Suicide in Inmates in Nazis and Soviet Concentration Camps: Historical Overview and Critique

Frontiers in Psychiatry
Francisco López-Muñoz, Esther Cuerda-Galindo

Abstract

Living conditions in concentration camps were harsh and often inhumane, leading many prisoners to commit suicide. We have reviewed this topic in Nazi concentration camps (KL), Soviet special camps, and gulags, providing some preliminary data for our research. Data show that the incidence of suicide in Nazi KL could be up to 30 times higher than the general population and was also much higher than in Soviet special camps (maybe due to more favorable conditions for prisoners and the abolishment of death penalty), while available data on Soviet gulags are contradictory. However, data interpretation is very controversial, because, for example, the Nazi KL authorities used to cover-up the murder victims as suicides. Most of the suicides were committed in the first years of imprisonment, and the method of suicide most commonly used was hanging, although other methods included cutting blood vessels, poisoning, contact with electrified wire, or starvation. It is possible to differentiate two behaviors when committing suicide; impulsive behavior (contact with electrified barbed wire fences) or premeditated suicide (hanging up or through poison). In Soviet special camps, possible motives for suicides could include feelings of guilt for c...Continue Reading

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