Film of 'Hitler's body' shown in Russian TV programme

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THE LAST ACT of the Third Reich, the death of Adolf Hitler, has come to life again in Moscow with the release of a grainy black- and-white film purporting to show the Fuhrer's corpse in a courtyard outside his Berlin bunker.

Broadcast late Tuesday on Commonwealth television, the brief film shows the body of a gaunt-faced man in uniform lying on his back, shirt buttons undone, tangled hair tugged back from a high forehead. The only distinguishing feature, clearly visible despite the film's poor quality, is a dark moustache.

The television suggested the film had come from previously secret KGB archives, but gave no details. If proved authentic, it would challenge previous reports that Hitler's body was burnt beyond recognition after he committed suicide in his Berlin bunker shortly before Soviet troops arrived in May 1945.

The film, only a few seconds long, shows the body from several angles, including a shot of it being examined by a huddle of Soviet soldiers and a German, apparently a prisoner, wearing an Iron Cross.

A commentary accompanying the footage said Hitler had been found not inside the bunker, where he is said to have poisoned or shot himself along with his mistress, Eva Braun, Joseph Goebbels and other trusted lieutenants, but in the courtyard of the Berlin Chancellery building.

'Here was perhaps the first and most unexpected find,' said the commentary. 'In the courtyard of the Reichskanzlerei - the corpse of Hitler.'

Separate footage, however, did show the bunker itself. A Soviet soldier was seen entering through a vault-like door and picking his way across a room strewn with papers and an overturned lamp. The sequence ends with him opening a book to show a book plate decorated with an eagle crest.

'Many mysteries surround this menacing figure and some of them have yet to be solved,' said the voice-over.

One of the biggest mysteries has long been the fate of Hitler: how he died and what happened to his corpse. The Soviet army, which captured the Berlin Chancellery, insisted that the body of Hitler and his mistress had been found incinerated. A member of the Soviet unit that located the body, Yelena Rzhevskaya, a translator, was quoted only last week by the Moscow News newspaper as confirming this account.

Desperate to impose its authority over Eastern Europe, particularly East Germany, after the war, Moscow worried that Hitler's body might become a rallying point for a possible resurgence of fascism. Such fears would explain why the Soviet authorities might have concealed the true state of the corpse.

But as with everything else, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of its empire has dissolved any such qualms and raised questions about what really happened. Last month, the historian and journalist Lev Bezymensky said in a newspaper interview that the bodies of Hitler and Braun were found intact by Russian military intelligence on 4 May, 1945.

Joseph Stalin had a particular fascination with - or perhaps fear of - Hitler's corpse. According to Mr Bezymensky, Stalin ordered his remains to be buried secretly in 1945, exhumed the following year for forensic identification and then reburied. Not satisfied, he then had the remains dug up and shifted several more times. They ended up near Magdeburg in what was then East Germany. Nor did this ghoulish obsession die with Stalin. According to Mr Bezymensky, the remains of Hitler and Braun were destroyed in 1970, under Leonid Brezhnev, to deny neo-Nazis the possibility of ever finding the grave and turning it into a shrine.

And perhaps even today the old demons have yet to be laid completely to rest. The Commonwealth television programme mentioned Hitler himself only briefly, concentrating instead on the fate of his cousin, an Austrian peasant woman called Maria Koppensteiner. Referring to a KGB file numbered 2326, it said she had been captured in 1945, flown to Moscow and jailed for 25 years. The sentence was never completed: she died in 1953.

(Photograph omitted)