Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Man Who Buried Himmler

To this day the exact location of Heinrich Himmler's grave remains a mystery. After he committed suicide in 1945 his body was secretly disposed of by British soldiers. Only those who dug his grave could possibly know Himmler's last resting place. One of those men was William Ottery from Penygraig, Rhondda.

Ottery was a sergeant with the British 2nd Army based at Luneburg in Germany. In May 1945 he witnessed Heinrich Himmler's arrival at the base. The captured Nazi emerged from a heavily guarded car draped in nothing more than a grey army blanket and socks.

It was Ottery who had prepared the building used to contain VIP prisoners. He needn't have bothered. During a routine medical examination Himmler bit into a potassium cyanide capsule secreted in his mouth - one last defiant gesture against the Allies. Ottery was ordered to get a needle and thread which was used to withdraw Himmler's tongue. But it was to no avail - within 15 minutes the poison had done its work and the architect of the Final Solution was dead.

The following day Russian, American and British officials flocked to Luneburg to confirm that the corpse was indeed that of Heinrich Himmler. On the third day after the suicide Ottery formed part of the burial party.

The Welshman helped carry the corpse, which was wrapped in a camouflage net, into an army van. Along with another soldier he climbed inside and followed a jeep driven by his sergeant major and the company commander. They took care to make sure no members of the press were following them - it was imperative that the grave remain a secret to avoid it becoming a future shrine for Nazis.

Their final destination proved to be an area of woodland not far from Luneburg. Once a spot had been chosen Ottery began to dig. Roots from the trees made gravedigging a difficult task; frequently they stopped to take swigs from the beer which they had brought along.

Instead of digging the regulation 6ft deep grave they decided to make do with a 4ft one instead. When it was finally ready they slung Himmler's body down inside - it must have been a satisfying moment for the Welshman. They then set about the task of filling in the earth and stamping down the soil. They finished by covering up the area with leaves making sure there were no visible signs of the grave. With the task completed they headed back to camp.

Apparently Ottery returned to Himmler's grave one final time in 1977 for a magazine article. Its exact location however still remains a secret.