Chilling dream saved mum from drowning with 9,000 others on German ‘Titanic’ – World News

It was a miracle in the midst of a forgotten tragedy, and one to which a British family owe their very existence.

In the dying days of the Second World War, one mother, who was fleeing the murderous advance of the Russian army, woke up from a terrifying dream and made a split-second – seemingly suicidal – decision.

It was 1945 and Anita Tollkuhn and her daughter Inge were among millions desperately trying to escape the far eastern German province of East Prussia as the Third Reich collapsed and Soviet troops massacred every man, woman and child in their path.

When they finally reached the cruise ship MV Wilhem Gustloff, which was preparing to take more than 10,000 people to Kiel, they thought they were safe. But after drifting off to sleep as they waited to set sail, Anita dreamed she was drowning. Waking up in sheer panic, she grabbed her daughter from her by her arm and dragged her off the boat.

Hours after leaving the port on January 30, 1945, the Gustloff was hit by three torpedoes fired from a Soviet submarine. One struck the ship’s drained swimming pool – precisely where Anita and Inge had been sleeping.






Inge as a child before the horror of war





Anita kept the family alive

The attack on civilians was the worst tragedy in maritime history, six times more deadly than the Titanic. More than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, perished as the ship sank into the freezing waters of the Baltic Sea.

The story of the disaster was largely lost in the fog of the end of the war, especially with the rest of the world holding little sympathy for Germans most considered Nazi by association. And, unlike the Titanic, few of the horrifying stories on board during the 40 minutes before it sank forever underneath the sea are known.

Survivors have told how an ice storm turned the decks into frozen sheets, sending hundreds of families skidding into the water as the ship lurched.

And in one horrific incident a father, realizing his family would not get on a lifeboat, took the agonizing decision to shoot his wife and children, but ran out of bullets when he got to himself.






Inge in an apartment in Königsberg

Meanwhile, Anita, who the family called Mutti or Mother, and Inge had no idea that her nightmare had come true as they made their horrendous journey over land back to Germany.

Within months of arriving in a refugee camp in Hanover, Inge, 17, had met British soldier Dennis Hopper. They married and moved to England.

The couple had two children, Dennis Jr and Mariane, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, but for decades their family’s amazing story of survival remained untold.

Now, Inge’s daughter-in-law Beverly has recounted the miraculous events of 76 years ago in a book, Mutti’s Dream.

Beverly says Inge, who died in 2015, didn’t want the family to forget it. “She talked about it repeatedly throughout her life de ella, and in her later years she spoke about it more and more, and would get quite emotional. I don’t think she wanted to let it die with her.”

Her husband Dennis, Inge’s son, says: “If my grandmother hadn’t had that dream I wouldn’t be here. That’s something I find quite moving. I never heard my grandmother talk about it.

“But my mum would always describe getting on board the ship and settling down in the empty pool, and my grandmother having the dream, dragging her off the ship, kicking and screaming and pleading, ‘no, mother, we’re safe and dry , I don’t want to get off’. The stories she told would fascinate me and horrify me.”

It was in the last winter of the Second World War when, as Hitler’s grip weakened, the Red Army began a major offensive in East Prussia and millions of Germans abandoned their homes fearing for their lives.

Among those fleeing on foot to Gotenhafen, now Gdynia in Poland, was widow Anita and daughter Inge.







Beverly Hopper with a photo of her mum-in-law Inge
(

Image:

Lincoln – Roth Read Photography)

The pair, who had owned a hotel in Rosehnen, near Cranz, now Zelenograd in Russia, faced serious danger as they set off on the 140-mile trek along the snow and ice-covered coast.

Beverly says: “One night they saw an empty house and decided to go inside, but discovered the Russians had already killed the family inside. They found women and children, all dead, with their tongues nailed to the table. Inge said it was one of the visions of her that never left her. They had to make their way over an expanse of frozen lagoon.

Dennis says: “The ice was breaking under the weight of horses and carts, and people were falling into the water. My mother had memories of drowning people who were grabbing her legs from her as they passed, begging her to save them.

After managing to hitch a ride in a German tank for part of the journey, mother and daughter finally arrived in Gotenhafen, where the ocean liner MV Wilhem Gustloff was waiting to take people back to safety in Germany.






Inge worked as a nurse at Parkside Hospital, Macclesfield

Dennis says his mum remembered how pleased she was to settle down in the empty swimming pool – until her mother woke up from her dream.

“My grandmother said she had felt the water filling her lungs and saw her furniture floating in the water. She took my mum’s arm and pulled her off the ship against the flood of people still getting on.

“People around her couldn’t believe it, they thought she was crazy to get off.

“My mum didn’t understand what was going on but my grandmother was very clear what that dream meant and was having none of it, thank goodness.”

It wasn’t until they were in Hanover that Anita and Inge discovered the Wilhem Gustloff never made it back.

In Hanover, Inge met her husband Dennis, who helped liberate the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp. They married and then settled in Manchester, where Inge faced another challenge.

Dennis Jnr, who works for Leeds University, says: “He lived in a council house in a very humble area, so it was a massive shock for my mother, having lived a privileged lifestyle.

“Having a German girl living there didn’t go down well with some. They used to paint swastikas on their door. But she made one or two friends and she became part of the community.”

Anita, who didn’t marry again, received a refugee payment and built a house near Hanover, then set up a money-lending business. Remembering her grandmother, Dennis says: “We used to go over to visit her. I’m not sure I looked forward to it as a child. She was grumpy, small and stocky, but she ruled the household.”

He believes the MV Wilhem Gustloff tragedy should have just as prominent a place in history as the Titanic.

“When the Soviets realized 5,000 children had died they scurried away quietly, there wasn’t much sympathy for German victims,” he adds.

“It’s only in recent years people have started to separate that out from being an act of war to being a real tragedy.”

Mutti’s Dream, by Beverly Hopper, Clink Street Publishing, is out now.

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