Martin Bormann - Nazi ideologue or Russian spy?

By Ben Goldby on Nov 2, 10 04:34 PM


The Case

Martin Bormann was among the most sinister and feared members of the Nazi high command.
A trusted member of Hitler's inner circle, and head of the chancellery, Bormann was the FÃŒhrer's right hand man.
He was regarded by the Nazis as a true believer, a zealot to the fascist cause, so completely committed to the Third Reich's odious aims of racial purification that he was above suspicion.
But as the Nazi regime crumbled, and the Soviet troops stormed Berlin, things rapidly changed for this pragmatic bureaucrat. It is suggested that Bormann may not be the dedicated, boot-licking Hitler devotee that he made himself out to be.
Conspiracy theorists believe Bormann was in fact a Russian spy, a murky contact known to Stalin's intelligence chiefs as "Werther".
There is little doubt that a high-ranking German had been turned by their communist foes, but Bormann was not just any member of the high command, he was the personification of the Nazi stooge, Hitler's personal secretary, and a fearsome ideologue.
If the Russians did turn Bormann, it must be regarded as the espionage coup of the century.
But could a rabid, FÃŒhrer-worshipping Nazi like Bormann really have fed information to Hitler's most hated foe, and if he did, how on earth did he manage to get away with it?

The Official Story

Bormann joined the Nazi party in 1925 and quickly rose through the ranks.
By the time Hitler seized power in 1933, Bormann was a trusted lieutenant and was handed the plum role of party chancellor.
Initially he lagged behind Rudolf Hess in the FÃŒhrer's pecking order, but as the war in Europe intensified, the ruthless and bloodthirsty Bormann soon emerged as the perfect Nazi to become Hitler's deputy.
When Hess left for Britain, Bormann stepped up to become the FÃŒhrer's right hand man, earning a reputation as a brutal, fanatical Nazi.
All of Hitler's papers, his diary, his day-to-day movements, were governed by Bormann, he alone controlled access to the leader, and therefore wielded huge power over the direction of the war effort.
A devious, manipulative power-broker, he jousted with SS chief Heinrich Himmler for dominance in Berlin.
Bormann was instrumental in devising and implementing the final solution, and his role in the holocaust was well-documented during the Nuremberg war crimes trials that followed the war.
Much of the administrative work that went into the mass transportation and extermination of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and other groups went through Bormann to Hitler, and some were even authorised by the deputy leader.
Such was his obsession with exterminating Jews, Bormann reportedly made furniture from the remains of those killed in the concentration camps.
As the war drew to a close and Berlin was surrounded Bormann was present in the Fuhrerbunker where Hitler would take his own life, even acting as a witness to the leader's last will and testament.
He fled the bunker with two other senior Nazis, and was reported dead by Artur Axmann, a fellow escapee and leader of the Hitler youth who had spotted Bormann's dead body near a rail line after they had separated in their bid to escape Berlin.
This account remained in serious doubt for five decades, despite the discovery of remains on the site Axmann identified as the scene of Bormann's demise in 1972.
As the only identification that could be carried out was based on a doctor's memory of Bormann's dental records from 1945, this account still remained in serious doubt, until a DNA test on the suspected Bormann body in 1998 confirmed the corpse to be his.
His remains were burned and scattered into the sea.

The Conspiracy Theory

The theory begins with Bormann's escape from Berlin.
Conspiracists claim that Axmann, a committed fanatic who wanted to continue Nazism from his hiding place in Austria, was not a credible witness, and could not even say how Bormann had died.
It is suggested that Bormann made good his escape, fleeing through Austria and on to one of a dozen different locations pointed to by theorists.
The two most popular conspiracies are:
1. That Bormann, who had unprecedented access to the funds of the Nazi party, had created a slush fund for fleeing party members, and was able to use this to escape to South America, where he lived into old age in either Chile or Argentina, and was easily able to bribe his way through any questions about his past.
2. The former deputy FÃŒhrer, a trusted subordinate with the ear of Hitler, spent the war passing detailed intelligence on German troop movements to the Soviets under the code name Werther. As the Red Army surrounded Berlin, he split from Axmann and his fellow Nazis and handed himself over to the Russians, securing a life of luxury paid for by the communist state for his role in winning the war for Stalin.
Nazi hunters, including the celebrated Simon Wiesenthal, argued fervently that Axmann's account was a lie, and that Bormann had been allowed to escape to South America.
But the sensational theory that he was a Russian spy has received even more attention from the conspiracy community.
Former Wehrmacht General Reinhard Gehlen made the allegations in the 1970s after becoming convinced that the only way Stalin could have been so well informed was if he had a spy inside the Nazi elite.
Fingers were pointed at Bormann based on information received from Soviet intelligence officers, and on the fact that as private secretary to the FÃŒhrer, Bormann would have had access to everything he needed to pass sensitive information to the Russians.


- Axmann was a notorious Nazi zealot, who was caught within months of his escape while trying to restart Nazism in Austria. If he felt he could aid a fellow ideologue's escape from Allied clutches, he would certainly have lied about seeing Bormann's body. As he is the only witness, the account of Bormann never escaping Berlin is shaky.

- British Nazi hunter Ian Bell says Bormann hid in the Austrian Alps, and that he spotted the top-ranking Nazi trying to escape through Italy. He claims to have tracked him to Bari and watched him board a ship after being told not to engage him by the top brass.

- When Bormann's body was exhumed for DNA testing in the 90s it was covered in red clay rather than the yellow sand common beneath the soil of Germany. This suggests his body was transported from somewhere else before being tested.

- In 1972 the Nuremberg file on Bormann was reopened after compelling evidence was presented that he had not died in Berlin, and could still have been alive in South America.

- The Red Army sometimes knew movement orders for German units in the field within hours of their release to German commanders. The only way they could gain such information was to have a mole at command level, with Bormann the prime candidate due to his unfettered access to documents.

- In his book Hitler's Traitor, author Louis Kilzer, makes a powerful case for Bormann being "Werther" the high-ranking Russian spy. He details how information was passed through Switzerland back to Stalin, and how only Bormann could have provided it.


- While lax about the security of some information, Hitler was a paranoid megalomanic who constantly assessed the threat coming from those beneath him. It is hard to imagine Bormann operating with impunity for more than five years to pass intelligence to Russia at the height of the war.

- Bormann was hated by fellow Nazi leaders for his closeness to Hitler and his repeated efforts to enhance his own standing at the expense of others. Had he been passing information to the Soviets, Himmler, Goring, or any of the other lieutenants who sought to undermine Bormann's position would have been able to discover it, and would not have hesitated to expose Bormann.

- The DNA testing seems to back up Axmann's account of Bormann's death as he attempted to flee Berlin. However, this counts for little as the body tested in the 90s could easily have been dumped at any stage by the German government. It is not conclusive proof that Bormann failed to escape.


Martin Bormann was a fearsome Nazi, a cruel, devious man who manipulated his way right to the top of Hitler's high command. That he was also working for the hated Soviet's was entirely possible, for however committed to the horrors of the holocaust and the twisted Nazi world view he was, he remained an arch pragmatist, willing to play all sides against the middle. Axmann's account of Bormann's death is unconvincing, and the numerous sightings of him all over the world suggest he did escape Berlin. The Russians would surely have protected such a valuable asset, a man who had helped them win the war, and had signed the death warrant for the Third Reich through his treachery. As more and more documents are declassified, the case against Bormann strengthens, and it seems this conspiracy theory could well become historical fact in the future. For now it remains an enthralling theory, with some gaps in the evidence that have yet to be filled...

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