World War II: The Prisoners' Death March

In the spring of 1945, there are more than 700,000 prisoners in German extermination camps. The truth about their abominable conditions is about to be revealed, and Hitler orders that…

In the spring of 1945, there are more than 700,000 prisoners in German extermination camps. The truth about their abominable conditions is about to be revealed, and Hitler orders that they all be executed. But the SS commander Heinrich Himmler has other plans: He intends to use the prisoners for barter – and a Swedish count is to help him.

Warning: An amazing read 

SS commander Heinrich Himmler is ill. A nasty combination of overexertion and the flu has caused a mild heart attack and he has now been admitted to the Hohenlychen sanatorium north of Berlin in February 1945.


As a precaution, the roofs of the buildings have been painted white with large red crosses – so that Allied bombers do not target them. 


For the first time since Himmler joined the Nazi party 22 years earlier, he has begun to doubt Adolf Hitler.


It happens that he discusses with his most loyal subordinates in the SS whether Hitler should be overthrown. Nothing will come of such speculation.


The next time the topic comes up, Himmler convinces those close to him of his unbreakable loyalty to Hitler. 


But the SS commander has already seen that Germany is losing the war, and in the sanatorium he gets the idea to use 700,000 prisoners in concentration camps in a huge barter with the USA and Britain:


If he releases the prisoners, the fighting on the Western Front will be stopped. And then the Germans can become allies of the Western powers and attack the Soviet Union together. 


Distinguished guest from Sweden 

19 February 1945, Hohenlychen: The Swedish Red Cross tries to get permission to rescue all Norwegian and Danish prisoners. Count Folke Bernadotte is sent to Germany to negotiate with Himmler. 


Himmler is still at the Hohenlychen Asylum when a zealous Count appears.


This slim Swede with a piercing gaze tries to convince the SS commander that all Scandinavian prisoners from the extermination camps should be transferred to Sweden.


As a result, Germany’s prospects would be much better, promises Bernadotte. 

Heinrich Himmler was head of the SS and was responsible for the concentration camps

Himmler finds this proposal ridiculous. But he does not dare to reject her completely, because Folke Bernadotte is the vice-president of the Red Cross and has good relations with Swedish politicians.


Only with their help can his upcoming peace proposal reach the Allies. 


After many hours of negotiations, Bernadotte gets permission to gather all the Scandinavians in the Neuengamme camp near Hamburg – but the Swedes themselves have to take care of all the transport and all the fuel according to Himmler’s requirement. 


Bernadotte flies back to Sweden to resolve these issues. He has to collect 100 buses, trucks and ambulances as well as find 300 volunteers to take care of the evacuation.


It is important that this happens quickly because no one can know when the SS officer will change his mind. 


Prisoners build the submarine shipyard

Martz, underground barracks “Valentin” in Bremen: All extermination camp prisoners are the property of the SS. On the banks of the Weser River, they are building a huge underground bunker that holds a submarine port. 


Every morning 3,000 prisoners march out the gates of the Farges camp. After 5 kilometers they reach the river Weser where a huge underground bunker is under construction. 


An underground bunker with the code name “Valentin” is 416 meters long and juts 26 meters into the air. In large vats, the prisoners manually mix 500,000 m 3 of concrete in order to cast the 4.5 m thick walls. 


Valentin is scheduled to be ready in August 1945 and will then build submarines on an assembly line.


Each week, three of these can be returned to the fleet via ship’s ladder, and from there the submarines will head straight for war. 

Among other things, the prisoners from Neuengamme were ordered to build a concrete-frame reinforced submarine harbor at Bremen. It was blown up before it was put into service.

The working day of the prisoners is 12 hours, the conditions at the construction site are terrible and the food is completely inadequate.


Every day, prisoners die from accidents or from sheer exhaustion when they have to drag heavy bags of cement that usually weigh more than the prisoners themselves. 


Obviously, the British are keeping a close eye on this massive construction work that is taking shape by the river:


One day in March, a Lancaster bomber flies over the construction site and drops, among other things, 12 Grand Slam bombs, each of which carries 10 tons of explosives.


