Rochus Misch, who served as Adolf Hitler's devoted bodyguard for most of the second world war and was the last remaining witness to the Nazi leader's final hours in his Berlin bunker, has died. He was 96.
Misch died on Thursday in Berlin after a short illness, Burkhard Nachtigall, who helped him write his 2008 memoir, said.
Misch remained proud to the end about his years with Hitler, whom he affectionately called "boss." In a 2005 interview, Misch recalled Hitler as "a very normal man" and gave a riveting account of the German dictator's last days before he and his wife Eva Braun killed themselves as the Soviet Red Army closed in around their bunker in Berlin.
"He was no brute. He was no monster. He was no superman," Misch said.
Born July 29, 1917, in the tiny Silesian town of Alt Schalkowitz, in what today is Poland, Misch was orphaned at an early age. At age 20, he decided to join the SS, an organisation that he saw as a counterweight to a rising threat from the left. He signed up for the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, a unit that was founded to serve as Hitler's personal protection.
"It was anti-communist, against Stalin - to protect Europe," Misch said. "I signed up in the war against Bolshevism, not for Adolf Hitler."
But when Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Misch found himself in the vanguard, as his SS division joined the blitzkrieg attack.
Misch was shot and nearly killed while trying to negotiate the surrender of a fortress near Warsaw, and was sent to Germany to recover. In May 1940, he was chosen as one of two SS men who would serve as Hitler's bodyguards and general assistants, doing everything from answering phones to greeting dignitaries.
Misch and comrade Johannes Hentschel accompanied Hitler almost everywhere he went - including his Berchtesgaden retreat and his "Wolf's Lair" headquarters. He lived between the Hitler's apartments and the Berlin home that he kept until his death.
"He was a wonderful boss," Misch said. "I lived with him for five years. We were the closest people who worked with him ... we were always there. Hitler was never without us day and night."
In the last days of Hitler's life, Misch followed him to live underground in the Fuehrerbunker. "Hentschel ran the lights, air and water and I did the telephones - there was nobody else," he said.
Following the German surrender, Misch spent nine years in Soviet prisoner of war camps before returning to Berlin where he opened a shop with his wife.
In the 2005 interview, Misch stayed away from questions about the Holocaust. "That was never a topic," he said emphatically. "Never."