Martin Bormann

Martin Bormann

Martin Bormann, the son of Theodor Bormann, a post office employee, and Antonie Bernhardine Mennong, and the brother of Arthur Bormann, was born in Wegeleben, Germany, on 17th June, 1900. He dropped out of school and worked on a farm before joining the German Army during the last few months of the First World War.

After the war Bormann returned to agriculture as an inspector of farmlands. He also joined the Freikorps unit in Mecklenburg where he fought with Rudolf Hoess. On 31st May 1923, Bormann, Hoess and a group of Freikorps beat Walther Kadow to death. In 1923, after one of the killers gave the tale of the murder to a local newspaper, Bormann was arrested and tried as a member of the gang that committed the crime. Bormann was found guilty and served one year in Leipzig Prison. On his release he joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP).

On 2nd September 1929, Bormann married 19-year-old Gerda Buch, whose father, Major Walter Buch, served as a chairman of the Nazi Party Court. Adolf Hitler was a witness at the wedding. Over the next few years Gerda Bormann gave birth to 10 children. The first being named Adolf after the Nazi Party leader. In 1930 he was made administrator of the Hilfskasse, a fund which he created to assist party members injured in the street fighting with members of the German Communist Party (KPD).

In April 1931 Martin Bormann used his influence to get his brother Arthur Bormann a job with the Nazi Party Relief Fund in Munich. By October 1931, Bormann was assigned to Hitler's Chancellery of the NSDAP. It was responsible for the Nazi Party and associated organizations and their dealings directly with Hitler.

In 1933 Bormann became chief of staff to Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess. According to Louis L. Snyder: "Bormann rose steadily in the Nazi hierarchy. In 1937 he was regional press officer for the NSDAP in Thuringia. The next year he was promoted to Gauleiter (District Leader) and chief business manager of the party in Thuringia. It was clear that Bormann, a master of the arts of intrigue and political infighting, was headed for lofty eminence in the Third Reich. He took control of Hitler's financial affairs and functioned as an administrator of the Adolf Hitler-Spende, a huge fund consisting of suggested contributions from industry." Snyder adds: "Observers described him as a short, squat man in a badly fitting civil servant's uniform with his briefcase under his arm, always working to advance his own interests."

Adolf Hitler compared the efficiency of Martin Bormann with his brother Arthur Bormann, who also worked for him: "Where others need all day, Bormann does it for me in two hours, and he never forgets anything! ... Bormann's reports are so precisely formulated that I only need to say Yes or No . With him I get through a pile of files in ten minutes for which other men would need hours. If I tell him, remind me of this or that in six months, I can rest assured that he will do so. He is the exact opposite of his brother who forgets every task I give him."

Albert Speer explained how there was a struggle for power amongst the leaders of the Nazi Party. This included Bormann, Joseph Goebbels, Herman Goering, Alfred Rosenberg, Robert Ley, Heinrich Himmler, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Rudolf Hess. "The powerful men under Hitler were already jealously watching one another like so many pretenders to the throne. Quite early there were struggles for position among Goebbels, Goering, Rosenberg, Ley, Himmler, Ribbentrop, and Hess. Only Roehm had been left by the wayside, and before long Hess was to lose all his influence. But none of them recognized a threat in the shape of trusty Bormann. He had succeeded in representing himself as insignificant while imperceptibly building up his bastions. Even among so many ruthless men, he stood out by his brutality and coarseness. He had no culture, which might have put some restraints on him, and in every case he carried out whatever Hitler had ordered or what he himself had gathered from Hitler's hints. A subordinate by nature, he treated his own subordinates as if he were dealing with cows and oxen."

Martin Bormann
Martin Bormann

In 1933 Arthur Bormann married a woman of whom his brother disapproved because she was not Nordic. Hitler's secretary, Christa Schroeder, claimed: "The two brothers became estranged. If they were standing together, each would ignore the other. If for example Hitler gave one of them a job to pass to the other, that brother would send for an orderly officer to convey the instruction to his brother standing a few feet away. If one of the brothers told a funny story everybody present would laugh except the other brother who would keep a straight face."

