The Demmin Mass Suicide— A Final Desperate Act

(Originally posted on 1 May 2016)

On 1 May 1945, hundreds of people committed mass suicide in the town of Demmin, in the Province of Pomerania (now in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), Germany. The suicides occurred during a mass panic provoked by atrocities committed by soldiers of the Soviet Red Army, who had sacked the town the day before. Although death toll estimates vary, it is acknowledged to be the largest mass suicide ever recorded in Germany. It was part of a mass suicide wave among the population of Nazi Germany.

For years, people indoctrinated by German propaganda as to what was bound to happen should the Soviet troops set foot on German soil responded with suicide.

For years, people indoctrinated by German propaganda as to what was bound to happen should the Soviet troops set foot on German soil responded with suicide. Three Soviet negotiators were shot prior to the Soviet advance into Demmin. The Hitler Youth, amongst others, fired upon Soviet soldiers once they were inside the town. The retreating Wehrmacht had blown up the bridges over the Peene and Tollense rivers, which enclosed the town to the North, West and South, thus blocking the Red Army advance and trapping the remaining civilians. The Soviet units looted and burned down the town, and committed rapes and executions.

Karl Schlösser spent his childhood in Demmin and witnessed the mass suicide of about 1000 residents and refugees in the spring of 1945. He was only ten years old.

Schlösser recalled how his mother clutched a razor in her hands ready to kill him, his brother, and his grandfather rather than be captured by the Stalin Red Army—and die in reprisals

“As parts of the town burned we fled into the woods and later made camp in a nearby field. One morning after nearly a week I woke up to see corpses floating in the river. Later I saw people hanging from trees. They had killed themselves rather than be taken by the Russians,” Schlösser remembered.

Karl Schlösser died on 21 March 2018 at age 83.

Manfred Schuster was another survivor. He was only ten years old when he witnessed women tying children to their bodies with rope or clotheslines and jumping into a river North of Berlin as Soviet forces entered the town.

He remembered seeing around 50 women with up to four children jumping into the river Peene in the small town of Demmin.

Speaking to the Times, Schuster, said, “I shall never forget the cries of ‘mum, mum’.”

“The most horrible part was when a couple of children broke free and made it back to the bank, from where they looked on helplessly, screaming back at the water where their mothers and siblings had drowned,” he said. “In absolute horror, we dropped our bag of sugar, which exploded in a cloud of white dust, and we ran home as fast as we could.”

For three days, The Soviet soldiers were allowed to loot the town. They committed mass rapes of local women, according to eyewitnesses, regardless of age, and shot German men who spoke up against this practice.

Demmin chronicler Gisela Zimmer, then 14 years old, recalls:

“My mother was also raped. And then, together with us and with neighbours, she hurried towards the Tollense River, resolutely prepared to jump into it. My siblings realized only much later that I had held her back, that I had pulled her out of what may be called a state of trance, to prevent her from jumping into the water. There were people. There was screaming. The people were prepared to die. Children were told, ‘Do you want to live on? The town is burning. These and those are dead already. No, we do not want to live any more.’ And so, people went mostly into the rivers. That made the Russians feel creepy, too. There are examples where Russians, too, tried to pull people out or hinder them. But these hundreds of people, they were unable to withhold. And the population here was extremely panicked.”

The mass suicide came just eight days before German General Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document in Reims, France, which formally ended the Second World War in Europe.

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