Struma disaster

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Struma disaster
Coordinates 41°23′N29°13′E / 41.383°N 29.217°E / 41.383; 29.217 Coordinates: 41°23′N29°13′E / 41.383°N 29.217°E / 41.383; 29.217
Date24 February 1942
TargetThe ship Struma, carrying Jewish refugees from Romania to the British Mandate of Palestine
Attack type
Ship sinking
Weapons torpedo
Deaths781 Jewish refugees, 10 crew members (5 Bulgarian, 3 or 4 Jewish, one Hungarian) [1]
Perpetrators Soviet Navy

The Struma disaster was the sinking on 24 February 1942 of a ship, MV Struma, that had been trying to take nearly 800 Jewish refugees from Axis-allied Romania to Mandatory Palestine. She was a small iron-hulled ship of only 240  GRT that had been built in 1867 as a steam-powered schooner [2] but had recently been re-engined with an unreliable second-hand diesel engine. [3] [4] Struma was only 148.4 ft (45 m) long, had a beam of only 19.3 ft (6 m) and a draught of only 9.9 ft (3 m) [5] [2] but an estimated 791 refugees and 10 crew were crammed into her. [6] [1]

MV Struma was a small ship with a long history that included a number of changes of use and many changes of name. She was built in 1867 as a British marquess's luxury steam yacht and ended 75 years later as a Greek and Bulgarian diesel ship for carrying livestock. She was launched as Xantha, but subsequently carried the names SS Sölyst, SS Sea Maid, SS Kafireus, SS Esperos, SS Makedoniya and finally MV Struma. As Struma she tried to take nearly 800 Jewish refugees from Romania to Palestine in December 1941. Turkey detained her in Istanbul because Britain refused to admit her passengers to Palestine. In February 1942 a Soviet submarine torpedoed and sank Struma in the Black Sea after Turkish authorities had towed her out to sea and cast her adrift.

Following the outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939, the Kingdom of Romania under King Carol II officially adopted a position of neutrality. However, the rapidly changing situation in Europe during 1940, as well as domestic political upheaval, undermined this stance. Fascist political forces such as the Iron Guard rose in popularity and power, urging an alliance with Nazi Germany and its allies. As the military fortunes of Romania's two main guarantors of territorial integrity—France and Britain—crumbled in the Fall of France, the government of Romania turned to Germany in hopes of a similar guarantee, unaware that the then dominant European power had already granted its consent to Soviet territorial claims in a secret protocol of 1939's Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

Mandatory Palestine A former geopolitical entity in Palestine occupied from the Ottoman Empire in WW1 aiming to creat the conditions for the establishment of national home to the Jewish People. Ceased to exist with the establishment of the Jewish State -  Israel

Mandatory Palestine was a geopolitical entity established between 1920 and 1923 in the Middle East roughly corresponding to the region of Palestine, as part of the Partition of the Ottoman Empire under the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine.

Contents

Struma's diesel engine failed several times between her departure from Constanţa on the Black Sea on 12 December 1941 and her arrival in Istanbul on 15 December. She had to be towed by a tug boat to leave Constanţa and to enter Istanbul. On 23 February 1942, with her engine still inoperable and her refugee passengers aboard, Turkish authorities towed Struma from Istanbul through the Bosphorus out to the coast of Şile in North Istanbul. Within hours, in the morning of 24 February, 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. Until recently the number of victims had been estimated at 768, but the current figure is the result of a recent study of six different passenger lists. [6] Only one person aboard, 19-year-old David Stoliar, survived (he died in 2014).

Black Sea Marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and Asia

The Black Sea is a body of water and marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean between the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Western Asia. It is supplied by a number of major rivers, such as the Danube, Dnieper, Southern Bug, Dniester, Don, and the Rioni. Many countries drain into the Black Sea, including Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Istanbul Metropolitan municipality in Marmara, Turkey

Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, is the most populous city in Turkey and the country's economic, cultural and historic center. Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia, straddling the Bosporus strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies on the European side and about a third of its population lives in suburbs on the Asian side of the Bosporus. With a total population of around 15 million residents in its metropolitan area, Istanbul is one of the world's most populous cities, ranking as the world's fourth largest city proper and the largest European city. The city is the administrative center of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Istanbul is viewed as a bridge between the East and West.

