Oral History

David Stoliar describes engine troubles experienced by the Struma upon leaving Constanta, Romania

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.

Transcript

We left Constanta at night. We were pulled out of the port by a tug, a Romanian tug, and once they took us out into the sea, they disconnected and they left. Then, we tried to work the engines. We had a very, very hard time to make the engine work. It pop pop, and then stopped again. Anyway, I think it took us practically all night and the engine still didn't, didn't start. Then I understand that we had start sending SOSs because the vessel was floating into the sea, but it was not moving anywhere. The captain send SOSs and eventually...now the, now the next day, the same tug...tugboat that took us, pulled us out, came back. It came back and we requested that they, if they could repair so that the engine can start. They tried and tried but they told us that it would cost us money. So we explained that we are left with no funds at all because the, the Custom took away everything we had. So then they requested that we, everybody that has a wedding ring, which we, miraculously we were allowed to keep. I didn't had one, but in any case, many, many, many people had. So we collected all the wedding rings from the people and we gave them to the crew of that tugboat. Then they went into the engine and they start playing around with the engine and they said, they...two conditions. If we give them enough money, they may be able to pull us all the way into the Turkish waters, which would take us about a day or so. But if we don't have enough money, then they said okay, we'll try to repair the engine and if the engine works, we are going to be with you, floating next to the vessel into the international water, close to the Turkey, Turkish waters and then we will leave you there. So finally the engine start working and we start sailing towards Turkey and the tugboat was going next to us, and then it went away.


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  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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