New film explores fate of Nazi Germany's "Titanic"

Sun Mar 2, 2008 10:22am EST
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By Dave Graham

BERLIN (Reuters) - A new television film about the sinking of a Nazi ship carrying thousands of German refugees at the end of World War Two has lifted the lid on one of Germany's most painful memories.

The film, to be broadcast on Sunday and Monday, tells the story of the former Nazi cruise ship "Wilhelm Gustloff," torpedoed by a Soviet submarine in the Baltic Sea on January 30, 1945. As many as 9,300 people died -- believed to be biggest loss of life on a single ship.

Yet the tale of the Gustloff, which has frequently been referred to as Germany's Titanic, remains relatively unknown outside the country due to the reluctance of postwar generations to examine publicly Germans' suffering during the war.

"It's been very hard to talk about this because it raises the difficult question of German victimhood in a war the Nazis began," said British historian Roger Moorhouse. "This enforced silence for years will have been painful to many people."

"But it's really a testament to how the treatment of German history is returning to normal that the story is now being told as a big budget film on prime-time German television."

The multi-million euro production "Die Gustloff" was to be aired on ZDF state television.

The imposing 209 meter-long (685 feet) Gustloff, named after the assassinated head of the Swiss Nazi party, was launched in 1937 and conceived as a cruise liner for the Nazis' leisure organization Kraft durch Freude, or "strength through joy."

Once war broke out, it was used by the German military.   Continued...