Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff

Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff

3.8 7
by Cathryn J. Prince
     
 

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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,

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Overview

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. 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Death in the Baltic is the winner of the Military Writers Society of America 2013 Founder's Award

"Based on German and Russian records, as well as material gained from interviews with survivors, author Prince has written a gripping account of one of the least-known human disasters of World War II."—Military History Magazine

“In describing the experiences of survivors, whom she has been adept in tracing, the journalist Cathryn Prince gives voices to ‘ordinary people who suffered during extraordinary times’ — and does so with scrupulous empathy.”—The Spectator

“A must-read for anyone wanting to examine the effects of the War on both sides.”—Warfare magazine

“The story of the worst maritime disaster in history…Prince has scoured the planet for survivors, treating their harrowing stories with gentle empathy, from the first sickening bolts of the torpedoes to the chaos and terror of the ship’s swift sinking as passengers fell into the freezing water, clambered for lifeboats and watched loved ones disappear in the tumult… An engaging study of a shocking tragedy.”—Kirkus Reviews

“If you think that the sinking of the Titanic was the worst maritime disaster ever, then you're wrong….Amazing and harrowing story, well written and documented.”—Jean-Paul Adriaansen, Water Street Bookstore

“The sinking of the cruise liner that was once the pride of Hitler’s Strength Through Joy program has long been overlooked by maritime historians.  Yet when the Wilhelm Gustloff disappeared beneath the freezing waters of the Baltic in January of 1945, she took with her more than six times the number of people lost on the Titanic. Through careful research and interviews with the few remaining survivors. Cathryn J. Prince vividly recreates the chaos and terror of this epic maritime disaster.”—Hugh Brewster, author of Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic’s First-Class Passengers And Their World

Death in the Baltic is the engrossing story of a tragedy that should never have been forgotten. With the grace of a writer who truly feels the loss of thousands in the cold waters of the Baltic Sea, Cathryn J. Prince has preserved their memory and improved our sense of history.”—Gregory A. Freeman, author of The Forgotten 500

“Cathryn Prince reaches into the dark corners of history, and draws attention to this unreported tragedy through the experiences of the people who lived it.”—Stacy Perman, author of A Grand Complication

“With Death in the Baltic author Cathryn J. Prince recounts an important but little known aspect of World War II. Rich in detail, drama, and tragedy, Prince's gripping narrative skillfully interweaves the traumatic events of the final weeks of the war with moving stories of survivors of a maritime disaster which claimed more lives than the sinking of the Titanic.”—Dwight Jon Zimmerman, award-winning author of Uncommon Valor

"Death in the Baltic tells a gripping, invaluable story. Out of a desire for vengeance and recognition, one Soviet submarine commander caused the deaths of thousands of refugees, deaths that the victors of World War II chose to ignore. Cathryn Prince breaks the silence around the devastation many German civilians suffered at the end of the war.  Parting the curtain on the “collateral damage” the Allied Forces accepted as a necessary strategy for defeating Hitler, Death in the Baltic reveals that war's trauma spares no one."—Leila Levinson, award-winning author of Gated Grief

“The story of the sinking of the Willhelm Gustloff is still unkown to a majority of non-Germans…It is certainly a grimly fascinating story, not least because of the wealth of human interest that it contains…Cathryn Prince tells the story of the Gustloff briskly and engagingly…making good use of the eyewitness accounts of the survivors”—History Today

Kirkus Reviews
The story of the worst maritime disaster in history--and it wasn't the Titanic. Former Christian Science Monitor reporter Prince (A Professor, a President, and a Meteor: The Birth of American Science, 2010, etc.) pursues the little-known sinking of the German cruise liner Wilhelm Gustloff off the Polish coast in 1945 by Soviet torpedoes, to the incredible loss of some 9,000 lives, mostly refugees from East Prussia. Fleeing the Soviet Red Army advance on the Baltic coastline in late January, the German refugees were crammed aboard a converted pleasure cruiser as part of Adm. Karl Donitz's operation to help save military personnel and civilians from the Soviet onslaught. However, the effort came late: The Nazis forbade inhabitants of the eastern provinces to vacate before 1945, and soon, escaping by land would be impossible and by sea, frequently catastrophic. Thousands of refugees swarmed the port at Gotenhafen, waiting for days before boarding one of the available vessels, of which the Wilhelm Gustloff was the largest. Prince has scoured the planet for survivors, treating their harrowing stories with gentle empathy, from the first sickening bolts of the torpedoes to the chaos and terror of the ship's swift sinking as passengers fell into the freezing water, clambered for lifeboats and watched loved ones disappear in the tumult. Prince's detail extends to the experience of the troubled Soviet captain of the S-13 submarine, Alexander Marinesko, considered a hero for having "destroyed the symbol of Nazism itself." An engaging study of a shocking tragedy, in which the author takes pains to view all sides.
Military History Magazine

Based on German and Russian records, as well as material gained from interviews with survivors, author Prince has written a gripping account of one of the least-known human disasters of World War II.
The Spectator

In describing the experiences of survivors, whom she has been adept in tracing, the journalist Cathryn Prince gives voices to 'ordinary people who suffered during extraordinary times' -- and does so with scrupulous empathy.
Warfare magazine

A must-read for anyone wanting to examine the effects of the War on both sides.
Water Street Bookstore Jean-Paul Adriaansen

If you think that the sinking of the Titanic was the worst maritime disaster ever, then you're wrong….Amazing and harrowing story, well written and documented.
author of The Forgotten 500 Gregory A. Freeman

Death in the Baltic is the engrossing story of a tragedy that should never have been forgotten. With the grace of a writer who truly feels the loss of thousands in the cold waters of the Baltic Sea, Cathryn J. Prince has preserved their memory and improved our sense of history.
author of A Grand Complication Stacy Perman

Cathryn Prince reaches into the dark corners of history, and draws attention to this unreported tragedy through the experiences of the people who lived it.
award-winning author of Uncommon Valor Dwight Jon Zimmerman

With Death in the Baltic author Cathryn J. Prince recounts an important but little known aspect of World War II. Rich in detail, drama, and tragedy, Prince's gripping narrative skillfully interweaves the traumatic events of the final weeks of the war with moving stories of survivors of a maritime disaster which claimed more lives than the sinking of the Titanic.
award-winning author of Gated Grief Leila Levinson

Death in the Baltic tells a gripping, invaluable story. Out of a desire for vengeance and recognition, one Soviet submarine commander caused the deaths of thousands of refugees, deaths that the victors of World War II chose to ignore. Cathryn Prince breaks the silence around the devastation many German civilians suffered at the end of the war. Parting the curtain on the "collateral damage" the Allied Forces accepted as a necessary strategy for defeating Hitler, Death in the Baltic reveals that war's trauma spares no one.
History Today

The story of the sinking of the Willhelm Gustloff is still unkown to a majority of non-Germans…It is certainly a grimly fascinating story, not least because of the wealth of human interest that it contains…Cathryn Prince tells the story of the Gustloff briskly and engagingly…making good use of the eyewitness accounts of the survivors.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780230341562
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
04/09/2013
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
9.10(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet 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 Club’s 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.

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