Adolf Hitler’s Last Day Alive

The remains of Hitler's bunker via Getty Images
The remains of Hitler's bunker via Getty Images

In late April 1945, chaos reigned in Berlin. Years of war had turned former superpower Germany into a battleground, and its cities from strongholds into places under siege. The Red Army had completely circled the city, which now called on elderly men, police, and even children to defend it. But though a battle raged on in the streets, the war was already lost. Adolf Hitler’s time was almost up.  

The people of Germany had already taken leave of their Führer. Since a public appearance on his birthday, April 20, he had been disconcertingly absent from the public eye. In reality, he was holed up in a bunker near the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin, surrounded by his command staff and a few private citizens, including his mistress Eva Braun. 

For weeks, bad news drifted into Hitler's hideaway. As American forces advanced from the west, and the relentless Soviet tanks from the east, Hitler’s generals began to lose their heads. Suspicious of a coup by his closest advisors, Hitler raged and planned and raged again. When he learned that Felix Steiner, one of his SS commanders, had ignored his orders to stage a heroic last stand south of the city, he began to rant and cry, declaring the war lost. Later that day, he consulted with Werner Haase, his private doctor, about the best ways to commit suicide. 

By April 29, the situation had taken a turn for the worse. Though Hitler married Eva Braun that morning, people were more interested in discussing suicide than celebrating a wedding. Hitler had learned that Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, had given the Allies an offer of immediate surrender—an offer they promptly refused. Outraged, Hitler demanded that Himmler—once his close and powerful compatriot—be arrested. Then Hitler heard of the death of Benito Mussolini, his counterpart in Italy. Executed and defiled by an angry mob, the dictator’s end was a powerful warning about what might be in store for the man who had promised his now-devastated country an endless empire. Mussolini’s death set the last 24 hours of life in the bunker into motion. 

April 30, 1945

All times are approximate

1 a.m.: Field Marshal William Keitel reports that the entire Ninth Army is encircled and that reinforcements will not be able to reach Berlin. 

4 a.m.: Major Otto Günsche heads for the bathroom, only to find Dr. Haase and Hitler’s dog handler, Fritz Tornow, feeding cyanide pills to Hitler’s beloved German Shepherd, Blondi. Haase is apparently testing the efficacy of the cyanide pills that Hitler’s former ally Himmler had provided him. The capsule works and the dog dies almost immediately.  

10:30 a.m.: Hitler meets with General Helmuth Weidling, who tells him that the end is near. Russians are attacking the nearby Reichstag. Weidling asks what to do when troops run out of ammunition. Hitler responds that he’ll never surrender Berlin, so Weidling asks for permission to allow his troops to break out of the city as long as their intention never to surrender remains clear.  

2:00 p.m.: Hitler and the women of the bunker—Eva Braun, Traudl Junge, and other secretaries—sit down for lunch. Hitler promises them that he’ll give them vials of cyanide if they wish to use them. He apologizes for being unable to give them a better farewell present.  

3:30 p.m.: Roused by the sound of a loud gunshot, Heinz Linge, who has served as Hitler’s valet for a decade, opens the door to the study. The smell of burnt almonds—a harbinger of cyanide—wafts through the door. Braun and Hitler sit side by side. They are both dead. Braun has apparently taken the cyanide, while Hitler has done the deed with his Walther pistol. 

4:00 p.m.: Linge and the other residents of the bunker wrap the bodies in blankets and carry them upstairs to the garden. As shells fall, they douse the bodies in gas. Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda, will kill himself tomorrow. Meanwhile, he holds out a box of matches. The survivors fumble and finally light the corpses on fire. They head down to the bunker as they burn.  

On May 1, Germans who can find time between shells to listen to the radio are greeted with the tones of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung—“The Twilight of the Gods.” Hitler, they are told, has “fallen at his command post in the Reich Chancery fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism and for Germany.” The Führer is dead. 

References: Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War IIGerman Commanders of World War II; The Bunker; The Day the War Ended; Five Days That Shocked The World; Until the Final Hour: Hitler’s Last SecretaryInside Hitler’s Bunker; BBC News

Why the Filet-O-Fish Sandwich Has Been on the McDonald's Menu for Nearly 60 Years

McDonald's has introduced and quietly killed many dishes over the years (remember McDonald's pizza?), but there's a core group of items that have held their spot on the menu for decades. Listed alongside the Big Mac and McNuggets is the Filet-O-Fish—a McDonald's staple you may have forgotten about if you're not the type of person who orders seafood from fast food restaurants. But the classic sandwich, consisting of a fried fish filet, tartar sauce, and American cheese on a bun, didn't get on the menu by mistake—and thanks to its popularity around Lent, it's likely to stick around.

