Synopses & Reviews
In late January of 1945, with the Allied victory imminent, nearly 10,000 German refugees attempted to flee the advancing Red Army aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a cruise liner-turned-escape ship. As the ship set sail in the dark of night, three torpedoes from a Soviet submarine struck the boat, causing catastrophic damage, and throwing women, children, the elderly, and wounded soldiers into the frigid waters of the Baltic Sea. When a few hours later first light broke, over 9,000 people had drowned in one of the worst maritime disasters of all time. For 65 years, both East and West kept this story hidden. The drowned were citizens of the future East Germany and part of the Soviet Bloc. And the German victims inspired little sympathy in the West. In Death in the Baltic, award winning author Cathryn Prince reconstructs the story of unimaginable horror by drawing on original interviews with remaining survivors and newly declassified records. Weaving the personal narratives into the broader history, she gives this overlooked WWII catastrophe its place in history.
The worst maritime disaster ever occurred during World War II, when more than 9,000 German civilians drowned. It went unreported.
January 1945: The outcome of World War II has been determined. The Third Reich is in free fall as the Russians close in from the east. Berlin plans an eleventh-hour exodus for the German civilians trapped in the Red Armys way. More than 10,000 women, children, sick, and elderly pack aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a former cruise ship. Soon after the ship leaves port and the passengers sigh in relief, three Soviet torpedoes strike it, inflicting catastrophic damage and throwing passengers into the frozen waters of the Baltic.
More than 9,400 perished in the night—six times the number lost on the Titanic. Yet as the Cold War started no one wanted to acknowledge the sinking. Drawing on interviews with survivors, as well as the letters and diaries of those who perished, award-wining author Cathryn Prince reconstructs this forgotten moment in history. She weaves these personal narratives into a broader story, finally giving this WWII tragedy its rightful remembrance.
“In describing the experiences of survivors, whom she has been adept in tracing, Cathryn Prince gives voices to ‘ordinary people who suffered during extraordinary times — and does so with scrupulous empathy.”—The Spectator
About the Author
Cathryn J. Prince is the author of A Professor, a President, and a Meteor: The Birth of American Science, for which she won the Connecticut Press Clubs 2011 Book Award for non-fiction. She is also the author of Burn the Town and Sack the Banks: Confederates Attack Vermont! and Shot from the Sky: American POWs in Switzerland. She worked as a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor in Switzerland and in New York, where she covered the United Nations. Prince works as a freelance journalist.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Chapter One: “You Have to Go On This Ship”
Chapter Two: Hitlers Hostages: Life in the Eastern Territories
Chapter Three: Operation Hannibal and the Crown of the Fleet--the Wilhelm Gustloff
Chapter Four: “We Knew We Had to Get Out”
Chapter Five: Saving a Scuttled Reputation
Chapter Six: Battle for the Baltic
Chapter Seven: Chaos on Deck
Chapter Eight: Plummeting to the Sea Floor
Chapter Nine: The Little Red Sweater
Chapter Ten: Forgotten Story
Chapter Eleven: “We Had To Get Over It”