3. Richard Glücks served as Concentration Camps Inspector and the man who recommended the creation of Auschwitz extermination camp
Richard Glücks (b. 1889) was an SS-Gruppenführer and Generalleutnant of the Waffen-SS who was one of the most prominent Nazi officials responsible for the conception and implementation of the “Final Solution”. Living in England prior to the outbreak of World War One, Glücks returned to Germany in disguise aboard a Norwegian ship in January 1915. He would later serve as an artillery commander during the battles of Verdun and the Somme, being awarded the Iron Cross. Joining the Nazi Party in 1930, and the SS two years later, Glücks quickly rose to the position of Chief-of-Staff to then-Concentration Camps Inspector Theodore Eicke in 1936, a position he would inherit in 1939.
Despite being described as lacking in charisma Glücks possessed an “abundance of ideological commitment”, commanding inmates of concentration camps be required to work continuously, and in February 1940 suggested Auschwitz as a suitable location for a new camp to house up to 130,000 prisoners. Glücks also supported the use of camp inmates for medical experimentation, receiving permission from Himmler in February 1942 to do so. As historians Leni Yahill and Martin Broszat detailed, Glücks was “responsible for the entire network of concentration camps” and the majority of important policy decisions concerning the Final Solution were “decided directly between the Inspector of Concentration Camps and the Reichsführer-SS”.
Glücks also undertook significant efforts to conceal the extent of his activities, complaining during a visit to Auschwitz in 1943 about the publicly visible nature of the crematorium and requiring Commandant Höss to plant a row of trees to mask the view. Similarly, Glücks left standing instructions to all Commandants that during visits from senior officials of the Reich to avoid showing the crematoriums and if any questions arose concerning visible chimney smoke to reply it was the product of corpses being burnt as a result of a disease epidemic.
By January 1945, Glücks was responsible for managing the fifteen largest concentration camps and more than five hundred satellite camps. With the formal surrender of Germany Glücks committed suicide on May 10 1945 at the Mürwik naval base in Flensburg-Mürwi, swallowing a capsule of potassium cyanide rather than face the advancing Red Army.
4. Refusing to flee Berlin “for reasons of humanity and personal loyalty”, Joseph Goebbels ingested cyanide in the gardens of Reich Chancellery after only one day as Chancellor of the Nazi Germany
Paul Joseph Goebbels (b. 1897) was Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Gauleiter of Berlin within the Nazi Party, and Chancellor of Germany (April 31 1945-May 1 1945). A child of ill health, Goebbels endured recurrent lung inflammations and possessed a deformed right foot causing him a lifelong limp; because of these conditions, Goebbels was rejected for military service during the First World War. Instead pursuing academics, Goebbels received his doctorate in German literature in 1921 and by 1940 had published at least 14 books.
Diary entries reflect a gradual shift towards nationalistic and racial sentiments, and Goebbels became interested in the Nazi Party during Hitler’s trial for treason in 1924. Joining the Party that same year Goebbels begun work as a writer and party speaker, rising quickly through the hierarchy. Despite initially opposing Hitler’s personal vision of national socialism, Goebbels ultimately capitulated and later wrote in his diary “I bow to the greater one, the political genius”. In the 1928 elections, Goebbels was one of 12 Nazis elected to the Reichstag.
Understanding the power of propaganda and the press, Goebbels encouraged the recording and dissemination of speeches and successfully exploited popular opinion and events to the advantage of the Nazi Party, notably the murder of SA Troop Leader Horst Wessel in 1930 by two members of the Communist Party. In April 1930, Hitler appointed Goebbels Reich leader of Nazi propaganda, a position he would continue after the Machtergreifung (Nazi seizure of power) in 1933 as Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. The mouthpiece of the Reich, Goebbels routinely spoke on behalf the Führer, announcing major programs and composing the wordage of many of Hitler’s decrees. In particular, Goebbels was a major contributing cause of the cult of personality which surrounded Hitler, carefully choreographing public appearances such as the Nuremberg Rally of 1934 which was immortalized in the propaganda film “The Triumph of Will”.
