February 24, 1942 – Soviets Torpedo Ship Full of 791 Jewish Refugees, Killing All But One

The Struma was a ship attempting to take 791 Jewish refugees, among them more than 100 children, from Romania to Palestine to escape from the Holocaust. The vessel was the last to leave Europe in wartime. The ship was actually an old cargo barge used to carry cattle along the Danube and suited for no more than 150 passengers. The diesel engine failed several times between her departure on December 12, 1941 from Constanţa on the Black Sea to her arrival in Istanbul on December 15th, and the Struma had to be towed into Istanbul. On February 23, 1942, with her engine still inoperable and her refugee passengers aboard, Turkish authorities towed Struma through the Bosphorus out to the coast of Şile in North Istanbul. Within hours, in the morning of February 24th, the Soviet submarine Shch-213 torpedoed her, killing an estimated 781 refugees plus 10 crew, making it the Black Sea’s largest exclusively civilian naval disaster of World War II.

Many of the passengers were trapped below decks and drowned. Others survived the sinking clinging to pieces of wreckage, but for hours no rescue came and all but one of them died from drowning or hypothermia.

Struma’s First Officer Lazar Dikof and the 19-year-old refugee David Stoliar clung to a cabin door that was floating in the sea. The First Officer died overnight but Turks in a rowboat rescued Stoliar the next day. He was detained by Turkey for six weeks. Simon Brod, a Jewish businessman from Istanbul, who helped rescue an untold number of Jewish refugees who reached Turkey, arranged for Stoliar’s meals during his incarceration. Upon his release, Brod brought Stoliar home. He provided him with clothes, a suitcase, and a train ticket to Aleppo after Britain gave him papers to go to Palestine. Stoliar lived to age 91.

David Stolier in February 1946

The Struma disaster joined that of SS Patria – sunk after Haganah sabotage while laden with Jewish refugees 15 months earlier – as rallying points for the Irgun and other Zionist movements, encouraging their violent revolt against the British presence in Palestine.

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