By Horus Alas
As far as conspiracy theories go, one of the most pervasive is the idea that German Chancellor Adolf Hitler escaped from his bunker in Berlin in 1945 as Soviet troops were fighting their way through the besieged capital of the Third Reich.
It’s been speculated for years that Hitler fled to South America and faked his death at the end of World War II. The recently-released JFK assassination files breathed new life into the theory, as it was discovered CIA operatives were interested in claims that Hitler was alive in Colombia in 1955.
A photo from these CIA documents originally taken in 1954 purports to show the former German chancellor posing for a portrait in Colombia with an associate. An accompanying report states that a CIA agent using the alias “CIMELODY-3” was contacted by “a trusted friend who served under his command in Europe and who is presently residing in Maracaibo [Venezuela].”
The report goes on to explain that CIMELODY-3’s friend was in contact with Philip Citroen, a former German SS trooper, who in Sept. 1955, “stated to him confidentially that Adloph [sic] Hitler is still alive. Citroen claimed to have contacted Hitler about once a month in Colombia on his trip to Maracaibo…”
The report claims the other person in the photo with this supposed Hitler to be Citroen, and to have the following information written on the backside: “Adolf Schrittelmayor, Tunga, Colombia, 1954.”
According to rumored intelligence in the report, Citroen alleged Hitler to have left Colombia for Argentina sometime around Jan. 1955. Citroen purportedly also claimed, “inasmuch as ten years have passed since the end of World War II, the Allies could no longer prosecute Hitler as a criminal of war.”
In this same memo, the Acting Chief of Station at the CIA’s Caracas Bureau refers to these claims as a “fantastic story.” Even so, the dispatch was forwarded to CIA headquarters as well as bureaus in Bogotá, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Maracaibo, Venezuela.
At the onset of the Cold War, one imagines CIA station chiefs expending much energy to separate patently false intel claims from ones that merit consideration. That this memo was passed higher up along the chain of command to headquarters proves it was at least a topic of interest.
Still, reactions from CIA brass veered towards the skeptical. The Miami Herald reports that in a follow-up letter from Washington dated Nov . 1955, intelligence chiefs argued, “It is felt that enormous efforts (spent trying to confirm the rumors) could be expanded on this matter with remote possibilities of establishing anything concrete. Therefore, we suggest that this matter be dropped.”
Theories of Hitler’s supposed survival and escape to South America have proven enduring enough to write entire books about. Argentine journalist Abel Basti produced one such text rife with speculation, titled, “Tras los pasos de Hitler,” which conjectured about the former dictator’s potential travels through Colombia en route to Argentina.
These theories are so popular in part because contemporary Soviet accounts of Hitler’s death are spotty.
Curt Mills of The National Interest reports that Soviet authorities claimed to have at least partial remains of Hitler and his wife, Eva Braun. Their bodies were said to have been cremated upon discovery by German staff in Hitler’s bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery building, and Soviet officials claimed to possess a jaw fragment supposedly belonging to the late Führer.
In 2009 however, forensic scientist Nick Bellatoni of the University of Connecticut was granted permission to examine the Russian-held fragment with a team of scientists. They concluded that it couldn’t belong to Hitler, instead identifying the remains as belonging to a woman aged between 20 and 40 years old. The German dictator was 56 years old in 1945.
Shadowy accounts of the demise of the Third Reich’s high command have fueled speculation of a Nazi exodus to South America for years. Still, an anonymous source within the Department of Defense told The National Interest that the likelihood of senior Nazi officials including Hitler escaping to South America hovered at around five percent.
“While suspicious and out of character the KGB story is much simpler and more plausible than [Hitler] living for years in South America,” the source said.
One imagines that if you were a mass-murdering dictator fleeing a collapsing regime, you might try to disguise yourself to avoid capture by foreign governments.
That the recently-declassified photo shows a man who bears a clear resemblance to Hitler undercuts the possibility of these claims being true. As early as 1944, the United States Secret Service distributed images of how Hitler might attempt to disguise himself if he evaded capture. Disguise would have been the logical, plausible course of action.
Though there isn’t much by way of concrete evidence, we do have eyewitness accounts that Hitler shot himself through the eye in his bunker as Red Army soldiers were closing in.
Conspiracy theorists will no doubt continue to have a field day with any possible circumspect evidence alleging Hitler’s survival after World War II. But all things considered, these myths, like the horrendous war criminal who inspired them, should simply be allowed to die.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Central Intelligence Agency’s Facebook page.
Horus Alas is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.