Never forget: Our relatives who died in the Holocaust
Treachery in the Black Sea
Romania, the homeland of the Landman and Juster families, had a fascist government in World War II in which the Iron Guard, a Romanian version of the Nazis, organized pogroms throughout the country.
More than 700 Jews, including six relatives of Libbie Landman Levin and Marie Landman Bernstein, fled the anti-Semitic racial laws, labor camps, atrocities and pogroms of Romania on Dec. 12, 1941, aboard an overcrowded, unseaworthy ship with an undependable engine supposedly destined for British-mandate Palestine. But obstructionist diplomatic policies of Britain and Turkey resulted in nearly all aboard the Struma perishing when it was sunk in the Black Sea by a torpedo from a Soviet submarine on Feb. 24, 1942.
A special sealed train from Bucharest crowded with people hoping to get on the Struma arrived in the Black Sea port city of Constanta, Romania, on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 12, the ship left Romania, but on the way to Istanbul, Turkey, the engine died two days later. A Turkish boat towed the Struma to Istanbul harbor.
Turkey had managed to remain officially neutral in World War II in order to retain important trading ties with Germany and in hopes of avoiding a German invasion. Meanwhile, the British wanted to block all illegal immigration to Palestine, and both Turkey and the British wanted to maintain good relations with the Arabs. Among the reasons the British gave for opposing any emigrant ships from Romania to Palestine was the fear that their passengers might include Nazi spies.
The Struma needed repairs, and those aboard the ship were not allowed to leave. Conditions got worse as the refugees waited, but the Jewish community of Istanbul organized to feed the Struma passengers. Meanwhile, the British urged Turkey to send them back to Romania.
Shortly after arriving in the harbor, an oil executive and his wife and child were allowed to depart. After nearly two months, five passengers with expired visas to Palestine were allowed to leave and traveled to Palestine via Syria. Another woman who had a miscarriage aboard the Struma was also allowed to depart.
In mid-February, the British agreed to allow children ages 11-16 to leave. But the Turks wouldn't allow the children to go.
Turkish mechanics worked on the engine, but there was no certainty that it would function properly. Nevertheless, on Feb. 23, a Turkish tugboat pulled the Struma into the Black Sea several miles beyond Turkey's national waters.
The following morning, without warning, the Struma was hit by an explosion. Those who survived the blast drowned or died of exposure in the cold water. Only one man survived who was picked up by a passing ship the next day. The dead totaled 768, including 101 children.
For many years there was no explanation for the explosion. At the time it was speculated that the ship may have hit a mine, or that it had been attacked by a German, Romanian, Bulgarian or Russian submarine.
It wasn't learned until after the fall of the Soviet Union that Stalin secretly had ordered his navy to destroy any ships entering the Black Sea from Turkey. Stalin considered ships leaving Turkey to be fair game for attack because of the likelihood that they were aiding the German war effort.
The dead included these Landman family members: Carolina (Carola) Rappaport Simon (age 30) and her husband, Iosef (Ficu Strulovici) Simon (30); Heinrich (Harry) Landmann (33); Villy (Willi) Landmann (39) and his wife, Louise (Lisa) Herscovici Landmann (36), and their son, Jose (Iosel) Landmann (10). Heinrich and Villy were brothers who were first cousins to Carolina.
Carolina, Heinrich and Villy were also first cousins to Libbie Landman Levin and Marie Landman Bernstein.
In 1999, Carolina, Heinrich and Villy's niece Daisy Landmann of B'nei Braq, Israel, filled out pages of testimony for Villy, Louise and Jose Landmann. By obtaining copies of these pages of testimony, we were able to learn of Daisy's existence and to establish contact with her. Later, we obtained a copy of a page of testimony on Heinrich that had been filled out in 1955 by an acquaintance of his named Max Ludovic.
Daisy Landmann later recalled that after the rise of Hitler in Germany, her uncle Villy and his wife, Lisa, had traveled in 1936 to Egypt and Palestine to inquire about aliyah to the Holy Land and deposited £15,000 in an account in the Bank of Palestine. It had been just bad luck that they ended up taking the ill-fated Struma. (Villy's bank account still exists in an Israeli bank, but the amount that remains is uncertain, as is whether Daisy or her relatives have any legal right to it.)
For more information read the book "Death on the Black Sea: The Untold Story of the Struma and World War II's Holocaust at Sea" by Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins or see the Web site http://www.jewishgen.org/romsig/New/Strumah.html. To see the complete list of Struma victims, go to http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/Holocaust/0140_Struma_list.html.