The man who always said that he was too busy for a wife and yet, Misch believes, married Eva Braun the day before their deaths so that "he took her to the grave as a married woman solely out of consideration for her parents". And for Misch, this dichotomy is made more extraordinary by the fact that, despite being at the heart of Hitler's operation, he insists he never heard any talk of the mass murder of Jews.
Sunday, April 30, 2000
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London, Sunday, April 30, 2000
I heard Hitler shoot himself
Rochus Misch, a member of the Führer's personal staff, witnessed the suicide. He tells his story, for the first time, to Simon Finch.
Misch was flown [in 1945] back to the Soviet Union, where he was sent to the Gulags.
"There was law and order in the prison camps. I have to admit that. We were given our food, one was simply a prisoner. I was mostly in the so-called 'regime camps' where they held people such as the atomic physicists, the people who had taught in the university in Moscow.
"You had to survive on hope. You had to live on very little -- little food, little sleep: but it was better for us than for much of the population of Russia. We had our 600 or 400 grams of bread per day -- the Russian people didn't always have that."
After Stalin's death in 1953. Misch was released under Khrushchev's general amnesty and sent back to East Germany. There he lived a life of quiet anonymity with his wife Gerda and their daughter Birgitta, who had been born during the war (Eva Braun had given them a pushchair back in the days of the Reich). Together, they ran a small home-decorating shop.
It was just by chance that Rochus Misch had so unusual a war. A member of the SS Leibstandarte elite guards, he was wounded during the invasion of Poland in 1939.
"That was a lucky break for me because it was through my injury that I came to work for Hitler." Still in his early twenties, Misch was taken out of active service and, following a recommendation from one of his commanding officers, was summoned to the Reich Chancellery.
"The head adjutant interviewed me. He had to know who would be living in Hitler's apartment. Then he stood up and went to the door. And who was standing behind the door? Hitler. I got in a state, freezing cold one moment, hot the next.
We were one metre apart. He had been listening to the interview behind the door.
"Hitler asked where I came from and I said, 'Mein Führer, I come,' --- in the meantime I had composed myself a little -- 'I come from Upper Silesia' He asked, 'Do we have any Silesians here?' and the head adjutant said, 'I don't know, I don't know.' Hitler went on, 'Well, the young man can do something for me straight away.' And he gave me a letter and said, 'Please take this to my sister Paula in Vienna."'
It was May 1940. This was Misch's first task as one of the Führer-Begleitung (Hitler's personal staff). Until this promotion, Misch had been living obscurely in an army barracks and at first this new position left him awestruck.
"Hitler was acclaimed, celebrated everywhere. This was the Führer. I was scared. But after ten days or so I got used to the fact that Hitler was a human being, like any other. Then he was no longer the great Führer, but simply 'the boss'.
"He was a very good boss, very loyal. We who were closest to him tried to carry out our duties properly. We were bodyguards, telephonists, whatever; we did everything that would have to be done for the head of any firm, whoever he may be. There is nothing to complain about when you have such a boss. He always asked how we all were. Those who claim Hitler wasn't interested in ordinary people are talking nonsense.
A FEW MONTHS ago, builders digging the foundations for a new government office block next to the sandpit on the edge of Potsdammer Platz accidentally exposed part of the bunker roof. It rekindled a debate: should the bunker be left buried, destroyed, or maintained as a museum? Despite a substantial lobby, running the gamut from archaeologists and historians to Holocaust campaigners and the inevitable neo-Nazi groups, the Berlin authorities decided to rebury their past. Misch, however, believes the bunker should have been excavated.
"It should be preserved for the sake of history. This is where the Nazi era happened and where Hitler died. It was a momentous event. It should be kept for the world to see."
The latest scholarship suggests that by the end of 1942, a large percentage of the German population knew that the "Jewish problem" -- as Nazi ideology had it -- had been radically solved and millions put to death. Coming to terms with Hitler's crimes and the Holocaust has been a struggle for the German people; for Misch, it has been harder than for most.
To him, Hitler was not just a distant leader. He was the kind boss who joked with his staff; the film buff who loved Charlie Chaplin and watched Gone with the Wind three times. The man who always said that he was too busy for a wife and yet, Misch believes, married Eva Braun the day before their deaths so that "he took her to the grave as a married woman solely out of consideration for her parents". And for Misch, this dichotomy is made more extraordinary by the fact that, despite being at the heart of Hitler's operation, he insists he never heard any talk of the mass murder of Jews.
"How could we fail to find this out -- my God, we knew nearly everything that was going on -- us in the inner circle -- we were always there, day and night. We saw Hitler in his nightshirt! We received the dispatches and brought them to Hitler to read. He would have them under his arm and tear out a report and hand it to me and I would get rid of it in a waste-paper basket. There was never anything on this subject."
And yet, he does not deny the Holocaust happened. "Yes, it happened, but I can't imagine it. I can't imagine Hitler as a murderer. It's simply impossible. He was so friendly, nice.
"If I met him today, I'd say, 'Mein Führer, I didn't really get to know you that well. For five years we could look each other straight in the eye and smile and. .. all these things that have been written about, where did that all come from? I never knew you to be like that, Mein Führer.'"