Currently it is legal to kill yourself in Germany, but what about in the past?

What were the laws on suicide in the Third Reich?

Was it illegal to kill yourself? What about self-maiming, like blinding yourself?

  • 1
    The question is about suicide, not euthanasia. Mar 12, 2015 at 2:56
  • 1
    While I'm not sure if it was (officially) legal, suicide was (inofficially) offered as an option to Erwin Rommel instead of being put to trial after the July 20th assassination attempt at Hitler.
    – ssc
    Mar 13, 2015 at 20:53
  • If suicide was banned, how could you punish someone that broke the law and commited suicide ? This just does not make sense.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 13, 2015 at 22:02
  • 2
    @Bregalad 1. if he fails, he get punished, 2. if someone helped him, he gets punished, 3. you fine him even if he died, which basically means the fine will be paid by his heirs.
    – o0'.
    Mar 14, 2015 at 10:16

2 Answers 2


That needs some differentiation:

"What were the laws on suicide in the Third Reich?" is easier to answer than

"Was it illegal to kill yourself? What about self-maiming, like blinding yourself?" since you have to differentiate that in terms of situation.

If any Jew killed himself, that was quite welcome by the regime. If a frontline soldier maimed himself he was punished for cowardice.

In their urge for racial purity of the Volkskörper (nation's body) criminals, Jews, disabled, everything and everyone unwanted was (in)officially encouraged to commit suicide. Only maiming oneself was seen as adding an additional burden to the Volkskörper (also known as 'the taxpayer'?).

Able bodied Aryans, however, are a completely different story. They had a body of their own, but it didn't belong to them anymore. It was now part of the Volkskörper or Volksgemeinschaft. Suicide would mean to rob the Volksgemeinschaft and was therefore illegal. If anyone wanted to die, not belonging to the unwanted category, his only option in nazi theory was to do so killing Russians and the like. Suicide-by-enemy or suicide attacks were sometimes officially encouraged. One example was the German variant of kamikaze, the Sonderkommando Elbe or Leonidas Squadron.

But that was not really codified in law during the nazi reign. It was however enforced in courts, since nazi law and nazi rule were not always concerned with adhering to the concept of positive law, but increasingly on gesundes Volksempfinden (~ "healthy feeling [~common sense] of the people").

The following are some excerpts:

The Nazis never enforced a new penal code, however, because the progressive radicalization of the regime, increasingly less concerned with legal codifications, outdated the commission’s various drafts. Nevertheless, the debates within the commission shed light on leading Nazi lawyers’ attitudes towards suicide.
The commission originally wanted to legalize assisted suicide and involuntary euthanasia. In the end, involuntary euthanasia and assisted suicide were not legalized, not because of any concerns about the rights of the individual, but to ensure that the racial body did not lose any of its valuable members. The Nazis could not realize this idea of cleansing the racial body because of the regime’s regard for public religious concerns about euthanasia, which were expressed most famously by Bishop Galen in 1941.[…]
However, in the case of valuable members of the ‘people’s community’, suicide, the Nazis argued, was to be outlawed because the will of the Volk had superseded the will of the individual, according to the Nazi mantra ‘the common good has priority over self-interest’.
The Nazis planned to make paragraph 216 of the penal code referring to assisted suicide more severe. The duty of ‘every member of the people’s community’ was to contribute to its well-being, rather than to attack it by committing suicide, as suggested by commission member Wenzel von Gleispach, an Austrian Nazi and professor of law in Berlin.

Insofar as Germans had a duty to pay taxes and to perform labour and military service, they also had the duty to serve the national community, wrote the Cologne lawyer Dr Weimar in 1936. He dismissed ‘the obsolete idea that everyone can freely dispose of his body or his life’. For these reasons, he demanded a new legal evaluation of suicide, which the commission for the reform of the penal code had already been considering. In 1933 and 1934, it planned to make incitement to suicide a new statutory offence. Those inciting enemies of the Volk to suicide should not be punished, however, since the self-extermination of enemies of the Volk was a good thing. During the war, the proposal to criminalize incitement to suicide was withdrawn, as the regime at that time did not really care about legal questions.

In its deliberations on changing the method of capital punishment in 1934 and 1935, the commission also discussed suicide. Many Nazis saw the execution of criminals and ‘inferior’ people as a ‘general prevention of racial degeneration’ and thus as an act of extermination rather than of retribution. Following the contemporary discourse on selectionist Social Darwinism, the Nazi writer Ludwig Binz had already written a lengthy article in the Völkischer Beobachter in January 1929, stressing that the extermination of ‘inferior’ people had superseded the state’s need to punish criminals. If criminals were given the opportunity to eradicate themselves, this would be much easier for the state authorities than executing them. This suggestion was a radical break with tradition. Prison authorities normally tried to prevent suicides amongst those on death row, thereby asserting the state’s powers over their lives. Pointing to the blurring between suicide and murder under the Third Reich, Binz insisted:

It makes no sense to ‘punish’ those who break the law, only to dispose of them. The right belongs to every person condemned to death to die by one’s own hand, to commit suicide, but of course only within a limited time period … Annihilation it has to be, for the sake of deterrence and safety. If the murderer or person who commits crimes against the nation turns down the chance to die freely, then he is to be killed in due course by chemical means. […]

In August 1934, this process of whitewashing Nazi violence culminated in the Reich Amnesty Law that exonerated Nazis for criminal charges in relation to their violent political activities. Political interest thus determined the outcome of suicide investigations in the E case and others.
In the wake of the Nazi seizure of power, especially after the passing of the Reichstag Fire Decree, suicide thus became deeply associated with politics.

Nazi politics had a direct impact on many suicides. Political opponents of the regime committed suicide in the wake of the Nazi seizure of power. Especially in 1933 and 1934, the Nazis ‘suicided’ political opponents, denying responsibility for killing or torturing them to their deaths. Some of those directly affected by Nazi policies, such as the Hereditary Health Law, the persecution of political opposition, and racial policies, committed suicide. Above all, German Jews committed suicide in their thousands during the Third Reich.
From: Christian Goeschel: "Suicide in Nazi Germany", Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2009.


I searched the Internet and couldn't find anything, so this is an inspired guess.

The evidence comes in 3 parts:

  1. Mass suicides of 1945 Wikipedia
  2. Dangerous Undercurrent: Death, Sacrifice and Ruin in Third Reich Germany
  3. Suicide : Third Reich

The first tells of 1000's of German Nazi sympathizers committing suicide towards the end of the war. The second explains Hitler's psychological attitude, and the third, although 'Suicide' is a band, sets the tone while imbuing the literature.

This leads me to the conclusion that suicide was actually encouraged under Nazi rule. 1000's of people that were brought to believe in suicide as a solution would explain mass suicides. And Hitler liked dark thoughts - the normality of illegal suicides would have repulsed him - buck the system and make them 'attractive'.

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