It’s April 30, 1945, and Adolf Hitler has just shot himself dead – a definitive, brutal end to the Führer’s genocidal regime. For weeks, the German leader had been holed up in his Berlin bunker alongside other high-ranking Nazis, with Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller among them. Yet while witnesses claim to see Müller the day after Hitler’s death, the murderous Nazi then appears to vanish from the face of the Earth. And ever since, rumors have been rife about Müller’s ultimate fate.
Hitler had moved to his bunker in the grounds of the Reich Chancellery – his Berlin residence and office – on January 16, 1945. With him was a retinue of lackeys, various top Nazis and his mistress Eva Braun. In fact, Hitler would marry Braun the day before he shot himself, while Braun ended her days at the same time with a cyanide pill.
And when Hitler had relocated to the Führerbunker, the Russians already had their sights on the German capital of Berlin. They’d bludgeoned the Nazis out of Russia and were now fighting them in Poland – not far from the German border. Then, by February 1945, the Soviets were just 37 miles from Berlin. In other words, the end was near for Hitler and his subordinates.
But while the Russians chose to pause their advance on Berlin, they wouldn’t hold off for long. The attack on the city started in earnest on April 16, 1945, with the area soon surrounded by Russian troops. Then, on April 20, Soviet artillery was close enough to Berlin to start hurling shells into the city. That day was Hitler’s 56th birthday – the last he would see.
On April 23, a Soviet infantry supported by tanks then attacked the south-eastern suburbs of Berlin, with the Red Army subsequently advancing in the face of fierce opposition towards the city center. But despite the determined German defense, the truth was that the Nazis were both hugely outnumbered and outgunned by the Soviets.
Early on the morning of April 29, the Russians were approaching the heart of Germany. Yes, they were proceeding towards the Reich Chancellery and the very bunker where Hitler and Müller, among others, were trapped. The Nazi dictator now signed his will and wed his long-time lover. Thanks to the approaching Red Army, it would be a very brief marriage.
The next day, the commander of Berlin’s defense forces reported to Hitler early in the morning. General Helmuth Weidling told the Nazi leader that his troops would imminently run out of ammunition. Hitler therefore gave him the go-ahead to attempt a break-out from Berlin. Then, hours later, the Führer took his own life.
And it was the very next day that the final confirmed sighting of Heinrich Müller came, as eyewitnesses attested to seeing the Nazi near the Reich Chancellery on the evening of May 1. Intriguingly, it was claimed that Müller had refused to leave the scene with the escaping group led by General Weidling. For one, the Gestapo chief had no wish to be captured and subjected to something horrific.
Yes, Hitler’s personal pilot, Hans Baur, told West German police in their 1961 investigation that he had overheard Müller saying, “We know the Russian methods exactly. I haven’t the faintest intention of… being taken prisoner by the Russians.” In the last definite sighting of Müller, he was apparently in the company of his radio operator, Christian A. Scholz.
Astonishingly, neither Müller nor Scholz were found after the Russians captured and opened Hitler’s bunker. But we’ll pause for now before getting into what may have happened to Müller. Instead, let’s find out more about the man who progressed into a very senior position within the Nazi regime.
Unlike Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels or Hermann Göring, Heinrich Müller probably isn’t known to many as a leading figure of the Third Reich. But make no mistake: before his disappearance, Müller had been a key member of the Nazi death machine. You see, as head of the Nazi police force, the Gestapo, he played a key role in the Holocaust.
Way before he had embarked on a career enforcing Hitler’s regime, though, Müller was born in 1900 into a Catholic family in the Germany city of Munich. Interestingly, his father had also worked as a country police official. And although the young Müller went on to attend college – where he trained as an aircraft mechanic – he found himself thrust into combat not long after completing his course, as the First World War broke out in 1914.
During the final year of WWI, Müller became a pilot flying on reconnaissance missions for artillery targeting. And judging by the fistful of decorations that he earned during his service, he displayed some courage; at the very least, his medals included an Iron Cross 1st Class. Then, after the conclusion of the war, Müller became an auxiliary with the Bavarian Police.
During this time, Müller developed a hatred for Communists after witnessing the so-called Red Army executing hostages in Munich. This happened during the brief Bavarian Soviet Republic reign in the region at the time of the German Revolution. Indeed, much of Müller’s spell as a policeman was spent suppressing German leftists while the country was in political turmoil.
