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A People without a Land | Milestones Israel

At the end of 1941, David Stoliar was not yet 20 years old. He was one of 769 Jews lucky enough to board an old river boat, the Struma. This boat was built in 1833, originally designed to carry 100 passengers.

Struma is:

  • A river that runs through Bulgaria and Romania
  • A famous city square in the Israeli city of Holon
  • The name of a ship
  • A Tragedy of a nation without a land

David, along with the other 768 Jewish passengers barely managed to escape their homes during history’s most tumultuous period. In the winter of 1941, Romania joined the Axis states and became allies with Nazi Germany.

Great Britain announced that all Romanian citizens were considered enemies, including the passengers on board the Struma. They were suspected of being German spies. This fact, however fabricated, prevented the refugees from reaching safety in Palestine. That’s right, the British were afraid that this overcrowded boat of Jewish refugees were spies for Hitler.

After 4 days at sea, David recognized that the Struma was anchored in a Turkish port. ‘Thank goodness’, he thought to himself. They were safely in Turkey, a neutral country. In a few hours, he thought he would be strolling the colorful Turkish markets. But neither David, nor any of the other passengers, were allowed to step ashore.

For 10 weeks, 70 days, there was not a single country that would accept these refugees. Every morning, David awoke with hope and every night he went to sleep in despair. On the morning of February 23, 1942, at last, the ship began to move. They were finally on the way to their new home. Maybe Israel? America? Perhaps Argentina?

To everyones enormous disappointment, the Turkish were no longer willing to have the Struma sit in their port. The boat was towed 3 miles out to sea and abandoned. With a broken engine, 769 refugees were left at sea, sick and weak, left to g-d’s mercy.

February 24, 1942, 70 years ago this week, a Russian submarine identified the Struma as an enemy boat and fired a torpedo. David Stoliar was the only survivor.

Struma is a name that has been a part of my family for 20 years. It was then that my brother, Amir, located Mr. David Stoliar and brought him to Israel to document his remarkable story. My brother is a very talented film maker. When he first heard of the only remaining survivor, Amir knew that David’s story had to be documented for history.

Amir made every effort to bring David to Israel and filmed his story. One of the most moving scenes is when David recognizes his  fiancé’s face in a photo in Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem.

I remember David joining us for Shabbat dinner at my parents home. He was a large man, quiet with a gentle soul. The story of Struma become my brother’s crusade. He wrote hundreds of letters and met anyone he thought could help him make this movie a reality, forever documenting the powerful memory of a people without a land of their own.

In October 2012, David Stoliar will turn 90 years old. He and Amir have stayed in touch.

I don’t usually use my blog for this purpose but this story is too important. It is time to finish this film, to share David’s story with the world. If anyone knows of someone that would be interested in sponsoring this film, please let us know before this piece of history is forgotten.

If you or anyone you know can help us bring this story to light, please contact my brother, Amir, directly at amirstras@gmail.com

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