By Shira Schoenberg
In the Nazi Party, Martin Bormann was second only to Adolf Hitler. He lusted for power and was eager to do evil. Hitler called Bormann his "most faithful party comrade,"(1) a title that Bormann lived up to.
Bormann was born on June 17, 1900, in Halberstadt, Germany. His father was a postal worker who had been a Prussian regimental sergeant major. Bormann dropped out of high school and worked on a farming estate in Mecklenburg before enlisting as a cannoneer in a field artillery regiment toward the end of World War I. The war ended before he reached the front lines.
After the war, Bormann joined the Deutsche rightist group, Freikorps, which carried out acts of violence along the Latvian border, after Latvia declared its independence. Soon, Bormann became active in the underground paramilitary nationalist organization Frontbann. He was connected with the 'Feme' murders and was an accomplice to Rudolph Höss in the assassination of Bormann's own former elementary school teacher, Walther Kadow, who he claimed had betrayed the Nazi martyr Leo Schlageter to the French occupation authorities in the Ruhr.(2) Bormann was arrested for this murder in 1923 and sentenced to one year in jail.
Upon his release, Bormann started his climb to power in Germany. He joined the Nazi party and the SA (Storm Troopers) in Thuringia. In 1926, he was appointed head of Nazi press affairs and deputy SA commander of the region. He was known as a fund-raiser and in 1928, became the Nazi party's business manager. From 1928 to1930, he was part of the SA Supreme Command.
When the Nazi party took control of Germany in 1933, Bormann was elected to the Reichstag, the German parliament. From July 1933 until 1941, Bormann was the Chief of Cabinet in the Office of the Deputy Fuhrer, Rudolf Hess. He acted as Hess' personal secretary and right-hand man.
It was at this time that Bormann started acquiring Hitlers trust. Bormann acted behind the scenes and gained responsibility for all of the party's financial and administrative affairs.(3) He developed and administered the Adolf Hitler Endowment Fund of German Industry, a fund of contributions by businessmen to Hitler that was allocated as gifts to top party functionaries. Bormann was also in charge of Hitlers personal finances and he bought and maintained a large number of properties. He took control over the living standards of Gauleiters and Reichsleiters -- top Nazi officials.
When Hess fled to Great Britain in May 1941, Bormann's ascent to power quickened. He took over as head of the Parteikanzlei, Hitlers Chancery. In 1942, he was appointed head of the party secretariat and of the party staff, with the rank of Reichsminister. In 1943, he became Hitlers personal secretary. In October 1944, Bormann was appointed commander of the Volkssturm (People's Army), a mass of German civilians established as the Allies were about to invade the Reich.
As Hitlers secretary, Bormann got involved not only with party affairs, but also with the domestic policies of Germany. He was active in fields such as the pillage of art objects in occupied countries in Eastern Europe.(4) He controlled questions of security in the regime, legislation, appointments and promotions. He created a system of spies in the army, in which he would promote young officers to survey the political attitudes of older fighters. He was a rabid fighter against the Christian churches, stating in a confidential 1942 memo that Nazism was incompatible with Christianity and the power of the churches "must absolutely and finally be broken."(5)
Bormann was an extreme racist who was the "zealous executor"(6) of Nazi persecution and extermination of the Jews. He ordered the deportation of Jews to the East, at first concealing the killings as the "transfer of Jews to labor."(7) He later stopped hiding the massacres and signed a decree on October 9, 1942, stating that "the permanent elimination of the Jews from the territories of Greater Germany can no longer be carried out by emigration but by the use of ruthless force in the special camps of the East."(8) His July 1, 1943, decree gave Adolf Eichmann and the Gestapo (the German secret police) complete power over Jewish affairs.
Bormann's hatred was not confined to Jews. He called the Slavs a "Sovietized mass" of sub-humans and wrote in a August 19, 1942 memo, "The Slavs are to work for us. In so far as we do not need them, they may die. Slav fertility is not desirable."(9) He expanded a slave labor program for both Slavs and Jews.
