Drowning in Numbers

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In a review of Antony Beevor's 'Berlin: The Downfall' (June SR), mention is made of 'the greatest maritime disaster of all time', the sinking of the Goya by a Russian submarime with the consequent drowning of 7,000 refugees.

However, a disaster of even greater magnitude took place on 3 May 1945, when the RAF bombed and machine-gunned the German luxury liner, Cap Arcona, in the Baltic in the bay of Lubeck, south of the Danish island of Lolland. On this occasion 7,700 died, and what makes the incident even more grotesque was the fact that the victims were concentration camp prisoners.

At the close of the war a determined effort was made by the Nazis to kill the surviving concentration camp inmates by commanding them on forced marches away from the advancing Russians--the infamous death marches. Ten thousand prisoners from Neuengamme, a camp in the vicinity of Hamburg, ended up in Lubeck, where they were then ordered aboard the ship Cap Arcona, and fully expected to meet their deaths by being sunk by the Germans. Sighting British planes they were overjoyed, believing they would now be saved. Of course the British airmen did not know the ship was full of prisoners. Yet their fate has been allowed to disappear from the general historical consciousness, and instead it is the Russians who are given the responsibility for the world's 'greatest maritime disaster'.

Steve Parsons
Denmark