Friday, April 17, 2015


                                           CONCENTRATION CAMP NEUENGAMME
                                                                     PART 4/5

 Changes are also reflected in the commandant's office staff and the security group, winch temporarily consisted of four companies of the SS Death's Head Units of three combined companies, called a 'Sturmbann'. Younger members of the SS were sent to the front and replaced by older or wounded soldiers, that had only limited service suitability for the Waffen-SS. Although SS guard troops were in the first place exclusively still used at sub-camps, but the SS building brigades used in the clean-up of bombed cities had been from the fall of 1942 guarded by police organizations which were enlisted in part from municipal staff. The Neuengamme SS in 1944 took over nearly 1,000 soldiers from the Wehrmacht. They received new pay-books (Soldbücher) and special uniforms. In addition, as police were withdrawn, civilians who were mostly drawn from the public administration and used as a Reserve. These included customs officers to reinforce the guard units. At the sub-camps where prisoners were forced to work for construction projects for the Wehrmacht, units of the Navy and the Air Force took over the guard duties. In the Women's sub-camps male staff was generally used only for external security, while in the camp for the monitoring of prisoners female SS guards (Aufseherinnen) were responsible.
  Overall, the number of guards rose in total for the area of the Neuengamme concentration camp from a few hundred in 1940 to 4,000 - 5.000 by 1945, of which only half were members of the SS. According to the report of the SS-station doctor dated 29 March 1945 the average strength of the SS troops, including headquarters staff in the first quarter were 2,211 members of the SS. Of these 1,592 were on guard duty in the Main Camp (Stammlager). In the women's sub-camps a further 444 Auseherinnen were used. In addition, not SS associated forces were drafted for guarding an increase of 2,072 prisoners. These figures required the necessity in higher personnel expenses  for the sub-camps. While in the main camp nearly 600 members of the SS guarded 12.000 to 14.000 prisoners, of them,  over 100 members of the SS were part of the Administration including other departments, while in the sub-camps with more than 40,000 inmates, another 4,100 armed personnel had been used for security purposes.
View of the SS compound. The large doors of the SS garages, which still exist today, are visible in the background on the right.

In addition to the guards there were six departments within the SS camp: first, the Commander, 2nd,  the Political Department, 3rd, the Detention Camp (Schutzhaftlager), however, from 1942 the 'Arbeitseinsatz' (Work Assignment) managed as a separate department. 4th, Administration and Management, 5th, Department of Medicine, and 6th, Training. At the behest of the camp commander Pauly the Office of the Interpolation Points (Stützpunkte) [this is something like a Support Unit,sic] had been created in 1944 to better manage the sub-camps. In March 1945, there were eight Points, which controlled almost all other camps at different  locations. The object of the base manager was passing on the death reports of all subordinated stations. By this structural change the base manager (Stützpunktleiter) formed an intermediary between the camp commander and the individual commando leader. They were responsible for all organizational matters, handling of postal traffic and disclosure of changes of death reports, and regular monitoring of individual outer laying camps.