Another secretary, Traudl Junge, added: "The hostility between the Bormanns was so habitual and firmly established that they could stand side by side and ignore each other entirely. And when Hitler gave a letter or request to the younger Bormann to be passed on to the Reichsleiter, Albert Bormann would go out, find an orderly, and the orderly would pass instructions on to his big brother even if they were both in the same room. The same thing happened in reverse, and if one Bormann told a funny story at table all the rest of the company would roar with laughter, while his brother just sat there ignoring them and looking deadly serious. I was surprised to find how used Hitler had become to this state of affairs. He took no notice of it at all."

Christa Schroeder, Hitler's personal secretary, wrote in her autobiography that Bormann was not a popular man with the rest of the staff: "Martin Bormann was simply one of the most devoted and loyal of Hitler's vassals who would often force through ruthlessly and sometimes brutally the orders and directives given him by Hitler.... He expected from his staff that same enormous industriousness which distinguished himself, and this did not help to make him loved... I am of the opinion today that nobody in Hitler's entourage save Bormann would have had the presence to run this difficult office. For sheer lack of time Hitler could not attend to all day-to-day affairs, and perhaps whenever possible he avoided doing so to prevent himself becoming unloved! Accordingly all the unpleasant business was left to Martin Bormann, and he was also the scapegoat."

Heinz Linge was Hitler's valet. In his autobiography, With Hitler to the End (1980), he explained Bormann's relationship with Hitler and his staff: "Outwardly he no more resembled the physical image which National Socialism prized than Himmler or Goebbels. In stature he was of small build, fat and robust, an uncouth and unbelievably hyperactive personality. Whatever he did was carried through with unscrupulous force. He crushed underfoot anybody in his path. He was one of those persons for whom you instinctively stand even if you met him as a stranger in the street.... Bormann was a strong personality whose influence even on Hitler I had occasion to remark often. He worked day and night, allowed colleagues and employees no rest and tyrannised them. For the most minor error he would ruthlessly cull a member of staff. He called for a furious work rate and appalled not only his workers and advisers but his adjutants such as Führer too."

Hitler's chauffeur, Erich Kempka, was another person who had a strong dislike of Martin Bormann. In his book, I Was Hitler's Chauffeur: The Memoirs of Erich Kempka (1951) he wrote: "The most hated and dictatorial person in Hitler's immediate circle was Reichsleiter Martin Bormann. He had a cat-like, effusive show of friendliness when it suited his purposes, but when not being nice he was utterly brutal. His ruthlessness knew no bounds. His only known good point was his unbelievable work rate. One cannot talk about the fall of the Reich and the death of Hitler without a thorough understanding of the person who was the grey eminence in Hitler's personal circle... He had an excellent idea of how to make equals feel he was their friend and to have himself appreciated by his superiors. He worked almost day and night without a break and rightfully won the reputation of being a great workhorse."

Martin Bormann
Martin Bormann

The historian, Louis L. Snyder, has been very critical of Bormann: "He was, indeed, the power behind Hitler's throne. Under his unprepossessing exterior was the classic manipulator, the anonymous power seeker who worked in secrecy and outmaneuvered all his rivals seeking Hitler's ear." Albert Speer has claimed that he used this power for his own financial advantage. Bormann apparently took money from the Adolf Hitler Endowment Fund of German Industry that he controlled. Speer argues that he got away with it because he was "clever enough" to give some of this money to other Nazi Party leaders. Christa Schroeder rejects this idea and in her book, He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolf Hitler's Secretary (1985): "Many of the rumours still current about Bormann have in my opinion no basis in fact... To my mind he was one of the few National Socialists with clean hands if one may put it that way, for he was incorruptible and came down hard on all corruption he discovered. For his oppressive attitude in this regard he increasingly antagonised corrupt Party members and many others."

During the Second World War Bormann was Hitler's closest collaborator. On 12th May, 1941, two days after Hess flew to Britain, Hitler appointed Bormann to direct the newly created party chancellery. In this post Bormann worked to strengthen the party against both the leaders of the German armed forces and the Schutzstaffel (SS). He was described as "the Machiavelli behind the office desk".