The explosions blow a hole in the roof of the underground bunker, sending trenchers to the bottom of the river and destroying the large vat where the concrete is mixed. But the SS forces the prisoners to continue the work. 


New orders from the SS commander 

March 12, Hohenlychen: Heinrich Himmler’s Finnish masseuse convinces the SS commander to show surprising humanity in the extermination camp. 


For years, Himmler has been plagued by painful stomachaches that only his personal masseuse, Felix Kersten, can cure.


In the last manipulations, Kersten has managed to force Himmler to promise to hand over the extermination camps to the Allies without resistance.


Terrible death marches, where salted and exhausted prisoners are marched from camp to camp is an order according to the decision of the SS commander. A few days later, he also orders the killing of Jews in the extermination camps to stop. 


Most of the SS members follow Himmler’s strange orders – as they are the only ones that can be valid when Hitler orders that all extermination camps must be completely destroyed and all prisoners killed. 


Himmler changes his mind as he explains to his men that the commander’s decision is correct because the enemies of the Nazis should not be allowed to celebrate after the war:


“The prisoners have the same fate as us. It is Hitler’s clear and sensible will, and I will carefully implement it,” he assures.


But Hitler’s orders are not followed to the extreme either. Instead, the SS continues in a chaotic race against time:


All extermination camps that are in danger of being overrun by the enemy must be evacuated by railcars or in large tunnels. Then all traces of massacres and other crimes must be cleaned up. 


Argument with Himmler

2 April Hohenlychen: Himmler and Bernadotte meet for the second time at the sanatorium which is now the headquarters of the SS commander. Bernadotte still hopes to get permission to take the prisoners to Sweden. 


“I am ready to do everything for the German people”, declared Himmler. “But I have to keep fighting. I have sworn allegiance to the commander and am bound by him.” 


Bernadotte catches the word:


“Don’t you see that Germany has really lost the war?


During the invasion of Russia in 1941, the fronts became two.


This is what has deprived Germany of victory.


You say you are willing to do anything for the German people. You should think about it more than the oath of allegiance”.


The negotiations end without success after four hours.

SS-Colonel Max Pauli was responsible for Neuengamme and 60 smaller camps from 1942. He was executed in 1946.

The SS rented out the prisoners as slaves

Since the Nazis came to power in 1933, the SS had built a network of camps for Jews, communists, homosexuals and others. The SS hired the prisoners as laborers for German companies.

Few people have heard of the extermination camp Farge, which was in a military zone west of Bremen. There, 3,000 prisoners languished in dire conditions in a decommissioned underground oil storage facility.

Their task was to build the underground bunker “Valentin” that half a hundred German companies planned to build for the fleet. In order to complete the building as cheaply as possible, the companies rented prisoners from the SS.

Each prisoner cost about four Reichsmarks a day—about a third of what German laborers were paid. The prisoners were not paid.

Farge was defined as a branch under the command of the actual extermination camp Neuengamme. In total, Neuengamme had 60 such branches so that the prisoners could live close to the construction sites and the companies they worked for.

The same system was found in all the main Nazi camps, which were mainly in Germany and Poland:

The large extermination camp had a number of smaller branches.

The death rate was extremely high because the work was physically difficult and food was scarce.

The prisoners ended up toiling until they died.

 “Valentin” prisoners on death march 

 April 6, Farge concentration camp: The British advance rapidly in northern Germany and the SS begins to evacuate the prisoners from the camp. One of these is at the Weser. 


Among the prisoners in Farge is the French dissident Francois Hockenhauer. He has been working at the “Valentin” underground barracks since August 1944, but only now dares to hope that the inhuman suffering will soon end.


In the distance he hears the booming of cannons that seem to be getting closer every day. 


On April 6, the SS begin emptying his camp, which is a branch of the large Neuengamme camp near Hamburg.


The prisoners from Farge are to be transported there in safety – but they themselves have to walk the entire route, which is 135 km. 


“We left the camp on foot in long lines, sun-drenched and exhausted.


We walked for four days from early in the morning until late at night without food or drink.


