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Getty Images/Keystone

Whatever Happened to Hitler's Body?

Getty Images/Keystone
Getty Images/Keystone

In the early morning hours of April 29, 1945, Adolf Hitler married his longtime girlfriend Eva Braun in the map room of his underground bunker in Berlin. Municipal councilor Walter Wagner performed the ceremony, and Minister of Propaganda Josef Göebbels and the Chancellor’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, acted as witnesses.

After the ceremony, Hitler hosted a small reception breakfast with his new wife and then, at around 4 am, took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his Last Will and Testament.

The next day, as the Red Army marched into the German capital, General Helmuth Weidling, commander of the Berlin Defence Area, told Hitler that defense forces would probably run out of ammunition by the end of the night. After lunch, Hitler and Braun said their goodbyes to the other high-ranking Nazi officials occupying the Führerbunker, as well as the bunker’s staff. At around 2:30, the couple went into Hitler’s study and closed the door. An hour later, a gunshot was heard.

Bormann and the others rushed to the study and found Hitler and Braun’s lifeless bodies slumped on a small sofa. Hitler’s right temple was dripping blood and his pistol lay at his feet. Braun had no visible wounds, but the room smelled distinctly of almonds, a sign of cyanide poisoning.

The bodies were carried upstairs and outside through the bunker's emergency exit. In the bombed-out garden behind the Reich Chancellery, the soldiers wrapped their Führer in a Nazi flag, doused the bodies with gasoline and set them on fire.

The bodies burned through the afternoon, as the Soviets occasionally shelled the area. Even though the bodies weren’t completely destroyed, the fire was eventually extinguished in the early evening. The remains were dumped in a shallow shell crater and covered up.

"There are legs here"

On the morning of May 2, Ivan Churakov, a private in the Soviet Army, noticed an oblong patch of recently turned soil as he and the 79th Rifle Corps searched the Chancellery. He began to dig, thinking he might uncover some hastily buried Nazi treasure. Instead, his shovel hit bone.

“Comrade Lieutenant Colonel, there are legs here,” he called to his commanding officer. An exhumation was ordered and the soldiers dug up the bodies of two dogs (thought to be Blondi, Hitler’s pet German Shepherd, and one of her pups) and the badly burnt remains of two people. An autopsy was performed, and a few days later, Soviet soldiers moved Hitler’s body to a different gravesite outside of Berlin proper. This would be just one of several moves the corpse would make in the next few decades.

In early June that year, the Soviets re-buried the body in a forest near the town of Rathenau. Eight months later, they moved it again—this time, to the Soviet Army garrison in Magdeburg. There it remained until March 1970, when the Soviets decided to abandon the garrison and turn it over to the East German civilian government.

It's a secret to everybody

Under Soviet control, Hitler’s remains could be kept secret, and physical access to them severely limited. Soviet leaders worried that if the body were left in the garrison or buried somewhere else not under their watchful eye, the gravesite would become a shrine for neo-Nazis. KGB director Yuri Andropov decided that the remains should be destroyed and authorized an operation to dispose of the body. The only things that were kept were fragments of a jawbone and skull, which were stored in government buildings in Moscow. (DNA testing recently revealed that these pieces did not belong to Hitler’s body, but were of female origin. Russian officials rejected that conclusion.)

Andropov selected a KGB officer named Vladimir Gumenyuk to pick a secret final resting place for Hitler’s remains and lead a three-man team in taking the remains there for destruction. The Soviet garrison was surrounded by German-built high-rise buildings, so Gumenyuk’s team pitched a tent over the spot where the bones had been buried to avoid being seen. After some digging with no results, the team realized they had counted 45 meters instead of 45 paces from a secret coordinate while following the directions to the corpse. They put the dirt back, moved the tent, and started again.

With the remains in their possession, the team disguised themselves as fishermen and drove into the mountains, stopping at a cliff along a small stream. There, in a spot screened by trees, they lit two campfires. One was to make soup. The other, to further burn the remains.

Gumenyuk has called the second cremation a waste of a can of gasoline, but the remains were finally burned to ashes. They collected these in a rucksack, which Gumenyuk took onto the cliff and opened up into the wind. With that, one of history’s greatest monsters disappeared, a brown cloud of dust in the wind.

Today, Gumenyuk is 73-years-old and retired from the KGB. He is the only surviving member of the team that disposed of Hitler’s remains and the only living person who knows where the ashes were spread. Still afraid the peaceful woods would become a pilgrimage site, he has vowed to take his secret to his grave. Despite the large amounts of money he’s been offered to reveal the location and the attention he’s gotten for what he did, Gumenyuk doesn’t seem to think his task was all that special. “Twenty seconds—and job was done,” he told The Sun last year. “It was just the last flight of the Führer.”

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A Brief History of Black Friday
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iStock

The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.

HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?

It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?

You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?

Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.

SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?

Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?

Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?

It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?

Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?

In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

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Pop Culture
A Speedy History of the Hess Truck
Hess Corporation
Hess Corporation

Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.

The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.

Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.

The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.

The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.

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