From the first time they met in 1926, Hitler and Bormann had a close relationship. Bormann is called the "shadow man" because he was always shadowing the Nazi leader. Hitler was a witness at Bormann's 1929 wedding to Gerda Buch, a rabid Nazi and daughter of Supreme Party judge Walter Buch. Hitler was the godfather of Bormann's son, Martin Bormann Junior. During Christmas 1939, Hitler was a guest at Bormann family villa where Hitler gave his godson a box of toy soldiers and a model of an antiaircraft gun.(10) Bormann, in turn, was a witness at Hitlers marriage to Eva Braun, the day before Hitler and Braun's suicide. At Hitlers instructions, it was Bormann who informed Admiral Karl Donitz that Donitz had been appointed successor of the Fuhrer.
Bormann used his tremendous influence to curb the power of other top Nazis. He controlled Hitlers appointment calender and prevented top officials, including Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering and Albert Speer, from approaching the Fuhrer.(11) He even tried unsuccessfully to have Goering executed. Bormann screened the proposals of other members of the Party and convinced Hitler to follow all of his plans.(12) He took care of paper work and all administrative duties himself. As a result of Bormann's plotting, Hitler dismissed Goering and Himmlers influence was curtailed.(13)
Toward the end of the war, Bormann personally witnessed the suicides of Goebbels and his family, and finally the suicide of Hitler himself.(14) Before his death, Hitler ordered Bormann to save himself and flee the bunker.(15) Some say that Bormann tried to negotiate with the Soviets after Hitlers death, but realized that negotiations were fruitless.(16) In the end, he escaped the bunker on April 30, 1945, and after that, his fate is unclear.
Hitlers chauffeur Erich Kempka claimed that Bormann was killed trying to cross the Russian lines by an anti-tank shell, which caused the tank he was in to blow up. Kempka, who was temporarily blinded, said he saw Bormann's body.(17) Hitler Youth leader, Artur Axmann, believed that Bormann killed himself, and claimed to have spotted the body on May 2, 1945, in the Invalidenstrasse in Berlin. In 1946, it was announced that Bormann was in a north Italian monastery. He was also rumored to have escaped via Rome to Argentina or Paraguay, and was sighted in Italy, Brazil and Chile.(18)
On October 29, 1945, Bormann was indicted in absentia by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. He was sentenced to death in absentia almost a year later, on October 1, 1946.
In December 1972, excavations dug up two skeletons near the Reichstag in West Berlin and, in early 1973, a West German forensic expert used dental records to determine that one was almost certainly that of Bormann. In early May 1973, the DNA was matched to that of an 83-year old relative of Bormann. The other skeleton was identified as Hitlers doctor, Ludwig Stumfegger. The two men had apparently been found by a Russian soldier and had taken cyanide. In April 1973, a West German court formally pronounced Bormann dead.
Gerda Bormann died of cancer in 1946. Bormann's 10 children survived the war. Nine lived with foster parents. One, Martin Bormann Jr., turned to the Roman Catholic church and became a priest, before beginning to travel and speak to audiences denouncing Nazism.
While Bormann's son Martin may remember his father as a "strict but loving" man, and Hitler may have seen him as a loyal, trusted aide, most will remember Borman for his brutality and hunger for power during the Holocaust. Bormann was the behind-the-scenes cog who turned the wheel of Nazism. He yielded more political power than anyone but Hitler himself and used this influence to further his plans of evil to murder the Slavs and Jews.
Gutman, Israel. ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Vols. 1-4. NY: Macmillan, 1995.
Potterton, Louise. "Not His (God)Father's Son". The Jerusalem Report, August 22, 1998.
Wistrich, Robert S. Who's Who in Nazi Germany. NY: Routledge Press, 1995.
1. Potterton, p. 32
2. Wistrich, p. 18
3. Gutman, p. 233
4. Gutman, p. 233
5. Wistrich, p. 18
6. Gutman, p. 234
7. Gutman, p. 234
8. Wistrich, p. 18
9. Wistrich, p. 19
10. Potterton, p. 32
11. Gutman, p. 23
12. Wistrich, p. 19
13. Wistrich, p. 19
14. Gutman, p. 234; Wistrich, p. 19
15. Wistrich, p. 19
16. Gutman, p. 234
17. Wistrich, p. 19
18. Wistrich, p. 19; Potterton, p. 33; Gutman, p. 234