10. Martin Bormann—The Brown Eminence
From Practitioners & Technicians Of Totalitarian RulePart 2 of 'The Face Of The Third Reich' (1999)

Admittedly it is not honesty which in real life overcomes dishonesty. In the harsh struggle for existence the stronger, the harder capacity for self-assertion daily gains the victory and yet it is bitter if this capacity is based upon intrigue and a burning ambition as in the case before us. — Martin Bormann

But you know, don't you, that in my dictionary DUTY is written in capitals.— Martin Bormann

From too great a distance, as from too close, a totalitarian system of government looks like a single tightly knit block whose massive structure towers over society, as vast as it is impenetrable. However, this impression, based upon the determination and the merciless energy with which such governments achieve their purposes, is an illusion. What the observer sees as a block is often enough merely the reflection of his own anxiety, which has clothed this arbitrary and unrestricted power in a compact mental image. In contrast, the National Socialist regime had a curious and at first sight astounding lack of structure, which was not the result only of the laziness about establishing an orderly system which continually betrayed the leading National Socialists' urban bohemian origins. This structural untidiness is the expression of one of the basic principles of totalitarian government: the maxim of the unreliability of all authority, which, paradoxically, is the leadership's most reliable instrument for the establishment of an intimidating, continuously threatening super-authority. The effect of this is that power itself recedes into the background and becomes curiously intangible.

By keeping the jurisdiction of the various authorities intentionally vague and their hierarchical positions inextricably involved, it was possible to play a double game, leaving the individual in a state of utter helplessness like that experienced by Kafka's heroes and producing the same psychological reactions. The individual in the National Socialist state gradually-lost an human certainty and dignity in the crushing encounters with a power that could not be located and yet was everywhere.

The duplication and finally the 'multiplication' (1) of authorities, which gave this feeling of insecurity a basis in institutional organization, began with the separation of party and state. Every state function was balanced against a party office of equal status, and the result was a chaos of rival institutions, all of which considered themselves competent in such matters as foreign policy, intelligence, administration or law. This dichotomy was largely a reflection of the principle that lay behind the rise of National Socialism, as of every totalitarian movement. Such movements do not see themselves as a party in the literal sense, that is to say as the representative of a part within the framework of an accepted order, but as the spearhead of a bid for total domination which 'is developed and realized in express and open hostility to the state'.(2) It is true that after the law of 1st December 1933 official pronouncements repeatedly stressed the unity of party and state; in fact, however, the dividing line was sharp. The state soon degenerated into a mere 'technical apparatus' with purely executive functions. It still had the task, as representative of the civil principle, of inspiring trust and appearing to preserve bourgeois standards, but the party gained wide scope for the expression of its emotional drives and the achievement of its aims. The top leadership, in its single-minded and opportunist pursuit of power, could waver from side to side, play off one against another, and if necessary betray all. The preponderance of power, and above all the role of formulating and realizing its own totalitarian aims, always lay with the movement, just as in his own eyes Hitler was always the 'Fuhrer' rather than Reich Chancellor. Beyond its purely technical functions the state, visibly deprived of its sovereignty, had no importance except as a facade. Its task was to represent a power which it did not actually possess, a power that stood behind it and appropriated to itself, for its own legitimation, a deep-rooted popular attachment to the state which drew on common national experience, tradition and respect. Hidden and secret, the real centre of power, by its very aura of anonymity, appeared to its opponents, as well as to the merely refractory, all the less vulnerable, all the more terrifying, all the more omnipotent — an earthly deus absconditus.(3)

From this situation Hannah Arendt has deduced the principle that within a totalitarian system 'real power begins where secrecy begins'; she suggests that this is 'the only rule of which everybody in a totalitarian state may be sure'.(4) The representation of power already indicates the loss of power; it is effective and unhindered in so far as it remains invisible.

If this is correct, it applies not only to institutions but also to a considerable degree to the individuals in power. Martin Bormann, whose career and leading role in the Third Reich strikingly confirm this principle, wrote in autumn 1943 to his wife that he had always 'deliberately avoided' every kind of public notoriety, such as was sought by other party leaders; whereas they wrote articles addressed directly to the people, his instructions reached only the leadership.

