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Yom HaShoah and One Survivor

Two years ago David Stoliar died at the age of 91. Many people only learned of his story this past January when The New York Times reported his death. He spent most of his years in Bend, Oregon and the local paper there offered a brief obituary when he died in May 2014. Following World War II it was in Bend where he settled and raised a family.

And who was David Stoliar?

He was the sole survivor of the sinking of the Struma.

In 1942, the Struma set sail from Romania’s port city of Constantza, packed with nearly 800 Jewish refugees. These refugees had made their way from Romania, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Hungary. Adrift in the Black Sea, the Struma was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine.

The Struma set sail from its port with meager provisions. Each of its passengers paid smugglers up to $1000 for passage to Palestine. The British authorities refused entry to the Jewish refugees. Palestine’s gates were closed. The Struma then set sail for Turkey where it was quarantined for 70 days. Finally the Turkish authorities towed the ship out to sea where the Soviets, mistaking it for an enemy supply ship, torpedoed it.

David Stoliar reports that he was one of the lucky ones. The explosion threw him into the air and he landed in the water. Hours later he contemplated suicide and took out a knife to cut his wrists, but his fingers were so numb from the frigid waters that he could not even open his pocketknife. Finally, 24 hours later, he was rescued by Turkish sailors. Eventually, he was hospitalized in Istanbul.

After recovering, he was jailed for six weeks.

David commented: “I was the only witness to their inhumanity, really, from the beginning to the end.”

The world turned an indifferent eye to the suffering of Europe’s Jews. Nearly 800 refugees drowned. The number of Struma’s dead is still disputed. Everyone agrees: only one survived.

And this story is but one story among millions.

Recall a story from yesterday. Remember the story continues in our day.

May the memory of David Stoliar serve as witness and reminder.

May today's Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, renew our call to bring a measure of peace to our broken world.