The ship was fashioned after the Titanic, and met an end no less tragic, but the tale of the Cap Arcona—and the thousands of concentration-camp prisoners who lost their lives aboard it—is one you've likely never heard. The "Nazi Titanic" gets its due in a new book of the same name by Robert P. Watson, a historian and professor at Florida's Lynn University. The German luxury liner was built in 1927 and traversed the Atlantic 91 times, reports the Columbus Dispatch in a review of the book. During WWII, it played the role of the Titanic in a Nazi propaganda film made to depict the English in a bad light (that ended up being a bust), but it otherwise sat at port in the Baltic Sea until the war's final month, when Adolf Hitler had the ship packed mostly with concentration-camp prisoners. Records unearthed by Watson indicated Hitler intended to have a U-boat destroy the ship.
Citing "crossed signals" and fears the Nazi leaders would employ the boats in the harbor to flee to Norway, the Deseret News reports the British Royal Air Force bombed the Cap Arcona four days before all German forces surrendered, killing nearly all aboard (the Jerusalem Post reports it was carrying at least 4,500 prisoners, of which roughly 350 survived, to the Titanic's 1,517 dead). Though victims' remains washed ashore for more than 25 years, the incident was essentially kept "secret for seven decades," per Watson, who first learned of the ship when he came across a letter from a WWII solider that made mention of it. Incredibly, the Sun Sentinel reports he reached out to scholars at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and even they were unaware of the ship. Watson pieced together the story after being granted access to British archives, which the Palm Beach Post reports were to remain sealed for 100 years. (Thousands of items that vanished from Auschwitz have been found.)