History Connections: The Third Reich

What is the first thing I learned this morning, other than that school was cancelled for a snow day? The 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia, begin tonight (I really don’t pay attention). Oh, it’s also Eva Braun’s birthday.

Now for someone like me who believes that almost every single thing and person in the world is somehow connected (à la Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon), it didn’t take me long to decide what to write about this morning.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been volunteering at the 45th Infantry Division Museum here in Oklahoma City. Tonight was supposed to be our annual volunteer appreciation dinner. I was pretty excited to meet all the other volunteers I’ve missed so far due to conflicting schedules and, in a few cases, extended illnesses. Most of them are veterans of the 45th and some of them are even division veterans who fought in World War II.

Sadly, the weather also led to this event being cancelled. I’ll have to wait at least another month to meet these guys and learn some of their first-hand accounts of mid-century Europe and wistful stories of comaraderie. Rescheduling the dinner probably serves to be a good thing, though, and not just because of the weather. I don’t know that I could eat my meal without constantly thinking of Eva Braun and her last birthday cake.

But what do Eva Braun and the Winter Olympics have to do with the 45th Infantry Division?

Well, let me tell you!

The 45th Infantry Division Museum holds the largest public display of Nazi memorabilia, including a number of items from Adolf Hitler’s Munich apartment, the same apartment in which he housed Eva Braun early in their decade-long relationship.

The 45th Infantry division liberated the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945.  That same morning, approximately 350 miles away near Berlin, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun married in a small civil ceremony within the Führerbunker (one of Hitler’s air-raid shelters).  After midnight on April 30th, the Hitlers celebrated by enjoying a small breakfast with the few from their inner circle who had joined them at the Führerbunker. By late afternoon they were dead – Eva by cyanide poisoning and Adolf by a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. He had also ingested cyanide, just to be sure.

The pair killed themselves just as the 45th Infantry division closed in on Munich. The Oklahoma-based fighting forces helped secure the city and afterward searched through Hitler’s long-time residence where the couple once lived. (I’ll share in another post how the 45th’s original symbol was turned into the Nazi swastika, leading to the division becoming known instead as the Thunderbirds. Their connection to Hitler was created years before most people even knew who he was.)

The items below were retrieved from the Hitlers’ Munich flat. They were either sent to relatives in the U.S. by individuals in the 45th or carried as souvenirs throughout the individuals’ remaining deployments overseas. Back then you could do such things.

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Hitler’s cape and the photograph of himself that he kept on the writing desk of his Munich apartment

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Hitler’s personal copy of Mein Kampf and, near it, a congratulatory letter from General Ludendorff on violating the Versailles Treaty. The statue is of Paul von Hinderburg, second president of Germany, who appointed Hitler as Chancellor in 1933. Von Hindenburg’s gut told him not to do it, but his advisers argued for it. He died in 1934, too soon to regret his decision.

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How many times do you think Eva Braun enjoyed her afternoon tea with this set? Did she ever use that particular fork and knife to slice through a potato? Did she thumb through Hitler’s personal copy of Mein Kampf , the one he kept in that Munich apartment?

She attempted suicide twice. According to her personal diaries, they were half-assed bids for Hitler’s attention. His thoughts were usually on Nazi domination and while he preferred having a mistress to a wife, it was really because he enjoyed having the kind of lover who never interfered with his work.

The Germans had no idea Eva even existed. Hitler worked very hard to keep  himself regarded as a single man, as he believed it added to his sex appeal. The only time the two lovers were ever photographed in public was when they sat near each other during…you got it! The Winter Olympics in 1936. Their relationship wasn’t even made public until after the war had ended.

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Eva Braun is seated behind Hitler

Eva was just a girl when they met, a mere 17-years old, but proclaimed she would follow him anywhere, even into the throes of death.

And that’s exactly what she did, forty hours after he took her to be his wife.

(It’s a little ironic how there is such a loud calling for Americans to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The same was done in 1980, to boycott the Moscow Games, and the United States heeded the call. However, in 1936, Americans did participate in the Berlin Games while various cultural group debated.)

To learn  more about the 45th Infantry Division, read The Rock of Anzio by Flint Whitlock.

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2 thoughts on “History Connections: The Third Reich

  1. Another engaging article, Dena. I was researching the symbol for the 45th for some artwork, and believe I read somewhere that the swastika design also, coincidentally appeared in native american designs from many years before. I saw the symbol incorporated into a feathered headdress.
    Keep up the great work!

    • Thank you! I actually became involved in a really good conversation over on Facebook with an American History group who brought up the swastika symbol as marketed by Coca-Cola! It seems many people are aware of it as a Buddhist symbol but not as a Native American symbol.

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