Oregon Man, 90, Recounts His WWII Tale of Survival

He was sole survivor when Jewish refugee ship carrying 786 was torpedoed

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted May 25, 2013 8:34 AM CDT

(Newser) – Oregon's David Stoliar rarely talks about his ordeal in World War II, and the 90-year-old native of Romania says his recent interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel is the last time he will discuss it, period. It's tough to blame him. Stoliar was the lone survivor when a Jewish refugee ship bound from Romania to British-run Palestine got torpedoed by a Soviet sub in the Black Sea in February 1942. Of the 786 on board the Struma, only about 100 survived the initial explosion—and one by one they lost their grip on the wreckage and went under. When his last shipmate died, Stoliar says he gave up hope and tried to cut his own wrists with a pocket knife, but it didn't take. "My hands were too swollen from the frost."

After more than 24 hours, a coast guard ship from Turkey (which had previously set the helpless boat adrift at sea after it had broken down) picked him up and brought him to a military hospital. Stoliar then got sent to jail for 71 days for being in the country illegally before Britain stepped in and allowed him to travel to Palestine. The full interview recounts how the refugees had been the helpless pawns of world powers who wanted nothing to do with them, but Stoliar's personal and little-told tale is at the center of it. He never once told his first wife, now deceased, what happened to him. And now he vows never to speak of it again. "Not a good memory," he says. "I just want to finish my life in peace." Click for the full story.

A honor guard soldier stands during a ceremony  at a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest, Romania, in 2012. The monument bears the names of those killed on the Struma.
A honor guard soldier stands during a ceremony at a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest, Romania, in 2012. The monument bears the names of those killed on the Struma.   (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
A file image of the Struma.
A file image of the Struma.   (Wikimedia Commons)
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