Further to Eric Law's obituary of Rochus Misch (7 September), there were quite a few intriguing questions about Misch's family, writes David Childs. Most intriguing of all was how his wife. Gerda, was elected to the parliament of West Berlin in 1975. She served for the full four years and then was re-elected in 1979 but withdrew in January 1980. This was, apparently, due to her family connections. Both her parents were Social Democrats and had been surprised when she brought her SS boyfriend Rochus home a short time after they had met on 3 July 1938. Misch's position in the SS was later to be of great help when a close family friend, also a Social Democrat, "Uncle Paul", was arrested and incarcerated in a concentration camp. Due to Misch's lobbying, he was released.
Misch was called up for compulsory military service and was taken in by SS recruiters who had set up shop at the registration hall. They promised that after service with them, unlike the Army, he would be able to get a permanent position in the civil service. He did not expect war as the takeover of Austria and then Czechoslovakia took place peacefully.
The couple married in 1942 and Gerda was determined to get a job. She worked in the Reich Ministry of Economic Affairs using her English and Spanish language skills. Later she worked as secretary to a professor of medicine at the Humboldt University in Berlin. When the war ended she was a single parent not knowing the fate of her husband.
By the time he had returned from the Soviet Union, in 1953, she had made great progress. She joined the SPD in 1945 and the trade union movement, DGB. Through "Uncle Paul" she was introduced to the charismatic Mayor of West Berlin, Ernst Reuter, who helped her get a job with the Americans. She then qualified as a teacher, eventually becoming a headmistress. In spite of her husband, she had no Nazi background.
Gerda developed Alzheimer's and died in 1998. Misch was proud that the CIA hired him – perhaps his wife helped – to be part of a bodyguard protecting President Kennedy on his famous visit to Berlin in 1963.
Like a number of prominent Germans who served in the war, Misch always denied that he knew about the horrors of the concentration camps where the likes of "Uncle Paul" were held. Of course, ex-prisoners were forbidden to talk about their experiences. Like others, Helmut Schmidt among them, he claims his unit was confined to barracks when the 1938 pogrom against the Jews took place, and that he knew nothing of the later Holocaust, which was never discussed. He was not, as some have claimed, a witness at the Nuremberg trials. The Russians took him, in 1946, to Berlin but after further interrogation sent him to the Soviet Union, not to Nuremberg.
Gerda's ancestry is a matter of speculation. Rochus's estranged daughter, Brigitta Jacob-Engelken, claimed she had been told by her maternal grandmother that Gerda Misch was of Jewish background. He could not believe it. Helmut Schmidt, Wehrmacht officer, did not know about his father's Jewish background until after the war. Jacob-Engelken, an architect, learned Hebrew and her work has included the restoration of local synagogues. She married an Israeli. Despite her differences with her father she named her son Rochus.