At the beginning of 1945 the Soviet troops entered Nazi Germany. On 16th January, Hitler moved into the Führerbunker in Berlin. He was joined by Eva Braun, Gretl Braun, Joseph Goebbels, Magda Goebbels, Hermann Fegelein, Rochus Misch, Martin Bormann, Walter Hewell, Julius Schaub, Erich Kempka, Heinz Linge, Julius Schreck, Ernst-Gunther Schenck, Otto Günsche, Traudl Junge, Christa Schroeder and Johanna Wolf.

Hitler was now nearly fifty-five years old but looked much older. His hair had gone grey, his body was stooped, and he had difficulty in walking. His voice had become feeble and his eyesight was so poor that that he needed special lenses even to read documents from his "Führer typewriter". Hitler also developed a tremor in his left arm and leg. He had originally suffered from this during the First World War and also after the failure of the Munich Putsch in 1923. It was a nervous disorder that reappeared whenever Hitler felt he was in danger.

People who had not seen him for a few months were shocked by his appearance. One man remarked: "It was a ghastly physical image he presented. The upper part of his body was bowed and he dragged his feet as he made his way slowly and laboriously through the bunker from his living room... If anyone happened to stop him during this short walk (some fifty or sixty yards), he was forced either to sit down on one of the seats placed along the walls for the purpose, or to catch hold of the person he was speaking to... Often saliva would dribble from the comers of his mouth... presenting a hideous and pitiful spectacle."

Hitler now became totally dependent on Bormann who remained loyal to him to the end. James P. O'Donnell, the author of The Berlin Bunker (1979) has argued that Bormann and Otto Günsche were the two most important men in Hitler's life in the Führerbunker: "Bormann - stocky, bullish, drinking heavily when off duty - was now literally at the Führer's elbow, wheeling and dealing madly in what was left of the Nazi power game. But in terms of physical proximity, although not of power or influence, there was, however, one man who was often even closer to Hitler. This was Major Otto Günsche, the tall rugged soldier of twenty-seven, who was the Führer's, senior SS adjutant, a kind of Man Friday in the Bunker".

Bormann's loyalty was nor mirrored by all the Nazi leaders. Heinrich Himmler and Herman Goering both considered the possibility of overthrowing Hitler. One plan involved Himmler arresting Hitler and announcing to the German people that Hitler had retired due to ill-health. Their main concern was to do a deal with Britain and the United States that would prevent the Soviet Union occupying Germany. The German leaders were not only concerned about the imposition of communism, but also feared what Soviet soldiers anxious to gain revenge for the war crimes committed against their people by the SS might do. (Of the five million Soviet soldiers captured by the Germans an estimated three million were murdered or allowed to die of starvation.)

The situation became so desperate that on 22nd April, Hitler sent his two secretaries, Christa Schroeder and Johanna Wolf, away. Schroeder later recalled: "He received us in his room looking tired, pale and listless. "Over the last four days the situation has changed to such an extent that I find myself forced to disperse my staff. As you are the longest serving, you will go first. In an hour a car leaves for Munich."

When the Soviet troops first entered Berlin it was suggested that Hitler should try to escape. Hitler rejected the idea as he feared the possibility of being captured. He had heard stories of how the Soviet troops planned to parade him through the streets of Germany in a cage. To prevent this humiliation Hitler decided to commit suicide. By the end of April soldiers of the Red Army were only 300 yards away from Hitler's underground bunker. Although defeat was inevitable, Hitler insisted his troops fight to the death. Instructions were constantly being sent out giving orders for the execution of any military commanders who retreated. Hitler made a will leaving all his property to the Nazi Party.

On 28th April 1945 Hitler married Eva Braun. Hitler tested out a cyanide pill on his pet Alsatian dog, Blondi. Braun agreed to commit suicide with him. She could have become rich by writing her memoirs but she preferred not to live without Hitler. Braun told Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge. "Please do try to get out. You may yet make your way through. And give Bavaria my love." Junge commented that she said this "smiling but with a sob in her voice."

Heinz Linge recalled: "After the meal Eva Hitler came to me to take her leave. Pale, having remained awake all night but careful to maintain her composure, she thanked me for 'everything you have done for the Führer'. With a sad look she begged me at the finish: 'Should you meet my sister Gretl, do not tell her how her husband, Hermann Fegelein, met his death.' I never saw Gretl Fegelein again." Linge also reported that Joseph Goebbels tried to persuade Hitler not to commit suicide. Hitler told Goebbels: "Doctor, you know my decision. There is no change! You can of course leave Berlin with your family." Goebbels replied that he would stay in Berlin and die with Hitler.