'I,' he continued self-confidently, 'am accomplishing more, considerably more.' He added, 'If ever there is a memorial ceremony after my death, there must under no circumstances be a cheap exhibition of cushions with rows of medals and so on. These things give a false impression.' (5)

He got his wish. At the end of his life he received a distinction which undoubtedly meant more to him than the honours of a state funeral. The phrase 'my most loyal party comrade, Martin Bormann', with which Hitler, seeing nothing but treachery and disloyalty all around him, referred to him in his last utterance, marked the culmination of a career in which he had always been content with apparently modest titles, so long as his sphere of influence was at the same time expanded. When Hitler appointed him executor of his will, Bormann attained his ultimate ambition of complete identification with the central will of the National Socialist power structure (6). Sober, calculating and coldly diligent, he had always sought power alone, never its insignia. The latter seemed to him mere foolishness and evidence of misdirected cupidity that clung to externals. Almost unnoticed, with his characteristic silent persistence, he had risen step by step within a short time. He was never called more than 'Director of the Party Chancellery' and 'the Fuhrer's secretary', and yet during the declining years of the Hitler regime no one was more powerful. His dark and clumsy shadow fell across the stars of those who had been among Hitler's closest followers long before him: Goring, Ribbentrop, Ley, indeed even Goebbels and finally Himmler. He was the 'Brown Eminence', mute and dangerous in the background, holding the threads in his hands and also the thunderbolts which, during Hitler's uncontrolled outbursts in the final phase, Bormann was able to direct adroitly towards those whom he felt to be his rivals. In one sense he eventually became more powerful than Hitler himself, and he was a classic embodiment of the dictator in the ante-chamber, a type that is gaining more and more influence within modern political and economic power concentrations. His views and the way in which he presented facts were almost the only picture which Hitler, buried in the deluded world of his underground shelter, received of the world outside. But up to the concluding stage of the war not even his name was familiar to the public. He was a man in the background, a man of 'darkness and concealment', as Richelieu called Pere Joseph, who is still the prototype of all such anonymous power-seekers. Incapable as he was of articulating a few coherent sentences in a speech of greeting,(7) Bormann was at home with the bureaucratic apparatus and mastered its mechanisms with extraordinary skill. His short, squat figure in the badly fitting civil servant's uniform, briefcase under arm, — always listening, weighing up the situation or with an expression on his peasant face of being ready to pounce, was part of the picture of the Fuhrer's head-quarters during the last years. He has been called 'Hitler's evil spirit', but this phrase does not by any means permit us to conclude that he forced a benevolent Hitler on to the path of evil;(8) he was, rather, the Devil's Beelzebub.

No one was more hated. The contempt aroused by the Neronic pomposity of Goring, Ribbentrop's absurdity, or even Himmler's bloodthirsty reputation, all the mutual antipathies that built up within the top leadership through years of rivalry, were of a different kind and not to be compared with the intensity of the bitterness his countless enemies felt towards this Machiavelli of the office desk. Hans Frank, who called him an 'arch-scoundrel', remarked that the word 'hate' was 'far too weak',(9) and even his personal colleagues and secretaries — who in every other case, without exception, could find a good word for their superior — expressed only aversion at Nuremberg.(10)

'A few critical words from Hitler and all Bormann's enemies would have been at his throat,' Albert Speer states.(11)

But in all his moody unpredictability, that of an oriental despot, Hitler to the last never uttered these few critical words.

'I know,' he said, dismissing occasional remonstrations from those around him, 'that Bormann is brutal. But there is sense in everything he does and I can absolutely rely on my orders being carried out by Bormann immediately and in spite of all obstacles. Bormann's proposals are so precisely worked out that I have only to say yes or no. With him I deal in ten minutes with a pile of documents for which with another man I should need hours. If I say to him, remind me about such and such a matter in half a year's time, I can be sure that he will really do so.' (12)

