Traudl Junge, the final secretary for Adolf Hitler, tells of the Nazi dictator's final days in his Berlin bunker at the end of WWII.
In April of 1945, Germany stands at the brink of defeat with the Soviet Armies closing in from the west and south. In Berlin, capital of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler proclaims that Germany will still achieve victory and orders his Generals and advisers to fight to the last man. "Downfall" explores these final days of the Reich, where senior German leaders (such as Himmler and Goring) began defecting from their beloved Fuhrer, in an effort to save their own lives, while still others (Joseph Goebbels) pledge to die with Hitler. Hitler, himself, degenerates into a paranoid shell of a man, full of optimism one moment and suicidal depression the next. When the end finally does comes, and Hitler lies dead by his own hand, what is left of his military must find a way to end the killing that is the Battle of Berlin, and lay down their arms in surrender.
As the Russians advance through Berlin in the spring of 1945, Adolf Hitler and his remaining military and secretarial staff shelter in his large bunker complex in the centre of the city. His mood swings between completely unjustified optimism that his forces will still break through, and rage against the incompetence and betrayal of his military commanders. Reality does finally start to break through and the Fuhrer and the others in the bunker start to make their final personal preparations for the inevitable.
A non-political person, Traudl Junge, then twenty-four years old and the personal secretary to Adolf Hitler, recounts the two weeks in her life starting on April 20, 1945, the day of Hitler's 56th birthday. Spent primarily in the Führer's bunker, she and many of the leaders of the Nazi party were taking refuge from the siege of Berlin by the advancing Russian troops. It seemed almost a guarantee that the Russians would take control of the city and that Germany would lose the war. Hitler and his military were trying to decide what to do, many giving Hitler the advice of getting out of Berlin and/or surrendering to save the lives of the German civilian population. Hitler made up his own decisions on what he felt stood for his own political ideals, and treated anyone, even during these tenuous times, as being treasonous if they disobeyed his orders. Regardless, many ended up doing what they felt best for themselves despite possible execution by their own if they disobeyed the Führer. As the situation for the Nazi's became more desperate, the more desperate their individual actions became, some following their Führer to the end.
- The film starts out with a short clip from a documentary where the real life Traudl Junge speaks about how even though she feels like she should be angry with her younger self for becoming Hitlers secretary, it is very hard to forgive herself.
The narrative begins in November of 1942. Traudl Junge and four other young women are arriving at Führer's Headquarters Wolf's Lair in Rastenburg, East Prussia. The women are met by Hitler's valet, Heinz Linge. After he gives the women an introduction, Hitler emerges from his office and proceeds to individually ask each woman her name and where she is from. Traudl Junge is the first woman chosen to have her secretarial skills tested and is eventually chosen to be Hitlers personal secretary.
The story jumps ahead to April 20th, 1945, Hitler's fifty-sixth birthday. In Berlin, inside the Führerbunker, Traudl Junge is awakened by the bombardment of Soviet artillery from above. A furious Hitler storms out of his office and asks his Generals to inform him where the gunfire is coming from. General Wilhelm Burgdorf informs Hitler that Central Berlin is currently under fire from Soviet artillery, but he doesn't know where its coming from. Burgdorf gives Hitler a phone connected to General Karl Koller who informs Hitler that the artillery battery is only twelve kilometers away. After finding out the Soviets are much closer than he was told, Hitler yells at his Generals for not informing him and that he had to find out this news for himself.
Above ground in the Reich Chancellery, many head Nazi figures gather for Hitlers birthday reception. At the party, SS General Hermann Fegelein informs SS General Heinrich Himmler that Hitler is ordering the evacuation of all German military offices by initiating Operation Clausewitz. Himmler says that Hitler will take the whole Reich down if he remains in Berlin. He suggests that Fegelein speak to his sister-in-law, Eva Braun, to see if she can convince Hitler to leave the city. Soon after, Hitler enters the room and is greeted with a salute and "Sieg Heil" from everyone.
The film jumps over to the evacuation of the SS Führungshauptamt. It also introduces a parallel story surrounding Professor Dr. Ernst-Günter Schenck, an SS colonel and doctor still in Berlin. Upset by the orders to evacuate, Dr. Schenck argues with SS General Tellermann that because he is both a colonel for the SS and a doctor for the Wehrmacht, he should not be ordered to evacuate so that he can stay to take care of the sick. Tellermann finally agrees and issues Schenck an authorized permit to stay in Berlin.
Back in the Reich Chancellery, many of the remaining generals are giving their final goodbyes to Hitler. When Himmler says goodbye, he begs Hitler to leave Berlin and suggests getting in touch with the Western Allies, but Hitler refuses and leaves. As the generals are getting into their cars to evacuate, Himmler tells Fegelein that he thinks Hitler has finally lost it and that since Berlin will fall in the next few days, he is going to have to take it in his own hands. At the same time, Albert Speer arrives at the Reich Chancellery to talk with Hitler.