According to Taste of Home, the inception of the Filet-O-Fish can be traced back to a McDonald's franchise that opened near Cincinnati, Ohio in 1959. Back then the restaurant offered beef burgers as its only main dish, and for most of the year, diners couldn't get enough of them. Things changed during Lent: Many Catholics abstain from eating meat and poultry on Fridays during the holy season as a form of fasting, and in the early 1960s, Cincinnati was more than 85 percent Catholic. Fridays are supposed to be one of the busiest days of the week for restaurants, but sales at the Ohio McDonald's took a nosedive every Friday leading up to Easter.

Franchise owner Lou Groen went to McDonald's founder Ray Kroc with the plan of adding a meat alternative to the menu to lure back Catholic customers. He proposed a fried halibut sandwich with tartar sauce (though meat is off-limits for Catholics on Fridays during Lent, seafood doesn't count as meat). Kroc didn't love the idea, citing his fears of stores smelling like fish, and suggested a "Hula Burger" made from a pineapple slice with cheese instead. To decide which item would earn a permanent place on the menu, they put the two sandwiches head to head at Groen's McDonald's one Friday during Lent.

The restaurant sold 350 Filet-O-Fish sandwiches that day—clearly beating the Hula Burger (though exactly how many pineapple burgers sold, Kroc wouldn't say). The basic recipe has received a few tweaks, switching from halibut to the cheaper cod and from cod to the more sustainable Alaskan pollock, but the Filet-O-Fish has remained part of the McDonald's lineup in some form ever since. Today 300 million of the sandwiches are sold annually, and about a quarter of those sales are made during Lent.

Other seafood products McDonald's has introduced haven't had the same staying power as the Filet-O-Fish. In 2013, the chain rolled out Fish McBites, a chickenless take on McNuggets, only to pull them from menus that same year.

[h/t Taste of Home]

The Disturbing Reason Schools Tattooed Their Students in the 1950s

Kurt Hutton, Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Kurt Hutton, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Paul Bailey was born at Beaver County Hospital in Milford, Utah on May 9, 1955, it took less than two hours for the staff to give him a tattoo. Located on his torso under his left arm, the tiny marking was rendered in indelible ink with a needle gun and indicated Bailey’s blood type: O-Positive.

“It is believed to be the youngest baby ever to have his blood type tattooed on his chest,” reported the Beaver County News, cooly referring to the infant as an “it.” A hospital employee was quick to note parental consent had been obtained first.

The permanent tattooing of a child who was only hours old was not met with any hysteria. Just the opposite: In parts of Utah and Indiana, local health officials had long been hard at work instituting a program that would facilitate potentially life-saving blood transfusions in the event of a nuclear attack. By branding children and adults alike with their blood type, donors could be immediately identified and used as “walking blood banks” for the critically injured.

Taken out of context, it seems unimaginable. But in the 1950s, when the Cold War was at its apex and atomic warfare appeared not only possible but likely, children willingly lined up at schools to perform their civic duty. They raised their arm, gritted their teeth, and held still while the tattoo needle began piercing their flesh.

 

The practice of subjecting children to tattoos for blood-typing has appropriately morbid roots. Testifying at the Nuremberg Tribunal on War Crimes in the 1940s, American Medical Association physician Andrew Ivy observed that members of the Nazi Waffen-SS carried body markings indicating their blood type [PDF]. When he returned to his hometown of Chicago, Ivy carried with him a solution for quickly identifying blood donors—a growing concern due to the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. The conflict was depleting blood banks of inventory, and it was clear that reserves would be necessary.

School children sit next to one another circa the 1950s
Reg Speller, Fox Photos/Getty Images

If the Soviet Union targeted areas of the United States for destruction, it would be vital to have a protocol for blood transfusions to treat radiation poisoning. Matches would need to be found quickly. (Transfusions depend on matching blood to avoid the adverse reactions that come from mixing different types. When a person receives blood different from their own, the body will create antibodies to destroy the red blood cells.)

In 1950, the Department of Defense placed the American Red Cross in charge of blood donor banks for the armed forces. In 1952, the Red Cross was the coordinating agency [PDF] for obtaining blood from civilians for the National Blood Program, which was meant to replenish donor supply during wartime. Those were both measures for soldiers. Meanwhile, local medical societies were left to determine how best to prepare their civilian communities for a nuclear event and its aftermath.