Hitler then asked to see Linge: "He stood stooped, the hank of hair, as always, across the pale forehead. He had become grey. He looked at me with tired eyes and said he would now retire. It was 1515 hours. I asked for his orders for the last time. Outwardly calm and in a quiet voice, as if he were sending me into the garden to fetch something, he said: 'Linge, I am going to shoot myself now. You know what you have to do. I have given the order for the break-out. Attach yourself to one of the groups and try to get through to the west.' To my question what we should fight for now, he answered: 'For the Coming Man'. I saluted. Hitler took two or three tired steps towards me and offered his hand. Then for the last time in his life he raised his right arm in the Hitler salute. A ghostly scene. I turned on my heel, closed the door and went to the bunker exit where the SS bodyguard was sitting around."

Hitler's bodyguard, Rochus Misch commented: “Everyone was waiting for the shot. We were expecting it.... Then came the shot. Heinz Linge took me to one side and we went in. I saw Hitler slumped by the table. I didn’t see any blood on his head. And I saw Eva with her knees drawn up lying next to him on the sofa – wearing a white and blue blouse, with a little collar: just a little thing.” Albert Speer commented: "Eva's love for him, her loyalty, were absolute - as she proved unmistakably at the end."

Bormann at once informed Karl Doenitz by radio that Hitler had nominated him as his successor. Bormann and Joseph Goebbels made an attempt to negotiate with the Soviet Union. They replied that they were unwilling to negotiate and the only thing acceptable to them was "unconditional surrender". Goebbels now told Doenitz that Hitler had died. The news was broadcast on German radio on the evening of 1st May, 1945.

Those left in the Führerbunker were undecided what to do next. Some men committed suicide whereas others armed themselves with the intention to fight the enemy troops. Bormann, along with Traudl Junge, Walter Hewell, Martin Bormann, Erich Kempka, Heinz Linge and Ernst-Gunther Schenck decided to try and escape. Junge later recalled: "It could be about eight-thirty in the evening. We are to be the first group leaving the bunker... we make our way through the many waiting people and go down underground passages. We clamber over half-wrecked staircases, through holes in walls and rubble, always going further up and out. At last the Wilhelmsplatz stretches ahead, shining in the moonlight. The dead horse still lies there on the paving stones, but only the remains of it now. Hungry people have come out of the U-Bahn tunnels to slice off pieces of meat... Soundlessly, we cross the square. Sporadic shots are fired, but the gunfire is stronger further away. Then we have reached the U-Bahn tunnel outside the ruins of the Kaiserhof. We climb down and work our way on in the darkness, over the wounded and the homeless, past soldiers resting, until we reach Friedrichstrasse Station. Here the tunnel ends and hell begins. We have to get through, and we succeed. The whole fighting group gets across the U-Bahn bend uninjured. But an inferno breaks out behind us. Hundreds of snipers are shooting at those who follow us."

Linge later recalled in With Hitler to the End (1980) : "I teamed up with SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Erich Kempka. In full uniform we climbed through a window of the New Reich Chancellery cellar. Under a hail of shell and mortar fire we crossed Friedrich-Strasse to the railway station where a couple of our panzers were standing and still offering the Russians battle. Towards midnight on the Weidendamm bridge we came upon Stumpfegger, Baur and Bormann who had lost their bearings, arrived by a roundabout route and were now separated from the Russians by an anti-tank barrier. As three of our panzers and three armoured vehicles rolled up, Bormann decided to break through the Russian lines using a panzer. Kempka jumped up, stopped the vehicles and told the leading panzer commander what was required. Under the protection of this panzer heading for the tank barrier, Bormann, Naumann and Stumpfegger doubled forward while I watched. The panzer was hit by a projectile from a Panzerfaust. The people alongside it were tossed into the air like dolls by the explosion. I could no longer see Stumpfegger nor Bormann. I presumed they were dead." Erich Kempka, the author of I Was Hitler's Chauffeur: The Memoirs of Erich Kempka (1951), also confirmed this story.

