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The mass suicides by ordinary citizens in the last days of Nazi Germany | Culture

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Most people have heard how many top Nazis such as Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and Goering took their own lives at the end of the Third Reich, and how some defeated military commanders such as Model, Rommel and Kluge did the same. Moviegoers and history buffs may also know that Tresckow and Beck, two leaders of the failed Hitler assassination plot – Operation Valkyrie – also committed suicide. Downfall (Der Untergang), a 2004 German-language historical war drama film, depicts the final days of Adolf Hitler and his staff holed up in the subterranean bunker headquarters known as the “Führerbunker.” Scene after scene shows Hitler and many government and military officials committing suicide by pistol and poison after learning of Germany’s defeat. Yet most suicides in the bloody twilight of National Socialist Germany were by ordinary people – a housewife who drowned her young children and then hanged herself, or an entire family consuming poison in one final, fatal gathering.

In Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself: The Downfall of Ordinary Germans, 1945, German historian Florian Huber tells the story of the tens of thousands of civilians who killed themselves in a collective madness driven by hopelessness and fear of Soviet Army revenge. Huber, a producer of several international award-winning documentaries, begins his book in the small town of Demmin (northeastern Germany), where a shocking wave of 700 suicides took place – 10% of the population – as the Soviet Red Army closed in on the town. People of all ages, professions and classes killed themselves, often taking their babies and children to their graves. “It was as if the will to die had overcome everyone,” writes Huber.

The young wife of a Wehrmacht lieutenant strangled her three-year-old son with a rope and then hanged herself. A 71-year-old health insurance administrator, his wife and daughter all hanged themselves after killing their young grandchildren. In the Günther family home, 12 people died – some poisoned themselves, some slit their wrists, and some were shot with a hunting rifle. Huber describes the horror of a witness to multiple gang rapes by Soviet soldiers (almost two million German women were sexually assaulted at the end of the war). Afterward, many of the rape victims staggered down to the Tollense River and drowned themselves. Some led their children by the hand into the river after loading stones into their pockets, purses and backpacks, unwittingly emulating Virginia Woolf’s suicide in 1941.

These are just a few of the gruesome scenes recounted by Huber, who was most deeply affected by one dreadful story. “The groundskeeper for the Demmin cemetery kept a list of all the dead who arrived in those terrible times. There were hundreds and hundreds of names – men, women and children – and their ages and cause of death. It was a horrific, handwritten list. Number 135 on the list was a girl, barely a year old, who died on May 1, 1945, ‘strangled by her grandfather,’ it says. It affected me so much that I couldn’t even include it in the book, and it still haunts me to this day.”

Leipzig municipal official Ernst Kurt Lisso with his wife Renate and daughter Regina after all three committed suicide by cyanide in April 1945.
Leipzig municipal official Ernst Kurt Lisso with his wife Renate and daughter Regina after all three committed suicide by cyanide in April 1945. Administración Nacional de Archivos y Registros de Estados Unidos (NARA)

The mass rape of German women by conquering soldiers, especially Soviet soldiers, followed by mass suicides, became a taboo subject in post-war Germany, as vividly described in Antony Beevor’s, The Fall of Berlin 1945. “They were completely taboo subjects for decades in our country. The stories were banned in communist East Germany because they would have reflected poorly on the glorious Red Army. Later on, no one wanted to talk about the mass suicides because those who took their lives didn’t fit with the preconceptions of Germans living under the Third Reich – they were neither villains nor victims,” said Huber. “As a result, they were forgotten until I published my book.” How many people are we talking about? “My research clearly indicates that the number must be in the tens of thousands, from all over Germany. However, in the chaotic final days of the war, official statistics, documentation and medical reports almost ceased to exist. So, it’s impossible to give an exact figure.”

Surprisingly, more civilians and ordinary people committed suicide than members of the military. “One of my most startling findings is that the phenomenon was by no means limited to hardcore Nazis, who really had a lot to fear. In fact, it was men, women and children alike, young and old, workers and businessmen, nurses and doctors, a kaleidoscope of German society. It could hit anybody. These mass suicides were by no means exclusive to Nazis, but were the outcome of a widespread feeling of doom throughout German society.”

