Anna McWilliams (Stockholm): The Stories of the Two Titanics: Creating Heritage Through Storytelling and Silence

Technische Universität Berlin
Hörsaal H 111, Hauptgebäude
Str. des 17. Juni 135
10623 Berlin

Some stories are told so many times that they become an established narrative. The story of the White Star Line ship Titanic is one of those. It has been told since its tragic sinking in April 1912, through books, films, musicals, museums and in history writing. But not all tales of sinking ships have reached this kind of iconic status. The German cruise ship Cap Arcona – modelled on no other than the Titanic herself – became a popular way to travel across the Atlantic for the rich and famous in the 1930s. During the Second World War she starred as the Titanic in a propaganda film produced by the Nazis. But her end was highly unglamorous: she sank in the Bay of Lübeck on the third of May 1945, capsizing after an RAF strike. The British had not received the news that her cargo was an estimated 5000 concentration camp prisoners, removed from the camp at Neuengamme by the SS.

By comparing the stories of the two ships it becomes very clear what stories are retold and which ones are left in silence. This also gives us the opportunity to reflect more widely, not only on the events associated with these two ships but also on the wider context of how the often difficult heritage of the Second World War in the Baltic Sea has been constructed. Scene of some of the worst maritime episodes of wartime for both refugees and troops as the war drew to its close, the Baltic’s status is rarely troubled. Through the maritime arena, and these ships born out of the glamour of the age of the ocean liner, this seminar asks, what stories do we tell and which ones have been left behind?

Dr. Anna McWilliams is a researcher in the archaeology department at Södertörn University, Sweden. McWilliams specialises in contemporary and twentieth-century archaeology with a particular focus on the archaeology of conflict. Her current research project, funded by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, focuses on material remains of World War II in and around the Baltic Sea.