JERUSALEM (Feb. 25)
The Palestine Government and the British Colonial Office in London were charged today by the Jewish Agency with responsibility for the deaths of the 750 Rumanian Jewish refugees who were drowned yesterday in the cold waters of the Black Sea when the S. S. Strume, on which they were being returned to Rumania, exploded and sank after striking a stray mine.
These refugees reached Istanbul last week after a perilous voyage from Rumania aboard the sinking Strume only to find that the Turkish authorities would not permit them to land and the British authorities would not allow them to enter Palestine, even under the immigration quota.
The Jewish Agency, in the statement issued here today, expressed “grief and horror” over the death of the 750 Jewish refugees. Condemning the refusal of the Palestine administration and the Colonial Office to admit these victims of Axis terror into Palestine under the immigration quota, the statement revealed that the British authorities put forward two arguments to support their refusal to admit the refugees, except children under 16 years of age. The arguments were: 1. The adult refugees may have enemy agents in their ranks; 2. The shortage of food in Palestine does not permit the admission of additional immigrants.
Replying to these arguments, the Agency suggested to the administration that the refugees be placed in internment camps in Palestine until their characters had been thoroughly investigated. On the question of adequate food supplies, the Agency stressed the fact that the refugees, when admitted, would come under the quota which had already been assigned by the Palestine government for the immigration of 1,250 Jewish immigrants and their dependents. “To use the argument that the shortage of food supplies does not permit the admittance of a few hundred elderly people who are fleeing from torture and death reflects on the intelligence as well as on the heart of those who advance it, ” the Agency pointed out.
Its statement emphasizes that “this is the second time that the Jewish world has been moved to sorrow and indignation through disaster involving hundreds of innocent lives of refugees fleeing from Hitler to take refuge in their national home. Still fresh in Jewish memory is the tragedy of the S. S. Patria which sank in Haifa harbor after the refusal of the Palestine administration to let the passengers land.”
“If the very same treatment which was accorded to non-Jewish war refugees who sought shelter in Palestine were accorded to Jews whose ‘historic rights’ to come here has been solemnly acknowledged, the Jews, already sorely stricken, would not be mourning today another thousand martyrs, ” the Agency statement concludes.
Speaking to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent in Istanbul last Friday, the Strume refugees had expressed the hope that the Palestine government would allow them to enter the country, since they knew than that the only other alternative faced them was to return to Rumania.