The Last Witness Recalls: I Saw Hitler Dead
Rochus Misch, 88, is the only person still alive today to have seen the Nazi leader and his wife Eva Braun dead in their bunker deep under the shattered city of Berlin.
April 30, 1945
On the streets of Berlin, Soviet and German forces were locked in the apocalyptic finale to World War II in Europe. Tens of thousands were dying, and whole city blocks were collapsing in rubble. But 30 feet underground, in Adolf Hitler’s bunker, a strange calm had taken hold.
An acclaimed new film dares to present the Führer as more than a cardboard monster. The last man in the bunker, Rochus Misch, talks about the Hitler he knew.
By Ida Hattemer-Higgins
Germany's peculiar post-World War II identity, stretched uncomfortably between self-awareness and denial, is well-illustrated by Rochus Misch and his relationship to the German media. Among the last living relics of the Nazi era, the 87-year-old Misch served as bodyguard, courier and telephone operator in the direct service of Adolf Hitler from 1940 to 1945. And recently he's been rediscovered -- the character of Misch is portrayed in Oliver Hirschbiegel and Bernd Eichinger's movie Downfall, nominee for a best foreign-language Oscar and the most talked-about German film of the decade.
The film's impact, both positive and negative, cannot be understated: It's the first time German cinema has dared to portray Hitler as a complex character rather than a cardboard monster and allowed the fall of the Third Reich to be the stuff of conventional melodrama. In the film, Misch is depicted only briefly; his status in the bunker was low. But with the death of the few other remaining members of Hitler's entourage over the past 10 years, he has gained a new significance: He's now the last living man from the Führerbunker.
Still, "The last man from the Führerbunker" has not received quite the level of media attention one would expect in the wake of the hugely successful film. If he is quoted, it is in short sound bites, or he is passed over entirely. At first, this puzzled me. Given, for example, the recent widespread interest in Hitler's young secretary Traudl Junge, who died in 2002, it seemed strange the German press wasn't pouncing on Misch as wholeheartedly. Just before she died, Junge was the subject of the popular and critically acclaimed documentary Blindspot, in which she describes her life as Hitler's secretary and grapples with intense self-recrimination. Misch, by comparison, has been ignored. But after reading the scanty profiles of Misch in German publications, I began to sense what the problem was, ultimately confirmed when I got to know Misch myself.
Unlike Junge, Misch does no grappling. Instead, occasionally, in one of these dry profiles he makes a little comment. Once he mentions, elliptically, his dislike of the 2000 switch to the euro. A dislike of the euro speaks volumes to those listening: It's a subtle hint of nationalism. It is an oblique nod to other political views preferred to be kept out of the press entirely. The public push to criminalize the neo-Nazi Nationalist German Party, in the wake of its demonstration at the 60th anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden, illustrates the double bind even better.
As the interest in Nazism escalates, the media teeters along a fine line: feeding into it lavishly with the right kind of comfortingly outraged anti-Nazi stories, even as the self-censorship of the culture at large becomes more frantically repressive. (The only thing like it in America remotely comparable may be our simultaneous celebration of multiculturalism and the frequent taboo on open discussions about race.)
After the war, Misch was taken into custody by the Red Army; he spent nine years enduring torture in a Soviet prison camp and returned to Germany in 1954 (to the East) to find it a divided country with citizens confusingly "re-educated," as he puts it, this being his code word for no longer worshipping der Führer. Since then he has lived an anonymous existence in the Berlin suburb of Rudow. Previously he and his wife ran a small home-decorating shop and together raised their daughter, Birgitta. Since his wife died in 1998 he has lived alone. His daughter put her children in a Jewish school in Frankfurt. She chooses not to see him anymore.
Before Downfall was released, Misch's public persona was limited to solo visits to the site of Hitler's bunker -- and this is how I found him. I give walking tours of Berlin, which frequently take me to this windswept, out-of-the-way corner, frequented almost exclusively by English-language tour groups. (It's a little too macabre for the Germans.) One day an old man was hanging around, and my lecture on the last days of Hitler was interrupted by the cry, "Hello! Hello! Don't you know me? I'm Misch! I was there!"
He has also had an Internet presence, providing a "celebrity" endorsement for a mix CD of Bavarian music he allegedly helped put together, to benefit aging veterans of the Waffen-SS. (No government benefits for them.) I met with Misch for this interview in the little house he has lived in since 1942. He has a towering frame and broad shoulders even today; clearly he was a physically ideal member of the Waffen-SS.
Repetitive and self-absorbed, he has a lonely old man's slightly doddering conviviality and tends to repeat himself. Although I mentioned at the beginning of the interview that I was an American, he forgot this quickly in favor of his preferred nationality: British. The interior of his house seems to have been embalmed in the 1940s; likewise, Misch's worldview.
