Erich Kempka, the son of a coal-miner, was born in Oberhausen on 16th September 1910. One of ten children, after leaving school he worked as a mechanic in the car industry.
Kempka joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) on 1st April 1930. He became a member of the Schutzstaffel (SS) two years later. Later he joined the household staff of Adolf Hitler as a chauffeur.
On 19th September, 1931, Geli Raubal was found dead in Hitler's apartment. Kempka later told Traudl Junge: "The room next to the library was always kept locked. This was where Hitler's niece, of whom he was very fond, had apparently killed herself for his sake. The Führer sometimes mentioned his niece in conversation, and an oil painting of her had a place of honour in the Great Hall of the Berghof. Much later Erich Kempka the chauffeur, who was already in Hitler's employment at the time... told me the whole story. Hitler was Geli's guardian - his niece was called Geli - and she lived very close to him. She was in love with a man whom Hitler didn't like. When he went to Nuremberg to the Party rally, she shot herself in her room in his apartments' It wasn't entirely clear whether or not her death was the result of an unfortunate accident while she was cleaning her pistol, but anyway Hitler was very upset, and no one had been allowed to use Geli's room since her death."
On 29th June, 1934. Kempka accompanied Hitler, Theodor Eicke and selected members of the Schutzstaffel (SS), to Bad Wiesse, where Ernst Roehm was arrested. Kempka later explained: "Hitler entered Roehm's bedroom alone with a whip in his hand. Behind him were two detectives with pistols at the ready. He spat out the words; Roehm, you are under arrest. Roehm's doctor comes out of a room and to our surprise he has his wife with him. I hear Lutze putting in a good word for him with Hitler. Then Hitler walks up to him, greets him, shakes hand with his wife and asks them to leave the hotel, it isn't a pleasant place for them to stay in, that day. Now the bus arrives. Quickly, the SA leaders are collected from the laundry room and walk past Roehm under police guard. Roehm looks up from his coffee sadly and waves to them in a melancholy way. At last Roehm too is led from the hotel. He walks past Hitler with his head bowed, completely apathetic."
A large number of the SA officers were shot as soon as they were captured but Adolf Hitler decided to pardon Roehm because of his past services to the movement. However, after much pressure from Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, Hitler agreed that Roehm should die. Himmler ordered Theodor Eicke to carry out the task. Eicke and his adjutant, Michael Lipppert, travelled to Stadelheim Prison in Munich where Roehm was being held. Eicke placed a pistol on a table in Roehm's cell and told him that he had 10 minutes in which to use the weapon to kill himself. Roehm replied: "If Adolf wants to kill me, let him do the dirty work."
Paul R. Maracin, the author of The Night of the Long Knives: Forty-Eight Hours that Changed the History of the World (2004), has argued: "Ten minutes later, SS officers Michael Lippert and Theodor Eicke appeared, and as the embittered, scar-faced veteran of verdun defiantly stood in the middle of the cell stripped to the waist, the two SS officers riddled his body with revolver bullets." Eicke later claimed that Roehm fell to the floor moaning "Mein Führer". Three days after the purge Eicke was appointed Inspector of Concentration Camps and head of Death's Head Units. He was also promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General (SS-Gruppenfuehrer). According to Louis L. Snyder, the next day, Otto Dietrich, Press Chief of the NSDAP, "gave a blood-curdling account of the slaughter to the press. He described Hitler's sense of shock at the moral degeneracy of his oldest comrades."
In 1936 he replaced Julius Schreck as Hitler's primary chauffeur and chief of his car fleet. As his chauffeur Kempka usually drove one of Hitler's black Mercedes cars from a fleet of six to eight which were stationed in Berlin, Munich and other places. Unless in the company of an important personality, Hitler would sit in the front, next to Kempka, with his valet behind him.