Despite these accounts by Linge and Kempka, rumours circulated that Bormann had managed to escape to South America. Mark M. Boatner III has pointed out: "Although several eyewitnesses said he was hit by tank fire, two testifying they saw his corpse, it was generally believed long after the war that Bormann reached sanctuary and remained at large... A skeleton found in the city on 8th December 1972 was officially identified as his."

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) In his autobiography Albert Speer explained how Martin Bormann became such an important figure during the Second World War.

The powerful men under Hitler were already jealously watching one another like so many pretenders to the throne. Quite early there were struggles for position among Goebbels, Goering, Rosenberg, Ley, Himmler, Ribbentrop, and Hess. Only Roehm had been left by the wayside, and before long Hess was to lose all his influence. But none of them recognized a threat in the shape of trusty Bormann. He had succeeded in representing himself as insignificant while imperceptibly building up his bastions. Even among so many ruthless men, he stood out by his brutality and coarseness. He had no culture, which might have put some restraints on him, and in every case he carried out whatever Hitler had ordered or what he himself had gathered from Hitler's hints. A subordinate by nature, he treated his own subordinates as if he were dealing with cows and oxen.

(2) Martin Bormann wrote to his wife about his plans for the Slavs in German occupied Europe.

The Slavs are to work for us. Insofar as we do not need them, they may die. Therefore, compulsory vaccination and German health service are superfluous. The fertility of the Slavs is undesirable. They may use contraceptives or practice abortion, the more the better. Education is dangerous. It is enough if they can count up to one hundred. At best an education which produces useful coolies for us is admissible. Every educated person is a future enemy.

(3) Heinz Linge, With Hitler to the End (1980)

Martin Bormann also came from the ranks of the old NSDAP membership. Like Himmler he had also worked on the land. Under Rudolf Hess he had exercised the function of party head of staff. Outwardly he no more resembled the physical image which National Socialism prized than Himmler or Goebbels. In stature he was of small build, fat and robust, an uncouth and unbelievably hyperactive personality. Whatever he did was carried through with unscrupulous force. He crushed underfoot anybody in his path. He was one of those persons for whom you instinctively stand even if you met him as a stranger in the street. His close personal relationship to Hitler, at which he was working doggedly when I joined Hitler's staff, was achieved by enlarging Hitler's country house Wachenfeld on Obersalzberg. He arranged finance for this endeavor skilfully by diverting party funds and gave Hitler, who had no real understanding of money, the feeling that here was somebody who might relieve him of all the burdens in this area with which he did not wish to be encumbered. When more structures went up on Obersalzberg later, we were not really surprised to see that Bormann himself had now acquired a magnificent country house and wormed himself into Hitler's close personal circle on the basis of being his "neighbour". Bormann was a strong personality whose influence even on Hitler I had occasion to remark often. He worked day and night, allowed colleagues and employees no rest and tyrannised them. For the most minor error he would ruthlessly cull a member of staff. He called for a furious work rate and appalled not only his workers and advisers but his adjutants such as Führer too. His fitting nickname was "The Lord God of Obersalzberg".

(4) Christa Schroeder, He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolf Hitler's Secretary (1985)

Martin Bormann was simply one of the most devoted and loyal of Hitler's vassals who would often force through ruthlessly and sometimes brutally the orders and directives given him by Hitler. Seen in this way, Bormann followed the same kind of path as did Franz Pfeffer von Salomon, running battles with Gauleiters, ministers, Party bosses and the rest being the rule. In the spring of 1930 at OSAF, Bormann was as yet unburdened by the far-reaching and unpleasant tasks which Hitler gave him later. Bormann could never be called an attractive man. He had married Gerda Buch, the beautiful daughter of Party judge, retired Major Walter Buch, who as the Reich USCHLA Judge in the NSDAP was highly respected and enjoyed Hitler's confidence. Buch had been an active officer and subsequently an instructor at an NCO training school. In the First World War he was regimental adjutant and later commander of a machine-gun sharpshooter unit. In 1918 he took over an officer-candidate battalion at Doberitz. After the war he left the army in the rank of major and joined the NSDAP In 1925 he was appointed USCHLA chairman, a position which required a lot of understanding for human inadequacies, much tact, energy and authority. He was predestined for the office, for his father had been president of the Senate at the Oberland tribunals in Baden. With his long face and tall, slim figure he always looked very elegant. He had been present at the marriage of his daughter to Martin Bormann, which was naturally very beneficial for Bormann's prospects.

