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Picture of SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller | Public Domain | Wikipedia

Heinrich Müller: The highest-ranking Nazi who got away

Picture of SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller

In the spring of 1945, as Russian tanks steamrolled towards Berlin, high-ranking Nazi officials began to weigh up their options. Some chose suicide; Adolf Hitler shot himself in the Führerbunker whilst Joseph Goebbels, the minister of Nazi propaganda, ingested cyanide along with his wife and six children. Others chose to escape; Adolf Eichmann remained undetected in South America until his capture by the Mossad in 1960.

Many others died in the chaos of the final days of the war or were captured by Allied forces and subsequently tried for their war crimes, including Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring.

However, there is one senior figure of the Nazi regime whose whereabouts after the war is still unconfirmed to this day. Heinrich Müller was the head of Hitler’s feared secret state police known as the Gestapo for most of WWII. Along with his subordinate Adolf Eichmann and his superior Reinhard Heinrich, otherwise known as ‘The Blond Beast’, Müller was a key player in the organisation and execution of the Holocaust. He also attended the 1942 Wannsee Conference, which saw the official implementation of the ‘Final Solution’ plan.m

Müller was last seen alive on the evening of 1 May 1945, the day after Hitler and Eva Braun had committed suicide. Eyewitnesses placed him at Hitler's Reich Chancellery building and Hans Baur, Hitler’s pilot, quoted Müller as saying, ‘We know the Russian methods exactly. I haven't the faintest intention of being taken prisoner by the Russians.’

After that day the trail runs cold, no concrete evidence to the whereabouts of Müller has ever been found and he remains the highest-ranking member of the Nazi regime whose fate remains a mystery.

Born in Munich in 1900, Müller served during the First World War as a pilot and won the Iron Cross for bravery. After the war, he joined the Bavarian Police and quickly rose through the ranks to become the head of the Munich Political Police Department. Described as a workaholic, self-opinionated and cold, Müller was utterly dedicated to his duties and carried them out with military discipline.

A life-long anti-communist, Müller became known for his skills investigating communist activities in Munich. This drew the attention of senior SS figures Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heinrich. Although Müller was not a member of the Nazi party and had even been documented as calling Hitler ‘an immigrant unemployed house painter’ and an ‘Austrian draft-dodger’, Heinrich admired his skills as a policeman and his unquestionable dedication to the State.

After Berlin fell and Germany surrendered, given Müller’s seniority in the Nazi regime, he became a high-priority target for capture by Allied intelligence

As the Nazi's grip on Germany tightened during the 1930s, Müller found himself climbing the ranks once again under the guidance of Heinrich and in 1934 he joined the Gestapo. In 1938, Müller ordered the arrest of around 30,000 Jews during the infamous Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), citing the ‘most extreme measures’ were to be taken against the Jewish people.

In 1939, he finally joined the Nazi party mainly to further enhance his career and in September of that year he was made Chief of the Gestapo, earning the nickname ‘Gestapo Müller’.

Along with overseeing the implementation of Hitler’s policies against the Jews and others considered ‘sub-human’ by the Nazi regime, he also helped plan the false flag project code-named Operation Himmler. The project looked to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany to justify the Nazi invasion of Poland.

During the war, Müller created an incredibly successful network of double agents who fed false information to the Soviet intelligent services. In 1944, after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler known as the July Plot, Müller was tasked with finding those responsible. His investigation led to the arrest of over 5,000 people and the execution of around 200. Müller investigated with such zeal that he was awarded the rare military decoration of the Knight’s Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords in October 1944.

After Berlin fell and Germany surrendered, given Müller’s seniority in the Nazi regime, he became a high-priority target for capture by Allied intelligence. Hindered by the abundance of Müller’s in Germany, given the fact it was such a common name, not a trace of ‘Gestapo Müller’ was found by Allied investigators.

With no leads turning up, it soon became accepted that Müller had likely perished in the final days of the war. It wasn’t until Adolf Eichmann’s capture in the 1960s that interest grew again about the fate of Müller. Eichmann fanned the flames by declaring to his Israeli captors that he believed Müller to still be alive.

The West Germans picked up the baton and began investigating what might have happened to Müller. Unlike many Nazi’s who escaped to South America, especially to Argentina, no evidence was ever found that Müller had gone that way.

Around the same time, the CIA opened their own case file on Müller and were initially aided by the defection to the West of Michael Goleniewski, the Deputy Chief of Polish Military Counter Intelligence. Goleniewski told the CIA that although he’d never met Müller personally, his Soviet counterparts had informed him that Müller had been captured and taken to Moscow sometime between 1950-52 and was being exploited for intelligence purposes.

Goleniewski had conducted interrogations of captured German officials after the war adding credibility to his information. In the end, however, no concrete evidence could be discovered to corroborate what Goleniewski was claiming.

Rumours then began to spread in Western media that it was, in fact, the American's who harboured Müller and were keeping his presence unknown to the public. In 2001, CIA files on their investigation into finding Müller were released to the public and clearly showed that the American’s had no idea of his whereabouts after the war. The files concluded, ‘There are strong indications but no proof that Müller collaborated with [the Soviets]. There are also strong indications but no proof that Müller died [in Berlin].’

In 2013, Johannes Tuchel, the head of the Berlin-based Memorial for German Resistance claimed that Müller had died and been buried along with around 2,500 others in a mass grave at the Jewish cemetery in Berlin’s Mitte section. Tuchel stated that Müller’s body was discovered in August 1945 by Allied forces in a makeshift grave. The claim was supposedly backed up by newly discovered historical documents that stated Müller was positively identified at the time, as he was still wearing his uniform with a photo ID in his jacket pocket.

Since Jewish religious law forbids exhumations and given the number of bodies buried at the site, Tuchel’s claims have yet to be confirmed, leaving the fate of Heinrich Müller to remain one of speculation and mystery.