In turn, this has led to a number of conspiracy theories about the sinking. One such rumor claimed that important British records related to the incident had been sealed until 2045. In fact, all of the records were publicly released in 1972 after the Public Records Act 1967 reduced the amount of time for which they were to be kept secret – and I have spent a great deal of time researching them.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, Britain’s focus was on attempting to prosecute Nazi war criminals, and investigations into British misadventures were sidelined. And shortly after that, attentions shifted east as the Cold War gathered pace.
Nevertheless, it is now possible to reconstruct what really happened – including Britain’s role in the tragedy – with a closer examination of archival files.
No concentration camp prisoner must fall alive into enemy hands.
That was Himmler’s last order concerning the fate of Germany’s remaining camp prisoners. But as the Nazi camp system continued to contract in March 1945, it would be wrong to assume that it was the real driving force behind the evacuation of the Neuengamme camp.
Neuengamme, near Hamburg, was largely unique within the Nazi camp system. Local politicians, in particular Nazi Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann, had developed close business links with local industrialists, and supplying slave labor from the camp to nearby businesses became a profitable enterprise.
But by early 1945, the Allied advance placed increasing pressure on local politicians – and complicit businesses – to eradicate any evidence of slave labor from within Hamburg city limits. The “problem” had to be moved elsewhere.