Overlooking a model for the proposed "Welthauptstadt Germania", Hitler praises Speer on his genius for realizing what Germany will become once they win the war. Fegelein and Traudl Junge speak up urging Hitler to leave the city before it is too late, but he refuses again. Speer backs him up by telling Hitler that he must be on stage when the curtain falls.
The film cuts away to the streets of Berlin and the civilians trying to leave before the Russians capture the city. Another parallel story is introduced surrounding a boy named Peter Kranz and his small outfit of Hitler Youth soldiers manning a FlaK 88. An older man, who is missing his left arm, walks up to the group of kids and is identified as Peters father. He tells Peter and his fellow soldiers that they are to young to fight and to stop. After several minutes of arguing, the group of soldiers tells Peters father that they will fight until the very end because they swore an oath to The Führer. Peter calls his father a coward and runs away.
In his war room, Hitler refuses the plea from General Alfred Jowl to begin the retreat of the 9th Army. Hitler states that General Felix Steiner will be able to counterattack the Russians once his men arrive in Berlin. He also orders SS General Wilhelm Mohnke to defend the city at all costs. Mohnke requests the evacuation of civilians, but Hitler refuses. Outside of the war room, many of the generals express their concern that Hitler is going crazy, stating that he is ordering army divisions that only exist on the map. Hitler makes his way up to the surface to present awards to the Hitler Youth which happens to include Peter. Back in the bunker, Traudl Junge and some of the other girls discuss how they can't abandon Hitler like so many other people are doing.
Back in his office, Hitler tells Speer about his scorched earth plan and that he wants to systematically destroy important industrial parts of the city before the allies arrive. Begging for the mercy of the German people, Speer tells him it will only do harm to the future of Germany, but Hitler states that the only German people left are the weak and that they deserve to die.
Meanwhile, up in the Reich Chancellery, Eva Braun and many other guests are having a party. Fegelein grabs Eva aside and begs her to convince Hitler to leave, but she refuses. Off to the side, Traudl Junge tells her friend Gerda that the whole situation is unreal and is like a bad dream. The whole party suddenly comes to an end when an artillery shell hits right outside the building, sending debris through the windows. Everyone descends back down into the bunker.
Up on the streets, General Helmuth Weidling is being accused for not holding his post and for retreating. Even though he denies the accusations, he is ordered to report to the bunker for execution.
Back in the SS Führungshauptamt, Dr. Schenck receives a call from Mohnke ordering him to collect all the medical supplies he can find and to bring them to the bunker.
General Weidling arrives at the bunker as he was ordered to, asking why he is to be shot. General Hans Krebs informs him that orders are that any general who retreats is to be shot on spot. After Weildling tells him that he hasn't moved at all, Krebs informs him to speak with Hitler about it.
Dr. Schenck arrives at a military hospital to get the requested medical supplies, but it has been abandoned and cleaned out except for dead bodies. Schenck also discovers a group of elderly and sick patients who have been left for dead.
Back in the bunker, General Wilhelm Keitel informs General Weidling that his report has impressed Hitler and not only will he no longer be shot, but that he has been promoted to the commander of Berlin's defense. Weidling states that he would rather have been shot. On the other side of the bunker, Fegelein pleads to Traudl and Gerda to leave and informs them that what Hitler has told them about a possible victory is false.
In the war room, General Krebs informs Hitler that the Russians have pushed the German lines even further into the city and that General Steiner wasn't able to gather enough soldiers for a counterattack. Hitler orders everyone leave except Keitel, Jodl, Krebs and Burgdorf. Hitler yells at them for disobeying a direct order and that his entire military has been lying to him. Hitler states all of his generals are cowards and traitors and that because of their incompetence, they have lost him the war. Hitler leaves the war room and tells Traudl that she can leave if she wants, but she refuses to. The rest of the remaining generals argue over what to do now that Hitler has given up.
Eva, Gerda and Traudl talk a walk just outside the entrance of the bunker to grab a smoke. Eva talks about how she hates Adolf's German Shepard, Blondi, and abuses the dog whenever Hitler is not around. Bombs start to fall again and they retreat inside the bunker.
On his way back to the bunker with medical supplies, Dr. Schenck runs into a group of soldiers about to execute a small group of old men for not helping defend the city. Schenck pleads to the soldiers to spare the old mens' lives, but they are shot anyway. Schenck leaves and finally arrives at the bunker with the supplies and is shocked to see how many wounded civilians are there.
Meanwhile, Joseph Goebbels' wife and six children arrive at the bunker to stay with him under the care of Traudl. The Goebbels children dress up and present a song to Hitler. After the children leave, Hitler discusses the best ways to commit suicide with Eva, Gerda and Traudl, giving them each a cyanide capsule.
Now April 23rd, Eva and Mrs. Goebbels each write letters to their families informing them that the war is almost over and that they plan on staying with Hitler until the end. Meanwhile, Hitler orders General Keitel to link up with Admiral Karl Dönitz to capture more oilfields for offensive maneuvers once they push back the Russians.
