14. Heinrich Seetzen committed suicide after being arrested for the mass murder of over 100,000 civilians in Eastern Europe
Heinrich Seetzen (b. 1906) was a SS-Standartenführer and police lieutenant, in the capacity of which he participated in the Holocaust and was responsible for the mass murder of civilians in Ukraine and Belarus. Electing to study law at the University of Marburg and the University of Kiel Seetzen was politically active during his student years, joining the “Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten” – the paramilitary wing of the conservative German National People’s Party. In May 1933 Seetzen joined the Nazi Party, and in February 1935 the SS.
Unemployed and failing in a bid to become mayor of Eutin, Seetzen joined the Gestapo in 1935. Rising quickly to the position of Chief within the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) and SD in Aachen by 1938, Seetzen also served in Vienna, Stettin, and Hamburg between 1940-1942, Kassel (1942), Breslau (1943), and finally in 1944 as Commander of the Security Police in Prague.
Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Seetzen, in his role as commander of Sonderkommando 10a, followed Army Group South into Soviet territory. Of this work Austrian police officer Robert Barth, an accomplice of Seetzen’s, later stated that Seetzen “boasted that his Kommando would shoot the most Jews. I was also told that, at his command, once the ammunition for the shootings of Jews ran out, the Jews were cast alive into a well with a depth of approximately 30 meters (98 ft).” Between April and August 1944 Seetzen served as commander of of Einsatzgruppe B, responsible for the mass murder of more than 134,000 people in Minsk and Smolensk and for which Seetzen was rewarded with a promotion to SS-Standartenführer and made Commander of the Security Police and SD in Belarus.
After the end of the war Seetzen resided with a female friend under the assumed identity of “Michael Gollwitzer”. During this time Seezten allegedly expressed remorse for his actions, claiming “he was heavily burdened by guilt, that he was a criminal, and that he had essentially forfeited his life.” Predicting he would eventually be caught Seezten made plans to swallow cyanide immediately upon capture, and on September 28 1945, after arrest by British military police in Hamburg-Blankenese, Seetzen ingested the fatal poison.
15. After his request for a firing squad was rejected, Hermann Göring took his own life the day before he was due to be hung for war crimes
Hermann Göring (b. 1893) was Reichsmarschall of Nazi Germany, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, Reich Minister of Aviation, President of the Reichstag, and Minister President of Prussia. Interested from a young age in a military career, Göring enrolled at the Berlin Lichterfelde military academy at the age of 16 and graduated within distinction. Joining the Prince Wilhelm Regiment (112th Infantry) of the Prussian army in 1912 Göring fought in World War One, first as an infantryman in the trenches of France and later as an airman flying reconnaissance and bombing missions, recording 22 victories in aerial combat; for the latter contributions Göring was awarded the Iron Cross, Zähringer Lion, the Friedrich Order, the House Order of Hohenzollern, and the Pour le Mérite.
First meeting Hitler after a speech in 1922, Göring immediately joined the Nazi Party and rose quickly due to the admiration of Hitler himself for his efficiency. Appointed commander of the SA in 1923 Göring participated in the failed Munich Putsch of the same year, being wounded and fleeing the country until granted amnesty in 1927. Entering politics, Göring was one of the first Nazis elected to the Reichstag in 1928 and is generally considered responsible for the Reichstag Fire in February 1933. Named Reich Minister of Aviation after the Machtergreifung, in which capacity he secretly begun the creation of the Luftwaffe in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, Göring also established the Gestapo, although relinquishing control to Himmler in 1934, and was one of the key instigators behind the Night of the Long Knives.
Upon the outbreak of the Second World War on September 1 1939, Hitler publicly announced Göring as his successor “if anything should befall me”. The Luftwaffe performed a critical role in the German conquest of Poland, Netherlands, Belgium, and France, and Göring was awarded the honorary title of Reichsmarschall in 1940 granting him superiority to any other military figure in the Reich. Failing to achieve victory in the Battle of Britain, Göring focused his attention towards the unsuccessful Eastern Front causing critical losses to German air strength. With his forces and reputation declining, and with the Luftwaffe comprising just 300 fighters by D-Day compared to the Allies’ 11,000, Göring became increasingly excluded from Hitler’s inner circle.
With Hitler resolved to remain in Berlin until death, on April 22 1945 Göring sought to exercise the decree naming him successor in order to negotiate a surrender. Hitler responded by stripping him of his positions and placing him under arrest at Obersalzberg, whilst Bormann ordered Göring’s execution in the event Berlin should fall. Escaping and surrendering to American forces on May 6, Göring was subsequently tried before the Nuremberg Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Despite an appeal to be granted a soldier’s execution by firing squad, Göring was sentenced to death by hanging and instead committed suicide by cyanide smuggled into his prison cell; it is believed one of the American guards provided Göring with a pen containing a hidden capsule in exchange for a bribe of a gold watch.
