Sunday, 6 August 2017

Cap Arcona Tragedy Memorial

It is a fact that everywhere you go in Germany you will find remembrances of the horrors of war. There is a small but popular beach on the northern coast of Insel Poel, the Strandperle, and beside the road  Am Schwarzen Busch there is a memorial to a tragedy that occurred in the last few days of the Second World War involving the sinking of the ship SS Cap Arcona.

The SS Cap Arcona was an ocean steam-liner launched on 14th May 1927 and intended to carry passengers and cargo between Hamburg and the East coast of South America. In 1940 the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) requisitioned the Cap Arcona as a barracks ship. Bizarrely, in 1942 the ship was used as a substitute for the Titanic in a German propaganda film of the same name.

In the Spring of 1945 the 'White Buses' operation was organised between the Swedish Red Cross and the Danish government to evacuate Scandinavian prisoners in German concentration camps to safety in neutral Sweden, ahead of the advance of the Allied armies. This was part of a wider plan by the Nazis to evacuate their concentration camps, and send their prisoners on 'Death Marches' (Todesmärsche) perhaps to try and remove testimony of the atrocities they had committed. In the closing days of the war, many thousands of Scandinavian prisoners ended up at Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg. From 19th April 1945 some 10,000 prisoners were taken by train to the port of Lübeck or walked there on foot, with the aim of transporting them to Sweden before British and Canadian forces overtook them.

The SS Cap Arcona was one of the ships anchored in the Bay of Lübeck West of Poel island which were turned into virtual floating concentration camps, the prisoners packed and locked below deck. Around 7,000 prisoners were held in the Cap Arcona and its escort ship the frigate 'Thielbeck' as they sailed out into the Baltic Sea on the 3rd May. They were not marked with Red Cross insignia, and the British RAF descended on them with instructions to wipe out all hostile ships gathering to the West of Poel island. The boats in the bay were bombed by the RAF planes and the survivors in the icy waters strafed with gunfire. Those not killed by the RAF were shot with machine guns by SS Guards in rescue ships, only intent on rescuing German naval men. Of the 7,000, only around 350 survived. Waves upon waves of dead bodies floated in the Bay of Lübeck, with many of them washing ashore on Insel Poel and the Strandperle.

The memorial reminds future generations of this horrific tragedy.

Next to the Cap Arcona memorial, there is a memorial to all the dead of the World Wars.

Quite a sobering thought for a seaside holiday destination, but that's Germany for you; they don't hide from their past.

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