It happened that we could tear grass and eat it. The order was “walk or die”. Many fell dead on the side of the road,” explains Francois Hockenhauer after the war. 


Mass murder solves Jepsen’s problem

April 7 near Lüneburg: Transport wagons and long lines of pedestrians transport thousands of prisoners from the front. The evacuation is characterized by chaos and time constraints. 


400 sick prisoners from the Neuegammes branch, Banter Weg, in the port town of Vilhelmshaven, had a few days earlier been forced into transport wagons that were to take them to the Bergen-Belsen extermination camp.


Twelve guards make sure no one escapes. All of this is led by Naval Officer Rudolph Engelman and SS-Unterscharführer (Sergeant) Gustaf Alfred Jepsen.


Jepsen, who was born in Denmark, has taken his girlfriend, Ilse, with him so that she can come home with him to Hamburg. 


As the freight cars reach Lüneburg, American fighter planes attack the railway station.


At least 73 prisoners die there, but a few are lucky enough to escape in the chaos.


The guards gather other survivors in a meadow. Jepsen has no idea what to do and sends a query to Neuengamme. 


The prisoners stay there for two days in the field without getting anything to eat. Then trucks arrive from Bergen-Belsen and pick up 46 of them.


Jepsen will be left with a large group of salted and ragged prisoners. He has no idea what to do. Only on April 11 does he receive a notification that all the prisoners must be killed. 


“There were only 52 left alive. All the guards joined in the shooting. I shot six myself”, he explains after the war. The bodies were dumped in a mass grave dug in a nearby forest. 


The white buses are on their way

At the beginning of April: White buses drive in a tail to pick up the Scandinavian prisoners from camps all over Germany and collect them in Neuengamme. 


Folke Bernadotte is driving through northern Germany when he sees two white buses coming towards him. He makes them stop so he can hear how the work is progressing. 


“Who’s leading the convoy?” he asks. A young weary nurse in a dirty uniform steps forward. 


“Hasn’t it been hard, sister?” Bernadotte wants to know. 


“No, not worse than expected”, she answers dully. 


The two buses have driven all the way from the Dachau extermination camp near Munich. The first part of the trip went without much trouble. 


“But outside of Magdeburg we found ourselves in the middle of a bombardment.


The city was ablaze when we got there and the roads were useless from the bombs and we had to take a big detour.


It worked… but the two Norwegians couldn’t take it anymore,” says the nurse, pointing to the roof of the second bus, where two lifeless bodies are nailed down. 

The prisoners in Neuengamme were made to dig a ditch so that the bricks could be transported out of the building site.

Prisoners were to rebuild Germany

The SS wanted to play a major role in the reconstruction of Germany. The extermination camp Neuengamme was furnished as a Nazi brick factory.

In 1938 the SS headquarters bought a decommissioned brick factory on the Elben not far from Hamburg.

In the following years, it produced an incredible amount of bricks for the largest and most significant Nazi buildings.

In order to ensure efficient transport from Neuengamme, the SS had both railway tracks laid and a canal dug.

The work in the factory did not require any special knowledge, so the SS could make use of a large number of prisoners. Work wore them out, but new prisoners always filled the gaps.

Prisoners with a vocational education were sent to the camp’s weapons factory.

The buildings were controlled by arms manufacturer Carl Walter and produced 20,000 semi-automatic G43 guns.

To reinforce the labor contribution, the SS implemented a perverse reward system for hard-working prisoners:

They were given access to the camp’s brothel, where five female prisoners had their sexual needs attended to under strict medical supervision.

Neuengamme was not as infamous as Auschwitz, but nevertheless developed into one of the worst concentration camps where half of the total 106,000 prisoners died.

Rebellion against the SS in Buchenwald

April 8, Buchenwald: American forces advance towards Weimar, which is close to the Buchenwald camp. The SS is busy emptying the overcrowded concentration camps. 

The nimble Gwidon Damazym from Poland has been in the camp since 1941. He has secretly prepared a primitive radio transmitter which he is now putting into use: 

“To the Allies.” To Patton’s soldiers.”, Gwidon mutters. “This is the extermination camp Buchenwald. SOS. We need help. They are going to take us away. The SS will kill us”. 

