Image: Baron Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven
AP file
Baron Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven assembled military intelligence dispatches for Adolf Hitler.
updated 4/2/2007 4:55:21 PM ET 2007-04-02T20:55:21

Baron Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven, a witness to Adolf Hitler’s final days who described the last throes of a despairing Nazi leadership trapped in a Berlin bunker, has died, his publisher said Monday. He was 93.

Von Loringhoven died in February of natural causes in his home city of Munich, said Wolf Jobst Siedler Jr., who published the German-language version of his book, “In the Bunker with Hitler.” Siedler did not have an exact date.

In an interview for the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, von Loringhoven recalled the despair among the two dozen top Nazis and their entourage in the bunker as the Soviet army converged on it in 1945.

“They talked about whether they should shoot themselves or take poison,” von Loringhoven told the Los Angeles Times. “And they talked about whether, if they shot themselves, they should put the gun in their mouths, or put it to their temples.”

On April 29, the day before Hitler and his new bride, Eva Braun, killed themselves, von Loringhoven was given his way out.

As a regular army major whose duty was to assemble military intelligence dispatches for Hitler, he found himself out of a job when the advancing Soviet army knocked out the radio transmitter the army used to send him information.

“I had no intention of being killed there, like a rat, in the corridor,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I asked to be given a chance either to go and find the fighting troops, or else to be given a chance to get out of Berlin.”

He remembered Hitler reacting with enthusiasm, rather than condemnation, to the news that he and two comrades were going to flee.

“I had the feeling when we talked to him that he had already decided to end his life and that he, as a physical wreck, was envious of three strong young men who still had the chance of getting through.”

The three managed to elude the Soviets and then allowed themselves to be captured by the Western Allies.

A prisoner of war
After two years as a British prisoner of war, von Loringhoven was released and reunited with his family.

Von Loringhoven was born Jan. 24, 1914, in Arensburg in what is today Estonia to an aristocratic family. The family moved to eastern Germany to escape the post-World War I turmoil of the region.

Von Loringhoven considered a career as an attorney, but once the Nazis came to power in 1933 and party membership became a requirement for the profession, he instead turned to the military.

“I had studied law but the profession was being taken over by the Nazis,” he told The Observer newspaper in 2005. “The Wehrmacht seemed an honorable career.”

During World War II, von Loringhoven served as a tank company commander, among other roles, before being promoted to the rank of major and assigned to Gen. Heinz Guderian — the general credited with helping develop the blitzkrieg, or lightning-war, tank tactics that led to Germany’s early victories. After Guderian’s dismissal, von Loringhoven continued his liaison role under Gen. Hans Krebs until his escape from the bunker the month later.

After the war, von Loringhoven joined the West German army in 1956, later serving for three years in Washington as part of NATO’s Standing Group. After a long career, he retired in 1973 with the rank of lieutenant general.

His memoirs were published in English last year.

Even 60 years after the war, von Loringhoven retained some of his contempt for the Nazi leadership, which was often at odds with the army’s prewar officer corps.

“Hitler’s only military experience had been as a corporal during the First World War,” he told The Observer. “He knew only one thing — the fanatical resistance — and I can still hear him say the words. Blitzkrieg was not devised by him but only by military strategists whom he later sidelined.”

“As soon as we suffered the first setbacks he became deaf to calls to switch to modern, mobile defense techniques,” von Loringhoven said. “He saw them as defeatist since they sometimes required giving up territory.”

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