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Sole survivor of World War II sinking dies in Bend

Published On: May 05 2014 01:08:02 AM CDT

NewsChannel's Kandra Kent sat down with 90-year-old David Stoliar to hear his amazing story of survival.

BEND, Ore. -

David Stoliar, the lone survivor of a 1942 Russian torpedo attack that killed 768 Jews, died Thursday at his long-time home in Bend at the age of 91.

"I can even see it -- if I force myself, I can see being in the water, and the Turkish boat coming," Bend resident David Stoliar told NewsChannel 21 during a February 2013 interview about the Feb. 24, 1942 sinking of the SS Struma.

As Stoliar described the chaos following the sinking, he waved his hands, recalling details vividly as if they were right before his eyes.

The Oregonian, which first reported Stoliar's passing Sunday night, said he was regarded as a historical figure who was featured in at least three books and one movie, but he almost never talked about the incident long known among Jews as the “Holocaust at Sea.”

“I’d never heard him talk about it until we had been married for two years,” Marda Stoliar, his second wife, told the paper during a telephone interview. “I found out later that he never told his first wife, either, and they were married for 17 years.”

Stoliar had hoped the Struma would help him escape anti-semitic persecution during World War II.

"We were hanging on to all kinds of debris that was still in the water," Stoliar recounted last year. "That was very early in the morning, and in the evening, people disappeared, drowning. And by the evening, I was by myself."

Stoliar grew up in Kishinev, Romania, and was 18 when the Axis-aligned Romanian government started killing and persecuting Jewish citizens.

The 10 weeks that 19-year-old Stoliar spent aboard the doomed Struma and later, upon his rescue, in a Turkish prison, were deeply scarring, Marda Stoliar said Sunday. Each time he’d agree to be interviewed on the subject, whether by officials from The Holocaust Musuem in Washington, D.C., or reporters, the next week he would awaken screaming every night.

While her husband should certainly be remembered for surviving the sinking of the Struma, Marda Stolia said he also should be known for his fluency in eight languages, sterling business knowledge -- the two ran a shoe manufacturing company -- and his continental fashion sense.

“He was a proud, elegant gentleman who always dressed in vanilla pants and shirts from Europe (he adored lavender shirts in his later years),” Stoliar said. “By far the best-dressed man in Bend. With David, there was no Saturday or Sunday dress. The best of everything. That was his life.”

In addition to Marda, Stoliar is survived by his son, Ron, and one granddaughter, Adria Stoliar. Rabbi Jay Shupack will conduct a memorial service on Sunday, May 18, at the Congregation Shalom Bayit in Bend.

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