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World War II was already in fever pitch. Against the enormity of the then-unfolding Holocaust, the loss at sea of 768 Jewish lives (103 of them babies and children) was at most blithely overlooked as a marginal annotation.
Moreover, although these Jews fled the Nazis, in the pedantic literal sense they weren’t executed by Third Reich henchmen.
This atrocity was the coldblooded handiwork of Great Britain (committed while it combated the Germans but remarkably without compassion for their Jewish victims), supposedly neutral Turkey (whose so-called nonalignment didn’t extend to outcast Jewish refugees), by the Arabs (who were openly and unreservedly Nazism’s avid collaborators and who pressured London into denying endangered Jews asylum in the Jewish homeland) and, finally, by the Russians (who targeted the immobilized sardine can that carried Jews to whom nobody would allow a toehold on terra firma).
The entire world seemed united in signaling Jews how utterly unwanted they were anywhere.
What sets the Struma apart and imbues it with extraordinary significance is that from December 16, 1941, until the afternoon of February 23, 1942, its ordeal was played out before the entire watching but unfeeling world. No country could deny awareness of the impending calamity and yet all countries let it happen in full view.
The Struma, then a 115-year-old Danube cattle barge, was a pitiful peanut-shell of a boat packed with nearly 800 refugees from Romania. Bound for the Land of Israel, they desperately fled Hitler’s hell and the horrors of Bucharest’s fascist regime. Pogroms and ghastly atrocities had already sullied cities like Iasi, where thousands of Jews were assembled in the market square and mowed down with machine guns. Venerable old rabbis and Jewish community leaders were impaled on meat hooks in town centers.
The Struma wasn’t struck suddenly. It was slowly tortured, accentuating with demonic deliberation how disposable Jews were, just when genocide’s monstrous machinery was switched into high gear. This 75-day shipboard melodrama underscored the total helplessness and humiliation of Jews without power.
...Oblivion is perhaps the greatest sin against the Struma but also against ourselves. If we forget the Struma, we forget why this country exists, why we struggle for its survival. We forget the justice of our cause.
Dimmed memory and self-destructive perverse morality hinder our ability to protect ourselves from the offspring and torchbearers of the very Arabs who doomed the Struma. They haven’t amended their hostile agenda. We just don’t care to be reminded.
The state the Jews created is threatened with destruction and its population with obliteration. Yet there’s negligible sympathy for Israel and even less practical support to avert tragedy. The Struma’s story is seminal in understanding why the Holocaust was possible and why a second Holocaust cannot be ruled out. More than anything, the Struma powerfully illustrates what happens when Jews rely on others’ goodwill.
The New York Times story about the ship being blown up was buried on page 7 on February 25, 1942.