Over time, the prisoners’ underground organization has been able to steal one pistol and a few rifles, but it was not enough to revolt against the well-armed guards – and the SS can continue unhindered to dispatch prisoners on foot in large groups.


A few minutes after Gwidon sends his message in English, Russian and German, a happy reply arrives:


“KZ Bu. Persevere. Help is near. The 3rd Army is on the way”.

Damazym is giddy with joy. 

While the prisoners in Neuengamme were allowed to indulge in thin soup wool, the SS feasted on prisoners.

Over the next few days, the majority of the SS guards defect so that the prisoners dare to fight the last SS men. When the Americans arrive on April 11, the camp is under the control of the prisoners. 


Unlike other camps, the SS has not been able to clean Buchenwald, and corpses of prisoners lie like raw wood all over the place.


The Americans are disgusted by the sight and they force the citizens of Weimar to see with their own eyes what Germany has done. 


The events at Buchenwald also shocked Himmler. News of the prisoners’ rebellion horrifies him, and soon after he sends a telegram to all the camp commanders:


“Surrender is out of the question. The camp should be left immediately. No prisoner may fall alive into the hands of the enemy”.


However, it is not about removing as many witnesses to the horrors of the Nazis as possible – Himmler wants as many prisoners as he can for possible trade with the Western powers. 


1,000 killed in a burning barn 

Mid-April, Celle: A train carrying more than 3,000 prisoners from different camps is stopped after an Allied air raid. 


The extermination camp Mittelbau-Dora in the south of the Harzen has been a center for the production of V2 rockets.


In an underground factory, the prisoners have built the rockets that were fired at, among other things, London. But two weeks ago the camp was emptied and the prisoners sent by train to Neuengamme. 


When the prisoners arrive in Celle on April 5, the transport comes to a complete halt because the railway tracks have been blown up. There are more trains with more than 3,000 prisoners.


The local Nazi commander, Gerhard Thile, decides that the Mittelbau prisoners will march to the city of Gardelegen. The exhausted men set off in three separate groups.


About 400 of them die on the way. 


On April 12, Thile orders the execution of those prisoners who are too weak to continue.


The next morning, the guards herd 1,000 prisoners into a large barn. The barn is closed and then the building is set on fire. The Polish Stanislaw Waleszynski was one of six people who survived the disaster: 


“The barn is knee-deep in straw. I smell gasoline. The door is closed and I see SS men setting fire to the straw.


The fire spreads below as if all efforts to extinguish it are futile. I approach the door and see prisoners scraping the ground with a spoon under the door. I help with my bare hands until we can crawl under.


Finally I stand outside the barn. We crawled through cornfields and reached the forest”. 


The road cleared to Sweden

April 18: Folke Bernadotte is finally authorized to transfer Scandinavian prisoners to Sweden.


All roadworthy vehicles are scrapped together – even Danish buses which, due to lack of petrol, have to run on a gas generator. 


“How many buses can you have ready and painted white?” That’s how the question sounds for coach driver Christian Ovesen in Herting when he picks up the phone at 4:30 p.m.


He presents the case to his colleagues and consults with the factory – and it turns out that he can field seven buses. He learns that they will transport exhausted Danish and Norwegian prisoners to Sweden.


Since March, a lot of work has been done to collect the prisoners from the camps as far away as Mauthausen near Lindz in Austria.


Part of the sick prisoners has already been transferred for treatment in Denmark, but another 4,255 prisoners will, according to the agreement with Himmler, be gathered in the Scandinavian ward in Neuengamme. 


The Danish consul general in Hamburg, Marius Yde, is still working with Nazi leader Karl Kaufman to get the release of the prisoners authorized.


Finally, Himmler agrees to this, and on the evening of April 19, they receive formal permission.


However, the Germans have set the condition that the evacuation will be completed within 24 hours. 120 Danish buses and trucks gather in Padborg. The train can continue south. 


