German and Austrian Suicides

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April and May 1945 marked the final stages and the end of World War II in Europe. It also saw an increase of suicides by civilians in Germany and Austria.

Cyanide had been one of the most common ways how people killed themselves. Members of the Hitler Youth handed out cyanide pills to audience members during the last concert of the Berlin Philharmonic.

COrchestra

There were a variety of reasons why people guilt themselves.

Fear: They knew off the crimes committed by their leaders and were afraid a similar fate would await them, for the German propaganda machine had warned the population on what would happen to them saying they faced the threat of torture, rape, and death by the allies in defeat. Partially this was true because their had been atrocities committed against the Germans by the Red Army but also by other allied forces, but the reports had been exaggerated to increase the fear.

A warped sense of loyalty:Many had been indoctrinated in unquestioning loyalty to the party and with it its cultural ideology of preferring death over living in defeat.They also followed the example of some of their leaders,including the Führer.

And some just killed themselves out of guilt.

Suicide levels reached their peak in Berlin in April 1945 when 3,881 people killed themselves during the Battle of Berlin. In the small town of Demmin close to 1,000 people killed themselves.

The former Nazi mayor of Leipzig, Germany committed suicide with his wife in April 1945. Allied troops found their bodies in this office.

Leipzig

The picture at the start of the blog is a photograph of women in Vienna who committed suicide, there is also the body of what looks like a dead soldier on the ground. The picture below is from the same women but taken from a different angle, it appears the Red Army officers are looking at the dead soldier.Although there were suicides in Austria they were nothing compared to the rates in Germany.

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A disillusioned  German soldier decided to take his own life rather than facing life in non-Nazi Germany. the face of the Hitler portrait has been gouged out.

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A woman who killed herself for fear for what the future might bring.

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Banzai-Suicides for the Emperor

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How do you fight an enemy that is not afraid to kill themselves?19026-004-8C3631D6

In the air they had the Kamikaze pilots on the ground they had troops carrying out Banzai charges, how can you fight an enemy that has absolutely no regard for life? Not even their own lives.

How do you fight an army that sees their leader as some kind of divine entity?

One of the great injustices post WWII was that Emperor Hirohito was not tried for his involvement in World War II, even if it had been for the death of his own soldiers who killed themselves in his ‘honour’

He died on January 7 1989 at the age of 88 after having lived a life of luxury, when thousands of young men died for him or in his name.

 

 

“Whenever we cornered the enemy and there was no way out, we faced the dreaded banzai attack.” An anonymous US Marine who was on Saipan.”

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Banzai Charge was a suicidal last-ditch attack that was mounted by Japanese infantry during WWII. Banzai Charge was actually not the real name of the attack, but rather a name given by Allied forces because during the charge, Japanese forces yelled “Tenno Heika Banzai!” (long live the emperor, ten thousand ages!).

During the war period, the Japanese militarist government began disseminating propaganda that romanticized suicide attack, using one of the virtues of Bushido as the basis for the campaign. The Japanese government presented war as purifying, with death defined as a duty.

By the end of 1944, the government announced the last protocol, unofficially named ichioku gyokusai (一億玉砕, literally “100 million shattered jewels”), implying the will of sacrificing the entire Japanese population of 100 million, if necessary, for the purpose of resisting opposition forces.

During the U.S. raid on Makin Island, on August 17, 1942, the U.S. Marine Raiders attacking the island initially spotted and then killed Japanese machine gunners. The Japanese defenders then launched a banzai charge with rifles and swords but were stopped by American firepower. The pattern was repeated in additional attacks, but with similar results.

During the Battle of Guadalcanal, on August 21, 1942, Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki JapaneseColIchikiled 800 soldiers to launch a direct attack against the American line guarding Henderson Field in the Battle of the Tenaru.

 

After small-scale combat engagement in the jungle, Ichiki’s army launched its banzai charge on the enemy; however, with an organized American defense line already in place, most of the Japanese soldiers were killed and Ichiki subsequently committed suicide.

The largest banzai charge of the war took place in the Battle of Saipan in 1944 where, at the cost of almost 4,300 dead Japanese soldiers, it almost destroyed the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th U.S. Infantry, who lost almost 650 men

Banzai charges were always of dubious effectiveness. In the early stages of the Pacific War, a sudden banzai charge might overwhelm small groups of enemy soldiers unprepared for such an attack. However near the end of the war, a banzai charge inflicted little damage while its participants suffered horrendous losses if launched against an organized defense with strong firepower, such as automatic weapons, machine guns and semi-automatic rifles.