At OSAF, Martin Bormann headed the SA personal injury insurance plan designed by Dr Wagener, later known as the NSDAP Hilfskasse. All SA men were covered by it. At their gatherings there tended to be a lot of brawling which tended to result in bodily injuries. The insurance was useful and necessary. It was created to serve the single primitive purpose which the genius of Martin Bormann could not cover. Only after beginning work on the staff of the Fuhrer's deputy did Bormann succeed later in proving his extraordinary qualities. His career took off in the course of the 1930s. From chief of staff to Rudolf Hess he became NSDAP Reichsleiter and then Hitler's secretary. He expected from his staff that same enormous industriousness which distinguished himself, and this did not help to make him loved. "Hurry, hurry" was his celebrated phrase....

Bormann came to Hitler not only well prepared with his files but was also so in tune with Hitler's way of thinking that he could spare him long-winded explanations. Anyone who knew how Hitler did things will realise that this was decisive for him!

Many of the rumours still current about Bormann have in my opinion no basis in fact. He was neither hungry for power nor the "grey eminence" in Hitler's entourage. To my mind he was one of the few National Socialists with clean hands if one may put it that way, for he was incorruptible and came down hard on all corruption he discovered. For his oppressive attitude in this regard he increasingly antagonised corrupt Party members and many others.

I am of the opinion today that nobody in Hitler's entourage save Bormann would have had the presence to run this difficult office. For sheer lack of time Hitler could not attend to all day-to-day affairs, and perhaps whenever possible he avoided doing so to prevent himself becoming unloved! Accordingly all the unpleasant business was left to Martin Bormann, and he was also the scapegoat. Ministers, Gauleiters and others believed that Bormann acted from his own lust for power. I remember for example that at FHQ Wolfsschanze Hitler would often say: "Bormann, do me a favour and keep the Gauleiters away from me." Bormann did this and protected Hitler. The Gauleiters were as a rule old street fighters who had known Hitler longer than Bormann and felt senior to him. If a Gauleiter then happened to cross Hitler's path while strolling, Hitler would play the innocent and gasp: "What? You are here?" When the Gauleiter then held forth on Bormann's shortcomings, Hitler would put on his surprised face. "I know that Bormann is brutal," Hitler said once, "but whatever he takes on is given hands and feet, and I can rely on him absolutely and unconditionally to carry out my orders immediately and irrespective of whatever obstructions may be in the way."

(5) Traudl Junge, To The Last Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary (2002)

The hostility between the Bormanns was so habitual and firmly established that they could stand side by side and ignore each other entirely. And when Hitler gave a letter or request to the younger Bormann to be passed on to the Reichsleiter, Albert Bormann would go out, find an orderly, and the orderly would pass instructions on to his big brother even if they were both in the same room. The same thing happened in reverse, and if one Bormann told a funny story at table all the rest of the company would roar with laughter, while his brother just sat there ignoring them and looking deadly serious. I was surprised to find how used Hitler had become to this state of affairs. He took no notice of it at all. Unfortunately I never managed to find out the reason for their enmity. I think there was a woman behind it. Or perhaps those two fighting cocks had long ago forgotten the reason themselves?

(6) James P. O'Donnell, The Berlin Bunker (1979)

Martin Bormann was hated and feared by almost everyone in the Reich Chancellery Group, including his own brother Alfred, who was one of Hitler's personal adjutants. Even before the outbreak of war, Bormann, by placing his own desk in the ante-room to Hitler's office, could control civilian access to the Fuehrer. Except for three or four ministers and the important military officers, no one could now report in to the Fuehrer directly. Bormann also processed all non-military papers before they crossed the Fuehrer's desk. It was he, for instance, who had kept a careful eye on Speer's activities in the Palatinate, receiving reports from the Gauleiters under his command, and had informed Hitler of Speer's attempts to block the scorched-earth orders. Finally, by his custody of the Fund of the Friends of the Fuehrer, which he had set up for the purpose of milking industrialists, Bormann had access to a vast pool of money which he used for his private patronage and for bribing Gauleiters. This fund also financed the building of the Bunker. All this increased mightily his personal power. As Hitler, from 1939 on, began to concentrate almost exclusively on military affairs, Bormann was building his own political power-base within the party. Hitler knew this; and he knew that Bormann was roundly hated. He once said: "I know that Bormann is brutal. But I need him."

