The death cruise
The sea evacuation of Stutthofconcentration camp was one of the last actions carried out by the SS men inorder to liquidate the camp. The evacuation was organized in the last decade ofApril 1945. On 25 and 27 April, some 4400 prisoners left the central camp intwo evacuation transports. The April evacuation was definitive; it concernedall the prisoners that were still in the camp, regardless their sex, age orphysical state. Most of the prisoners were in very poor health due tolong-lasting malnutrition and living in extremely bad conditions withoutmedical care. Many prisoners suffered from typhus and typhoid fever.
On 23 April 1945, the evacuation order wasissued. The next day, the prisoners were informed about the order and weregiven dry provisions consisting of half a loaf of bread, a small piece ofmargarine and dry ham.
First, a group of 1650 Jewish femaleprisoners left the camp and was lead along the coast toward the outlet of VistulaRiver. The second group of prisoners, consisting of a similar number of people,was transported by narrow-gauge railway to Mikoszewo. All prisoners weregathered in a glade near the outlet of Vistula River. There they waited for twodays for the next transport. During this stopover, the SS men shot at least adozen prisoners, mainly Jewish women.
On 27 April at 2:30a.m., the prisonersembarked assault boats that around 6a.m. reached Hel from the south. During thestopover many prisoners were killed by the SS men and by Soviet planes thatbombed German stationing places. Later, the prisoners embarked river barges(the exact number of the barges is unknown; according to various reports therewere 3 to 7 barges) that went out to sea. The barges were not adapted forseagoing or transportation of people, they were also in very bad state. Therewas no food or water; the prisoners had to drink sea water. These conditionsresulted in higher incidence and death rates of the prisoners. The dead wereundressed and thrown into the sea. Many prisoners committed suicide in despairand others were killed by their guards. In the late afternoon, two of thebarges: “Wolfgang” and “Vaterland” reached the port in Neustadt. On the nighton 2/3 May, the SS men uncoupled the barges from the tugboats and sent them tothe port. The prisoners became suspicious and thought that the Germans wantedto blow the barges up and sink them. They hauled both barges to the shore andbegan evacuation. It was impossible to run away because all the roads from thebeach to the town were guarded. Around 6a.m. the prisoners of KL Stutthof werefound by the German marines that wanted to put the prisoners in columns andtake them to the barracks in Neustadt. An hour later, the SS men and policemenwho were guarding the transport from Stutthof arrived to the beach. First, theywanted the prisoners to embark barges once again but as the boats were in verybad state they gave up that idea. They ordered to empty all the barges, wherestayed only ill prisoners who could not walk. The ill and unable to evacuateprisoners were shot by the young marines and the SS men. According to differentsources from several dozen to over a hundred people were killed. The otherprisoners were taken to a sports field of a school for sailors in Neustadt. Ontheir way there, the local people spit on the prisoners and even poured hotwater over them. The SS men were still killing the exhausted prisoners,shooting them or beating them with the rifle butts. At 3:15p.m. the units ofthe Second British Army under the command of General Dempsey entered the city.The units freed the prisoners of KL Stutthoff and other concentration camps.The fate of the other barges carrying the prisoners of KL Stutthof was similar.Most of the prisoners died.
About 5 thousand prisoners wereevacuated by sea in three transports: on 25 March from Gdynia and on 25 and 26April from the central camp. The number of victims, according to the availablesources, amounts to about 2 500 people. The prisoners of KL Stutthofcalled the barges that carried them “the death barges”.
Based on the book by Elżbieta Grot „Rejs śmierci, Ewakuacja MorskaWięźniów KL Stutthof” (“The death cruise, the Evacuation of the Prisoners of KLStutthof by Sea”), ed. Stutthof Museum in Sztutowo, 1993.
Tłumaczenie: Katarzyna Flis