Last remaining witness to Hitler's final hours dies aged 96

BERLIN, Germany -- The last remaining
witness to Adolf Hitler's final hours in
his Berlin bunker, Rochus Misch, who
also served as the fuhrer's devoted
bodyguard for most of World War II
died Thursday, aged 96.
Burkhard Nachtigall, who helped him
write his 2008 memoir, told The
Associated Press in an email that Misch
passed away after a short illness.
Misch remained proud to the end
about his years with Hitler, whom he
affectionately called "boss."
In a 2005 interview with The AP, Misch
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 around their bunker in
Berlin.
"He was no brute. He was no monster.
He was no superman," Misch said.
Born July 29, 1917, in the tiny Silesian
town of Alt Schalkowitz, in what today
is Poland, Misch was orphaned at an
early age. At age 20, he decided to join
the SS — an organization that he saw
as a counterweight to a rising threat
from the left. He signed up for the
Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, a unit
that was founded to serve as 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 Sept. 1, 1939, Misch found
himself in the vanguard, as his SS
division was attached to a regular army
unit for the blitzkrieg attack.
John Macdougall / AFP/Getty Images
Rochus Misch, the last remaining wi
to Adolf Hitler's death, died Thursd
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 he went — including his
Alpine retreat in Berchtesgaden and his
forward "Wolf's Lair" headquarters.
He lived between the Fuehrer's
apartments in the New Reich
Chancellery and the home in a
working-class Berlin neighborhood
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 the last days of Hitler's life, Misch
followed him to live underground,
protected by the so-called
Fuehrerbunker's heavily reinforced
concrete ceilings and walls.
"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 tried
desperately to cobble together a
defense of the capital with the ragtag
remains of the 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."
Following the German surrender on
May 7, Misch was taken to the Soviet
Union where he spent the next nine
years in prisoner of war camps before
being allowed to return to Berlin in
1954.
He reunited with his wife Gerda, whom
he had married in 1942 and who died
in 1997, and opened a store.
At age 87, when he talked with the AP,
Misch still cut the image of an SS man,
with a rigid posture, broad shoulders
and neatly combed white hair.
He stayed away from questions of guilt
or responsibility for the Holocaust,
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."