John R. Houk
© March 2, 2014
About a week ago was the 70th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of 768 Jewish men, women and children by a combined policy decision of Great Britain and Turkey to keep Jews from reaching the British Mandate for Palestine during and shortly after WWII. Those 768 Jewish souls were on the Romanian vessel Struma. 103 of those Jewish souls were babies. All of the Jews on the Struma were fleeing the Nazi extermination of Jews.
The Struma was eventually torpedo blasted out of the Black Sea by a Soviet submarine. Their voyage of death began December 16, 1941 and ended in utter destruction on February 24, 1942. Only one survivor was picked up from the debris of the blasted Struma – 19-year-old David Stoliar. Stoliar was picked up ironically by a Turkish fishing boat.
The Spiegel Online International tracked down the then 90 year old David Stoliar in Oregon to conduct an interview published May 23, 2013. Here is an excerpt of Stoliar’s harrowing experience of survival now over 70 years ago:
Setting Out for Freedom
David Stoliar grew up in Romania, home to nearly 800,000 Jews before World War II. By the summer of 1940, their life, too, had become unbearable, thanks to anti-Semitic laws, deportations and, ultimately, bloody pogroms.
Stoliar’s mother fled to Paris to seek safety. The 19-year-old son stayed behind with his father, who eventually bought him a passport and a ticket to freedom — or, rather, a ticket to Palestine on a ship named Struma. In today’s value, that ticket cost $1,000 (€775).
The Struma followed an armada of previous ships that had been trying to make it to the Holy Land since the beginning of the war. Many of these passages, however, ended in death, and most were illegal. Great Britain, which administrated the British Mandate of Palestine back then, had been curbing Jewish immigration since 1939 and ultimately blocked it altogether in the hopes of keeping the Arabs from taking up arms in support of Nazi Germany.
The Struma was no more than a pile of junk. Built in 1867, this former luxury yacht had been sadly degraded to a cattle transport ship. The masts were long gone, leaving just a wooden hull, barely held together by metal plates. The engine, added later, worked only sporadically.
That didn’t prevent two Jewish groups from Romania from chartering the Struma in 1941 for their escape from the Nazis. They advertised the journey into the unknown with promising pamphlets, some of which read “Bon voyage!” and “Welcome to Palestine!”
Stoliar signed up along with his fiancée, Ilse Lothringer, and her parents. But when they finally caught a first glimpse of the Struma in the Black Sea harbor of Constanta, it was a bad omen: The ship, originally meant for only 150 passengers, had been retrofitted to carry almost 800, in tiny wooden bunks on three low levels — and that in the coldest winter in generations.
“Like sardines,” Stoliar says. “We couldn’t even turn over. But we had no way of going back.”
After several delays they finally put out to sea on December 12, 1941. Their route was supposed to take them through the Black Sea, the Bosporus and the Mediterranean to the port of Haifa. But they had gone only a few kilometers when the engine started sputtering – and then died completely as they approached the Bosporus.
A Turkish tugboat schlepped them to the harbor of Istanbul, supposedly to have the engine fixed. The refugees, lacking visas, were forbidden to disembark. Instead, the authorities raised the black and yellow quarantine flag over the Struma.
Trapped in Turkey
Meanwhile, a long, diplomatic tussle began behind the scenes. Great Britain refused to allow the Struma to continue on to Palestine. Romania didn’t want it back, either. The United States stayed out of it completely. And Turkey, still neutral at the time and not wanting to get on the wrong side of anybody, forced the passengers to stay on board, where they were slowly starving.
“We were not considered human”, Stoliar says. “So why should you help?”
Conditions on board worsened rapidly. Food became scarce; a pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage. The only help came from Simon Brod, a local Jewish businessman who rescued many refugees over the course of the war. He occasionally brought food and water.
Turkey eventually took action on its own. On February 23, 1942, policemen stormed the Struma, cut the anchor chain, tugged the ship back into the Black Sea — and set it helplessly adrift.
“We knew we had nowhere else to go,” Stoliar recalls. “We all smelled the end of it.” (Holocaust at Sea: The Lone Survivor of the ‘Struma’; By Marc Pitzke in Bend, Oregon; Spiegel Online International; 5/23/13 03:29 PM)
Crazy stuff, right? The above quoted data was an excerpt of a Spiegel part one on David Stoliar. As Paul used to say, you should read the rest of the story in part two entitled, “A Sudden, Explosive End”.