 Until recent, right towards the end of the war, including the main camp was expanded. For the Rifle Production of the Metal Factory Walther, a hammer mill was built in 1944/45, which was, however, not put into operation, the construction was not completed by April 1945. Yet during 1944 structures of two large double-storied accommodation buildings were built of clinker bricks that were occupied by a total of eight prisoner blocks.
 Originally, the expansion plans were much more comprehensive. The Official Group C (Construction) of the SS-WVHA intended in 1942/43 an extension of the Neuengamme concentration camp, which was aimed at an average occupancy of about 15,000 inmates. In detail it was planned: the creation of further administration buildings and factories, a two-storey building with entrance gates including an exit openings on the opposite side as a thoroughfare, a delousing station, a crematory,  prison cells of different sizes, and a lot more. The extensive wooden barracks and the simple wooden huts built in 1940-41 foresaw the replacing by eight large massive construction of two-storey accommodation buildings. The plans indicate that the SS after a victorious conclusion of the war saw a great need for concentration camp inmates, and intended to expand Neuengamme on long term basis. Nothing should be any more provisionally, everything should be done in mass construction.
  Because of the course of the war, most plans were not realized. The workshops of the German equipment plants emerged as Barrack Complexes, many other things, the entrance building included were never built. Of the two major prisoner accommodation, first it served until the end of 1944 when completely finished as the front stone building for the conservation of the block in which the SS used the remaining work force of several thousand weakened and sick prisoners who were usually sent back from the external camps, especially from the wicker works. Due to the high mortality rate, they were referred to as Death Blocks. Here a concentration camp for Scandinavian prisoners from all over Germany was established in March 1945. [Sketches from 25.2. and 12.30.1942, in: ANg. The plans have been discovered in the archive of the Moscow Interior Ministry as part of a research project by Hermann Kaienburg only a few years ago.sic]
Entrance to the prisoners’ compound. On the left and right are the wooden barracks for the commanding officer of the prisoners’ compound (Schutzhaftlagerführer) and the reporting officer (Rapportführer). In the background, the roll call square and the kitchen barracks can be seen.
The living and working conditions in the main camp and sub-camps deteriorated rapidly towards the end of the war. [This was a general trend right through Germany,sic.] Overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, insufficient medical care and catastrophic sanitary conditions led to the deaths of many prisoners. In some other locations, such as in the Friesenwall project, within a few months from the 1,700 to 2,100 prisoners in the anti-tank ditch construction, the monthly death rates were at the end of 1944 more than ten percent. Based on the total number of all prisoners of the concentration camp Neuengamme and the sub-camps the mortality rate, taken the incomplete information into account, the infirmary Books of the Dead in 1943, show an average of 332 deaths per month and rose by December 1944 to 2,675, which means a day on an average of 86 deaths.
"The Friesenwall'
On the 28th of August 1944 Adolf Hitler ordered the construction of a fortification – the so called “Friesenwall” – after the Allies had invaded Normandy in June 1944. This wall was supposed to be drawn along the coast in two defence lines from the Netherlands to Denmark. Behind the coast line with firing ranges, fox holes and blocking positions trenches were to be dug in a second defence line. Aurich city was proclaimed a fortress and supposed to be additionally secured by antitank ditches.The antitank ditches were four to five metres wide at the surface and two to three metres deep. The sloping walls of the ditches run to half a metre wide bottoms. The Organisation Todt was in charge of the site management for the ditches. Mainly concentration camp prisoners from Neuengamme were deployed for this job since workers were lacking towards the end of the war. They prisoners could be placed in the hutment in Engerhafe which had been proclaimed a satellite camp of Neuengamme.

                                                            'Image of the Friesenwall'
                                                    [Not very effective as a defensive wall]

Initially, the dead were still being placed by a Bergedorf funeral home to the local union crematorium at Ohlsdorf. As from 1942, the SS also had corpses cremated in a mobile incinerator of the Kori company in the immediate vicinity of the camp. In mid-1942 a first camp own crematorium was then completed. 1944 the SS Central Construction build a new crematorium, which was taken in December 1944 into operation.
In addition to the prisoners who were ruined by work, other people found their death in the Neuengamme concentration camp. The camp served the state police station Hamburg as a central place of execution. Gestapo and SS took until 1945 approximately 1,400 persons for execution into the camp, they were shot at the shooting range near the sewage treatment plant or into the prison bunker, and hanged. Among them were a large number of Soviet and Polish forced labourers and of resistance fighters of different nationalities, mostly Dutch union representatives that had organized at the end of 1944 a railway strike. The bodies of the executed were often made available to the anatomical institutes of the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf and Kiel. But even the Justice Department ordered  temporarily death sentences to be performed in concentration camps, as their own execution site had been destroyed at the remand prison by a bombing raid in August 1943. Hamburg Courts arranged for at least 16 cases of the execution by firing squad in the concentration camp Neuengamme.

