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The May 7, 1945, cover of TIME

It wasn’t immediately clear what had happened on April 30, 1945. This much the world knew: Adolf Hitler was gone, one way or another.

The week after, TIME ran a list of his “many deaths,” the theories of his survival or defeat. Some said he had actually been killed the year before. Some said he was on his way to Japan. One captured Nazi actually got it right, telling the world that Hitler, along with his wife, had committed suicide. By that July, TIME had an account, from his one-time chauffeur, of how the bodies had been removed from the underground bunker and burned; the cause of death was a bullet to the head, the chauffeur said. However, the Russian authorities who were conducting the investigation insisted that there had still been no concrete evidence of his death, that Hitler might still be alive out there somewhere. Decades later, in 1968, a book published by a former Soviet intelligence officer attested that the Russians had found the body and done an autopsy, confirming his identity with dental records and showing that the real cause of death was cyanide.

But, back in 1945, as May began and the end of war in Europe was finally certain, as Allied troops liberated the suffering remnants of the people who had been the dictator’s targets, as his followers cast about for someone to blame — back then, in many ways, the details of what had happened didn’t really matter. It was enough to know that it was over.

In honor of that end, that week was the occasion for TIME’s iconic crossed-out Hitler cover — the first instance of a motif that has been repeated for other historic villains, like Osama bin Laden — and a meditation on his life, how he came to power and what the world would be like now that he was out of it:

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: The Betrayer

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Write to Lily Rothman at

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