Push and hold

The Last of the Mohicans

Kostyantyn Bohomazov: “I was watching from the balcony the signing of the Act of Capitulation”

95-year old veteran of World War II and veteran of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine Kostyantyn Panteleymonovych Bohomazov – is perhaps the only current resident of Ukraine who was present at the signing of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in Karlshorst on the night of 8 to 9 May 1945. A week before that, he witnessed the Chief of General Staff of the Army of Wehrmacht, Lieutenant General Hans Krebs’ arrival at the Command Point of the 8th Guard Army of the 1st Belorussian Front, to negotiate on armistice. At that same time he learned about Hitler’s suicide, and later participated in the work of a special group for searching and identification of his remains, personally interrogated Fuhrer’s nurse and Doctor who witnessed the poisoning of Goebbels’ children in the underground bunker.

Kostyantyn Bohomazov came through the whole war. First in Iran he led a task force, engaged in finding out of German spies and agents. He participated in the battles of Kursk, the offensive operation “Bagration”, as part of the 1st Byelorussian Front reached Berlin. But best of all he remembered the days of May 1945, when he became a witness and participant in the events that forever entered the history of the Second World War.

”In the middle of the night of May 1, I was waked up by a messenger – recollects Bohomazov. – He said that I was urgently sent for by the Chief of the Central Operation Group of the Front General Melnykov. That group was created under a special order on the eve of the Battle of Berlin and had to be engaged in identification, arrest and interrogation of senior Nazi criminals so that none of them could escape responsibility. I was appointed the Chief of the Investigation Unit of the group. The first thought that flashed in the mind was probably they had captured someone from Hitler’s environment. I did not learn any details from General Melnykov. “We are leaving the Command Point of the 8th Guard Army immediately, and will learn everything insitu,” – he said dryly.”

Already at the Command Point near the airport Templhof captain Bohomazov learned that parliamentarians headed by the Chief of General Staff of the Army of Wehrmacht Lieutenant- General Hans Krebs had arrived allegedly to negotiate about armistice. Members of the Task Force had, if such a need arose, to conduct urgent proceedings concerning the German representatives. It did not come to that, so Bohomazov along with other staff officers was recording the conversation and watching with interest this historic action.

The cinematic version of this episode was recreated in the Soviet epic “Liberation”. According to Bohomazov, not everything in the film was shown the way it actually happened, though close to the real course of events. And, of course, all the emotional tension was not easy to be shown on the screen.

- The negotiations continued through the night and half of the next day – says Bohomazov. – Army Commander Vasyl Chuykov and Krebs communicated through an interpreter, from time to time switching to the Russian language. As it turned out, the German General before the war had been working as the Assistant of the Military Attache of Germany in Moscow and knew Russian. He said that he came on behalf of Goebbels and passed over a letter from him. The letter stated that on April 30 at 15.50 Fuhrer committed suicide and passed all the power to Doenitz, Goebbels and Bormann. Some Hitler’s testament was added, as well as a list of the new imperial government that Nazi leaders supposedly wanted to create in exchange for a cessation of hostilities.

Before our arrival, Chuykov had already reported on everything to the Commander of the Front Zhukov, who sent his Deputy, Army General Sokolovskyi, to negotiate.

- How did people at the Command Point react to the news about Hitler’s death? – I ask Bohomazov.
- They gave mixed response, – he says. – Chuykov was quite reserved. It seems to me he even said that he had already known about it. Perhaps he deliberately wanted to show his being well informed and his high profile of the master of the situation. But in fact it was news to everybody and the most desirable news for all the years of the war. One could hardly hide one’s feelings. Personally I had a double feeling: from the great joy that this generation of evil finally ceased to exist, to being sorry that he was not captured alive and publicly judged. For many in our operational group wanted to participate in Fuhrer’s arrest and interrogations. Later I learned about Stalin’s reaction to this news. When Zhukov reported to him about it over the phone, he allegedly said:

“Ended up in a bad way, rascal! What a pity he had not been captured alive.” And then asked where Hitler’s corpse was. Zhukov with reference to Krebs’ first evidence said that the corpse had been burnt.

The fact that General Krebs on the same day after returning to his headquarters and Goebbels’ speaking against unconditional surrender, shot a bullet in his head, was not known to Kostyantyn Bohomazov yet. Events were unfolding at lightning speed, and he was fully involved in that constant flow of events.

May 2, at the premises of the Soviet troops there arrived a man in civilian clothes, with intelligent appearance, called himself a doctor, said he knew about some of the circumstances of the deaths of the leaders of the Third Reich. At first he informed about Hitler’s suicide, but that was already known. Then he began to talk in detail about the death of Goebbels’ children. His testimony was recorded by Captain Bohomazov. Over the 70 years that have passed since, some details have disappeared from his memory.

Yet the veteran quite vividly and emotionally retells that conversation.