The Crematorium at Neuengamme'
Twice, instead of the usual executions, murders were committed in the concentration camp instead with poison gas. The victims were 197 wounded (invalids) Red Army soldiers and 251 Soviet officers or other persons covered by the Commissar Order, which had been selected by special command of the Hamburg Gestapo in the POW location XI B at Fallingbostel. These 448 people were gassed on 25 September1942 and at the end of November in which for this purpose separately sealed prison bunker, with Zyklon B.
   “My comrade was beaten so badly in the brick factory […] that you could see black gouges on his body when he took off his shirt. The next morning, he and I were walking in the column to work when he said good-bye to me and told me to give his mother his regards if I survived. Then, he took two steps away from the group. A shot was fired […] my fellow countryman fell to the ground.”
[Anatoli Nikitisch Korschikow from the Soviet Union was a prisoner in Neuengamme concentration camp from August 1942 to 1944. (Letter from 1986.]
 Multiple medical experiments on prisoners were conducted in the Neuengamme concentration camp. Looking for new therapies for the treatment of typhus took place in the spring of 1942, by Professor Mühlens the director of the Hamburg Institution to determine characteristics on patients in Ship- and Tropical Diseases, after an outbreak of typhus epidemic in the camp which gave him the available opportunity, trying to treat the diseased prisoners with sulfonamide. At the  end of 1944,  Professor Ludwig Werner Haase of the Berlin Reich Institute for Water and Air Quality used 150 prisoners for weeks and made them drink contaminated water with the poisons mustard gas and nitrogen to test a detoxification process. At the same time, the Pulmonologist Dr. Kurt Heißmeier infected in Neuengamme over 100 prisoners with TBc pathogens, watching the tuberculoses develop  and  had the the axillary glands by surgical procedures to removed. About 30 prisoners did not survive the trials. The victims also included 20 Jewish children aged five to twelve years, which Heißmeier had brought in November 1944 from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Neuengamme to alter them through medical experiments. To hide the crime, the children and the four inmate doctors and nurses that cared for them were placed in a previously-used as external camp-accommodation, now vacant school building at Bullenhauser  Damm, Hamburg, on 20 April 1945, [Hitler's last birthday,sic] and the following night hanged by SS men in the basement on heating pipes. The children were given a morphine injection after which they were hanged. The SS-Untersturmführer who performed this horrible crime on the children used his full weight on the bodies to tighten the sling as their necks were too small to tighten the noose.. The same night 28 adults were killed, including the nurses of the children. The bodies were cremated in Neuengamme. [Ref.: Günther Schwarzberger. The SS doctor and the children. Report on the murder of Bullenhauser Damm, Munich 1982]

