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by David Krakow


One aspect of the Shoah has received little attention from Holocaust scholars: The obstruction by Britain of the most important avenue of escape available to the doomed Jews of Europe before and during World War II.

The Danube River, flowing from the middle of Europe to the Black Sea, was an international waterway that could be traversed by Jewish refugees without travel documents of any kind, provided that shipping was obtainable. For a price, it usually was.

Not counting a multitude of very small craft that remain mostly unaccounted for and were probably lost at sea, there were 34 "illegal" sea voyages originating in the Danube from the end of 1937 until the outbreak of the war; thereafter, there were another 28, the last of them in August 1944. Most were sponsored by Zionists groups, principally the Revisionists and the Mossad.

"Illegal immigration," as it was referred to, was a very desperate measure, fraught with dangers ranging from bandits and disease, to thirst and starvation, not to mention sinkings and drownings. It also involved running a blockade by the Royal Navy. The first battle casualties inflicted by the British at the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, were Jews killed and wounded by British marines who had stormed about the Mossad ship Tiger Hill, carrying 1,417 Jewish escapees from Europe.

British obstruction of rescue ranged from the official level -- pressures exerted on the governments of countries through which the Jews had to pass -- to an army of intelligence agents who pointed out the "fugitives" to RAF and Royal Navy reconnaissance and interdiction, even in international waters. It went so far as the confiscation of vessels and the imprisonment of crews to make ship rentals ever more expensive. Also, since the effect of British policy was to taint these operations with the stigma of criminality, not only did the costs soar -- with bribes that had to be paid -- but the terrible condition of the available vessels was beyond belief.

Questioned in the House of Commons, on July 26, 1940, about the size and number of British warships engaged in preventing Jewish refugees from reaching "the Jewish National Home," Minister Ramsay MacDonald replied: "One division of destroyers in addition to five launches." Asked whether a division of destroyers meant a flotilla, he refused to answer.

Among the tragedies that occurred before the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, there were, in addition to the Tiger Hill, the following:

In March 1939, the Gepo II sank in the Mediterranean Sea and all 750 on board were rescued by another refugee vessel, the Katina.

The British fired on the Aghios Nilolos near the cost of Eretz Israel, also with 750 passengers. One person died.

The Sando was fired on by British coastal batteries and forced back into the Mediterranean with 235 passengers.

In June 1939, the Rim caught fire off Rhodes and all 800 on board were rescued by the Aghios Nikolaos IV.

In September 1940, the Pencho was shipwrecked during a storm in the Aegean Sea and its 514 were picked up by Italian warships that brought them to Rhodes.

In October 1940, the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Milo, with a total of 3,651 passengers, were intercepted by the British and brought to Haifa for deportation to a prison camp on Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Of the first contingent of 1,838 forced aboard the Patria, 254 drowned when the prison ship was scuttled in Haifa harbor.

In December 1940, the Salvador struck a reef and sank in the Sea of Marmara and 204 of its 327 passengers drowned. The survivors were picked up by the Darien, also a refugee ship.

However desperate the Jews were before the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, they were even more panic stricken afterward, as more than 6000,000 Jews were summarily massacred in the next few months in Lithuania, eastern Poland, Bukovina and Bessarabia, while the Iron Guard commenced, literally, butchering Jews in Bucharest.

A defenseless minority cringed amid hostile and murderous people, and with all the Jews of Poland already isolated in hellish ghettos, those Jews having any chance to escape, however slim, were ready to try. At the same time, in spite of the ongoing carnage of which they were aware, the British now set up radar stations to augment the warships and aircraft that they deployed against the floating coffins carrying the refugees.

While they blocked the escape of Hitler's victims, the British brazenly feigned ignorance of the extermination of the Jews, as did virtually everybody else including the United States. They all had many reliable sources of information. These included diplomats, businessmen, Christian clergy and International Red Cross personnel located in or near the sites of the ongoing massacres who transmitted reports to Switzerland, Sweden, the Vatican and other neutral listening posts to which the British and American governments had continuous access at all levels, not to speak of covert contacts through a variety of intelligence agencies.

More than 50 years later, it was finally learned that the British had cracked the German code and tracked the murders of the Jews in the summer of 1941 as they were being reported to Berlin in coded messages used by the German commanders of the SS and police units carrying out the "executions." This was established by Prof. Richard Breitman of American University in Washington (and other scholars) who had requested the declassification of 1.3 million wartime documents from the National Security Agency under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents that were subsequently released to the National Archives included 282 pages of SS radio intercepts.

