The general cargo ship Athen (1936-1945). The original yard model of the „Athen“ on a scale of 1:50 is in the museum’s depot.
The „Athen“ was a general cargo ship built in 1936. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, she carried cargo for the shipping company Deutsche Levante Linie (DLL).
In 1940, the German Navy took over the ship and converted her into a minesweeper and named her „Sperrbrecher 2“. After being sunk by a mine near Boulogne, the wreck was salvaged in 1942, restored and returned to the DLL in 1944 again under the name „Athen“.
Under the impression of the advance of the British Army, the SS decided to close the North German concentration camps in April 1945. Thousands of prisoners were driven in death marches to the Baltic ports where they were to be transferred to ships, including the „Athen“, the „Thielbeck“ and the „Cap Arkona“. On board the „Athen“ more than 4000 people were crammed in for several weeks. There is no exact information on how many died during these days. Bodies were simply thrown overboard.
On the afternoon of 3 May 1945, the Royal Air Force launched an attack on Neustadt Bay. The pilots had mistaken the „Athens“ and other ships lying there for troop transports. There had been no indication of the presence of prisoners on board and the ships were equipped with anti-aircraft weaponry. Most of the concentration camp prisoners on board the „Cap Arkona“ and the „Thielbeck“ did not survive the attack. The people on board the „Athen“ were to be luckier. Having previously handed over half of her prisoners to the „Cap Arcona“, the ship was anchored in the military harbour of Neustadt waiting for new prisoners to arrive when the attack started. By raising the white flag after only a short fight, the crew of the „Athen“ was able to save the ship so that the survivors could be brought ashore.