In 1945, after the Third Reich fell and Soviet troops started marching into Germany, tens of thousands of Germans committed suicide. These included not just Nazi leaders but also ordinary citizens, sometimes entire families. Some shot themselves, others consumed poison and some, in the town of Demmin that saw an estimated 1,000 suicides, drowned themselves in the rivers. An author and documentary filmmaker looks at the reasons why.
Florian Huber’s Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself: The Downfall of Ordinary Germans is a bestseller in Gemany and has been released in an English-language version.
From diaries, letters, and memoirs, as well as eyewitness accounts, Huber examines how ordinary Germans went from national pride during the Hitler years to despair from the euphoria during the Hitler years to the despair when the Soviets arrived. Some of the suicides were the result of personal guilt, after many Germans had been swept along with the allure of the Hitler regime. Others were driven by fear of the Soviet troops, or shame — a large number of women committed suicide after being raped by Red Army soldiers.
In its review of the book, The Guardian acknowledges the skill with which Huber tells these stories. The review is critical, however, of Huber’s portrait of an entire nation seduced by Hitler and overwhelmed at the end of the war by “complicity, culpability, guilt”. The reviewer calls this “seriously inaccurate —millions of Germans were longing for the end of the ruinous regime of the Nazis by the last months of the war”.