Much as his enemies and rivals gradually learned to fear Bormann, equally they underestimated his abilities. At times it seems as though his drab, unpretentious appearance was merely a means of slipping unobserved into the control points of power. For with all his sergeant-major's dreary triviality he evidently possessed qualities which gained him not merely the undiminished trust of Hitler but also the lead over all his competitors. The tone of incredulous amazement in the comments of so many of those who were Hitler's companions in the early stages of his career (13) clearly expresses the inability of the so-called Old Guard to understand an advancement that proceeded, not by way of the street or beer-house battles, but the office desk. For in appearance and temperament Bormann belonged to that 'second generation' which in every revolution follows the Old Guard of faithful fighters: the generation of practical men devoid of fervour, calculators without ideological ballast and without the drive of emotional indignation which gave the old-fashioned revolutionaries of the past their inner justification and their success with the masses.

'Bormann is not a man of the people,' noted Goebbels, 'He has always been engaged in administrative work and therefore has not the proper qualifications for the real tasks of leadership.' (14)

The misunderstanding is significant, for the men of the people have no guarantee that they will hold on to the power which is theirs during the earlier phase of the conquest and consolidation of government; that power gradually passes into the hands of those with the technique of organization and control and the ability to administer the possessions acquired by the first-generation revolutionaries.

Martin Bormann was a 'functionary' who derived his power solely from the office he held. His personality was not compelling, nor had he a record of legendary services in the party's period of struggles. He had no domestic power, no prestige, no friends, in short nothing to fall back on if he should ever lose Hitler's trust. He was a man who had absolutely nothing to draw upon. But precisely this lack of background, as well as his lack of distinctive personal qualities, made him an adaptable, uninhibitedly 'functioning' instrument in the hands of those who utilized him. He was the prototype of the 'follower' thrown up in times of shattered values, always on the search for some cause, some person, to attach himself to; this cause, this person, has only to appear strong enough and imperious enough to give directions to this type's aimlessness and enlist his readiness to serve. And if he was the functionary type, he was at the same time the type of totally malleable man, knowing neither moral nor intellectual inhibitions, but ready to carry out directives without argument, without vacillations of mood, any picture of the suffering he was causing lying far beyond the range of his vision. Bormann described himself as the 'narrow party man', not without an undertone of pride (15). Even his extraordinary distrustfulness is in keeping with the rest of his personality, for within the smooth-functioning mechanism of his bureaucratic apparatus, man was the only element not entirely calculable, a latent deviation, the element of an unreliability that he knew he alone did not share. According to the available evidence he did not smoke, did not drink, ate with moderation, and possessed no inclinations of his own, no interests, no hobbies, but probably there was here, not a consciously austere attitude of renunciation, but merely the puritanism of an impersonality that was without needs because it knew no needs. His peculiar advantages derived from just this lack of personality-forming factors. He was eager to serve, unobtrusive, down to earth, and even his enemies have always stressed his unparalleled diligence. In bureaucratic routine he was readily adaptable and could take over other people's ideas without distorting them by any subjective emphasis of his own, and interpret them accurately.

His colourless past only underlines this side of him. The early years in the life of this son of a petty-bourgeois Saxon family (16) display the classic pattern of the homeless rightists who found their way, via a lost war they had not got over, the post-war period, membership of the Freikorps and nationalist secret societies, into the rising Hitler party. Significantly, there is not a single event in Bormann's life that bears an individual stamp, not a single scene that reveals a personal trait. First working as a steward on an estate in Mecklenburg, he joined the Rossbach Freikorps, and the only incident that gives a special, if repellent, note to his development is the sordid murder of Kadow, his former teacher at elementary school. (17) And this period already shows him as a man in the background looking after the cash box, dropping hints and supplying the technical means. In the foreground, with the zeal of the man born to take orders, is one Rudolf Hoss, who crops up again later as commandant of the extermination camp at Auschwitz; Hoss strikes his victim 'on the skull with all his strength with a broken-off maple sapling'. The difference in the roles that each man played in this affair is profoundly significant. In the NSDAP Bormann held various posts: regional press officer, district leader and Gau general secretary in Thuringia, then on the staff of the SA headquarters, and after 1930, administrator of the fund which he himself created for the assistance of comrades injured in the bloody fights that marked the party's rise to power. In these positions he acquired the formal qualification of the model secretary: the mute attentiveness towards those above him and the unfeeling energy towards those beneath him, but also administrative skill and the ability to flatter that served him so well later. (18) In July 1933, when Hitler promoted him to Reichsleiter and appointed him chief of staff to his deputy, Rudolf Hess, Bormann took the first step towards that lofty eminence which he then proceeded to conquer for himself. He first made himself felt in the realm of organization, where on the pretext of unity he noticeably reduced the influence of the old party leaders, chiefly by altering plans and areas of jurisdiction. It was during this ruthless reallocation of powers that the treasurer of the NSDAP, Franz Xaver Schwarz, described Bormann as 'the worst egotist and enemy of the old party'; he even considered him capable of the liquidation of all his old comrades.(19) Unable to see that his own position too was being undermined by Bormann's machinations, the unsuspecting Rudolf Hess backed what he was doing in the hope that he would be the one to benefit from the improved status of the offices. The tactics Martin Bormann used to create the conditions for his personal promotion have been vividly described by Alfred Rosenberg:

Whenever I visited Hess, he was often present; later on, almost always. When I had dinner with the Fuhrer, Bormann and Goebbels were usually there. Hess had obviously got on the Fuhrer's nerves, and so Bormann took care of the queries and orders. Here is where he began to make himself indispensable. If, during our dinner conversation, some incident was mentioned, Bormann would pull out his notebook and make an entry. Or else, if the Fuhrer expressed displeasure over some remark, some measure, some film, Bormann would make a note. If something seemed unclear, Bormann would get up and leave the room, but return almost immediately after having given orders to his office staff to investigate forthwith, and to telephone, wire or teletype.(20)

Meanwhile the former steward also found other well-tried means of proving himself indispensable. Gradually he took all Hitler's financial affairs into his hands and on top of this bought his way into Hitler's private life via the administration of the 'Adolf Hitler Contribution from Industry', by purchasing not merely the house of Hitler's birth at Braunau and his parents' house at Leonding, but also the whole complex of properties on the Obersalzberg which in 1945 were still entered in the Land Register in his name.(21) The growing scope of his influence, founded partly on personal arrangements and partly on his official posts, naturally remained largely hidden from even the leading figures. As late as 1941, when he had been for almost three years adjutant on Hitler's personal staff, he was referred to in the diary of a close colleague of Goebbels as 'a certain party comrade named Bormann'.(22)

Probably no higher tribute could have been paid to his surreptitious will to power, and when he finally reached the pinnacle, the same year, it was in the most unobtrusive manner. On the very day Rudolf Hess's spectacular flight to Britain was officially announced, the newspapers published the following statement with no additional explanation:

The former post of Deputy to the Fuhrer will henceforth bear the title of Party Chancellery. It is directly subordinate to me. It will be directed as heretofore by Party Comrade Martin Bormann. — (signed) Adolf Hitler

The modest wording concealed the importance of a change whose significance lay in the intangible area of personal relationships. It is true that Bormann did not take over the post of Fuhrer's Deputy, which now formally lapsed; but the functions and rights that the Party Ministry, till then directed by Hess, exercised especially in relation to the state authorities, now largely devolved upon him. The apparent reduction of the influence of the Ministry, in that it no longer acted as representative of the movement as a whole, in reality perfectly suited Bormann, who, forced into the shadow of power, had never wanted to represent anything but merely to run an office.(23)

The influence of the party, which had considerably diminished under Hess's weak and aimless leadership, now gained ground again, especially as Bormann himself, through his experience, his contempt for human beings, and his own peculiar stubborn energy, quickly worked his way up and only a year later was appointed 'Secretary to the Fuhrer'. Within a short time he thrust aside the senior aide, Bruckner, and, in accordance with one of the basic principles of the bureaucratic acquisition of power, filled all the key posts with men who owed their position not to their own past service or qualifications, but to unexpected favouritism. Through his supervision of the lists of Hitler's visitors he kept a suspicious watch over the Fuhrer's contacts with the outside world and, in the words of an observer,