Throughout the Second World War, Goebbels utilized his position to control access to information throughout the Reich. Having gained control of radio stations domestically in 1934 and placed them under the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (German National Broadcasting Corporation), the Propaganda Ministry repurposed the broadcasting facilities of conquered territories immediately after surrender. With Hitler making fewer public appearances the Ministry enlarged efforts to maintain the trust of the people, with 1,500 mobile film vans screening propaganda films and Goebbels himself writing frequent editorials to be read aloud on radio. Recognizing as early as July 1943 that the war could not be won, Goebbels sought to persuade Hitler to seek peace to no avail.
Opposed to the evacuation of the Führer from Berlin, Goebbels argued instead for a heroic last stand; privately, he had confided he knew how the outside world would treat the regime and did not wish to be captured. Disobeying Hitler’s final order to survive and succeed him as Chancellor, Goebbels wrote a postscript to the Führer’s will declaring that “for reasons of humanity and personal loyalty” he had elected to remain. Rejecting the offer of an escape, stating “the captain must not leave his sinking ship. I have thought about it all and decided to stay here. I have nowhere to go because with little children I will not be able to make it, especially with a leg like mine”, Goebbels arranged for the euthanasia of his six children. It is believed he and his wife, Magda, then each swallowed a cyanide capsule followed immediately by a coup-de-grace from an unknown attendant.
5. Hans-Georg Von Friedeburg committed suicide after Germany surrendered, as he could not live with the shame of defeat
Hans-Georg von Friedeburg (b. 1895) was the deputy-commander of the U-Boats and the last Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine (Navy). Joining the German Imperial Navy in 1914 as a Seekadet, Friedeburg served aboard the SMS Kronprinz and took part in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 against the British Royal Navy. Later Friedeburg was promoted to the rank of Leutnant zur See (Acting Sub Lieutenant), serving aboard the U-Boat SM U-114 until the end of the war.
Remaining a prominent naval officer during the inter-war period Friedeburg was promoted to the rank of Deputy Commander of the U-Boat fleet in September 1941, overseeing the development of the German fleet and organizing the U-Boat picket lines during the Battle of the Atlantic. Promoted to Rear-Admiral in 1942 and receiving command of the whole U-Boat fleet in 1943, Friedeburg also became Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine on May 1 1945 after the death of Hitler.
Ordered by the new Reich President Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz to negotiate an unconditional surrender with the Allies, Friedeburg was the only representative of the armed forces present at the signing of the German instruments of surrender at Luneburg Heath on May 4 1945. Friedeburg was also present for the instrument’s signings in Reims on May 7 and in Berlin on May 8, signing on behalf of the Kriegsmarine. Two weeks later as a prisoner of war in Plön, unable to endure the shame of defeat and having previously committed to such action in the event of a German loss, Friedeburg ingested cyanide.
6. Martin Bormann killed himself after an unsuccessful effort to escape Berlin with a copy of Hitler’s will
Martin Bormann (b. 1900) was Chief of the Nazi Party Chancellery, Secretary to the Führer of the German Reich, and later succeeded Hitler as Party Minister of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party after the latter’s suicide on April 30 1945. Enlisting with the 55th Field Artillery Regiment in the last days of the First World War, Bormann never saw action in the conflict. Joining the Freikorps in 1922, Bormann was sentenced to a year in prison in 1924 as an accomplice for murder and upon release entered the Frontbann, a Nazi paramilitary group. Finally becoming a member of the Nazi Party in 1927, and later the SS in 1937, Bormann worked as a regional press officer and subsequently as a business manager for the Sturmabteilung (SA) operating the Party’s insurance fund.
After the Machtergreifung, Bormann became Chief-of-Staff for Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, serving as Hess’s personal secretary until 1941, as well as being appointed a Reichsleiter (National Leader) of the Nazi Party in 1933. By 1934 Bormann was one of Hitler’s inner circle, including overseeing renovation of the Berghof, and informally acted as the Führer’s secretary, routinely traveling with Hitler. Successful at playing the politics of the Reich, after the defection of Hess in 1941 the position of Deputy Führer was abolished and its duties passed to Bormann, who also acquired the leadership of the Party Chancellery. By 1943, with Hitler focused on military matters, Bormann was appointed Personal Secretary to the Führer with de facto control over domestic matters. A fanatical anti-Semite, among other decrees issued by Bormann he declared only by the use of “ruthless force in the special camps of the East” could the Jewish Problem be solved and granted Adolf Eichmann absolute authority over Jews.