And Müller’s zeal in his duties earned him rapid promotion through the ranks. Yet although his anti-communist credentials were strong, it seems that he was not drawn to the Nazi Party in the early 1930s. In fact, on the contrary, he recommended violently suppressing the Nazis in 1933 when they moved against the Bavarian government.
Even when he later became a Nazi Party member, Müller may not have been especially keen. Evidence for this can be seen in his early attitude to Hitler, which was far from complimentary – at least, according to internal Nazi documentation. But, interestingly, this would seemingly not go on to affect his career prospects.
A memo in Richard J. Evans’ book The Third Reich at War revealed that Müller had lamented the Führer. He even went so far as to call Hitler “an immigrant unemployed house painter” as well as “an Austrian draft-dodger.” Nevertheless, Müller had qualities the Nazis valued highly – most notably his loyalty to the German state. And, as Evans went on to explain, Müller appeared to love carrying out orders.
Indeed, the author wrote, “Müller was a stickler for duty and discipline and approached the tasks he was set as if they were military commands. A true workaholic who never took a vacation, Müller was determined to serve the German state irrespective of what political form it took, and [he] believed that it was everyone’s duty – including his own – to obey its dictates without question.” This all made him an ideal servant of the Nazis.
So, despite Müller’s initial opposition to the Nazis, the Security Service recruited the man when Hitler came to power in 1933. His boss was Reinhard Heydrich, who apparently appreciated his protégé’s policing skills. Heydrich, it’s also been claimed, knew about Müller’s early opposition to the Nazis. And perhaps this was to some advantage, as it meant Müller would rely on his patronage.
Then, by 1936 Heydrich – now the Gestapo boss – had made Müller his head of operations. A highly skilled administrator, Müller used red tape to cover up the brutality of the Nazis – including acts of torture and secret executions – towards their opponents. It may be of no surprise then, that Müller was described by one historian as “utterly ruthless.”
In his 1990 biography, Himmler: Reichsführer-SS Peter Padfield wrote, “[Müller] was an archetypal middle-rank official of limited imagination, non-political [and] non-ideological. His only fanaticism lay in an inner drive to perfection in his profession and in his duty to the state – which in his mind were one.” However, Müller couldn’t remain non-partisan in Hitler’s Germany for long.
Padfield continued his description of Müller, writing, “A smallish man with piercing eyes and thin lips, he was an able organizer [and] utterly ruthless – a man who lived for his work.” And these qualities seem to have served Müller well in his rise through the ranks of the Gestapo. Even so, the time came when not being a member of the Nazi Party was no longer tenable.
You see, Himmler, head of the SS, demanded that Müller become a party member, and this he did in 1939. Furthermore, by that time, he had already been involved in Nazi action against Germany’s Jews. And when in November 1938 the Nazis launched a planned attack that would become known as Kristallnacht, Müller wasn’t kind. In fact, he ordered his men to arrest as many as 30,000 Jews.
Then in 1939, in a move that sounds nothing more than boringly bureaucratic, Müller became chief of a unit. But it wasn’t just any unit. It was called Amt IV:Gestapo, and this was the department that would go on to oversee Hitler’s “Final Solution.” That of course, was the wholesale murder of Europe’s Jews as well as those from other minority groups.
And Müller also demonstrated a talent for false-flag operations in 1939. Hitler had decided to invade Poland but needed a reason to do so; luckily for the Führer, though, Müller was on hand to help manufacture one. So, the Gestapo head dragooned some prisoners from their condemned cells and put them in Polish uniforms, promising the men their freedom if they co-operated.
Instead, the men were given lethal injections before their bodies were peppered with gunfire. The bodies were then “discovered” around a radio station in Germany in the purported aftermath of a Polish attack. This and other incidents provided Hitler with the excuse he needed to invade Poland, which he did the next day. And that act, of course, triggered the Second World War.
After this successful operation, Müller’s rise through the senior Nazi ranks continued. As well as his job at the Gestapo, he was also now an SS officer and associated closely with Himmler, who was the main initiator of Nazi plans to exterminate Europe’s Jews. Another close colleague was Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible for deporting Jews to ghettos and on to death camps. And another career hike came in September 1939, when Müller was given overall command of the Gestapo.
