ostwind ruins of hitler's olympic racing yacht

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Credit: Florida Back Roads Travel

How Holocaust survivors reclaimed and sunk Hitler's $1 boat

11 June 2024 • Written by Dea Jusufi

Sold for a dollar and then sunk by Holocaust survivors below a banner reading "Never Again" - before being lost to sea as a result of hurricane - Adolf Hitler's yacht had a long and contentious life. BOAT unpacks the story of Ostwind, the yacht that started out as a symbol of German sovereignty...

Ostwind is German for "East Wind". An insidious name for those familiar with the Nazi party's ideology. The Generalplan Ost ("Master Plan for the East") was the blueprint for the Nazi regime's genocide and large-scale ethnic cleansing of the populations of Central and Eastern Europe. These associations would follow Ostwind like a shadow through her life, turning her into a symbol of the monstrous regime she was built under.

Hitler on board a sailing yacht during the Olympic regatta
Credit: Juergen Lindenburger via Shutterstock

The story begins with Germany's poor showing at the 1936 Olympics. Hitler commissioned a series of Olympic racing yachts in retaliation, built in Bremen-based yard Burmeis & Wain to a design by noted naval architect Heinrich Gruber. Though she never ended up competing, the 26.2-metre Ostwind was delivered in 1938 as part of this fleet.

From here, the accounts deviate. Some claim Hitler went on board Ostwind once or twice; others, that he and Eva Braun would frequently use her for pleasure cruises. In a particularly chilling account, historian and biographer Michael Miller wrote that Hitler had visions of riding the yacht into England to accept Churchill's surrender. However many of these are fiction, the fantasy credited to Hitler thankfully never materialised.

Following the defeat of the Nazi party in 1945, the United States took possession of Ostwind as a war prize and used her as a training craft at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. She was later sold as surplus in the 1950s. For decades, Ostwind bounced around the country under the stewardship of several owners, some of which would later swear she brought them bad luck.

This included Plymouth developer Charles Sanderson, who famously purchased Ostwind for $1 with plans to convert her into a World War II museum in Massachusetts. The proposal infuriated local officials and residents, work never materialised and Sanderson eventually failed to pay for the dock space.

A newspaper clipping from The Naples Daily News

Ostwind was then handed over to marina owner J.J. Nelson, who brought her to Jacksonville, Florida. For years, she sat in storage, accumulating dust but otherwise well maintained. Until word got around that she was Hitler's yacht.

Everything imploded; Ostwind was repeatedly vandalised, stripped by souvenir hunters and even set alight. Nelson received onslaughts of threatening letters at the same time a neo-Nazi group offered him $500,000 to convert the yacht into a shrine.

In 2017, a porthole taken from Ostwind was listed at $1,000-1,500
Credit: Alexander Historical Auctions

The offer was naturally rejected and Ostwind was instead donated to Abraham Resnick, a Holocaust survivor and Miami Beach City Commissioner. It was decided that what remained of Ostwind was going to be destroyed – sunk and transformed into an artificial reef just off the coast of Florida.

The sinking was scheduled to commemorate the 50th anniversary of St. Louis, also known as the Voyage of the Damned. Nine hundred Jewish refugees fled Nazi occupation on board the ocean liner, only to be denied entry by both US and Cuban officials who claimed they had exceeded their yearly immigration quotas. St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, where nearly a third of her passengers were murdered.

The passengers of St. Louis
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images
Ostwind's final resting place is reportedly the point at which the St. Louis was turned away

And so, Ostwind was rolled off a barge and sunk on 4 June, 1989. The ceremony was attended by 27 of the original St. Louis passengers, who held one another and sang the Hatikva (the national anthem of Israel) as the creaking debris disappeared into the water. An airplane flew overhead with a banner streaming behind that read "Never Again".

Strangely, Ostwind would live up to her doomed reputation one final time. A navigational error had landed her on a delicate coral reef only six metres below the surface, posing a threat to marine life and passing ships. After less than a month, officials were forced to refloat and resink her.

The aftermath of Hurricane Andrew
Credit: Robert Sullivan/AFP via Getty Images

A few years later, Hurricane Andrew would ravage Florida and obscure the precise location of Ostwind's ruins.

While ambitious divers and treasure hunters have tried in the years since, Ostwind's troubled life and worse end means there is likely very little of her left to be found.

Read More/Eye openers: The stories behind iconic images from the yachting archives

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