Following the reported death of Adolf Hitler at the end of World War II, speculations arose about his potential escape, with some claiming that the dictator was still alive somewhere. Judge Michael Musmanno, a Pittsburgh native, naval officer, and controversial judge in the Nuremburg Trials, made it his mission to prove that Hitler was, indeed, dead and gone.
Funding the project himself, Musmanno set out to track down and film interviews with surviving members of Hitler’s civilian and military staff who were with him during his final days in the Fuhrer Bunker. The project has come to be known as "The Day Hitler Died."
After conducting over 100 interviews, Musmanno turned to Hollywood to produce a documentary from his footage. However, attitudes were changing in the western world as Hitler and the war became old news. Musmanno saved a personal copy of his best interviews, which was thought to have been lost. Until it turned up in 2013, that is.
The collection came to Duquesne University in 1980, along with other papers and mementos from the bunker. In 2005, the film was discovered unmarked in a box, and was sent out to be digitized for viewing.
Tom White, Archivist and Curator of Special Collections at Duquesne University’s Gumberg Library says that although Hitler is portrayed as a fearless leader, the interviews reveal that this was not the case during his final few days.
“He was deathly afraid of being captured and being put on display or humiliated,” White explains.
It is reported that to avoid such humiliation by the Soviet Army, Hitler committed suicide by poisoning himself, encouraging his officers to do the same.
“Somehow it seems anti-climactic, the way he died. There’s something missing for some people. They want to believe that Hitler escaped despite all of the evidence of the contrary,” White says.
Through hard work and resilience, Musmanno was able to compile these interviews confirming Hitler’s death, despite a lack of support from post-war America. The result of his labor will soon be seen by American eyes for the very first time.
"The Day Hitler Died" premieres November 16th at 8 p.m. on the Smithsonian Channel.
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