The Devil’s Laughter
Just before one A.M., two torpedoes slammed into the Stuben’s side. Somewhere the ship was burning and people everywhere jumping into the water. As the Stuben’s stern rose high out the water, hundreds leaped overboard, including some who were torn to pieces by the still-turning propellers. Within seven minutes, the ship plunged beneath the waves, swiftly silencing a final mass scream that seemed to arise from a single voice. Of the 3,500 passengers aboard, only Franz Huber and a few hundred more survived. Tragically, for thousands who successfully traversed the treacherous Baltic, American and British bombers were often the first to greet them when their ships docked.
While the slow, dangerous evacuation of women, children and wounded comrades continued [on the still departing docks at the other side], a German Landser remained in the ever-shrinking pockets, ferociously fighting on so that others might live. That most in the enclaves were already doomed, all fighting men understood. “For every thousand persons embarked, some three thousand more arrived from the east.”
Frantic to escape such carnage, desperate civilians fled across the ice of the Frisches Haff, a bay several miles wide separating the mainland from a barrier island, or Nehrung. Along the slender strip of sand that led west towards Danzing, all were hoping to reach safety. Unfortunately, the bitter cold changed to rain just when many treks set out. Recounted one survivor of the perilous journey: “The ice was breaking and at some places we had to drag ourselves with pains through water nearly a foot deep.” Juergen Thorwald describes the long, nightmarish experience of another refugee:
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