The last Scandinavians saved

April 20: Adolf Hitler celebrates his 56th birthday in Foringjabyrgin. Reluctantly, Himmler goes to the party. In Neuengamme, Bernadotte has come a long way with the evacuation .


The white buses turn into the Neuengamme camp at 13.30. Danish prisoner Poul Verner Nielsen reports:


“Now it was our turn. Everyone rushed to the buses. As soon as it was no longer possible to cram more people in, the bus took off. We all breathed a sigh of relief as we drove through the gate”.


Throughout the day, British fighter jets fly over the camp and drop bombs outside it.


Meanwhile, the buses are on their way to Friedrichsruh, where Bernadotte’s accomplices have set up headquarters and are living in tents.


The Scandinavian prisoners gather there, before being driven to the Danish border and then to Sweden.


Later that evening, a telegram arrives to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “Friedrichsruh announces: 20/4 2130: All Scandinavians have been freed from Neuengamme at about 2100”.


There are still 10,000 prisoners left in the camp.


Sick children are hanged

April 20, late evening: As soon as the white buses are gone, a German mail van drives into the camp. All evidence of Nazi atrocities is now to be destroyed.


Since November 1944, 20 Jewish children have lived in the hospital ward in Neuengamme.


They were brought to Auschwitz to be experimental animals in the medical experiments of Kurt Heissmeyer, the camp doctor.


He planned to cut out the children’s lymph nodes and inject germs into their blood vessels and lungs to see what effect this would have on tuberculosis.

1,000 prisoners died in a barn in Gardelegen. American soldiers forced German civilians to bury the dead.

Now Heissmeyer wants to get rid of the children. SS members put the children in a truck, and then they drive through the night to a abandoned school on the street Bullenhuser Damm in Hamburg.


The children are taken down to the basement and undressed there. An SS officer reports: 


“They were sitting on a bench and they were happy and expectant, because it was the first time they were allowed to leave Neuengamme. They were totally unaware of what was waiting for them”.


The SS gave them morphine and then the children were hanged.


The same fate awaited the caretakers of the children in Neuengamme. The following evening, the bodies were collected and burned in a crematorium in the camp.


Off to Lübeck

April 21, Neuengamme: The evacuation of the large camp is in full swing.


“At one end of the camp went endless rows of living skeletons.


From the sick bays they staggered or crawled forward. Many of the prisoners were only wearing a shirt, they crawled on their hands and feet while their fellow prisoners carried others.


They are stuffed and stacked into the trucks”, remembers Conrad Vogt Svensen. 


On a daily basis, he is a Norwegian seamen’s chaplain in Hamburg – but for the last few days he has been in Neuengamme to watch the white buses.


The Germans are busy evacuating the camp. In recent days, a group of prisoners has been sent to the port of Lübeck, where they were transferred to cargo and passenger ships anchored in the bay. 


Some prisoners have to go on foot, but the vast majority are transported by train. German prisoner Ernst Schneider writes in his diary:


“After waiting half the night in the filthy carriages, the train started.


At midday on the 21st we arrived at the port of Lübeck on the freighter Thielbek.


The train was overcrowded. The wind was terrible and it was pitch black down there. In the dark, people sat and shot directly on the floor. We were there for 7-8 days”.

The Nordics provided the white buses

Before Folke Bernadotte could start the evacuation, negotiations and preparations had lasted for two years.


As the fortunes of war turned against the Germans, political forces in Denmark, Norway and Sweden united to pressure the German authorities to free Scandinavian prisoners of extermination camps.


In Denmark, the naval commander Carl Hammerich had secretly worked on a plan for a Jutland regiment to retrieve the prisoners.


He was in contact with Norwegian seamen’s chaplains in Hamburg who had prepared a list of the prisoners.


The Norwegian diplomat Niels Christian Ditleff took the lead there. He pressured the Swedish authorities to participate in this evacuation.


With the approval of the Swedish authorities, the vice-president of the Swedish Red Cross, Folke Bernadotte, went to Berlin in February 1945 to meet Heinrich Himmler.


At first he only agreed to collect all the Scandinavians in Neuengamme.


