The film depicts the first month of 1945 when the Russian Red Army broke into the eastern part of Germany and forced millions of civilians to flee in the coldest of winter. While the Russians invaded Ostpreussen hundred of thousands of civilians were evacuated by ships. Gotenhafen was the last open port and ships left the town almost by the minute, overloaded by refugees. One of the last ships to leave Gotenhafen was the 'Wilhelm Gustloff', a former 'Kraft durch Freude' pleasure cruiser designed for 1000 passengers. Until today it is unknown how many people were on board but it is said to be around 10.000. The ship sunk without a trace and only a handful of people survived this hellish nightmare.