Smithsonian Channel Special Built Around Historic Duquesne Archives
A gem from Duquesne University's archives is driving a new Smithsonian Channel special about the last days of Adolf Hitler.
The Day Hitler Died will premiere on Monday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m.-and will share footage of interviews conducted by Judge Michael Musmanno, who presided over the Einsatzgruppen (Action Group) war crime trials in Nuremberg the 1940s and interviewed those working closely with Hitler in his last days.
Just as rumors circulated that Elvis Presley wasn't really dead, so it was with the death of Hitler. While Musmanno conducted the trials in Germany, he spent weekends and evenings tracking down survivors from Hitler's intimate circles, including the family of Hitler's longtime mistress, Eva Braun; secretary Traudl Junge, who typed Hitler's last will and testament; and Hitler Youth leader Artur Axmann.
Axmann saw Hitler after he shot himself, recalling, "The blast of the pistol had ruptured the veins on either side of his head."
That these interviews are captured on footage speaks to Musmanno's thoroughness-and recalls other interactions with Hollywood. The footage was among the voluminous personal papers and library that Musmanno (1897-1968), a former Pennsylvania State Supreme Court justice, congressman and labor lawyer who fought unsuccessfully for Sacco & Vanzetti, donated to the Duquesne University archives.
"He spent all of his extra time (while serving as a judge at Nuremberg) finding everybody, conducting interviews and compiling all the material," said Tom White, Duquesne University archivist. "Musmanno started interviewing shortly after the war, then realized it should be captured on film. He paid for the film himself and had it brought from New York because he wanted to demonstrate, for sure, that Hitler was dead."
Musmanno captured and/or recaptured about 22 of the interviews he did on film, using them as the basis for his book Ten Days to Die. The copies, 8mm films, became part of the Musmanno collection in Duquesne's archives, and were converted to digital format.
In the 2000s, a German company used some of this footage for a documentary. More recently, by working with the Musmanno family and the Scottish company Finestripe Productions, these remarkable recordings will be seen outside Germany for the first time.
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