A Struma memorial in Ashdod.
(photo credit: AVISHAI TEICHER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
For the first time, the Turkish government hosted a commemoration event for 768 Jews killed on the Struma refugee ship, which was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine in 1942 after Turkish authorities cast it adrift 15 km. off Istanbul.
Culture Minister Omer Celik represented the government at the ceremony held off the coast of Istanbul’s Sarayburnu district, where the Struma was anchored before it was led out and abandoned at sea, the Istanbul-based Daily Sabah reported on Wednesday.
“I extend condolences to Turkey’s Jewish community on behalf of the government, but this does not mean that the Jewish community is an entity separate from Turkey,” Celik said at the event.
“This is our shared pain,” he said. “This event, organized by the state for the first time, is a way to remember this pain that is a part of our history. We will continue marking this day in the coming years as well so that the history will not repeat itself and no Jews, Muslims or Christians will suffer from such a tragedy.
“We all pray to the same God, and today Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia threaten humanity more than ever,” Celik continued.
The Struma, chartered by the Revisionist Movement’s New Zionist Organization and the Betar Zionist youth movement, left Romania in December 1941 with 769 Jewish “illegal immigrant” passengers on its way to pre-state Israel, according to Yad Vashem’s website.
The vessel arrived in Istanbul, towed there as its engine had failed, but the Turkish government refused to allow the refugees in because they did not want to become a haven for Jews as it saw the British as not allowing them to continue on to Israel.
Turkish authorities towed the Struma out into the Black Sea without fuel or food and after a few hours the ship was accidentally torpedoed by a Soviet submarine and sank, killing all but one of the passengers, David Stoliar, 19.
Moris Levi, the acting leader of Turkey’s Jewish community, spoke at Wednesday’s event and said that the Struma was “an unwanted ship” for Turkey, Britain, Russia, Romania and “probably the whole of Europe.”
“Today, we commemorate the victims aboard that ship who were killed by hatred and isolation. There is no one to blame for the disaster, because everyone held responsibility,” said Levi.
Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva said the kaddish mourners prayer at the ceremony.