”Doctor Kunz, as he introduced himself, said that on the night of 1 to 2 May, when there were fierce battles at the approaches to the Reich Chancellery, he was in an underground bunker. A part of it was occupied by Goebbels’ large family. And he was their private Doctor. Goebbels’ wife called him and ordered to make injections of morphine to the children. When they fell asleep, she said: “Now take ampuls with poison, put them into everyone’s mouth and crush.” According to Kunz, first he was rooted to the spot by shock and fear, but then collected himself and resolutely refused to do so. She called him weakling and a milk-toast, took the ampuls with cyanide and did everything herself. The doctor only stated their deaths. Later he learned that Goebbels and his wife committed suicide. Retelling this terrible scene, the doctor was very nervous, it seemed that he still had not recovered from all he had experienced. “

Talking about his participation in the identification of Hitler, Bohomazov pointed out that that was done by other operational groups. One of them examined the place of burning of Hitler and Eva Braun’s bodies and the dead bodies found there, the other worked with Hitler’s private dentist to identify a person by the jaw. For this purpose special examinations and researches were carried out. He had to question the Fuhrer’s nurse, whose testimony was very general though.

Kostyantyn Panteleymonovych livened up when it came to his visit to Hitler’s bunker. He and his colleagues visited the bunker no longer on official business, but just out of curiosity.

”We were allowed to enter it after everything had been examined by sappers. The bunker impressed as a powerful building with numerous rooms equipped with facilities for work and recreation. One of the rooms served as a bar. We had never seen or tasted anything like that. Someone said: “Let’s drink for victory”. They began to uncork the bottle, but I gave the command to wait. I was afraid that everything could be poisoned“.

A true banquet, according to Bohomazov, was already after signing the surrender of Germany on night of 8 to 9 May. He also was at that celebration, as well as at the signing of the Act. Here’s how he remembers it.

”In the evening of May 8, our group received an order to arrive in the former dining room of the German Military- Engineering School in Karlshorst. We were placed on the balcony. At this, we’d been told that our function was to monitor everything that was happening. In case of unforeseen circumstances we had to be ready to guard and physically protect those present. At midnight, representatives of Commandments of all allied forces entered the hall. Our delegation was headed by Zhukov and First Deputy People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs Vyshynskyi. Generals were sitting at long tables, covered with green cloth. There were many journalists and photographers in the hall. Then were brought in those authorized to sign the act on the part of the German side.

Best of all I remember Field -Marshal Keitel with Marshall’s baton in his hand. He was trying to carry himself with dignity demonstrating military posture, yet he was nervous. I even thought that before signing, his monocle fell off, he rearranged it and began signing documents. The signing was completed closer to 1a.m. of May 9. Zhukov congratulated all the present on the victory. We began to give hugs and shake hands. “

But to Bohomazov the Second World War did not end there and then. As part of the Task Force, he participated in interrogations of Nazi criminals. Best of all he remembered the Adviser to the Intelligence Agency of the Nazi Party Walter Nicolai, who had led the German Military Intelligence Service during the First World War. His interrogations were often visited by Ivan Serov, who was at that time Georhiy Zhukov’s Deputy for work in the Soviet administration in Germany, and later headed the KGB. At the time of his arrest Walter Nikolai was already an old man, and Bohomazov remembered his intelligence, erudition and enormous knowledge in the field of intelligence. He no longer had access to the Abwehr agents directly during the Second World War, but even information about his previous work was very valuable and interesting.

During some period of time Bohomazov had to perform quite a specific task.

”I was appointed responsible for receiving values from commercial banks in Berlin – says veteran. – Several groups consisting of soldiers and officers would open bank vaults, remove all the most valuable things and then by trucks would transport them to specially designated places. My assistants and I was receiving it all, making descriptions and acts and weighing. For the most part those were things made of gold and silver – hundreds of kilograms, pieces of art, fur coats, etc. and many antiques, looted by the Nazis all over the world. “

To my remark that this work was a great temptation, Kostyantyn Panteleymonovych responded immediately: “Believe it or not, but I did not take anything. Soldiers who were bringing values from banks, at the end were allowed to choose themselves a gold pocket watch with a melody. I already had got such a watch- a trophy one given to me by front-line intelligence officers. The only thing that for my future wife (and she served with me in the same military unit) I took as a gift was an evening wrap and a nice pillow case. Later I saw some our front-line generals’ girl- friends wearing expensive fur coats and expensive jewelry from our warehouse. But that was done already without my participation. I sighed with relief when under hand-over act I handed all that over to the Bank’s representative, who had arrived from Moscow”.

In Germany, Kostyantyn Bohomazov had stayed till 1947. There he got married, his daughter was born there. His son was born after his returning from Germany. He then worked in Kyiv Counter-Intelligence, and from 1951 to 1964 – in units of the Foreign Intelligence Service, including abroad. Some of his awards and personal belongings of the period are now kept in the museum exposition of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine.

 

Oleksandr Skrypnyk,
Advisor to the Chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine
”Ukraina Moloda””Young Ukraine”

Kostyantyn Bohomazov

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