Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Inside Hitler's Bunker by William Vandivert

William Vandivert photographed for LIFE --where, at 6' 5", he held the distinction of being the tallest photographer on staff -- from the late 1930s through 1948. In 1947, he joined Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and David Seymour in founding the legendary Magnum photo agency (where he stayed for only one year). He died in 1992.

In April, 1945, as Russian and German troops fought — savagely, street-by-street — for control of the German capital, it became increasingly clear that the Allies would win the war in Europe. Not long after the two-week battle ended, 33-year-old LIFE photographer William Vandivert was on the scene, photographing Berlin’s devastated landscape.

Hundreds of thousands perished in the Battle of Berlin — including untold numbers of civilian men, women, and children — while countless more were left homeless in the ruins. But it was two particular deaths, that of Hitler and his longtime companion and (briefly) wife, Eva Braun, in a sordid underground bunker on April 30, 1945, that truly signaled the end of the Third Reich.

Vandivert was the first Western photographer to gain access to Hitler’s F├╝hrerbunker (translation: “shelter for the leader”) after the fall of Berlin, and a handful of his pictures of the bunker and the ruined city were published in LIFE in July, 1945. A few of those images are re-published here; most of the pictures in this gallery, however, went unpublished — until now — and illustrate the surreal, disturbing scenes Vandivert encountered in the bunker itself, and in the streets of the ruined, vanquished city beyond the bunker’s concrete walls.

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