For those of us regularly glued to The Discovery or History Channels (the latter when it happily showed historical documentaries from World War Two rather than their strange current scheduling of anything but historical programmes), his face was a regular on our screens as an important interviewee when documenting the life of Adolf Hitler being, as he was, one of the last surviving members of the Führerbunker and possibly the last to actually witness the Führer’s body in May 1945… But last week, on September 5th at the ripe old age of 96 and sadly following a long illness, Hitler’s last remaining bodyguard, Rochus Misch, died in Berlin.
Born in Silesia, Misch joined the SS Verfüngstruppe in 1937 and thence Hitler’s Bodyguard Division, the Leibstandarte-SS having won the Iron Cross 2nd Class in action in the Polish campaign in 1939. At various points during his years of military service throughout WW-II, his duties included accompanying the Führer as part of a 6-man bodyguard and could be seen in one of the accompanying cars following Hitler that you often see on the German Newsreels.
When serving at the Reich’s Chancellery in the German capital, two of the close bodyguard team would man the permanently busy ‘phones and Misch would revert to his secondary career as radio-operator to share the rota and his military life was permanently spent on Hitler’s closet staff roster in Berlin. So it was that on January 16th 1945, following Germany’s heavy defeat during the Battle of The Bulge in the Belgian Ardennes, Hitler moved his entire entourage, including all SS-Leibstandarte personnel, underground into the Führerbunker, Misch included, where he continued to work as a radio operator on the Fuhrer’s personal staff deep from within his subterranean radio-room…
Thus he now stayed almost permanently underground until war’s end in May 1945 and was therefore witness to the unravelling of the Third Reich and then Hitler’s last-minute marriage to his mistress Eva Braun, as well as the deterioration in the Fuhrer’s mental & physical health as the Russian Forces steadily pressed forward from the East and the capital withered under constant Soviet bombardment, whilst in the West Allied Forces continued their inexorable push across Germany..
In these turbulent last days, Misch was regularly on duty handling all personal radio traffic in and out of the Bunker complex and in the direct environs when, on April 20th, Adolf Hitler & Eva Braun jointly committed suicide and thence again on May 1st when Propagandaminister Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda horrifyingly poisoned all 6 of their children before both taking their own lives shortly after.
At the Third Reich’s dramatic end, only two Leibstandarte-SS personnel were believed to remain on duty in the Bunker: Rochus Misch and Johannes Hentschel, but Misch managed to escape from underground on May 2nd only hours before the Red Army finally broke through and surrounded the Bunker. Captured and sent transported back East to the notorious Lubyanka Prison in Moscow he was tortured by Russian Forces desperate for details of Hitler’s personal life.
Surviving such appalling treatment, he was to spend the next 9 years incarcerated in Soviet Labour Camps before his eventual release in the early 1950s, along with a number of others, (many thousands of former Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS prisoners having died in Russian captivity), to return to Germany and his wife & family in the leafy Berlin suburb of Rudow.
After several years of doing odd jobs, financial backing from a supporter allowed him to set up a successful painting & wallpaper business which he continued to run very successfully up until his retirement. However with the uncovering of the Führerbunker in 1990 during building work just after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Misch became an ‘in-demand’ witness by the media to those last days in the Führerbunker, and his appearances increased even more so after the deaths of Siegfried Knappe, Bernd von Freytag-Loringhoven, (a respected figure many will recognise from TV interviews), and Hitler Youth Courier Armin Lehmann. Togther with these three, Rochus Misch made up the last 4 surviving military staff members who had served down in the Bunker.
In recent years, before illness overtook him, Misch had become something of a ‘celebrity’ in his own right and was regularly consulted by film & documentary makers for insights on his service with Adolf Hitler and the final catastrophic days of the Third Reich down in the Bunker. When asked for his views, he freely ventured that the German leader was ‘no brute and no monster…very normal and certainly not as was written about him… in fact he was a wonderful boss!’
Rochus Misch’s memoirs were published under the title, Der letzte Zeuge (The Last Witness), in 2008 and after the diagnosis of his terminal illness, gave his last interview to an English national newspaper in May 2011, almost 68 years to the day that he last saw Hitler’s charred remains as he exited the Führerbunker for the last time..
Talking of Hitler, I just caught the last half hour of a new French, 2-part documentary production here on UK television on Sunday evening entitled Adolf Hitler – The Colour Years, which I eagerly looked forward to… that was until I realised that, yet again, the producers had decided it would be a real hoot to colourise original war-time 16mm black & white footage! Just why on earth do they feel compelled to do this..apart from the fact it is also inherently dishonest..? Along with the earlier First World War and thence the later Korean War, these 3 wars were ostensibly ‘fought in black & white’… and to my way of thinking should remain so for later historians and students of the subject..
It is always a cause for celebration on the very rare occasion that original colour Agfa 16mm film footage turns up, (and is therefore an exciting & stunning colour window onto a war), but I find that messing about with the original B & W footage is one of the most annoying things as a viewer looking in and of late has absolutely ruined my enjoyment of what should be good documentaries supported by well researched film footage. Instead of being impressed I find my mind wandering as I gaze at the horrendous greens & blue hues that the colourisers have managed to wash the film footage with… it may all be technically very clever but, for me, it does absolutely nothing for the documentary storyline… quite the opposite in fact!
That said, some of the footage in this new two-parter does look like original colour material and the actual telling of Hitler’s early days is rather well done and has offered some additional facts to the standard telling, which I had not come across before in all of my years of study. If the researchers are right, the early uniforms of the Sturm Abteilung (Hitler’s first bodyguard) were bankrupt stock bought up by the fledgling Nazi Party from the Hungarian Customs Service, (which would make sense, if you take a close look at the uniforms, particularly the kepis). Plus a certain Henry Ford used to donate all the profits from his German-based car manufacturing plants to the early Nazi Rallies..!
Both facts of which I had not stumbled across before..just goes to show, ‘you learn something every day’!!
Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013