One incident told by old FBK members shows what happened, under Bormann's influence, to the once comradely spirit of the mountain people. One of Hitler's oldest and most faithful retainers was Bruno Gesche, a boisterous type who had been with Hitler since the Munich stormtrooping days. Gesche rose slowly in the SS and the Leibstandarte until, by 1942, he had become the commanding officer of the FBK, with the rank of Obersturmbannfuehrer (lieutenant colonel). At a wild Christmas party in 1944 in the officers' mess at Felsennest during the Battle of the Ardennes, Gesche got roaring drunk, apparently at the bad news coming in from Bastogne. A dead-eye marksman, he whipped out his pistol and shot out all the mess-hall light bulbs. Bormann insisted that Bruno Gesche stand before a court-martial. Hitler refused to intervene. Gesche was reduced to the rank of corporal and exiled to the Italian front. The old hand said goodbye to the Fuehrer like Falstaff taking leave of Prince Hal.

(7) Erich Kempka, I Was Hitler's Chauffeur: The Memoirs of Erich Kempka (1951)

The most hated and dictatorial person in Hitler's immediate circle was Reichsleiter Martin Bormann. He had a cat-like, effusive show of friendliness when it suited his purposes, but when not being nice he was utterly brutal. His ruthlessness knew no bounds. His only known good point was his unbelievable work rate. One cannot talk about the fall of the Reich and the death of Hitler without a thorough understanding of the person who was the grey eminence in Hitler's personal circle.

I got to know Bormann in Munich in 1932. At that time he was relatively unknown until his appointment as head of the SA (Sturmabteilung) in-house insurance organisation, later that year. He had an excellent idea of how to make equals feel he was their friend and to have himself appreciated by his superiors. He worked almost day and night without a break and rightfully won the reputation of being a great workhorse. When Rudolf Hess was expanding the liaison apparatus between party and State he noticed Bormann and took him into the staff. After a short while Bormann rose to be Stabsleiter (head of staff) under Hess and had thus achieved his first goal. He belonged in the first team. He remained pleasant and was always ready to be of service to equals and those above him.

Things changed in 1936. After Hitler's Haus Wachenfeld on the Obersalzberg was rebuilt and expanded into the Berghof, Bormann burst out from his previously modest disguise. Now he just had to have a house on the Obersalzberg. This would give him a reason for being constantly in close proximity to Hitler, with whom he would otherwise have little to do in the course of his duties. In general, his only appearances at the Berghof were to accompany Hess there and stand by silently while Hess delivered his oral reports to Hitler.

Bormann therefore started to buy up land on the Obersalzberg The so-called reason for this was that it was being done on behalf of Rudolf Hess to create for Hitler a place where he could really find peace and recuperate without disturbance. To assist in this enterprise he founded an NSDAP financial consortium. He bought up tracts of land from local farmers. There was no need for him to use underhand methods for the purpose, for he had made it known that the NSDAP would pay four to five times over the market value. This speculation in land could not be kept secret from Hitler for ever. He was concerned that Bormann might be using intimidation to force people off their property, and so told the adjutancy to warn Bormann that at the first complaint he would put a stop to it. Bormann assured him that there were no grounds for disquiet: on the contrary, the farmers were actually coming to him offering to sell. Once Hitler's mind was set at rest, Bormann's buying spree on behalf of the NSDAP knew no bounds. Soon he had acquired the whole Ohersalzberg mountain.

The time now seemed ripe for Bormann to spin his web around Hitler even tighter. At that time, it was the practice at the Berghof for the duty adjutant to decide which Party leaders and men from the State and Wehrmacht to invite to lunch with Hitler. One day Bormann contacted the adjutant with a request to be invited to dine, should the Fuhrer approve. Obviously Bormann was approved. Shortly before the meal he telephoned the duty adjutant again to excuse himself from attending because his workload was too great. This happened several times. When he finally appeared for lunch one day he was late and took the opportunity to apologise to Hitler with the explanation that he was so weighed down with work that it had unfortunately not been possible for him to get away on time. He kept this ploy going so long that slowly but surely Hitler gained the impression that Bormann was the most industrious man in the whole Party apparatus.