The mass psychology of Nazism

Huber’s book explains the mass psychology of Nazism that led inexorably to suicide after defeat. “Let’s not forget that during the Third Reich, the German people had lived in a permanent state of emergency and turmoil for 12 years. During the first few years before the war, everything was hope and glory, devotion and love for the Führer. At the outset of the war, there was an overwhelming feeling of pride, power, superiority and hatred. Then, in the last years of the war, those feelings were replaced by pain, fear, despair and even self-loathing. This all culminated in the devastating experience of the annihilation facing the hallowed fatherland.”

There were many more suicides in the Soviet-occupied areas of Germany than in the Allied-occupied areas, says Huber, even though one of the best-known multiple suicides happened in the Leipzig town hall, one of the cities taken by American forces. “For years, Nazi propaganda had hammered fear of the ‘Mongol monsters’ into the hearts of the German people. When the Red Army finally crossed into Germany from the east, Soviet soldiers did in fact commit many atrocities against civilians. There is no doubt that there were more suicides in Soviet-occupied Germany than elsewhere. Again without having exact figures, I estimate that the ratio must be at least 20 to 1, even though some of the most dramatic and rare photos of German suicides were taken in Leipzig. As I write in my book, two female war photographers traveling with the Allied troops – Lee Miller and Margaret Bourke-White – took those unforgettable pictures of Germans, including entire families, who had killed themselves just minutes earlier. It’s remarkable that the best photos of this phenomenon were taken by two women.”

The current suicide epidemic leads us to wonder how easy it might be to take your own life. But how could so many people make such a terrible decision and then actually carry through with it? “Committing suicide is never easy and whoever does it must be in an extreme mental state,” said Huber. “In 1945, many factors in Germany converged to create this state of mind: fear of violence and Russian revenge, a feeling of guilt and complicity, hopelessness, and the loss of homes and loved ones. This all produced a certain contagious atmosphere, and when so many people are killing themselves, people tend to follow.” As one witness to those dark days observed: “Death has lost its majesty and has become an everyday event.”

Walter Doenicke, a major in the Volkssturm national militia, lies on the floor of Leipzig city hall after committing suicide.
Walter Doenicke, a major in the Volkssturm national militia, lies on the floor of Leipzig city hall after committing suicide. Administración Nacional de Archivos y Registros de Estados Unidos (NARA)

“People used any available means to kill themselves: hanging, shooting, stabbing, slashing wrists, poisoning and drowning. Many even killed their children first,” said Huber, who deliberately focused on ordinary Germans instead of military or political figures. “But of course, many high-ranking officers committed suicide as well, By one count, 53 army generals, 14 air force generals, and 11 admirals killed themselves, and these were only the top-level officials.”

Downfall vividly depicts the horrific self-extermination of the Goebbels family as Magda Goebbels, that Medea of Hitlerism, poisons her own children. “Some Nazis committed suicide when they learned that Hitler was dead, because they wanted to continue following their Führer,” said Huber, “but Adolf Hitler’s demise had little to do with the mass suicides because many Germans no longer cared about the leader, and because radio broadcasts reported that he died heroically in battle, not by his own hand. So Hitler’s death was a final, big lie.”

There are other historical events similar to the German mass suicides, said Huber. In 73 AD, a thousand people in the Jewish fortress of Masada killed themselves while under siege by the Romans. During the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, many Japanese civilians, including entire families, committed suicide as Japanese defenses crumbled. Could this happen today? “I don’t see any conflict today that would provoke a reaction on that scale,” said Huber. “The circumstances of Germany’s defeat in 1945 were exceptional and are unlikely to be repeated.”

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Chasing Horse charged with federal crimes in sex abuse probe | USA

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A former “Dances With Wolves” actor accused of sexually abusing Indigenous women and girls for decades was charged with federal crimes Wednesday, adding to the growing list of criminal cases against Nathan Chasing Horse since his arrest last week in Nevada.

Chasing Horse, 46, now faces two counts of sexual exploitation of children and one count of possession of child pornography, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday afternoon in Nevada U.S. District Court. Authorities have said Chasing Horse filmed sexual assaults.

The federal charges came hours after a state judge on Wednesday granted $300,000 bail to Chasing Horse, who has been in Las Vegas police custody since his Jan. 31 arrest near the home he shared with his five wives.

Earlier Wednesday, about two dozen of Chasing Horse’s relatives and friends had filed into a North Las Vegas courtroom in a show of support, hoping he would be released on bail. They cheered and celebrated the judge’s decision as they left the courthouse, waving signs that translate to “Justice for Chasing Horse.” Now, if he posts bail, he is likely to be taken into federal custody.