'erected a positive Chinese wall through which people were admitted only after showing their empty hands and explaining in detail to Bormann the purpose of their visit. By this means he had absolute control over the whole machinery of the Reich.' (24)

In cautious doses he nourished Hitler's self-satisfaction and took advantage of the latter's hysterical outbursts against objective facts that ran counter to his own fantasies in order to reinforce his own personal position. Towards the end of the war Hitler positively thanked him for, in effect, closing the doors more and more tightly against everyone who tried to bring the cold air of reality into the musty world of insane delusions and fantasies that prevailed in the Fuhrer's head-quarters. His intimate knowledge of Hitler's weaknesses and personal peculiarities gave him an advantage over all his rivals. Even Goebbels, when early in 1945 he sent an album of photographs of ploughed-up streets and shattered architectural monuments to the Fuhrer's headquarters, received it back from Bormann with the comment that the Fuhrer did not want to be bothered 'with such trivial matters'. (25)

He divided people into two categories: those he could win over and subordinate to himself and those he had to fear, and he distrusted everyone. In order to know everything about everyone, he ceaselessly collected information for his personal card-index and showed himself a master of methods of secret intrigue among favourites such as characterize despotic courts. Hints, half-voiced suspicions, double-dealing, usurpations of authority now more than ever dominated relations between the top leaders, and even Heydrich, himself well informed on all the Secrets of the intrigues tirelessly plotted by Bormann, began to respect his underhand ingenuity. (26) By all accounts, the Fuhrer's secretary not infrequently passed on as firm instructions from Hitler what were really no more than casual remarks at table or inventions of his own which could not be checked, all of them serving his own ends.(27) The very vagueness of the boundaries of his authority, which he increasingly manipulated to suit himself on the pretext of the will of the Fuhrer, ensured him virtually unrestricted freedom of movement and made him in fact 'Germany's secret ruler',(28) while Hitler was glad to be relieved of the burden of administrative routine. Bormann's circular of 2nd April 1942 on the 'sphere of duties of the Party Chancellery', which purported to give his office administrative and representative functions related solely to the party, did not nearly exhaust the catalogue of his real jurisdiction and once again followed the principle of minimum publicity.

'Silence', he noted in a letter to his wife, 'is usually the wisest course. And one should by no means always tell the truth, but only when sufficient reasons make it really necessary.' (29)

The truth was that, apart from his indirect influence on Hitler's person, he came increasingly to dominate the whole party apparatus. He deprived Rosenberg of part of his ideological authority and Ley of his jurisdiction over political personnel, and Reich Minister Lammers, head of the Reich Chancellery, found himself deprived of important responsibilities. Bormann dismissed and appointed party officials or the Gauleiters subordinate to him personally, made massive use of his right to a voice in appointments and promotions in all state and even military departments, gave or withdrew his favour, praised, bullied, eliminated, but stayed in the background and always kept up his sleeve one more suspicion, one more piece of flattery than his opponent. His nebulous position has been fairly compared to Stalin's powers during Lenin's last days.(30)

Before the ideology of National Socialism he was as helpless as before intellectual matters in general. He was a controller of power, the type whose field of activity was execution, not origination, and the ideological comments which occasionally crop up in the accessible part of his correspondence are not to be taken too seriously often they simply echo the ideological zeal of his wife. They manifestly imitate a style and an emotion of which he was incapable; National Socialism meant to him not so much a faith as an instrument of his ambition. His coarse worldliness was incapable of the sustained fervour so dear to a Heinrich Himmler, and behind his thick skull there was not one iota of demonism, but only a robust will to power that found its justification within itself.

