Oral History

David Stoliar describes holding onto a piece of wreckage from the deck of the torpedoed Struma

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.


I saw a piece of deck that had bars and it was quite, you couldn't see the, what, what was there, but people were holding on these bars, and as people left, died or frozen, this piece of deck was getting up and up, and eventually you could see that there was a piece of, oh, I would say about, let's say, five meters by six meters, something, of this sort. [Interviewer] Of wood? [David] Of wood, the piece of, so the deck was quite thick and, uh, so I was also holding on one of these bars. [Interviewer] You were in the water? [David] In the water. So by just flipping over, I was now on top of the deck, and as people were drowning, naturally the deck was getting lighter and going towards the surface, so eventually I was on this deck, oh, with about, let's say, about a foot of water above. I was still all that time in water, but at least I did not have any more the necessity of swimming.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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