Still, today, we are learning more about the horrors of World War II. We Americans studied it in school from texts written from an American perspective, and were horrified that over a hundred thousand were killed in the D-Day Invasion and the Battle of Normandy. That pales in comparison to the two million killed in the Battle of Stalingrad. The Eastern Front was particularly brutal, and the Germans and the Russians hated each other fiercely. As the war came to a close in 1945, and the Soviet troops pushed into Germany, it was the end of the world for many German citizens.
Many Soviet soldiers believed there was no such thing as an innocent German. “If you have not killed at least one German a day, you have wasted that day,” wrote influential Soviet intellectual Ilya Ehrenburg. “If you leave a German alive, the German will hang a Russian and rape a Russian woman. If you kill one German, kill another — there is nothing more amusing for us than a heap of German corpses.” In other words, however bad the retribution, the German citizenry had it coming.
Numerous German cities experienced mass suicides at the end of the war. Over the conflict’s chaotic and desperate final months, Berlin witnessed around 7,000 people take their lives. But in terms of sudden and gruesome panic, it is hard to beat the heights of the conflagration at Demmin, a disaster in which an estimated 1,000 people took their lives, in a span scarcely longer than 72 hours.