Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Marinesko's Legacy

I’m re-reading Ruta Sepetys’s novel, Salt to the Sea, not only because it’s a really good book but also because it’s set near the Baltic—January, 1945. The story centers on the greatest maritime disaster, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, when more than nine thousand people (many women and children) drowned in the icy Baltic after three Soviet torpedo strikes.
Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-H27992,_Lazarettschiff_"Wilhelm_Gustloff"_in_Danzig.jpg ‎

I’ll be biking through most of the places Sepetys's that characters travel, but Gdynia, Poland (called Gotenhafen during the Nazi years)—the goal of Sepetys’s four main characters—is not on the itinerary. However, since Gdynia’s only about twenty kilometers further down the coast from Gdansk, perhaps I'll be able to fit in a day trip. Its maritime museums should be interesting.  

Originally part of Poland, Gdynia was once the busiest port on the Baltic. In September 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, they renamed it Gotenhafen, (meaning harbor of the gods) and used it as a port for their Kriegsmarine. Crushing attacks in the final months of the war—by both the fleeing Nazis and the offensive Soviets—destroyed most of the city. 

There's a 1960 movie called Darkness fell on Gotenhafen. (Nacht fiel über Gotenhafen) which I will try and hunt down. 

When in Kaliningrad, I’ll be hunting down the bronze sculpture dedicated to the Soviet commander who fired the three fatal S13 torpedoes. Alex Marinesko later ended up in the gulag system because of bad behaviour due to his heavy drinking.  He died in 1963. Decades later, in 1990, he was proclaimed a Hero of the Soviet Union by Gorbachev.

Marinesko is an important character in Günter Grass’s 2002, award-winning novel Crabwalk and over in St. Petersburg, the Submarine Museum is named after him.

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