“Our Russian guides then took us to Hitler’s air-raid shelter,” Churchill continued. A flashlight lit their way to the concrete underground air-raid shelter. Stagnant water made the steps slippery. For Churchill, unsteady on his feet, the steps were precarious. Aided by his gold-headed walking stick, the Prime Minister made his way down the dark, wet steps but, with two flights yet to go, he thought better of it and slowly began climbing back to the surface.
“Churchill emerged from Hitler’s bunker under his own power,” wrote Barbara Leaming, “but when at last he reached the top of the stairs and passed through the door of a concrete blockhouse into the daylight, his hulking frame appeared so shaky and depleted that a Russian soldier guarding the entrance reached out a hand to steady him.
“The Chancellery Garden was a chaos of shattered glass, pieces of timber, tangled metal and abandoned fire hoses. Craters from Russian shells pocked the ground. In one of those craters, Hitler and his wife had supposedly been buried after Nazi officers burned their corpses. The rusted cans for the gasoline still lay nearby. Russians pointed out the spot where the bodies had been incinerated. Churchill paused briefly before turning away in disgust.”
Churchill rested on a beat-up chair that had been propped against a bullet-riddled wall. The Russians said it had been Hitler’s, Leaming continues: “Gingerly perched on the front edge of the seat, he mopped his forehead with a handkerchief in the withering heat as he chewed on a cigar. When at length his daughter and the others came out of the bunker, Churchill was visibly eager to leave.”
Churchill’s daughter Mary sent her impressions to her mother: “We gazed on the ruins of the Chancellery—saw the disordered air raid shelters where Hitler is said to have died. The sun beat down on dust and devastation—the Press rushed around madly photographing—Sir Alexander complained how badly the tour was organized—which it was. But it was worth it.”
Undoubtedly, Winston Churchill had many thoughts about the war as he viewed the once-proud headquarters of his vanquished enemy. Later, he wrote that history would have been better served had the Fuehrer not committed suicide: “The course Hitler had taken was much more convenient for us than the one I feared. At any time in the last few months of the war he could have flown to England and surrendered himself, saying, ‘Do what you will with me, but spare my misguided people.’” But Hitler didn’t think in such selfless terms.