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 December 2008 - Nr. 12

Merry Christmas and the best of Seasons from Echo Germanica


Herwig WandschneiderNearly 400 Kitchener-Waterloo residents had the privilege of attending the showing of "Sinking the Gustloff", a 46 Minute documentary about the sinking of passenger/refugee ship "Wilhem Gustloff" shortly after leaving the port of Gotenhafen (Gdynia) (near Danzig) for Kiel on January 30, 1945, three months before the war ended.

Russian Submarine S-13, commandeered by Captain Alexander Marinesko, fired 3 torpedoes at the Gustloff, which was positioned 30 km offshore in the deep icy water of the Baltic Sea. The air temperature at the time was between -10° and -18° Celsius. The Gustloff plowed through fields of ice floes. All 3 torpedoes hit their intended target.

The ship was originally built in 1937 as a flag cruise ship of the Third Reich to accommodate 1,463 passengers and a crew of 417 - see also website and But as a refugee ship it was carrying 10,582 crew and passengers, including 8,956 refugees - mostly women and children fleeing the advancing Russian Army. 9,343 lives were lost.

The Titanic has always been labeled the worst maritime disaster in history. It carried 2,227 passengers and crew. 1,522 lives perished in that tragedy.

The Wilhem Gustloff

When Marcus Kolga (RealWorld Pictures) first heard of the Gustloff, he was shocked to realize that few people had ever heard of it. This motivated him to extensively research the Gustloff’s sinking. And when he managed to locate survivors, he produced and directed "Sinking the Gustloff", supported financially solely by Rogers Communications.

The documentary sheds historical light on the tragedy from all sides, based on the historical consequences of the war and the advancing Russian Army, on the memories of survivors, and on interviews with historians, including an interview with a Russian historian, who explained the motivations and situation of Submarine captain Alexander Marinesko and his crew.

Survivors Eva Rothschild-Dorn, Heinz Schön and Horst Woit talked in the film about their experience during and after the sinking, their emotions and nightmares, making reference to film sequences as presented.

In the film, Dr. Alfred de Zayas, Legal Expert on Displacement (Vertreibung) and Ethnic Cleansing, Retired Senior Lawyer with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Professor of International Law in Geneva assessed the torpedoing to be a war crime.

What made the screening of this film at the Transylvania Club in Kitchener doubly fascinating was that Producer/Director Marcus Kolga was there in person to answer questions. And, amazingly, he was accompanied by a survivor of this tragedy, Mr. Horst Woit, who at the time of the sinking was 10 years old. The audience bombarded the two with questions.

Horst Woit seemed at times to be reliving the horror of that night again and again. The story of his personal circumstances brought the events ever closer to the audience, 63 years after the event. And yes, lives lost in this maritime tragedy far exceeded that of the Titanic, each with its own circumstances, history and human shortcomings. With that alone as a criterion, the "Wilhelm Gustloff" is documented to be the worst maritime disaster of all time.

Email to Herwig Wandschneider
Herwig Wandschneider reports about issues regarding art, performances, dance, business and professional events especially from the Kitchener-Waterloo region

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