It was this will to power too, and not any ideological opposition, that made him one of the most extreme opponents of the churches. He was concerned less with the burdensome ideological competition of Christianity than with the claims upon people with which the churches opposed the Third Reich's bid for total power. His directives on policy towards the churches refer repeatedly to 'diminution of power', 'possibilities of exercising influence', and the 'right to lead the people'; and when, in his famous order to the Gauleiters of 17th June 1941 on the 'relations between National Socialism and Christianity', he tried with dreary impertinence to place an ideological cloak around ideas relating purely to the acquisition of power, he could not avoid eventually revealing the true cause of this hostility:

National Socialist and Christian conceptions are incompatible. The Christian churches build upon men's ignorance; by contrast N [ational Socialism] rests upon scientific foundations.
When we [National Socialists] speak of belief in God, we do not mean, like the naive Christians and their spiritual exploiters, a man-like being sitting around somewhere in the universe. The force governed by natural law by which all these countless planets move in the universe, we call omnipotence or God. The assertion that this universal force can trouble itself about the destiny of each individual being, every smallest earthly bacillus, can be influenced by so-called prayers or other surprising things, depends upon a requisite dose of naivety or else upon shameless professional self-interest.(31)

Only then does Bormann pass over to arguments based upon the crucial considerations of power. Since Adolf Hitler himself has the leadership of the people in his hands,

all influences which might restrict or even damage the leadership of the people exercised by the Fuhrer with the aid of the NSDAP must be eliminated. The people must be increasingly wrested from the churches and their instruments the priests. Naturally the churches, looking at matters from their point of view, will and must resist this diminution of power. But never again must the churches be allowed any influence over the leadership of the people. This must be broken totally and forever. Only then will the existence of nation and Reich be assured.(32)

There was probably an additional, tactical element in Bormann's anti-ecclesiastical pronouncements. Along with physical domination over the party, he also wanted to ensure its claim to ideological infallibility — not because he combined the striving for orthodoxy with the ambition of the scribe, but simply because this too meant power and fundamentally every alien authority represented a challenge. Furthermore, as always where there is such emphatic hostility, personal motives were also at work; and there were also ideological forms to be considered — he paid tribute to these as a matter of course, like the atheist who teaches his children the evening prayer. National Socialism was everything that played into the hands of his varying personal needs and impulses: ambition, will to dominate, career, brutal instincts, even his little pieces of erotic libertinism. This is the explanation for the embarrassingly comic exchange of letters between Bormann and his wife after he had told her in January 1944, with triumphant frankness, that he had at last succeeded in seducing the actress M. Gerda Bormann at once bravely accommodated this information to her philosophy and assured him that she was neither angry nor jealous, but ready to accept M into the common household and, in view of the terrible decline in child production brought about by the war, to work out a system of motherhood by shifts, 'so that you always have a wife who is useable'. His reply was appreciative, but in the tone of one for whom the sole function of ideologies is to act as a mask for the instincts:

'You are of National Socialist stock; as a child of Nazism you are, so to speak, dyed in the wool.' (33)

It was his declared intention largely to crush the churches even while the war was in progress. In 1941, when he found himself in tactical opposition on this point to Hitler, who considered such a clash inopportune in view of the strains and stresses of the war, he continued to pursue his plans in secret;(34) for the war seemed to him a suitable opportunity, which would never recur, for carrying the regime's ideological aims to their logical conclusion. Here as always Bormann was resolved to go to extremes, the 'advocate of all harsh measures', as he has been called. (35) The ramifications of his office do not alone explain the way his name crops up again and again in connection with the introduction of a number of increasingly harsh measures during the last years of the war, whether relating to race policy, the treatment of the Eastern peoples or prisoners of war. What lay behind this was rather the odd extremism of the subordinate official who seeks to preserve his power by constantly exercising it. He shows his harshness and his moral insensitivity, which went hand in hand with a bullying meticulousness, characteristically in an order to Alfred Rosenberg that he is not merely to encourage abortions in the Eastern occupied territories, to reduce the level of education and to liquidate the health services, but also to see that 'on no account are the towns to be in any way rebuilt or even beautified'.(36) in a memorandum of 19th August 1942 he wrote:

The Slavs are to work for us. In so far as we do not need them, they may die. Slav fertility is undesirable. They may possess contraceptives or abort, the more the better. Education is dangerous. We shall leave them religion as a means of diversion. They will receive only the absolutely necessary provisions. We are the masters, we come first. (37)