I've translated the interview from the German.
I asked Misch first about his memories of the death of Hitler:
I was standing in the hallway when Hitler took his own life. Because I wanted to go over to the Reichs Chancellery for lunch [the Reichs Chancellery was connected to the Führerbunker by a tunnel], and a colleague had already taken over for me in the telephone room. I was standing in the hallway, asking in the neighboring room if I should bring anything back with me. The other guy said, "No, no, I have everything already," and it was then someone called, someone ... [he searches for the name] ah, it was Linge, Linge, Hitler's butler. He said, "I think it's done." He had heard it. But of course we were always making mistakes. Our ears played tricks. Down there in the bunker, any loud noise echoing through the concrete sounded like a gunshot. There was so much suspense. We had been waiting, expecting it any minute, for hours. And yet we weren't sure. Because of course, there was always the possibility of a miracle. The miracle would have been England. If England had said, it's not Hitler that's our biggest enemy, rather Bolshevism, they could have rolled right by Berlin all the way to Moscow. Churchill himself said later, "We slaughtered the wrong pig."
And after you realized Hitler was dead?
Well, there was perfect silence. We waited. We waited maybe 20 minutes. But Linge was curious. I was curious. I still don't remember whether it was Linge or Günsche who first opened the door to Hitler's rooms, but one of the two. I was really curious and came forward a few steps. Then somebody opened the second door -- I still don't know who it was, probably Linge. And it was then, as the second door opened, I saw Hitler, dead, lying on a chair. Eva [Braun] on the couch completely clothed. In a dark dress and white, white skin. She was lying back. So then I said to them, "I'm going to run over and report to the commanding officer." And they said, annoyed, "Well, come right back." So I told them, "Yeah, sure. I'm just saying: I'm a soldier. I have a command to carry out." Then I was on my way over to the Reichs Chancellery, already in the passageway, but I had an uncanny feeling, very scared and uncertain, so I turned around. When I got back they already had Hitler down on the floor. I watched them packing him up, in a blanket. Well, so it went. Then they carried him out, and I went away finally and made the communication to the commanding officer. A little later, one of my comrades said, "If you want, go on up outside, the boss is getting burned." You know, just as planned. And I said, "No, I'm not going up. You go up!" But he said, "No, I'm not going up either, I'm getting out of here." So neither of us went to the cremation.
Do you remember your feelings when you realized Hitler was dead?
We were expecting it. It didn't come as a surprise. We were living in another world at that point. We had so many feelings, fear, hope -- I can't describe it. We had habituated ourselves to the idea of the end. We had a feeling as if we were drunk. To put it bluntly, we didn't give a damn, finally. Nothing made a hell of a lot of difference at that point. Were you afraid of the future? One of the guys said to me, "Maybe we'll be shot?" I said, "Why in the world would we be shot?" He said, "The head of the Gestapo was here. He never comes here. Why was he here? Maybe they'll shoot all the witnesses, everyone who knows the boss is dead." And you know, in fact, they did shoot people. During the burning, two civilians showed up out of nowhere. There was a wall -- on the other side was the Foreign Office, and people were crawling around the city everywhere, running away from the Russians at the time. And those civilians were shot by the Gestapo. They had seen too much. However, in the end they turned out to be a couple of Poles.
Yes, they checked their papers. They were Polish, trying to run away. How they got there, gosh, I don't know. Is that probable, that they were Poles? Well, they had the passports. One of my comrades from the police commando told me. I know it's strange, but they were Poles. [Misch is silent.]
Right. I'd like to talk a little bit about the new movie portrayal of those last days in the bunker. Have you seen "Downfall"?
Oh, yeah, I've seen it. [Laughs heartily.] Dramatic operetta. It's all Americanized. All that yelling and screaming; it wasn't like that down there in the bunker. The reality -- it was a death bunker. Everyone whispered down there. A crazy screaming scene never happened.
Hitler never yelled?
Well, at least when the generals were down there, discussing military things, they were very quiet. It's a film, with all the freedoms of a film. It's no documentary.
Are there factual discrepancies, so far as you know?
No, no, just everything exaggerated. Your character in the film is portrayed seriously thinking of killing himself at the very end, after Hitler and Eva Braun are dead, but then at the last minute he decides not to shoot.
Was suicide something you remember considering very seriously?
