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Monday, 4 May, 1998, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Martin Bormann: Hitler's henchman
bormann with newspaper cuttings
Hapless reporters have travelled the globe in search of Hitler's confidante
More has been written about Martin Bormann since his disappearance in the dying days of World War II than during his lifetime as right-hand man to Adolf Hitler.

During the war, most Germans had never even heard of this shadowy figure.

mural in Hitler's bunker
A mural found inside Hitler's bunker in Berlin
Bormann joined the Nazi movement through the Freikorps and the German Nationalist Party, came to Hitler's attention early on and was rarely far from his side.

In 1943 the mysterious man - described variously as "banal", "vulgar" and "a boot-licker" - became Secretary to the Führer.

Unlike other prominent Nazi leaders like Goebbels, Goering and Himmler who enjoyed fame and notoriety, Bormann preferred to keep a low profile.

"Figures like him are easily overlooked," wrote Jochen van Lang, Bormann's biographer. "He was never the hero of dramatic scenes, never stood in the limelight."

Bormann maintained unlimited access to the Führer even when he withdrew from public life and took refuge at his country home at Berchtesgaden.

Hitler's confidante took advantage of his leader's self-imposed isolation to run the Chancellery - and effectively took control of the Reich. Any minister wishing to see Hitler had to approach Bormann first.

Wild goose chase

He was last seen on May 2, 1945 crouching beside a German tank near the Berlin bunker.

At the Nuremberg trials after the war, Bormann was condemned to death in abstentia for his leading role in the extermination of the Jews - and the long search for him began.

The British and German press became obsessed in their quest for the man so close to Hitler, who was godfather to Bormann's first son, Adolf.

Over the years, journalists, Nazi and bounty hunters were led from the remote jungles of South America ... to deepest Surrey. And at each turn the stories surrounding his whereabouts became more fantastical.

Several would-be Bormanns were spotted and even arrested - a Guatemalan peasant in 1967, a 72-year-old German living in Colombia a few years later.

Skeletons in the cupboard

The wild and imaginative stories about Bormann continued even after the discovery in 1972 of two skeletons near the Lehrter railway station in Berlin. The authorities said the men were probably Bormann and Ludwig Stumpfegger, one of Hitler's doctors. Splinters of glass cyanide capsules were found in the jawbones.

It is believed they escaped from Hitler's bunker, were trapped by crossfire and killed themselves.

Although the German Government was satisfied with this theory, they locked up the remains in a cupboard at the Frankfurt Public Prosecutor's Office. Family members were prevented from taking them away until there was final identification.

Even the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper admitted in his book The Last Days of Hitler there was no firm evidence that Martin Bormann was dead.

Three years ago, The News of the World told the story of a certain Peter Broderick-Hartley who had lived and died in Reigate, Surrey. The paper claimed he was, in fact, Martin Bormann, who had had plastic surgery.

In 1996, a British publisher paid £500,000 for rights to a book claiming that Winston Churchill smuggled Hitler's lieutenant to England in 1945 to get access to Nazi gold held in Swiss bank accounts. The author of the James Bond books, Ian Fleming, was also said to be involved.

Now, DNA tests seem to prove the skeleton found in Berlin is indeed that of Hitler's henchman.

See also:

04 May 98 | Europe
Bormann's body 'identified'
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