Imagine living in an age when a Super Power nation as a matter of Policy has a Final Solution for Jewish people – regardless if they are religiously Observant or not – to wipe them off all land under their control. Imagine living in an age in which other powerful nations could care less of the Super Power’s internal Policy even though they are geopolitical rivals that eventually engage in war AND they do NOTHING to help Jews facing a government’s Policy of the extermination of all Jews. Imagine living in an age in which one of the warring nations against the Super Power actually has governing control of a parcel of land created SPECIFICALLY for Jews but stop the immigration of the very Jews facing extermination from the Super Power’s Final Jewish Solution.
Millions of Jews under the power of Nazi Germany in Europe were indeed exterminated! Before, during and after WWII devastated Jews tried to make it to the land designated as the British Mandate for Palestine which was created to provide a Jewish National Homeland long before Adolf Hitler came to power as the Nazi Fuhrer of Germany with the design to making the German people the Master Aryan Race empire of a new global power the Nazis called the Third Reich. “Third” implying the Roman Empire was the first empire, the German based Holy Roman Empire was second and Hitler’s intended new German empire would be the third version of European global superiority.
The Struma tragedy was one of many of Jews thwarted from escaping Nazi death camps. Another notorious doomed ship was the St Louis that departed a German port on May 13, 1939 with nearly a 1000 Jews fleeing the beginnings on the Nazi Final Solution was bound for Havana Cuba. The St Louis reached Havana the ship was forced to lay in port for several days with a quarantine flag attached to it to prevent the Jews from departing and entering Havana. It took 43 days for the St Louis to travel to Havana. Cuba ultimately refused the Jews from leaving the ship except a mere 29 passengers. President Roosevelt forbade the St Louis to dock in the USA. Eventually the St Louis was forced back to Germany to the welcoming arms of Nazi death camps.
Check out the lame excuse reason the British would not allow European Jews to embark to safety to the land designated as a Jewish Homeland in the British Mandate for Palestine. The British official reason was they believed intelligence reports that many of the German Jews were actually enemy Nazi spies sent to infiltrate British authority.
Now this is lame because no proof of any intelligence has ever turned up validating the official reason AND British Policy had changed from providing Jews for a National Homeland to placating the large majority of Arabs – primarily Muslims – that had a great sympathy for the Nazi Jewish Final Solution. It was becoming clear that there was huge deposits of oil in Muslim Arab lands thus the Brits desired to make nice with Arab nationalism because of oil – the black juice that kept and still keeps modern industry to be successful.
The British White Paper of 1939, passed on the eve of the destruction of European Jewry, was a death sentence for tens of thousands of Jews who wanted to escape the Holocaust.
Illegal ships of Jews continued to attempt to infiltrate Palestine, and most were turned away – often to tragic consequence. Even as the situation grew more and more dire, British officials remained adamant in severely limiting the number of Jews who could enter Palestine.
On February 7, 1940, Vernon Bartlett asked that the ban on immigration be lifted. The answer, by Malcolm MacDonald, alleged that there was a danger associated with illegal immigration:
Malcolm MacDonald, alleged that there was a danger associated with illegal immigration:
Mr. Bartlett asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that the tragic plight of some 2,000 Jewish refugees now marooned in small barges on the Danube is due mainly to the fact that shipowners are threatened with confiscation of their ships and imprisonment of their crews if captured near the Palestine shore; and will he consider raising the ban on further immigrants to Palestine to cover these victims of Nazi racial doctrines?
Mr. M. MacDonald I understand that reports have reached the Foreign Office that a number of Jews who were on their way to embark at a Rumanian port on a ship chartered for the purpose of carrying illegal immigrants to Palestine were recently stranded on the Danube. It is well known that masters and crews of ships engaged in this illegal traffic are liable to imprisonment and the ships to confiscation.
…The normal objections to illegal immigration are increased in time of war owing to the danger of enemy agents travelling to Palestine by this means. In the circumstances I cannot adopt the hon. Member’s suggestion.
This supposed fear of enemy agents became an actual allegation in a debate on March 20, even though no proof was offered:
Mr. Stokes asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that amongst the Jewish illegal immigrants into Palestine there are German citizens, many of whom are German spies; and what steps he proposes to take to stop this illegal traffic on that account?
