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Gustloff Catastrophe

To all –

Before I let you read today’s Zgram, I want to briefly mention two items:

First of all, keep those letters to Germany’s Prisoners of Conscience coming!  Ernst told me yesterday that he has gotten so much Christmas mail that the prison officials took him out of the waiting line in order to process all those cards more quickly.  Apparently, they have never seen anything like it.  I hope they tell the Powers That Be that there is a political star in their midst!

Secondly, the avalanche of stories I have kicked loose with my “Battle of Halbe” article still brings additional eye witness accounts of what really happened in Europe after the war.  This article has been translated already in several other countries – there are many people around the world who can relate to it, especially the young who remember their grandparents’ stories. The Gustloff story below is one such atrocity story of what befell the German civilians.

Another one is what happened at Dachau to some young German boys who were rounded up in the havoc of the last days of war and made to guard the concentration camp inmates atg Dachau.  It is a gruesome account – we have an enlarged photo (see the link, below) of how more than 300 people were put against the wall and simply machine-gunned to death by the Allies.  One day this photo will hang in a museum –and it won’t be the Auschwitz Museum. 

An attorney friend of mine suggested that I should write an appeal to have today’s German youth just quietly put some flowers to the Dachau wall  where this happened in remembrance of the young people who were murdered without trial in an Allied act of “liberation”.  I quote, in part, from my friend’s letter:

Hello Mrs. Zundel-

A quick follow-up on our telephone conversation.

There is a large amount on the web about the Dachau Massacre.

What is interesting is that it seems clear that many wounded SS were
taken from a nearby hospital and killed along with many boys who
had nothing to do with the operation at Dachau.

Despite that, the US Army has vigously engaged in a cover-up.

At the proceedings against the Waffen-SS soldiers accused of the Malmedy Massacre during the Battle of the Bulge, which were held in a building inside the former SS training camp at Dachau, any mention by the defense that American soldiers had killed German POWs, was ordered stricken from the record by the judges of the American Military Tribunal.

It is also remarkable that not a single US soldier was charged.

I think that this is an incident that is ready to be remembered.

I wish I could do that – recommend that these murdered people be honored.  But Germany has become such a police state that even such a simple act would be dangerous to anybody who would dare to make such a gesture. 

You can read up on the story yourself if you go to  At the bottom of that write-up there is more.

Now to today’s Zgram, written by a female friend who sat on our deck in Tennesse and recounted this personal story a few weeks before my husband was politically kidnapped:


On December 16, 2009 a movie was shown in Toronto called "Sinking The Gustloff".  It was directed by Marcus Kolgar, a young Estonian-Canadian. Karin Manion, a 'survivor of the Gustloff', made these introductory remarks.


I wanted to do the introduction to this film because I consider myself a 'survivor' of sorts.

Perhaps I should start by telling you something about the ship itself.  The Gustloff was a luxury passenger ship, which was launched as a Kdf Flagship in 1937 (which literally translates as "Strength through Joy").  This was a Nazi Party program designed to pioneer low-cost sea cruises for working-class people, similar to the advent of the Volkswagon, a car that was within the price range of the average German worker -- so this was a very reasonably priced pleasure trip for German workers. 

Up until that time, ocean-going travel had been the preserve of the wealthy across the civilized world.  The ship was named Wilhelm Gustloff, after the leader of the Swiss Nazi party who had been assassinated by a Jewish student named David Frankfurter; in fact, he had been shot five times in the head and chest. 

The ship was requisitioned into the German Navy in September 1939 at which time it served as a hospital ship to 1940.  As of November 20, 1940 it was stripped of its medical equipment and repainted from its hospital colors to standard naval gray.  It was then assigned as a floating barracks for navy personnel at the Baltic port of Gdynia (German Gotenhafen) near Gdansk (Danzig).  The ship had its final voyage during 'Operation Hannibal' on January 30, 1945, when it was sunk while participating in the evacuation of civilians and personnel who were surrounded by the Red Army in East Prussia.

