Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff (Book) Review
by Kat Chin
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Author: Cathryn Prince
Buy Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff from Amazon
The Second World War is quite rightly remembered for the horrific loss of the lives of Allies, Jews, and those persecuted by Hitler and the Nazis, but it is all too often forgotten German citizens – including those near the Baltic and in villages and remote areas - were victims of the war as well. Thousands of innocent German lives were taken at the hands of the Russian Army, who felt that there was no lower life form than the German. Cathryn J. Prince provides us with an interesting comparison of German propaganda with the Russian - it is all too similar.
Death In The Baltic introduces the reader to survivors as they were in 1945 - young women, children, new parents, families in Baltic Germany and East Prussia, worrying about the oncoming devastation from the Russians. Their harrowing time on the Wilhelm Gustloff is a captivating and tragic tale that has finally found a voice through Prince.
Once the pride of the Third Reich and a symbol of Nazi Germany's strength and unity, the Wilhelm Gustloff was originally meant as a luxurious cruise liner for the German masses to celebrate on and was meant to secure the working man's loyalty to the Nazi Party. Throughout its eight year lifespan, the Wilhelm Gustloff played the part of cruise liner, hospital ship for the German military, training ship for U-boat trainees, and finally a refugee transport.
Unlike the infamous sinking of the Titanic, the world remained ignorant to the catastrophic loss of life in the Baltic Sea. Prince provides various reasons for this: although over 9000 people (six times the number of those who died on the Titanic) died in the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, none were wealthy bourgeois - all were women, children, peasants, sailors and refugees; the German political system swept the disaster under the rug, refusing to acknowledge that a Russian submarine had managed to get into the Baltic Sea eluding German mines and submarine hunters, especially with the onset of the Cold War; and with the uncovering of the many concentration camps the world was beginning to equate all
Germans with Nazi Germany - there wasn't much pity in the Western world for the fate of 9400 East German lives.
A must-read for anyone wanting to examine the effects of the War on both sides and how it disrupted the lives of anyone who wasn't a Nazi. Indeed, Prince places emphasis on the loss of lives from various nations during World War Two, regardless of nationality - the Russians, the Polish, the Allies and the German people - reminding us that in the end, everybody lost.
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