Horst Woit, a young boy, snatched his uncle’s jack knife from the kitchen table as he and his mother walked out the door of their home. They trudged through the snow and freezing weather toward the Baltic harbor where they boarded a ship named the Wilhelm Gustloff to flee from Nazi Germany while Stalin’s soldiers advanced on the Eastern Front in January 1945. When Alexander Marinesko, commander of a Soviet submarine, torpedoed the Wilhelm Gustloff shortly after they set off to sea, he sent Horst, his mother, and nearly 10,000 passengers into the black waters of the Baltic. As the safety boat ropes tangled along the ship’s hull, young Horst pulled his uncle’s jack knife out of his pocket and cut the cord. Horst told his story to Cathryn Prince, journalist, historian, and author.
The world’s greatest maritime disaster during war or peace time, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, is not a familiar historical event to most American readers. Gunther Grass fictionalized these events in his controversial Crab Walk. Cathryn Prince spent years tracking down the few living survivors, digging through the documentary records, and gathering evidence. She recreates the mounting tension, chaos, and terror with the experiences of those who lived it. The tragedy, and the nearly 70 years of silence in its wake, is a story worth retrieving from the bottom of the black Baltic.
Today, Palgrave-Macmillan releases Cathryn Prince’s new book, Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Here are some of the great initial reviews:
“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
“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.
Congratulations Cathryn Prince.