Struma

From Academic Kids

The Struma was a ship commissioned by the Revisionist Zionist organizations in Romania, especially Betar, to carry Romanian Jews as illegal immigrants to British-controlled Palestine. Apart from the crew, there were approximately 790 passengers consisting of many Betar members but mostly of wealthy Romanian Jews who could afford to pay the high price of a ticket. The voyage had the approval of the Romanian government.

Most of the passengers were not permitted to see the vessel before the day of the voyage, and when they finally saw it they were shocked to discover it was far worse than they had imagined. Sleeping quarters were extremely cramped without enough space to sit up, and there were only two lifeboats. They were not told that the engine was in even worse condition; it had been recovered from a wreck on the bottom of the Danube River.

Several times after the Struma set sail from Constanta on the Black Sea on December 12 1941, the engine gave out. After three days the ship was towed to Istanbul where it remained at anchor while secret negotiations were conducted over the fate of the passengers. The British government was determined to uphold its policy of refusing illegal immigrants entry to Palestine and urged the Turkish government to prevent the ship from sailing onwards, while the Turkish government refused to allow the passengers off the ship. After weeks of negotiation, the British agreed to honour the expired Palestinian visas possessed by a few passengers and these were allowed to continue overland. A few also managed to escape with the help of friends in high places, and one was admitted to an Istanbul hospital following a miscarriage.

On February 12, the British agreed that the children aged 11-16 on the ship would be given Palestinian visas, but then a dispute broke out over the means of their carriage to Palestine. Britain refused to send a ship, while Turkey refused to allow them overland. While negotiation over this issue was still in progress, and without notifying Britain in advance, Turkey towed the Struma back into the Black Sea and abandoned it there on February 23. As the boat traveled along the Bosporus, many of the wealthy Turks who lived on the banks of the strait could hear the passengers' cries for help and see signs hung over the sides that read SAVE US in English and Hebrew. The engine would not start despite weeks of work that had been performed on it by Turkish engineers, and the ship drifted helplessly. On February 24, there was a huge explosion and the ship sank. Only one person survived, a man named David Stoliar who was found, clinging to the wreckage, by a rowboat sent out from one of the watchtowers maintained along the Turkish coast. Stoliar was imprisoned in Turkey for 6 weeks, then released and admitted to Palestine. Later he moved to Japan and then the United States.

For many years there were competing theories about the explosion that sank the Struma, but in 1964 it was discovered by a German historian that a torpedo from a Soviet submarine had been responsible. Later this was confirmed from several other Soviet sources. The submarine had been acting under secret orders to sink all neutral shipping entering the Black Sea in order to reduce the flow of strategic materials to Nazi Germany.

In July 2000, a Turkish diving team found a wreck on the sea floor at approximately the right place, and announced that they had discovered the Struma. A team of Westerners later studied the wreck but could not positively identify it. On 3 September 2000, a ceremony was held at the site to commemorate the tragedy. It was attended by 60 relatives of Struma victims, representatives of the Jewish community of Turkey, the Israeli ambassador and prime minister's envoy, as well as British and American delegates.

Further reading

  • D. Frantz and C. Collins, Death on the Black Sea (HarperCollins, 2003).

External links


Other meanings of "Struma"

Struma is a medical term for the enlargement of the thyroid; it is sometimes used in reference to scrofula, a form of tuberculosis.

The Struma is also a river in Bulgaria and Greece. See Struma River.

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