Among the pathetic vessels packed with Jews who had the temerity to try to save themselves from the lime pits and the crematoria were:

The Struma, which sank with 767 refugees aboard after the crippled boat was forced back into the Black Sea by the Turkish authorities.

The Vitorul, lost at sea with 120 passengers.

The tiny Euxenia with 12 aboard, shipwrecked in the Aegean (like many other small craft).

The Mefkurie with 350 passengers, torpedoed in the Black Sea.

If there is one episode that encapsulates the totality of the catastrophe engulfing European Jewry, it is the fate of the 767 hapless refugees, most of them from Bessarabia and Bukovina, who arrived in Istanbul on December 15, 1941, aboard the Struma, a 180-ton ramshackle riverboat lacking power, fuel, food, water and other necessities.

Fleeing the rampaging butchers of Romania's Iron Guard, the passengers (among whom were 269 women and 103 children plus 20 physicians, 10 engineers, 15 lawyers and 30 business executives) had each paid for the chance to board the ancient cattle barge, salvaged from the Danube and, for the last time, outfitted with a used motor that proved defective. Its Greek owner, Yanaki Pandelis, had tried unsuccessfully for a year to interest the Mossad and the Revisionists in his decrepit vessel. Even the Germans, who had been requisitioning almost anything that would float to carry Romanian produce to the Reich, had rejected it. But as Shabtai Nadiv, who lost a younger brother on this vessel put it: "Those were desperate times. There were no other means of escape from hell.... Whole families pleaded to go on the Struma..."

The voyage from Constanza to Istanbul, normally a matter of fourteen hours, took the Struma four days, during which it drifted most of the time because of repeated engine failures. Instead of being welcomed with compassion and respect, given the circumstances of their flight (not to speak of the appalling conditions on the jam-packed barge with only one toilet), the refugees were forbidden to disembark and the Struma was turned into a floating prison, under rigorous quarantine, in the outer harbor. The only provisions they were allowed to receive, and then only once a week, was food donated by Istanbul's Jewish community.

Because the vessel was registered in Panama, which had jointed the United States as a belligerent after the attack on Pearl Harbor, its Bulgarian captain. G. T. Gorbatenko, made it clear to the Turks that it would be too perilous for the Struma to put to sea again in German-patrolled waters even if it could be rendered seaworthy, and he did not believe it could be.

The Turks understood that the choice before them was either to let the refugees disembark or to send them to what would most likely be a watery grave. At first they chose to do neither, but to look to Britain (which, after all, had the mandate for the Jewish National Home) to make the decision for them. Accordingly, the assistant secretary-general of the Turkish Foreign Ministry put it to the British ambassador, Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen: Should the refugees to permitted to land and be put on trains bound for Haifa or should the vessel be forced back into the Black Sea?

The ambassador hemmed and hawed because he could not bring himself to tell the Turks to do what he knew his government wanted. Learning of this, an outraged Colonial Minister, Lord Moyne, had Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden see to it that KJnatchbull-Hugessen was clearly instructed to the let the Turks know that the Struma should be sent back where it came from. (Said Moyne: "The landing of 700 more immigrants....will have a deplorable effect (by) encouraging (many more) Jews to embark on (this) traffic..." Said his aide, E. B. Boyd: "Sir H. Knatchbull-Hugessen had a heaven-sent opportunity of getting the people sent back and failed to avail himself of it.")

What followed was a macabre game as the British, ever so slightly concerned about public opinion in the United States(1), indicated a willingness to admit some or perhaps all (it was not clear) Struma children into Palestine, but somehow, the British failed to communicate this information to the Turks until after the Struma refugees were dead.

On February 23, 1941, seventy days after arriving in Istanbul, the refugees were confronted by a force of 80 club-wielding Turkish policemen who attempted to raise the anchor and lash the Struma to tugboats that had pulled up alongside. Although the refugees fought desperately with the police, they could not prevail. So, without fuel or other provisions, the crippled vessel was towed through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea. Although it prominently displayed large sheets emblazoned with "S.O.S.", while the refugees screamed for help from the deck, no one took notice. On the morning of February 24th, the Struma exploded and sank about five miles from the Turkish coast(2). The sole survivor, a young man who lost his entire family, was granted a certificate to Palestine about a month later. At that time, there were still thousands of unissued certificates under the infamous White Paper that was enforced in contravention of the mandate and without sanction from the League of Nations. (Article 9 of the Mandate required the mandatory power to facilitate Jewish immigration and this was termed a matter of "right and not sufferance" by Winston Churchill when he was colonial secretary.)