Mr. M. MacDonald: Yes, Sir. Though local inquiries have not yet produced conclusive proof, the High Commissioner has strong reasons for suspecting that the passengers of two ships which about a month ago landed illegal immigrants in Palestine included German agents. These persons, together with other illegal immigrants, are held in detention camps. As regards the second part of the Question, His Majesty’s Government and the Palestine Government are taking various measures to suppress the traffic in illegal immigrants.
§Mr. T. Williams Will the right hon. Gentleman state exactly what he implies when he states that many of these illegal immigrants may or may not be German spies?
Mr. MacDonald I cannot add to the answer which I have given, which was that the High Commissioner has strong reasons to suppose, from information at his disposal, that some of these people are German agents.
§Mr. Shinwell Can the Minister say how many have been detained?
Mr. MacDonald Some hundreds.
§Mr. Lipson Has my right hon. Friend any reason to believe that these German agents are Jews?
Mr. MacDonald As I say, we have not any conclusive proof, but from the information we have received we understand that there are strong possibilities that some of the Jewish members of these parties are German agents.
§Mr. Leach Would they not be in serious danger of their lives in such company in such a ship?
No answer is recorded.
Macdonals (sic) insists that evidence exists that German agents are among the detained Jews, but even weeks after their detention he cannot reveal any details, nor can he even say that any evidence is conclusive.
And he never did return to the topic. As far as I can tell, not one Jewish immigrant was charged with spying for Germany.
But there was one postscript. On April 3, as seen above, MacDonald claimed that any offers of help by Jewish organizations to help vet the immigrants for German ties would be welcomed. He was lying.
From all evidence, the British authorities in Palestine made up the charge that there were Jewish German spies, and they used this bogus charge to punish all Jews attempting to flee the Holocaust in 1940. (1940 Britain claimed “German agents” among illegal Jewish refugees to Palestine; By Elder of Ziyon; 9/26/13)
I’ve known of these antisemitic global occurrences for some time but I found a reminder in my inbox of the anniversary the Struma travesty through Facebook group Israel Hasbara. For some reason the Israel Hasbara post was removed (probably by Facebook) so I went to the person that my inbox gave credit for posting. Fortunately I found it there. That which piqued my interest in the first place was this message:
Please repost this, along with the link explaining the incident, and email it to all you know. This needs to go viral.
Here is where you can learn more about this sickening event: http://www.israpundit.com/archives/63594313
Then a few hours later she posted this about the Struma Jewish deaths:
This has me so sad and disturbed. It is hard to get it out of my mind.
The link she provides is to one of my favorite blogs – Israpundit. The original article written by Sarah Honig is on the Jerusalem Post dated 2/23/14. As you can see I am a bit behind the curve in getting this out; nonetheless the flood of global antisemitism flowing toward Israel and defensible borders as well as traditional land that is of Jewish heritage is reprehensible. Americans at the very least need to be reminded of the treatment of the Jews before their homeland was returned. This not just the Holocaust even though it was the Holocaust that elicited a guilty conscience from the sane parts of the world. Devastation of Jews is at least 2000 years old and that is even before their last ejection from their homeland between 70 AD and 135 AD. Below is the Jerusalem Post version of the story of the Struma by Sarah Honig.
Related Link: The sinking of MV Struma – February 1942
Please Support NCCR
Another Tack: Lessons from the floating coffin
By SARAH HONIG
The world’s apathy-cum-enmity toward Jews hasn’t disappeared, it has simply mutated.
Exactly 70 years ago – on February 24, 1942 – 19-year-old David Stoliar terrifyingly clung to bobbing debris in the Black Sea. At first he heard screams in the frigid waters but the voices died down. It eventually emerged that Stoliar was the sole survivor of the Struma, an un-seaworthy vessel chuck-full of frantic Jewish refugees.
World War II was already in fever pitch. Against the enormity of the then-unfolding Holocaust, the loss at sea of 768 Jewish lives (103 of them babies and children) was at most blithely overlooked as a marginal annotation.
Moreover, although these Jews fled the Nazis, in the pedantic literal sense they weren’t executed by Third Reich henchmen.
