In The Nazi Titanic, author Robert Watson tells the tragic story of the SS Cap Arcona, a German luxury ocean liner that has been used by the Nazis to play the Titanic in a propaganda film. Later it was used as a transport ship during the Second World War. Near the end of the war the ship was packed with concentration camp prisoners when it was mistakenly bombed by the British Royal Air Force. Nearly all of the prisoners died in the attack.
“It was one of the single most bloody events of the Holocaust – a real whopper – and people are curious and even outraged that the British government would try to keep it a secret. What were they trying to cover up?” said Watson in recent telephone interview with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
Watson said he has been occasionally approached by Holocaust deniers at appearances where he has told the story.
“This is shocking. When I hear that I’m angry and saddened, and yet inspired to go out and tell the story even more. In 2017 it’s flat-out lunacy that we still have to discuss whether the Holocaust ever happened,” he said. “We have to be ever vigilant. Journalists and historians have a responsibility to make this front and centre in our work.
“As a historian, I always tell my students there is always more we don’t know about history than we do know,” said Watson, a professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.
“With the Holocaust, forests worth of pages have been filled up and yet there are still secrets,” he said. “We owe it to those who’ve been lost to keep digging… We need to tell the stories to every future generation.”
Watson, who has been teaching for three decades, originally intended to write about the end of the Second World War.
“We didn’t know much about the last couple of days of the war,” he said. “That’s because in the final few days, the Nazis were either dead, dying, or on the run, and so they didn’t document everything as well as they had before, and all the chaos swirled around. I was looking for stories of love and loss, to tell the story of the last week in a personal way.”
While digging around for stories, he found a letter written by a British officer who described the bombing of the SS Cap Arcona.
“I was shocked. I’d never heard of it!” said Watson.
Because books on the war hadn’t mentioned the Cap Arcona story, he initially assumed the account had been a mistake. He then came across a few small stories on the topic, but they had “no scholarly rigour.”
When Watson pursued his own research on the subject, he found out that the story was true.
“The British were so mortified by what they’d done, they declared that all reports about that event were classified top secret and locked away in London. There they sat for decades.”
When he began his research, a few documents had been declassified, but nobody had looked at them.
“The British government has now declassified everything,” said Watson. “I sat down and read everything, to tell this tragic story. I feel the whole world needs to use this as a lesson as to what can happen if we aren’t vigilant.”
Watson will be in Ottawa during Holocaust Education Month to discuss this tragic story on Wednesday, November 29, 7 pm, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre at an event presented by the Shoah (Holocaust) Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. Admission is free of charge and copies of The Nazi Titanic will be available for sale.
For more information, contact Natalie Abenhaim at 613-798-4696, ext. 355, or firstname.lastname@example.org.