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At best they were conducted by groups of the last surviving soldiers when the main battle was already lost, as a last resort or as an alternative to surrender. At worst they threw away valuable resources in men and arms in suicidal attacks, which only hastened defeat.

Some Japanese commanders, such as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, recognized the futility and waste of such attacks and expressly forbade their men from carrying them out.

Tadamichi_Kuribayashi

Indeed, the Americans were surprised that the Japanese did not employ banzai charges at the Battle of Iwo Jima.

The greatest effect of the Banzai charge was not casualties, but the decrease in morale in most allied troops.

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Many soldiers feared “the dreaded banzai attack” and this itself sometimes affected performance in the field. Japanese soldiers however did sometimes surrender, but rarely in large numbers. They were also trained to commit suicide if the attack did not breach enemy lines and this included using grenades to kill oneself and any allied soldiers who were not careful. The weapons used by Japanese soldiers during an attack varied from machine guns, rifles, bayonets, swords, spears, knives, grenades, etc.

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The desperate act of Ernst Kurt Lisso,Deputy Mayor of Leipzig.

Deputy Mayor Ernst Kurt Lisso and his family after committing suicide by cyanide to avoid capture by US troops, 1945 (1)

As the Red Army and the Western Allies pressed closer and closer to Berlin suicides grew. Thousands of Germans committed suicide in the spring of 1945, rather than face occupation and the expected abuse by their victors. 3,881 people were recorded as committing suicide during April in the Battle of Berlin, although the figure is probably an underestimate. Although the motives was widely explained as the “fear of the Russian invasion”, the suicides also happened in the areas liberated by the British and American troops.

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On the 18th April 1945 a number of officials of Leizig committed suicide in the New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus). The Deputy Mayor of Leipzig Ernst Lisso decided to end his life but also that of his wife and daughter as the Americans press towards the city hall. In the death tableaux his wife Renate Lisso sits across from her husband and most shockingly his daughter Regina sits on the bench. She has an armband on and presumably was part of the German Red Cross aiding German soldiers before her premature death. In another room, the mayor and his wife and daughter similarly killed themselves before the Allied forces could do their worst. In both cases they used cyanide capsules.

Deputy Mayor Ernst Kurt Lisso and his family after committing suicide by cyanide to avoid capture by US troops, 1945 (2)

Unlike in Japan–where many people also killed themselves at the end of the war–suicide is not embedded in German culture as a potential response to shame or dishonor. Yet thousands of people felt that life was no longer worth living if it wasn’t under the Nazi order. Perhaps the expected hardships and privations of defeat, coupled with family and personal losses during the war, drove many people over the edge.

Life Magazine reported that: “In the last days of the war the overwhelming realization 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 escape in what Germans call selbstmord, self-murder.”

Deputy Mayor Ernst Kurt Lisso and his family after committing suicide by cyanide to avoid capture by US troops, 1945 (3)

There were several reasons why some Germans decided to end their lives in the last months of the war. First, by 1945 Nazi Propaganda had created fear among some sections of the population about the impending military invasion of their country by the Soviets or Western Allies. Information films from the Reichs Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda repeatedly chided audiences about why Germany must not surrender telling the people they faced the threat of torture, rape and death in defeat. Secondly, many Nazis – who had been indoctrinated in unquestioning loyalty to the party – also felt obliged to follow the example of Adolf Hitler when it was reported that the Führer had taken his own life. Finally others killed themselves because they did know what would happen to them following defeat.

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Demmin mass suicide-1 May 1945

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On May 1, 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 that was 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. The suicide was part of a mass suicide wave among the population of Nazi Germany.

Nazi officials, the police, the Wehrmacht and a number of citizens had left the town before the arrival of the Red Army, while thousands of refugees from the East had also taken refuge in Demmin. Three Soviet negotiators were shot prior to the Soviet advance into Demmin and Hitler Youth, amongst others, fired on Soviet soldiers once 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’s advance and trapping the remaining civilians. The Soviet units looted and burned down the town, and committed rapes and executions.

Numerous inhabitants and refugees then committed suicide, with many families committing suicide together. Methods of suicides included drowning in the rivers, hanging, wrist-cutting, and use of firearms. Most bodies were buried in mass graves, and after the war, discussion of the mass suicide was tabooed by the East German Communist government.

Demmin was a stronghold of the nationalistic organisations DNVP and the Stahlhelm in the Weimar Republic.