Şile district in Istanbul, Turkey

Şile is a city and district in Istanbul, Turkey. According to the 2007 census, the population of the district was 25,169, of which 9,831 lived in the city of Şile, 2,096 in the nearby town of Ağva (Yeşilçay) and 13,242 in surrounding villages. However, between June and September, the population rapidly increases because of the many residents of Istanbul who have summer houses in Şile.

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 Lehi revisionist Zionist clandestine movements, encouraging their violent revolt against the British presence in Palestine. [7] [8]

<i>Patria</i> disaster

The Patria disaster was the sinking on 25 November 1940 by the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah of a French-built ocean liner, the 11,885-ton SS Patria, in the port of Haifa, killing 267 people and injuring 172.

Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization in the British Mandate of Palestine (1921–48), which became the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Irgun zionist terrorist group

The Irgun was a Zionist paramilitary organization that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the older and larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah. When the group broke from the Haganah it became known as the Haganah Bet, or alternatively as haHaganah haLeumit or Hama'amad. Irgun members were absorbed into the Israel Defense Forces at the start of the 1948 Arab–Israeli war. The Irgun is also referred to as Etzel, an acronym of the Hebrew initials, or by the abbreviation IZL.

Voyage and detention

Struma had been built as a luxury yacht, [4] but was 74 years old and in the 1930s had been relegated to carrying cattle on the River Danube under the Panamanian flag of convenience. [9] The Mossad LeAliyah Bet intended to use her as a refugee ship, but shelved the plan after the German entry into Bulgaria. [9] Her Greek owner Jean D. Pandelis instead contacted Revisionist Zionists in Romania. [9] The New Zionist Organization and Betar Zionist youth movement began to make arrangements but an argument over the choice of passengers left the planning in the hands of Betar. [9]

Danube River in Central Europe

The Danube is Europe's second longest river, after the Volga. It is located in Central and Eastern Europe.

Flag of convenience The business practice registering a ship under a different sovereign state than that of its owners, to reduce costs or avoid regulations

Flag of convenience (FOC) is a business practice whereby a ship's owners register a merchant ship in a ship register of a country other than that of the ship's owners, and the ship flies the civil ensign of that country, called the flag state. The term is often used pejoratively, and the practice is regarded as contentious. Each merchant ship is required by international law to be registered in a registry created by a country, and a ship is subject to the laws of that country, which are used also if the ship is involved in a case under admiralty law. A ship's owners may elect to register a ship in a foreign country which enables it to avoid the regulations of the owners’ country which may, for example, have stricter safety standards. They may also select a jurisdiction to reduce operating costs, bypassing laws that protect the wages and working conditions of mariners. The term "flag of convenience" has been used since the 1950s. A registry which does not have a nationality or residency requirement for ship registration is often described as an open registry. Panama, for example, offers the advantages of easier registration and the ability to employ cheaper foreign labour. Furthermore, the foreign owners pay no income taxes.

Mossad LeAliyah Bet branch of the Haganah

The Mossad LeAliyah Bet was a branch of the Haganah in the British Mandate of Palestine, and later the State of Israel that operated to facilitate Jewish immigration to British Palestine. During the Mandate period, it was facilitating illegal immigration in violation of governmental British restrictions. It operated from 1938 until four years after the founding of the State of Israel in 1952. It was funded directly by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and was not subject to the control of the Jewish Agency who operated their own Aliyah department headed by Yitzhak Rafael.

Apart from the crew and 60 Betar youth, there were over 700 passengers who had paid large fees to board the ship. [9] [10] The exact number is not certain, but a collation of six separate lists produced a total of 791 passengers and 10 crew. [6] [11] Passengers were told they would be sailing on a renovated boat with a short stop in Istanbul to collect their Palestinian immigration visas. [12] Ion Antonescu's Romanian government approved of the voyage. [10]

Ion Antonescu prime minister and conducător of Romania during World War II

Ion Antonescu was a Romanian soldier and authoritarian politician who, as the Prime Minister and Conducător during most of World War II, presided over two successive wartime dictatorships. After the war, he was convicted of war crimes and executed.

