The town that killed itself: Germany’s silent suicide epidemic
A new book reveals why, in one town, 1,000 residents killed themselves as the Nazi regime fell
On warm afternoons residents of Demmin head down to the three rivers that flow through the northeast German town. By the banks of the River Peene a lone fisherman casts into the sparkling water. Downstream, a young couple in a motorboat putter past the reed beds. This idyllic location in an otherwise unremarkable town bore witness to what is now described as the largest mass suicide in German history.
Between April 30 and May 3 1945, hundreds of families – young and old, rich and poor – drowned themselves in these shallow waterways. Such was the determination to die, people carried rucksacks filled with rocks and roped their children together.
The horror was replicated all over town: in the nearby Swan’s Pond (now at the back of an Aldi supermarket) parents drowned their children in waist-deep water, and in surrounding woodland entire families hanged themselves from the bows of beech trees and old oaks...