Search for Jewish refugees' shipwreck

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The Independent Online

A British man whose grandparents died when a ship full of Jewish refugees was torpedoed off the coast of Turkey during the Second World War is to dive in search of the vessel.

A British man whose grandparents died when a ship full of Jewish refugees was torpedoed off the coast of Turkey during the Second World War is to dive in search of the vessel.

Greg Buxton, of Birmingham, will dive 265 feet beneath the waves of the Black Sea, near Istanbul, to inspect a recently discovered wreck, which he hopes is remains of the rickety Struma. The Struma was sunk in 1942 while trying to reach Palestine.

The people on board the steamer were mostly Romanian Jews fleeing from Nazi-occupied Europe and had spent weeks trying to reach freedom.The engines broken down just days after the ship left Romania, leaving the refugees stranded in cramped, squalid conditions in Istanbul harbour for more than two months.

Turkish officials tried to convince British authorities to let the passengers travel to Palestine, but eventually the Struma was towed back to the Black Sea on 23 February 1942. It drifted for hours before a Soviet submarine fired on the ship, sinking it and killing all 778 people on board, including Mr Buxton's grandparents.

Mr Buxton is due to arrive in Turkey with 13 other team members next week to prepare for the dive. He said there were no plans to raise the vessel, even if it was identified as the Struma. But he hopes artifacts found in the ship could be put on display at Holocaust museums in the United States and Israel as well as in an underwater artifacts museum in Turkey.

"For me, the expedition has an added meaning," Mr Buxton said yesterday. "After all, it is my grandparents' grave."

He added that he wanted to do it for the relatives of the victims, who are holding a memorial service for the dead in Istanbul on 3 September. "We need to hold the service now because some of the relatives are in their nineties," he said.

Levent Yuksel, a diver with the Turkish Underwater Research Society, which found the wreck earlier this month, said all evidence pointed to it being the Struma. "Its length, its depth, its stern are identical to the Struma," Mr Yuksel said.

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