Bormann, Martin (1900–1945?)

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BORMANN, MARTIN (1900–1945?)


German Nazi leader.

Martin Bormann was born on 17 June 1900 in Halberstadt, a small town east of Göttingen, into a family of lower-echelon civil servants. Orphaned at a very young age, he received a secondary education and performed his military service, after which he went on to study agronomy. As early as 1920–1921, he joined the right-wing Völkische movement, where he supported the most virulently anti-Semitic elements. Before long, giving up all vocational ambitions, he dedicated himself full-time to the most militarized and violent tendencies of the radical Far Right as an executive manager of the veterans' association of the Rossbach Freikorps. Alongside Rudolf Franz Höss, future commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, he committed a political murder for which the two men were sentenced in 1924 to a year's imprisonment. Upon his release Bormann made the acquaintance of Ernst Röhm and joined the organization, the Sturmabteilung (SA), that Röhm had created as a stand-in for the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) after it was banned in the wake of the November 1923 Munich Putsch, led by Adolf Hitler (1889–1945).

Thus when the NSDAP was legalized in 1927, Bormann entered it as a professional political leader and an activist quite prepared to kill if need be. He served at first in his native Thuringia as regional press officer and business administrator. He was attached to the SA's Supreme Command from 1928, worked at Röhm's headquarters, and ran the NSDAP's endowment fund. Henceforward Bormann was a party leader, though less in the political realm than as an administrator; daily paperwork was his preferred sphere of influence. He also built up solid bonds of kinship in Nazi circles, as witness his marriage to the daughter of the party's supreme judge, Walter Buch, with Hitler as best man at the wedding. In July 1933 he became an NSDAP Reichsleiter, the highest rank in the party hierarchy, and a close advisor to Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess. In that same year he was elected to the Reichstag, and before long he was entrusted with the management of the private assets of the führer and chancellor. Between 1933 and 1941, although he was just one of many leaders of the NSDAP and the burgeoning Nazi regime, he was able to carve out a unique place for himself within the (equally unique) state apparatus of the Third Reich.

As Rudolf Hess's right-hand man, Bormann enjoyed direct daily access to the führer from 1933 onward. It is now well understood by historians that the Nazi state apparatus, though it certainly placed the dictator at the center of the decision-making process, also modified that process in a unique way in that the traditional institutions of government were rapidly sidelined through the creation of new, often highly specialized departments vigorously competing among themselves. This was the context in which the day-today operations of the chancellery became immensely important. All open files, those awaiting Hitler's signature, were arranged according to priority by the chancellery, a process that determined not only the order of business for the highest authority but also, and more significantly, the role and place of every Nazi institution and every Nazi leader. Even Hess himself, the deputy führer, was marginalized as Bormann gradually made himself the sole master of the paper reaching Hitler, thereby making him indispensable in the führer's eyes. By the time Hess undertook the dangerous journey that was to take him to Great Britain in 1941, Martin Bormann was the sole gatekeeper controlling access to Hitler. His role in the hierarchy of the Third Reich grew ever more important, and thanks to his "chancellery of the party" he came to control the whole NSDAP without ever holding sway, as a Heinrich Himmler or Hermann Goering did, over some particular sector that was strategic from the party's point of view. He protected Hitler from administrative tasks while successfully controlling the distribution of power and the bestowing of the führer's approval throughout the Reich.

The image Bormann projected was that of a stone-faced bureaucrat—brusque, efficient, and unwaveringly loyal to Hitler. There is no doubt that Bormann was an anti-Semite from an early age and a lifelong party loyalist. His undeviating commitment to the NSDAP was rivaled only by his anticlericalism, which led him, beginning in 1942, to champion the brutal repression of the Catholic Church. Like other Nazi chieftains, Bormann proved a fervent last-ditcher as the war's end approached, feeding the self-destructive impulse that took hold of the führer in the final weeks of hostilities. He was a prime mover of the Volkssturm, the Nazis' forced call-up, begun in 1944, of all undrafted German males, young and old alike. And he remained by his master's side until the moment of Hitler's suicide. Bormann himself was killed to the north of the chancellery on the second or third of May 1945 as he sought to cross the Russian lines. His demise was not confirmed, however, until his remains were identified in 1973, and his fate was at first such a mystery that he was judged and condemned to death in absentia at Nuremberg. For this reason, no doubt, this faceless administrator, so underestimated by his contemporaries, gained enormous notoriety in the postwar years, as all kinds of legends grew up concerning his alleged survival.

See alsoHess, Rudolf; Hitler, Adolf; Nazism.


Kilzer, Louis C. Hitler's Traitor: Martin Bormann and the Defeat of the Reich. Novato, Calif., 2000.

Longerich, Peter. Hitlers Stellvertreter: Führung der Partei und Kontrolle des Staatsapparates durch den Stab Hess und die Parteikanzlei Bormann. Munich, 1992.

Christian Ingrao