On April 30, 1945, as Allied forces converged on the capital of Nazi Germany, Hitler killed himself inside his Führerbunker. Days later, his remains were captured by the Red Army and were subsequently locked behind the Iron Curtain for decades.
This proved fodder enough for conspiracy theorists, who wanted to argue that Hitler did not die in the bunker, but rather managed, somehow, to escape like other high-ranking Nazi officials, including Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele, who were able to slink off to South America to live out their lives after the collapse of the Third Reich.
It didn’t help things that when Connecticut archaeologist and bone specialist Nick Bellantoni examined fragments of the skull believed to be Hitler's in 2009, he claimed on the History Channel documentary, "Hilter's Escape," that the skull with the bullet wound actually belonged to a woman under the age of 40. (The Russian State Archive, for its part, denies that Bellantoni's team was ever given access to examine the skull.)
But now, reports Deutsche Welle, a study of the Fuhrer’s purported teeth in the Russian State Archive found them to be an exact match, confirming that Hitler did indeed die in his bunker, likely by taking cyanide and shooting himself in the head.
"Adolf Hitler definitely died in 1945," reports Agence-France Presse, which explains that in March and July of 2017, Russia’s FSB, the successor to the Soviet Union's KGB, gave a team of French pathologists access to Hitler’s jawbone and teeth.
It's well-documented that the Nazi leader had notoriously bad teeth and gum disease (which led to some extremely bad breath in the last years of his life); by the end, he had only a few of his original chompers left, which left him with a complicated set of bridges and dentures. That, according to the forensic team, made ID’ing his jawbone relatively simple. The teeth appear to match X-rays taken of Hitler in 1944 and descriptions provided to the Soviets by Hitler’s dentist and his dental assistant.
“The teeth are authentic, there is no possible doubt. Our study proves that Hitler died in 1945," Philippe Charlier, lead author of the study in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, tells AFP. “We can stop all the conspiracy theories about Hitler. He did not flee to Argentina in a submarine, he is not in a hidden base in Antarctica or on the dark side of the moon.”
The team did not find any remains of meat in the teeth, which is also consistent with Hitler’s vegetarianism. Bluish stains on some of the false teeth indicate that he may have taken cyanide to end his life. Researchers did not find any gunpowder residue on the jaw, which suggests that if Hitler did shoot himself, it was done through the forehead or the neck, not the mouth.
The story of why it’s taken more than 70 years to ID Hitler’s teeth is as screwy as the Fuhrer’s teeth, themselves. DW reports that Hitler, fearing that his body might be strung up or mutilated like Benito Mussolini’s, gave orders that his body and that of his wife Eva Braun be burned after their deaths.
On May 5, the Soviets discovered the two charred bodies in a bomb crater outside the bunker. Head of the KGB, the later Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov ordered the remains to be thrown in the Biederitz River to prevent a burial site from becoming a place of pilgrimage for fascists.
However, the Red Army did keep a portion of the jaw and a piece of skull with a bullet wound, transferring them to the archives in Moscow. DW reports that Stalin decided to sow doubt about Hitler’s death in a ploy called “Operation Myth.” The idea was to make the world believe the Americans or British were hiding Hitler for some nefarious reason and associate the West with Nazism.
It may not have worked, but it was enough to spawn conspiracy theories, books and films like The Boys From Brazil, which kept alive the notion that Hitler somehow escaped the bunker and lived out his life elsewhere.