David Stoliar, sole survivor of bombed ship fleeing Holocaust, is remembered

by | Feb 5, 2016 | Obituaries

David Stoliar, the only survivor of the Struma, an ill-fated ship that was carrying 800 Jews fleeing the Holocaust in Romania, died in 2014, but his death was not widely or nationally reported.

The New York Times reported last month that Stoliar’s death in 2014 received little attention outside of Oregon, where he lived. The Times had an obituary prepared before his death and published it on Sunday, Jan. 24.

Stoliar died on May 1, 2014, at his longtime residence in Bend, Oregon. He was 91.

He almost never spoke about the Struma incident, the Oregonian reported in its obituary from the time of his death. The Struma was barred from entering then-Palestine, held in Turkey for several months, then set adrift without power and torpedoed by a Soviet submarine in the Black Sea in 1942.

Stoliar eventually made it to Palestine and served as a member of the British Army’s Jewish Brigade in 1943, serving in Egypt and Libya. He also fought for Israel in the 1948 War of Independence.

Stoliar worked in the oil industry, serving as an executive in Japan for 18 years, and later in shoe manufacturing. He moved to Oregon in 1971.

He was born in 1922, in Chisinau, Romania. His father bought him a ticket on the Struma, an old cattle boat that had engine trouble. It sailed in December 1941 from a port on the Black Sea with nearly 800 Romanian, Bulgarian and Russian Jews, and very little food or water.

The engines on the boat failed near Turkey, which towed it to port, where it remained while Turkish officials debated its fate. Britain would not allow the passengers to enter Palestine. Ultimately the boat was towed back to the Black Sea and left to drift aimlessly. It was fired on by a Soviet sub with orders to sink all ships in the Black Sea to prevent supplies from reaching Germany. The torpedo blew apart the ship, leading to the death of everyone on the ship except Stoliar.

The loss of the Struma and Stoliar’s survival were largely unknown until Stoliar told his story to New York Times reporter Douglas Frantz in 2000. The story was recounted in the 2003 book Death on the Black Sea.