May 26, 2000

More than 50 years after the second world war, bitter arguments over the facts and distortions of the history of Nazi Germany continue.

In Moscow, the first public exhibition of documents and relics from Hitler's Berlin bunker offers a chance to lay to rest some of the 20th century's most tasteless intellectual arguments. "The Agony of the Third Reich", at the federal archives in Moscow until June 25, reveals the results of NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) and Red Army investigations into Hitler's death.

Blood-stained sections of the settee on which Hitler shot himself are on show alongside investigators' sketches and NKVD interrogation reports. The central exhibit is a charred section of Hitler's skull, which has never been shown in public before.

The exhibition brings together material from the federal archives, the federal security service (a successor body to the KGB) and the foreign and defence ministries. There are the pistols with which Goebbels and his wife killed themselves and Soviet photographs of the bodies of their children, who were murdered by their mother.

Peter Frank, professor of contemporary Russian politics at Essex University, said the exhibition may be of interest to specialists in the relationship between Soviet security services and the Red Army, but that it represented more an odd coda to the end of the war.

"The interesting thing for me is the way in which Russia continues to preserve myths about the war. Just last week, the Russian newspaper Sevodnya ran a story about the true, unsung hero who hoisted the red flag over the Reichstag in May 1945," Professor Frank said. Those attributed with the act were chosen for propaganda purposes, he added.

Alexei Litvin, head of the research department of the archives, said the material reveals the rivalry between the NKVD and Red Army investigators, a point that may interest Soviet and Russian scholars. While the exhibition may add little that is not already known to research, the catalogue, bringing together the material in one publication, should be of value, he said.

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