Martin Ludwig Bormann (June 17, 1900 – May 2, 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.
Bormann, born in Wegeleben (near Halberstadt) in the Kingdom of Prussia in the German Empire, was the son of post office employee Theodor Bormann (1862–1903) and his second wife, Antonie Bernhardine Mennong. He had two half-siblings (Else and Walter Bormann) from his father's first marriage to Louise Grobler, who had died in 1898. Later that year, Theodor Bormann married Antonie. She gave birth to three sons, one of whom died in infancy. Martin (born 1900) and Albert (born 1902) survived to adulthood. Read Full Bio >>
Bormann dropped out of school to work on a farm in Mecklenburg. After serving briefly with an artillery regiment — which never saw combat — at the end of World War I Bormann became an estate manager in Mecklenburg, which brought him into contact with the Freikorps residing on the estate. He became involved in their activities, mostly assassinations and the intimidation of trade union organisers.
In March 1924, he was sentenced to a year in prison as an accomplice to his friend Rudolf Höss in the murder of Walther Kadow, who may have betrayed Albert Leo Schlageter to the French during the occupation of the Ruhr District.
On September 2, 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. Over the years, Gerda Bormann gave birth to 10 children; one daughter died shortly after birth.
The children of Martin and Gerda Bormann were:
Gerda Bormann suffered from cancer in her later years, and died of mercury poisoning on March 23, 1946, in Merano, Italy. All of Bormann's children survived the war. Most were cared for anonymously in foster homes. His oldest son Martin was Hitler's godson. He 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.
A good overview of Bormann's career in the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) can be found in Last Days of Hitler.
In 1925, after his release from prison, Bormann joined the NSDAP in Thuringia. He became the party's regional press officer and business manager in 1928.
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 Kehlsteinhaus. The Kehlsteinhaus was formally presented to Hitler on 20th 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.
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.
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 organising 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)
At the Nuremberg trials, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Reich Commissioner for The Netherlands, testified that he had called Bormann to confirm an order to deport the Dutch Jews to Auschwitz, 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 SS couriers.
Bormann, his adjutant, SS-Standartenführer Wilhelm Zander, and his secretary, Else Krüger, were with Hitler in the Führer's shelter (Führerbunker) during the Battle for Berlin. The Führerbunker was located under the Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei) in the center 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 private secretary, Traudl Junge. Bormann was Head of the Party Chancellery (Parteikanzlei) and was also the private secretary to Hitler. Shortly before the signing the last will and testament, Hitler married Eva Braun in a civil ceremony.
The Soviet forces continued to fight their way into the center of Berlin. Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide during the afternoon of the 30 April. Braun took cyanide and Hitler shot himself. 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 committed suicide later that same day.
On 2 May, the Battle of Berlin ended when General of the Artillery 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.
As World War II came to a close, Bormann held out with Hitler in the Führerbunker in Berlin. On 30 April 1945, just before committing suicide, Hitler urged Bormann to save himself. 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. They emerged from an underground subway tunnel and quickly became disoriented among the ruins and ongoing battle. They walked for a time with some German tanks, but all three were temporarily stunned by an exploding anti-tank shell. Leaving the tanks and the rest of their group, they walked along railroad tracks to Lehrter station 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 did not know what killed them.
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 Munich 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 Tribunal at Nuremberg tried Bormann in absentia in October 1946 and sentenced him to death. His court-appointed defence attorney used the unusual and unsuccessful defence that the court could not convict Bormann because he was already dead.
In 1965, a retired postal worker named Albert Krumnow stated that he had personally buried the bodies of Bormann and Stumpfegger.
Unconfirmed sightings of Bormann were reported globally for two decades, particularly in Europe, Paraguay, and elsewhere in South America. Some rumours 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 Argentina. 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, but 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.
Juan Peron, president of Argentina, set aside more than 10,000 blank passports and identity cards for Nazi fugitives. Bormann was at the top of the list. Bormann directed a German submarine operation whose purpose was to ship treasure to Argentina. Nazi records show that as much as 550,000 ounces of gold, 3,500 ounces of platinum and 4,638 carats of diamonds, hundreds of works of art as well as millions in gold marks, pounds, dollars and Swiss francs were sent aboard six U-boats to Argentina. Those boats supposedly landed along the coast in 1945 and the Argentine government still classifies the interrogations of the crew members.
Axmann and Krumnow's accounts were bolstered in late 1972 when construction workers uncovered human remains near the Lehrter Bahnhof 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. Fragments of glass in the jawbones of both skeletons indicated that Bormann and Stumpfegger had committed suicide by biting cyanide capsules in order to avoid capture. Soon after, in a press conference held by the West German government, Bormann was declared dead, a statement condemned by London's Daily Express as a whitewash perpetrated by the Brandt government. West German diplomatic functionaries were given the 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. The controversy 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 an unnamed 83-year-old relative. Bormann's remains were cremated and the ashes scattered in the Baltic Sea. << Less Bio