Oral History

David Stoliar describes conditions on board the Struma during the journey to Istanbul

In 1936, David moved to Bucharest to live with his father. As Romania came under German influence, Romanian authorities introduced increasingly harsh measures against Jews. Antisemitic agitation increased and Jews came under attack in the streets of Bucharest and in other public places. David's father decided David should leave the country and arranged passage for him to Palestine. In December 1941, David left Romania from Constanta, a port city on the Black Sea, on the Struma, an old cattle boat. The boat had engine trouble and reached Istanbul, Turkey, its first stop on the way to Palestine, only with great difficulty. Turkish authorities did not permit the passengers to disembark while negotiations about their onward voyage took place. They ultimately refused transit for the passengers and towed the Struma, neither provisioned nor seaworthy, back into the Black Sea. Within hours, a Soviet submarine patrolling for Axis shipping mistakenly torpedoed the Struma. Out of 769 Jewish passengers, David was the sole survivor.


During the journey to Istanbul, first of all we could hardly move because we were told that, you know, because of so many people, if there are too many of us on the deck on one side, the, the vessel can be in danger. So, first of all, they wanted us to move as little as possible and also, once we are on a deck for a few hours, also to try to keep the vessel in balance by not going too much on one side or the other. So we were directed, some people on the left side, some people on the right side, then go slowly. In other words, there was a possibility that the vessel may get out of balance if, if we move too much. So the conditions were such that you just stayed in your bunker as much as you can, without, without moving. So there was no way of getting cleaned up or, or even, even, you barely managed to, to drink water, never mind about washing or something like that. And as the time went by, it was getting naturally worse and worse and worse.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
View Archival Details

This content is available in the following languages

Thank you for supporting our work

We would like to thank Crown Family Philanthropies and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors.