Awkward: Gestapo Burial in Berlin Jewish Cemetery

German history researcher Johannes Tuchel made a series of very awkward discoveries. The discoveries shed light on post-war Germany and how it was (not) run by the allies, on the the machinations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and on what happens when sloppy research replaces real hard graft. Now he did the real hard work and here is what he found.

Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Müller

Johannes Tuchel has made his discoveries more by accident than by intent. The historian had focused on the concerted murder of resistance fighters in 1945 which took place in a Berlin prison. The prison was run by head of Gestapo Heinrich Müller. During his investigation, Johannes Tuchel came across the unresolved whereabouts of the high ranking Nazi criminal. To date, there is no official death date of death for Heinrich Müller who had been head of the Gestapo since 29 April 1945. Officially, he still is on the most wanted list of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. 

Adolf Hitler

The situation intrigued the historian enough to start digging German archives left and right. What he found was irrefutable and quite terminal: Heinrich Müller had died at the end of the war, and his remains were buried in a Jewish cemetery in Berlin. It is an awkward situation for all parties concerned; probably it will be just brushed under the proverbial carpet by all and sundry.

Heinrich Müller

For decades, investigators of all colors had searched for the whereabouts of Heinrich Müller; national intelligence agencies in the East and the West and the Simon Wiesenthal Center's secret agents had hunted for the man who as head of the Secret State Police (Gestapo) was responsible for all admissions to all concentration camps of the Nazis. Because of persistent rumors of him being alive and living under cover, German authorities opened Heinrich Müller's official grave in 1963. In it, they discovered the skeletons of no less than three people. None of the three skulls unearthed from the grave site was a match for Heinrich Müller. The international manhunt intensified in consequence. In 1949, he was reported to live in the Czech city of Karlovy Vary; later reports put him in Albania, in Moscow, and in South America. In 1967, police arrested a man in Panama just because he looked vaguely similar to Heinrich Müller. The Simon Wiesenthal Center persisted in its search for him to the end of the millennium.

Johannes Tuchel is the head of the German Resistance Memorial in Berlin, hence his interest in the fate of resistance fighters murdered in 1945. Heinrich Müller as head of the Gestapo was combating the German resistance movement battling against the Nazi regime, and that means real and imagined enemies. There wasn't a single crime against German resistance fighters and Jews in which Heinrich Müller wasn't involved in one form or another.

Heinrich Müller

Heinrich Müller was one of the leading heads responsible for the crimes of the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler. As head of the Gestapo, he was responsible for monitoring, tracking, and destroying of real, potential, and imagined opponents of the regime. With the Wehrmacht, the Gestapo marched into conquered territories and was as part of the task forces involved in numerous wanton massacres and executions. Under Heinrich Müller's leadership, Adolf Eichmann organized the extermination of the Jews. Every transfer into a concentration camp went through his office. Heinrich Müller also participated in the Wannsee Conference where the coordination of the mass murder of the Jews was organized. And he was instrumental in uncovering the resistance movement of the 20 July 1944. Johannes Tuchel estimates that Heinrich Müller is to blame for the death of a seven-digit number of people. 

Heinrich Müller

That the remains of an antisemitic murdered ended up in the Jewish cemetery on the Grosse Hamburger Strasse in Berlin was a coincidence. Heinrich Müller's body was found in August 1945 in a makeshift grave near the former Air Ministry. Historical documents prove that the remains of the Nazi criminal were clearly identified on site. Heinrich Müller's corpse was wearing a general's uniform.and his identity card with a photo was found in his inner left chest pocket. 

Heinrich Müller

His remains were re-buried anonymously in August 1945 in the Jewish Cemetery in Berlin-Mitte together with other anonymous bodies . Part of Johannes Tuchel's discoveries in the archives was the statement of a gravedigger involved in the operation who had positively identified Heinrich Müller. It seems incomprehensible that the gravedigger was questioned only by police, and that his affidavit was then conveniently forgotten.

It is apparent that the witch hunt for Heinrich Müller could have been put to rest immediately after the war. In the 1950s, Walter Lueders, a former member of Hitler's last squad Volkssturm, had affirmed that he had seen the body of the Gestapo chief in the garden of the Reichskanzlei. In 1955, the Wehrmacht Information Office received information from the East Berlin authorities that Heinrich Müller was buried in the Jewish cemetery.

It is highly questionable whether the remains of Heinrich Müller can ever be identified. The Jewish cemetery in Berlin-Mitte is a mass grave for thousands of human beings, Jews and non-Jews alike. Among others, the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn was buried there, too. In 1943, members of the elite SS desecrated and devastated the cemetery on the orders issued by the Gestapo. After the end of the war, more than 2,000 dead civilians and soldiers were buried on the site in a mass burial. In the 1970s, the communist East Berlin authorities removed the remaining Jewish grave stones wooden crosses for bomb victims and turned the cemetery into a drab green space. In 2008, the cemetery was re-consecrated. Johannes Tuchel's discoveries exacerbate a known problem for the Jewish Community of Berlin that in addition to Jews, Nazis and civilians are buried in the consecrated earth of the cemetery.

On top of creating an awkward situation for all organisations involved, what can we learn from this historical whodunit? Sloppy work is the reason for most work having to be done over and over again. And organisations like Mossad, NSA, CIA, KGB, (please continue at will) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center are not really trying to do good work, they are just trying to prove that they should not be disbanded to stop throwing good money after bad.

Adolf Hitler

Further reading