“They’re going down,” he recalled thinking. “A lot of good friends, my God.”
The ship was capsizing, and Mr. Bawnik could not hold on much longer. He believed he was about to die as well. But then a friend, Peter Abramowicz, called to him, leaned over the side, scooped him up and carried him to a partly submerged part of the ship, where they and others awaited rescue.
The British — now in charge at the shore — ordered the Germans to take boats out to pick up the Cap Arcona survivors.
As many as 7,000 prisoners died in the attacks.
Mr. Bawnik quickly moved on. He stayed in Germany for four years, living in Ahrensbök, a municipality near the Baltic, where he sold cigarettes on the black market and drove a taxi. In a telephone interview, Mr. Elias said that his grandfather had found Ahrensbök to be an oasis, where Germans who had been his enemy for so many years were now friendly and generous.
“He describes those years as among the best of his life,” Mr. Elias said.
While in Germany, Mr. Bawnik was reunited with his brother and his sister Dora. His siblings then left for Israel, but later emigrated to New Jersey. Their mother and his sister Rywka had been taken from Lodz after he was deported and probably died in Auschwitz.
Mr. Bawnik emigrated to the United States in 1949. He lived briefly in New York City, then moved to Hartford, where he met his future wife, Linda Gordon. She died last year. Besides Ms. Basist, he is survived by two other daughters, Jamie Elias and Cindy Ashton, as well as seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. Bawnik, who was not religious, attributed his survival in the German camps and on the Cap Arcona to luck.
“If you really believe in God, how could he do this to his people?” he told The Buffalo News. “How can you believe in God? It doesn’t make any sense.”