Journal Article

Suicides of German Jews in the Third Reich

Christian Goeschel

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 25, issue 1, pages 22-45
Published in print January 2007 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online January 2007 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
Suicides of German Jews in the Third Reich

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This article re-examines Jewish responses towards Nazi racism by studying German-Jewish suicides. Its purpose is twofold. First, it moves beyond the discussion of suicide as a statistical incidence and asks what motivated German Jews to commit suicide. Statistics, however elaborate, disregard individual fates and circumstances. While not entirely dismissing suicide statistics, this article is primarily concerned with qualitative questions of social context and individual motives. It introduces hitherto neglected archival sources, including suicide notes. These sources allow us to assess the impact of Nazi racial policies on individual suicides and to study the emotional effect of Nazi policies on German Jews. This article also takes up the question as to how far, if at all, German-Jewish suicides can be considered a form of resistance towards Nazism and to what extent they were an act of despair and hopelessness. The Nazis claimed to be the arbiters over the lives of Jews once the deportations started in 1941. The vast majority of Jews left in Germany after November 1938 were fairly elderly. They could not be expected to go into hiding, and their will to live may have been less, as was, undoubtedly, the ability or desire to start a new life elsewhere. In this bleak context, the overwhelming majority of German-Jewish suicides derived from personal despair and the desire to preserve individual dignity and agency. Nazi racial policies coalesced in a condition of anomie, an overturning of normal life and its norms and values that increases the likelihood of suicide, prompted by the collapse of hope in the possibility of a future. Emile Durkheim originally developed the concept of anomic suicide as a way to explain suicide as a social phenomenon. This concept helps us understand the suicides of German Jews in the Third Reich both in their wider political and private implications.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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