German luxury liner becomes the main character in a stunning Holocaust narrative

The Nazi Titanic, by Robert P. Watson. Da Capo Press. 292 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

An award-winning historian and professor at Florida’s Lynn University, Boca Raton resident Watson has sunk his scholarly teach into a fascinating subject. His story involves the several careers of the German luxury passenger ship, the “Cap Arcona,” built in 1927 as a symbol of Germany’s return to prominence after crushing defeat in World War I. The ocean liner ran routes to and from South America for many years, until the great Depression lessened demand.  NaziTitanicCover

Prof. Watson introduces the first career of the estimable floating grand hotel by backgrounding its design, presenting engaging information about the company that built it, and the premier cruise line that owned it. Whenever possible, the author gives us capsule biographies of those who a hand in the planning, construction, and operation of the ship. Indeed, his portraits of the major players in the ship’s checkered history bring life and personality to his otherwise inanimate subject.

Taken out of service and essentially mothballed through much of the 1930s, the later roles of the “Cap Arcona” are imbedded in Holocaust history.

To contextualize the ship’s wartime career, Prof. Watson offers a well-rounded treatment of the rise of Hitler’s Nazi regime, with its unparalleled publicity machine run by Goebbels that rationalized the persecution and destruction of Europe’s Jews. Goebbels initiated a monumental propaganda film that would symbolically attach the Third Reich’s destiny to the sinking of the “Titanic.” Indeed, Goebbels had by now become obsessed with filmmaking and had learned a lesson about subtle styles of propaganda by studying America’s wartime patriotic cinema.

With an enormous and ever-expanding budget, a prominent director and screenwriter, and strong support from Hitler, the project moved forward but finally collapsed under its own weight. The film debut of “Cap Arcona” as the title character “Titanic” revived the ship through restorative maintenance, a facelift, and refurnishing. However, it was not officially released; few got to see the old girl’s performance. Prof. Watson provides a glimpse of maniacal Goebbels (Hitler’s propaganda minister), as well as of other players in the Nazi regime.


After its show business fiasco, “Cap Arcona” became a transport vessel – essentially a part of the German navy. It moved German soldiers and civilians from Baltic ports away from the onslaught of the Red Army. As Allied forces pressed upon the Nazis in 1945, Hitler’s stooges sought to hide evidence of the concentration and death camps, forcing tens of thousands of half-dead prisoners, mostly Jews, onto floating concentrations camps – several ships in the Baltic Sea port at Lübeck Bay. Many of these prisoners came from the notorious Neuengamme concentration camp. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 7, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 8 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Watson


Robert P. Watson will appear at a Collier County Jewish Book Festival event at Beth Tikvah synagogue on Monday, January 23 at 1:00pm. For more information, see Also on the program will be Josh Aronson, author of Orchestra of Exiles.


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