In state court, Chasing Horse is charged with eight felonies, including sexual assault, sex trafficking and child abuse. He has not entered a plea.

Canadian police in British Columbia confirmed this week they also are pursuing a criminal case against the former actor, who is known for his portrayal of Smiles A Lot in Kevin Costner’s 1990 Oscar-winning film. He is accused in a 2018 sexual assault in the British Columbia village of Keremeos near the Washington state border.

Authorities in Nevada have said his crimes date to the early 2000s and stretch across the United States and into Canada.

It wasn’t immediately clear how, if at all, the federal charges will affect Chasing Horse’s case in Clark County. His public defender, Kristy Holston, did not immediately respond Wednesday evening to a request for comment.

At his bail hearing Wednesday morning, Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney William Rowles told the judge that Chasing Horse should remain in custody because he was “grooming” girls to replace his older wives at the time of his arrest.

“There is evidence that this individual is still in the process of grooming young children to replace the others as they grow up,” Rowles said.

Nevada authorities have described Chasing Horse in more than a hundred pages of court documents as the leader of a cult known as The Circle, whose followers believed Chasing Horse, as a “medicine man,” could communicate with higher beings. Police said he abused that position to physically and sexually assault women and girls and take underage wives.

At its peak, Rowles said, The Circle had about 300 members.

Investigators and victims had been expected to speak in court Wednesday, because Nevada law requires prosecutors to show convincing evidence that a defendant should remain jailed as they await trial. But after delays in the proceedings, the judge heard only from Rowles, who requested $2 million bail, and Holston, who asked the judge to set bail at $50,000.

After the hearing, Holston told The Associated Press she also was happy with the judge’s decision and said she is looking forward to his next court date in North Las Vegas, currently scheduled for Feb. 22. At that hearing, a judge is expected to hear evidence in the case and decide whether Chasing Horse will stand trial.

“We’re really looking forward to the preliminary hearing in this case,” she said, “because it’s another public hearing where we will have an opportunity to point out the weaknesses in the state’s case.”

Rulon Pete, a representative of the victims and the executive director of the Las Vegas Indian Center, said they were disappointed with the judge’s decision. Some of the victims were in the courtroom Wednesday.

“What happened this morning was like a slap in the face,” Pete told The Associated Press.

Police have said they have identified at least six victims, including one who was 13 when she said she was abused, and another who said she was offered to Chasing Horse as a “gift” when she was 15.

Chasing Horse was born on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Sicangu Sioux, one of the seven tribes of the Lakota nation. In 2015, he was banished from the Fort Peck Reservation in Poplar, Montana, following allegations of human trafficking.

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Merkel receives UNESCO peace prize for welcoming refugees

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The offices accorded to the former leader are in view of the Russian embassy, where since the Ukraine invasion in February Berliners regularly leave signs and flowers protesting the war.

Long called the world’s most powerful woman, Merkel these days has pulled back from the spotlight, working on her memoirs and enjoying the occasional television series, such as “The Crown”, which tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s turbulent decades on the throne.

But in many quarters the broad German support she once enjoyed as a staunch defender of Western liberal values has curdled.

“One year on, the world is in flames, Russia invaded Ukraine, gas and  petrol prices are through the roof and Germany fears the winter,” wrote Der Spiegel magazine’s Alexander Osang, a longtime Merkel confidant.

“Angela Merkel went from role model to culprit, from crisis-manager to crisis-causer.”

Invitation to Bucha

Germany’s first female chancellor has been accused of placating Russian President Vladimir Putin in the name of realpolitik, while deepening Germany’s energy dependence on Moscow — not least by backing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project even after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

READ ALSO: Merkel says no regrets over Germany’s Russia gas deals

Hedwig Richter, modern history professor at Munich’s Bundeswehr University, said Merkel‘s loss of standing had been “exceptional”, representing a generation of political failings.

“Amorality is not the same thing as realpolitik,” Richter told AFP.

“The governments of the last 16 years thought it was realistic to place values such as human rights and climate protection last in politics. But now reality is striking back.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has laid the blame at Merkel‘s feet, in particular for a decision at a 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest not to admit his country to the alliance.

In April, he offered her a barbed invitation to Bucha, the site of an alleged massacre of Ukrainian civilians, “to see what the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in 14 years”.

Looming energy shortages due to Russian retaliation for Western sanctions have also soured the mood against Merkel at home.