As part of the Chicago Medical Civil Defense Committee, Ivy promoted the use of the tattoos, declaring them as painless as a vaccination. Residents would get blood-typed by having their finger pricked and a tiny droplet smeared on a card. From there, they would be tattooed with the ABO blood group and Rhesus factor (or Rh factor), which denotes whether or not a person has a certain type of blood protein present.

The Chicago Medical Society and the Board of Health endorsed the program and citizens voiced a measure of support for it. One letter to the editor of The Plainfield Courier-News in New Jersey speculated it might even be a good idea to tattoo Social Security numbers on people's bodies to make identification easier.

Despite such marked enthusiasm, the project never entered into a pilot testing stage in Chicago.

Officials with the Lake County Medical Society in nearby Lake County, Indiana were more receptive to the idea. In the spring of 1951, 5000 residents were blood-typed using the card method. But, officials cautioned, the cards could be lost in the chaos of war or even the relative quiet of everyday life. Tattoos and dog tags were encouraged instead. When 1000 people lined up for blood-typing at a county fair, two-thirds agreed to be tattooed as part of what the county had dubbed "Operation Tat-Type." By December 1951, 15,000 Lake County residents had been blood-typed. Roughly 60 percent opted for a permanent marking.

The program was so well-received that the Lake County Medical Society quickly moved toward making children into mobile blood bags. In January 1952, five elementary schools in Hobart, Indiana enrolled in the pilot testing stage. Children were sent home with permission slips explaining the effort. If parents consented, students would line up on appointed tattoo days to get their blood typed with a finger prick. From there, they’d file into a room—often the school library—set up with makeshift curtains behind which they could hear a curious buzzing noise.

When a child stepped inside, they were greeted by a school administrator armed with indelible ink and wielding a Burgess Vibrotool, a medical tattoo gun featuring 30 to 50 needles. The child would raise their left arm to expose their torso (since arms and legs might be blown off in an attack) and were told the process would only take seconds.

A child raises his hand in class circa the 1950s
Vecchio/Three Lions/Getty Images

Some children were stoic. Some cried before, during, or after. One 11-year-old recounting her experience with the program said a classmate emerged from the session and promptly fainted. All were left with a tattoo less than an inch in diameter on their left side, intentionally pale so it would be as unobtrusive as possible.

At the same time that grade schoolers—and subsequently high school students—were being imprinted in Indiana, kids in Cache and Rich counties in Utah were also submitting to the program, despite potential religious obstacles for the region's substantial Mormon population. In fact, Bruce McConkie, a representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, declared that blood-type tattoos were exempt from the typical prohibitions on Mormons defacing their bodies, giving the program a boost among the devout. The experiment would not last much longer, though.

 

By 1955, 60,000 adults and children had gotten tattooed with their blood types in Lake County. In Milford, health officials persisted in promoting the program widely, offering the tattoos for free during routine vaccination appointments. But despite the cooperation exhibited by communities in Indiana and Utah, the programs never spread beyond their borders.

The Korean conflict had come to an end in 1953, reducing the strain put on blood supplies and along with it, the need for citizens to double as walking blood banks. More importantly, outside of the program's avid boosters, most physicians were extremely reticent to rely solely on a tattoo for blood-typing. They preferred to do their own testing to make certain a donor was a match with a patient.

There were other logistical challenges that made the program less than useful. The climate of a post-nuclear landscape meant that bodies might be charred, burning off tattoos and rendering the entire operation largely pointless. With the Soviet Union’s growing nuclear arsenal—1600 warheads were ready to take to the skies by 1960—the idea of civic defense became outmoded. Ducking and covering under desks, which might have shielded some from the immediate effects of a nuclear blast, would be meaningless in the face of such mass destruction.

Programs like tat-typing eventually fell out of favor, yet tens of thousands of adults consented to participate even after the flaws in the program were publicized, and a portion allowed their young children to be marked, too. Their motivation? According to Carol Fischler, who spoke with the podcast 99% Invisible about being tattooed as a young girl in Indiana, the paranoia over the Cold War in the 1950s drowned out any thought of the practice being outrageous or harmful. Kids wanted to do their part. Many nervously bit their lip but still lined up with the attitude that the tattoo was part of being a proud American.

Perhaps equally important, children who complained of the tattoo leaving them particularly sore received another benefit: They got the rest of the afternoon off.

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