Alongside his many other faults, Adolf Hitler had very bad teeth - catastrophically bad teeth. It is not clear precisely why - bad genes, bad diet or poor personal hygiene - but some among his entourage would later claim that his halitosis was sometimes so bad that they involuntarily took a step back when talking to him. By the last year of the war, his teeth had deteriorated to such a state that only 5 of his 32 adult teeth were his own. This X-Ray of Hitler's skull, taken in the autumn of 1944 in the aftermath of the 20th July Bomb Plot, shows the scale of the problem. The dark patches where his teeth should be are crowns, with only the five front teeth of Hitler's bottom jaw showing as his own.
|An apple a day...|
Given that Hitler had the teeth of a Berlin hobo, therefore, he required some elaborate dentistry to conceal the dark truth. Consequently, his dentist Hugo Blaschke constructed a network of gold crowns and bridges with porcelain veneers inside the Führer's mouth. Now, to any German of that generation, working in close proximity to their leader would have been a memorable experience, but for Blaschke and his assistants - Käthe Heusermann and Fritz Echtmann - it was also the complex dentistry that stuck in their minds, not least the famed "telephone bridge" that spanned a crown in Hitler's lower jaw.
Such recollections were to come in useful. Though Blaschke escaped to the south and was eventually captured by the Americans, and the dental records were destroyed in the Börnersdorf plane crash (which also ultimately spawned the "Hitler Diaries" fiasco), the two assistants - Heusermann and Echtmann remained in Berlin and were duly arrested by the Soviets. Under interrogation, they were asked to describe Hitler's elaborate dentistry from memory - Heusermann had been Blaschke's dental assistant, and Echtmann had crafted the bridges. They did so; they also produced sketches - Heusermann's sketch (complete with Russian annotation) is here..
Then, on 9 May 1945, Heusermann and Echtmann were shown pieces of jaw that the Soviets had retrieved from one of the 14 or so charred corpses that had been discovered in the Reich Chancellery garden the week before. Both immediately affirmed that the teeth and bone that they were handling were indeed those of Adolf Hitler. The dentistry on show also conformed precisely to what the two had described and sketched prior to being shown the remains. The teeth were Hitler's.
Thereafter - according to Heusermann, who was flown back to Moscow for 10 years of further questioning - the teeth were carried around in a cigar box and were opened referred to by their NKVD handlers as "Hitler". These, incidentally, are the same jaw fragments that are still kept in the Moscow Special Archive. Clearly, it seems, the Soviets were convinced that the teeth in their possession were those of Hitler and - logically - that Hitler was therefore dead. Indeed, in mid-May, Soviet intelligence officers confirmed to their Western counterparts that Hitler had "been poisoned" and Zhukov admitted to Khrushchev that they had found Hitler's "charred carcass".
|Hitler's teeth, with the 'telephone bridge' (right)|
Sadly, however, within a few days Soviet leaders had opted to deny the obvious and chose instead to sow confusion over Hitler's death, insinuating that the German dictator had somehow survived and had escaped to the Western zones of occupation - thereby giving themselves an excellent stick with which to beat the West in the opening exchanges of the Cold War. It is the subsequent campaign of disinformation and obfuscation that led to the outlandish tales of Hitler's survival - in the jungles of Patagonia, in fascist Spain, or in the secret Nazi base on the moon - that occasionally resurface to this day.
Of course, it should be clear from this brief essay that if Hitler did in fact escape Berlin, we have to assume that he did so missing both his upper and lower jaw. That 'escaped Hitler' would not only have to have been a master of disguise and have had the escapology skills of a Houdini - he would have been a medical miracle...