I’ve been researching Nazi mass suicides out of morbid fascination. A few questions

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WagTheKat

Christian Goeschel has an interesting book you might want to check out. It’s titled “Suicide in Nazi Germany.” From the book’s final chapter, Downfall, which will be the most useful chapter of you’re looking to learn more: When hearing the news of Hitler’s death, some Nazis reportedly committed suicide immediately, thereby following their leader into death. Goebbels, Hitler’s official successor as Reich Chancellor, had his children poisoned before requesting a SS guard to shoot his wife and himself. In a letter on 28 April 1945 to his stepson Harald Quandt, Goebbels claimed that his death would set a heroic precedent for a new Germany which would ‘survive this war, but only if it has precedents at hand on which it can lean itself’.19 Suicide figures among the party and SS top echelons were staggering. Eight out of 41 party regional leaders who held office between 1926 and 1945 and 7 out of 47 higher SS and police leaders committed suicide, followed by an unknown number of lower Nazi officials. For these Nazis, life was impossible after the Third Reich’s downfall. Fear of Allied retribution and the notion of self-sacrifice may well have motivated these suicides. In the Army’s top echelons, suicide was also widespread, perhaps because of the Army’s complicity with Nazi crimes. According to a 1950 statistic, 53 out of 554 army generals, 14 out of 98 Luftwaffe generals and 11 out of 53 admirals killed themselves.20 I’ll also put here some of the information most relevant to your focus on the propaganda: On 19 March 1945, Hitler decreed that the German infrastructure must be destroyed so as not to hand it over to the Allies. The Nazi regime and the civil administration slowly disintegrated. Now that total victory was impossible, ‘at least defeat could be total’, as one historian perceptively noted.26 Dying a soldier’s death was more dignified than negotiating for peace. The significance of dying a violent death dated back to the initial period of the party’s struggle for power (Kampfzeit) and the experience of 1918, which had led to an idealization of the soldier’s death in Nazi discourse, such as in the Nazi cult of Horst Wessel. This corresponded with Nazi notions of a distinctly masculine way of dying. In this way, the suicides of Nazi leaders in 1945 were not understood as suicides as such, but as heroic self-sacrifices undertaken for the future of the Nazi creed.27 The author Wilhelm Pleyer penned a lengthy propaganda article, entitled ‘Risk of One’s Life’, along these lines on 28 March 1945 in the Vo ̈lkischer Beobachter. He claimed that ‘to risk one’s life does not merely mean to die, but also to really stand up for a cause…and the desire to sacrifice one’s personal existence’.28 Pleyer wanted to encourage people not to give up resisting the Allied enemies. ‘Self-sacrifice’ rather than cowardly surrendering was the way to maintain one’s ‘honour’, the same newspaper claimed on 16 April 1945.29 Likewise, in the most expensive German colour film hitherto made, Kolberg (1945), for which Goebbels had written most of the dialogue himself, the people of Kolberg, a town in Pomerania which had allegedly not surrendered to Napoleon in 1806/07, served as a heroic precedent for Germans facing an ever more hopeless military situation. Only a stoic attitude and a readiness to sacrifice oneself could thus lead to the final victory.30 In a way that strongly characterized the Nazi regime’s final months, the self-historicization of the Nazi leaders drew upon references to famous heroic deaths in history. Goebbels is said to have read out passages from Carlyle’s history of Frederick the Great to Hitler in the bunker. In these passages, Frederick the Great contemplated suicide by poisoning himself when the military situation had seemed hopeless to the Prussians in 1757 during the Seven Years War.31 In a radio speech, Goebbels claimed on 28 February 1945 that Frederick the Great had only known ‘victory or death’. In the same broadcast, circulated in most German newspapers on 1 March 1945, Goebbels alluded to the Stoic heroism of Roman leaders such as Cato of Utica. Cato had preferred to die rather than surrender his life and body to Caesar’s mercy. Anticipating his wife’s and his own suicide and the murder of his children, Goebbels declared that he ‘would not find it worthwhile to live … neither for his children nor for all those whom I loved’, but would prefer, if Germany were defeated, ‘cheerfully to throw away his life’.32 Thus, Roman political suicide and not the highly-ritualized voluntary suicides of the Japanese Allies served as a seeming precedent for Nazi leaders. According to rumours circulating among diplomats of those few states still represented in Berlin, Goebbels had glorified suicide at a press conference on 3 March. A conservative German diplomat allegedly commented upon Goebbels’s speech dryly: ‘The Nazi leadership could long ago have set a good precedent by doing away with themselves. That would have been a blessing for Germany and the world.’33 Nazi leaders thought that suicide or rather ‘heroic self-sacrifice’ allowed them to retain a sense of honour, separating them from the bulk of a German population increasingly unwilling to continue fighting. It placed them in control of the decision of when and how to die. Hitler and other Nazi leaders did not see their suicides as acts of despair.34 Hitler thought of his decision to stay in the bunker and die by his own hand as honourable in contrast to ‘cowardly escape or even surrender’ and as a heroic precedent for German troops to keep fighting. In his political testament of 30 April 1945, he blamed the Jews for unleashing the Second World War and portrayed his imminent suicide as an act of heroic self-sacrifice.35 He insisted: May it become, at some future time, part of the code of honour of the German officer, as it is already in our Navy, that the surrender of a district or of a town is impossible, and that the leaders here, above all, must march ahead as shining examples, faithfully fulfilling their duty unto death.36 A radio broadcast on 1 May 1945 claimed that Hitler had died in action, ‘fighting for Germany until the last gasp’.37

PennyRoyalB2R

Japan… pretty sure there is a book about Saipan called suicide island. Also, Okinawa.

anonymoususer1776

I remember reading a book ‘Regiments of Evil’ set at the end of WW2 in Brno, where it mentioned mass suicides of German civilians, especially women. In Protectorate, the German civilians had a hard time to comprehend the loss of war and their suicide was a way to escape a brutal retribution from a local population or in case of women, rapes. Many were not sure of their future, because they were not sure what will happen to them. The expulsion was looming but to go where? Ruined Germany? To be a enslaved by Soviets? Back in 1945, many civilians did not know what will happen to them and optioned for a suicide as a way to leave the world with a dignity.

kaik1914

I’m not sure the government advocated suicide in as many words, but Japanese propaganda relating to US treatment of POWs was apparently so horrific that thousands of soldiers and civilians would throw themselves from cliffs rather than be captured. it might not be what you’re looking for but there have also been mass suicides like the Jones Town massacre where instead of a government a charismatic cult leader pressed their followers to commit suicide. however it could be very easily argued that he coerced his followers into committing suicide as there were armed guards making sure his followers took the poison.

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