BERLIN — He was Adolf Hitler’s devoted bodyguard for most of World War II and the last remaining witness to the Nazi leader’s final hours in his Berlin bunker. To the very end, SS Staff Sgt. Rochus Misch was proud of it all.
For years, he accompanied Hitler nearly everywhere he went, sticking by the man he affectionately called “boss” until the dictator and his wife, Eva Braun, killed themselves as defeat at the hands of the Allies drew nearer. The loyal SS officer remained in what he called the “coffin of concrete” for days after Hitler’s death, finally escaping as Berlin crumbled around him and the Soviets swarmed the city.
Even in his later years, during a 2005 interview with The Associated Press in which he recounted Hitler’s claustrophobic, chaotic final days, Misch still cut the image of an SS man. He had a rigid posture, broad shoulders, neatly combed white hair — and no apologies for his close relationship with the most reviled man of the 20th century.
“He was no brute. He was no monster. He was no superman,” Misch said.
The 96-year-old Misch died Thursday, one of the last of a generation that bears direct responsibility for German brutality during World War II. In his interview with the AP, he stayed away from the central questions of guilt and responsibility, saying he knew nothing of the murder of 6 million Jews and that Hitler never brought up the Final Solution in his presence.
“That was never a topic,” he said emphatically. “Never.”
In the forward to the English-language version of his book, “The Last Witness” — due for publication in October — he wrote that it was a different “reality” then and he never asked questions during what he considered just his “regular day at work.”
In the AP interview, he appeared to have little empathy for those he did not directly know, and even for some he did.
Misch was moved nearly to tears when talking about Joseph and Magda Goebbels’ decision to kill their six children in the Berlin bunker before committing suicide themselves. But he was also able to guffaw about a family friend, “a real lefty,” being thrown into the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside Berlin and noting upon his release that “the paper shirts (at the camp) were uncomfortable.”
Born July 29, 1917, in the tiny Silesian town of Alt Schalkowitz, in what today is Poland, Misch was orphaned at an early age.
Against the backdrop of the bloody Russian revolution and the rise of Stalin, combined with the post-World War I popularity of the Communist Party in Germany, Misch said he decided at 20 to join the SS — an organization he saw as a counterweight to the threat from the left.
He signed up for the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, a Berlin-based unit that originally was founded as the Fuehrer’s personal bodyguard.
In 2005, Sitting at his table next to a pile of mail from “fans” to whom he sent autographed photographs of himself in full SS uniform outside the Wolf’s Lair, he leafed through his well-thumbed photo album remembering his days with the most infamous people in recent history.
“Here is Hitler — my boss — Eva, a friend of Eva …,” he said. “Very normal. Not like what is written.”