Anyone who, like Bormann, thought exclusively in terms of rivalries could never escape from the net of tactical considerations. Such utterances indicate an abysmal coarseness, but they also indicate an attempt to push everyone else — and toward the end the three remaining rivals, Himmler, Goebbels and Speer — out of the game of power politics by extreme methods that followed the example of Hitler's ever more unrestrained manner. Whereas the Reichsfuhrer of the SS, in his continued blindness, still clearly underestimated his adversary and provided him with so many points to attack that within a short time he had to capitulate, (38) Goebbels put up a bitter resistance before he too gave in or at least had to admit his inferiority. Goebbels' plan to take control of the intensification of the war, in collaboration especially with Goring, Speer and Ley, came to nothing, his complaints to Hitler had no effect, and Bormann filed away unread in the rear compartments of his safe his great memorandum on the political situation, from which he had hoped to derive a decisive initiative.(39) When the two of them drew together again in the final phase of the Third Reich, this was due less to their common efforts to intensify the war and destruction than to Goebbels' intelligence and tactical adroitness in finally recognising and respecting the advantages of Bormann's position at court. The influence of Speer alone Bormann was unable to undermine despite all his efforts; when Speer departed it was on his own initiative, in horror at a wilful end terrifyingly inspired by hatred, a longing for destruction, and romantic memories of Wagner's operas.

'We must not be downhearted,' Bormann wrote in April 1945 in his last extant letter to his wife. 'Whatever comes, we are pledged to do our duty. And if we are destined, like the old Nibelungs, to perish in Attila's hall, then we'll go to death proudly and with our heads high! (40)

Even then he still intrigued, stubbornly playing his Diadochian game and pursuing with senseless tenacity even rivals he had already eliminated. It was to Bormann's fondness for setting traps that Himmler owed his appointment to supreme command of Army Group Vistula, which was offering utterly hopeless resistance east of Berlin — an appointment that could no longer be put into effect; and it was Bormann who tampered with Hitler's order for Goring's arrest, turning it into a death sentence. His position was most powerful and most uncontested when the Third Reich held sway over a few heaps of rubble and a bunker twenty-five feet below ground in the centre of Berlin: then he at last reached his goal.

Fundamentally only one man was safe from his hunger for power: Hitler himself. Bormann needed him, because he could not do without the great order-giving authority and its instructions, and because only the shadow which Hitler cast was wide and deep enough to provide him with the darkness that was his element.

'He [Hitler] towered over us like Mount Everest,' he wrote. 'When all is said and done, the Fuhrer is the Fuhrer! Where should we be without him?' (41)

The question shows that at times at least he felt the inadequacy of his own personality, and possibly his straining ambition was an attempt to replace his lack of individual substance by the substance of the power with which he so ruthlessly identified himself. This alone would explain why a man who coldly and calculatingly sought his own advantage stayed at Hitler's side to the end, the 'most loyal party comrade'. He signed Hitler's political testament, acted as witness to his marriage, and stood in the courtyard of the Reich Chancellery, along with Goebbels, General Burgdorf and a few others, under the fire of Russian shells as Hitler's corpse went up in flames.

During the night of 1-2 May, with the other occupants of the bunker, he made an attempt to break out. Thanks to his insensitive rigidity, and through clinging tightly to the routine of his office, he had hitherto known neither doubt nor uncertainty. Now, with the breakdown of the organizational system which he had dominated so firmly, and with no one to satisfy his need for subordination after the death of Hitler, he began for the first time to lose his sense of direction: 'Where shall we be without him?' The mood of resignation, which had over-shadowed the thought of the irrevocably approaching end, broke out openly in the leaderless functionary. In letters during the last few months he had outlined petty-bourgeois daydreams for the post-war period which included a house, a garden and a life away from politics.

'You know, I've come to know too well all the ugliness, distortion, slander, nauseating and false flattery, toadying, ineptitude, folly, idiocy, ambition, vanity, greed for money, etc., etc., in short, all the unpleasant aspects of human nature. I've had enough!' (42)

Now he said to his secretary,

'Well, then, goodbye. There's not much sense in it any more, I'll have a try, but I won't get through.' (43)

Behind him the flames rose in the air from the Fuhrer's abandoned bunker.

Since then he has vanished. Between the Weidendammer Brucke and the Lehrter Station all trace of him was lost behind fountains of dust and crashing walls in that anonymity which he always sought.

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