Members of Turkey’s Jewish community and local authorities held an event in Istanbul commemorating the 79th anniversary of the 1942 Struma disaster in which 768 Jews, including 103 children, died.
The gathering was organized near the spot where the eponymous ship carrying Jewish passengers was sunk by a Soviet submarine, marking a tragic chapter in the plight of Jews during World War II.
Chief Rabbi Izak Haleva, Deputy Governor of Istanbul Özlem Bozkurt Gevrek and members of the Turkish Jewish community participated in the event. They also left a wreath in memory of those that died during the incident.
Speaking at the event, Haleva said that Turkey welcomed persecuted people and that Jewish people have peacefully coexisted in the country since Ottoman times.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hami Aksoy said in a statement that Turkey remembers with respect those who lost their lives in the tragedy.
On December 12, 1941, 769 Jews boarded the Struma in the Romanian port of Constanta. They had been witness to the massacre of Jews in Bessarabia and Bukovina, and were desperately trying to escape Europe.
The Struma’s first stop was to be Istanbul, despite the fact that the passengers had no visas for Turkey. The boat was hardly seaworthy, and barely reached Istanbul.
When it finally arrived, the passengers were not allowed to disembark. For ten weeks, they were restricted to the boat, and not allowed to be transferred to a transit camp on land. In addition, nothing could convince the British authorities to admit the refugees into Mandatory Palestine, because they did not want to set a precedent for similar escapes.
On February 23, 1942 the Turkish authorities towed the old ship to the open sea, without fuel, food, or water. Within hours, the ship was torpedoed, most probably by a Soviet submarine that mistook it for an enemy German ship. All but one refugee drowned.