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Adolf Hitler caused the death of 50 million people.
An entire nation followed him to ruin.
He was hated by those he persecuted
and even by some of his own commanders,
yet, in 25 years, no one managed to kill him.
Winston Churchill had very few bodyguards,
Whilst Hitler had thousands.
He needed them.
During his travels across Europe,
there were over 40 attempts on his life.
Now, with access to captured original SS records,
the producers of "Churchill's Bodyguard"
can reveal for the first time, in this new series,
how fate and a small number of hand-picked bodyguards
helped this evil genius to cheat death on so many occasions.
Why did no one manage to kill Adolf Hitler?
Enough people wanted to, but as this series shows,
it was not as simple as it sounds.
Nevertheless, protecting him was one of the world's toughest jobs.
As Hitler moved from rabble-rousing politician to supreme ruler of Nazi Germany,
he collected a legion of enemies.
More than 40 serious plots and assassination attempts
are known during his political career.
Hundreds more threats were recorded by the German police.
In contrast to Britain's Winston Churchill,
who relied on one main bodyguard,
Hitler's bodyguard grew to thousands.
But more did not always mean better.
Hitler Knew this, and always relied on a ruthless and fiercely loyal inner core.
Hitler himself was no coward,
especially in his early years.
He served four years on the Western Front in 'World War I
and won the Iron Cross First Class.
In the first years of his political struggle,
he often waded into bloody fist fights with political opponents.
The men who fought alongside him in these early conflicts
would remain at the very heart of his security --
a personal bodyguard that stayed with Hitler for the rest of his life.
Men like Bruno Gesche, a tough street-fighter,
never afraid to get his hands dirty.
As Hitler fought his way to become Chancellor of Germany,
unsophisticated old-timers like Gesche seemed out of place
among the thousands of professional police and paramilitary troops
who now ringed Hitler in layers of security.
Hitler repaid Gesche's loyalty by never abandoning him.
He rose to be Hitler's closest bodyguard.
With a handful of the fuhrer's other oldest comrades,
he was an ever-present reminder of those early, risky days of struggle.
When Corporal Adolf Hitler returned to Munich
in Bavaria from front-line service
following Germany's humiliating defeat in 1918,
he was 29 years old.
Like hundreds of thousands of other veterans,
he was frustrated and angry,
convinced that they had been stabbed in the back by communists
and Jews at home.
[Man speaking German]
We were amazed.
The front-line troops had not been beaten.
And we wondered why the cease-fire came so quickly.
And why we had to vacate all our positions in such a hurry?
Because everywhere, we stood on enemy territory.
These men were a ready recruiting ground
for the extremist political gangs
that seemed to offer some hope
and a solution to their troubles.
Communists, socialists, and nationalists
fought pitched battles on the streets.
At times, Germany's new 'Weimar Republic seemed on the edge of civil war.
In these dangerous days,
Adolf Hitler quickly seized the moment
and established himself as a rabble-rousing leader in Munich.
For protection, he did what any other mobster would do --
he surrounded himself with muscle.
Hard men who could battle rival thugs and look out for Hitler
as he provoked crowds with racist speeches.
They became known as the Sturmabteilung, or SA --
who intimidated opponents with fists, clubs, and sometimes guns,
policing Nazi meetings and breaking up those of their rivals.
Arid within this paramilitary gang was an inner core,
the first of Hitler's personal bodyguards,
initially called the Ordnertruppe,
or Stewards Troop, and then Stosstrupp Hitler,
or Hitler Shock Troop.
The Shock Troops included men like Rudolf Hess,
who was to become Hitler's deputy,
Julius Schreck, who later became Hitler's personal chauffeur,
Emil Maurice, who was to be imprisoned with Hitler
and get to know some of his leader's darkest secrets,
and Ulrich Graf, a butcher by trade,
who soon came close to being killed for his leader.
Among the hardest SA men was Bruno Gesche
Just 17 years old when he joined in 1922
and too young to have served in the war,
Gesche longed for a life of action.
He was a natural brawler, and his political activity
cost him a series of jobs
He didn't care.