16. After helping forcefully euthanize children within Hitler’s bunker, the Führer’s personal surgeon Ludwig Stumpfegger attempted to flee Berlin
Ludwig Stumpfegger (b. 1910) was a physician and SS-Obersturmbannführer, who served as Hitler’s personal surgeon from 1944-1945. Joining the SS in 1933, and the Nazi Party itself in 1935, Stumpfegger worked as an assistant doctor at Hohenlychen Sanatorium. In this capacity, Stumpfegger was closely involved with the Berlin Summer Olympics and Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Olympics of 1936. After the outbreak of the Second World War, Hohenlychen begun conducting medical experiments on female concentration camp inmates for the SS. Briefly relocated to the surgical department of the SS hospital in Berlin between September 1939 and April 1940, Stumpfegger continued his work at Hohenlychen until October 1944 when he was transferred at Hitler’s request to the “Wolfsschanze” (Wolf’s Lair) as the resident doctor.
Present in the Führerbunker in April 1945, Stumpfegger was responsible for providing cyanide for Hitler’s dog Blondi, as an effectiveness test for Eva Braun, as well as assisting Magda Goebbels murder her six children. Following Hitler’s permission for a “breakout” prior to his own suicide on April 30, Stumpfegger left the Führerbunker on May 1 as one of ten groups of senior Nazis attempting to flee Berlin. After crossing the Spree river Stumpfegger, Bormann, and Axmann split from their group, with Stumpfegger and Bormann committing suicide by cyanide near Lehrter train station. As in the case of Bormann, Stumpfegger’s death was only confirmed years later due to the excavation of his remains in 1972, subsequent forensic examination, and finally verified by genetic testing in 1999.
17. Blamed for manufacturing problems, Germany’s engineering prodigy Karl Heinrich Emil Becker was pressured into suicide near the outset of World War Two
Karl Heinrich Emil Becker (b. 1879) was a military engineer, serving as the first President of the Reich Research Council, Chief of the Heereswaffenam (Army Weapons Agency), and as Commanding General of German Artillery. Beginning his military career in 1898, Becker studied at Munich Artillery and Engineering School from 1901-03 and at Berlin Military Engineering Academy from 1906-11 wherein he specialized in ballistics. Seeing action during the First World War, Becker served first as commander of an artillery battery and from 1917 as an advisor on artillery ballistics at the Weapons and Equipment Inspectorate. Returning to education after the war, Becker received a doctorate in engineering in 1922 and secured a position as an advisor to the Heereswaffenam’s inspection office.
Always advocating a closer link between science and the military, Becker’s Central Office of Army Physics and Army Chemistry was buoyed by the rise of Hitler and the re-militarization of Germany. Among the programs enabled by the generous increases in funding, Becker staunchly encouraged the German nuclear energy project in addition to the development of early rocketry. From appointments as Honorary Professor of military sciences at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität and Professor of technical physics at the Technische Hochschule Berlin, to serving on the supervisory board of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gesellschaft, and being the first general officer to be a member of the Prussian Academy of Science, Becker established himself as one of Germany’s leading military scientific minds of his generation.
Attracting the disfavor of the Führer and being blamed for shortfalls in munitions productions, Becker committed suicide under Gestapo supervision on April 8 1940, just one day before the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. His suicide, believed to be via cyanide but unconfirmed, was covered up to conceal disunity within the Reich and Becker was granted a State funeral on April 12 1940.
18. Facing inevitable capture, Secret Police Chief Walther Bierkamp took his own life to avoid judicial punishment
Walther Bierkamp (b. 1901) was a Generalmajor of Police within the Nazi Security Police (SD) and SS-Brigadeführer. Joining the Nazi Party in 1932, and the SS in 1939, Bierkamp swiftly garnered a reputation for ruthless efficiency and was employed by the German secret police throughout Europe. Serving first as Head of the Criminal Police department in Hamburg from February 1937 to February 1941, Bierkamp later occupied positions as Chief of the Security Police and Security Service in Düsseldorf, Chief of the Security Police in Paris, and Higher SS and Police Leader in Belgium and Northern France.
Between June 1942 and June 1943 Bierkamp commanded the SS paramilitary death squad Einsatzgruppe D, responsible for the mass killing of Jews throughout the territory of the Soviet Union. Among several known incidents Einsatzgruppe D shot 500 Jews from Krasnodar across two days in August 1942, and the total death toll of the squadron is estimated to be around 10,000.