According to Christa Schroeder, Kempka was forced by Adolf Hitler to divorce his wife after he discovered she had been a prostitute. However, Schroeder argues in her book, He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolf Hitler's Secretary (1985), the relationship did not come to an end: "Erich Kempka's ex-wife, whom he had divorced on Hitler's orders for her having been a prostitute before the marriage. Kempka had rented for her an apartment on the Kurfurstendamm and subsequently remained in touch with her, and in due course she had filtered down to Pension Post at Hintersee. She was responsible for causing some very unpleasant scenes there."
At the beginning of 1945 the Soviet troops entered Nazi Germany. On 16th January, Adolf Hitler moved into the Führerbunker in Berlin. He was joined by Kempka, Eva Braun, Gretl Braun, Joseph Goebbels, Magda Goebbels, Hermann Fegelein, Rochus Misch, Martin Bormann, Walter Hewell, Julius Schaub, Heinz Linge, Julius Schreck, Ernst-Gunther Schenck, Otto Günsche, Traudl Junge, Christa Schroeder and Johanna Wolf.
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. His voice had become feeble and his eyesight was so poor that that he needed special lenses even to read documents from his "Führer typewriter". Hitler also developed a tremor in his left arm and leg. He had originally suffered from this during the First World War and also after the failure of the Munich Putsch in 1923. It was a nervous disorder that reappeared whenever Hitler felt he was in danger.
People who had not seen him for a few months were shocked by his appearance. One man remarked: "It was a ghastly physical image he presented. The upper part of his body was bowed and he dragged his feet as he made his way slowly and laboriously through the bunker from his living room... If anyone happened to stop him during this short walk (some fifty or sixty yards), he was forced either to sit down on one of the seats placed along the walls for the purpose, or to catch hold of the person he was speaking to... Often saliva would dribble from the comers of his mouth... presenting a hideous and pitiful spectacle."
Kempka claimed that on 27th April 1945 Hermann Fegelein contacted him with a strange request: "Hermann Fegelein, phoned me to ask if I would put at his disposal two vehicles for a reconnaissance. Moreover he would be grateful if I would do him a personal favour. He wanted me to take care of a briefcase with important files belonging to the Reichsfuhrer-SS and himself. He would hand it to me personally towards ten that evening in the Fuhrer-bunker. It was essential to keep it safe and in the event that the enemy entered the bunker, the briefcase was to be hidden where it could never be found, or should be destroyed. Under no circumstances must it fall into enemy hands. As I had been on familiar terms with Fegelein for years and he enjoyed Hitler's fullest confidence as Eva Braun's brother-in-law, I had no hesitation in agreeing to his request. I had really no idea at that moment that my willingness to be of assistance to him was putting my own life in danger. A short while afterwards Fegelein left the Reich Chancellery with two vehicles I had had repaired. They were the last survivors to remain serviceable from my once great vehicle fleet. To my great surprise the two automobiles were returned thirty minutes later, although without Fegelein. The drivers told me that he had got out in the Kurfurstendamm district to proceed on foot."
When it was discovered that Hermann Fegelein had gone missing the Gestapo was sent out to find him. Heinz Linge recalled that "Fegelein's adjutant reported back to the bunker, he stated that Fegelein had gone to his private flat and dressed in civilian clothing. The adjutant had been ordered to do the same." He told Hitler that the purpose of this being "to allow the Russians to roll over us and then we will make our way through to Himmler". Hitler came to the conclusion that Fegelein was involved in some sort conspiracy against him.
On 27th April 1945, Fegelein was arrested with his mistress in his apartment. SS-Obersturmbannführer Peter Högl discovered him with a great deal of money and discovered that he was just about to leave the country. Högl also found a briefcase containing documents with evidence of an attempted peace negotiation with the Allies. The following day the negotiations that were taking place between Himmler and Count Folke Bernadotte were leaked to the press. Hanna Reitsch was with Hitler when he heard the news: "His colour rose to a heated red and his face was unrecognizable... After the lengthy outburst, Hitler sank into a stupor, and for a time the entire bunker was silent."
