Life of Hitler bodyguard illustrates power of denial

Rochus Misch died last week at 96.
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Rochus Misch died last week at 96.

Rochus Misch, who was Adolf Hitler’s bodyguard and the last surviving witness to the German tyrant’s final days in a Berlin bunker, died last week at 96. Misch joined the SS in 1937. For most of World War II, he went everywhere Hitler went and saw everyone Hitler saw. He served tea to Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. He was present when Hitler survived an assassination attempt in 1944. He attended Hitler’s hasty marriage to Eva Braun on April 28, 1945 — and was among the first to find their bodies when they committed suicide two days later.

Yet for all Misch saw, he remained resolutely blind. To the end of his days he insisted that Hitler was “no brute . . . no monster.” Nor could he believe Hitler was responsible for a genocide that annihilated 6 million Jews. “If Hitler really did all the terrible things people now say he did, how could he have been our führer?” he indignantly demanded in a 2005 interview.

Misch’s refusal to believe the worst about someone he knew and admired speaks to the power of denial. The Washington Post published a story Sunday about Brigitte Höss, the daughter of the commandant at Auschwitz; she remembers her father as “the nicest man in the world” and insists that he “had to do it.” Such delusion, writ large, is what made possible the rise of monsters like Hitler — and the complicity of so many of his subjects.