Just so long as he was marching to the beat of Hitler's drum.
After attempting a coup in 1923,
Hitler was imprisoned and his party banned.
But Gesche kept the faith
and re-joined a revived Nazi party in June 1925.
He was now ambitious to rise up the party ranks, and after a rally in 1927,
he moved across to join a new elite section of the SA.
This was the Schutzstaffel, or SS,
Hitler's personal protection squad,
which had been set up in 1925 when the Nazis were re-formed.
Whereas SA brovvhshirt membership was numbered in its thousands,
the SS started with less than 100 men,
and by the time Gesche joined, it still had only 280.
Initially, SS men distinguished themselves from the SA
by wearing black caps with a skull-and-crossbones insignia
and a field-grey uniform..
But soon they were dressed all in black,
with peaked caps and polished boots --
the uniform which would strike fear all across Europe.
The SS had stricter entry requirements than the general SA
and maintained tighter discipline.
Although subordinate to the SA,
its members acted like the Nazi Party elite.
Released from prison, Hitler realized
that armed revolution was not the way to power.
He must become a legitimate politician
and use democracy to seize control.
This meant years of political campaigning as he chased the votes he needed.
At first it was slow work,
for the Weimar Republic stabilized during the mid-19205
and support for extremist parties declined rapidly.
But the situation was transformed
as unemployment and despair overwhelmed Germany
in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash of October 1929.
By 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag,
with more than 37% of the vote.
Membership of the SA exploded from 200,000 to 2,500,000.
And as it did so, so the SS also expanded,
for it had acquired a leader who had great plans for it.
In 1929, Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler as Reichsfuhrer-SS.
This bespectacled 29-year-old,
a former clerk and chicken farmer,
would bring a ruthless ambition to his job
and make the SS the most feared organization in Germany.
Gesche rose within the blackshirt ranks to become SS Sturmfuhren
Soon, this tough street fighter would be one of Hitler's most trusted protectors.
But this would expose him to the jealousy and suspicion of Himmler,
his nominal boss, a man who would tolerate no rivals,
and in his efforts to destroy any competition would search out their weaknesses.
As Gesche became one of Hitler's most trusted protectors
and reveled in the status this brought,
he became a victim to his own inner demons --
among these, a weakness for alcohol.
Himmler kept files on the behavior of the men closest to Hitler.
He watched and took notes.
And then, when those men got out of control,
he would pounce and eliminate them.
The story of this bitter struggle between Gesche and Himmler
lies at the very heart of the chaos
that formed the substance of Hitler's bodyguard.
And yet the Fuhrer himself seemed unperturbed
by these rivalries fought out all around him. In fact, he relished it,
knowing that in this chaos lay the key to his peculiar kind of protection.
Berlin, February 1932 --
Bruno Gesche is one of eight chosen from a group of outstanding young SS men
to form the SS-Begleitkommando --
Hitler's close escort squad which would work round the clock
protecting the Fuhrer in three eight-hour shifts.
The appointment was a tremendous honor for the 27-year-old,
but it did not take long for Gesche to fall foul of his nominal boss.
Just eight months later, when Hitler was speaking at a Nazi Party rally,
Gesche was openly critical about poor security.
This was the responsibility of the SS,
and by implication, any criticism was a public criticism of Himmler.
The head of the SS was furious and had one of his minions
demand that Gesche be demoted and removed from the SS-Begleitkommando.
It was claimed that Gesche's outspoken comments had brought shame on the SS
and demeaned its professional image.
But Himmler did not have his way.
Gesche was merely reprimanded.
It was a warning shot to Himmler
not to mess with Hitler's valued companions.
Shortly afterwards, salt was rubbed in the Reichsfuhrer-SS's wounds
when he was obliged to sign the contract confirming Gesche's employment.
But, as far as he was concerned,
this was just his first round with Gesche
In January 1933, as leader of what was still the largest party in the Reichstag,
Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.
As head of government, Hitler could now call on
all the security apparatus and police forces of the Weimar Republic,
but as leader of the ruling Nazi Party,
he continued to rely mainly on his own security force,
and this bodyguard expanded enormously.
