The Holy Roman Empire was the first of three Reichs in German history. The second was the Hohenzollerns’ formidable, Prussian-dominated empire forged by Bismarck out of victory in the Franco-Prussian War. Despite making a newly unified Germany the dominant economic and military power on the European continent, it only lasted from 1871 to 1918. The third German Empire, Hitler’s vaunted “Thousand-Year Reich,” enjoyed an even shorter run, from 1933 to 1945. There had, however, been a real Thousand-Year Reich. The Holy Roman Empire, constantly ebbing, flowing and morphing in size, shape and composition, occupied the heart of Europe from 800 to 1806, a millennium spanning from the Age of Charlemagne to the Age of Napoleon. Old enough to predate any of Europe’s modern nation-states, in some of its most important aspects it foreshadowed the ideals, if not the realities, of today’s European Union.
Adolf Hitler’s suicide on April 30, 1945 ended “the thousand-year Reich.” In May, the German military signed an unconditional surrender and the Allies took power. The Nazi regime was finished.
News of Hitler’s death was broadcast on the radio: “This afternoon our Führer, Adolf Hitler, fell at his command post in the Reich Chancellery after fighting to his last breath for Germany against Bolshevism.” Hitler, however, did not fall in battle, but rather took his own life. A short time later, his long-time follower and friend, Joseph Goebbels, committed suicide with his wife, after poisoning their six children. Their deaths marked the collapse of the “thousand-year Reich.”
A few days later, in early May 1945, the German armed forces, the Wehrmacht, signed an unconditional surrender, leaving Germany under Allied control. While the war in Europe was over, the conflict in the Pacific raged on until a new weapon changed everything.
Directed by: Nina Adler