on 1 May, Reichskanzler Goebbels and Bormann sent a radio message to Dönitz informing him of Hitler's death. Per Hitler's last wishes, Dönitz was appointed as the new "President of Germany" (Reichspräsident). Goebbels and his wife committed suicide later that same day.

On 2 May, the Battle in Berlin ended when General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the Berlin Defence Area, unconditionally surrendered the city to General Vasily Chuikov, the commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army. It is generally agreed that, by this day, Bormann had left the Führerbunker. It has been claimed that he left with Ludwig Stumpfegger and Artur Axmann as part of a group attempting to break out of the city.

Death, rumors of survival, discovery of remains

Axmann's account of Bormann's death

As World War II came to a close, Bormann held out with Hitler in the Führerbunkermarker in Berlinmarker. On 30 April 1945, just before committing suicide, Hitler signed the order to allow a breakout. On 1 May, Bormann left the Führerbunker with SS doctor Ludwig Stumpfegger and Hitler Youth leader Artur Axmann as part of a group attempting to break out of the Soviet encirclement. At the Weidendammer Bridge a Tiger tank spearheaded the first attempt to storm across the bridge but it was destroyed. Bormann and Dr. Stumpfegger were "knocked over" when the tank was hit. There followed two more attempts and on the third attempt, made around 1:00, Bormann in his group from the Reich Chancellery managed to cross the Spree. Leaving the rest of their group, Bormann, Stumpfegger, and Axmann walked along railroad tracks to Lehrter stationmarker where Axmann decided to go alone in the opposite direction of his two companions. When he encountered a Red Army patrol, Axmann doubled back and later insisted he had seen the bodies of Bormann and Stumpfegger near the railroad switching yard with moonlight clearly illuminating their faces. He did not check the bodies, so he did not know what killed them.

Axmann, Naumann, and their adjutants escaped Berlin. Axmann hid in the Bavarian alps under the alias "Erich Siewert". He was arrested in December 1945 while organizing an underground Nazi movement. Naumann found asylum in Argentina where he became an editor of the neo-Nazi magazine "Der Weg".

Soviet Lieutenant General Konstantin Telegin of the Soviet 5th Assault Army remembered his men bringing to him Bormann’s diary. "It was brought-in immediately after the fighting had ended. As far as I can remember, it was found on the road when they were cleaning up the battle area." Inspired by the diary and reports from prisoners, General Telegin said, "Naturally, we sent a recon group to the bridge, who searched the site of the breakthrough attempt. All they found were a few civilians. Bormann was not found."

Tried at Nuremberg in absentia

During the chaotic closing days of the war, there were contradictory reports as to Bormann's whereabouts. For example, Jakob Glas, Bormann's long-time chauffeur, insisted he saw Bormann in Munichmarker weeks after 1 May 1945. The bodies were not found, and a global search followed including extensive efforts in South America. With no evidence sufficient to confirm Bormann's death, the International Military Tribunalmarker at Nurembergmarker tried Bormann in absentia in October 1946 and sentenced him to death. His court-appointed defense attorney used the unusual and unsuccessful defense that the court could not convict Bormann because he was already dead.

In 1965, a retired postal worker named Albert Krumnow stated that around May 8, 1945 the Soviets had ordered him and his colleagues to bury two bodies found near the railway bridge near Lehrter station. One was "a member of the Wehrmacht" and the other was "an SS doctor".

Krumnow’s colleague, Wagenpfohl is said to have found a paybook on the SS doctor’s body identifying him as Dr. Ludwig Stumpfegger. He gave the paybook to his boss, postal chief Berndt, who turned it over to the Soviets. They in turn destroyed it. The Soviets allowed Berndt to notify Stumpfegger’s wife. He wrote and told her that her husband’s body was "…interred with the bodies of several other dead soldiers in the grounds of the Alpendorf in Berlin NW 40, Invalidenstrasse 63."

