IN the run-up to the 75th anniversary of VE Day next week, there will be triumphalism aplenty, especially since so many people think we are currently in a war situation.

You will not see or hear too much about the disastrous events suffered by the German people as the Allies marched across the country, especially in the eastern half of Germany that was overrun by the Soviet Red Army.

Some of the tragedies suffered by ordinary Germans were self-inflicted as a cult of suicide – selbstmord, or self-murder in German – gripped many of the population.

Today is the 75th anniversary of arguably the worst of these events, the mass suicide of around 1000 people in the town of Demmin in the province of Pomerania, now Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

In less than three days, Demmin went from a relatively prosperous town of 15,000 people – the same number of refugees from the east had flocked into the town – to a charnel house in which the bodies lay in open spaces, floated on rivers or hung from trees.


IN his book Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself: The Downfall Of Ordinary Germans, 1945, the author Florian Huber shows that a combination of circumstances led to Demmin’s mass suicide and similar events elsewhere in the country.

In the eastern part of Germany in particular the population was subjected to propaganda on a daily basis that portrayed the Red Army as murderous looters and rapists, and rumours of Soviet atrocities were deliberately exaggerated by Adolf Hitler’s propaganda unit led by Joseph Goebbels in order to encourage civilians to resist the invaders.

There is also no doubt that the news of Hitler’s suicide in the Fuhrerbunker on April 30 devastated many of his fanatical followers – Demmin was a particular stronghold of Nazism.

On April 30, the retreating German army blew up the only bridges across the rivers Peene and Tollense around the town, effectively trapping the townspeople.

The Red Army arrived and sent in three negotiators to obtain the surrender of Demmin, but they were shot, apparently by members of the Hitler Youth. In response, that night the Soviet troops marched into Demmin and began looting the town while women of any age were mercilessly raped.

As news spread of the atrocities, and with rumours of worse things to come, on May 1 the mass suicide began. Whole families swallowed cyanide and other poisons, mothers and fathers killed their children and then themselves, often by slitting their wrists or hanging or shooting themselves while dozens drowned after jumping into the rivers.

Most of the victims were piled into mass graves which were only given a memorial plaque 50 years later.


NO. Such had been the atrocities committed by the Germans during their invasion of Russia that the Red Army commanders – with the approval of Stalin – turned a blind eye to the countless crimes their troops committed.

In fairness, some Red Army soldiers tried to stop the mass suicide and rescued women from the rivers, and they were able to impose some order by May 2.

After the division of Germany, the Soviet-imposed East German government clamped down on any talk or reporting of the event and people only spoke out about it after the Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunified.


THOUGH no other town or city suffered such a devastating mass suicide as Demmin, there were many incidences of both mass and individual suicide happening all over Germany in April and May of 1945.

Berlin is reported to have had 4000 suicides in April and May, 1945, including, of course, Hitler, Eva Braun and the Goebbels family.

Florian Huber explained: “Many people felt a sense of guilt and entanglement. They were afraid of what might come next. Many could not even imagine what the world might be like after these twelve years in a state of emergency.

“This sense of being doomed was not limited to the East German population. It prevailed throughout the country … Entire families committed suicide all over Germany.”

German psychiatrist Erich Menninger-Lerchenthal said:

“They were suicides which did 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.”