After winning Hitler's trust in this way, Bormann was given the stewardship of the Berghof. Thus he achieved another goal and won a fresh position of power from where he could damage his rivals. The expansion of his jurisdiction allowed Bormann to be nastier in his relationship towards subordinates. He began to feel secure. To his underlings he became the most irrational superior. One moment he would treat them in the kindest and most pleasant manner, even giving out presents, and a few minutes later he would be a sadist-belittling, offensive and wounding. Often he would go into such a rage that one would think he had lost his reason.

Once the entire staff was under his control, Bormann was empowered to hire and fire whomsoever he wanted. Woe betide the subordinate who fell into disfavour with him. He would persecute that person, filled with hate, for so long as he remained within reach. His behaviour was totally different to those people whom he knew Hitler liked and did not stand in his path. Towards them his friendship was unlimited and he would bend over backwards to make sure Hitler noticed.

Bormann's great passion was building. It was his method to sketch all the fancy ideas that he knew he shared with Hitler. Thus on the Obersalzberg he converted the houses that appeared to him appropriate for the purpose, making them into guest houses and small villas while creating for himself the wonderful opportunity to go over the plans with Hitler and so ingratiate himself with him even more.


Martin Bormann changed all this. He was hated and feared by almost everyone in the Reich Chancellery Group, including his own brother Alfred, who was one of Hitler's personal adjutants. Even before the outbreak of war, Bormann, by placing his own desk in the ante-room to Hitler's office, could control civilian access to the Fuehrer. Except for three or four ministers and the important military officers, no one could now report in to the Fuehrer directly. Bormann also processed all non-military papers before they crossed the Fuehrer's desk. It was he, for instance, who had kept a careful eye on Speer's activities in the Palatinate, receiving reports from the Gauleiters under his command, and had informed Hitler of Speer's attempts to block the scorched-earth orders. Finally, by his custody of the Fund of the Friends of the Fuehrer, which he had set up for the purpose of milking industrialists, Bormann had access to a vast pool of money which he used for his private patronage and for bribing Gauleiters. This fund also financed the building of the Bunker. All this increased mightily his personal power. As Hitler, from 1939 on, began to concentrate almost exclusively on military affairs, Bormann was building his own political power-base within the party. Hitler knew this; and he knew that Bormann was roundly hated. He once said: `I know that Bormann is brutal. But I need him.

One incident told by old FBK members shows what happened, under Bormann's influence, to the once comradely spirit of the mountain people. One of Hitler's oldest and most faithful retainers was Bruno Gesche, a boisterous type who had been with Hitler since the Munich stormtrooping days. Gesche rose slowly in the SS and the Leibstandarte until, by 1942, he had become the commanding officer of the FBK, with the rank of Obersturmbannfuehrer (lieutenant colonel). At a wild Christmas party in 1944 in the officers' mess at Felsennest during the Battle of the Ardennes, Gesche got roaring drunk, apparently at the bad news coming in from Bastogne. A dead-eye marksman, he whipped out his pistol and shot out all the mess-hall light bulbs. Bormann insisted that Bruno Gesche stand before a court-martial. Hitler refused to intervene. Gesche was reduced to the rank of corporal and exiled to the Italian front. The old hand said goodbye to the Fuehrer like Falstaff taking leave of Prince Hal.

(8) Joseph Goebbels, diary (27th March, 1945)

Bormann is not doing very well at the moment. His ideas, particularly on the question of radicalization of the war, are not what I would have expected of him. As I have already said, these people are semi-bourgeois. Their thinking may be revolutionary but they do not act that way. Now, however, the revolutionaries must be brought to the top.

(9) Joseph Goebbels, diary (3rd April, 1945)

Once more a mass of new decrees and instructions issue from Bormann. Bormann has turned the Party Chancellery into a paper factory. Every day he sends out a mountain of letters and files which the Gauleiters, now involved in battle, no longer even have time to read. In some cases too it is totally useless stuff of no practical value in our struggle. Even in the Party we have no clear leadership in contact with the people.