On December 12, 1941, the Struma sailed from Constanza in Rumania with 769 immigrants aboard. The vessel, commissioned by the New Zionist Organization and the Irgun, was the last to leave Europe in wartime. The ship was actually an old cargo barge used to carry cattle along the Danube.
The objective was to anchor in Turkey, and from there to await certificates for Palestine. The small, unseaworthy ship sailed for three days, just making it to Istanbul before the engine died.
The Turkish authorities prevented the disembarkation of the passengers for fear that the British would not give them certificates and Turkey would be forced to give them refuge. The ship remained in Istanbul for 70 days. The British refused to grant permission for them to enter Palestine and the Turks would not let them repair the engine, disembark or remain in Turkey. The only food and water available for the passengers was provided by the local Jewish community.
Despite the despairing appeals of the captain that the ship was unable to continue on its way, the Turkish authorities sent the ship back to the Black Sea on February 23, 1942. On the following day a mighty explosion was heard and the ship went down. Much later it was determined the ship had been sunk by a torpedo from a Russian submarine. Only one passenger, David Stoliar, survived and eventually reached Palestine. Among the dead were 103 children.