Witness to and named as the executor of Hitler’s will, Bormann attempted to escape the Führerbunker on May 1 1945 carrying a copy of the deceased Führer’s last testament. After succeeding on the third attempt to cross the Spree river, but facing an encircling Red Army, Bormann, along with SS Doctor Ludwig Stumpfegger, swallowed cyanide to avoid capture on a bridge near Lehrter train station. Suspected to have possibly survived, and tried in absentia at Nuremberg, Bormann’s suicide was only confirmed in 1972 when human remains were discovered during excavations at Lehrter station. Fragments of glass, similar to that of a cyanide capsule, were discovered in the jaws of the skulls, and in 1998 genetic testing confirmed the remains to be those of Bormann and Stumpfegger.
7. Robert Ritter von Greim committed suicide after being unable to share the honor of dying alongside Hitler
Robert Ritter von Greim (b. 1892) was a pilot and Generalfeldmarschall, who was appointed as Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe) in the last days of the Second World War after the removal of Herman Göring for treason. Joining the army as a cadet in 1906 Griem served throughout the First World War, first as a Field Artillery Lieutenant commanding a battery during the Battle of Lorraine and from August 1915 as a member of the Fliegertruppe (German Air Service). Distinguishing himself as a fighter pilot, with 28 confirmed kills and being awarded both the Iron Cross and Pour le Mérite, Griem was presented with the Militär-Max Joseph-Orden (Bavarian Military Order of Max Joseph) – the equivalent of knighthood – granting him the right to add the honorific “Von” and “Ritter” to his name.
An early and committed ideologue, Griem joined the Nazi Party in 1923 and took part in the attempted Munich putsch that year. After the Machtergreifung Göring invited Griem to help rebuild the German Air Force, and in 1934 he was appointed to head the fighter pilot training academy in violation of the Treaty of Versailles’ proscriptions. Offered command of a Luftflotte (Air Fleet), Griem took part in the invasion of Poland, the Battle for Norway, the Battle of Britain, and Operation Barbarossa. His efforts during the Battle of Kursk and Operation Kutuzov won him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, making Griem one of the most highly decorated German military officers.
Promoted first to Generalfeldmarschall, and subsequently as head of the Luftwaffe, Griem was ordered by Hitler to fly to Plön to arrest Himmler for treason on April 23 1945. Griem later remarked, “it was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer’s side”. Failing in his final mission and captured by Allied forces in Austria on May 8, Griem ingested cyanide in prison in Salzburg on May 24.
8. All of Joseph Goebbels’ six children were killed by their parents in a supposed act of mercy
Nazi Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda Goebbels had six children, five girls and one boy: Helga Susanne (b. 1932), Hildegard Traudel (b. 1934), Helmut Christian (b. 1935), Holdine Kathrin (b. 1937), Hedwig Johanna (b. 1938), and Heidrun Elisabeth (b. 1940). It is claimed, but unproven, that each child was given a name beginning with “H” as a tribute to Adolf Hitler, who was extremely close to the Goebbels’ and routinely doted on the children, especially Helga whom he was photographed holding and would repeatedly stay up into the night with.
On April 22 1945, the day before the Red Army entered Berlin, the Goebbels and their children moved into the Vorbunker, a bunker underneath the Reich Chancellery and connected to the lower Führerbunker which housed Hitler and his remaining loyal personal staff. German Red Cross leader SS-Gruppenführer Karl Gebhardt argued against this course of action and instead petitioned to remove the children from the city, but was ordered to depart alone by Goebbels. With the Red Army approaching, the Goebbels decided upon their own fates and Joseph concluded his children would unquestionably support the decision to also commit suicide if they were old enough to understand. Acquaintances of Magda Goebbels later revealed she had contemplated the murder of her children previously, telling her former sister-in-law she did not want her children growing up hearing their father was one of the century’s foremost criminals and instead believed reincarnation offered them a better chance.
On May 1 – the day after Hitler’s own suicide – the Goebbels arranged for the children to be injected with morphine by SS Doctor Helmut Kunz as a sedative and then subsequently fed cyanide by Magda and SS-Obersturmbannführer Ludwig Stumpfegger, Hitler’s personal surgeon. The children were found by Soviet soldiers on May 3, with an autopsy of Helga Goebbels revealing bruising to her face and a suspected broken jaw; it is believed the twelve year old awoke and fought back, with the cyanide capsule forcibly crushed in her mouth by her mother.
