Rochus Misch was born in Stare Siołkowice near Opole, on 29th July 1917. His father was killed while fighting in the First World War. His mother died of pneumonia in 1920 and he was brought up by his grandparents.
In 1937, Misch joined the Schutzstaffel (SS). Misch later claimed the reasons for this was not because he was a fascist but for other reasons: “It (SS) was anti-communist, against Stalin - to protect Europe. I signed up in the war against Bolshevism, not for Adolf Hitler.”
Misch was seriously wounded in September 1939 at the Battle of Modlin. Misch was awarded the Iron Cross (Second Class) and because he was the last living member of his family, his company leader recommended him to serve away from the front-line. It was decided that Misch should serve as a member of the Leibstandarte SS, a unit that protected Adolf Hitler. As a junior member of Hitler's permanent bodyguard, Misch travelled with Hitler throughout the Second World War. According to Joseph Charlton: "His duties included answering telephones, greeting top officials and carrying out personal errands for Hitler – including, in one instance, delivering flowers from the Nazi leader to one of his favourite actresses."
Rochus Misch later told Ida Hattemer-Higgens: "Hitler, to me, was always a completely normal person. He spoke completely normally to me. I lived together with him for five years. I only knew him as a wonderfully good boss, right? I could talk with him. He was always satisfied with us.... He was never authoritarian. And we were with him day and night; we knew him. He was never without us, day and night. If he wanted something in the night, his servant was asleep, so he called one of us. If he wanted to be awoken an hour later, or to call Eva anything. We just had a wonderful boss. We couldn’t have wished for better. When I was married he had a case of champagne delivered to my house."
Misch claims that in May 1941 he was at Berchtesgaden with Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess . According to Misch: “He (Hitler) was talking to Hess, when somebody brought in a dispatch. The Führer read it and exclaimed: 'I cannot go there and go down on my knees!’ Hess replied: 'I can, my Führer.’ At the time a German diplomat was meeting the Swedish emissary, Count Bernadotte, in Portugal. The British were very active in Lisbon, so I think there might have been some peace offer from London.” It is impossible to know if Misch is right about this as the official British documents relating to it are still classified.
On 16th January 1945, following the Wehrmacht's defeat in the Battle of the Bulge, Misch and the rest of Hitler's personal staff moved into the Führerbunker in Berlin. It was Misch who had the responsibility of directing all of the direct communication from the bunker. The situation became so desperate that on 22nd April he sent his two secretaries, Christa Schroeder and Johanna Wolf, away in a car. Schroeder later recalled: "He received us in his room looking tired, pale and listless. "Over the last four days the situation has changed to such an extent that I find myself forced to disperse my staff. As you are the longest serving, you will go first. In an hour a car leaves for Munich."
Rochus Misch remained with Adolf Hitler. He recalled how, on 30th April, 1945, Hitler locked himself in his room with Eva Braun: “Everyone was waiting for the shot. We were expecting it.... Then came the shot. Heinz Linge took me to one side and we went in. I saw Hitler slumped by the table. I didn’t see any blood on his head. And I saw Eva with her knees drawn up lying next to him on the sofa – wearing a white and blue blouse, with a little collar: just a little thing.”
Misch was also a witness to the deaths of Joseph Goebbels, Magda Goebbels and their six children on 1st May, 1945. Goebbels told him: “Well, Misch, we knew how to live. Now we know how to die." Misch claimed: "Then he and Frau Goebbels processed arm-in-arm up the stairs to the garden... The children were prepared for their deaths in my work room. Their mother combed their hair - they were all dressed in white nightshirts - and then she went up with the children. Dr Nauman told me that Dr Ludwig Stumpfegger would give the kids 'candy water’. I realised what was going to happen immediately. I had seen Dr Stumpfegger successfully test poison on Blondi, the Führer’s dog.”
After the deaths of Hitler and Goebbels, Misch fled the bunker. He was soon captured by the Red Army and taken to Lubyanka Prison. It is claimed that Joseph Stalin refused to believe that Adolf Hitler was dead and he was therefore tortured for evidence about the Führer’s whereabouts. At one point, Misch wrote to the Soviet secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, asking to be shot, so unbearable was the torture. He spent six years in the gulags before being released in 1954 under an amnesty agreed by Nikita Khrushchev.
