Rochus Misch, who served as Adolf Hitler’s devoted bodyguard for most of the Second World War and was the last remaining witness to the Nazi leader’s final hours in his Berlin bunker, has died at the age of 96.
Misch died in Berlin after a short illness, according to Burkhard Nachtigall, who helped him write his 2008 memoir.
Misch remained proud to the end about his years with Hitler, whom he called “boss”. In a 2005 interview he recalled Hitler as “a very normal man” and gave a riveting account of the German dictator’s last days before he and his wife Eva Braun killed themselves as the Soviet Red Army closed in on their Berlin bunker.
“He was no brute. He was no monster. He was no superman,” Misch said.
Born on July 29, 1917, in the Silesian town of Alt Schalkowitz, in what today is Poland, Misch was orphaned at an early age. At 20, he joined the SS – an organisation he saw as a counterweight to a rising threat from the left. He signed up for the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, a unit founded for Hitler’s personal protection.
“It was anti-communist, against Stalin – to protect Europe,” Misch said. “I signed up in the war against Bolshevism, not for Adolf Hitler.”
But when Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Misch found himself in the vanguard as his SS division was attached to a regular army unit for the blitzkrieg attack.
Misch was shot and nearly killed while trying to negotiate the surrender of a fortress near Warsaw, and he was sent to Germany to recover. There, he was chosen in May 1940 as one of two SS men who would serve as Hitler’s bodyguards and general assistants, doing everything from answering the telephones to greeting dignitaries.
Misch and comrade Johannes Hentschel accompanied Hitler almost everywhere – including his Alpine retreat in Berchtesgaden and his forward “Wolf’s Lair” headquarters.
He lived between the Fuhrer’s apartments in the New Reich Chancellery and the home in a working-class Berlin area that he kept until his death.
“He was a wonderful boss,” Misch said. “I lived with him for five years. We were the closest people who worked with him ... we were always there. Hitler was never without us day and night.”
In Hitler’s last days, Misch followed him underground to the concrete Fuhrerbunker.
“Hentschel ran the lights, air and water and I did the telephones – there was nobody else,” he said. “When someone would come downstairs we couldn’t even offer them a place to sit. It was far too small.”
After the Soviet assault began, Misch remembered generals and Nazi brass coming and going as they cobbled together a defence of the capital with the
remaining German military.
He recalled that on April 22, two days before two Soviet armies completed their encirclement of the city, Hitler said: “That’s it. The war is lost. Everybody can go.”
“Everyone except those who still had jobs to do like us – we had to stay,” Misch said. “The lights, water, telephone ... those had to be kept going but everybody else was allowed to go and almost all were gone immediately.”
Hitler clung to a false report that the Allies had called upon Germany to hold Berlin for two more weeks against the Soviets to battle communism together.
“He still believed in a union between West and East,” Misch said. “Hitler liked England – except for Churchill – and didn’t think that a people like the English would bind themselves with the communists to crush Germany.”
On April 28, Misch saw propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels and Hitler confidant Martin Bormann enter the bunker with a man he had not seen before.
“I asked who it was and they said that’s the civil magistrate who has come to perform Hitler’s marriage,” Misch said. That night, Hitler and mistress Braun married.
Two days later, Misch saw Goebbels and Bormann talking with Hitler and his adjutant, SS Major Otto Guensche.
“I saw him go into his room ... someone, Guensche, said that he shouldn’t be disturbed,” he said. “We all knew that it was happening. He said he wasn’t going to leave Berlin, he would stay here.
“We heard no shot, we heard nothing, but one of those who was in the hallway, I don’t remember if it was Guensche or Bormann, said, ‘Linge, Linge, I think it’s done’,” Misch said, referring to valet Heinz Linge.
“Then everything was really quiet ... who opened the door I don’t remember, Guensche or Linge. They opened the door, and I naturally looked, and then there was a short pause and the second door was opened ... and I saw Hitler lying on the table like so,” Misch said, putting his head on his hands. “And Eva lay like so on the sofa with knees up, her head to him.”
Misch ran to the chancellery to tell his superior and then back, where Hitler’s corpse was on the floor under a blanket.
“As they took Hitler out ... they walked by me about three or four metres away. I saw his shoes sticking outside the sack.”
An SS guard ran downstairs to get Misch to watch as the two were covered in petrol and set alight. “He said, ‘The boss is being burned. Come on out’,” Misch recalled. But Misch retreated into the bunker to talk with comrade Hentschel: “I said, ‘I saw the Gestapo upstairs in the ... chancellery, and it could be that they’ll want to kill us as witnesses’.”
But Misch stuck to his post in the bunker taking and directing telephone calls with Goebbels as his new boss until May 2 when he was given permission to flee. Goebbels, he said, “came down and said, ‘You have a chance to live. You don’t have to stay here and die’.”
Misch grabbed the rucksack he had packed and fled with a few others into the rubble of Berlin.