9. After organizing the “mercy killings” of 300,000 handicapped people, Philipp Bouhler took his own life rather than face justice
Philipp Bouhler (b. 1899) was a senior Nazi official, serving as a Reichsleiter (National Leader) within the Nazi Party and as Chief of the Chancellery of the Führer. Spending five years in the Bavarian Cadet Corps, Bouhler fought in the First World War and suffered severe injuries. Joining the Nazi Party in 1922, with the membership number of #12, within three months he had risen to become deputy manager of the organization.
After the reformation of the party in 1925 Bouhler had further risen to the position of Reich Secretary, becoming a Reich Leader after the Machtergreifung; Bouhler also joined the SS in 1933 with the rank of Gruppenführer, rising to Obergruppenführer by 1936. As chairman of the Official Party Inspection Commission for the Protection of National Socialist Literature, Bouhler was responsible for determining which writings were suitable for German society and from 1934, as Hitler’s Chancellery, was in charge of all private and public communications from the Führer.
However it was Bouhler’s collaboration with SS physician Karl Brandt which had the greatest impact, together designing the Nazi’s euthanasia program “Aktion T4” under which mentally and physically disabled persons were granted “mercy” through state mandated killings. The implementation of “Aktion T4”, beginning in September 1939 until the end of the war, took place under Bouhler’s personal supervision and provided vital information which was later applied to the industrialized murders of the Holocaust. Under the program, an estimated 200,000 people were murdered in Germany and Austria with a further 100,000 in Eastern Europe.
Captured by American troops at Schloss Fischhorn on May 10 1945, along with his wife Helene who would commit suicide by jumping from a window, Bouhler committed suicide by cyanide at a US internment camp near Zell-am-See.
10. Eva Hitler (née Braun) repeatedly attempted suicide to attract the attention of Adolf Hitler, before finally dying at each other’s side as husband and wife
Eva Braun (b. 1912) was Adolf Hitler’s longtime companion, and for less than forty hours his wife. The middle child from a broken home, albeit subsequently reunited under financial pressures, at age 17 Braun begun working as an assistant for Heinrich Hoffmann, the official photographer for the Nazi Party; Braun first met Hitler at Hoffmann’s Munich studio in October 1929. After the suicide of Hitler’s cohabiting half-niece in September 1931, Braun’s relationship with the future Führer grew closer.
Increasingly obsessed with Hitler, 23 years her senior, Braun’s first suicide attempt was in August 1932 by shooting herself in the chest, in what historians widely believe was a successful bid for Hitler’s attention and affection. After this event, Braun routinely stayed overnight at Hitler’s Munich apartment and often traveled with the Nazi entourage as a photographer. She attempted suicide for a second time in May 1935 by an overdose of sleeping pills, with her diary entries suggesting the effort was due to Hitler failing to make adequate time for her in his life.
Braun and Hitler grew increasingly close throughout the 1930s, becoming an integral and untouchable member of the inner circle, with the mother of Hitler’s deceased half-niece dismissed as housekeeper at his house in Berchtesgaden for criticizing the appropriateness of her presence at the Nuremberg Rally in 1938. However despite having her own room adjoining Hitler’s at the Berghof among other residences, their relationship was kept secret from the German people until after the war. They did not appear in public as a couple, with Hitler preferring to maintain an image of a chaste hero; he also believed his sexual attractiveness to women was a political advantage, one he could exploit only if known to be single.
In early April 1945 Braun relocated to the Führerbunker in Berlin to be with Hitler, refusing to depart as defeat to the Red Army became inevitable. On the night of April 28-29 Hitler and Braun were married in a private ceremony within the Führerbunker, witnessed by Goebbels and Bormann. During the afternoon of April 30 Braun and Hitler committed suicide together, with Braun biting into a cyanide capsule and Hitler shooting himself.
11. Max de Crinis used his position as a psychiatric consultant to euthanize the mentally ill, before killing himself and his family
Max de Crinis (b. 1889) was a senior SS member and doctor of psychiatry, holding a Chair in the field at Cologne and Berlin hospitals. Joining the Nazi Party in 1931 de Crinis added an authenticity and legitimacy to outspoken medical claims made by the movement, extensively utilizing his position as a psychiatric consultant to promote racial claims of genetic superiority and demonize mental health problems. Actively involved in the “Akition T4” euthanasia program, serving as an supervisory medical expert, de Crinis was complicit in the murders of countless mentally ill persons throughout Europe.
