John W. Pehle, executive director of the War Refugee Board, today confirmed the original report of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the Turkish vessel “Nefkure” which went down two weeks ago with more than 250 Jewish refugees while on the way from the Rumanian port of Constanza to Turkey, was sunk deliberately by German shell fire.
“If anyone had any doubts about the German attitude towards refugee rescue operations, or anticipated a lessening in the Nazi program of extermination, he now knows the ugly truth,” Mr. Pehle said.
According to a cable received by Mr. Pehle from Ira Hirschmann, War Refugee Board representative in Turkey, the five survivors of the “Mefkure” stated that the ship was approached by three surface craft near midnight August 5. The boats were barges, about the length of two railroad cars, and armed with machine guns and cannons. The boats fired both cannons and machine guns at the “Mefkure.” One of the first shots exploded the machinery in the machine room and the ship was set aflame by incendiary bulletz.
The survivors said that many of their number were wounded by shell fire. Others were caught in the flames or injured by flying machinery. The machine guns continued to fire upon many of the passengers after they had donned life preservers and jumped into the water.
“The five “Mefkure” survivors and the 395 passengers from the S. S. “Bulbul,” which made the trip a few hours behind the “Mefkure” are now en route to Palestine by rail, Pehle said. The “Bulbul” passengers reported that their ship was not on the scene during the attack on the “Mefkure.” Later the armed boats approached the “Bulbul” and its engines were shut down. At daylight it picked up the only survivors that could be found. A storm was raging, otherwise it was thought that more than five might have been rescued. For some unknown reason, the armed boats did not fire upon the “Bulbul,” which continued itz voyage carrying its passengers to Ignaeda, Turkey.
Pehle stated that the emergency rescue operation which included the bringing of the “Mefkure” survivors and the “Bulbul” passengers by oxcart from Ignaeda to Vize, by truck to Cherkaskoy, and by train to Istanbul, was conducted under the supervision of the Turkish Red Crescent.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.