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During the ending days of Nazi regime in 1945, Germany was stricken by mass waves of suicides across the country an event was unprecented in Germany. The reasons for the suicide were numerous, but heavily influenced by Nazi propaganda, suicidal death of Adolf Hitler, attachment to ideals of Nazi party, as well as reaction to Allied occupation of Nazi Germany and its defeat in World War 2 resulting in feelings of insecurity and lack of future perspective.

Life Magazine on 14 May wrote about the suicides: "In the last days of the war the overwhelming realisation of utter defeat was too much for many Germans. Stripped of the bayonets and bombast which had given them power, they could not face a reckoning with either their conquerors or their consciences. These found the quickest and surest espace in what Germans call selbstmord, self-murder."[1] The Catholic psychiatrist Erich Menninger-Lerchenthal noted existence of "organised mass suicide on a large scale which had previously not occurred in the history of Europe(...)‘there are suicides which do not have anything to do with mental illness or some moral and intellectual deviance, but predominantly with the continuity of a heavy political defeat and the fear of being held responsible".[2]

Three phases of the suicide waveEdit

File:Leipzigsuicide.jpg

The suicides happened in three waves:

  • The first one happened in early January 1945 when Soviet forces drove back invasion of Nazi Germany to its territories in East Prussia and Silesia, and were ready to begin takeover of those territories from Nazi rule
  • Second phase was around April and May when many Nazi officials, both from the top and bottom of party hierarchy committed suicides
  • The final phase happened after arrival of the Allies

While those suicides had their own unique motives, their scale suggests that they had common motivations and represented collective emotions of German population towards the approaching defeat of Nazi Germany in the war, which were fear and anxiety.[3]

Nazi propaganda and suicidesEdit

Both destruction and willingness to commit suicide were part of key Nazi ideas during the Second World War.[4] Adolf Hitler himself declared his will to commit suicide rather than face defeat already in September 1939 during the German Invasion of Poland in speech to Reichstag: "I now wish to be nothing other than the first soldier of the German Reich. Therefore I have put on that tunic which has always been the most holy and dear to me. I shall not take it off again until after victory is ours, or—I shall not live to see the day!"[5]

As the war turned unfavourably towards Nazi Germany, its leaders openly started praising suicide as an option, with both Goebbels and Hitler speaking in favour of rather than defeat; Hitler declared on 30 August 1944 during a military briefing: "It’s only (the fraction) of a second. Then one is redeemed of everything and finds tranquillity and eternal peace."[6][7] In contrast to Imperial Japan, the Nazi Reich refused to surrender and continued to fight on, led by Hitler's vision of only two possible outcomes: victory or destruction; many supporters of Nazi ideology and party shared the apocalyptic message of National Socialist regime and looked forward to ending their lives.[8] After many years of exposure to ideology that described the world in extreme terms and experiences of last month of war to many Germans death seemed the only way out.[9]

This significance of dying a violent death dated back to the period of Nazi struggle for power and idealisation of soldiers' death in 1918, shown in Nazi cult of Horst Wessel; thus the suicides of leading Nazis were seen as heroic sacrifice for the future of Nazi creed[10]: in a radio speech on 28 February 1945 (which was circulated in most newspapers in the Reich on 1 March), Goebbels recalled the suicide of Cato of Utica who preferred to die rather than submit to Caesar; Goebbels declared on public radio that if Germany were to be defeated he would "cheerfully throw away his life".[11] On 28 March 1945 the Nazi paper Volkischer Beobachter published a propaganda article titled "Risk of One's Life" by Wilhelm Pleyer, which went along similar lines and encouraged people not to give up resisting Allied enemies.[12]

The Nazis also demonised the Red Army, which helped to create a suicidal atmosphere in Germany.[13] A Nazi propaganda leaflet distributed in February 1945 in Czech territories for example warned about "Bolshevik murderer-pack", whose victory would lead to "incredible hatred, looting, hunger, shots in the back of the neck, deportation and extermination" and appealed to German men to ‘to save German women and girls from defilement and slaughter by the Bolshevik bloodhounds’.[14] Mass suicide happened in areas of eastern Nazi state, as Germans couldn't cope with the presence of Soviets, portrayed by Nazis as subhuman; as one female clerk in the city of Schonlanke within Pomerania remarked "Out of fear of these animals from the east, many Schonlankers ended their lives(around 500 of them!) Whole families were wiped out in this way."[15] The fear of Soviet occupation was so great that suicide happened even in places well beyond their reach, such as in Hamburg where for example one old pensioner motivated his suicidal death by fear of Soviet occupation.[16] In other cases the behaviour of Soviet troops played a role, and particularly rapes sometimes led to suicides out of shame or to prevent rape.[17] Besides identification with the ruling regime and Nazi leaders, reasons for suicide included various motives, but also war-inflicted depression, influenced by aerial bombardment and the sight of ruined surroundings by warfare.[18]

In anticipation of Allied occupation, Germans stored cyanide capsules, and there are stories about Hitler giving out cyanide to members of his staff; there are also rumours that during the last concert by Hitler Youth in the Berlin Philharmonic on 12 April 1945 cyanide poison was given out to the audience. Suicide levels reached maximum in Berlin in April 1945 when 3,881 people killed themselves during Battle of Berlin; altogether 7,057 suicides were reported in the city during 1945, with probably higher numbers in reality, due to conditions of the war which hindered precise counting of the incidents.[19] Other locations where suicides happened include:

Suicides were also conducted with killing one's family—which implied a high degree of identification with Nazi propaganda regarding Soviets, and feeling of hopelessness; both mothers and fathers are reported killing their children.[21]

Suicides by notable members of Nazi Reich's ruling apparatusEdit

Many prominent Nazis, their followers, as well as members of armed forces of Nazi Germany committed suicide during the last days of their state, others killed themselves facing trials and after capture. Out of 41 NSDAP regional leaders who held office between 1926 and 1945 8 put an end to their lives, 7 out of 47 higher SS and police leaders did the same, in addition to unknown number of lower Nazi officials. In the Army 53 out of 554 generals killed themselves, in the Luftwaffe 14 out of 98 generals, and 11 out of 53 admirals in Kriegsmarine[22]

Other notable examples include:

ReferencesEdit

  1. Life Magazine, 14 May 1945
  2. Goeschel page 165
  3. Goeschel page 164
  4. Goeschel page 8
  5. Goeschel page 150
  6. Goeschel page 151–152
  7. Bessel, page 188
  8. Bessel, Ludtke, Weisbrod pages 78–79
  9. Bessel page 188
  10. Goeschel page 154
  11. Goeschel page 154
  12. Goeschel page 154
  13. Goeschel page 157
  14. Goeschel page 157
  15. Goeschel page 158, 162
  16. Goeschel page 159
  17. Goeschel page 165
  18. Goeschel page 165
  19. Goeschel page 160
  20. (German) Lakotta, Beate (5 March 2005). "Tief vergraben, nicht dran rühren" SPON. http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/spiegelspecial/d-39863564.html. Retrieved 16 August 2010
  21. Goeschel page 163
  22. Goeschel page 153

SourcesEdit

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