Now that it has been a century, can we end our obsession with the Titanic? I ask after a weekend of Titanic this and Titanic that in every newscast and several cable channels.
Academics would agree that the sinking of the Titanic is a very, very minor footnote in American and European history. The sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-Boat three years later was far more significant, as it increased the pressure on President Woodrow Wilson to enter World War I--finally breaking the stalemate in Europe.
And then there is the greatest maritime disaster of all time--in terms of lives lost--the sinking of the Cap Arcona. The Cap Arcona was a German luxury liner built in the years between World War I and World War II. After the outbreak of fighting in Europe, the ship was commissioned by the German Navy as a troop transport and to transport supplies as well. As the war neared its end--and the Allies began to liberate the Nazi concentration camps--Jews were forced to march to the Bay of Luebeck--where they were detained on the Cap Arcona and some other converted liners.
Just one day before the German surrender, under orders from SS Leader Heinrich Himmler, the Cap Arcona was loaded with high explosives and gasoline and steamed out of port so that it could be blown up at sea. As fate would have it, the ship was spotted by a squadron of British Royal Air Force bombers--who seeing it marked as a military ship--attacked it. The bombing set the ship on fire--killing thousands instantly. Survivors who jumped into the water were shot by SS soldiers on fishing boats in the harbor. And the lucky few who made it back to shore were shot by more SS troops. A small handful of former prisoners managed to survive. The death toll was later estimated at about 5,000--more than three times the number of people who died on Titanic.
And yet, there is little mention of the Cap Arcona in popular culture. No blockbuster movies in 3-D, no weekend TV marathons, no traveling museum exhibits that charge $25 per person for admission. Just a small memorial in Holstein, Germany. I'll grant you it's not as romantic as "Jack and Rose"--but the people killed in 1945 deserve just as much attention as those in 1912.
An ironic twist in the Cap Arcona story, the ship was used as a floating movie studio in 1942 to film scenes in a movie commissioned by Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels telling the story of--you guessed it--the sinking of the Titanic. Even the Nazi's were obsessed.