According to Heinz Linge: "Fegelein was returned under armed guard he made a poor impression: wearing gloves, a leather coat and a sporty hat he looked like a Kurfurstendamm dandy. On Hitler's order he was arraigned immediately before a court-martial and sentenced to death for treason. Eva Braun, though clearly fighting an internal struggle, would not enter a plea for mercy for her brother-in-law even though Hitler indicated that he would commute the sentence on the highly decorated SS-0bergruppenfuhrer to 'atonement at the front'. Towards midnight an SS squad awaited Fegelein in the Reich Chancellery Ehrenhof. He remained impassive as the sentence of the court martial was read out."
When the Soviet troops first entered Berlin it was suggested that Hitler should try to escape. Hitler rejected the idea as he feared the possibility of being captured. He had heard stories of how the Soviet troops planned to parade him through the streets of Germany in a cage. To prevent this humiliation Hitler decided to commit suicide. By the end of April soldiers of the Red Army were only 300 yards away from Hitler's underground bunker. Although defeat was inevitable, Hitler insisted his troops fight to the death. Instructions were constantly being sent out giving orders for the execution of any military commanders who retreated. Hitler made a will leaving all his property to the Nazi Party.
On 28th April 1945 Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun. Hitler tested out a cyanide pill on his pet Alsatian dog, Blondi. Braun agreed to commit suicide with him. She could have become rich by writing her memoirs but she preferred not to live without Hitler. Braun told Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge. "Please do try to get out. You may yet make your way through. And give Bavaria my love." Junge commented that she said this "smiling but with a sob in her voice."
Heinz Linge and Otto Günsche were in charge of cremating Hitler and Braun. Günsche asked Kempka by telephone: "I must have 200 litres of petrol immediately!" Kempka later recalled in I Was Hitler's Chauffeur: The Memoirs of Erich Kempka (1951): "At first I thought this was a bad joke and told him it was out of the question." Günsche insisted: "See how much you can collect from the fuel tanks of your damaged vehicles, and send your men at once to the exit to the Führer-bunker. And then come yourself immediately!"
When he arrived with the petrol he was surprised by what he saw: "At the moment I entered the Fuhrer-bunker, Günsche was leaving Hitler's sitting room, and we met in the lobby to the situation conference room. His features had changed visibly. As white as chalk and distraught, he stared at me.... For God's sake, Otto, what is it? You must be mad, asking me to endanger the lives of a half dozen of my men to bring you petrol under this kind of artillery bombardment!" Günsche replied: "The chief is dead."
In the early morning hours of 1st May 1945 Kempka left the Führerbunker. Linge later recalled: "I teamed up with SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Erich Kempka. In full uniform we climbed through a window of the New Reich Chancellery cellar. Under a hail of shell and mortar fire we crossed Friedrich-Strasse to the railway station where a couple of our panzers were standing and still offering the Russians battle. Towards midnight on the Weidendamm bridge we came upon Stumpfegger, Baur and Bormann who had lost their hearings, arrived by a roundabout route and were now separated from the Russians by an anti-tank barrier. As three of our panzers and three armoured vehicles rolled up, Bormann decided to break through the Russian lines using a panzer. Kempka jumped up, stopped the vehicles and told the leading panzer commander what was required. Under the protection of this panzer heading for the tank barrier, Bormann, Naumann and Stumpfegger doubled forward while I watched. The panzer was hit by a projectile from a Panzerfaust. The people alongside it were tossed into the air like dolls by the explosion. I could no longer see Stumpfegger nor Bormann. I presumed they were dead. "
Kempka was later captured by the United States Army on 20th June, 1945, but was not charged as a war criminal and was released in 1947. In 1951 he published his autobiography, I Was Hitler's Chauffeur: The Memoirs of Erich Kempka.
Erich Kempka died in Freiberg am Neckar on 24th January 1975.
