Lone Survivor of 'Struma' Disaster Dies in U.S.

David Stoliar, 91, was only one of 769 Jewish refugees to survive Soviet torpedoing of Jewish immigrant ship in Black Sea.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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David Stoliar, lone survivor of the 1942 sinking of the 'Struma.'
David Stoliar, lone survivor of the 1942 sinking of the 'Struma.'Credit: Alon Ron
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

David Stoliar, the lone survivor of the 1942 sinking of the Jewish immigrant ship "Struma," has died at age 91.

Stoliar was the only one of 769 Jewish refugees who were killed along 10 crew members who were en route from Romania to Palestine. A Soviet submarine torpedoed the ship in the Black Sea, and it sank on February 24, 1942.
Stoliar died last week in Oregon, where he had lived for the last 42 years. He is survived by a son and granddaughter.

For a 2012 reading at Holon Theater marking the 70th anniversary of the disaster, Stoliar recorded his life story. "Early in the morning, a Soviet submarine fired a torpedo at us. The ship vaporized around me, some 500 passengers were killed immediately. I was thrown into the sea along with several hundred others ... no one came to our aid. Everyone died, everyone, except for me," he said.

Stoliar was 19 at the time. His parents had divorced when he was a child. His mother lived in Paris and his father in Romania. "She loved me so much and that is why she sent me to Bucharest to live with my father, because she thought it would be safer there. She was right," he said. A few months later his mother was arrested and handed over to the Gestapo. Later on she was murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

After the Struma went down, a Turkish fishing boat pulled him out of the water and brought him to shore. With the help of the local Jewish community in Istanbul he got transit papers and crossed the border into Lebanon, from where he made his way to Haifa.

A year later Stoliar enlisted in the British Army and saw action in North Africa. In 1945 he got married at a synagogue in Cairo. Upon his release from the British Army, he and his wife returned to Israel, and he joined the Israel Defense Forces. In the War of Independence he fought as a machine gunner in the north.

After his wife's death, he remarried, to an American woman, and moved at the end of the 1970s to the United States, settling in Bend, Oregon.

"Here in America, the Struma is another footnote to history," Stoliar said. However, he aded, "My time of rage has passed. Like it is written, 'to everything there is a season.' For me, now it is time to mourn, to heal, to embrace, and to convey my memories to the next generation so they will remember and not forget."

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