Adolf Hitler’s Last Bodyguard…

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

The Horst Wessel Song…

The most important and instantly recognisable song in the history of Nazi Germany, and a call-to-arms second only to that of the German National Anthem, ‘Die Fahne Hoch!’ (later more commonly known as the Horst Wessel Song), was to become synonymous with the Third Reich… though the somewhat seedy and tawdry history that lay behind it was hardly the stuff of heroic Wagnerian legend!

However it is one of the most commonly sought-after songs from The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive, either by III Reich music collectors or television documentary producers needing original and authentic sound-tracks for their Nazi-era documentaries, and which we are happy to supply either from our CD: The Military Music of Hitler’s Leibstandarte-SSor from our album  Lieder der Sturmabteilung und Hitlerjugend which each contain a superb and differing vocal version of this stirring track..

But the story actually began way back in Berlin of the late 1920s, a city that was swiftly turning into an arena for running street battles between the fledgling Nazi Sturm Abteilung and the Communists of the Red Front (Rotfrontkämpferbund). This played into the hands of Josef Goebbels, the newly appointed Gauleiter of the Nazi Party, who was successful in attracting new converts to the cause by portraying his SA bully-boys as the victims of unprovoked and vicious attacks by Communist supporters in his written articles for the Berlin newspaper ‘Der Angriff’ (The Attack).

One of those recruits was Horst Wessel, the 19 year-old law student, son of an eminent Berlin preacher, who, following his father’s death in 1926, turned his back on a comfortable, middle-class background, joined the SA and set about living out his life amongst the poor & working classes of the strongly Communist Friedrichshain district of Berlin. As talented an orator as his mentor, Goebbels, Horst Wessel’s political career took off, and he was soon promoted Sturmführer of SA-Sturm 5; then one night in 1929, whilst returning home from leading his men in yet another clash on the streets of Berlin with the Red Front, he saw a young girl, 18 year old Erna Jaenicke, being assaulted and rushed to her aid.

Despite it transpiring that Erna was actually a Berlin prostitute, it was love at first sight for them both, and she soon gave up her profession for Horst, left her pimp, and the pair of them moved in together, lodging with a 30 year-old widow of a former member of the Rotfrontkämpferbund, Elisabeth Saln. However the couple clashed with widow Saln over late rent payments, and to such an extent that she eventually decided to evict them, with the help of her late husband’s Red Front comrades; so it was that on the evening of January 14th, 1930, twelve men turned up at their lodgings at Grosse Frankfurter Strasse 62.

An unsuspecting Horst Wessel opened the door to be confronted by the group which included, by sheer chance, the figure of Erna’s former pimp, 32 year-old Albrecht Hohler who, on seeing his lost source of income sitting in the flat, flew into a rage, pulled out a pistol and shot Horst in the mouth. Refusing the summoned medical help, because the doctor was a Jew, Horst was transferred to hospital in a critical state. This was the chance to create the Nazi martyr Goebbels had sought and Der Angriff’ printed daily bulletins of the failing health of the young Nazi, elevating him to the status of saint by referring to him as a ‘Socialist Christ’!

Joseph Goebbels was helped in his ‘canonisation’ of the ailing SA Sturmführer by the fact that Horst Wessel, in addition to being a powerful orator, was also a poet having written ‘Raise high the Flag’ (Die Fahne Hoch), which Goebbels now had set to the melody of an old traditional German marching song:

Raise high the flag, close the ranks,

the SA marches with a calm, determined step.

Comrades shot by the Red Front

and reactionaries are marching in spirit with us in our ranks.

The streets clear for the brown battalions.

The streets clear for the storm-troopers.

The Swastikas sparkle with hope for millions.

The day of freedom and bread is breaking.

The attack signal will sound for the last time.

We are ready for the fight.

Soon Hitler’s flags will wave over every street.

The misery will soon be over.

Just the rallying cry that Goebbels needed to promote the cause, and he ordered that it now be sung as a part of the regular programme of Nazi rituals; meanwhile Horst himself had contracted blood-poisoning as a result of his terrible wounds, deteriorated rapidly and died on February 23rd 1930, whereupon Goebbels commented:

‘his spirit has risen in order to live on in all of us. He is marching in our ranks…’

At his funeral the cortege, (stoned by Communist on-lookers), was escorted by S.A. storm-troopers and as the S.A. roll call was read out by the graveside, at the mention of Horst Wessel’s name, the entire escort came together to loudly reply ‘here’!

A Nazi martyr had been born and Horst Wessel’s place in the pantheon of Third Reich folk-lore was assured, with some 250 biographies & and plays eventually being written about him.

In addition town squares all over Germany were re-named in his honour so ensuring that his song: Die Fahne Hoch’ would eventually become the internationally famous Nazi anthem, inextricably linked forever with The Thousand Year Reich…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013