Gustav Mahler set five poems from Friedrich Rückert’s Songs on the Death of Children to music between 1901 and 1904. In that time he and his wife, Alma, had two children, the eldest of whom died in 1907. About the compositions, Mahler later said, “I placed myself in the situation that a child of mine had died. When I really lost my daughter, I could not have written these songs anymore.” He died in 1911, Alma not until 1964—having twice remarried, to Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and then to author Franz Werfel.
In the weeks surrounding Germany’s surrender on May 8, 1945, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler, the minister of culture, eight of forty-one party regional leaders, fourteen of ninety-eight Luftwaffe generals, and eleven of fifty-three admirals committed suicide. In Berlin, 3,881 Germans killed themselves in April alone; 7,057 suicides were reported by the end of the year.
The inhabitants of Eyam, Derbyshire, initiated a quarantine to control a Black Death outbreak in 1665—for fourteen months, no one was allowed into or out of the town. Only a quarter of the citizens survived. One local farmer, Elizabeth Hancock, was forced to bury her husband, along with six of her seven children, over an eight-day period in August 1666.