The room next to the library was always kept locked. This was where Hitler's niece, of whom he was very fond, had apparently killed herself for his sake. The Fuhrer sometimes mentioned his niece in conversation, and an oil painting of her had a place of honour in the Great Hall of the Berghof. Much later Erich Kempka the chauffeur, who was already in Hitler's employment at the time... told me the whole story. Hitler was Geli's guardian - his niece was called Geli - and she lived very close to him. She was in love with a man whom Hitler didn't like. When he went to Nuremberg to the Party rally, she shot herself in her room in his apartments' It wasn't entirely clear whether or not her death was the result of an unfortunate accident while she was cleaning her pistol, but anyway Hitler was very upset, and no one had been allowed to use Geli's room since her death.
Along with Frau von Puttkamer, wife of the naval adjutant, her children and mother, Frau Donitz, wife of Admiral Donitz, with her sister Frau Linge, wife of Hitler's manservant, and children, a remarkable community had developed. It also included Schaub's female friend Hilde Marzelewski, a dancer from the Berlin "Metropol" and Erich Kempka's ex-wife, whom he had divorced on Hitler's orders for her having been a prostitute before the marriage. Kempka had rented for her an apartment on the Kurfurstendamm and subsequently remained in touch with her, and in due course she had filtered down to Pension Post at Hintersee. She was responsible for causing some very unpleasant scenes there.
I did not see Hitler's face closely, and I was unable to say what damage the bullet had inflicted to his head. My main aim was to finish and get away. Eva Hitler was carried out first. Erich Kempka lifted her up but then replaced her on the floor so that Gunsche could take over because he found it awkward to carry her alone. Bormann picked her up in his arms and brought the body out of the room where Kempka took over again because he did not like the idea of the man she had despised in life carrying her now to the grave.
I reached below Hitler's head, two officers from his SS bodyguard lifted the body, wrapped in a grey blanket, and we carried him out. Immediately in front of the bunker door, in the Reich Chancellery garden, his body was laid next to Eva's in a small depression where gasoline was poured over the cadavers and an attempt was made to set light to them. At first this proved impossible. As a result of the various fires in the parkland there was a fierce wind circulating which smothered our attempts to set the bodies alight from a few metres' distance. Because of the relentless Russian artillery fire we could not approach the bodies and ignite the petrol with a match. I returned to the bunker and made a thick spill from some signal papers. Bormann lit it and I threw it onto Hitler's petrol-soaked body which caught fire immediately. Standing at the bunker entrance we, the last witnesses - Bormann, Goebbels, Stumpfegger, Gunsche, Kempka and I - raised our hands for a last Hitler salute. Then we withdrew into the bunker.
I teamed up with SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Erich Kempka. In full uniform we climbed through a window of the New Reich Chancellery cellar. Under a hail of shell and mortar fire we crossed Friedrich-Strasse to the railway station where a couple of our panzers were standing and still offering the Russians battle. Towards midnight on the Weidendamm bridge we came upon Stumpfegger, Baur and Bormann who had lost their hearings, arrived by a roundabout route and were now separated from the Russians by an anti-tank barrier. As three of our panzers and three armoured vehicles rolled up, Bormann decided to break through the Russian lines using a panzer. Kempka jumped up, stopped the vehicles and told the leading panzer commander what was required. Under the protection of this panzer heading for the tank barrier, Bormann, Naumann and Stumpfegger doubled forward while I watched. The panzer was hit by a projectile from a Panzerfaust. The people alongside it were tossed into the air like dolls by the explosion. I could no longer see Stumpfegger nor Bormann. I presumed they were dead, as I told the Russians repeatedly in numerous interrogations later.
Now fifteen to twenty strong, once we realised we could not save our skins in this manner, we decided to go through the tramway tunnel. We reached See-Strasse, but only with great effort, losing people on the way. For a moment or so I had been alone with a member of the SS bodyguard when I heard the sound of tanks and voices through a shaft leading up to the street. I stopped and listened. From above I heard the call: "German panzers are advancing. Come up, comrades!" I leaned out of the shaft and saw a German soldier. He looked towards me and beckoned. Scarcely had I left our hiding place than I saw all the Soviet tanks around me. The German soldier belonged to the Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland formed after the Battle of Stalingrad to vvork for the communists. I was captured, but that was all. Although in full "war paint" and not resembling a war-worn soldier, nobody was interested in me.