School at Bullenhauser Damm-Hamburg
Shortly before the end of the war there was still about 50,000 prisoners in the hands of the Neuengamme camp administration. As to the camps with the nearby approaching front in the preceding months, the SS chose here the same way of camp closures and their clearance. On March 26th 1945, the evacuation of the two located sub-camps in the Emsland area,  Meppen-Versen and Meppen-Dalum commenced the resolution of the Neuengamme Camp Complexes. Within four weeks, on the 1 April, the other locations of Neuengamme concentration camps were dissolved, just as quickly as the British and US troops were advancing from the Rhine to the Elbe. Also on the 1 April the sub-camp Porta Westfalica was cleared in the first week of April, as well as  the sub-camps in Bremen, Hannover, Salzgitter and Braunschweig. In the following days until the middle of the month,  prisoners were placed in the west or north from outdoor camps on  uncoordinated marches.
 By mid-April 1945, the majority of the then existing 57 other locations of Neuengamme concentration camp were disbanded. The prisoners were led away on rail transports and on foot marches in front of the approaching Allied troops. With food, if ever provided, for a day or two, some transports were over a week on the road. Many prisoners died of thirst and starvation. On foot marches, the SS guards shot those who could not keep up. In parts those on foot wandered aimlessly around on by-roads until they finally reached a destination.
Count Folke Bernadotte, vice president of the Swedish Red Cross in talks with a German Army Officer, 1945
Most transports led the prisoners into  Collection Centres (Auffanglager), target of the 9,000 prisoners, especially most of them from Bremen and Hamburg including some other locations with sick detainees, such was the Prisoner of War Camp Sandbostel at Bremervörde. 8,000 prisoners, mostly Jewesses and released from the originating camps with sick prisoners out of the the Hannover area, came to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. The last stop for 5,000 prisoners who came mainly from outside camps in the Braunschweig-Salzgitter area in February 1945,  into Camp Wöbbelin, near Ludwigslust which was at that time still  under construction. These two destinations were death camps, where thousands perished from hunger and disease: 1,000 in Wöbbelin and 3,000 in Sandbostel. What the number of victims with Neuengamme numbers among the 25,000 dead who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp shortly before liberation or in the first few weeks after that, is not known.
 With the dissolution of the Neuengamme concentration camp there are two historical connecting events in their action and perception, however, they are completely opposite and show the inherent conflict between destruction and liberation in a particularly dramatic sense: The rescue of the Scandinavian prisoners by the Swedish Red Cross in relation to the remaining Neuengamme inmates on KZ-ships.
In the last six weeks of the war the Neuengamme concentration camp became an assembly point for all Norwegians and Danish prisoners held in Germany. The establishment of a Norse Camp was the initiative of the Vice President of the Swedish Red Cross, Count Folke Bernadotte, which was granted to him by Heinrich Himmler in February 1945 as an input for the hoped for contacts with the British, with whom the chief SS leaders tried to avert a total defeat of Germany and negotiate a ceasefire. Having the sick brought out with the famous "white buses" via Denmark to Sweden before, over 4,000 Danish and Norwegian prisoners could leave Neuengamme on 20 April 1945 in about 120 buses and other vehicles and travelling towards freedom.
"White Buses" of the Danish Red Cross at their base camp at Friedrichsruh'
On the same day began the complete evacuation of the main camp, in collaboration with the Higher SS and Police Leader 'North Sea', George Henning Graf von Bassewitz-Behr, who exercised command over the Neuengamme concentration camp, and organised certain aspects during discussions with the Hamburg Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann  in the case of Allied enemy approximation. Kaufmann had in mid-April agreed under the influence of close companions and the Minister of Armaments Albert Speer, including the military commandant of Hamburg, Major General Alwin Wolz, and most representative of the economy, that further destruction after the bombing of 1943 had severely damaged the city, like the industrial plants and Shipyards, they feared a military defence of Hamburg would result in further destruction and decided to surrender the city to the British without a fight.  Furthermore the leaders of both factions feared looting by freed forced labourers and reprisals by the victors. With this foreseeable encounter in mind,  the capture of the city of half-starved prisoners and victims of mass crimes, they wanted the city free from concentration camp wretched figures.(KZ-Elendsgestalten) The solution was to put inmates onto ships.
  Since Bassewitz-Behr had no alternative camp for receiving the Neuengamme prisoners, according to his statements, it was Kaufmann who proposed to accommodate inmates on boats preferable onto merchant vessels. In his 1946 trial, while he was tried in court to verify his involvement, during investigation (Ermittelungsverfahren) Basewith-Behr said: "Since transferring prisoners onto ships, I asked myself the question as to the issue of procurement of utilities (kitchens, latrines, and so on) that was hardly available in setting up a new camp, and questioned the security of a camp, on vessels, no fence required, very easy to solve, I grabbed this proposal and instructed Pauly to immediately contact the Reich Commissioner for maritime transport in connection with his agent and consider the possibility of establishing an alternate accommodation on these ships".  The last approximately 10,000 prisoners who were still in the main camp, the SS brought them in the days from April 21 to 26 to Lübeck and from there on two ships were the "CAP ARCONA" was anchored off Neustadt, the luxury liner of  Hamburg-Süd, which Kaufmann, in  his capacity as Reich Commissioner for the shipping requisitioned as a 'floating concentration camp'. Due to the overcrowding and lack of food and drinking water, there prevailed indescribable conditions on board. On May 3, 1945 British bombers attacked the ships, which they regarded as a troop transporters. While the "ATHENS" had taken only three small bombs and the attack with 1,998 prisoners on board survived largely unscathed, the attack with about 4,200 on the "CAP ARCONA" and about 2,800 on the "Thielbek", this was for the pent-up prisoners a catastrophe.  Only 400 of them were saved, while 6,600 prisoners burned to death a few hours before their possible liberation on board, or drowned in the Baltic Sea, or were shot during the  attempts. [Ref .: William Long, Cap Arcona, the tragic end of the concentration camp prisoner fleet on May 3, 1945. Dokomentation, Eutin 2005]


The Cap Arcona Maritime Tragedy
The loss of life in the Cap Arcona sinking is among the highest in Maritime History.

Ctsy: BJORN LARSSON Collection

The Cap Arcona was a large German luxury ocean liner formerly of the Hamburg-South America line that was sunk with the loss of many lives when laden with prisoners from concentration camps.The 27,500 gross ton Cap Arcona was launched in 1927, it was considered one of the most beautiful of the time. It carried upper-class travelers and steerage-class emigrants, mostly to South America. In 1940, it was taken over by the Kriegsmarine, the German navy, and used in the Baltic Sea.

In the last few weeks of the war in Europe, the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte, vice-president of the Red Cross, was organising the removal of Danish and Norwegian prisoners from German concentration camps to neutral Sweden — a scheme known as the White Buses. In practice the scheme also included other nationalities.

