1939 vs. 1945
Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday was celebrated as a national holiday in Nazi Germany. On that day, the largest military parade in the history of the Third Reich was held in Berlin. Festivities began in the afternoon of the day before, when Hitler was driven at the head of a motorcade of fifty white limousines along Albert Speer's newly-completed "East-West Axis", the planned central boulevard for "Germania", which was to be the new capital for the Nazi empire. The next event was a torchlight procession of deputations from all over Germany, which Hitler reviewed from a balcony in the Reich Chancellery.These pictures from LIFE magazine show two of the many lavish gifts Hitler received.
The main feature of the celebrations on the birthday itself was a huge show of the military capabilities of Nazi Germany intended, in part, as a warning to the western powers. In total, 40,000 to 50,000 German troops took part in the parade, which lasted about five hours and included 12 companies of the Luftwaffe, 12 companies of the Army, and 12 companies of sailors, as well as the SS.
Goose-stepping past the Hitler at the reviewing stand, 20 April 1939
Photo from LIFE magazine.
162 warplanes flew over the city of Berlin. The grandstand comprised 20,000 official guests, and the parade was watched by several hundreds of thousands of spectators. Features of the parade were large long range air defense artillery guns, emphasis on motorized artillery and development of air defense units.
Artillery passes the Hitler at the reviewing stand, 20 April 1939
Photo from LIFE magazine.
The ambassadors of the United Kingdom, France and the United States were not present at the parade, having been withdrawn after Hitler's march into Czechoslovakia. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not congratulate Hitler on his birthday, in accordance with his practice of not sending birthday greetings to any but ruling monarchs. King George VI of the United Kingdom dispatched a message of congratulation to Hitler.
According to historian Ian Kershaw in Hitler: 1936-1945: Nemesis,Elaborately stage-managed though the entire razzmatazz had been, there was no denying Hitler's genuine popularity – even near-deification by many – among the masses. What had been for 1933 bitterly anti-Nazi Communist and Socialist sub-cultures remained, despite terror and propaganda, still largely impervious to the Hitler adulation. Many Catholics [were also] relatively immune throughout to Nazism's appeal. ... Intellectuals might be disdainful of Hitler, old-fashioned, upper-class conservatives bemoan the vulgarity of the Nazis, and those with remaining shreds of liberal, humanitarian values feel appalled at the brutality of the regime, displayed in full during 'Crystal Night'. ... Even so, Hitler was without doubt the most popular government head in Europe. ... Hitler, a national leader arising from the lower ranks of society, had tapped a certain 'naive faith' embedded in lengthy traditions of 'heroic' leadership. Internal terror and the readiness of the western powers to hand Hitler one success after another in foreign policy had undermined the skepticism of many waverers. The result was that, although there was much fear of war, belief in the Führer was extensive.
|Volkswagen Convertible from Ferdinand Porsche|
|Hand-worked castle with in-laid jewels|
On Hitler’s 56th birthday, all leaders of the Regime met in the New Reich Chancellery for the last time. In the afternoon, a weak and sickly Hitler left his bunker just long enough to decorate several Hitler-Jugend Boys. It was to be his last appearance outside of the bunker.
Under an increasing nervousness most of the government members hastily left Berlin still that evening. After the end of the official event and in absence of Hitler, Eva Braun continued to frolic, celebrating together with the bunker personnel.
From eyewitness to history comes this:
Dorothea von Schwanenfluegel was a twenty-nine-year-old wife and mother living in Berlin. She and her young daughter along with friends and neighbors huddled within their apartment building as the end neared. The city was already in ruins from Allied air raids, food was scarce, the situation desperate - the only hope that the Allies would arrive before the Russians. We join Dorothea's account as the Russians begin the final push to victory:Ten days after his final appearance, Hitler, at the age of 56, was dead.
Friday, April 20, was Hitler's fifty-sixth birthday, and the Soviets sent him a birthday present in the form of an artillery barrage right into the heart of the city, while the Western Allies joined in with a massive air raid.
The radio announced that Hitler had come out of his safe bomb-proof bunker to talk with the fourteen to sixteen year old boys who had 'volunteered' for the 'honor' to be accepted into the SS and to die for their Fuhrer in the defense of Berlin. What a cruel lie! These boys did not volunteer, but had no choice, because boys who were found hiding were hanged as traitors by the SS as a warning that, 'he who was not brave enough to fight had to die.' When trees were not available, people were strung up on lamp posts. They were hanging everywhere, military and civilian, men and women, ordinary citizens who had been executed by a small group of fanatics. It appeared that the Nazis did not want the people to survive because a lost war, by their rationale, was obviously the fault of all of us. We had not sacrificed enough and therefore, we had forfeited our right to live, as only the government was without guilt. The Volkssturm was called up again, and this time, all boys age thirteen and up, had to report as our army was reduced now to little more than children filling the ranks as soldiers.
In honor of Hitler's birthday, we received an eight-day ration allowance, plus one tiny can of vegetables, a few ounces of sugar and a half-ounce of real coffee. No one could afford to miss rations of this type and we stood in long lines at the grocery store patiently waiting to receive them. While standing there, we noticed a sad looking young boy across the street standing behind some bushes in a self-dug shallow trench. I went over to him and found a mere child in a uniform many sizes too large for him, with an anti-tank grenade lying beside him. Tears were running down his face, and he was obviously very frightened of everyone. I very softly asked him what he was doing there. He lost his distrust and told me that he had been ordered to lie in wait here, and when a Soviet tank approached he was to run under it and explode the grenade. I asked how that would work, but he didn't know. In fact, this frail child didn't even look capable of carrying such a grenade. It looked to me like a useless suicide assignment because the Soviets would shoot him on sight before he ever reached the tank.
By now, he was sobbing and muttering something, probably calling for his mother in despair, and there was nothing that I could do to help him. He was a picture of distress, created by our inhuman government. If I encouraged him to run away, he would be caught and hung by the SS, and if I gave him refuge in my home, everyone in the house would be shot by the SS. So, all we could do was to give him something to eat and drink from our rations. When I looked for him early next morning he was gone and so was the grenade. Hopefully, his mother found him and would keep him in hiding during these last days of a lost war.