 

Before 1933 there were boycotts of Jewish businesses, which drove away most of the Jews and the synagogue was sold in June 1938 to a furniture company, which is why it survived as a building today. In the riots of November 1938 thousands gathered in the square in anti-Semitic demonstration. In the last national elections to the Reichstag on 5 March 1933 the National Socialist Party won 53.7 percent of votes in Demmin.

During the last weeks of World War II, tens of thousands of Germans committed suicide, especially in territories occupied by the Red Army.The German historian Udo Grashhoff and the German author Kurt Bauer write that the suicides occurred in two stages: in a first wave before the Red Army’s arrival, in part due to a “fear of the Russians” spread by Nazi propaganda, and – as in Demmin – in a second wave after the Red Army’s arrival, triggered by executions, looting and mass rapes committed by Soviet soldiers.

In 1945, Demmin had between 15,000 and 16,000 inhabitants. Thousands of refugees from the East were also in town, roughly doubling its population.In late April, when the Eastern Front drew closer (Battle of Berlin), women, children and elderly men were forced to dig a 5 kilometres (3.1 mi)-long anti-tank ditch east of the town.[6] On April 28, the German flight from the town began: the Nazi party functionaries left on confiscated fire engines, the hospital was evacuated, all the police departed, and a number of civilians fled.

Demmin was reached by spearheads of the Soviet 65th Army and the 1st Guards Tank Corps at noon on April 30, 1945.

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At the tower of the church, a white banner was hoisted.According to an eyewitness, three Soviet negotiators, one of them a German officer, approached the anti-tank ditch and promised to spare Demmin’s civilian population from “harassment” and looting in the case of a surrender without fight. The eyewitness was then 19 years old, serving as a German soldier, and laid in the anti-tank ditch.According to him, three shots were fired at the negotiators, who sank to the ground.The remaining Wehrmacht units,belonging to Army Group Weichsel, and some Waffen-SS,retreated through Demmin, and roughly about half an hour after the incident,blew up all bridges leading out of town behind them.By that time, Soviet units were already advancing through Demmin.

Demmin_Stadtplan

The destruction of the bridges prevented the Soviet from advancing westward toward Rostock, which they had planned to reach the same day.It also prevented the flight of the civilian population, who were trapped by the rivers surrounding the town.According to eyewitnesses, some “fanatics,” primarily Hitler Youth,shot at the Soviet soldiers,despite several white flags being hoisted on Demmin’s buildings.

 

Memorably, a Nazi loyalist schoolteacher, having slain his wife and children, launched a grenade from a panzerfaust on Soviet soldiers, before finally hanging himself.

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One of the remaining witnesses to the largest mass suicide in German history has revealed how women killed themselves and their children, shortly before the Nazis admitted defeat in the Second World War.

Manfred Schuster was only 10 years-old when he witnessed women tying children to their bodies with rope or clothes lines, and jumping into a river in a town north of Berlin as Soviet forces entered the town.

Schuster, now in his eighties, described how he had traveled with his friend into town to see if they could find anything that was edible in the stores. They found a heavy bag of sugar and as they attempted to carry it home, they heard “bloodcurdling” screams coming from the nearby river.

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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.”

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

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Furthermore, large areas of the town were set on fire, with nearly all of the center burning down completely. 80% of the town was destroyed within three days. Reportedly, Soviet soldiers had brushed the houses’ walls with gasoline before setting them on fire, and stood guard three days to prevent extinguishing.Many of the soldiers committing the mass rapes, executions, and pillaging were reportedly drunk.Already on April 30, when the atrocities started in the evening, Soviet soldiers had looted both Demmin’s cereal distilleries and several alcohol stores.

These events, along with the fear of atrocities stirred up by the Nazi propaganda before, caused a mass panic among the population.Many families committed suicide together, locals as well as refugees. The suicides were either carried out with guns, razor blades or poison, others hanged or drowned themselves in the Peene and Tollense rivers.Several mothers killed their children before killing themselves, or walked into one of the rivers with a rock in a backpack and their babies in their arms. Some families committed suicide by walking into the rivers, tied together. A local forester first shot three young children, then their mothers, then his wife and then himself, surviving as a blind man.In another recorded case, a daughter cut the wrists of her parents.

