Bay of Lübeck: Neustadt in Holstein (Sinking of prisoner ships)

Between 21 and 26 April 1945, the SS transported around 10,000 prisoners from the main camp at Neuengamme to Lübeck, where they were loaded onto the Thielbek, Athen and Elmenhorst cargo ships in the Vorwerker Harbour. The Cap Arcona cruise ship which was anchored off Neustadt in the Bay of Lübeck also took on several thousand prisoners. The conditions on board the ships were catastrophic. Most of the prisoners were kept in the ships’ cargo holds, and they received very little food and water, so many of them starved or died of thirst.

Shortly before the British army liberated Lübeck on 2 May 1945, the Thielbek and the Athen left Lübeck Harbour and anchored in the Bay of Lübeck near the Cap Arcona. There were over 9,000 prisoners on board the three ships.

On 3 May, British planes atacked the ships, which they thought were German troop transporters. The Athen escaped the main attack because it was anchored in Neustadt Harbour at the time. The Cap Arcona and the Thielbek, however, caught fire and capsized. The prisoners had almost no chance of escape, and over 7,000 of them lost their lives on 3 May, just a few hours before they probably would have been liberated.


26 April 1945 to 2 May 1945

Number of Prisoners


Kind of Work

Labor on Behalf of



Memorial: Cap Arcona Weg, 23730 Neustadt i. H.
Cap Arcona-Museum (access via the main entrance to the Ostholstein Museum)
Kremper Straße 32
23730 Neustadt i. H. 


On 6 July 1947, the Cap Arcona Memorial was dedicated in Neustadt-Pelzerhaken at the initiative of a committee of survivors from all nations. A plaque was added in 1980 with brief information about the historical event. In 1983, the Confederation of German Trade Unions and the Amicale Internationale de Neuengamme had another plaque added to the memorial.

Around 100 Jewish concentration camp prisoners who died on the Cap Arcona are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Neustadt on Grasweg. Another 100 victims of the bombing of the concentration camp ships were buried in the cemetery of what is today the Clinic for Neurology, Psychiatry and Rehabilitation on Parkweg.

The Cap Arcona Museum opened on 3 May 1990 in Neustadt, on the 45th anniversary of the attack on the prisoner ships. Original parts from the ships are on display in the eastern annexe of the Ostholstein Museum in the Kremper Tor, and maps and photos give visitors an insight into the events on 3 May 1945.

The tragedy is also covered in the permanent exhibitions in the local history museum on Poel Island near Wismar (where bodies washed up from the ships) and in the city history museum in Grevesmühlen (the Tannenberg in Grevesmühlen is the site of the central memorial for the victims of the Cap Arcona and the Thielbek who washed up on the Baltic Sea coast of what was later to become the GDR).

Opening hours:
Eastern till october:
Tue.-Sat. 10:30-17 h, Saturdays and during the satutory holidays 14-17 h and on appointment
November till eastern:
Fri. 15-17 h, Sat. 10-12 h, Sun. 14-16 h and on appointment


Museum Cap Arcona
Kremper Straße 32
23730 Neustadt in Holstein

Tel.: +49 (0) 4561 – 6 19 34 0
Fax: +49 (0) 4561 – 3 97 77 7

Stadtverwaltung Neustadt i. H.,
Am Markt 1
23730 Neustadt i. H.

Tel.: +49 (0) 4561 – 3 97 70
Fax: +49 (0) 4561 – 3 97 77 7