Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself: The Mass Suicide of Ordinary Germans in 1945 – Florian Huber

! TRIGGERWARNING: SUICIDE !

Norwegian title: Barn, lov meg at du skyter deg: vanlige tyskeres undergang i 1945

Hello bookfriends!

As you can see this book needed a warning so if you have some sort of trouble with such topics, mental health, or don’t want to read about it then stop reading this review immediately! This book touches upon a heavy and difficult topic and it is rare that I put a book down to take a break due to too much detail but this time I had to. It became to much at some point even for me. I’ll say it again, don’t read this review or book if you struggle with any of the things mentioned above. This is also a very difficult book to review because of its topic but I’ll do my best. The synopsis is borrowed from Goodreads:

In 1945, as the army retreated, the German people were surrendered to the enemy with no means of defence. A wave of suicides rolled across the country as thousands chose death—for themselves and their children—rather than face the defeat of the Third Reich and what they feared might follow. 

Drawing on eyewitness accounts, historian Florian Huber tells of the largest mass suicide in German history and its suppression by the survivors—a fascinating insight into the feelings of ordinary people caught in the tide of history who saw no other way out.

This book is partly parted in two and partly a shifting story. It starts out in Demmin in the early days of the Red Army’s advance into Germany. We are presented with similar scenarios and stories of rape, murder, torture, and robbery from different parts of Germany from the invasion in the first part. In the second part Huber looks closer at what has brought this psychological phenomenon on the German people in terms of different background factors like Hitler’s way to power, the situation in Germany in between the war, and so on. The first part was more shocking to me than the second but I learned more from the second part. Huber has a way of writing that makes you somewhat able to grasp why people viewed suicide as the last and most logical resort. When I say ‘grasp’ I mean that we will never be able to fully understand what these people went through but we get a little insight and a better basis for beginning to grasp the full force of this phenomenon. Due to the circumstances ‘logical’ doesn’t quite seem like a suitable word either but I suppose that when you are desperate enough even the most extreme solution might seem logical. I also suppose that the aspect of wanting to protect ones family without quite knowing how to can drive people towards desperate measures like we see many examples of in this book.

To me, as a previous student of psychology the main topic of suicide is fascinating in a horrible way. I’ve always wondered what makes people end their own life and of course I know that it is different from person to person but I’ve wondered what situation can be horrible enough to make a person see no other way than ending their life. While reading this book I can begin to grasp why many people saw no other way and thus creating this massive psychological phenomenon stretching over all of Germany. At the same time its hard for me to say that I do grasp the circumstances these people lived under. I’ve never experienced war in my entire life. I’ve only seen it in the news or read about it in the paper or books but Huber says something that I found truly valuable whilst reading this book. He says: «When regular people give themselves and their closest family death sentences and it seems impossible for them to continue to live, then we have to look closer at how they perceived the meaning of life. We must clarify what moved inside their heads for 12 years, what kept them going, and what they believed in. We must reflect over what kind of feelings the extreme moods within the Third Reich were able to evoke in its followers.» (Translated by me). We know from history that the Third Reich had a strong propaganda machinery that was capable of spreading lies and altered truths like it was the real truth so maybe there is no wonder that people who fully believed to the end that Hitler was their savior could view the world as ending when the Third Reich fell? Another important factor might be that Hitler was very good at creating this feeling of belonging from early childhood. Children were enrolled in different groups that preached the values of the Third Reich, and as this book demonstrates that meant something to people. Through Hitler Youth they were taught that «We are all Germany» and here the book truly shows us the importance of this propaganda machinery that Hitler had at his disposal.

Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself is a difficult and interesting read at the same time. I feel like the topic of suicide can be discussed forever but I’ll draw a line here where I’m comfortable at leaving this review. As a historical phenomenon I believe that it is important that we talk about this but with dignity. As a psychological phenomenon I believe that it has to be approached with care. In my opinion, suicide will never be an easy topic to discuss but I hope that through book like this one, which brings the topic up as a historical phenomenon, it might be easier to understand what people in embattled zones experience but also bring a wider perspective on why regular people might view this as a last resort out of this world in a regular life.

Published: 2016

Genre: Non-fiction

Theme: World War 2, suicide, psychology, Germany

– The Book Reader

40071362. sy475

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