In summer 1965, Berlin police excavated the alleged burial site looking for Bormann's remains, but found nothing. Krumnow stated he could no longer remember exactly where he buried the bodies. Stern Magazine editor, Jochen Von Lang, whose investigation inspired the dig, later wrote, "even if bones had been discovered, it would have been exceedingly difficult to identify them as those of Martin Bormann." He went on to opine that the only way to identify Bormann would be to find "glass particles" from a cyanide capsule in the jaw and that "would border almost on the miraculous."

Two decades of unconfirmed sightings

Unconfirmed sightings of Bormann were reported globally for two decades, particularly in Europe, Paraguaymarker, and elsewhere in South America. Some rumors claimed that Bormann had plastic surgery while on the run. At a 1967 press conference, Simon Wiesenthal asserted there was strong evidence that Bormann was alive and well in South America. Writer Ladislas Farago's widely-known 1974 book Aftermath: Martin Bormann and the Fourth Reich argued that Bormann had survived the war and lived in Argentinamarker. Farago's evidence, which drew heavily on official governmental documents, was compelling enough to persuade Dr. Robert M. W. Kempner (a lawyer at the Nuremberg Trials) to briefly re-open an active investigation in 1972. However, Farago's claims were generally rejected by historians and critics. Allegations that Bormann and his organization survived the war figure prominently in the work of David Emory.

Russian spy?

Reinhard Gehlen states in his memoirs his conviction that Bormann was in fact a Russian agent and that at the time of his 'disappearance' in Berlin he in reality went over to his Russian masters and was spirited away by them to Moscow. He bases this startling conclusion on a conversation he had with Admiral Canaris and on his conviction that there was an enemy agent at work inside the German supreme command. He deduced the latter from the fact that the Russians appeared to be able to obtain "rapid and detailed information on incidents and top-level decision-making on the German side". Of course, at the time he was writing up his memoirs (late 1960s to early 1970s), Gehlen was not aware of the British breaking of the Enigma codes. Gehlen goes on to say that he discovered that Bormann was engaged in a Funkspiel with Moscow with Hitler's express approval. He claims that in the 1950s, when he headed first the 'Gehlen Organisation' and later the Bundesnachrichtendienstmarker (BND), the West-German Intelligence Service, he "was passed two separate reports from behind the Iron Curtain to the effect that Bormann had been a Soviet agent and had lived after the war in the Soviet Union under perfect cover as an adviser to the Moscow government. He has died in the meantime." (quotes from the 1971 ed.)

Discovery of remains

The hunt for Bormann lasted 26 years without success. International investigators and journalists searched for Bormann from Paraguay to Moscow and from Norway to Egypt. Digs for his body in Paraguay in March 1964 and Berlin in July 1964 met with no success. The German government offered a 100,000 mark reward in November 1964, but no one claimed it. The final straw came in July 1965 when the search of Albert Krumnow’s Berlin location turned up nothing. The German government determined that Berlin was simply "too full of cemeteries and mass graves dating from the last days of the war."

On the political end, the hunt for Bormann became a recurring memory of the Nazi regime and also an embarrassment that would not go away. On December 13, 1971, the West German government officially called an end to the search for Bormann. This pronouncement was met with protest from Jewish human rights groups and Nazi hunters like Simon Wiesenthal who insisted the search must continue until Bormann was found, alive or dead.

Almost a year later, on December 7, 1972, Axmann and Krumnow's accounts were bolstered when construction workers uncovered human remains near the Lehrter Bahnhofmarker in West Berlin just 12 meters from the spot where Krumnow claimed he had buried them. Dental records — reconstructed from memory in 1945 by Dr. Hugo Blaschke — identified the skeleton as Bormann's, and damage to the collarbone was consistent with injuries Bormann's sons reported he had sustained in a riding accident in 1939. The second skeleton was deemed to be Stumpfegger‘s, since it was of similar height to his last known proportions. Fragments of glass in the jawbones of both skeletons suggested that Bormann and Stumpfegger committed suicide by biting cyanide capsules in order to avoid capture. Soon after, in a press conference held by the West Germanmarker government, Bormann was declared dead, a statement condemned by Londonmarker's Daily Express as a whitewash perpetrated by the Brandt government. West German diplomatic officials were given official instruction, "...if anyone is arrested on suspicion that he is Bormann we will be dealing with an innocent man."