At its core remained the SS-Begleitkommando,
the eight-man escort squad that protected Hitler day and night.
Beyond that was Himmler's SS.
Only 280 men strong in 1929,
it had grown to 10,000 by the end of 1931.
And from these black-clad ranks,
the new Chancellor ordered the recruitment on March 17, 1933 of a palace guard
which swiftly became known as the Leibstandarte-SS.
Initially just 120 men under the command of a tough former army sergeant and police officer,
Sepp Dietrich, the Leibstandarte's role was to guard Hitler's residences and offices,
form a human wall around the Fuhrer during public appearances,
and to provide muscle for special security tasks.
Within a year, the unit had grown to almost 1,000 men
and was based at the Lichterfelde Barracks.
Although nominally under the control of Himmler,
Dietrich always took his instructions directly from Hitler.
To confuse matters,
just two days before Hitler ordered the formation of the Leibstandarte,
Himmler had authorized the establish-ment of a Fuhrer Protection Group,
the Fuhrerschutzkommando, staffed by detectives of the Bavarian State Police,
which Himmler had taken over when the Nazis seized power.
In command was another tough ex-soldier,
Bavarian police captain Johann Rattennuben
That the existence of two rival new Fuhrer-protection units
could be confusing was shown by an incident in the spring of 1933.
Driving through Munich, Hitler became aware of a oar following his own.
He told his driver to increase the speed of his supercharged Mercedes
so that the other car could not keep up.
It turned out that the strange car pursuing Hitler
was full of Fuhrerschutzkommando bodyguards
who had not thought of informing the fuhrer's immediate entourage.
Hitler was furious.
He had always been suspicious of the civilian police,
particularly the Bavarian force which had come so close to killing him
during the Beer Hall Putsch attempt.
Nevertheless, Himmler overcame Hitler's prejudice.
The Fuhrerschutzkommando became a separate agency,
the Reichssicherheitsdienst -- the Reich Security Service, or RSD.
Himmler remained in nominal control,
but, like Dietrich, Rattenhuber usually took his instructions directly from Hitler.
Responsible for Hitler's overall security,
the RSD followed up reports of assassination plots,
kept key places such as his favorite restaurants under surveillance,
secured travel routes, and checked personnel and locations
before important public appearances.
Staffed by trained police detectives,
the RSD tended to look down on the likes of Bruno Gesche
and his comrades in Hitler's escort group.
They viewed them, not unfairly,
as rather brutish thugs, untrained in police techniques.
But Hitler was no intellectual snob
and preferred the company of his old companions.
Despite the new layers of security with which he was now surrounded,
Hitler was cynical about their effectiveness.
While talking to old colleagues during the war,
he revealed his true feelings about his own safety.
"In the two really dangerous attempts made to assassinate me,
"I owed my life not to the police,
but to pure chance."
The two occasions he was thinking of
were a bomb at the commemoration of the Munich Putsch attempt,
which only missed killing him because he had left 12 minutes earlier than usual,
and the Swiss student who stalked him across Germany
and was only stopped by chance by a suspicious railway official.
As Hitler went on to say...
"The confessions of the Swiss man interested me.
They confirmed my conviction that no one can avoid an assassin
who is determined to risk his own life in the execution of his mission.
I can see why 90% of the past assassinations have been successful.
The only preventative measure one can take is to live irregularly --
to walk, to drive, and to travel at irregular times and unexpectedly."
Hitler took this to heart,
much to the annoyance of his personal security officers,
and constantly changed his mind
at the last moment about routes and methods of travel.
"Whenever I go anywhere by car,
I go off unexpectedly and without warning the police.
As soon as the police get to hear that I am going somewhere,
they adopt emergency measures which attract too much attention.
One time, when I was driving from Vienna to Pressburg,
the police raised the alarm along the entire route --
an action which was all the more dangerous
because they did not have the forces to guard the roads.
On top of that, the Gestapo plainclothes men
dressed themselves in such an astonishing collection of clothes --
like Ostler's Capes -- that any moron could have recognized them."
