Elena Rzhevskaya: The Woman Who Held Hitler’s Teeth

Today I discovered Elena Rzhevskaya, a Russian writer who worked as a translator with the Soviet team who identified Hitler’s body after his death in 1945. She was entrusted with Hitler’s teeth during the search for a dentist who could identify them, and thus prove that the Fuhrer was really dead.

Rzhevskaya’s “Berlin Notes,” published in the Russian literary magazine Znamya in 1965, provided the first detailed account of the discovery of Hitler’s body. This information had long been suppressed in Russia because Stalin wanted to nurture a myth that Hitler was still alive.

During my research, I kept hearing that these “Notes” were grotesque, literary, not concrete enough for Western researchers. So of course I wanted to read them. But it does not appear that either “Berlin Notes,” or Rzhevskaya’s later book Berlin, May 1945 have been fully translated into English. I hope I’m wrong. Otherwise, this seems like a gap that needs to be addressed.

Here’s some more information about Rzhevskaya, pulled from a variety of sources:

By the will of fate I came to play a part in not letting Hitler achieve his final goal of disappearing and turning into a myth. Only with time did I finally manage to overcome all the obstacles and make public this ‘secret of the century’. I managed to prevent Stalin’s dark and murky ambition from taking root – his desire to hide from the world that we had found Hitler’s corpse.

–From Rzhevskaya’s page at her literary agency, which also includes her bio and more photos.

The fact therefore remains that the first time the world learnt the full story of how the Russians found and identified the corpses of Hitler and Eva Braun was when, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Third Reich, Yelena Rzhevskaya published in Znamya her Berlin Notes.

The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives by Lev Bezymenski, review by: R. Ainszte in International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 45, No. 2 (Apr.,1969), pp. 294-295

A work that combines the documentary method with personal memoir is Elena Rzhevskaya’s Berlin, May 1945 … A translator with the Soviet Army as it took Warsaw and advanced to Berlin, Rzhevskaya was present when Hitler’s charred body was found outside his bunker (and was entrusted with the Fuhrer’s teeth, which she carried in a box for two days during the search for dentists who could identify them). Her eyewitness account of the taking of Berlin, reinfornced by her extensive archival work done decades later, is vivid and detailed.

The last years of Soviet Russian literature: prose fiction, 1975-1991, by Deming Brown

Yelena Rzhevskaya, the interpreter with the Smersh group, later recounted how on the evening of May 8, when Soviet troops prepared to celebrate the German surrender, she was given a box covered in red satin and told to guard it with her life. She described it as “the sort used for cheap jewelry.” The box held Hitler’s jaws. Rzhevskaya was given it because, as a woman, she was considered less likely to get drunk that night and lose it.

— “Hitler’s Jaws of Death,” Anthony Beevor, a NYT Op-Ed

In the smouldering ruins of Berlin, Elena Rzhevskaya stooped by a radio to hear the announcement of the Nazis’ final capitulation, a small box clutched to her side. It was 8 May 1945 and at Karls-horst, on the edge of the city, the German high command had surrendered to Russian, British and American forces.

But the young interpreter from Soviet military reconnaissance was subdued as her comrades across the city broke into wild celebrations.

Tucked in the satin-lined box she was clutching were the flesh-specked jawbones of Adolf Hitler, wrenched from his corpse just hours earlier by a Russian pathologist.

A burnt body thought to be the Fuhrer’s had been found by a Red Army soldier near his bunker days before, but Joseph Stalin ordered the discovery be concealed.

‘Only two officers knew what I was carrying and I had to keep my tongue,’ Rzhevskaya, 85, told The Observer in a rare interview at her Moscow apartment.

…On 8 May, as Soviet soldiers in Berlin’s streets shouted with joy at the news of German surrender, Rzhevskaya poured wine for her colleagues with one hand – while clamping the little box to her side with the other.

‘Can you imagine how it felt? A young woman like me who had travelled the long military road from the edge of Moscow to Berlin; to stand there and hear that announcement of surrender, knowing that I held in my hands the decisive proof that we had Hitler’s remains.

The Guardian 

Read an excerpt from Berlin, May 1945 on p. 48 of Germany, 1945-1949: a sourcebook on Google Books here.

There is also a somewhat odd video put together (I think) by her literary agency on YouTube below: 

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