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 at the age of 96.
Misch died in Berlin after a short illness, according to Burkhard Nachtigall, who helped him write his 2008 memoir.
Misch remained proud to the end about his years with Hitler, whom he affectionately called "boss". In a 2005 interview he 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 on July 29, 1917, in the tiny Silesian town of Alt Schalkowitz, in what today is Poland, Misch was orphaned at an early age. At 20, he decided to join the SS - an organisation he saw as a counterweight to a rising threat from the left. He signed up for the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, a unit 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."
Misch was shot and nearly killed serving with the SS in Poland, and was sent to Germany to recover. There, he was chosen in May 1940 as one of two SS men who would serve as Hitler's bodyguards and general assistants, doing everything from answering the telephones to greeting dignitaries.
Misch and comrade Johannes Hentschel accompanied Hitler almost everywhere he went - including his Alpine retreat in Berchtesgaden and his forward "Wolf's Lair" headquarters.
He lived between the Fuhrer's apartments in the New Reich Chancellery and the home in a working-class Berlin neighbourhood 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."