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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