By late 1944, the Red Army had driven the Germans back into Central Europe and the Western Allies were advancing into Germany. After watching the twin defeats in hisArdennes Offensive from his Adlerhorst command complex — Operation Wacht am Rhein and Operation Nordwind – Hitler realized that Germany had lost the war, but allowed no retreats. He hoped to negotiate a separate peace with America and Britain, a hope buoyed by the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on 12 April 1945. Hitler's stubbornness and defiance of military realities allowed the Holocaust to continue. He ordered the complete destruction of all German industrial infrastructure before it could fall into Allied hands, saying that Germany's failure to win the war forfeited its right to survive. Rather, Hitler decided that the entire nation should go down with him. Execution of this scorched earth plan was entrusted to arms minister Albert Speer, who quietly disobeyed the order.
On 20 April, Hitler celebrated his 56th birthday in the Führerbunker ("Führer's shelter") below the Reichskanzlei (Reich Chancellery). Elsewhere, the garrison commander of the besieged Festung Breslau ("fortress Breslau"), General Hermann Niehoff, had chocolates distributed to his troops in honour of Hitler's birthday.
By 21 April, Georgi Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the last defences of German General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula during the Battle of the Seelow Heights. Facing little resistance, the Soviets advanced headlong into the outskirts of Berlin. Ignoring the facts, Hitler saw salvation in the ragtag units commanded by Waffen SS General Felix Steiner. Steiner's command became known asArmeeabteilung Steiner ("Army Detachment Steiner"). But "Army Detachment Steiner" existed primarily on paper. It was more than a corps but less than an army. Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the huge salient created by the breakthrough of Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front. Meanwhile, the German Ninth Army, which had been pushed south of the salient, was ordered to attack north in a pincer attack.
Late on 21 April, Heinrici called Hans Krebs, chief of the Oberkommando des Heeres (Supreme Command of the Army or OKH), and told him that Hitler's plan could not be implemented. Heinrici asked to speak to Hitler but was told by Krebs that Hitler was too busy to take his call.
On 22 April, during the military conference, Hitler interrupted the report to ask what had happened to Steiner's offensive. There was a long silence. Then Hitler was told that the attack had never been launched and the Russians had broken through into Berlin. Hitler asked everyone except Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Krebs, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Burgdorf, and Martin Bormann to leave the room, and launched into a tirade against the treachery and incompetence of his commanders. This culminated with Hitler openly declaring for the first time the war was lost. Hitler announced he would stay in Berlin, head up the defence of the city and then shoot himself.
Before the day ended, Hitler again found salvation in a new plan that included General Walther Wenck's Twelfth Army. This new plan had Wenck turn his army – currently facing the Americans to the west – and attack towards the east to relieve Berlin. Twelfth Army was to link up with Ninth Army and break through to the city. Wenck did attack and, in the confusion, made temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. But the link with the Ninth Army, like the plan in general, was ultimately unsuccessful.
On 23 April, Joseph Goebbels made the following proclamation to the people of Berlin:
I call on you to fight for your city. Fight with everything you have got, for the sake of your wives and your children, your mothers and your parents. Your arms are defending everything we have ever held dear, and all the generations that will come after us. Be proud and courageous! Be inventive and cunning! Your Gauleiter is amongst you. He and his colleagues will remain in your midst. His wife and children are here as well. He, who once captured the city with 200 men, will now use every means to galvanize the defence of the capital. The Battle for Berlin must become the signal for the whole nation to rise up in battle ...
The same day, Göring sent a telegram from Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. Göring argued that, since Hitler was cut off in Berlin, he should assume leadership of Germany as Hitler's designated successor. Göring mentioned a time limit after which he would consider Hitler incapacitated. Hitler responded, in anger, by having Göring arrested. Later when Hitler wrote his will on 29 April, Göring was removed from all his positions in the government. Further on 23 April, Hitler appointed General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling as the commander of the Berlin Defense Area. Weidling replaced Lieutenant General (Generalleutnant) Helmuth Reymann and Colonel (Oberst) Ernst Kaether. Hitler also appointed Waffen-SS Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke the (Kommandant) Battle Commander for the defence of the government district (Zitadelle sector) that included the Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker.
By the end of the day on 27 April, Berlin was completely cut off from the rest of Germany. As the Soviet forces closed in, Hitler's followers urged him to flee to the mountains of Bavaria to make a last stand in theNational Redoubt. However, Hitler was determined to either live or die in the capital.
On 28 April, Hitler discovered that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was trying to discuss surrender terms with the Western Allies (through the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte). Hitler ordered Himmler's arrest and had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot.
During the night of 28 April, Wenck reported that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. He noted that no further attacks towards Berlin were possible. General Alfred Jodl (Supreme Army Command) did not provide this information to Hans Krebs in Berlin until early in the morning of 30 April.
After midnight on 29 April, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony in a map room within the Führerbunker. Antony Beevor stated that after Hitler hosted a modest wedding breakfast with his new wife, he then took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his last will and testament. Hitler signed these documents at 4:00 am. The event was witnessed and documents signed by Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann. Hitler then retired to bed. That afternoon, Hitler was informed of the assassination of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, which is presumed to have increased his determination to avoid capture.
On 30 April 1945, after intense street-to-street combat, when Soviet troops were within a block or two of the Reich Chancellery, Hitler and Braun committed suicide; Eva by biting into a cyanide capsule and Hitler by shooting himself with his Walther PPK 7.65 mm pistol. Hitler had at various times in the past contemplated suicide, and the Walther was the same pistol that his niece, Geli Raubal had used in her suicide. The lifeless bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were carried up the stairs and through the bunker's emergency exit to the bombed-out garden behind the Reich Chancellery where they were placed in a bomb crater and doused with petrol. The corpses were set on fire as the Red Army advanced and the shelling continued.
On 2 May, Berlin surrendered. In the postwar years there were conflicting reports about what happened to Hitler's remains. After the fall of the Soviet Union, records found in the Soviet archives revealed that the remains of Hitler, Eva Braun, Joseph and Magda Goebbels, the six Goebbels children, General Hans Krebs and Hitler's dogs, were collected, moved and secretly buried in graves near Rathenow in Brandenburg. In 1970, the remains were disinterred, cremated and scattered in the Elbe River by the Soviets. According to the Russian Federal Security Service, a fragment of human skull stored in its archives and displayed to the public in a 2000 exhibition came from the remains of Hitler's body. The authenticity of the skull has been challenged by historians and researchers. DNA analysis conducted in 2009 showed the skull fragment to be that of a woman, and analysis of the sutures between the skull plates indicated an age between 20 and 40 years old at the time of death.