This atrocity was the coldblooded handiwork of Great Britain (committed while it combated the Germans but remarkably without compassion for their Jewish victims), supposedly neutral Turkey (whose so-called nonalignment didn’t extend to outcast Jewish refugees), by the Arabs (who were openly and unreservedly Nazism’s avid collaborators and who pressured London into denying endangered Jews asylum in the Jewish homeland) and, finally, by the Russians (who targeted the immobilized sardine can that carried Jews to whom nobody would allow a toehold on terra firma).
The entire world seemed united in signaling Jews how utterly unwanted they were anywhere.
Such apathy-cum-enmity hasn’t disappeared.
Only its form and context had mutated but the essence is still ultra-relevant to the Jewish state.
We’re still threatened with annihilation. Nonetheless, unmistakable harangues from Tehran notwithstanding, the international community worries about an Israeli preemptive strike – not a genocidal strike against Israel.
To put it plainly, our fate today interests other nations just about as much as the fate of the Struma’s Jews did back then, which (to resort to understatement) was hardly much.
Today’s disingenuous post-Holocaust lip-service is invariably accompanied by hand-wringing about lack of foreknowledge of Germany’s fiendish plot to systematically exterminate the defenseless Jewish people (unmistakable harangues from Berlin notwithstanding).
What sets the Struma apart and imbues it with extraordinary significance is that from December 16, 1941, until the afternoon of February 23, 1942, its ordeal was played out before the entire watching but unfeeling world. No country could deny awareness of the impending calamity and yet all countries let it happen in full view.
The Struma, then a 115-year-old Danube cattle barge, was a pitiful peanut-shell of a boat packed with nearly 800 refugees from Romania. Bound for the Land of Israel, they desperately fled Hitler’s hell and the horrors of Bucharest’s fascist regime.
Pogroms and ghastly atrocities had already sullied cities like Iasi, where thousands of Jews were assembled in the market square and mowed down with machine guns. Venerable old rabbis and Jewish community leaders were impaled on meat hooks in town centers.
THE STRUMA wasn’t struck suddenly. It was slowly tortured, accentuating with demonic deliberation how disposable Jews were, just when genocide’s monstrous machinery was switched into high gear. This 75-day shipboard melodrama underscored the total helplessness and humiliation of Jews without power.
Struma passengers gathered in the Romanian port of Constanza on December 8, 1941. For four days, Romanian customs officials “examined” their belongings. In fact, they pilfered all they saw – clothing, underwear, jewelry and most important, food. The immigrants left on the perilous journey bereft of provisions and medications. But the Struma did carry 30 doctors, 10 engineers and 15 lawyers.
On December 12, the rickety vessel chugged out to sea. After four hair-raising days (instead of the routine 14 hours) the Struma unsteadily dragged itself into Istanbul Harbor. It couldn’t continue. Its makeshift motor had sputtered its last. There was no fuel, food or water.
Several passengers held valid entry visas into pre-independent Israel. All others were “illegals.”
The hope, though, was that once in Turkey, they’d all be allowed to proceed to their destination.
After all, with Europe in the throes of war, thousands of Jewish immigration certificates (British Mandate permits) remained unutilized.
But the British authorities refused unequivocally.
The Arabs raged and rallied against giving haven to Jewish refugees. Eager to appease pro- Nazi Arab opinion, Britain chillingly declared that under no circumstance could the Struma’s human cargo set foot in Eretz Yisrael.
Furthermore, Britain pressured Turkey not to let anyone off the crippled boat at its end either.
Obligingly, the Turkish premier argued that “Turkey cannot be expected to serve as a refuge or surrogate homeland for people unwanted anywhere else.”
Thus hundreds were imprisoned in narrow, unventilated confines. A sign saying “Help!” was suspended over the Struma’s side. One of the visa-holders, who after weeks was allowed ashore, described the boat as a “floating coffin.”
The freezing hull below reeked, but there wasn’t sufficient room on deck. Refugees took turns to climb up for a breath of air. There was no sleeping space for all, no infirmary, no galley, no bathing or sanitary facilities. Minimal food rations, provided by local Jews, were smuggled aboard after enough Turkish palms were greased.
An official Jewish Agency appeal, forwarded to the British on January 19, 1942, stressed that the Struma transported refugees escaping the most tangible threat of massacre. The Mandatory authorities didn’t even dignify the Jewish Agency with a reply.