On April 26, 1945, the Cap Arcona was loaded with prisoners from the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg and was brought into the Bay of Lübeck along with two smaller ships, Athen and Thielbek. During these days, around 140 French-speaking, West European prisoners were transferred from the Thielbek to the Magdalena for transportation to hospitals in Sweden. This rescue operation was actioned by utilising information from British Intelligence, indicating their knowledge of the deportees on board.

Ctsy: Wikipedia
Ctsy: Wikipedia

On May 3, 1945, four days after Hitler's suicide but four days before the unconditional surrender of Germany, the Cap Arcona, the Thielbek, and the passenger liner SS Deutschland ,converted to a hospital ship but not marked as such, were sunk in four separate, but synchronized, attacks by RAF Typhoons of 83 Group of the 2nd Tactical Air Force as part of general attacks on shipping in the Baltic.

Hawker Typhoon Mark 1B fighter-bombers used "60lb" rocket projectiles, bombs, and 20 mm cannon.

                                              ATTACHING 60 LB WARHEADS

The survivors from the sinking who reached the shore were shot by SS troops, although 350 prisoners managed to escape from the massacre. Allan Wyse, formerly of 193 Fighter Squadron said "WE USED OUR CANNON FIRE AT THE CHAPS IN THE WATER….WE SHOT THEM UP WITH 20 mm CANNONS IN THE WATER.HORRIBLE THING BUT WE WERE TOLD TO DO IT AND WE DID IT. THAT’S WAR.”About 490 of the various guards, SS and crew were rescued by German boats.Photos of the burning ships, listed as Deutschland, Thielbek, and Cap Arcona, and survivors swimming in the frozen Baltic Sea were taken on a reconnaissance mission over Bay of Lübeck by F-6 aircraft of the USAAF's 161st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron around 5:00 PM, shortly after the attack.

For weeks after the sinking, bodies of the victims were being washed ashore, where they were collected and buried in a single mass grave at Neustadt in Holstein. For nearly thirty years, parts of skeletons were being washed ashore, until the last find, by a twelve-year-old boy, in 1971.

As a light rain began to fall on the afternoon of May 3, 1945, British soldiers of 6 Commando, 1st Special Services Brigade, searched the beaches of Neustadt, Germany, on the Baltic Sea for survivors. The bodies of men, women, and even small children lay by the hundreds on the sands. Offshore, under a gray, smoke filled sky, the soldiers could see the the still-smoldering hulk of the former luxury liner, the Cap Arcona, and scores of other damaged ships. A highly effective RAF bombing and rocket raid had destroyed the fleet and killed over 7,000 concentration camp inmates who had been imprisoned on the ships.

One soldier found a girl of about seven clutching the hand of a woman beside her. He presumed she was the girl’s mother. Both bodies were clad in black-and-white-striped wool garments of concentration camp prisoners. The heads and shoulders of floating corpses were visible just offshore, as victims of all ages drifted in. Even a full year later, the bodies were still washing up.
It’s a story no one would tell. The British government ordered the records to be sealed for 100 years. The sinking of one of the most glamorous ocean liners of the early twentieth century just had it’s 62nd anniversary, appears in no history books. The governments of Germany and Great Britain continue to to refuse either to discuss it or release pertinent records. So another war atrocity remains mostly a secret, like several other sinkings during the time period. 7000 dead is an awfully lot to not even be able to mention it, but that is the way wars are run.
Ctsy: Wikipedia

 The sinking of the KZ- ships, which is at the same time  one of the largest maritime disasters in history, the death marches, and the terrible conditions in the death camps of Bergen-Belsen, Sandbostel and Wöbbelin, all this shows, that at the end of the Neuengamme concentration camp was an Inferno. The number of prisoners who died in the last three weeks of the war can only be estimated. It can be assumed to be over 16,000.

