Friday, 18 March 2016

Pillau: Last Port of Call for East Prussian Refugees

Pillau was a fishing village founded in the 13th Century by the Prussians.  Russia's Peter the Great visited the town on three occasions, once in the 1600's and twice in the 1700's.  War was a constant in Pillau.  Russian forces occupied the town during the Seven Years War.  Napoleon's Grand Army occupied the port in 1807.  And in the closing months of World War II, the town was invaded by the Red Army.  Admiral Donitz planned the largest sea evacuation in history, Operation Hannibal.

By January of 1945, Pillau swelled to many times its size as East Prussian refugees, escaping the advancing Red Army, came through the town to board ships.  During the coldest winter in twenty years, refugees arrived by the cartload, loaded down with their worldly possessions.  They scrambled to board the hundreds of ships which departed from the port over the next fifteen weeks.  Some refugees had tickets, others did not.  Some used their babies as "tickets" to board a fleeing vessel.  All were desperate to escape the advancing Soviet forces.  In total, about 450,000 East Prussians escaped through the port of Pillau and found safety on the other side of the Baltic Sea.  However, others perished at the bottom of its icy waters, torpedoed by Russian submarines.

Note:  For more information, read "Death on the Baltic" at

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