It was different than in the film. At the very end, I asked myself: Why am I here? What am I doing now that everyone is dead or gone? But nevertheless, I was still there, one of the only ones left in the bunker, just left there to make sure that everything down in the telephone room continued to work. And then Dr. Naumann said to me that another doctor there, Dr. Stumpfegger, would give me something to drink, or a sort of candy. And you thought about taking some kind of medical poison like that? I had always believed -- well yeah, if it's all over, then I have to shoot myself too. And the atmosphere ... at the end, after Hitler was dead, it was so bad. I got a call from General Busse of the 9th Army and he wanted to speak to General Krebs. So I rang through to Krebs and he didn't pick up. So I went to his room and I thought he was sleeping and I tried to wake him, and he fell over. Then I noticed he was dead. I got such a fright! And sitting next to him was Burgdorf. Both of them had taken their own lives. Just before the very end. They were the last of the military, the last people responsible for the military there.
Let's go back in time to your early history: How did you start working as a bodyguard to Hitler?
I was an orphan; both my mother and father died when I was very small. I was the last son, the last of the family, so I wouldn't have been sent to the front, rather behind the lines, to a desk job, supplies and reinforcements, telegraph office, or some such thing. But after I was called up I was injured badly anyway. I was shot in the chest after a failed diplomatic mission in Poland. I was in a convalescent home for a long time, and then came a phone call from the Reichs Chancellery: They needed a young man. At headquarters.
Do you have any particular impressions of Hitler that have stayed with you?
Hitler, to me, was always a completely normal person. He spoke completely normally to me. I lived together with him for five years. I only knew him as a wonderfully good boss, right? I could talk with him. He was always satisfied with us.
How do you think about the recent developments in Germany, the mainstream attempt to come to terms with the Holocaust and on the other hand the modest rise in neo-Nazism since the fall of the Wall?
Next to the site of the bunker they're putting up the big memorial. [The colossal central Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by American architect Peter Eisenman and composed of 2,700 concrete slabs, opens in May 2005.] Two thousand seven hundred concrete blocks; they're allowed that. But I say, how would it be if over there around the corner by the bunker, we put in six blocks, just six? The children of Göbbels were murdered, killed, consciously murdered. Couldn't they be honored, the children? It won't do them any good now, but at the very least we could honor them, put up a sign that says here died six murdered children. Two thousand seven hundred, but six children can't be honored?
Um, the murder of the children was terrible, but for every one of them, 1 million Jews were killed with less reason, to say nothing of the many, many others who died at the hands of the Nazis.
That may be. But I ask you, if Hitler really did all the terrible things people now say he did, how could he have been our Führer? How is it possible?
The million-dollar question. But I do think you'll admit that if there were a memorial to the Göbbels children, it would become a magnet for neo-Nazis.
Ach, "neo-Nazi." No such thing. What does "neo-Nazi" mean? New Nazi, right? There aren't any. That's just a buzzword. What you have are nationally conscious people, people who say, "my fatherland, right or wrong." My fatherland, nothing more, am I right? You British say it, the Swiss say it, the Israelis say it -- "My country," they say. And I'll fight for it. The Israelis are nationalistic people, they defend their region, they defend their people. They have as much right as anyone. The whole Iraq war isn't about Saddam Hussein, it's about Israel. Israel can't exist on avocados and oranges! A nation lives from business. They have to have money. And the Americans always pay in. This is just my opinion, but why did they occupy Iraq? Supposedly because of atomic bombs? [Laughs.] In my opinion, Iraq is a wealthy oil region, and with this money they can support Israel. They can't keep pumping their own money in forever.
Do you find that over the years, your memories of the time in Hitler's employment weaken? Do you find your memories being hijacked by images and stories you've come across in the 60 years since?
So many of the pictures and so much of what's written about the time is the product of fertile imaginations. For example, Eichinger [the writer and producer of "Downfall"] should have come to me and talked to me like you're doing before he ever made the film. And what he would then make of it would be his business -- accept, reject, or whatever, right? But just talk to me. I always try not to slip into a fantasy as they do. I have to be careful; it can trip me up too. Trying to improve things, make it seem better or more heroic than it was. Of course there's a tendency in that direction.
How do you feel about the attention paid to you in recent times?
I did six [interviews] for the Holocaust Museum in Washington. But that stays in the museum archives; it's not for the public. And then I did two times, two hours [of interviews] for the Göthe Institute in Tel Aviv. They collect that kind of thing. Not to show, just for a rainy day, I guess. The BBC has filmed with me three times. They even went to Moscow and found the suicide request I wrote when I was a prisoner of the Soviets. They were really hard working. And some young people are making a documentary film about me -- I had to arrange for the woman who does my housekeeping to make a special visit, because they wanted to get some shots of her working around the house. There's continual interest now. I can't believe it. Hitler just won't die. And I'm the only one left to tell.
