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The Mystery Surrounding the Struma

The Romanian Jewish refugees that managed to flee the bitter fate of their brethrens lined the railings of the dirty ship, gazing longingly at the land only a few feet away. They inhaled the foul odours of Istanbul's waterfront hungrily inhaling the smells of the different food from the warehouses stretched along the shores. For two months they had been prevented from disembarking, living in squalor and filth, hunger and dirt. They had hardly enough fresh drinking water, no toilets, disease was rampant and the only food came from Istanbul Jewish community. Safety was a hand stretch away. From where they came was certain death. They stood on the deck of the ship whose engine had broken down, waiting for a decision: "Who was going to make it run again?"

The Struma left Constanta, Romania on December 11, 1941, with 779 Jews (including a few crew members) fleeing persecution and headed for British Mandated Palestine. The vessel was overcrowded and the people packed like sardines. The ordeal would take more than two months and the ship would never reach its destination.

Turkey wanted to remain neutral in the war raging in Europe. On February 24, 1942, after two months of indecision, the Turks towed the disable Struma out into the Black Sea, where it floated aimlessly. The British, not wanting to antagonize the Arabs, had pressured the Turkish government to refuse admittance. "We had a clear policy of restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine," said David Logan, the British ambassador to Turkey. "In retrospect, we could obviously adopted a more humane attitude." Huge sheets with pleas, "Save Us," were hung on the ship's sides. Twelve hours later, a submarine fired a single torpedo and sunk the ship. The sea was full with the dead and the dying; one hundred were children.

There was only one survivor.

For sixty years, the 'Jewish Titanic' lay on the bottom of the Black Sea shrouded in mystery. Who sank the Struma? Was it the Germans, the Turks, the British or the Russians?

Simcha Jacobovic, the Emmy award winning director, investigative documentary filmmaker (Quest for the Lost Tribes, 1998 and many others) has solved the mystery. Jacobovici reveals what he had uncovered by recounting the historic dramatic events, as told by the sole survivor, David Stoliar. He then brings us to the present day, where an underwater search for the ship started, spearheaded by Greg Buxton, a grandson of a married couple who was among the Struma victims, and concludes with his co-producer, Felix Golubev's investigation to attribute the blame for this tragic event.

The investigation reveals, among other details, M16 was involved in sabotage efforts against Jewish refugee boats, and that Russian dictator, Stalin, was conducting a secret war against neutral shipping in the black Sea. Why did the Struma's engine fail? Why was it never fixed? Why did Turkey tow the boat out at the very moment that Great Britain had agreed to accept 50 children? Who torpedoed the ship? And why?

These are some of the questions that Simcha Jacobovici wanted answered. Part investigation, part quest, this 94-minutes film, backed by a compelling musical score by Klezmerite David Wall, is a shocking and poignant remarkable human drama that combines underwater imagery with rare historical footage to tell a story that has never been told.


New Generation: 2001