Promise Me You'll Shoot Yourself

Promise Me You'll Shoot Yourself

Author
Florian Huber (tr Imogen Taylor)
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
I read a review of this book and thought the subject matter intriguing enough to make me buy it. At £20 it was an absolute bargain. I learned so much from reading it. The author is a German born in Nuremberg in 1967, and has written three books about German history, of which this is the first to be translated into English. I shall certainly be looking out for the others.

The book covers the huge wave of suicides that swept across Germany in 1945. I had heard that many people killed themselves rather than live under the Russian Regime, and of the death cult that surrounded Hitler, Goebbels and the elite in the Bunker in Berlin. However this book describes a much bigger phenomenon, which drove whole families of three or four generations, to drown, poison or shoot themselves, having withstood the deprivations of war, bombing and bereavement, as Germany collapsed from 1944 onwards.

The first half of the book is very distressing reading. The author concentrates on one town, Demmin, and takes first hand accounts - diary notes, lists kept by a gravedigger’s daughter, interviews with survivors, records by and interviews with officials, together with photographs taken by the arriving occupation forces, to describe the families, their deaths and the terrible circumstances where mothers killed their children and survived their own suicides. I could read only one chapter at a time, needing a break from the horror and distress of these descriptions. It was written in a very matter-of-fact way, with no exaggeration of injuries, just a growing list of descriptions of murder of children and multiple suicides, which is really hard to read constantly.

I found the second half of the book utterly fascinating. It begins in 1926 and follows the stories of various German people throughout the good and bad times up to 1949. It increased my understanding of how an entire nation seemed to be swept up in such atrocious behaviour, how people developed the mental strength to ignore the bad things whilst accepting the good. The good included from 1933-39 the transformation of a society on its knees and hating the Treaty of Versailles to an economic powerhouse, from massive unemployment and starvation to full employment, the introduction of workers’ holidays, days off, family allowances, welfare policies, a booming leisure industry, and social mobility – all good Socialist Goals that were promised and achieved. The engagement with the regime seems to start that if you are happy with all of that, the fact that Herr Schmidt has gone to prison for questioning the method can be ignored. Many felt that the country was more open and progressive, and the price of repressed intellectual freedom and formal dissent were a price worth paying.

Again the writer uses personal stories (some from the same people as in the first section) to show how it was easy to slip into this society, despite having reservations, and the eventual outcome when the guilt of not speaking out sooner actually broke through for many. There are descriptions of the treatment of everyday Poles by everyday Germans which make your heart weep, and the mental impact on the soldiers home on leave are described by their surviving siblings who did not know what they had seen and done, but which we do now understand.

I found the book interesting, informative and engrossing, as well as distressing and thought-provoking. I also feel it pretty brave of a German National to print such material at a time where we are now being led to believe that it wasn’t Germans but Nazis who perpetrated these crimes, and that the Germans are victims too. This re-writing of history will not help as we face an uncertain future in the early 21st Century. Without understanding what really went on we may well be doomed to repeat it. I can only quote

‘A lot of Germans knew something. They’d hear something, from some cousin or other, and suddenly a curtain would tear open before them – but because they didn’t really believe it, the curtain would fall shut again. Who, after all, would probe into a truth as awful as that?’
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Grownup_Rafbrat
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