On March 8, the first white-painted Swedish ambulances headed for Germany to collect prisoners as far away as Mauthausen in Austria.


Norwegian prisoner Finn Hasselgård, who was taken to Sachsenhausen, says:


“The reception in Neuengamme was inhumane. The first thing we saw was a pile of corpses outside a crematorium. They couldn’t burn all the bodies so they were just thrown together.”


Marius Yde, the Danish consul general in Hamburg also wanted to start the emigration of the Scandinavians.


In April, 120 Danish ambulances and trucks were finally given the green light to pick up all the Scandinavian prisoners and transport them home.

The evacuation is in full swing 

April 22, Neuengamme: 10,000 prisoners have arrived in Lübeck while 700 remain to clear all barracks and buildings. 


All traces of the horror must be purged.


All bodies are burned in a crematorium, and SS men race to destroy all documents in the camp. 


“SS doctor Alfred Trzebinski came to go through the documents.


Then he went into the doctor’s room where the secret kill orders were kept.


I was supposed to see to it that all documents were burned. It rained from the chimney all day”, says German prisoner Emil Zuleger. 


Bernadotte helps Himmler

Night of April 24, Lübeck: The SS officer makes his peace offer. 


The busy Heinrich Himmler has requested another meeting with Bernadotte. This time in the Swede’s house in Lübeck.


The SS chief wants to present his peace plan.


“I admit that Germany is defeated”, says Himmler in a bowed voice and reports that Hitler will probably die in the next few days.


That’s why Himmler sees himself as the real leader of Germany, and to save his country from humiliation, he wants to negotiate peace as soon as possible with the head of the American army in Europe, General Eisenhower. 


“I am ready for unconditional surrender on the Western Front and I am also ready to discuss technical plans for the surrender of the German forces in Denmark and Norway”. 

The ambulances were thoroughly marked with red crosses, which was not always enough against Allied bombing.

Bernadotte promises to present the proposal to the Swedish government, who will forward it to Eisenhower.


Finally, Himmler declares that he now intends to go to the Eastern Front to fight like any other civilian.


However, he does not get far. His car gets stuck in the barbed wire that surrounds the Swedish count’s home. 


Floating Extermination Camp 

April 26, Lübeck: The last train from Neuengamme arrives in Lübeck. On the quay, thousands of prisoners await their fate.


The passenger ship Cap Arcona is anchored in the sea out in the bay. This former cruise ship has worn-out engines and lacks fuel, but most of the prisoners in the harbor are on board. 


Two days later, the number of prisoners on board Cap Arcona is up to 6,500. On board there is both hope and despair.


Some believe that the ship will be sailed to Sweden – others that it will be sunk with the prisoners on board. 


Himmler is fired 

April 28, the commander’s barracks in Berlin: While driving Scandinavian prisoners across the Danish border, Hitler hears news of Himmler’s peace efforts. 


Hitler howls like a wounded animal when foreign radio stations announce that the Allies have rejected Himmler’s peace proposal.


Hitler is a totally broken man. He has always seen Himmler as his most loyal subordinate – and a possible successor as the leader of the Nazis.


Now the SS officer’s nasty betrayal has come to light. 


“I will never be succeeded by a traitor to the fatherland”, exclaims Hitler, demanding Himmler’s arrest. 

With its length of 206 meters, Cap Arcona was a giant in the port of Hamburg.

Queen of the South Atlantic 

From 1927 the cruise ship Cap Arcona sailed between Hamburg and South America.

The 1,365 passengers sat in silk-upholstered armchairs, and in the evenings a dance band was offered.

But on October 25, 1939, the captain received the radio signal “QW7”:

The ship was to be handed over to the German fleet. 

After this the Cap Arcona transported soldiers for the army, until in February and March 1945 she sailed German refugees to Copenhagen.

Next, the ship anchored in the Bay of Lübeck. There the gauleiter (Nazi party leader) of Hamburg, Carl Kaufman, seized the ship as it was to be filled with extermination camp prisoners. 

Peace is approaching 

May 1: Admiral Carl Dönitz announces on the radio the death of the commander and that he is the new president of the country. The war continues. 