Misch returned to live just two miles from the Führerbunker in Berlin. He ran a painting and wallpaper business before retiring in 1983. In his retirement he wrote his autobiography, The Last Witness (2008). Misch created a great deal of controversy when he argued: "Hitler was no brute. He was no monster. He was no superman. 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... Hitler was a wonderful boss.”
Misch was always willing to be interviewed by the media. The Toronto Star wrote in 1995: “Even now, Rochus Misch’s eyes still take on a special shine whenever he speaks his name.” The Sunday Express quoted him as saying in 2003: “It was a good time with Hitler. I enjoyed it, and I was proud to work for him.” The interviewer described Misch as “the most unrepentant and unapologetic Hitler supporter you could ever have the misfortune to meet.”
Rochus Misch died in Berlin on 5th September 2013 at the age of 96.
After the war, Misch was taken into custody by the Red Army; he spent nine years enduring torture in a Soviet prison camp and returned to Germany in 1954 (to the East) to find it a divided country with citizens confusingly “reeducated,” as he puts it, this being his code word for no longer worshipping der Führer. Since then he has lived an anonymous existence in the Berlin suburb of Rudow. Previously he and his wife ran a small home-decorating shop and together raised their daughter, Birgitta. Since his wife died in 1998 he has lived alone. His daughter put her children in a Jewish school in Frankfurt. She chooses not to see him anymore.
Before “Downfall” was released, Misch’s public persona was limited to solo visits to the site of Hitler’s bunker — and this is how I found him. I give walking tours of Berlin, which frequently take me to this windswept, out-of-the-way corner, frequented almost exclusively by English-language tour groups. (It’s a little too macabre for the Germans.) One day an old man was hanging around, and my lecture on the last days of Hitler was interrupted by the cry, “Hello! Hello! Don’t you know me? I’m Misch! I was there!”
He has also had an Internet presence, providing a “celebrity” endorsement for a mix CD of Bavarian music he allegedly helped put together, to benefit aging veterans of the Waffen-SS. (No government benefits for them.) I met with Misch for this interview in the little house he has lived in since 1942. He has a towering frame and broad shoulders even today; clearly he was a physically ideal member of the Waffen-SS. Repetitive and self-absorbed, he has a lonely old man’s slightly doddering conviviality and tends to repeat himself. Although I mentioned at the beginning of the interview that I was an American, he forgot this quickly in favor of his preferred nationality: British. The interior of his house seems to have been embalmed in the 1940s; likewise, Misch’s worldview.
I’ve translated the interview from the German. I asked Misch first about his memories of the death of Hitler:
I was standing in the hallway when Hitler took his own life. Because I wanted to go over to the Reichs Chancellery for lunch [the Reichs Chancellery was connected to the Führerbunker by a tunnel], and a colleague had already taken over for me in the telephone room. I was standing in the hallway, asking in the neighboring room if I should bring anything back with me. The other guy said, “No, no, I have everything already,” and it was then someone called, someone … [he searches for the name] ah, it was Linge, Linge, Hitler’s butler. He said, “I think it’s done.” He had heard it.
But of course we were always making mistakes. Our ears played tricks. Down there in the bunker, any loud noise echoing through the concrete sounded like a gunshot. There was so much suspense. We had been waiting, expecting it any minute, for hours. And yet we weren’t sure. Because of course, there was always the possibility of a miracle. The miracle would have been England. If England had said, it’s not Hitler that’s our biggest enemy, rather Bolshevism, they could have rolled right by Berlin all the way to Moscow. Churchill himself said later, “We slaughtered the wrong pig.”
And after you realized Hitler was dead?
Well, there was perfect silence. We waited. We waited maybe 20 minutes. But Linge was curious. I was curious. I still don’t remember whether it was Linge or Günsche who first opened the door to Hitler’s rooms, but one of the two. I was really curious and came forward a few steps. Then somebody opened the second door — I still don’t know who it was, probably Linge. And it was then, as the second door opened, I saw Hitler, dead, lying on a chair. Eva [Braun] on the couch completely clothed. In a dark dress and white, white skin. She was lying back.