Hitler only valued organized police protection for public events,
but even then, he was fatalistic
"As there can be no absolute security against fanatics,
I always make a point of standing upright in my car.
The world belongs to the brave.
If some assassin wishes to shoot me
or blow me up with a bomb,
I am no safer sitting down than standing up."
It was probably because Hitler was so cynical
about the efforts of his regiments of security officers and policemen
that he liked to keep familiar faces close to him --
old bodyguards such as Bruno Gesche
But SS commander Himmler wasn't happy with this
and never abandoned his feud with Gesche
As Himmler gained almost unlimited power within Nazi Germany,
he would come back to haunt him.
Soon Hitler's number-one bodyguard would need his own protection,
and it would come from his Führer.
In May 1934, Bruno Gesche became commander of Hitler's escort squad,
Himmler attempted to seize control of Hitler's closest bodyguards.
They were incorporated into the new Reich Security Service for administrative purposes.
And then he suspended their salaries to show who was in charge.
But Gesche did not take the bait
and avoided a direct confrontation with Himmler by going to Sepp Dietrich,
the no-nonsense commander of the Leibstandarte
Dietrich had a deep dislike of Himmler and later described his greed.
"His appetite for power just could not be satisfied.
"On top of this, he was a great hand at hoarding and scrounging.
He received money from everywhere and everybody.
Every SS leader had to pay him a monthly donation."
Dietrich was close to the Fuhrer
and insisted the money tap for his bodyguard be turned back on.
Himmler could do little but give in.
It was another humiliation for which Gesche was responsible
and which would not be forgotten or forgiven.
However, for the next four years, relations between the two men simmered
but did not burst out again into open confrontation.
Himmler concentrated on establishing the SS as the dominant power within the Nazi state.
During 1936, Himmler's control of all German civilian police was formalized
and the Gestapo spread its secret surveillance web
over every aspect of German life.
And as Hitler focussed on rebuilding Germany's strength through a massive program of public works,
such as the Autobahn network
and a massive rearmament program,
his bodyguard established a routine.
Everywhere he went, he was accompanied by men of the Begleitkommando
And before a trip or formal occasion,
the RSD would check the route, the buildings along it,
and the place which Hitler was to visit.
Local Gestapo and police would be called in as necessary.
As far as possible, the streets or approaches to a building
would be lined with uniformed SS men,
every third man facing the crowd.
There would be marksmen on the roofs,
While plainclothes RSD men or criminal police mingled with the crowds.
The fuhrer's motorcade was preceded by a single pilot car
to warn the guards to stand-to.
+++Then, 50 meters behind, came Hitler's car --
usually a gleaming open six-seater Grosser Mercedes
or the massive six-wheel Mercedes G-4.
Hitler always stood or sat in the front beside the driver
with a member of the Begleitkommando and an adjutant right behind him.
Immediately following were three care
with the rest of the Begleitkommando
and a detachment of RSD men.
Then, after a 100-meter gap,
came the cars of other Nazi Chieftains
or foreign guests.
By the beginning of 1938, as Hitler started to put
his aggressive expansion plans into action,
the responsibilities of his bodyguard grew rapidly.
Hitler's first target was his homeland, Austria.
After its government had refused to buckle in to Hitler's demands
and announced a referendum on unification with Germany,
Hitler ordered an invasion on March 12th.
Complete surprise and the noisy welcome given by local Nazis
made the assault bloodless and apparently popular.
Hitler was eager to visit his new conquest
and set off immediately by air to Munich.
From there, he was driven across the border to his birthplace at Braunau
in a convoy of twelve cars,
all of them massive six-wheel Mercedes-Benz.
Five of them were filled with Begleitkommando and RSD men commanded by Bruno Gesche
Cheering crowds greeted him whenever he stopped,
but Gesche's bodyguards were taking no chances.
They carried two pistols each
and had 14 submachine guns between them,
with over 2,500 rounds of ammunition.
They were right to be concerned.
Hitler's aggressive foreign policy
was increasing the number of enemies lined up against him,
happy to see him dead.
