In my June 4 post The Rudnicar mission, I had written about the two 1939 voyages of the ship Rudnicar under the command of Anton Prudkin. The Bulgarian Jew Baruh Konfino had organized them to bring Jewish refugees from Bulgaria to Palestine. Reader Chaim left the following comment:
"Many thanks for your article regarding Rudnichar. I was among the fortunate ones to be on it. I was 2 years old then. My parents told me that they came to shore of Palestine in barges. We arrived in January 1940. What I understand is that it was the 4th voyage of the Rudnichar. I wish to know from what port did it sail and who was the captain. This link reports on 3rd voyage."
At the Air Group 2000 site, I found information about the later Rudnicar voyages (after Prudkin's resignation). It is supplied by Atanas Panayotov, quoting the German professor Jurgen Rohwer. I'd immediately refer the Bulgarian reader to this site, and here I'll translate the relevant parts of the text. After the first two voyages under Prudkin's command, the Rudnicar made two more with Grigoriy (Grigor) Gorbatenko as captain.
"In Tel Aviv, our team met and talked with Baruh Konfino's younger son, Itzhak Konfino... He was certain that his father had never approved hiring Anton Prudkin as captain and fully trusted captain Gorbatenko, under whose command Struma perished... The captain's exceptional professional skills are illustrated by what happened on Nov. 7, 1939 (during the third voyage of the ship - M.M.). The Rudnicar and the Cooperator dragged by it found themselves in a heavy storm and only the navigation expertise of Gorbatenko allowed the crew to bring successfully the two ships back to the port of the Rodos Island for emergency repair...
The fourth voyage of the Rudnicar took place from Dec. 1, 1939 to Jan. 7, 1940, between the ports of Varna, Sulina and again Varna and then to Palestine. The passengers were approximately 500..."
This voyage brought my reader, then a young child, and his parents to Palestine. It was the last voyage of the ship bringing Jewish refugees to Palestine. Shortly after it, the Rudnicar was rented by a German company to be used as a cargo ship. As mentioned in my earlier post, its end came in 1942 because of captain's error.
"It is difficult to say why Dr. Konfino did not appoint Gorbatenko as captain of Salvador. The experienced navigator would have prevented the tragedy of Dec. 14, 1940, when 204 passengers, including 66 children, perished. Itzhak Konfino claims that his father had virtually no part in organizing Salvador's voyage, which explains Gorbatenko's absence from this ship." (In my earlier post, another explanation is given - that "no one serious captain agreed to take its command because everybody feared that the passengers and the crew were doomed"; however, the source used there is apparently biased against Konfino, so I would not judge without additional information.)
The Air Group 2000 site then describes the fatal voyage of Struma. According to it, Turkish authorities were not happy with the evacuation of European Jews to Palestine through Turkish waters, but did not want to openly take measures to stop it. Instead, they deliberately ordered Struma to spend more and more days in a limbo, relying on the Soviet submarines known to lurk in this region to do the dirty job. These submarines considered all ships in sight as German and had submerged the Turkish ship Chankaya only days before Struma and almost at the same spot.
Captain Gorbatenko is described by sources as "a Bulgarian of Russian origin". I suppose that he was an ethnic Bulgarian who had no Bulgarian citizenship, because he wasn't treated by the authorities the same way as the other perished Bulgarian crew members. Death certificates were issued to their families but not to Gorbatenko's family. His relations awaited the document for decades.
Struma, "the Bulgarian Titanic" as Panayotov calls it, and the people on its board - passengers and crew, are all but forgotten in Bulgaria. However, the memory is kept in Israel. The source mentions that Dr. Sonya Levi, of Bulgarian Jewish origin and researcher at the Yad Vashem memorial complex in Jerusalem, helped to find the names of Bulgarian crew members. They are:
Grigor Timofeev Gorbatenko, Lazar Ivanov Dikov, Damyan Stoyanov and Osep Garabedov.