A wave of suicides was now hitting Germany. Those who identified most closely with Nazism were not just fearful for the future but despaired of a life without the Nazi regime. There were suicides on the western front because people feared the arrival of the Americans. The circumstances in the east, where there were fearsome stories spreading about the behaviour of the Red Army, many of them substantiated by fleeing refugees, were even more desperate.
The suicides involved the young and the old as well as whole families. For teenagers whose whole life had been dominated by the Nazi ethos the collapse of the regime seemed to be the end of the world. The news of Hitler’s death was the final straw for many more.
Martin Borman’s 15 year old son, also called Martin, had been at an elite Nazi school. He and others had recently been given false papers and helped to flee. Years later he told Gitta Sereny:
It was a small inn and a very small Stube [parlour]. We sat on benches tightly packed together. It’s impossible now to convey the atmosphere. The worst moment was when, at two o’clock in the morning on May 1, the news of Hitler’s death came through on the radio. I remember it precisely, but I can’t describe the stillness of that instant which lasted . . . for hours.
Nobody said anything, but very soon afterwards people started to go outside, first one, then there was a shot. Then another, and yet another. Not a word inside, no other sound except those shots from outside, but one felt that that was all there was, that all of us would have to die.
(Picking up a gun, Martin walks outside.) My world was shattered; I couldn’t see any future at all. But then, out there, in the back of that inn, where bodies were already lying all over the small garden, there was another boy, older that I: he was eighteen. He was sitting on a log and told me to come sit with him.
The air smelled good, the birds sang, and we talked ourselves out of it. If we hadn’t had each other at that moment, both of us would have gone; I know it.
This account appears in Gitta Sereny: Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth
3,881 people were recorded as committing suicide during April in the Battle of Berlin, although the figure is probably an underestimate. More would die now that Hitler was dead – but it would be difficult to determine how many people died given the desperate conditions inside the capital. Conditions were by now so chaotic that many people did not hear the radio announcements.
Claus Fuhrman was hiding in a cellar in Berlin and describes the last days:
The scourge of our district was a small one-legged Hauptscharfuhrer of the SS, who stumped through the street on crutches, a machine pistol at the ready, followed by his men. Anyone he didn’t like the look of he instantly shot. The gang went down cellars at random and dragged all the men outside, giving them rifles and ordering them straight to the front. Anyone who hesitated was shot.
The front was a few streets away. At the street corner diagonally opposite our house Walloon Waffen SS had taken up position; wild, desperate men who had nothing to lose and who fought to their last round of ammunition. Armed Hitler Youth were lying next to men of the Vlassov White Russian Army.
We left the cellar at longer and longer intervals and often we could not tell whether it was night or day. The Russians drew nearer; they advanced through the underground railway tunnels, armed with flame-throwers; their advance snipers had taken up positions quite near us; and their shots ricocheted off the houses opposite.
Exhausted German soldiers would stumble in and beg for water — they were practically children; I remember one with a pale, quivering face who said, “We shall do it all right; we’ll make our way to the north west yet.” But his eyes belied his words and he looked at me despairingly. What he wanted to say was, “Hide me, give me shelter. I’ve had enough of it.”
I should have liked to help him; but neither of us dared to speak. Each might have shot the other as a “defeatist”.
An old man who had lived in our house had been hit by a shell splinter a few days ago and had bled to death. His corpse lay near the entrance and had already began to smell. We threw him on a cart and took him to a burnt-out school building where there was a notice: “Collection point for Weinmeisterstrasse corpses.” We left him there; one of us took the opportunity of helping himself to a dead policeman’s boots.
The first women were fleeing from the northern parts of the city and some of them sought shelter in our cellar, sobbing that the Russians were looting all the houses, abducting the men and raping all the women and girls. I got angry, shouted I had had enough of Goebbels’ silly propaganda, the time for that was past. If that was all they had to do, let them go elsewhere.
Whilst the city lay under savage artillery and rifle fire the citizens now took to looting the shops. The last soldiers withdrew farther and farther away. Somewhere in the ruins of the burning city SS-men and Hitler Youth were holding out fanatically. The crowds burst into cellars and storehouses. While bullets were whistling through the air they scrambled for a tin of fish or a pouch of tobacco.
On the morning of 1 May our flat was hit by a 21-cm. shell and almost entirely destroyed. On the same day water carriers reported that they had seen Russian soldiers. They could not be located exactly; they were engaged in house-to-house fighting which was moving very slowly.
This account appears in Louis Hagen (ed): Ein Volk, Ein Reich: Nine Lives Under the Nazis.