Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How Britain's 1939 White Paper Caused 769 Romanian Jews to Drown on Struma

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                    

Jews were lucky if they were on the last ship out of Germany in 1939 which my uncle had boarded.  The Nazis were taking over Europe.  It was on February 24, 1942 when the ship, Struma was sunk in the Black Sea by the Soviet Navy's torpedoes.   It had been carrying 769-781 Jewish passengers who were refugees from Romania, a country that had been taken over by Germany. The ship had been procured through the Irgun,  the Jewish Underground in Palestine,  and left Romania on December 12, 1941, the last ship to leave Europe.   They were headed for Palestine, a country that was designated in 1917 to be the Jewish National Home.  Britain had been given the Mandate to carry this out and allow Jews to enter.  However, they were going along with the head Arab, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who was connected to the Nazis,  and had issued their White Paper which kept Jews out of Palestine.

The Jews had to pay a very large fee to board the ship.  This had been happening all over Germany to Jews trying to get out.  Money had become everything as the ticket to escape.  If you didn't have enough, you were stuck.  The Jews in this case were told they would be sailing on a renovated boat with a short stop in Istanbul, Turkey to collect their Palestinian immigration visas.  The Romanian government of Ion Antonescu had approved the voyage.

Each person was allowed to take 44 lbs of luggage with him.  The Romanian customs officers took many of their valuables and other possessions, even food that they had brought with them.  They weren't allowed to see the ship before the day of the voyage and when they finally did, saw that she was a wreck with only 2 lifeboats. it had turned out to be a very old 180-ton cattle boat that was built in 1867.  It had been re-engined with a 2nd hand diesel engine and was only 148.4 feet long.   Below deck, there were dorms with bunks for 40 to 120 people in each.  The berths were bunks where passengers had to sleep 4 abreast with 2 feet width for each person.

When she was still at anchor, British diplomats and the Turkish officials had a discussion about the fate of these passengers as the British considered the ship as illegal.  Britain was determined to go with their White Paper of 1939 to minimize Jewish immigration to Palestine.  Even though the Jews' fate was death in Romania,, the British diplomats urged the Turkish government of Refik Saydam to prevent the Struma from taking this voyage.  Turkey refused to allow the passengers to get off the ship when they docked.  While the Struma was being detained in Istanbul, they ran short of food.  Soup was only cooked twice a week and supper was an orange and some peanuts for each person.  At night each child was given one serving of milk.                                                                      
Weeks went by.  Finally the British agreed to honor the expired Palestinian visas that a few passengers had and they were allowed to continued onto Palestine by overland.  A few others managed to escape from the ship with the help of some friends.  One woman was taken to an Istanbul hospital after miscarrying.  By February 12th, British officials agreed that children age 11 to 16 would be given Palestinian visas, but there was an argument as to how they would get there because the UK wouldn't sent a ship for them and Turkey wouldn't allow them to travel overland.  Everything was at an impasse.

On the 23rd of February 1942, a small party of the Turkish police tried to board the ship but the refugees wouldn't let them aboard.  That brought out a force of 80 policemen who surrounded Struma with motor boats and finally boarded the ship after 1/2 hour.  The police detached Struma's anchor and attached her to a tug which towed her out into the Black Sea.  The Jewish refugees hung signs overboard that said, "SAVE US." in English and in Hebrew.  The engine wouldn't start and the Turks abandoned the ship in the Black Sea 10 miles north of the Bosphorus, where she drifted helplessly.
Along came a submarine and torpedoed this unprotected enemy vessel.  There was a loud explosion and it sunk.  The sub was the Soviet submarine Skheh-213 that had sunk the Turkish vessel Cankaya the evening before.  The Struma sank quickly and many people were trapped below decks and drowned.  Others aboard survived the sinking and clung to pieces of the wreckage, but for hours no rescue came and all but one died from drowning or hypothermia.  More than 100 were children.  Struma's First Officer,  Lazar Dikof , and a 19 year old refugee, David Stoliar, clung to a cabin door that was floating in the sea.  The Officer died but Turks in a rowboat rescued Stoliar and next day.  He was the only survivor.  Turkey held him in custody for many weeks but released him after Britain gave him papers to go to Palestine.

The Jewish Underground in Palestine were so upset by this murder of so many that they put up wanted posters throughout Palestine accusing Sir Harold MacMichael of the murder.  On June 9th, 1942, Lord Wedgwood opened the debate and urged that  the mandate be turned over  to the USA.  He said, "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 Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler." A Jewish poet and British soldier, Emanuel Litvinoff, wrote a poem mourning the loss and betrayal of the Struma.  He had volunteered in the British army to fight Nazis but now called the British khaki he wore his "badge of shame."

The Brits displayed obtuseness and insensitivity by locking the gates to Israel to Jewish refugees who needed a haven in the Land of Israel that was due to them.  Throughout the war, nothing was done to stop the annihilation of the Jewish people.

Have the Brits changed their attitude towards the Jews?  The latest news I have seen is that one of their clerks at the airlines refused a gentile man a ticket to Britain because his passport showed he had lived in Israel for a period of time while going to school.  The same attitude is alive and well with  people in Britain.

The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia refused entry to Britain because of passport with Israel on it.  

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