It was just as the pressures on Hitler's bodyguard were growing
that Himmler tried again to rein in the activities of Hitler's SS escort.
At the end of 1937,
he had imposed a strict new rule on SS members.
If they were found guilty of abusing alcohol,
they had to promise to abstain from drink for 12 years or resign.
Having obtained evidence that Gesche's alcohol intake was uncontrolled
and dangerous for the maintenance of his job,
Himmler felt convinced he could nail the lanky bodyguard once and for all.
On September 26, 1938,
Gesche was told to sign a written statement
swearing not to touch spirits for three years
or face expulsion from the SS.
Gesche had no choice but to agree.
It seemed a victory to Himmler, but it was short-lived.
After just a few months,
such was the affection for Gesche among his SS colleagues and the influence of the Fuhrer
that Himmler had to lift the drinking ban.
It appeared that Hitler did not mind
that the head of his personal bodyguard was drinking too much while on duty.
In fact, this was not the only weakness of his number-one protector
that Hitler chose to ignore.
Gesche was slightly cross-eyed,
and Hitler would joke it was a good thing he did not sit directly behind him in his car.
Otherwise, he might shoot Hitler in the back by mistake.
But he was prepared to take the risk.
With the countdown to war' in Europe accelerating
and with his own generals showing considerable concern about the path down
which he was leading Germany,
Hitler liked to be surrounded by the company of trusted men.
'World War II started well for Adolf Hitler.
On September 1, 1939,
German armies crossed the border into Poland
and rapidly overran the western part of the country.
Hitler was impatient to visit his new conquests,
and just two days into the campaign,
set off from Berlin by rail to visit the battle front in Poland.
The Begleitkommando and RSD
were now given field-grey SS uniforms
with the insignia appropriate to their military-police rank.
They would continue to be responsible for Hitler's close protection,
but wider security now involved another potentially competing group.
This was the army's Fuhrer escort battalion,
or Fuhrer Begleit Battalion,
commanded by Colonel Erwin Rommel.
Set up just before war began,
this new unit took responsibility for guarding Hitler's military headquarters
and accompanying him
when he visited front-line command posts.
When the train reached Bad Polzin,
Hitler and his staff transferred to a convoy of grey-painted Mercedes.
All were open-topped, with machine guns mounted on the SS escort cars.
Escort battalion troops with motorcycles and armored cars preceded and backed up the column.
The mood was very relaxed.
Hitler feared little,
thinking no one would dare to attack him with his troops all round him.
His bodyguard chatted and took photographs of each other.
But while out in the countryside, a shot rang out.
A Polish sniper killed a German truck driver
as he was passing close to Hitler's convoy.
The truck went out of control
and crashed into one of Hitler's escort vehicles.
It was a close shave, but nothing could deter Hitler and his bodyguard.
Hours later, he watched his troops crossing the river Vistula
while Polish bombers dropped their bombs just a mile away.
Hitler was in a triumphant mood,
and Gesche and the overall SS escort seemed to share it,
consequently lowering their guard.
They were to get a rude wake-up call just two months later.
On November 8, 1939,
Hitler went to the Bürgerbräu Beer Hall in Munich
for one of the Nazi Party's most sacred rituals --
the anniversary celebration of the attempted Putsch in 1923.
He began speaking just after 8:00 PM,
earlier than usual, because he had urgent business to attend to in Berlin.
By 9:07 PM, he left the hall.
His old comrades continued to drink and reminisce
[ Explosion ]
Just 12 minutes later,
a bomb exploded behind the speaker's rostrum
Eight people were killed and 60 injured.
For Hitler, his escape was proof of his divine mission,
but it was one of the nearest misses of his career.
Dietrich and Himmler also escaped the carnage,
but it was bad news for the latter.
The RSD was responsible for checking every location before any Hitler event.
+++How on earth had Himmler's men missed the bomb?
How could they have missed the man who planted it there?
It was a serious error
that had come within 12 minutes of Killing the Führer.
