Andrew Mathis responds:
I am one of the volunteers who answers questions submitted to the Holocaust History Project.
Here's what I've been able to track down about the Struma. The ship was carrying 778 Romanian Jews fleeing pogroms taking place in late 1941. It stopped at Istanbul in need of repairs, and it remained there for seventy days. The British refused the Jews on board entry to Palestine (this was standard British policy during the war, and yes, Palestine was under British mandate from 1917 to 1947). The Turks offered no help in repairing the ship and would not allow the passengers to disembark.
On Feb. 23, 1942, the Turks seized the ship and dragged it into the Black Sea. A day later, it was sunk by a Russian torpedo. One person survived. I suspect, though I cannot be sure, that Russian naval policy would have dictated the sinking of any ship in the Black Sea that could not be positively identified. Even positive identification would not have protected it necessarily (see below).
For more information see:
The Mefkure was sunk on Aug. 5, 1944. It also originated from Romania and was en route to Istanbul, along with two other ships, the Morina and the Bulbul. Each ship held around 325 passengers. The Mefkure, unlike the Struma, was flying the Turkish colors, but was sunk by an unidentified sub. The death toll was 305, with eleven survivors.
You'll notice that there's a difference of over two years in these sinkings. In 1941, when the Struma departed, Romania was part of the Axis but was not under Nazi occupation. Romania was occupied by the Nazis by 1944, and mass deportations to death camps had begun.
Turkey was neutral in the war, and like many neutral countries -- notably Sweden -- she dealt in trade with the Nazis. You are correct in stating that Turkey supplied the Nazis with chromium, particularly early in the war (Sweden provided Germany with steel). However, as the Nazis moved into Southern Europe in 1943 and 1944, Turkey felt threatened, and the Nazis considered plans to invade and/or occupy Turkey. The Allies approached Turkey to join them around the same time, and Turkey refused, wishing to maintain its neutrality. Thus Turkey became a de facto enemy of both the Allies and the Axis, so the Mefkure could have been sunk by either side. It seems rather clear that the Struma was sunk by the Soviets, who had no great love for the Turks or for Romania, the latter of which it was at war against.
Regarding Turkish involvement with Nazi Germany and diplomatic gestures towards Turkey, look through the Nuremberg minutes we have online at the Holocaust History Project. Go to the "Search" area and enter "Turkey." Pay specific attention to the indictment, verdict, and sentencing of Franz von Papen, who was the German ambassador to Turkey.
I'm afraid I can't offer you a list of Turkish companies involved in trade with the Nazis. You may want to contact the World Jewish Congress with this question, as they have been instrumental in identifying industrial groups involved with the Nazis. The WJC website is at:
I hope this gives you some leads to follow.
Andrew E. Mathis, Ph.D.
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Last modified: September 24, 2000