Hitler receives a message from Hermann Göring stating that he wishes to take command of the Third Reich since Hitler can no longer do anything from Berlin. After declaring Göring a failure and a traitor, he orders him to be executed. Meanwhile, Albert Speer arrives at the bunker and pleads with Traudl and Mrs. Goebbels to reconsider staying with Hitler.
Speer meets with Hitler to say his goodbyes. He also begs that Hitler spare the German people and not take everyone down with him, but once again, Hitler refuses. Speer then informs Hitler that he has personally ignored and even defied many of his orders for some time. Upset, Hitler rejects a handshake and tells Speer to leave.
Peter, who has left his unit and been fleeing from the approaching Russians, is able to make it to his home to find his father and mother waiting for him.
During dinner, Hitler appoints General von Greim as the Commander in Chief of the Air Force with order to reorganize and correct the mistakes that have been made. He tells von Greim that he must be ruthless because compassion is for the weak and a betrayal of natural selection. During this dinner, Hitler receives a report that Himmler has offered Germany's surrender to the western allies. Upset that his most loyal general has betrayed him, Hitler orders Himmler to be executed and for Fegelein to report to the bunker to be promoted in place of Himmler.
Hitler has a meeting with General Ernst-Robert Grawitz who is requesting to leave Berlin so that he and his family can escape, but is denied. After Grawitz is dismissed, Otto Günsche informs Hitler that Fegelein has left the bunker and cannot be found, upsetting Hitler even more. Meanwhile, at home, Grawitz kills himself along with his entire family and Fegelein is executed for treason once he is found.
Back in the war room, Hitler is informed that the Russians have advanced even further and that Berlin no longer has any air support, stopping any more supplies from reaching the remaining army. However, Hitler still has hope that General Walther Wenck will be able to rescue Berlin. After Hitler leaves the room, the remaining generals discuss that Wenck lacks the manpower to do anything to the Russians, but they cannot surrender.
Traudl Junge then reports to Hitler so that she can write his last will. Hitler states that since WWI, all of his thoughts and actions have been dictated by his love and loyalty to the German people. As Traudl is typing it up, Goebbels informs her that Hitler has ordered him to leave Berlin, but he cannot do it and will need her to write up his will too. Meanwhile, Hitler then has a small ceremony where he marries Eva.
Later on, Hitler is informed that neither General Wenck nor any other army division will be able to rescue Berlin. Hitler tells them that he cannot surrender and that neither can any of his generals. Hitler informs Otto Günsche that he and Eva will commit suicide and that he is to make sure that the Russians will never be able to find his body.
Dr. Schenck and Dr. Werner Haase are ordered to the bunker where Haase gives Hitler instructions on how to commit suicide. Meanwhile, Dr. Schenck is forced to wait with a bunch of drunken soldiers who have given up any hope of victory, but later witnesses Hitler giving Blondi a cyanide capsule.
Meanwhile, Eva and Traudl talk about the approaching end. Eva gives Traudl one of her best fur coats and makes her promise to try and make it out of the bunker alive. Hitler then has his last meal with Traudl and a few others, and then informs them that the time has come. He gathers around Traudl and his remaining friends, including the Goebbels, to wish them goodbye. Mrs. Goebbels attempts one last time to convince Hitler to leave Berlin, but he refuses, stating that millions of people will curse him tomorrow. Hitler and Eva retire to their room and commit suicide. Otto Günsche then informs the remaining generals that Hitler is indeed dead and his and Eva's bodies are carried to the surface where they are doused with gasoline and burned.
General Krebs has a meeting with the Russian generals informing them that Hitler is dead and that Germany will not accept unconditional surrender. However, the Russian generals tell him that they must.
Later on, Mrs. Goebbels gives all of her children a sedative and poisons them while they are asleep. She and her husband commit suicide not long after, along with Generals Krebs and Burgdorf. General Weidling orders the Germany Army to cease fire. Traudl Junge, along with a few other women, is able to make it out of the bunker dressed as soldiers. Dr. Schenck informs the women that they don't have to be taken prisoner because the Russians aren't looking for them. Traudl is joined by Peter, who is now orphaned after his parents committed suicide, and the two of them are able to pass through the Russian army.
Some of the remaining SS soldiers, along with Dr. Schenck, are hiding from the Russians in a building. When they finally hear the news that Germany has officially surrender, the majority of them commit suicide in order to remain loyal to Hitler, but Dr. Schenck is able to make it out of there alive.
After getting through the Russians, Traudl and Peter find a bicycle and escape from Berlin.
The film ends by revealing the fates of each individual after the war. The last clip is the real life Traudl Junge talking about how even though she wasn't aware of the extent of the concentration and extermination camps until after the war, she still feels like being young isn't an excuse and that it would have been possible for her to find things out. Prof. Ernst-Günther Schenck was played ny Christian Berkel who will later display Fritz Shimon Haber in Haber (2008).