Until the last few years of his long life, Rochus Misch, was just another typical, hard-working German shop-keeper, selling art supplies to a small and specialized market, standing perhaps a few centimeters taller than most men, but otherwise worthy of no special attention in post-war Germany. He had always been known as a quiet, unassuming and very private person, whose wife Gerda, a prominent mid-level political figure and government employee was by far the better-known. The task of being “invisible” was made easier inasmuch as he hadn’t returned to “modern-day” West Germany until 1953 when he was finally released by the Russians after nine years of torture and imprisonment in that country’s infamous Gulag.
There were a number of good reasons for Misch’s anonymity: not only had he worn the uniform of the Waffen-SS after first being badly wounded in Poland as a Wehrmacht soldier in the first months of war, but had thereafter been assigned as a member of Hitler’s personal Bodyguard. Beyond that, only a few knew he had been one of the last survivors to emerge from the underground Führerbunker, and perhaps the only person still living to have personally seen Hitler before he and his new bride, Eva Braun died by suicide. (After 1953, and upon the death of one other, he was without question the only survivor.) Once that fact circled the globe, he was barraged by phone calls, visitors and the media looking for interviews and personal accounts. Forced to do what he had vowed never to do, he wrote a memoir of his experiences which was published in German in 2008. With the help of a highly-qualified team of translators and historians, the English language version emerged just months after his death in 2014.(*) To the translated version of the original manuscript, the English language team added a wealth of footnotes and explanations, indicating they had gone to extremes in an effort to coordinate the author’s claims with actual historic fact, and – here and there – some facts that couldn’t be verified in every minute detail; and details are everywhere in Misch’s account. For one who was not a scholar, and who was in no position to make notes, his memory is extraordinary.
If I had the space in this article, I could easily expend 2000 words in explaining why I find the author and his story to be of extreme credibility; more accurate than the work of a host of more famous and even “storied” historical writers whose books line several shelves in my extensive WWII library.
For one thing he had the innate ability to be present without “being present”. He stood at Hitler’s side almost wherever the man he called “his boss” went, and with whomever among the world’s most famous or infamous figures he might be meeting. Misch was entirely apolitical, was never a party member, and while faultlessly loyal to Germany and its leader, never saw his role to either question or judge the world-shaking events going on around him (although he “knew” the war was lost before most of his comrades”.)
Despite his official need to “be silent, do everything you’re told, and never question anything ‘the boss’ says”, Misch was a meticulous observer of human behavior. Among the more interesting of his long-term observations is the assertion that everyone’s favorite member of the Führer household was Eva Braun. Always cheerful, infectiously happy and glowing, perfectly dressed and proud of her bearing, she was devoted to Hitler, who twice sent her out of the bunker to save her from capture. She returned on her own.
One member of the Hitler inner circle much-maligned by all of us in the “Allied World” but uniformly liked and trusted by staff and servants was Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Reichminister of propaganda and an insider since the Munich days. His love for and comradeship with his six children lent a homelike sense of “family” to bunker life. (It was Goebbels’ wife Magda who insisted on taking them with her in suicide.) On the other hand, no one among the guard detail and immediate staff employees liked or trusted Heinrich Himmler or Martin Borman, nor could they figure how Albert Speer had managed to insinuate himself so close to the Führer as to be almost his shadow.
While Rochus Misch, an orphan from Silesia never held a rank higher than Obersharführer (Sgt.), his intimate and detailed memoir of his five years at Hitler’s side is an illuminating insight into Adolph Hitler’s last days in the claustrophobic underground Berlin Bunker where the Third Reich came to an end.
Although a soldier of modest rank, Obersharführer Rochus Mish took pride in his tailor-made uniforms and turnout gear. At the end, he alone handled all of Hitler’s phone communications.
(*) HITLER’S LAST WITNESS Frontline Books, London