"Struma" was the name of a very small ship that was carrying nearly 800 Jews from Romania to Palestine when it was sunk in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Turkey by a Russian torpedo in 1942.

Those on the Struma had been told on boarding that it was just a transit vessel - the much larger ship that would actually be smuggling them to Palestine was waiting further out because it could not come to the dock for registry reasons. It turned out there was no other ship, and nearly 800 people were crammed onto a 160-foot craft with only one bathroom.

In mid-December 1941, the Struma left port and its engine promptly failed. The ship managed to make it to the mouth of the Bosphorus, and a Turkish tugboat helped pull it into port at Istanbul. The Turkish government wouldn't allow the refugees off the boat, and the British government wouldn't allow them to continue to Palestine. They stayed in the harbor for 70 days, and only eight people were allowed off: a family of four had help from a Turkish businessman, three people had expired but valid visas for entry into Palestine, and one woman miscarried and was admitted to a Turkish hospital. The local Jewish community brought some supplies and relief but could not help everyone.

In late February 1942, the Turkish police boarded the Struma. After suffering for more than two months in barely habitable conditions, no one was able to resist them and the boat's ties to the docks were cut. The engine had been declared unusable and taken ashore for repair, so the ship was towed back out to the Black Sea. There were (and still are) many large homes owned by wealthy Turks along the Bosphorus, and the passengers could be heard calling for help and signs reading "SAVE US" in English and Hebrew were hung over the sides. About 7-10 miles out at sea, the ship was set loose and drifted through the night.

At dawn, a Russian submarine surfaced and fired a single torpedo, striking the Struma and sinking it instantly. The explosion was audible from shore, but no rescue boats were sent. Early the following morning, some men in a rowboat found just one person left clinging to part of the wreckage. They had probably been in the area looking for valuables, but brought David Stoliar ashore. Of the 779 passengers on the Struma, he was the only survivor. Eventually he was admitted into Palestine and later moved to the United States.

The wreck of the Struma was found in September 2000, and commemoration events and a documentary are planned.

The majority of this information was originally found at Struma.org but I have constructed most of this from memory, using the site's text for confirmation of minor details.

Stru"ma (?), n. [L., a scrofulous tumor.]

1. Med.

Scrofula.

2. Bot.

A cushionlike swelling on any organ; especially, that at the base of the capsule in many mosses.

 

© Webster 1913.

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