It was towards midday on 30 April 1945. Russian shelling was hitting the Reich Chancellery and the government district continuously. The struggle to hold out had become fiercer. With a thunder and a crack, whole blocks of dwellings collapsed, and the streets around the Reich Chancellery were reduced to deserts of rubble.
The Führer took his leave of his staff, shaking the hand of each and thanking them for their work and loyalty to him. Secretaries Frau Junge, Frau Christian and the dietician-cook Fraulein Manziarly were invited to lunch. Hitler sat next to his wife. As he had done in the good times, he tried to keep the conversation unforced, with everybody participating. When this last meal had ended and the three ladies had withdrawn, Hitler had them recalled by his adjutant SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Otto Günsche. In the doorway to his ante-chamber, he and Eva Braun took their leave of the three again. Frau Hitler embraced the long-scrving secretaries and shook the hand of all three in parting.
Hitler also said farewell to Bormann and his SS adjutant Günsche. The latter received an express order to contact me and arrange for enough fuel to immolate the bodies of Hitler and his wife: "I do not wish to be displayed after my death in a Russian panopticon like Lenin."
At the time I was in one of the less damaged rooms of the underground garages, having just arrived there from outside to supervise the change of the guard. At that moment my telephone rang. I lifted the receiver and announced myself. It was Günsche. "Erich, I am desperately in need of a drink. Haven't you got a bottle of schnapps there?" This question surprised me greatly, for the last thing we wanted nowadays was alcohol. His voice was urgent. "Well, do you?" Whatever was up - something was obviously afoot. Well, I would soon find out, for he promised to come straight over and so I got a bottle of cognac ready for him.
I waited and waited. What was wrong now? Günsche did not arrive. I had no idea from where he had called nor where I could reach him. More than a half hour passed, then the telephone rang again. Günsche. His voice hoarse with excitement he said, "I must have 200 litres of petrol immediately!" At first I thought this was a bad joke and told him it was out of the question. Now he began shouting, "Petrol - Erich - petrol!"
"OK, and why would you need a mere 200 litres of petrol?"
"I cannot tell you on the phone. But believe me, Erich, I simply must have it. Whatever it takes, it must be here right now at the exit to the Führer-bunker!"
I told him that the only source was the zoo bunker, where we had a few thousand litres buried. Under the present artillery bombardment it would be certain death for my men to go there and I was not prepared to give the order. "Wait until at least 1700, because the firing generally dies down a bit around then," I advised.
Günsche would not agree. "I cannot wait another hour. See how much you can collect from the fuel tanks of your damaged vehicles, and send your men at once to the exit to the Führer-bunker. And then come yourself immediately!" With that, he hung up.
With a few exceptions, the vehicles - in the garage-bunkers were not burnt - out but crushed and covered with masonry from the caved-in concrete roof. In great haste I authorised my deputy to take some men at once and siphon out what petrol could be found and bring it to the place ordered. Then I hurried by the quickest route over rubble and wrecked vehicles to Günsche, to find out what had happened. At the moment I entered the Fuhrer-bunker, Günsche was leaving Hitler's sitting room, and we met in the lobby to the situation conference room. His features had changed visibly. As white as chalk and distraught, he stared at me.
"For God's sake, Otto, what is it?" I cried, "you must be mad, asking me to endanger the lives of a half dozen of my men to bring you petrol under this kind of artillery bombardment!" He seemed not to have heard me, went to the two outer doors and shut them. Then he turned and said: "The chief is dead."
It was a dreadful shock. "How could that happen, Otto? I spoke to him only yesterday! He was healthy and calm!" Günsche was still so overcome that he could not speak. He merely raised his right arm, imitated holding a pistol grip with his fist and pointed to his mouth.
"And where is Eva?" Günsche indicated the door to Hitler's room with his hand. "She is with him." With some difficulty, I extracted from him the events of the final hours. Hitler had shot himself in his study with his pistol and had then fallen head first across the table surface. Eva Hitler sat at an angle, sunk against the arm of the sofa beside him. She had taken poison, but had been holding a pistol. Her right arm was hanging over the side of the sofa, and on the ground nearby was the gun. "Bormann, Linge and I heard the shot and rushed into the room. Dr Ludwig Stumpfegger arrived in support. Goebbels and Axmann were summoned." Günsche was stumbling over his words as he spoke.
"Who is with him now?" I wanted to know.
"Goebbels, Bormann and Linge, also Dr Stumpfegger who certified the death of them both. Axmann has left."
At that moment one of my own men came into the ante-chamber to report the placing of between 180 and 200 litres of petrol at the bunker exit. I sent the man back. As I did so, the door of Hitler's sitting room opened and personal manservant Linge shouted desperately for the fuel: "The petrol... where is the petrol," I replied: "It is in position!"
Linge returned hurriedly into the sitting room. Seconds later the door opened again, and Stumpfegger and Linge emerged carrying the body of Adolf Hitler wrapped in a dark field blanket. His face was covered as far as the bridge of his nose. Below the greying hair the forehead had the waxy pallor of death. The left arm was dangling out of the blanket as far as the elbow. Behind these two followed Bormann with the dead Eva Hitler in his arms. She was dressed in a black dress of light material, her head and blonde tresses inclined backwards. This shocked me almost more than the sight of the dead Hitler. Eva had hated Bormann. He had caused her a great deal of aggravation. Its intrigues for power had long been clear to her. Now in death her greatest enemy carried her to the pyre. I could not allow this and said to Günsche: "You help carry the chief, I will take Eva!" Then without speaking I took Eva's body from Bormann's arms. Her side was wet Instinctively I assumed that she had also shot herself. (Later Günsche told me that when Hitler's body collapsed across the table, it overturned the vase, and the water it contained flowed over Eva.)
There were twenty steps up to the bunker exit. I had not reckoned with the weight and my strength tailed. I had to stop. Halfway up Günsche hurried to assist me, and together we carried the body of Eva Hitler into the open.... The Reich Chancellery was being shelled by the Russians. There were explosions very close by. Numerous fountains of soil plumed up. The air was filled with mortar dust.
In haste, Dr Stumpfegger and Linge had placed the dead Hitler on the ground about three metres half-right of the bunker exit, very close to the giant cement mixer which was to have been used to thicken the Fuhrer-bunker roof by one metre. Just as we had carried Hitler out of his sitting room, now he lay there still wrapped in the grey blanket, legs towards the bunker stairway. The long black trousers legs were pushed up, his right foot turned inwards. I had often seen his foot in this position when he had nodded off beside me on long car drives.
Günsche and I lay Eva Hitler beside her husband. In the enormous excitement of the moment we put her at an angle to him. Russian shells were exploding around us - it seemed that their artillery had suddenly doubled its bombardment of the Reich Chancellery garden and Führer-bunker at that instant. I rushed back to the shelter of the bunker, stopping for a moment, panting, waiting for the next salvoes to arrive. Then I seized a canister of petrol, ran out again and placed it near the two bodies. Quickly I bent low to place Hitler's left arm closer to his body. His untidy hair fluttered in the wind. I took off the cap of the petrol can. Shells exploded close by, spattering us with earth and dust, metal splinters whirred and whistled above us. Again we ran to the bunker entrance for cover, our nerves stretched to breaking point. Tensely we waited for the shelling in our area to die down before pouring petrol over the corpses. Then I ran out speedily and grabbed the canister. I was trembling as I poured the contents over the two bodies, and repeatedly I told myself that I could not do it, but I was conscious of it being Hitler's last order and my sense of duty overcame my sensitivity. Alongside me, Günsche and Linge carried out the same duty for Eva Hitler. Her dress moved in the wind until finally drenched by the fuel. From the look on the faces of Günsche and Linge I saw that they were having a grim internal struggle to obey the chief's last order.