Some controversy continued, however. For example, Hugh Thomas' 1995 book Doppelgängers claimed there were forensic inconsistencies suggesting Bormann died later than 1945. When exhumed, Bormann’s skeleton was covered in flecks of red clay, whereas Berlin is a city based on yellow sand. This indicated to some that the body had been re-interred from somewhere with a clay-based soil, such as Paraguay, the Andes mountains or even Russia (as the Gehlen theory surmised).

Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal refused to accept the government’s declaration of Bormann‘s death, persisting in the belief that Bormann escaped Berlin with Axmann and headed south to the safety of the alps. There he was rumored to have been seen in both Bavariamarker and Austriamarker. In fact, Bormann’s aide, Wilhelm Zander was captured in Passau, along the Austrian frontier in December 1945. From the alps, Wiesenthal believed, Bormann and others escaped to South America.

Others, like English scholar and intelligence officer, Hugh Trevor-Roper, decried the evidence upon which the German government based its searches for Bormann: the testimony of one man. He and others argued that the testimony of Artur Axmann, the only man who said he saw Bormann dead was falsified to protect Bormann who was then on the run. Both men were unrepentant Nazis and shared the motivation to keep their cause alive. Axmann, they argued, probably escaped Berlin with Bormann. Russian investigator Lev Bezymenski wrote that Axmann’s statements had, "the apparent aim of convincing the world that the Reichsleiter had been killed." Bezymenski also wrote that Axmann’s statements, "give rise to a lot of doubt, especially when one considers that he changed his explanations at least three times in the postwar years." Some also believed it implausible that the Soviets would identify the body of Stumpfegger and ignore Bormann’s body, supposedly at Stumpfegger’s side. Further, that Bormann was re-interred only to later be "discovered" by the German government.

The controversy regarding the identity of the skeleton thought to be Bormann ended in 1998 when German authorities ordered a genetic test on the skull. The test identified the skull as that of Bormann, using DNA from Bormann's son, Martin Bormann Jr. Bormann's remains were cremated and the ashes scattered in the Baltic Seamarker so that no Neo-Nazi memorial would be established.

See also


  1. Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich 1970 p.87
  2. The story of the Committee of Three is given by Kershaw, Hitler, II, 569–577.
  3. Antony Beevor Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Penguin Books, 2002, pp.382-383.
  4. Antony Beevor Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Penguin Books, 2002, pp.382-383.
  5. Trevor-Roper, H.: "Last Days of Hitler.", page 245. Pan Books, 1962.
  6. Antony Beevor Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Penguin Books, 2002, p.383.
  7. Charles Whiting The Hunt for Martin Bormann, Ballantine Books, 1973.
  8. Lev Bezymenski In the Footsteps of Martin Bormann, Aurora Verlag, 1965.
  9. Jochen Von Lang Secretary, Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler, Ohio University Press, 1981.
  10. Charles Whiting The Hunt for Martin Bormann, Ballantine Books, 1973.
  11. Jochen Von Lang Secretary, Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler, Ohio University Press, 1981.
  12. Charles Whiting The Hunt for Martin Bormann, Ballantine Books, 1973.
  13. Jochen Von Lang Secretary, Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler, Ohio University Press, 1981.
  14. Charles Whiting The Hunt for Martin Bormann, Ballantine Books, 1973.
  15. Jochen Von Lang Secretary, Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler, Ohio University Press, 1981.
  16. Charles Whiting The Hunt for Martin Bormann, Ballantine Books, 1973.
  17. Lev Bezymenski In the Footsteps of Martin Bormann, Aurora Verlag, 1965.
  18. Jochen Von Lang Secretary, Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler, Ohio University Press, 1981.
  19. Darius Sanai, The sins of my father, Independent, London, Feb 1, 1999


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