In 1945 with the advance of the red army millions of refugees fled from the east of Germany. The "Wilhelm Gustloff" loaded with 10,000 civilians and wounded soldiers was sank by a Soviet submarine in less than 55 minutes.
At the beginning of 1945, Germany is a defeated nation. Its armies in the east are in full retreat. Due to the rapid advance of the Soviet Red Army, the German-held port of Gdynia (Gotenhafen) is threatened with encirclement. The German command decides to use the port in order to evacuate wounded soldiers and thousands of fleeing civilians from Courland, East Prussia, and Danzig-West Prussia. Two major transport and hospital ships are selected for the mission dubbed Operation Hannibal. One is the Hansa and the other is the Gustloff. Young Maria Reiser is a newly wed whose husband left for the Eastern Front, shortly after their wedding. However, Maria falls in love with Hans Schott, a naval officer assigned to the hospital-ship 'Wilhelm Gustloff'. They have a baby together since Maria is convinced that her husband will never return from the front. However, her husband returns home wounded. With thousands of civilians and wounded soldiers scrambling to board passage on the evacuation ...Written by
The German ship MV Wilhelm Gustloff was built by the Blohm & Voss shipyards in 1937 and served in various roles:cruise ship, hospital ship, floating barracks for naval personnel and finally evacuees transport ship. It had 25,484 tons and measured 208.5 meters in length, 23.59 meters wide, 56 meters high. As a cruise ship, it had 8 decks, a complement of 417 crew and 1,465 passengers. The ship had 4 diesel engines, 2 propellers and traveled at a maximum speed of 15,5 knots for a maximum range of 12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km). See more »
Most people believe that German cinema during the 50's refused to tackle World War II and instead produced glossy historical romances ('Sissi', 'Ludwig II'), mindless Heimatfilme (the highly enjoyable 'Schwarzwaldmaedel' or 'Der Foerster vom Silbersee') or shrill, often exploitative melodramas (best of the crop: 'Nachtschwester Ingeborg' with Maria Schell's much more talented sister in the lead).
But just watch 'Nacht fiel ueber Gotenhafen' and you understand why. Almost unbearable harrowing at times the film depicts the first month of 1945 when the Russian Red Army broke into the eastern part of Germany and forced millions of civilians to flee in the coldest of winter. While the Russians invaded Ostpreussen hundred of thousands of civilians were evacuated by ships. Gotenhafen was the last open port and ships left the town almost by the minute, overloaded by refugees.
One of the last ships to leave Gotenhafen was the 'Wilhelm Gustloff', a former 'Kraft durch Freude' pleasure cruiser designed for 1000 passengers. Until today it is unknown how many people were on board but it is said to be around 10.000. The ship sunk without a trace and only a handful of people survived this hellish nightmare.
Germany's postwar society found it almost impossible to talk about all the suffering of the people (air raids destroyed each and every town and killed over 600.000 inhabitants, over 2.000.000 died during the last month of the war while fleeing from the Russians and countless were deported to Russia).
'Nacht fiel ueber Gotenhafen' is a very brave film, tactful and true to the facts. Sonja Ziemann is very good but the highest of praise must be given to Brigitte Horney.
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