Appointed Chief of Police of Kraków, Poland, Bierkamp was responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the region via nearby Auschwitz concentration camp. During the German retreat from Eastern Europe, in July 1944 Bierkamp ordered the evacuation of useful prisoners for forced industrial labor but also the execution by any means necessary of those unable to be transported back to Germany. Relocating repeatedly in the final weeks of the war, Bierkamp finally committed suicide in Scharbeutz on May 15 1945.
19. Despite claiming Hitler to be the new messiah, Ernst Bergmann committed suicide rather than defend his beliefs at Nuremberg
Ernst Bergmann (b. 1881) was a philosophy and passionate proponent of Nazism as a political ideology. Studying philosophy and German language at the University of Leipzig, Bergmann attained his doctorate in 1905 and continued his studies in Berlin. Returning to his alma mater in a teaching capacity in 1911, he was further awarded a professorship in 1916. Subsequently embracing the doctrine of the Nazi Party, and officially joining the movement in 1930, Bergmann became one of the Germany’s leading academic proponents of National Socialism.
Developing an interest with abstract religious and mystical philosophy, Bergmann was central to the Nazi effort to adapt and manipulate existing religious sentiment within Germany to be more compatible with the racialist political ideology of the Party. Many of Bergmann’s works, including “Die deutsche Nationalkirche” (the German National Church) and “Die natürliche Geistlehre” (The Natural Doctrine of the Spirit), were and remain banned by the Roman Catholic Church. In one such theological exercise, “Die 25 Thesen der Deutschreligion” (Twenty-five Points of the German Religion), Bergmann contended Jesus was of Aryan descent, not a Jew, and that Adolf Hitler was the new messiah and God’s chosen servant. Captured by Allied forces during the occupation of Leipzig in 1945, Bergmann committed suicide rather than face the Nuremberg Courts.
20. Responsible for the deaths of more than 10 million, Heinrich Himmler killed himself after failing to escape at the end of the war
Heinrich Himmler (b. 1900) was Reichsführer of the Nazi SS and one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. Enlisting as an officer candidate with the reserve battalion of the 11th Bavarian Regiment in December 1917, Himmler remained in training during the conclusion of the war and was thus denied the opportunity to become an officer or experience combat. Unsuccessful in his further attempts to pursue a military career and harboring growing anti-Semitic and far-right views, Himmler joined the Nazi Party in 1923 as a member of the paramilitary SA and took part in the failed Munich Putsch.
Joining the SS as an SS-Führer (SS-Leader) in 1925 with the serial number #168, Himmler advanced quickly through the ranks, first as a District Leader and later as a propaganda chief. Developing an extensive bureaucracy collating statistics and information on undesirables, Himmler confided with Hitler his vision for the SS as an elite unit dedicated to racial purity; in response Hitler appointed Himmler Deputy Reichsführer-SS with the rank of SS-Oberführer, rising to the position of Reichsführer-SS in January 1929 upon the resignation of Erhard Heiden. Within his first year as Reichsführer Himmler drastically expanded the SS, increasing its numbers from approximately 290 to over 3,000, and after the Machtergreifung in 1933 had enlarged the organization to 52,000 members. Applicants were vetted according to the requirements of Hitler’s Aryan Herrenvolk (“Aryan master race”), despite Himmler’s own incompatibility with these principles, and in 1931 Himmler introduced his “marriage order” requiring for family trees to prove racial purity within the SS.
Extending his racialist ideology outside the SS, less than three months after the Machtergreifung Himmler established Dachau concentration camp, with the new facility serving a model for all future camps in Germany. Initially incarcerating political opponents, from December 1937 Hitler granted Himmler authority to imprison anyone deemed by the regime to be an undesirable; by the outbreak of the Second World War, Himmler oversaw six camps housing roughly 27,000 inmates.
During World War Two Himmler oversaw the activities of the Nazi death squads in Europe, notably the Einsatzgruppen (SS task forces) collectively responsible for the deaths of at least two million people, commissioned the “Generalplan Ost” (General Plan for the East) which proposed the expulsion or eradication of Slavic populations to create space for Aryan Germans, and was responsible, among other programs, for Operation Reinhard – the plan to exterminate Poland’s Jews. Overall, it is estimated Himmler was complicit or responsible for the deaths of in excess of 14 million people throughout Europe.
In April 1945, with defeat imminent, Himmler sought to negotiate a secret surrender with the Allies, hoping the Americans would assist the remaining German forces in repelling the Red Army. After a BBC report on the evening of April 28 revealed these negotiations, Hitler stripped Himmler of his rank and despite efforts to regain his position under the new Chancellor, Karl Dönitz, Himmler was rebuffed and instead fled into hiding. Captured on May 21, Himmler identified himself to his British captors on May 23 and during a medical examination broke a hidden cyanide capsule concealed in his mouth.
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