In the House of Commons, the government came in for considerable criticism. One M.P., D. L. Lipson, theorized: "Had the Struma carried Germans, Japanese or Italians, that is, citizens of enemy countries, they would not have been sentenced to death. They would have been taken ashore and at worst interned. The only reason the Struma's travelers died was because they were Jews."

In Ankara, the Turkish Prime Minister declared that "Turkey cannot be expected to serve as a refuge or a surrogate homeland for people who are unwanted everywhere else."

It was a long time ago, but some of us can recall that we then quoted Giuseppe Mazzini: "Without a country of your own you have neither name, voice, nor rights, nor admission as brothers in the fellowship of peoples. You are the bastards of humanity."

End Notes

(1) The British agreed to honour the expired Palestinian visas possessed by a few passengers and these were allowed to continue overland.

(2) In 1964, it was discovered that a torpedo from a Soviet submarine had been responsible.

See also "The Struma & The unmitigated policy of the British against Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's war against them" on the Eretz Yisroel website:

There were three items following David Krakow's article on the MidEast Truth Forum that were added by Media Eye.

11 March 1942

Mr. Lipson asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he can now make a statement concerning the sinking of the "Struma" with 769 passengers on board, including 270 women and 70 children?

Mr. Harold Macmillan The "Struma" was a converted yacht of about 200 tons. Flying the Panamanian flag, she left Con-stanza last October with some 769 Jews on board with the intention of effecting their entry illegally into Palestine. She reached Istanbul about mid-December, when she was described as being badly overcrowded,and thereafter considerable repairs to her engines had to be effected. While she was lying at Istanbul, the Turkish authorities intimated that the passengers could not be allowed to remain in Turkey. The Palestine Government also made it clear, with the support of His Majesty's Government, that they could not be admitted to Palestine. This action was in conformity with the policy consistently followed since the establishment of the mandatory regime and publicly confirmed by His Majesty's Government in November, 1940.

When the Turkish authorities found that the passengers would not be admitted to Palestine, they decided on 23rd February to send the vessel back to the Black Sea. On 24th February news was received that she had sunk as a result of an explosion four or five miles fromthe entrance to the Bosphorus. The cause of the disaster is not definitely established. She may have struck a mine, but the possibility of her having been torpedoed is not excluded as a Turkish vesselwas torpedoed in the vicinity about the time.

His Majesty's Government greatly deplore the tragic loss of life which occurred 1049 in this disaster. They had hoped that effect might have been given to the offer of the Palestine Government to admit to Palestine the children on board between the ages of 11 and 16,but this proved impracticable as the Turkish authorities did not feel themselves able to give the necessary permission to land. His Majesty's Government earnestly hope that such a tragedy will not occur again. It does not lie in their power, however, amid the dangersand uncertainties of war, to give any guarantee, nor can they be party to any measures which would undermine the existing policy regarding illegal immigration into Palestine, in view of the wider issues involved. Subject to these reservations, however, I can say thatHis Majesty's Government will endeavour, so far as lies in their power, to ensure that there is no recurrence of such a disaster as that which befell the "Struma."

Mr. Lipson Is my hon. Friend aware that a great many people, both in this and other countries, have been shocked by this tragedy? Is he aware that this is the second ship containing unfortunate refugees which has been blown up within a year? May I ask whether he will consult with his Noble Friend to see whether it is possible to make such modifications in the practical application of the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to Palestine as may make tragedies of this kind impossible to occur again?

Mr. Macmillan I will consult my Noble Friend, but, if my hon. Friend will read the statement I have made, he will see that, subject to the reservation of the general wider policy not being affected, the Government will do everything possible.

Mr. Lipson Will my hon. Friend bear in mind in those consultations that if the ship had been an enemy ship, German, Italian or Japanese, those on board would have been interned, and will he not consider whether a policy of that kind is not better than exposing them to danger?

Mr. Macmillan I will convey all those points to my NobleFriend.