Then in 1941 word reached Müller from Eichmann that Hitler had decided to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population. Shockingly, Müller is said to have simply nodded, implying that he was already aware of the Führer’s murderous intentions. Yet whether he had advance knowledge or not, he would go on to become an enthusiastic administrator of Hitler’s homicidal plan.
Perhaps the most infamous moment in the Nazi planning for the Holocaust came at a meeting in January 1942. This was the Wannsee Conference, attended by Müller. There, various government ministries were informed of the systematic plans to kill the Jews and others. And so the first mass gassings at concentration camps duly began in March 1942.
Seemingly not content to simply persecute the Jews of central Europe, in 1943 Müller embarked on a mission to Italy. It appears that the Nazis felt Italy was not showing enough zeal in deporting its Jews to the death camps – leaving Müller to remedy the situation. However, for once, he had limited success, and the Italians continued to resist German pleas to ramp up their deportations.
Müller’s capacity for ruthless cruelty came to the fore again in July 1944 after an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler. At that time, the Gestapo chief was put in charge of arresting and interrogating people suspected of being part of the German resistance. Alarmingly, arrests numbered more than 7,000 and resulted in the death sentence for 4,980. Worse still, the executions were carried out with hideous brutality. Hitler himself had instructed that those found guilty ought to be “hanged like cattle.”
Thankfully, though, by the summer of 1944 the tide had firmly turned against the Nazis. The invasion of Normandy had come in June, and the Russians were advancing east across Europe. But Müller, it seems, was still confident of German victory. Even so, he found himself in the Führerbunker with other members of Hitler’s closest circle in April 1945.
And that brings us back to the final act played out in Hitler’s bunker. As we know, Hitler killed himself on April 30, and it was on the following day that witnesses saw Müller in the area of the Reich Chancellery. The information we have about sightings of Müller comes mostly from a West German police investigation in 1961.
Just after the war in Europe ended in May 1945, the Allies had been hunting for various senior Nazis. Their search for Müller was not helped, however, by the fact that his name is a common one in Germany. Indeed, there had even been another SS general going under the same moniker – something that led Müller to be known as Gestapo Müller.
Most senior Nazis were then accounted for. Himmler and Goebbels, for instance, had both followed their Führer by killing themselves before capture. The Allies later tried Göring and sentenced him to death, although he took his own life before the sentence could be carried out. And while Eichmann made good his escape to Argentina, the Israelis ultimately caught up with him in 1960. He was tried and subsequently executed in 1962.
Müller was, in fact, the most senior Nazi to remain alive and not in captivity. And various investigations by different agencies threw up a complete blank as to his whereabouts. Perhaps like Eichmann, he had escaped justice with his skin intact. Interestingly, his unknown fate even played a role in the Cold War between the U.S.-led alliance and the Soviet Union.
Yes, there were claims that the Soviets had captured Müller and were holding him prisoner in order to gain intelligence. There were even rumors that it was in fact the U.S. authorities who had apprehended Müller. But little substance emerged of either story being true. So, what actually happened to the former Gestapo head? Well, as we’ll see, there is somewhat of a twist to the story.
Sensationally, in 2013 there was an apparent breakthrough in the hunt for the truth about Müller. At that time, Johannes Tuchel – the director of organization Memorial to the German Resistance – claimed that Müller was buried in a mass grave. Chillingly, his remains were allegedly in an erstwhile Jewish cemetery in Berlin.
Furthermore, Tuchel claimed that he had found documentary evidence proving Müller had been killed in Berlin in 1945. His body – complete with his I.D. papers – had then been found by the allies in August of the same year. However, how he came to be in a Jewish cemetery remains unexplained. And Dieter Graumann of the Central Council of Jews in Germany told the German newspaper Bild, “The fact that one of the most brutal Nazi sadists is buried in a Jewish cemetery of all places is a distasteful monstrosity. The memories of the victims are being grossly violated here.”
So, do Tuchel’s claims provide the final answer to the Müller mystery? Well, we can be fairly sure that the man is dead – he was born 119 years ago, after all. Even so, the practicalities of exhuming his body for definite confirmation are probably insurmountable, as some 2,700 bodies were buried in mass graves at the cemetery after the war. Inevitably, then, some doubts remain about Müller’s ultimate fate.