So then I said to them, “I’m going to run over and report to the commanding officer.” And they said, annoyed, “Well, come right back.” So I told them, “Yeah, sure. I’m just saying: I’m a soldier. I have a command to carry out.” Then I was on my way over to the Reichs Chancellery, already in the passageway, but I had an uncanny feeling, very scared and uncertain, so I turned around. When I got back they already had Hitler down on the floor. I watched them packing him up, in a blanket. Well, so it went. Then they carried him out, and I went away finally and made the communication to the commanding officer. A little later, one of my comrades said, “If you want, go on up outside, the boss is getting burned.” You know, just as planned. And I said, “No, I’m not going up. You go up!” But he said, “No, I’m not going up either, I’m getting out of here.” So neither of us went to the cremation.
Do you remember your feelings when you realized Hitler was dead?
We were expecting it. It didn’t come as a surprise. We were living in another world at that point. We had so many feelings, fear, hope — I can’t describe it. We had habituated ourselves to the idea of the end. We had a feeling as if we were drunk. To put it bluntly, we didn’t give a damn, finally. Nothing made a hell of a lot of difference at that point.
Were you afraid of the future?
One of the guys said to me, “Maybe we’ll be shot?” I said, “Why in the world would we be shot?” He said, “The head of the Gestapo was here. He never comes here. Why was he here? Maybe they’ll shoot all the witnesses, everyone who knows the boss is dead.”
And you know, in fact, they did shoot people. During the burning, two civilians showed up out of nowhere. There was a wall — on the other side was the Foreign Office, and people were crawling around the city everywhere, running away from the Russians at the time. And those civilians were shot by the Gestapo. They had seen too much. However, in the end they turned out to be a couple of Poles.
The bodyguard also denied he had any knowledge of the Holocaust during his five years of service in the SS, insisting that Hitler never discussed the Final Solution in his presence.
“That was never a topic,” he said. “Never.”
Even after the war, Misch appeared to have little empathy for the victims of the Holocaust, yet in 2005 was nearly moved to tears when probed on Joseph and Magda Goebbels’s decision to kill their six children in the Berlin bunker, before committing suicide themselves.
Misch was present for the last ten days of Hitler’s life, and was one of the group who discovered the dictator’s body on 30 April 1945, having elected to follow him underground to the Berlin bunker, or – as he called it - the “coffin of concrete”.
He remembered that on 22 April - eight days before the Nazi leader’s suicide - Hitler’s despair at the news that two Soviet armies had completed their circumference of Berlin.
“That’s it,” Hitler reportedly said. “The war is lost. Everybody can go.“
But Misch stuck to his post even after Hitler was dead – taking and directing phone calls from Goebbels for days afterwards.
He eventually fled the bunker on 2 May and, following the German surrender, was taken to the Soviet Union, where he spent next nine years in prisoner of war camps.
In 1954 he was allowed to return to Berlin to be reunited with his wife Gerda, with whom he opened a shop.
Still resolutely defiant in 2005, he boasted of the large amount of mail he received from “fans”, saying he responded by sending a signed picture of himself in full SS uniform outside the famous “Wolf's Lair” complex on the eastern front.
Though Misch was probably a reliable witness to the facts, he showed none of the remorse or psychological insight that others exhibited when talking about the Nazi era. To Misch, Hitler remained the kind boss who joked with his staff, loved Charlie Chaplin, children and animals and was so considerate towards others that he married Eva Braun the day before their deaths “solely out of consideration for her parents”....
After the Goebbels met their deaths, Misch was finally free to make a break for home. He managed to make his way to the Friedrichstrasse station, where he ran into Heinz Linge. The two men felt their way through a tunnel under the river Spree: “Through a grating, we saw a group of German soldiers. We couldn’t believe it. We decided to go up and join them. That was it. The soldiers were Red Army prisoners.”
He returned to his two-storey home in the east Berlin suburb of Rudow and to his wife, Gerda, whom he had married in 1942. There he set up a wallpaper and paint business, which he ran until 1983.
Misch remained an uncomfortable reminder of attitudes which many Germans like to believe have been consigned to the history books. In 2005 he was accused of tainting the memories of Holocaust victims after calling for a plaque in memory of the Goebbels children to be placed next to a new Jewish memorial.
After the release of Der Untergang, he was rather pleased to find himself the object of worldwide media attention, and took every opportunity to show interviewers his snapshots of Hitler and Eva Braun in happier days at Berchtesgaden. “It was a good time with Hitler,” he reminisced. “I enjoyed it and I was proud to work for him.”