Rochus Misch never expressed regret over his wartime service or doubts about the man he and his comrades called “the boss.”
Misch was Adolf Hitler’s bodyguard, messenger and telephone operator. He had tea and cookies with Hitler’s sister in Vienna. He delivered a congratulatory bouquet from Hitler to a young musician who had just announced his engagement. He was in the next room of the infamous Berlin bunker when Hitler and Eva Braun, the longtime mistress who two days earlier had become the Nazi leader’s wife, killed themselves on April 30, 1945.
Misch, the last survivor of the entourage holed up in Hitler’s underground lair, died in Berlin on Thursday. He was 96.
His death was confirmed to the Associated Press by Burkhard Nachtigall, an author who helped Misch write his 2008 memoir, “The Last Witness.”
In numerous interviews over the years, including a lengthy 2004 oral history with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Misch said he had no knowledge of the millions of deaths by genocide at Nazi concentration camps.
“I ask you, if Hitler really did all the terrible things people now say he did, how could he have been our Fuhrer?” Misch said in a 2005 Salon interview. “How is that possible?”
At the war’s end, Misch was captured by Russian soldiers invading Berlin, tortured in prison and sent to work camps in Kazakhstan and Siberia until his release in 1953. He was never charged with a war crime. Summoned as a witness to the Nuremberg trials, he was not called to testify.
A former member of an elite Nazi SS guard, Misch drew outrage from critics with his nonchalant approval of Hitler decades after the war.
“He is the most unrepentant and unapologetic Hitler supporter you could ever have the misfortune to meet,” a reporter for the London Sunday Express wrote in 2003.
“It was a good time with Hitler,” Misch said in the article, which was based on a 2 1/2-hour interview. “I enjoyed it and I was proud to work for him.”
Born in what is now Poland on July 29, 1917, Misch was raised by his grandparents. His soldier father died of a battlefield wound three days before Misch was born. Three years later, his mother died of pneumonia.
Misch studied painting but in 1937 volunteered for a four-year tour in the German army, hoping, he later explained, to protect Europe from the incursions of Stalin. He was shot in the chest during the German invasion of Poland in 1939.
Impressing his commanding officers, the convalescing Misch won a spot on the unit that provided Hitler with personal aides and bodyguards. Recalling his first meeting with Hitler, at the Reich Chancellery, Misch told the BBC: “I felt cold, then hot. I felt every emotion.”
“He wasn’t a monster or a superhuman,” Misch told the Express in 2011. “He stood across from me like a completely normal man with nice words.”
Misch said accounts of Hitler as an aberrant personality suddenly flying into rages or plunging into depression never rang true.
When Misch married his wife, Gerda, on New Year’s Eve in 1942, Hitler gave him 1,000 marks and 40 bottles of wine. When Gerda became pregnant in 1944, Eva Braun sent her a baby carriage.
Still, Misch on several occasions came across Hitler in what appeared to be moments of intense melancholy. Late one night in the German dictator’s living room, Misch saw him in a trance-like state “staring at an oil painting of Frederick the Great that was flickering in the candlelight,” he told the Express. “I felt like an intruder interrupting someone in the middle of prayer.”
In 1944, Misch witnessed the attempted assassination of Hitler by top generals.
In the Reich’s final days the next year, Misch was manning the bunker’s phones when Hitler gathered his remaining staff for goodbyes. A little while after he and Braun disappeared into his office, someone discovered their bodies and Misch came running.
“I saw him slumped with his head on the table,” he told the BBC. “I saw Eva on the sofa; her head was next to him, her knees drawn tightly up to her chest.”
Hitler had shot himself and his wife had taken cyanide.
Not long afterward, Magda Goebbels, wife of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, ushered her six children into the bunker and had a doctor give them “some kind of sugary drink,” Misch told the BBC.
“All of us knew what was going on,” he said. “An hour or two later, Mrs. Goebbels came out crying.”
She sat down and played solitaire to calm herself. The next day, she and her husband committed suicide.
After his release from Russian prisons, Misch ran a decorating store in Berlin with his wife. They lived just two miles from the site of Hitler’s Fuhrerbunker.
Their daughter, Brigitta Jacobs-Engelken, in 2009 told the BBC a family secret: Brigitta’s mother — Misch’s wife, Gerda, who died in 1998 — was Jewish.
“I know it from my grandma,” the daughter, an architect in Germany who worked to restore synagogues, said of the news that Gerda’s mother had shared.
Misch, the good soldier, refused to accept it, his daughter said.