Sole Survivor of Forgotten WWII Disaster Has Died

David Stoliar survived the worst civilian maritime disaster of WWII
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 25, 2016 9:07 AM CST
Sole Survivor of Forgotten WWII Disaster Has Died
This memorial to the Struma victims stands at Ashdod, Israel.   (Wikimedia Commons)

"For 58 years, no one asked me about the Struma," David Stoliar told the New York Times in 2000, "and I felt that no one cared." But experiencing the worst civilian maritime disaster of WWII never left him: "I carried the memories in my head as if it happened yesterday." The Times on Saturday published an obituary for Stoliar, who died May 1, 2014, at his home in Bend, Ore. The Times had prepared an obituary, but it just learned of Stoliar's death on Friday. On Dec. 11, 1941, Stoliar, then 19, was aboard the Struma as it left the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanza, bound for British-controlled Palestine, with more than 790 Jews fleeing persecution. The 150-foot steamer was "a squalid, leaky former cattle boat," the Times writes. The engines failed. They were repaired, then failed again. Turkish tugs towed the Struma into the Bosporus, the strait dividing Europe and Asia.

The Struma was interned offshore for more than two months as Turkish officials, worried about angering the British or the Germans, decided what to do. Ultimately, the Turks towed the boat back out to the Black Sea and set it adrift. The next day, a Soviet sub torpedoed the helpless vessel. Stoliar was the lone survivor, clinging to debris in frigid waters for 24 hours before being rescued by a Turkish ship. The ordeal continued: After being hospitalized with frostbite, Stoliar spent six weeks in a Turkish prison. Stoliar finally reached Palestine. He fought in the British Army in Egypt and Libya, then with the Israeli army in the War of Independence. He was an oil executive in the 1950s, and later, per the Oregonian, he and his wife, Marda Stoliar, created a successful shoe-manufacturing business. "He went on to have an amazing life," she tells the paper. Read Stoliar's fascinating story here. (More Struma stories.)

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