I just finished the audiobook “Salt to the Sea” by Ruta Sepetys. And I’m an emotional wreck. It was heartbreaking, but I still thought the author handled the stories of the four main characters beautifully and generously. She paints a vast panorama of rural Germany during the last days of The Third Reich. Events are described by a Latvian Nurse, a Prussian art-restorer, a 15-year-old Polish girl, and a young, mentally defective Nazi soldier. They and thousands of others converge on a port on the Baltic Sea as Stalin’s Red Army moves into Germany. The Russians seem to be killing German soldiers and civilians almost indiscriminately as they advance.
The Nazis, however, promise safe passage for anyone who can qualify for a birth on one of the ships in the port. Foremost among these vessels is the Wilhelm Gustloff, a pleasure cruise ship built to hold a thousand passengers. But when it leaves port, more than ten thousand are on board. German’s of the high command keep the best cabins on the top decks. Families are crowded together into rooms and hallways on lower decks. There’s a ward for wounded soldiers and others with physical difficulties… and even places to hide if one is clever enough.
The ship sails off into a stormy winter sea, and then, what has been a nearly unbearable situation, becomes so much worse.