On the next day, the Struma’s 35th in Istanbul, the Wannsee Conference opened in suburban Berlin to formally decide on “the final solution for the Jewish problem.” Hitler surely hadn’t overlooked this latest demonstration of utter callousness toward hapless Jews.
The British didn’t bother to answer ensuing emotional Jewish Agency entreaties on January 30 and February 10. Then they acquiesced to the entry of four visa-holders, who only at this point were permitted to disembark. More news of the dreadful conditions on the Struma now came out.
The new British line was that the Struma’s refugees were suspect Nazi agents because they came from enemy territory. The assertion that the Germans’ most hideously persecuted victims were their tormenters’ spies was labeled “Satanic” in embryonic Israel.
In a very long February 13 communication to the Mandatory government, the Agency noted that Britain was helping with much fanfare to resettle in the Mideast thousands of non-Jews – Greeks, Yugoslavs, Poles and Czechs – all of whom came from German-controlled areas.
More than any of them, Jews had reason to be loyal to the Allies.
On February 15, the British announced they’d make an exception in the case of Struma children aged 11 to 16. Wartime rationing was cited as the pretext for barring younger or older kids.
The Jewish Agency guaranteed maintenance for all 103 underage Struma captives. In the end no child was freed.
Meanwhile, Turkey, egged on and emboldened by Britain, threatened to tow the floundering deathtrap beyond its territorial waters.
The Jewish Agency warned that “the boat is in total state of disrepair and without life-saving equipment. Any sea-journey for this vessel cannot but end in disaster.”
The Turkish government, however, pitilessly ordered the condemned Struma tugged out to the Black Sea. Hundreds of truncheon-wielding Turkish policemen were dispatched to the Struma on February 23. They viciously clubbed passengers below deck. Despite resistance from the refugees, the anchor was cut, the Struma was towed out and was left paralyzed, to drift precariously without supplies or a drop of fuel.
On February 24, an explosion ripped it apart.
A Soviet submarine, Shchuka-213, patrolled northeast of the Bosporus. Stalking Axis craft, it torpedoed the wobbly barge, which sank in minutes. It’s estimated that as many as 500 were killed outright by the blast. The rest flapped feebly in the waves, till they expired of wounds, fatigue and hypothermia. Stoliar alone hung on, semi-conscious.
In pre-state Israel there was shock and grief.
Demonstrations were mounted. For one day all work and commerce were halted and the population imposed a voluntary protest curfew on itself. Posters appeared on exterior walls everywhere bearing British High Commissioner Harold MacMichael’s photo and announcing that he was “Wanted for Murder.”
The Struma’s heartrending end marked the effective end to most attempts to break Britain’s anti-Jewish blockade until the conclusion of WWII. A few fishing and sporting sailboats briefly tried to ferry handfuls of refugees. Some of them were sunk. Europe’s Jews had no escape left. Embattled Britain took time out from the war to make sure of it.
Stoliar was imprisoned by the Turks for six weeks for the crime of not drowning. He was finally allowed into Mandated Palestine despite MacMichael’s warnings that “this would open the floodgates” and “completely undermine our whole policy regarding illegal immigrants.”
Today, to most Israelis, Struma is a curious street name in a few towns. Israeli school children barely encounter its esoteric story. Politically correct authors and trendy leftwing filmmakers shun the subject, preferring postmodern portrayals of Arab terrorists as Zionism’s prey.
Oblivion is perhaps the greatest sin against the Struma but also against ourselves. If we forget the Struma, we forget why this country exists, why we struggle for its survival. We forget the justice of our cause.
Dimmed memory and self-destructive perverse morality hinder our ability to protect ourselves from the offspring and torchbearers of the very Arabs who doomed the Struma. They haven’t amended their hostile agenda. We just don’t care to be reminded.
The state the Jews created is threatened with destruction and its population with obliteration.
Yet there’s negligible sympathy for Israel and even less practical support to avert tragedy. The Struma’s story is seminal in understanding why the Holocaust was possible and why a second Holocaust cannot be ruled out. More than anything, the Struma powerfully illustrates what happens when Jews rely on others’ goodwill.
The is 1942 – 768 Jews on the Struma Fleeing Nazis Blasted out of the Sea
John R. Houk
© March 2, 2014
Another Tack: Lessons from the floating coffin
All Rights reserved © The Jerusalem Post 1995 – 2012