(2) This is an excerpt from REFUGEE PROBLEMS
and is archived at:

Lord Davies
28 July 1943

Now I come to my last point and that is in connexion with refugeesin Palestine. It only relates, of course, to Jewish refugees, but I do not think that anyone can say that our record in the past has been a particularly bright one when we remember what happened to the schooner with 750 refugees on board, all of whom were refused admission into Palestine. I 842 cannot help feeling that that is one of the black pages in our administration during the last five years.Therefore I would appeal to the Government to remove entirely the restrictions upon refugees entering into Palestine. I know I shall be told that the stumbling block is the White Paper. I wonder if this White Paper is to last for ever. After all, it was with some trepidation, at any rate, that Parliament endorsed the provisions of the White Paper. Your Lordships will remember that in 1939 Jews and Arabs were invited to meet in London at a Round-Table Conference, but the Arabs refused to meet the Jews to discuss their problems round the table. Subsequently the White Paper was issued, and I think it was only approved by what was then a relatively small majority of 89 votes in another place.

On that occasion the Prime Minister made a very cogent speech, as he always does. He said: As one intimately and responsibly concerned in the earlier stages of our Palestine policy, I could not stand by and see solemn engagements into which Britain has entered before the world set aside for reasons of economic convenience or — and it: will be a vain hope — for the sake of a quiet life. I should feel personally embarrassed in the most acute manner if I lent myself to what I must regard as an act of repudiation. That debate and that Division took place in 1939. It was the culminating point in the process, which had been going on for some time, of whittling down the provisions of the Balfour Declaration. I cannot bring myself to believe that this policy really represented the considered views of the country. It was engineered, I think, by a relatively small body of persons, and it was a case of the dog being wagged by the tail.

Surely, if the policy of the Balfour Declaration was sound and righteous twenty-five years ago, it is far more so after we have witnessed all the horrible happenings and the terrible slaughter and persecution of the Jews during the last four years. If that policy, providing a city of refuge for these unfortunates, was sound twenty-five years ago, it is a far sounder and more righteous policy to-day. After all, what was the White Paper? It was one of the last instalments of appeasement, and one cannot help feeling, having regardto all that has happened since that time, that the restrictions imposed by this White Paper 843 should be finally done away with. Palestine is a mandated territory and it will be within the recollection of your Lordships that the White Paper was never endorsed by theMandates Commission at Geneva. Therefore the point arises: Is it valid and legal document.

In any case, I think your Lordships will agree that no treaty and no document can be valid for ever, and there are certain reasons for which this WhitePaper can now be revised. One reason, as I have said, is to be found in the events since 1939. Those surely are new factors, and if to-day the White Paper was brought before Parliament it would not have the ghost of a chance of being approved. Then there is the fact that if we refuse to do anything about it we arouse the suspicion that we are not really sincere in our protestationsand in our intentions as regards Jewish refugees. I believe that several newspapers in neutral countries have commented upon the wonderful demonstration that took place in the House of Commons and upon the fact that nothing has been done to revise the White Paper.

(3) From Yaakov Ben-Shmuel

Shalom Chaver,

You may be please to read that, I have the "STRUMA AFFAIR" ON TAPE AND IT IS AVAILABLE FOR VIEWING.

Further more, The doomed Altalena was beached almost on the spot the "Tiger Hill" was beached, and another ship named "Parita" landed not far from here.

As you know the Altalena was ordered to sail and beach at Tel-Aviv because Begin wand the ships commander hoped for Irgun members and sympathizers to arrive and prevent further killing.


The 2 above mentioned ships landed there for the same reason the Altalena did. I can not remember to which of the 2, the small population of T-A were called out to help in unloading the poor survivors, before the British came to stop them.

It was a Friday early morning when the alarm was raised and my parents, both on their bicycles with me on one, rushed to beach of "machlull alef". I can still remember them wading with many others into the cold sea water and helping bringing down those poor people.

You see chaver, I can not find, TODAY, many people who remember any of these events. When I tell any of that to Jews in the UK, I get the do some Israelis.

Yesterday I told some friends how on the 12-2-1942 the founder and leader of the LECHI Avrham-Yair Stern, also known as the Stern gang, was captured by the British CID, while hiding in a cupboard in a flat at no:8 Mizrachi street, T-A. Unlike today, when the British arrest an Arab terrorist and either let him go free for lack of evidence, or, sentencing him for a short period of time, the British tied Stern to a chair and without much ado pumped a volley of bullets into his body. Bloody cold murder. Again I was given the look of un-believing.

Yaakov Ben-Shmuel


David Krakow, a retired attorney, is a member of the Netzivut of American Betar and editor of its magazine Hadar. He is currently President of the Nordau Circle.

This was posted February 18, 2009 on the MidEast Truth Forum Thanks are due Barbara Taverna for sending this in to Think-Israel.


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