Later, de Crinis also became Director of the European League for Mental Hygiene and in 1941 medical director of the Ministry of Education. Facing imminent arrest, interrogation, prosecution, and likely execution, de Crinis, after killing the rest of his family with potassium cyanide, ingested a tablet himself on May 2 1945 in Stahnsdorf, near Berlin.
12. After demanding the people of Stuttgart fight to the death, Wilhelm Murr fled the city in disguise before killing himself in captivity
Wilhelm Murr (b. 1888) was a Nazi politician, serving as Gauleiter of Württemberg-Hohenzollern and rising to the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer during the Second World War. Growing up in poverty Murr left school after the deaths of both his parents at age 14, first gaining commercial experience and from 1908-10 fulfilling his military service requirement. During the First World War Murr served on all major fronts, rising through the lower ranks to Vize-Feldwebel (Staff Sergeant) and spent the final days of the war injured in a military hospital in Cottbus.
Heavily involved in union politics prior to the First World War, having joined the far-right and anti-Semitic German National Trade Assistants’ Union, Murr joined the Nazi Party in 1923 and enthusiastically proselytized the movement to colleagues and friends. With a reputation for ruthlessness and subordination to Hitler, Murr rose to the position of Gauleiter in Württemberg-Hohenzollern in 1928 and eventually quit his factory job in 1930 to work for the party full-time.
Elected to the Reichstag in 1931 for the district of Württemberg, after the Machtergreifung Murr was selected by the Landstag as State President for the district in addition being appointed Minister for Interior and Economic Affairs. By 1933 Murr had successfully dissolved the Landstag and was appointed Reichsstatthalter (Reich Governor) for Württemberg. Upon the outbreak of war Murr was appointed Reich Defense Commissar of Defense District V, granting him near absolute control over his province. Murr used this authority to ensure the efficient extermination of all undesirables, especially the Jews and mentally ill.
Despite calling on April 10 1945 for the city of Stuttgart to be defended unconditionally against advancing Allied forces, utilizing ruthless tactics including forbidding the raising of white flags under threat of execution and “Sippenhaft” (the detention of an offender’s family), Murr fled the city in disguise along with his family on April 19. Arrested by French troops on May 13, Murr identified himself using the alias Walter Müller and both he and his wife committed suicide with cyanide capsules in captivity in Egg, Vorarlberg. Murr was hunted for almost a year by Allied forces, who eventually employed dental records to confirm the identities of the deceased couple on April 16 1946.
13. Spending most of his life as a Nazi politician, Fritz Bracht committed suicide the day after his government formally surrendered
Fritz Bracht (b. 1899) served as the Nazi Gauleiter (Regional Party Leader) of Upper Silesia. After training as a gardener Bracht was enlisted into military service in 1917, serving on the front lines until the end of the war and thereafter as a British prisoner of war until 1919. Joining the Nazi Party in 1927, by November of the following year Bracht had been appointed leader of the party’s district of Sauerland; he similarly held the same position for the district of Altena in March 1931. Elected to the Prussian Landstag in 1932, Bracht undertook the appointment of Gauleiter of Silesia in May 1935.
Following the removal of Josef Wagner, Gauleiter of Westphalia-South and High President of Silesia, in 1941 and subsequent expulsion from the Nazi Party in 1942, Silesia was divided in two and Bracht was appointed as Oberpräsident (High President) of Upper-Silesia and Gauleiter of Oberschlesien. In 1944 Bracht was promoted to the rank of SA-Obergruppenführer, and within his new purview was Auschwitz concentration camp. Despite his many influential positions, including also Reich Defense Commissar for his region from 1942, Bracht was unable to convince the Armaments Ministry to upgrade aerial defenses in Upper Silesia and the territory fell swiftly to the Red Army.
With the occupation of Germany by Soviet forces and its subsequent formal capitulation on May 8, Bracht and his wife committed suicide in Bad Kudowa, near the current Polish-Czech border, on May 9 by potassium cyanide.
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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