 After the majority of the prisoners of Neuengamme had left, the camp had to be cleared completely by a 700-strong squad. The SS diligently and deliberately erased all traces of the crimes committed there. Prisoners who belonged to this residual commando, reported that all the huts containing straw and rubbish were cleaned, sometimes even the walls were freshly whitewashed and devious treacherous contraptions like gallows and beating blocks were removed. In addition to clearing up and dismantling, the SS undertook the destruction of all command records, documents of the Political Department, Camp Gestapo, and further all of the files, in the camp's written material.
 The last prisoners and SS men left Neuengamme on May 2, 1945. When British soldiers shortly afterwards entered the camp, although they were faced by a huge site with a number of  barracks before them, what had happened there, apparently in this place, there was no traces.  Neuengamme, which had been completely cleared and it was one of the large camps, no pictures of terror went around the world.
  Proven figures of prisoners who died in Neuengamme and sub-camps or end at the end of the war,  in the course of clearing, a total of at least 42,900 people is estimated, including executions of prisoners by the Gestapo and Justice Department.. In addition, several thousand prisoners who died after their transfer to other concentration camps or immediately after the war to consequences of their incarceration. This means that probably  over half of the prisoners of concentration camps.did not survive the Nazi persecution. [Previous estimates assumed that 55,000 prisoners were in the concentration camp Neuengamme, including sub-camps that died. sic]

Allied Attacks Killed Thousands of Concentration Camp Inmates

By Mark Weber

All prisoners of German wartime concentration camps who perished while in German custody are routinely regarded as "victims of Nazism" -- even if they lost their lives as direct or indirect result of Allied policy. Similarly, all Jews who died in German captivity during World War II -- no matter what the cause of death -- are counted as "victims of the Holocaust."

This view is very misleading, if not deceitful. In fact, many tens of thousands of camp inmates and Jews lost their lives as direct and indirect victims of Allied action, or of the horrors of the Second World War. For example, the many thousands of Jews who perished in the notorious Bergen-Belsen camp during and after the final months of the war in Europe, including Anne Frank, were primarily victims not of German policy, but rather of the turmoil and chaos of war.

Among the German concentration camp prisoners who perished at Allied hands were some 7,000 inmates who were killed during the war's final week as they were being evacuated in three large German ships that were attacked by British war planes. This little-known tragedy is one of history's greatest maritime disasters.

The Cap Arcona, launched in May 1927, was a handsome passenger ship of the "Hamburg-South America" line. At 27,000 gross registered tons, it was the fourth-largest ship in the German merchant marine. For twelve years -- until the outbreak of war in 1939 -- she had sailed regularly between Hamburg and Rio de Janeiro. In the war's final months she was pressed into service by the German navy to rescue refugees fleeing from areas in the east threatened by the Red Army. This was part of a vast rescue operation organized by the German navy under the supervision of Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz. All but unknown in the United States today, this great undertaking saved countless lives. The Thielbek, a much smaller ship of 2,800 gross registered tons, was also used to transport refugees as part of the rescue operation.

Fire on the Cap Arcona. Photograph taken by a British reconnaissance aircraft, 3 May 1945
In April 1945, Karl Kaufmann, Gauleiter of Hamburg and Reich Commissioner for merchant shipping, transferred the Cap Arcona and the Thielbek from naval command, and ordered them to Neustadt Bay in the Baltic Sea near the north German city of Lübeck.

Some 5,000 prisoners hastily evacuated from the Neuengamme concentration camp (a few miles southeast of Hamburg) were brought on board the Cap Arcona between April 18 and 26, along with some 400 SS guards, a naval gunnery detail of 500, and a crew of 76. Similarly the Thielbek took on some 2,800 Neuengamme prisoners. Under the terrible conditions that prevailed in what remained of unoccupied Germany during those final weeks, conditions for the prisoners on board the two vessels were dreadful. Many of the tightly packed inmates were ill, and both food and water were in very short supply.

On the afternoon of May 3, 1945, British "Typhoon" fighter-bombers, striking in several attack waves, bombarded and fired on the Cap Arcona and then the Thielbek. The two ships, which had no military function or mission, were flying many large white flags. "The hoisting of white flags proved useless," notes the Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. The attacks were thus violations of international law, for which -- if Britain and not Germany had been the vanquished power -- British pilots and their commanders could have been punished and even executed as "war criminals."

The Thielbek, struck by rockets, bombs and machine gun fire, sank in just 15-20 minutes. British planes then fired on terror-stricken survivors who were struggling in rescue boats or thrashing in the cold sea. Nearly everyone on board the Thielbek perished quickly, including nearly all the SS guards, ship's officers and crew members. Only about 50 of the prisoners survived.