In the public debate, “Merkel was tied up with this war and certainly to blame for the missing gas”, said Nico Fried, who covered Merkel during all four of her terms, in Stern magazine.

“The question is what remains of Merkel after 16 years, whether her historical portrait is already fading before it was even really framed.”

‘Horribly neglected’

Just 23 percent of Germans would want Merkel back in power, according to a Civey institute poll in late November.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Are Germans questioning Merkel’s legacy?

In this file photo taken on November 10, 2021 then outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then German Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a press conference to present the annual report of the German Council of Economic Experts (Wirtschaftsweise) in Berlin. (Photo by Kay Nietfeld / POOL / AFP)

Richter said Merkel had “great achievements” including allowing in more  than one million asylum seekers and standing as a beacon of “decency” and  “democratic duty” when strongmen like Putin and Donald Trump were on the march.

But she said two key miscalculations would cast a long shadow.

“Firstly, the inability of the (German) republic to defend itself. And because this is closely linked to the fossil-fuel dependence on Russia, it threw a spotlight on destruction of the planet,” she said.

“The Merkel governments horribly neglected both these issues.”

Merkel, 68, has mounted a tentative counter-offensive, arguing that she acted in good conscience given the facts on the ground at the time.

She said she tried to use Nord Stream 2 as a bargaining chip to ensure Putin respected the 2015 Minsk accords aimed at stopping the fighting in Ukraine.

Merkel told Fried she pledged to US President Joe Biden last year that if Russia invaded Ukraine, the pipeline deal would be scrapped — a threat her successor Olaf Scholz made good on days before the war began.

Osang noted the irony that “Putin of all people, whom she has known so well and long, with all his tricks, lies, bragging” had muddied her reputation.

One of Merkel‘s lessons from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that it was “economic, more than democratic, deprivation” that led to the communist system’s collapse.

Osang said this had coloured her approach to trade with China and energy deals with Russia.

She said Scholz’s billions in spending to help Germans facing high gas prices were now justified.

“Not everyone is in a position to freeze for Ukraine,” she said.



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Madonna lashes out against criticism: ‘Once again I am caught in the glare of ageism and misogyny’ | Culture

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No matter how many years go by, Madonna, 64, continues to be the subject of conversation. Whether it’s her music, her concerts or her constant physical changes, the queen of pop is still making headlines. But the artist has had enough and publicly burst out through her social media accounts. Her reaction came after her appearance at the Grammy Awards gala on Sunday became the object of controversy, criticism and even ridicule.

Madonna had been tasked with introducing the performance of the award-winning Sam Smith and Kim Petras, the first trans woman to win and perform at the awards. Madonna had described it as a “history-making moment,” but she ended up attracting all the attention to herself due to her looks.

“Instead of focusing on what I said in my speech which was about giving thanks for the fearlessness of artists like Sam and Kim – many people chose to only talk about close-up photos of me taken with a long lens camera by a press photographer that would distort anyone’s face!” she wrote in an Instagram post.

For the event, Madonna was wearing a black skirt and jacket, a white shirt, gloves and a tie, and her hair was made up into pigtails and braids. Many people commented on her surprising and sudden physical change, while others noted that in her Instagram Stories – short-lived posts that have already expired and cannot be seen again – the artist used photographic filters to refine and stylize her face.

“Once again I am caught in the glare of ageism and misogyny that permeates the world we live in. A world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45. And feels the need to punish her if she continues to be strongwilled, hardworking and adventurous,” Madonna wrote on her Instagram account, where she has almost 19 million followers.

Thirty years ago, when Madonna was 33, she published S.E.X, an erotic book with explicit images of her naked, kissing men and women, in which she wrote about her sexual fantasies and shared her point of view on sexuality. “They called me a whore, a witch, a heretic and even a demon,” the artist recalled just a few weeks ago, when the 30th anniversary of the book’s release was observed.

During her speech at the Grammy Awards, even before the criticism began on social media, Madonna already anticipated what was going to happen: “This is what I learned after four decades in music: if they call you shocking, scandalous, troublesome, provocative, or dangerous, you are definitely on to something.”

In 2023 the artist is embarking on several musical projects, including a world tour that will take a look back at four decades in the music business and feature some of her greatest hits such as Like a Prayer or Material Girl. The project is taking up so much of her time that he has decided to cancel the biopic she was preparing about her life, which already had an actress to play the lead, Julia Garner.

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