Does DNA from Eva Braun's hairbrush prove that Hitler married a Jew?
Adolf Hitler, the anti-Semitic Nazi German leader responsible for the murder of millions of Jews, could have unwittingly married a Jew hours before committing suicide in his Berlin bunker in 1945.
DNA analysis of hair samples from a hairbrush claimed to belong to Eva Braun, Hitler’s long-term lover who married the fascist dictator shortly before the couple killed themselves at the end of World War II, shows that it contained the hair of someone who could have had Jewish ancestry.
The revelation appears in a new Channel 4 documentary series, Dead Famous DNA, in which Mark Evans sets out to track down the remains of some of history’s most famous figures, including Elvis Presley, John F Kennedy and Napoleon. Leading scientists then attempt to extract DNA from the relics and analyse their genome to solve mysteries associated with them.
In the final programme of the series - which airs on Wednesday, April 9th on Channel 4 – an international team of forensic scientists sequenced the hypervariable region of the mitochondrial DNA from a sample of hairs claimed to belong to Eva Braun.
The hairs have a strong provenance: they came from a monogrammed hairbrush found at the end of the Second World War in Eva Braun’s apartment at Hitler’s Alpine residence, the Berghof in Bavaria, by an American army intelligence officer.
Eva Braun fell madly in love with Hitler at just 17-years-old, although he was twenty-three years her senior. Concerned it would affect his image, Hitler refused to marry Eva and kept her a state secret, hidden away at his mountain-top residence, the Berghof, in the Bavarian Alps.
In the summer of 1945 Paul Baer, a US 7th Army captain, was posted to the Berghof. Working for the precursor of the CIA, Baer had privileged access to Hitler’s former retreat and took personal items, including the hairbrush, from Eva Braun’s private apartment. There are photographs of Baer at the Berghof in 1945 and the hairbrush has been authenticated by experts.
After the war, Baer returned to the US with the hairbrush, as well as other items. “In our basement I remember there was a duffel bag and in the duffel bag there were several Nazi ceremonial daggers, a human skull and this case with the initials in gold ‘E.B.’,” says Baer’s son Alan. “We opened it up and there was a mirror and a hairbrush. It was just a cosmetic box in a duffel bag brought from Hitler’s home.”
Paul Baer’s own family background makes the story all the more poignant. “My father was a German-born Jew who came to America in 1929,” says Alan Baer. “Because of his background he was in the CIC, which was a forerunner of the CIA, and he was allowed to go to these places. When the concentration camps were liberated he was allowed to go into them. His mother and two sisters were taken to the camps. He never found them.”
But Alan Baer is keen that the hair is studied and the story told. “I just think you have to get over the emotional aspects of it,” he says. “Now what’s left is her hair and that can be used for science and history and that’s more important than sitting there being upset about the hair being there. What good is that going to do?”
On his father’s death in the 1970s, Alan Baer sold Braun’s hairbrush to a relic dealer who separated the hair and sold it on to hair dealer John Reznikoff. Mark Evans purchased eight strands of the hair from Reznikoff for two thousand dollars. The hair was then sent to an international team of forensic scientists for analysis.
The scientists’ analysis revealed something unexpected and extraordinary. They found a specific sequence within the mitochondrial DNA, a small genome within the mitochondria of the cell that is passed down the maternal line from mother to daughter unchanged over the generations, belonging to haplogroup N1b1, which is strongly associated with Ashkenazi Jews (a haplogroup is a particular sequence of mitochondrial DNA which is passed down the maternal line).
80% of the world’s Jewish population is Ashkenazi, descended from medieval Jews who lived in central Europe, having first settled in The Rhineland. In the nineteenth century, many Ashkenazi Jews in Germany converted to Catholicism, so Eva Braun is highly unlikely to have known her ancestry and – despite research he instigated into Braun’s race - neither would Hitler.
The provenance of the hair is strong, but to definitively prove that it came from Eva Braun’s head, Mark Evans attempted to get a DNA swab from one of Eva Braun’s two surviving female descendants, but both refused. So an element of mystery remains.
“This is a thought-provoking outcome - I never dreamt that I would find such a potentially extraordinary and profound result,” says Mark Evans. “Racism & Fascism – ideas that one racial group is superior to another – made a mockery of by studying dead famous DNA.”
The final part of Dead Famous DNA will be shown on Channel 4 on Wednesday, April 9th at 9pm. Made by Double Act productions, it is produced, written and directed by Rob Davis. The executive producer is Alistair Cook.