A Possible Plapler Connection to the ‘Nazi Titanic’

The Nazi Titanic by Robert P. Watson (via robertwatson.net)

When Jack Plapler—a survivor of Operation Bernhard whose experience was described by historian Kevin Ostoyich in a chapter of the Forging Secrets book—reconnected with his sister, Albina, after the end of World War II, she told him how she survived being placed on a ship in the Baltic Sea which was blown up by the Nazis. Albina’s experience was one of many maritime disasters, but of particular interest is the destruction of the SS Cap Arcona. Built in 1927, it was the greatest luxury liner since the RMS Titanic, and was used by Joseph Göbbels in a Nazi propaganda film. In May 1945, Himmler ordered the ship to be filled with Jewish prisoners, primarily liquidated from Neuengamme concentration camp and its surrounding subcamps.

The Cap Arcona was anchored with two other ships, the Deutschland and the Thielbek, in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Neustadt in Holstein, Germany. On May 3, 1945 the British Allies, thinking the ships were being used to smuggle SS personnel to safety and not realizing they were filled with concentration camp prisoners instead, sunk the three ships. A fourth ship, the Athen, was the only ship to survive the assault, as it had made it to the docks beforehand.

Conflicting accounts make it impossible to know the final death toll. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates around 2,500 prisoners aboard the Thielbek perished, and at least 4,500 aboard the Cap Arcona were killed, though some estimates for the latter put the losses at over 5,000. Robert P. Watson, author of The Nazi Titanic: The Incredible Untold Story of a Doomed Ship in World War II, states in his book: “Only about 350 prisoners aboard the Cap Arcona and only around 50 of those on the Thielbek survived the ordeal…The Cap Arcona disaster at the end of the Holocaust claimed more than three times as many people as did the loss of the Titanic and remains one of the world’s worst maritime disasters, the worst instance of friendly fire, and one of history’s bloodiest and most tragic episodes” (224).

Could Jack Plapler’s sister, Albina, have been aboard one of these ships? Historian Kevin Ostoyich recently asked this question to author Robert P. Watson. Watson informed Ostoyich that it would be difficult to know for sure, since countless ships were sunk over the course of the war, by the Nazis and Allies alike. But it is a possibility that a ship thought by its survivors to be sunk by the Nazis was actually sunk by the Allies. It’s possible that same ship could have carried Albina Plapler. We hope to verify this ongoing research question in the future.


You can find more information about Robert P. Watson’s book, The Nazi Titanic, on his website here: http://robertwatson.net/books/the-nazi-titanic

To read more about Jack Plapler, the chapter authored by Kevin Ostoyich begins on page 93 of the Forging Secrets book. Albina Plapler is mentioned on page 104. (Note: this chapter of the book is only available in the physical, hardcover copy of Forging Secrets).


[This entry was written by Mikayla Hoppe with the help of information from Watson’s book, The Nazi Titanic, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, and Danny Spungen’s notes on the interaction between Robert P. Watson and Kevin Ostoyich.]