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California (Pa.) professor says Hitler may not have killed himself

| Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, 4:30 p.m.
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Dr. John Cencich

Could the man responsible for leading Germany into World War II and creating a system that led to the extermination of 6 million Jews during the war have actually escaped the Soviet Army encircling Berlin and fled to South America, rather than commit suicide in his underground bunker?

John Cencich, a California University of Pennsylvania senior professor of criminal justice, digs into one of the 20th century's greatest mysteries — whether Nazi leader Adolf Hitler staged his own death on April 30, 1945 — during an eight-part series, “Hunting Hitler,” that is being broadcast on the History Channel.

While historians have written that Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker in Berlin just days before the Germans surrendered, Cencich, an expert adviser for the series, reaches a different conclusion after an objective, factual historical analysis of the evidence, using existing forensic techniques and commingling that with the evidence that existed in 1945.

“It still remains an unsolved mystery. There is equally compelling evidence to suggest that he didn't die in Berlin. The evidence is ambiguous as to what occurred in that bunker. At this point, it is inconclusive,” Cencich said.

Karga Seven Productions of Los Angeles, which produced the series that premiered on the History Channel last week, reached out to him to participate in the program and vetted him for a lot of roles, Cencich said. He has the credentials for such a project, given his role as a senior United Nations war crimes investigator. Cencich led a team of police investigators on one of the largest international criminal investigations undertaken in history, which occurred in the former Yugoslavia. These cases involved crimes against humanity including murders, extermination, assassination and torture.

Cencich was chosen after a long process of talking to many experts because of his resume, including his work as a war crimes investigator and studying of circumstantial evidence, said Jason Wolf, an executive producer for “Hunting Hitler.”

“John was a huge part of it. He brought an area of expertise. He was ideally suited” for the production, Wolf said.

For his part, Cencich said he wanted to make certain that if he were to be involved in the “Hunting Hitler” production, that he would be provided an opportunity to undertake a serious review of the evidence available about Hitler's final days and the search for the Nazi leader.

“I think that I can certainly say that at the outset the whole notion that Hitler lived and fled to South America seems far-fetched,” Cencich said.

But, underground tunnels and a subway system led from the bunker to nearby Tempelfhof Airport, where Hitler could have taken a plane to Spain, then taken a U-boat to South America, Cencich said.

Most of Cencich's work on the eight-part series was done in late 2014 and early this year. About 60 percent of Cencich's work was done in a studio in Los Angeles, but it also involved a trip to Bogata, Columbia, where Hitler is said to have fled, Wolf said. Cencich was joined in the project by Bob Baer, a 21-year Central Intelligence Agency veteran and a group of international investigators that followed what Wolf said was a “fact-based” investigation.

The impetus for the series came from the FBI's declassification in 2014 of more than 700 pages of secret documents that suggested the possibility Hitler may have survived the war and fled to South America. They also reviewed files from the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency and declassified worldwide intelligence, Wolf said.

A recently unearthed memo from the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover states that “American Army officials in Germany have not located Hitler's body nor is there any reliable source that will say definitely that Hitler is dead.”

It was the Russians who captured Berlin and found what they considered to be the burned bodies of Hitler and his new wife, Eva Braun. But, even Soviet leader Josef Stalin did not believe Hitler had died, Cencich said.

Although it is not likely the series on Hitler's possible flight to South America will change the view of history surrounding Hitler's final days, “the results of this project warrant a footnote in the history books if for no other reason than the forensic evidence from the alleged suicide scene, which was botched by the Soviets,” Cencich said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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