The renowned German author Gunter Grass, is the winner of Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. He has written many novels, poems, plays, & essays. This novel gives the account of the sinking of a German ship named Wilhelm Gustloff, in Jan 1945 in the icy Baltic sea, by a Soviet submarine. The story of this tragedy is given by Paul Pokriefke, who was born to an unmarried mother, on a life boat on the night of the attack. Paul is married to Gabriele but now divorced, & has a son Konrad, who works on the Internet. The story starts with the birth of Wilhelm Gustloff in 1985 in Schwerin. He joins Nazi party & recruits 5000 new members in Switzerland. Later on, Gustloff is shot at & killed by David frankfurter, a jew. He accepts the charges. Gustloff becomes a martyr with, his coffin being saluted at various railway stations, the memorial service & later a memorial built for him & this ship named after him. In Jan 1936, Hamburg Shipbuilding co. was asked to build a ship for 1463 passengers & a crew of 417, with all passenger class only. This eight stories high ship, was launched on May 5,1937, with Hitler present. Gustloff's widow performed its christening ceremony, as Wilhelm Gustloff. The ship started its voyages to various places. Soviet Union had launched its major offensive in mid Jan 1945. People began to fled by various means, including warships, liners etc. On Wilhelm Gustloff, first 6600 persons were recorded, out of which 5000 were refugees & then further hordes of people came. Paul's mother Ursula Pokriefke (who was in eighth month), along with her parents took this ship as passengers. Soviet submarine S13 was following its course & its Captain Marinesko, ordered firing of four torpedoes. The first one hit the bow of the ship far below the waterline, the second one beneath the swimming pool, then lights went out & at the third one, all hell broke loose & the last one hit the engine room, & then mostly things took place in darkness. SOS could not be sent from the ship. Old people & the children got trampled to death. Some shot themselves & their families to death. A few boats were lowered, with few people on board. Right after the last shot, Paul's mother started having labour pains, but she could leave the ship in a boat without having delivered, & then with good luck she could land aboard a warship, where she started contractions & she delivered on Jan 29,1945, without any complications.
The exact number of passengers on the ship was not known, & was expected to be between 6600 to 10600. Mostly women & children died. The number of survivors was between 900 to 1230. The four Captains of the ship were saved. On Jan 31, boat Lowe docked in Kolberg harbour with baby Paul & his mother. They were housed in a school, & later elsewhere. Paul's mother did not get her milk for the baby, also all her hair turned white due to this shock & she never dyed them. Later on Paul & her mother took refuge in Schwerin.
Heinz Schon is also one of the survivors. He started collecting & writing the account of everything connected with Gustloff. A black & white film was also made on it, which did not succeed. Paul finds on the Internet a web site, & doubts that his own son Konrad was giving the fairy tales & family secrets on this web site, & is consorting with right-wing extremists. He meets his son & questions him. Konrad says that he is doing historical research. Konrad suggests on the Internet that Gustloff's house be converted into a museum. Thereafter Konrad & Wilhelm Stremplin (who came on-line as David) meet, talk & then Konrad shoots him to death & admits his guilt. In the court he gets seven years in prison. Aunt Jenny gives a model of this ship to Konrad, who smashes the same to pieces. Having witnessed & faced this tragic event, Paul's mother feels that her existence is as a result of surviving in that dy. However, Paul does not feel in the same vein. He does not want their present life to be much affected by the past events, & wants to go forward in life. Grass has exposed a world war two tragedy at sea, & in a lucid manner, brought the facts to the notice of the whole world. It is worth reading & knowing exactly, as to how that event took place, & how it should be viewed at this distance in time now or later, by the Germans themselves, & also others in the world.