The Jewish community of Istanbul was joined by Turkish officials to mark the anniversary of one of the biggest disasters Jews who fled the Holocaust faced during World War II.
At a ceremony attended by Chief Rabbi İsak Haleva, mourners remembered the 768 victims of the Struma, the vessel that sank while anchored off the Turkish coast. Wreaths were thrown at sea near the spot where the Struma sank with its passengers.
The Struma was torpedoed in an attack on Feb. 24, 1942 by a Soviet submarine, allegedly by mistake. Its sinking remains a dark chapter in the Turkish experience of World War II. At the height of the war, in which Turkey tried to pursue a neutral policy, the ship had left Constanta, Romania, in December 1941 with its Jewish passengers fleeing the Nazis. The ultimate destination of the journey, which was organized by Jewish organizations across the globe, was then-British-ruled Palestine. The passengers hoped that Turkey would grant them access to the Bosporus for travel to Palestine, but Ankara refused, allegedly following pressure from Britain, which sought to restrict the number of migrants to Palestine. For days, the ship remained anchored off the Istanbul coast, and after diseases broke out, it was held in quarantine. On Feb. 23, 1942, it was towed out to sea by Turkish security forces, and the next day, it was torpedoed. Only a 20-year-old man among the migrants survived the attack, and in a twist of fate, he would be the only one to be granted a visa for Palestine by the British a few months later.
Speaking on behalf of the Jewish community, Karel Valansi, a prominent columnist and adviser to a Jewish foundation in Istanbul, said Jews in Germany had few options other than fleeing or awaiting death during World War II. She added that the only way out for them at a time when no country would take Jews was Palestine. Many countries had responsibility in this incident," Valansi said. "But we gathered here today not to find a culprit but to learn lessons from this disaster so that it won't be repeated. This is how our children can inherit a safer world," she said.