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."
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."
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."