Ernst-Gunther Schenck

Ernst-Gunther Schenck

Ernst-Günther Schenck was born in Marburg on 3rd October 1904. He trained as a doctor and joined the Schutzstaffel (SS). During the Second World War he worked at the Dachau Concentration Camp and in 1940 he was appointed as inspector of nutrition for the SS. In 1943 Schenck developed a protein sausage, for the SS frontline troops. It is claimed that it was tested on 370 prisoners in Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp, some of whom died.

In January 1945, the Soviet troops entered Nazi Germany. On 16th January, following the defeat in the Battle of the Bulge, a small group, including Adolf Hitler, Eva Braun, Gretl Braun, Joseph Goebbels, Magda Goebbels, Hermann Fegelein, Rochus Misch, Martin Bormann, Walter Hewell, Julius Schaub, Erich Kempka, Heinz Linge, Julius Schreck, Otto Günsche, Traudl Junge, Christa Schroeder and Johanna Wolf, moved into the Führerbunker in Berlin. Hitler was now nearly fifty-five years old but looked much older. His hair had gone grey, his body was stooped, and he had difficulty in walking. Hitler also developed a tremor in his left arm and leg. It was a nervous disorder that reappeared whenever Hitler felt he was in danger. During this period Schenck volunteered to look after Hitler.

The situation became so desperate that on 22nd April, Hitler sent his two secretaries, Christa Schroeder and Johanna Wolf, away. Schroeder later recalled: "He received us in his room looking tired, pale and listless. "Over the last four days the situation has changed to such an extent that I find myself forced to disperse my staff. As you are the longest serving, you will go first. In an hour a car leaves for Munich."

On 30th April, 1945, Adolf Hitler locked himself in his room with Eva Braun. Hitler's bodyguard, Rochus Misch commented: “Everyone was waiting for the shot. We were expecting it.... Then came the shot. Heinz Linge took me to one side and we went in. I saw Hitler slumped by the table. I didn’t see any blood on his head. And I saw Eva with her knees drawn up lying next to him on the sofa – wearing a white and blue blouse, with a little collar: just a little thing.” Albert Speer commented: "Eva's love for him, her loyalty, were absolute - as she proved unmistakably at the end."

Those left in the Führerbunker were undecided what to do next. Some men committed suicide whereas others armed themselves with the intention to fight the enemy troops. This group including, Schenck, Traudl Junge, Walter Hewell, Martin Bormann, Erich Kempka and Heinz Linge, left the Führerbunker on 1st May, 1945. Junge later recalled: "It could be about eight-thirty in the evening. We are to be the first group leaving the bunker... we make our way through the many waiting people and go down underground passages. We clamber over half-wrecked staircases, through holes in walls and rubble, always going further up and out. At last the Wilhelmsplatz stretches ahead, shining in the moonlight. The dead horse still lies there on the paving stones, but only the remains of it now. Hungry people have come out of the U-Bahn tunnels to slice off pieces of meat... Soundlessly, we cross the square. Sporadic shots are fired, but the gunfire is stronger further away. Then we have reached the U-Bahn tunnel outside the ruins of the Kaiserhof. We climb down and work our way on in the darkness, over the wounded and the homeless, past soldiers resting, until we reach Friedrichstrasse Station. Here the tunnel ends and hell begins. We have to get through, and we succeed. The whole fighting group gets across the U-Bahn bend uninjured. But an inferno breaks out behind us. Hundreds of snipers are shooting at those who follow us."

Some of the group eventually reached an old beer cellar of a brewery now being used as a bunker. According to Schenck Walter Hewell killed himself when the Red Army arrived on 2nd May 1945. "A Soviet negotiator was followed by a Russian officer and four men. As they came through the entrance there were two loud reports inside the room. Hewel had put a pistol to his temple and squeezed the trigger as he bit on a cyanide capsule. I went to him immediately: he was dead. I could see it at a glance. The thought struck me at once that this was how Hitler had died and Hewel had copied him, biting on a cyanide capsule and shooting himself at the same instant. I needed no second look."

Ernst-Gunther Schenck died in Aachen on 21st December 1998.

Primary Sources

(1) Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian (5th April, 2005)

Historians have condemned Downfall, the new film about the last days of Hitler, for its sympathetic portrayal of characters in the bunker.

"Soldiers who appeared to be good, solid troops were probably really up to their necks in war crimes of the first order," said Professor David Cesarani, a specialist in Jewish history.

Peter Longerich, professor of modern German history at Royal Holloway, University of London, criticised the characterisation of Albert Speer, the doctor Ernst-Günter Schenck and Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge. "We have only one source for Albert Speer's claim that he confessed in the bunker to having sabotaged Hitler's orders, and that is his own memoirs," he said.

"Traudl Junge never admitted she was a member of the Nazi party; but of course she was a member of Nazi organisations - far from the innocent, naive young woman we see in the film. And Dr Schenck was involved in performing various experiments on people in concentration camps."

Prof Cesarani said: "As for Wilhelm Mohnke, I never thought I would see a film that portrayed sympathetically a man who was responsible for a massacre of British troops outside Dunkirk; just one of the things he did."

But the director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, said at a discussion in London: "We decided anything you saw in the film had to be based on actual accounts. When it comes to the meeting between Hitler and Speer, Speer's account is all we have. It was never proven that Schenck was involved in experiments."

Hirschbiegel added that it had never been proved that Mohnke was responsible for a massacre of British men.

Prof Cesarani praised Bruno Ganz's portrayal of Hitler, which some criticised for being "too human". But he said the film had "almost capitulated to the Nazi myth of the Germans holding back the eastern hordes", and there was a whiff of "victim culture" about the film, "emblematic of a certain current mood in Germany".

Hirschbiegel denied that. "There is no way the Germans can underplay the worst crime that ever happened in mankind ... but there was a certain aspect of heroism derived from the fighters ... There is some nobility in it, even. I wanted to supply a picture of humanity."

Matthias Matussek, who heads the London bureau of German magazine Der Spiegel, said: "I couldn't agree less with the idea that Germany was trying to whiten the war. I wish in Britain there was an equal effort to deal with their past. The UK is obsessed with the German past in relation to the war, in a triumphalist way."