Do you have regrets about your past?
Well, history is history -- whether it's bad or good or criminal, it doesn't make a difference. An act, a deed, remains part of history forever. You can't change a story, just by blathering on about it, and make it into something other than what it was.
Hitler didn’t get away, I saw his dead body, insists ex SS man
London, September 30, 2011
A former Schutzstaffel (SS) man has rejected conspiracy theories surrounding Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s escape from a reported suicide attempt in 1945, saying that he saw Hitler’s dead body on April 30 of that year and has never forgotten the sight.
Rochus Misch statement follows a claim made by an American expert that Hitler’s supposed skull, which Russia has claimed since 1946, actually belonged to a woman.
According to many speculations, the architect of the Second World War and the Holocaust made it to Brazil and fled to Greenland. There he disguised himself in a refugee camp and slipped away to the Bavarian mountains. He was smuggled aboard a U-boat and spent the rest of his days shielded by Argentina''s right-wing strongmen.
However, Misch, 27 at that time, laughs at the notion Hitler could have made it out alive.
"It''s ridiculous to say he got out. I know, I was there – and he didn''t."
"On that last day, 30 April, there was much speculation that they – he and Eva Braun – were going to end their lives together. I was prepared for it and was just waiting for the moment.
"Suddenly, I heard somebody shouting to Hitler''s attendant: ''Linge, Linge, I think it''s happened''. They''d heard a gunshot, but I hadn''t. At that moment, Martin Bormann, Hitler''s private secretary, ordered everyone to be silent. Everyone began whispering.
"When the door opened, I saw Eva lying with her legs bent so that her knees almost reached her chin. I will never forget that. I saw Hitler slumped by the table. I did not see any blood on his head.
"I was just a young man then. That is why it stays with me so strongly. There was a complete silence. I went to the commander and said, ''The Führer is dead''. My colleague then said, ''Now the boss is to be burnt''," The Scotsman quoted him, as saying.
Historical records suggest that Hitler and Eva were doused in petrol and burned in a shellhole in the garden of the Reichchancellery.
But Colonel WJ Heimlich, former head of United States lntelligence in Berlin, stated: "There was no evidence beyond that of hearsay to support the theory of Hitler's suicide." (ANI)
Adolf Hitler’s Last Bodyguard Dies At 96
The last person to see Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler alive has died in Berlin at the age of 96. Rochus Misch, the Führer’s final bodyguard, remained a controversial figure because of his generally benevolent view of the man who was responsible for millions of deaths between 1933 and 1945. Burkhard Nachtigall, an author who helped Misch ghostwrite his memoir The Last Witness, told the Associated Press that Misch died on Thursday following a short illness.
A former member of the feared Nazi paramilitary group Schutzstaffel (SS), Misch served as Hitler’s bodyguard for most of World War II. Misch reportedly manned the phones in the bunker in Berlin where Hitler spent his final hours before committing suicide along with his lover Eva Braun on April 30, 1945. Misch reportedly also witnessed the suicides of Nazi propaganda minister Josef Göbbels, his wife and all six of their children on the following day. Misch fled the bunker the day after, just hours before Russian Red Army troops arrived.
“[Hitler was] a very normal man ... he was no brute, he was no monster, he was no superman,'” Misch declared to AP in an interview from 2005. Indeed, Misch frequently referred to Hitler warmly as the “boss.” While he did not deny the Holocaust, Misch nonetheless could not reconcile the Hitler he knew with the atrocities the Nazi chief had ordered. "I cannot myself imagine Hitler as a murderer,” Misch said. “It is simply impossible. He was so friendly, so nice."
According to German media, Misch was born in Upper Silesia (now in Poland) in 1917 and eventually served as an SS soldier during the occupation of Austria in 1938 and the Sudetenland in 1939. He was asked by Hitler’s chief adjutant to serve as the leader’s bodyguard after he was severely wounded during the Wehrmacht’s ultimate victory in Poland. But Die Welt, a German newspaper, indicated that Misch did not formally serve as Hitler’s bodyguard -- that job was the responsibility of the "Reich Security Service.” Misch was more of an aide-de-camp, and did not enjoy a prominent role in Hitler’s organization and household.
Following Germany’s defeat in the war, Misch was captured by Soviet troops, leading to nine years of captivity in brutal Russian labor/prison camps, where he endured torture at the hands of Communists trying to determine Hitler’s true fate. After the Soviets released him in 1954, Misch returned to Berlin to run a painting and printing shop, and lived a rather anonymous existence in the suburb of Rudow. His wife died in 1998 and they had one daughter named Birgitta, who became estranged from her father.