The Romanian port of Constanta, on the Black Sea, was a major embarkation point for Jews attempting to leave Europe for Palestine. Thousands of Jews, desperate to escape the Germans, took the route by boat from Constanta via Turkey to Palestine, despite British immigration restrictions.
In December 1941, in Constanta, 767 Jews boarded a boat named the Struma. They planned to travel to Istanbul in Turkey, apply for visas to Palestine, and then sail to Palestine. The Struma was unsafe and overcrowded, and lacked adequate sanitary facilities. Despite engine problems, it reached Istanbul on December 16, 1941. There, the passengers were informed they would not get visas to enter Palestine and, furthermore, would not be permitted entry into Turkey.
The boat was kept in quarantine in Istanbul's harbor for more than two months. Turkish authorities denied the passengers permission to land without British agreement to their continued journey to Palestine. On February 23, 1942, the Turkish police towed the boat out to sea and abandoned it. The next day, on February 24, the boat sank. Although the cause of the sinking is not definitively known, it is assumed that it was mistakenly torpedoed by a Soviet submarine. Only one passenger, David Stoliar, survived. The sinking of the Struma led to widespread international protest against Britain's policy on immigration into Palestine.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What pressures and motivations spurred escaping Jews to take the risk of embarking on the Struma?
- What pressures and motivations might have affected the decisions of local and police officials to help or hinder the voyage of the Struma?