This is where I would like to talk a bit about my own personal experience.  As the Russian Army advanced into East Germany (East Prussia) and the first civilian atrocities perpetrated by the Russian Army became known, my family -- my mother, grandmother, a foster child and myself, started on a voyage of horror.  My father had been conscripted into the German Army, thus we were on our own.  We started to flee in the fall of 1944 from Tilsit in East Prussia at first on foot. Occasionally we managed to pick up a ride with someone who had a horse and buggy.  Needless to say, we had very little luggage.  One cannot carry much while traveling on foot and most of what little we could carry was lost along the way, for it became heavy and unimportant.  All we could think about was staying alive.

I remember very little about this trip for I was just a little girl, not yet 5 years of age.  What I do remember very vividly was our flight across the Frische Haff (a Baltic inlet).  The streets were clogged with military personnel and the Russian tankers mowed down everyone in their way.  Thus our only choice was to take the route along the frozen inlet.  There were thousands of refugees just like us who had the same idea and wished to just go west, away from the advancing enemy.  By this time we were fortunate enough to be allowed on someone's horse and buggy; thus we traveled within a throng of thousands of refugees, hoping all the while that the temperature would remain cold so that the ice would remain frozen.

Then the unthinkable happened!  Russian aeroplanes began strafing us and shooting the frightened refugees which were already fleeing for their lives.  I could see how the buggies behind us and beside us were sinking into the ice and people were drowning.  I will never forget the screams I heard.  I had never been so scared before.  The foster child my Grandma had brought along, a young boy of about ten, kept saying "Grandma, pray, Grandma pray!" The good Lord must have heard our prayers, for we did arrive safely on some shore further on.

Eventually we made it to the harbor city of Gdynia.  By this time the German Navy had recruited all floating stock to be used for the safe evacuation of the eastern front refugees.  My mother was in the advanced stages of pregnancy and had managed to obtain tickets for the Wilhelm Gustloff.  We actually got onto the ship, only to be told that they would not allow my grandmother aboard (I never did find out why).  My grandmother exclaimed "Please, you and the children go. I will find another way."  Mom replied to her, "Mother, we have been fleeing together for the last 4 months; we will not separate now".  She then turned around and gave away our tickets and we walked off the ship.

Well, we know about the fate of the Gustloff.  The ship was designed to comfortably carry 1,880 passengers and crew but they crammed it full to capacity.  In fact, even the swimming pool had been drained and filled with passengers.  The Gustloff finally left port just after midday on the 30th of January, 1945 with 10,582 people on board.  At 9:16 p.m. she was struck by three torpedoes fired from a Russian submarine.  62 minutes later she sank into the Baltic where the water temperature was just 3 degrees Celsius and the air temperature was considerably lower. A few managed to make their way through the chaos to lifeboats and were picked up by an escort vessel, but over 9,000 perished in the worst naval disaster in history.

It is only now, more than 60 years after the end of hostilities, that this is talked about.  Until recently it was the best kept secret in the annals of warfare, a veritable conspiracy of silence.  The largest disaster at sea had until then had been the sinking of the Titanic.  In fact numerous movies were made about this peacetime disaster.

Alexander Marinesko was the Russian captain of the submarine.  Just as Britain had erected a statue in honor of Bomber Harris for bombing the German civilian population to smithereens, so the Soviet Union gave him the 'Hero of the Soviet Union' award posthumously in 1990 for this act of depravity.  Someone interviewed Marinesko before he died and posed the question to him -- in retrospect, now that it is known that the Gustloff was a refugee ship which carried mostly women and children, did he have any regrets for his action then?  He claimed he did not, for the Germans would have done the same to them if they had a chance.

Was this a war crime?  Well, watch the movie and judge for yourself.


Karin commented after the meeting: The event was well attended and people were visibly moved.  A discussion ensued at the end.  People mostly wondered why this had been kept such a secret for so long.  They also expressed outrage that Captain Marinesko had been given such an award for the crime of deliberatly concentrating and killing civilians.  In fact someone suggested that we have a candlelight procession in front of the Russian embassy on January 30th, 2010 to memorialize this war crime and honour the deceased women and children of this disaster.