Himmler's henchmen did catch the bomber, George Elser,
a 36-year-old cabinetmaker and communist from Württemberg
But his confession, extracted by the Gestapo, made uncomfortable reading for Himmler.
Elser had been able to spend 30 nights in the beer hall planting his time bomb.
It was a severe embarrassment for Himmler and the RSD.
What was the point of spending millions of Deutschmarks on security
if an assassin could just walk in?
It confirmed Hitler's cynicism about his own security measures.
"In the two really dangerous attempts made to assassinate me,
I owed my life not to the police
but to pure chance."
The attempt led to a major review of Hitler's security measures.
A 60-page report recommended
that the SS Central Security Office,
the RSD, and the Gestapo must work more closely together,
particularly on surveillance of buildings associated with Hitler.
Himmler was now so distracted
that he left Gesche alone for the early part of the war.
Victory after victory followed for Germany.
By early 1942, Hitler was master of Europe,
with his conquering armies advancing deep into the Soviet Union.
Gesche shared in the euphoria.
As the Fuhrer strutted on the Berghof terrace,
Gesche witnessed the parade of grandees who came to seek his patronage.
Hitler did not touch alcohol,
preferring a glass of apple juice,
but many of his senior commanders and party officials were tremendous drinkers.
This was fatal for Gesche --
when he drank, he often got out of control.
In April 1942, he went too far.
A report was soon on Himmler's desk.
During a binge-drinking session,
Gesche had pulled out his pistol and threatened another SS officer.
He was soon calmed down, but this time,
Hitler could not prevent his punishment.
Gesche was dismissed from command of Hitler's personal escort
and banned from drinking for three years.
But far worse, he was sent for basic army training.
At the age of 37,
this man who had enjoyed the luxury of Hitler's court
was to be sent to the Eastern Front
to face the full fury of fighting the Russians.
It must have seemed like a death sentence.
For Gesche, it looked like the end of the line.
For Himmler, it seemed that at last he had got his revenge.
The unit to which Bruno Gesche was sent
after being sacked from command of Hitler's escort group
was a Waffen-SS Panzer division.
By mid-1942, the original Leibstandarte-SS guard regiment
had grown into an army of more than 12 divisions.
Regarded as an elite force,
the Waffen-SS was often used in the most critical and dangerous sections of the front.
Gesche was given eight weeks' training
and then sent to a unit fighting in southern Russia.
It was a severe challenge for a 37-year-old with no combat experience at all.
He arrived just in time for the major summer offensive --
By the end of July, the Germans had burst through the Red Army
and were approaching their objective -- the oil fields of the Caucasus.
But the speed of the Panzers' advance overstretched their supply lines.
They shuddered to a halt just outside Stalingrad
Gesche fought well during the offensive
and was evacuated after being wounded.
Much to Himmler's surprise, he was ordered to return
to Hitler's headquarters in December 1942.
Years of easy living in the SS escort
had not made him too soft for battle,
and Hitler was pleased with his performance.
He re-appointed Gesche commander of his close escort,
but this was largely symbolic.
Much of the administrative burden
was undertaken by the SS adjutants
It was a lucky escape for Gesche
In November, the Soviets unleashed a ferocious counterattack at Stalingrad
that trapped and then annihilated thousands of German troops in a desperate last stand.
Gesche could have been among them.
Shortly after this disaster, an order was issued
that no one who had served in Hitler's headquarters
was to be allowed to fight on the Eastern Front.
Their capture and interrogation by the Soviets
could seriously compromise the fuhrer's security.
By now, Hitler was spending most of his time
at his main military headquarters,
code-named the Wolfsschanze, or Wolf's Lair,
near Rastenburg in East Prussia.
Today, this is in Poland.
The remains of the massive concrete buildings and bunkers can still be seen deep in the forest.
The Begleitkommando and RSD still provided the close protection
with a much-enlarged Fuhrer protection battalion of the Wenrmacnt
providing the mass of sentries, patrols, and anti-aircraft units.
From the Wolfsschanze,
Gesche and his team would accompany Hitler on his occasional visits
to headquarters nearer the front or to Berlin or Berchtesgaden
Usually these trips were made by air,
despite the increasing danger of interception by Allied aircraft.
