I cannot now remember when I first read Hugh Trevor-Roper’s The Last Days of Hitler (1947). My memory is confused by the fact that I knew the author in old age and was to become his biographer; Trevor-Roper himself told me about the extraordinary circumstances in which he had come to write the book. In September 1945 he had been awaiting discharge from the army so that he could resume his pre-war role as an Oxford don, when he was asked to undertake an urgent investigation into the fate of the Führer.
This was then a mystery. In January, as the Allied armies invaded Germany, Hitler had retreated to an underground bunker below the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, to escape Allied bombing; his last months would be spent in these eighteen small and windowless rooms. Towards the end, as the Russians moved ever closer, he would emerge only for a short stroll in the garden with his beloved Alsatian dog, until shelling made even this too dangerous. His subordinates had pleaded with him to leave Berlin while this was still possible, but he had chosen to stay. One of his final acts was to marry his devoted companion, Eva Braun. On 1 May his successor, Grand Admiral Dönitz, had announced in a solemn broadcast to the German people that the Führer had died fighting at the head of his troops. But Dönitz was far away in Schleswig- Holstein, and knew no more of what had happened to Hitler than he had been told in curt telegrams from the bunker.
In the months following the German surrender in May, rumours spread that Hitler was still alive. He had escaped from besieged Berlin and was living on a mist-enshrouded island in the Baltic; in a Rhineland rock fortress; in a Spanish monastery; on a South American ranch; he had been spotted living rough among the bandits of Albania. A Swiss journalist made a deposition to testify that, to her certain knowledge, Hitler was living with Eva Braun on an estate in Bavaria. The Soviet news agency Tass reported that Hitler
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