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The Wilhelm Gustloff
January 13, 2006 10:17 AM   Subscribe

On January 30, 1945, the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise ship packed full with refugees fleeing the Russian advance into Poland was sunk by a Russian submariane. Nearly 10,000 people died and it remains the world's worst single maritime disaster. Radio National's Late Night Live recently devoted a programme to this little-known tragedy. Well worth listening to (mp3).
posted by Huw (13 comments total)

 
G√ľnter Grass's Crabwalk is about this incident.
posted by muckster at 10:29 AM on January 13, 2006


Thanks for bringing this up. When I stumbled across this I was surprised I had never heard of it. I guess it's another example of the winners writing the history.
posted by Mr T at 11:15 AM on January 13, 2006


7.5 million Germans died in World War II, and roughly 12 million ethnic Germans fled the Russians or were forced to leave Eastern Europe at the war's end. Those are pretty staggering numbers.

My mother was one of the refugees who fled East Prussia on a ship very much like the Gustloff. She remembers that her feet were so frozen that a pin-prick drew no blood.
posted by Slothrup at 12:36 PM on January 13, 2006


And that's a submarine, not submariane! The show is well worth listening to: Phillip Adams talks to a diver, a historian, and three survivors of the sinking. It's fascinating and powerful stuff. They touch on how it's taken so long for Germans to be considered victims too; one of the survivors married into a Jewish family and says she could never talk about it as their family's suffering was so much worse.
posted by Huw at 12:42 PM on January 13, 2006


That was a good-sized ship, but ten thousand people aboard...gawd, that's crowded.

The maritime-disasters site is interesting (although I'm not sure that combatants sunk in naval engagements fits the usual definition of "disaster")...glad you posted this.
posted by alumshubby at 1:00 PM on January 13, 2006


Slothrup wrote:

7.5 million Germans died in World War II, and roughly 12 million ethnic Germans fled the Russians or were forced to leave Eastern Europe at the war's end. Those are pretty staggering numbers.

Over 20 millions soviet people died in WWII, and more then half of them were civilians. Out of 7 millions germans killed 1.5 millions were civilians. German's nazi were quiet good at killing civilians.
posted by Darkbird at 1:15 PM on January 13, 2006


So am I feeling sorry for the Nazis or the Soviets? It was a legitimate military target -- I couldn't find anything that stated the Soviets knew that it was mostly civilians, not that I think it would have mattered much to them.

As well as fleeing refugees was the Gustloff carrying a cargo that some say was the famous Amber Room worth an estimated $350 millio

Christ, is anything related to the Nazis and the Soviets now connected to that damn Amber Room? I'm so tired of hearing of it.
posted by geoff. at 1:55 PM on January 13, 2006


Huh. I'd never heard of the Amber Room till now...
posted by brundlefly at 2:02 PM on January 13, 2006


It was re-purposed as a hospital ship and sailed under a Red Cross and carried refugees and injured soldiers.
posted by stbalbach at 2:05 PM on January 13, 2006


Over 20 millions soviet people died in WWII, and more then half of them were civilians.

Quite true. Russian and Soviet casualties in the World Wars seem largely forgotten in the West -- or amended with a comment about then number of Soviet civilians killed by Stalin. I think a comparable amount were killed in China as well -- something else you don't hear a lot about.

The sheer number of people killed between 1930 and 1950 is mindboggling and tragic.
posted by Slothrup at 2:37 PM on January 13, 2006


There is praise for the captain of the S-13, Alexander Marinesko, and opprobrium.

I really would encourage you all to listen to the radio programme I linked to in the FPP. It mentions the Amber Room, Russian and Polish dives at the site and comparisons with Titanic, but above all the immense suffering in war.
posted by Huw at 2:58 PM on January 13, 2006


Prior discussion of Kraft durch Freude, the Nazi social recreation organization that built the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Also, a prior thread on the Amber Room. It seems doubtful that it was aboard the Gustloff.

It was re-purposed as a hospital ship and sailed under a Red Cross and carried refugees and injured soldiers.

It was a hospital ship early in the war, but then it was anchored in the Danzig Kriegsmarine port as a U-boat barracks. It was from this military port that it departed. Although I could not find a reliable web-based source that the ship had been repainted, under the existing Laws of War regarding hospital ships, she would have been required to be repainted when she was repurposed as a military vessel, and the list of hospital ships supplied to enemy navies amended. It would have been a violation not to repaint it, and it would also have been a violation to transport combat-ready troops on a painted hospital vessel. I do not believe the Russians can be faulted for this one.

See also the Laconia incident.
posted by dhartung at 11:33 PM on January 13, 2006


So am I feeling sorry for the Nazis or the Soviets?

I don't suppose you are. But when a ship is sunk and eight or nine thousand people, many of them civilian, go to the bottom of the sea, you should feel some pity for them regardless of anything their nation did or of any regulations that make it "OK" that the ship was sunk. Still, I suppose it was better to drown than to be captured by Russians.
posted by pracowity at 1:23 PM on January 14, 2006


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