Each refugee was allowed to take 20 kilograms (44 lb) of luggage. [13] Romanian customs officers took many of the refugees' valuables and other possessions, along with food that they had brought with them. [13] The passengers were not permitted to see the vessel before the day of the voyage. They found that she was a wreck with only two lifeboats.[ citation needed ] Below decks, Struma had dormitories with bunks for 40 to 120 people in each. [14] The berths were bunks on which passengers were to sleep four abreast, with 60 centimetres (2 ft) width for each person. [14]

On 12 December, 1941, the day of her sailing, Struma's engine failed so a tug towed her out of the port of Constanţa. [15] The waters off Constanţa were mined, so a Romanian vessel escorted her clear of the minefield. [13] She then drifted overnight while her crew tried vainly to start her engine. [15] She transmitted distress signals and on 13 December the Romanian tug returned. [15] The tug's crew said they would not repair Struma's engine unless they were paid. [15] The refugees had no money after buying their tickets and leaving Romania, so they gave all their wedding rings to the tugboatmen, who then repaired the engine. [15] Struma then got under way but by 15 December her engine had failed again so she was towed into the port of Istanbul in Turkey. [15]

There she remained at anchor, while British diplomats and Turkish officials negotiated over the fate of the passengers. Because of Arab and Jewish unrest in Palestine, Britain was determined to apply the terms of the White Paper of 1939 to minimise Jewish immigration to Palestine. British diplomats urged the Turkish government of Refik Saydam to prevent Struma from continuing her voyage. Turkey refused to allow the passengers to disembark. While detained in Istanbul, Struma ran short of food. Soup was cooked twice a week and supper was typically an orange and some peanuts for each person. [14] At night each child was issued a serving of milk. [14]

After weeks of negotiation, the British agreed to honour the expired Palestinian visas possessed by a few passengers, who were allowed to continue to Palestine overland.[ citation needed ] With the help of influential friends[ specify ] (Vehbi Koc),[ citation needed ] a few others also managed to escape. One woman, Madeea Solomonovici, was admitted to an Istanbul hospital after miscarrying. [10] On 12 February British officials agreed that children aged 11 to 16 on the ship would be given Palestinian visas, but a dispute occurred over their transportation to Palestine.[ citation needed ] The United Kingdom declined to send a ship, while Turkey refused to allow them to travel overland.[ citation needed ] According to some researchers, a total of 9 passengers disembarked while the remaining 782 and 10 crew stayed on the ship. [1] Others believe that there had only been 782 passengers initially, only Madeea Solomonovici being allowed to leave the ship. [16]

Towing to sea and sinking

Map of the Bosphorus strait showing where Struma anchored in quarantine in Istanbul harbour (1), and where she was torpedoed and sank in the Black Sea (2) Struma-map.jpg
Map of the Bosphorus strait showing where Struma anchored in quarantine in Istanbul harbour (1), and where she was torpedoed and sank in the Black Sea (2)

Negotiations between Turkey and Britain seemed to reach an impasse. On 23 February 1942 a small party of Turkish police tried to board the ship but the refugees would not let them aboard. [14] Then a larger force of about 80 police came, surrounded Struma with motor boats, and after about half an hour of resistance got aboard the ship. [14] The police detached Struma's anchor and attached her to a tug, which towed her through the Bosphorus and out into the Black Sea. [14] [17] As she was towed along the Bosphorus, many passengers hung signs over the sides that read "SAVE US" in English and Hebrew, visible to those who lived on the banks of the strait. [18] [ page needed ] Despite weeks of work by Turkish engineers, the engine would not start. The Turkish authorities abandoned the ship in the Black Sea, about 10 miles north of the Bosphorus, where she drifted helplessly. [14] [18] [ page needed ]


On the morning of 24 February there was a huge explosion and the ship sank. Many years later it was revealed that the ship had been torpedoed by the Shchuka-class Soviet submarine Shch-213, that had also sunk the Turkish vessel Çankaya the evening before. [19] [20]

Struma sank quickly and many people were trapped below decks and drowned. [21] Many others aboard survived the sinking and clung to pieces of wreckage, but for hours no rescue came and all but one of them died from drowning or hypothermia. [14] [21] Of the estimated 791 people killed, more than 100 were children. [22] 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. [23] [21] The First Officer died overnight but Turks in a rowing boat rescued Stoliar the next day. [21] He was the only survivor. Turkey held Stoliar in custody for many weeks. Simon Brod (1893-1962), a Jewish businessman from Istanbul, who during World War II helped to rescue an untold number of Jewish refugees who reached Turkey, arranged for Stoliar's meals during his two-month incarceration. Upon his release, Brod brought Stoliar home. He provided him with clothes and a suitcase, and a train ticket to Allepo USHMM after Britain gave him papers to go to Palestine. [24]

