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  • The Family that Commits Suicide Together… August 22, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    ***This is an image post, but as the image involves three dead people it is hidden below***

    Germans led the suicide stakes in Second-World-War Europe. Whether it be Captain Langsdorff lying on his ensign and blowing his brains out; Rommel deciding to save his family by taking poison; the desperate Leonidas kamikaze pilots; or Himmler cheating the hangman self murder crops up again and again in the Third Reich. There is even a particularly odious German order given at Stalingrad, ‘fight to the last bullet but one’: naturally the fink who gave this order (Beach is quoting from memory) was one of those to surrender himself to the loving care of Stalin.

    As the Red Army and the Western Allies pressed closer and closer to Berlin suicides grew. Beachcombing has previously examined the death of Goebbels and his family; and Hitler’s death in the bunker is one of the most mused over moments of twentieth-century history. However, it is important to realise that suicides were not just the prerogative of the German high command. Through disillusionment – Hitler’s Germany had promised the domination of Euro-Asia, through fear – the statistics of murder and rape as Germany is overrun are ghastly and through the Nazi’s casual attitude to ‘ending it’ and the widespread availability of cyanide pills suicide affected all levels of society.

    Beachcombing placed the warning at the top of the post because seeing dead people is never pleasant. But there is something so extraordinary about this scene that any faint hearts might want to make an exception. 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 (pictured above). In the death tableaux – what did the ‘liberating’ Americans make of this? – 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 those ‘dirty’ Yanks could do their worst.

    Of course, if they had remained alive the mayor and his deputy would have been taken into custody: their family would have retreated into the city. Then in three years, five at the most they would have been out of custody and within a decade they would – if they could have gotten out of Saxony and over to the west –  have been high ups in one of the post war German parties, the bulwark of western Europe against Soviet communism. But perspective, let alone hindsight are nowhere to be found when enemy tanks stalk murderously through your city.

    In Beachcombing’s source there is some uncertainty, but apparently the Lisso family committed suicide on the morning 19 April 1945. If Regina had been out bandaging her fellow countrymen, instead of being obedient to Papa and the Reich she would be in her late eighties today with three or four kids and a dozen grandchildren.

    Beachcombing is always on the look out for dramatic pictures. Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    23 Aug 2011: Sword & Beast writes in with this sad story and an annihilating picture: ‘Your post on the nazi suicides reminded me a famous episode in Brazil, also related to that regime. Stefan Sweig was a great Jewish novelist, who fled Austria in 1934, as Hitler´s regime gained ground in Germany and central Europe. He lived in England, the US and ended up in Brazil. In 1942, as the result of WWII was unclear, he lost hope in mankind and, together with his wife, took his life with poison: ‘I think it better to conclude in good time and in erect bearing a life in which intellectual labour meant the purest joy and personal freedom the highest good on Earth’. There is a picture of the couple lying in bed, hugging in sad tenderness‘. KMH, meanwhile, remembers Japan’s attitude to suicide: ‘It was Japan that possessed an ingrained propensity to suicide (called hara-kiri, as I recall) as an honourable solution to hopeless situations. This is why so few Japanese troops surrendered compared to troops of other countries in WWII, and why the Kamikaze tactic was so readily  implemented. The Japanese also instilled totally unrealistic fears in the civilian populations under their control concerning what would happen if the Americans were victorious. Some civilians believed them and threw themselves over a cliff to certain death rather than live under the Americans. But, as you imply, where we find suicide, we can also find a whole syndrome of false ideas and beliefs.’ Thanks KMH and S&B!


    24 Aug 2011: JCE writes in with a counter reflection: ‘I read with interest your post of August 22, as well as the later readers’ comments. We all shake our heads in amazement at how Nazism’s adherents could have such twisted perceptions and values as to destroy their entire families rather than live in a world with National Socialism crushed underfoot. I think I know where KMH is coming from with the statement, ‘where we find suicide, we can also find a whole syndrome of false ideas and beliefs.’  I agree that we can find those false ideas and beliefs, but not that we necessarily must. I submit the thousands of 1945 suicides of German women, and to a somewhat lesser degree of German soldiers, who fell or were on the verge of falling into the hands of the victorious Red Army. In many cases it is safe to say the suicides were almost exclusively to avoid rape and/or torture. As such the vast majority had much more to do with the Soviet Union’s official policy of brutal vengeance against any and all Germans than with those Germans’ political beliefs. We recoil from the suicides of Mayor Lisso and his wife and daughter, and I think the main reason is that their suicides were in essence wasteful, petty and meaningless. Essentially they killed themselves because they were sore losers. As the creme de la creme of Nazi Germany, Burgomeisters like Herr Lisso knew their lives of privilege and power were over, at least for many uncomfortable years. Rather than face opprobrium, loss of social status and economic hardship, they took their own lives. While I gernally abhor the idea of suicide, I can’t say I find it always impermissible. But it is simply small and unworthy to kill oneself to avoid a reduced standard of living, even a moral reckoning. It’s a different matter with the defenseless civilians who came under the heel of the Red Army, particularly those who were residents of the first German cities to be conquered in the Reich’s eastern reaches. Those civilians who lived near Germany’s eastern borders were generally treated much more harshly than those who lived, say, just east of the River Elbe. Although some might argue that ‘less harshly’ is a relative concept, in that the Russians raped so many women between 12 and 60 – but at least in the western part of the Soviet’s Yalta loot the rape victims were generally allowed to live afterwards. Many would argue that was because the tovariches were simply exhausted, not because they were merciful. (Anthony Beevors’s magisterial The Fall of Berlin, Max Hastings’ Armageddon and Cornelius Ryan’s The Last Battle establish beyond any rational doubt that virtually untrammeled rape and murder of German civilians, including children, was a matter of de facto Soviet policy. Viz., the works of official Soviet propagandist Ilya Ehrenberg.)’ Thanks JCE!