On board the Cap Arcona, the captain Heinrich Bertram holds a meeting that evening with the German representative of the secret organization of the prisoners on the ship, Erwin Geschonneck.

Bertram announces Hitler’s death and further that British forces are on their way. 

“Tomorrow they could already be here in Neustadt”, thinks Bertram. The news spreads like wildfire. The mood among the prisoners improves significantly. 

At the same time, British reconnaissance planes fly in over the bay and register all the ships there. The prisoners aboard the Cap Arcona wave cheerfully to them. 

“My inmates were like zombies,” said Wim Aloserij.

The last survivors

Forced laborer Wim Aloserij from the Netherlands was lucky enough to escape from Cap Arcona when British planes attacked the ship carrying thousands of prisoners.


The Dutchman Wim Aloserij was 21 years old when he was forced in 1943 to go to Germany.


Wim refused to work for the Germans and fled as a stowaway on a train back to Holland.


But he was a fugitive a year later. “I was arrested in a police operation and taken to the emergency camp Amersfoort”, he reported.


Already after a few weeks he was transferred to Neuengamme and on to Husum-Schwesing.


It was ruled by a drunken SS-unterstürmfuhrer (sub-lieutenant) Hans Herman Grien who enjoyed shooting randomly at the prisoners.


In December 1944, Wim returned to Neuengamme to remove the last traces of the Nazi crimes.


On April 29, he was docked in Lübeck, and after a few days on board the freighter Athem, he was transferred to a former cruise ship, the Cap Arcona.


“It was like the Titanic but this ship was a floating prison camp.


I saw at once that they planned to destroy the ship, and from the first day I explored whether I could escape.


While my pregnant women were like zombies, I was clear-headed”, explained Wim.


When the RAF attacked the ship with rockets and bombs – and the prisoners burned to death below deck – Wim hid in the galley.


Equipped with a rope and a small inflatable boat, he managed to save himself ashore.


Wim Aloserij was the last survivor to report the horror aboard Cap Arcona.


His memoirs, “Die Laatste getuige”, recorded by Frank Krake, were published shortly before his death in 2018.


Wim was 94 years old.

The Tragedy of the Prisoner Ship 

May 3: Lübeck Bugt: The night has been quiet at Cap Arcona. In the morning, everything goes as usual. Those who have died during the night are thrown overboard.

There are a total of 5,519 people on board the ship – prisoners and crew.

Everyone is waiting for a fight. Despite the congestion and the gnawing hangover, the atmosphere is good.

Salvation seems within reach. But that is an unfortunate misunderstanding. 

At 2 p.m., nine Hawker Typhoon fighter-bombers take off under the leadership of RAF Captain Johnny Boldman from an airfield at Osnabrück.

According to his information, the ships in the Bay of Lübeck are full of fugitive Nazis. Boldman selects Cap Arcona as a target for his five planes. 

British Typhoon aircraft fired a total of 40 missiles at the floating prison ship Cap Arcona, which was quickly engulfed in flames.

None of the pilots notice the prisoners on the deck or the white sheets hung up as a sign of surrender.

The planes fire a total of 40 missiles at this floating prison camp, which a few seconds later is ablaze. 

German prisoner Erwin Geschonneck aboard Cap Arcona: 

“Wounded men cry. The prisoners do not know their steaming advice. Absolute despair! The Russians below deck can’t get up”.


Erwin lets himself fall 15 meters into the sea and saves himself on land.

One of the few to survive the tragedy. The British planes shoot at anything that moves in the sea and the prisoners who are lucky enough to reach the shore are shot by the German soldiers.

Only 350 prisoners survive from Cap Arcona. For many days, the bodies of the many who died washed up on the shores. 


Historians estimate that a total of 200,000 extermination camp prisoners died in the final months of the war as a result of death marches, executions and Allied raids.

The white buses saved 7,795 Scandinavians.

Added to this are 7,550 others that Bernadotte and his team were authorized to rescue – including a number of French, Belgian, Dutch and Polish women from Ravensbrück. 

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