Gesche kept his head down
and avoided any conflict with Himmler for the whole of 1943 and most of 1944.
By then, the war had turned decisively against Nazi Germany.
On the Eastern Front, the debacle at Stalingrad
had been followed in July 1943 by a catastrophic defeat near the city of Kursk.
From then on, the German armies were on the retreat.
By the middle of 1944,
the Red Army was pushing across the border of Poland,
and by the end of August,
it was just a few miles short of Warsaw.
Even worse for the Germans,
the long-awaited Second Front had begun in June with US, British, and Canadian forces
crossing the English Channel and establishing a bridgehead in northern France.
By the end of August, they had broken out, and Paris had been liberated.
Gesche saw the Fuhrer rapidly age before him.
No longer invigorated with success,
Hitler shuffled around his headquarters,
directing his frustration not at the enemy, but his own generals.
It was they who had let down Hitler's great schemes.
It was they who were conspiring against him.
And he was right.
Many generals wanted an end to the war
while they could still negotiate a deal with the Western Allies.
On July 20, 1944, Hitler was studying battle maps at the Wolfsschanze
when, in a carefully-planned assassination attempt, a bomb exploded beneath the table.
Four officers were killed, but Hitler survived.
"I am immortal!" he crowed.
He owed his life to the flimsy construction of the building
and its open windows which helped diffuse the blast.
Once again, luck had come to Hitler's rescue.
Yet again, his security forces had failed to intercept the plotters and their bomb.
But the fuhrer's good fortune
could not eradicate the mood of deep depression
that descended on him and his associates.
Their time was running out.
In December 1944, Gesche took to drink again, pulled a pistol,
and fired several shots at a colleague.
This time, Himmler personally wrote the letter of condemnation.
"You are known to me as a notorious drunk from the year 1938,
as well as from reports in recent years and months.
Since I cannot tolerate drunks in the Fuhrerkorps, I demote you.
Only based on your long association,
will I allow you to remain in the SS.
I will give you the opportunity to serve in the Dirlewanger Brigade,
and by proving yourself before the enemy,
it might be possible that you will be able to wipe out the shame
you have brought onto yourself and the entire SS.
I expect you to abstain from alcohol for the rest of your life without any exceptions.
Should your willpower be already damaged by alcohol
to the extent that you cannot keep this pledge,
then I expect you to hand in your resignation."
It was a harsh punishment.
The Dirlewanger Brigade was a penal unit full of criminals
expected to die fighting in the front line.
It was Himmler's final blow
against the bodyguard that had most avoided his control.
With just weeks left of his evil regime,
this may have given him some grim satisfaction.
Gesche didn't receive the letter until January 1945,
and by then, the Third Reich had only four months left.
He probably toasted its arrival with a stiff drink.
He could not be sent to the Dirlewanger Brigade
because it was fighting on the Eastern Front.
The risk that he might fall into Soviet hands was too great.
Instead, Gesche fought as part of the 16th SS Division
in its long and bitter retreat through Italy, Slovenia, and Hungary.
No longer part of Hitler's SS escort,
he did not share the final days with his Fuhrer
in the bunker deep beneath a devastated Berlin.
He did not have to make a decision about whether to end his own life
or face capture by the Soviets
and almost certain execution as a member of the SS.
Himmler had done him a favor,
removing him from almost certain death in Berlin.
Instead, it was the Reichsfuhrer-SS
who chose suicide when he was captured by the British.
Despite being Hitler's number-one bodyguard,
possibly the most dangerous job in the world,
protecting a man who had so many enemies
and had so many assassination attempts against him,
Gesche survived it all.
He survived over a decade of vendetta against Himmler,
the most lethal man in the Third Reich,
and he had survived the war.
It was a remarkable achievement.
That Hitler entrusted his most personal security arrangements
to such an unstable character was odd,
but typical of his affection for those comrades
who first served him back in the 1920s.
It also revealed
how Hitler trusted to chaos
-- or good luck --
as early attempts on his life would soon show.