Rochus Misch, Bodyguard of Hitler, Dies at 96 / Rochus Misch, Leibwächter Hitlers, stirbt mit 96

Rochus Misch in 2006.

Rochus Misch, Hitler’s wartime bodyguard, who was widely described as the last living witness to the Führer’s final days in his underground bunker as the Soviet Army closed in on Berlin, died in that city on Thursday. He was 96.

Burkhard Nachtigall, the co-author of Mr. Misch’s memoir, “Der Letzte Zeuge” (“The Last Witness”), published in German in 2008, confirmed the death to The Associated Press.

In the spring of 1945, Mr. Misch was one of the few members of Hitler’s inner circle to take up residence with him in the bunker, beneath the chancellery, the government headquarters in Berlin.

In the bunker, Mr. Misch was present for the hasty marriage of Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun; their suicides soon afterward; and the murder by Magda Goebbels, the wife of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, of the six Goebbels children.

To the end of his life, Mr. Misch — who was a Soviet prisoner of war before returning to Germany in the mid-1950s — remained to all appearances a devoted admirer of the man he called “the boss.”

“Even now,” The Toronto Star wrote in 1995, “Rochus Misch’s eyes still take on a special shine whenever he speaks his name.”

Interviewing Mr. Misch in 2003, The Sunday Express, the British newspaper, put it more bluntly, calling him “the most unrepentant and unapologetic Hitler supporter you could ever have the misfortune to meet.”

The paper quoted him as saying: “It was a good time with Hitler. I enjoyed it, and I was proud to work for him.”

Mr. Misch’s newspaper interviews, his appearance in European television documentaries and the publication of his memoir made him a minor celebrity, a role he seemed to relish.

At his home in a working-class Berlin suburb, he received a stream of fan mail, to which he replied with autographed pictures of himself in his S.S. uniform.

In a 2005 article, wrote of Mr. Misch’s habit, in old age, of showing up unannounced at the site of Hitler’s bunker, where he addressed visiting tourists:

“Hello! Hello! Don’t you know me?” he cried. “I’m Misch! I was there!”

Rochus Misch was born on July 29, 1917, in Alt Schalkowitz in Upper Silesia, then part of Imperial Germany and now part of Poland. He was orphaned young — his father was killed in World War I; his mother died of pneumonia in 1920 — and was reared by his grandparents.

Mr. Misch joined the S.S. in 1937. Two years later, he was shot and wounded during the Nazis’ Polish campaign. Recovering, he was invited to become, with Johannes Hentschel, one of Hitler’s two chief bodyguards and assistants.

The two men were tasked with accompanying Hitler everywhere. Some duties were purely social: Mr. Misch once served tea to a visiting Leni Riefenstahl, the maker of Nazi propaganda films.

In late April 1945, as the Soviet Army neared Berlin, Mr. Misch retreated to the bunker with Mr. Hentschel, Hitler and a few others. Mr. Hentschel operated the air, water and lights, Mr. Misch the telephones, taking charge of the switchboard that connected Hitler to his men outside.

On April 28, Mr. Misch saw Goebbels and Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, enter the bunker with a third man. The man was a civil magistrate, who married Hitler and Braun in the early hours of the 29th.

“The marriage was over by about 2:30 a.m., and I wondered how I would address her — Mrs. Hitler?” Mr. Misch told The Sunday Express.

It was a moot question. On April 30, knowing their cause was lost, the couple committed suicide — Hitler with a gunshot to the temple, Braun with poison.

“I didn’t hear the shots myself because I was working on the telephones,” Mr. Misch told the news service Agence France-Presse in 2005. “But then I heard someone shout, ‘Linge, Linge, I think it has happened.’ ” (Heinz Linge was Hitler’s valet.)

On May 1, Mr. Misch watched Magda Goebbels lead her children, dressed in white nightgowns — “like a duck with six ducklings,” he later said — up a staircase to the bunker’s upper level.

There the children were given a sedative, after which Mrs. Goebbels broke cyanide capsules into their mouths. Then, Mr. Misch recalled, she sat at a table, playing solitaire and drinking champagne. She and her husband killed themselves shortly afterward.

On May 2, Mr. Misch fled the bunker and was captured by Soviet troops. He spent the next nine years in prison camps in the Soviet Union.

Resettling in West Germany in 1954, Mr. Misch ran a paint and wallpaper store — an occupation hauntingly reminiscent of his mentor, who was said to have plied a similar trade in Austria before his rise to power.

In interviews, Mr. Misch was often asked whether he had heard Hitler speak of the Third Reich’s murder of six million Jews. He always replied in the negative.

“I ask you,” he said in the Salon interview, “if Hitler really did all the terrible things people now say he did, how could he have been our Führer? How is it possible?”

Mr. Misch’s wife, Gerda, whom he married in 1942, died in 1997. In 2009, the BBC quoted their daughter, Brigitta Jacob-Engelken, as saying that she had been told by her maternal grandmother that Gerda Misch was originally Jewish.

“He is still saying, ‘No, I won’t believe that!’ ” Ms. Jacob-Engelken, describing her father, then 92, told the BBC. “But I know it from my grandma.”

Ms. Jacob-Engelken, an architect who lives in Germany and who has long been estranged from her father, is among his survivors. According to the BBC report, Ms. Jacob-Engelken learned Hebrew and lived for a time on an Israeli kibbutz. In Germany, her work has included the restoration of local synagogues.

Mr. Misch in his S.S. uniform in Poland in 1944. His interviews and appearance in documentaries, as well as the publication of his memoir, made him a minor celebrity.

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