Aftermath

On 9 June 1942, Lord Wedgwood opened the debate in the British House of Lords by alleging that Britain had reneged on its commitments and urging that the League of Nations mandate over Palestine be transferred to the USA. He stated with bitterness: "I hope yet to live to see those who sent the Struma cargo back to the Nazis hung as high as Haman cheek by jowl with their prototype and Führer, Adolf Hitler". [25] Anglo-Jewish poet Emanuel Litvinoff, serving in the British army at the time, wrote a scathing poem, mourning the loss and betrayal of Struma. Having volunteered in the British army to fight the Nazis, he now called the British khaki he wore a "badge of shame." [26]

For many years there were competing theories about the explosion that sank Struma. In 1964 a German historian discovered that Shch-213 [27] had fired a torpedo that sank the ship. [28] Later this was confirmed from several other Soviet sources. [29] The submarine had been acting under secret orders to sink all neutral and enemy shipping entering the Black Sea to reduce the flow of strategic materials to Nazi Germany. [30]

Frantz and Collins call Struma's sinking the "largest naval civilian disaster of the war". [31] Greater numbers of civilians perished in other maritime disasters of the war, including Wilhelm Gustloff , Cap Arcona and Junyō Maru , but there were also military personnel aboard those ships at the time.

Israeli politics still refers to the Struma disaster. On 26 January 2005 Israel's then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told the Knesset:

The leadership of the British Mandate displayed... obtuseness and insensitivity by locking the gates to Israel to Jewish refugees who sought a haven in the Land of Israel. Thus were rejected the requests of the 769 [sic] passengers of the ship Struma who escaped from Europe – and all but one [of the passengers] found their death at sea. Throughout the war, nothing was done to stop the annihilation [of the Jewish people]. [32]

Wrecks

Struma

In July 2000 a Turkish diving team found a wreck on the sea floor in about the right place and announced that it had found Struma. A team led by a British technical diver and a grandson of one of the victims, Greg Buxton, later studied this and several other wrecks in the area but could not positively identify any as Struma; the wreck found by the Turks was far too large. [33]

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, British and American delegates, but David Stoliar chose to not attend for family reasons. [34]

Soviet Shch-213 submarine

In November 2008 a team of Dutch, German and Romanian divers of the Black Sea Wreck Diving Club discovered the wreck of Shch-213 off the coast of Constanţa in Romania. Since the registration markings that could help identify the wreck were missing due to damage to the submarine, it took divers until 2010 to identify her as Shch-213. [35]

See also

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References

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  3. "Day 834 December 12, 1941". World War II Day-by-Day. 11 December 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
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  10. 1 2 3 Frantz & Collins 2003 [ page needed ]
  11. Frantz & Collins 2003, pp. 295–335.
  12. "The Struma: The Boat That Never Made It". 20th Century History. About.com. 2013.
  13. 1 2 3 Druks 2000, p. 74.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Druks 2000, p. 75.
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  18. 1 2 Frantz & Collins 2003.
  19. Helgason, Guðmundur (1995–2010). "Shch-213". Uboat. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
  20. Rohwer, Jürgen (1997). Allied submarine attacks of World War Two: European theatre of operations, 1939–1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 107.
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  22. Frantz & Collins 2003, Back cover.
  23. Frantz & Collins 2003, pp. 196–197.
  24. Frantz & Collins 2003, p. xii.
  25. Sicker, Martin (2000). Pangs of the Messiah : The Troubled Birth of the Jewish State. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 161.
  26. Laity, Paul (9 August 2008). "Identity in the East End". The Guardian .
  27. "USSR Shch-213". uboat.net. Retrieved 14 September 2010.
  28. Rohwer, Jürgen (1964). Die Versenkung der Judischen Flüchtlingstransporter Struma und Mefkura im Schwartzen Meer February 1942 – August 1944. Frankfurt am Main: Bernard Graefe Verlag für Wehrwesen.[ page needed ] Cited in Frantz and Collins, p. 253, and Ofer, 1990, p. 358
  29. Frantz & Collins 2003, pp. 252–254.
  30. Frantz & Collins 2003, p. 254.
  31. Frantz & Collins 2003, p. 255.
  32. Sharon, Ariel (26 January 2005). "PM Sharon's Speech at Special Knesset Session Marking the Struggle Against Anti-Semitism". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs . Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  33. "The Struma Project". Nesia Ltd. 2000. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007.CS1 maint: Unfit url (link)
  34. Frantz & Collins 2003, pp. 281–291.
  35. "Divers discover Russian submarine" (in Dutch). 13 September 2010.

Sources and further reading