‘He Bit on a Cyanide Capsule and Dropped Dead’: The Final Moments of Nazi Heinrich Himmler Revealed in Soldier’s War Diary
The final moments of Nazi Heinrich Himmler can be revealed 65 years after his suicide following the discovery of an old soldier’s war diaries.
Corporal Harry Oughton Jones wrote an account of his top-secret encounter with the head of Hitler’s SS police force while he was stationed at a prison camp at the end of the war.
According to his personal recollections, Hitler’s number two bit on a cyanide capsule and dropped down dead. And while Himmler’s final words are widely believed to have been: ‘I am Heinrich Himmler’, according to the diaries he laughed in the face of a young officer before swallowing the pill.
Unbeknown to the British, Himmler was among the German soldiers captured after the Nazi surrender – disguised in a sergeant’s uniform with a patch over one eye. But his ruse was blown by his own shocked comrades who immediately informed their British captors of Himmler’s presence.
Corporal Jones – then 27 – and another officer were tasked with challenging Himmler before he took his life. According to the diary he scoffed: ‘You my boy are just a young captain and to take me I want to see your colonel in charge.’ His account continued: ‘As we made to get him he just put his hand to his mouth and before we got to him he dropped dead on the bed.’
Two days later and under the cover of darkness, Corporal Jones helped bury Himmler in an unmarked grave on Luneburg Heath, in northern Germany. He was made to sign the Official Secrets Act and told never to speak of the matter again.
The episode has been classified by the Ministry of Defence until 2045 – 100 years after the momentous event. Due to the level of secrecy involved, there have been various speculative accounts of Himmler’s death over the years, with one being that he took cyanide while being examined by a British doctor.
But the actual circumstances of his demise have emerged following Corporal Jones’ recent death aged 92. His grandson Jason Renshaw had previously read his grandfather’s war diaries with astonishment but has chosen to make them public following his death.
Jones, a member of the Durham Light Infantry Regiment, was posted to Luneburg Heath to be Field Marshal Montgomery’s bodyguard towards the end of the Second World War. As Montgomery’s minder, he was present at the official German surrender on Luneburg Heath on May 4, 1945, an episode he logged in his journal.
At about the same time Gestapo chief Himmler fled Berlin and attempted to disguise himself by shaving off his moustache and putting a patch over his left eye. When he was captured on May 22, 1945 by the British he had in his possession false documents in the name of Heinrich Hitzinger. Corporal Jones’ role switched from Montgomery’s bodyguard to supervising German prisoners at Luneburg Barracks.
At 3pm on May 23 his attention was drawn to a commotion involving a number of Germans. He wrote: ‘One German came running across the barrack square and he was crying like a baby. He ran to the young German that was with me. I heard the young German say Himmler and pointed to the rooms.
‘I got hold of the German in charge of the group and asked him what was going on.
‘He at once told me in English there was a group of prisoners in the barrack rooms and one of them was Himmler, the SS Chief Field Marshal, and they were making all the other prisoners do there (sic) work while they sat and smoked.’ Harry summoned a group of armed comrades and entered the barracks.
He wrote: ‘Two of us went in and had a look and only one German soldier stood about four beds down. He wasn’t a very big man. He was dressed in the Wehrmacht uniform and had sergeant stripes on his collar and arm and a patch over one eye. The officer and I stood in the doorway and the officer said “we have reason to believe you are a German officer of the SS and we have been told that you are Himmler. At this he laughed and said “you my boy are just a young captain and to take me I want to see your colonel in charge. So at once the officer said to me to take him, as we made to get him he just put his hand to his mouth and before we got to him he dropped dead on one of the beds and kicked two or three times and then lay still.’
One of the men rushed to inform their commanding officer of the development and Harry was told to guard the barracks.
He wrote: ‘The commanding officer and his staff…had a pow waw to find out if all was true. The talks went on for quite a long time.
‘There was also high ranking German officers brought in to see the body, then it was taken away. ‘Our major came to us and said we had to follow him to the battalion office and we were told we had not mention anything that happened and gave us a secret acts document to sign.’
Corporal Jones later wrote of how he was part of a group who then buried Himmler before a truck drove back and forth across the grave to smooth it down.
He wrote: ‘The place was not to be told to anyone for if some fanatical Germans got to hear about it they would have dug up the coffin and made a big parade with his body and made a martyr and worshipped (sic) him like a God.’
The secret episode ‘weighed heavily’ on Corporal Jones’ mind over the years until he penned his astonishing eye-witness account aged 70 in 1988. His grandson, 34, now intends to turn the diaries into a book.
The service manager for a Newcastle air conditioning company said: ‘I read his diaries when I was a bit younger and was blown away by them. To think my grandfather, just a fellow from County Durham, was involved in an historic moment like that.
‘The British government have told me my grandfather’s records, like all the others, can’t be opened until 2045.
‘I have read a lot of different versions of Himmler’s death but as far as I’m concerned my grandfather’s is the most accurate. There is no reason to disbelieve him. He used to sit me down and tell me his old war stories. I always thought he would be around forever but now he has gone he obviously can’t do that for my kids, which is why I’m going to publish them in a book.’
Nazis surrendering to Montgomery on Luneburg heath. Cpl Harry Jones witnessed the scene
Corporal Jones, from Heselden, near Sunderland, Durham, joined the Durham Light Infantry in 1935 aged 18.
At the outbreak of World War Two he was stationed in Hong Kong.
In September 1943 he took part in the Battle for Kos and was captured by the Germans.
He and an RAF pilot managed to escape and a Greek fisherman gave the men his boat so they could sail to Turkey and freedom.
He missed the D-Day invasion because he had been granted leave so he could marry his sweetheart Anne.
After their honeymoon he was sent to France and went on to serve under Montgomery. He was demobbed in 1946 and had several jobs including a coal miner, delivery driver, chauffeur and gardener.
He and Anne had four children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. In 1959 the family emigrated to Australia. He worked for a mining company in Newcastle, New South Wales, until he retired in 1981. He died in April.