The burning Cap Arcona took longer to go under. Many inmates burned to death. Most of those who were able to leap overboard drowned in the cold sea, and only some 350-500 could be rescued. During the next several days hundreds of corpses washed up on nearby shores, and were buried in mass graves. Having sunk in shallow water, the wreck of the capsized Cap Arcona remained partially above water as a grim reminder of the catastrophe.

A German reference work, Verheimlichte Dokumente, sums up:

    A particularly barbaric Allied war crime was the bombing on May 3, 1945, by British Royal Air Force planes of the passenger ships Cap Arcona and Thielbek in the Lübeck bay, packed with concentration camp inmates. Among the many 'nameless' victims were many prominent political figures, a fact that is hushed up today because the fact that concentration camp inmates, many of them resistance fighters against Hitler, perished as victims of the terror of the 'liberators' does not conform to the portrayal of the 'reeducators'.

Another reference work, Der Zweite Weltkrieg (1985), notes:

    A unique tragedy is the end on May 3, 1945, of the 'Hamburg-South' passenger steamship Cap Arcona and the steamship Thielbek, both carrying concentration camp prisoners on board who believed that they were saved, but who were now bombed in the Neustadt Bay by Allied air planes. On the Cap Arcona alone, more than 5,000 perished -- ship personnel, concentration camp inmates, and SS guards.

Nuestadt-Lübeck as it looks now, picture I took during my visit, the river is the Travemünde, where the bodies floated towards the Baltic Sea, visible in the right background. sic.
The deaths on May 3, 1945, of some 7,000 concentration camp prisoners -- victims of a criminal British attack -- remains a little-known chapter of World War II history. This is all the more remarkable when one compares the scale of the disaster with other, much better known maritime catastrophes. For example, the well-known sinking of the great British liner Titanic on April 15, 1912, took "only" 1,523 lives.

Actually, among the greatest naval disasters in history are the Baltic Sea sinkings of three other German vessels by Soviet submarines in the first half of 1945: the Wilhelm Gustloff, on January 30, 1945, with the loss of at least 5,400 lives, mostly women and children; the General Steuben on February 10, 1945, with the loss of 3,500, mostly refugees and wounded soldiers; and, above all, the Goya on April 16, 1945, taking the lives of some 7,000 refugees and wounded soldiers.

Sources: Fritz Brustat-Naval, Unternehmen Rettung (Herford: Koheler, 1970), pp. 197-201; C. Zentner & F. Bedürftig, eds., The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (New York: Da Capo, 1997), pp. 126, 644-645, 952; W. Schütz, Hrsg., Lexikon: Deutsche Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert (Rosenheim: DVG, 1990), pp. 66, 455; Dr. Bernhard Steidle, Hrsg., Verheimlichte Dokumente, Band 2 (Munich: 1995), pp. 212, 230; "Britische RAF mordete Tausende KZ-Häftlinge," National-Zeitung (Munich), May 19, 2000, p. 11; Kay Dohnke, "5 Minuten, 50 Meter, 50 Jahre: Gedenken an die Cap Arcona, nach einem halben Jahrhundert," taz: die tageszeitung (Hamburg Ausgabe), May 3, 1995, also on line at; "The Cap Arcona, the Thielbek and the Athen," on line at; Konnilyn G. Feig, Hitler's Death Camps (New York: 1981), p. 214; Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust (New York: 1986), p. 806; M. Weber, "Bergen-Belsen: The Suppressed Story," May-June 1995 Journal of Historical Review, pp. 23-30; M. Weber, "History's Little-Known Naval Disasters," March-April 1998 Journal, p. 22.

For further reading, these books are available: Rudi Goguel, Cap Arcona (Frankfurt/Main: Röderberg, 1972); Günter Schwarberg, Angriffsziel Cap Arcona (Hamburg: Stern-Buch, 1983/ Göttingen: Steidi, 1998), with portions on line at; Wilhelm Lange, Cap Arcona: Dokumentation (Eutin: Struve, 1988).
For a detailed account of the above disaster, refer to the book "Failed to Return", by Roy Nesbit, page 170. Also, refer to copies of "Stern"Magazine, 3/3/1983, 10,24,31/1983, & 7/4/1983. Also "Daily Telegraph" 6,10,13,15 & 17/3/1983 & 3/5/1983. Also "Lloyds War Losses-Second World War-Volume 3". Also "Agent Extraordinary", G. Martelli, Collins Books, London, 1960

                                                                                                                                                            CONTINUED UNDER PART 5/5

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