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May 3: The Lubeck Harbor Tragedy

Lawrence Bush
May 3, 2010

Cap Arcona burningOn this date in 1945, more than 7,000 survivors of Nazi concentration camps were killed by Britain’s Royal Air Force in Lubeck harbor, Germany, in a tragic case of “friendly fire.” Almost 10,000 Jews, Russian POWS, and other “enemies of the Reich” had been marched by the Germans from several concentration camps to the German Baltic coast and crowded onto three ships, which were probably scheduled to be deliberately sunk. Instead, in the course of two hours of bombing and strafing, British planes, under orders to “destroy the concentration of enemy shipping in Lubeck Bay,” killed all but a few hundred of the survivors. The incident, which took place just a day before the British accepted the surrender of all German forces in the area, was hardly acknowledged and never memorialized, and RAF records about the disaster were sealed until 2045.
“We waved our striped caps at them and pointed at our striped clothes, but there was no mercy. . . . We could see one pilot’s face, and we thought we had nothing more to fear. But in that instant his plane’s belly flaps opened again, and more bombs flew down.” —Benjamin Jacobs, The Dentist of Auschwitz

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.