Not in every case were the suicides successful.Some mothers who had drowned their children were unable to drown themselves thereafter.In other cases, the dose of poison used was lethal for the children, but not for their mothers.There were also cases where children survived the drowning. After a failed suicide, some committed suicide by another method. For example, a mother and her repeatedly raped daughter, who had repeatedly failed to drown themselves in the Peene river, committed suicide by hanging themselves in an attic. Another mother who before had poisoned and buried three of her four children tried to hang herself on an oak three times, but the rope was cut each time by Soviet soldiers.There are further records of Soviet soldiers preventing suicides by retrieving people from the river and nursing cut wrists.In another case, a grandfather forcibly took away a razor blade from a mother who was about to kill her children and herself after being raped by Soviet soldiers and hearing of the death of her husband.After Soviet soldiers had raped a girl’s cousin to death and shot her uncle, her mother cut her wrist and the wrists of her brother and her own, likewise all other women of the family committed suicide, of whom the aunt was able to also save a grandmother of the said girl. One family survived because the 15-year-old son managed to persuade the raped mother to abort the suicide on their way down to the Tollense river.

Demmin’s current chronicler, then 14 years old, recalls:

“My mother was also raped. And then, together with us and with neighbors, 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 even the Russians feel creepy. 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.”

Gisela Zimmer writes that many of the dead were buried in mass graveson the Bartholomäi graveyard.Some were buried in orderly graves on the initiative of relatives.Others were not buried, as their bodies were not retrieved from the rivers.More than 900 bodies were buried in the mass graves.500 of them were recorded on sheets of a warehouse accountant’s book converted into a death register. Weeks after the mass suicide, bodies still floated in the rivers.Clothes and other belongings of the drowned formed a border along the rivers’ banks,up to 2 metres (6.6 ft) wide.

Focus magazine (1995) quoted Norbert Buske as saying,

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“We will have to assume more than 1,000 deaths.”According to Goeschel (2009), with reference to Buske (1995), “Some 700 to 1,000 people are said to have committed suicide directly after the arrival of the Red Army;”Grashoff (2006), using the same reference, stated that “estimates of the number of suicides range from 700 to 1,200.”Der Spiegel (2005) put the death toll at “more than 1,000.”The NDR (German TV)stated that “nearly a thousand women and children committed suicide.” Bauer (2008) wrote that “some thousand people committed suicide, mostly by drowning.”According to psychologist Bscheid (2009) and jurist and sociologist Volkersen (2005), it was the largest recorded mass suicide in Germany. Both mentioned 900 suicides.Rostock historian Fred Mrotzek estimated that the death toll was 1,200 to 2,500 people

Under the Communist East German government, the mass suicide became a taboo subject.The mass graves’ site was not cared for deliberately, overgrew, and was at times tilled with sugar beets. The only visible hint of the mass grave was a solitary monument, soon overgrown, too, with the engraved date “1945”.

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In contrast, a 20 metres (66 ft) obelisk was erected in Demmin’s burned down center to commemorate Soviet soldiers who had died in the area. The local museum listed “2,300 deaths due to warfare and famine” for the years of 1945 and 1946.As late as 1989, the chronicle of the district’s Communist party blamed the destruction of the town on Werwolf and Hitler Youth activities.The atrocities were blamed on Germans disguised as Soviets by a document found in the local Soviet military administration in Neubrandenburg. As Der Spiegel puts it:

“Arbitrary executions, the rapes, the torching of towns – the atrocities of the Red Army were a taboo in the GDR, the mass suicides as well. Those who had witnessed it all or even survived a failed suicide – children, elderly, raped women – were ashamed and kept quiet. Somehow, life had to go on in the system of the liberators. Today, many do not want to remember, for too long they had struggled to find a balance between what they had suffered and what they had learned.”[25]

Only a few East German documents mentioned the events. The first post-war district official (Landrat) of Demmin, who was confirmed in this position by the Soviet authorities on May 15, 1945, briefly mentioned the events in an internal “activity report” of November 21, speaking of more than 700 suicide victims.Dieter Krüger, eyewitness of the events, son of a raped mother and survivor of a failed family suicide, started recording the mass suicide when working for the local museum in the 1980s, but his works were confiscated.Historian Erla Vensky managed to “smuggle” a line about a “panic, in the course of which 700 people committed suicide” into the “History of the local workers’ movement”.

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After the collapse of the East German government, some of the eyewitnesses, including Demmin’s current chronicler, “broke the silence” and made their account of the mass suicide public.A new memorial was dedicated at the site of the mass graves. A dedicated issue of a journal published by the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was released in 1995. Since, accounts of the event were published by German media. In 2008, the mass suicide was thematized in a novel.

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