Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Rudnicar mission

A commenter recently asked me to "quote in English some information about the Rudnicar mission of Prudkin". I had written about Prudkin in my 2007 post Prison art.
Below, I am translating parts from the article "The collapsed building at the Alabin Street in Sofia had a dark secret related to Ruse", by Boyan Draganov, published in RuseNews on Nov. 13, 2006. Follow the link to the original page to see photos. Because I have never read anything about navigation in English, my translation is fairly illiterate; but as people say, better than nothing.

"At the Alabin Street in Sofia, a 5-storey building collapsed, killing two young women. This tragedy reminded us that until Sept. 9, 1944 this house had belonged to the eye doctor Baruh Konfino. His name and activity are related to (the town of) Ruse via Captain Anton Prudkin who had been born in Ruschuk (the old name of Ruse - M.M.)...
In 1912-1913, many Jewish families from the White Sea beach and the neighbourhood of Odrin moved to Bulgaria. They were not granted Bulgarian citizenship but still lived happily for more than 25 years. However, in 1939 they were ordered by the government to leave Bulgaria. Hundreds of men, women and children from all parts of the country gathered in (the port city of) Varna. There came also many Jews from Poland, Hungary and Romania. All were seeking a way to sail to the Promised Land. However, they hadn't the papers that would allow them to use the regular ships. The only option was to travel illegally...
Konfino was a rich Jew and a Bulgarian citizen. He made a plan to bring by his own ships to Palestine those Jews who wanted to go there. This was a very difficult undertaking because very few fit ships were offered for sale and they were unbelievably expensive. The market was offering only old small wooden ships deserving retirement. Their owners wanted to get rid of them by sale rather than by decommissionment. Konfino's arrival was a chance for these owners and they used it properly... Nobody thought that the old ships would almost certainly bring tragedies. Most of the refugees also viewed them as their only chance for escape.
In 1939, Baruh Konfino and his wife Dora became owners of the 400-ton Rudnicar ship originally produced in Stockholm in 1875. (The name means "Miner" and is pronounced "Rudnichar" - M.M.) Until 1939 Rudnicar transported coal from Burgas to Varna. After that, it was abandoned in the channel connecting the sea with the Varna Lake and was described as "a wreched wreck with the shape of a ship". Dr. Konfino realized the risks presented by Rudnicar and was very careful in his choice of a captain to carry out the difficult voyages.
He picked Anton Prudkin, an experienced navigator with adventurous life, the only Bulgarian captain able to sail the Bosphorus the Dardanelles without a pilot and eager to accept any deal and risk... He accepted Konfino's offer. A difficult repair of the obsolete ship began. After disinfection, 23 baskets full of dead rats were carried out...
In the summer of 1939, Rudnicar sailed for Palestine with the first group of Jews, most of them rich. Prudkin successfully brought them to the shores of Palestine. There, in open water, the Jews were transfered to boats that brought them illegally to the Promised Land... After a short repair Rudnicar, carrying about 100 passengers above its capacity, began another risky voyage. This time, it was dragging the large boat Success, also full of refugees. During the voyage, a storm began. Rudnicar began to leak. Worse, the S-wheel of Uspeh was damaged. A sailor jumped in the unruly sea and repaired it. Both vessels reached Palestine successfully.
For the two voyages, Prudkin received 250 000 leva. However, he refused a third one, because Konfino declined his demand for a bonus per each transported Jew. On Oct. 6, 1939 Prudkin resigned as captain of Rudnicar. He considered organizing a voyage without Konfino, but failed.
The fate of Rudnicar was sad. In 1941, Germans rented it to transport military equipment. On Feb. 14, 1942... near the Bosph0rus it hit ice and started to leak. The captain Georgi Karlovski musjudged the situation and panicked. Instead of bringing the ship to the shore and rescuing it, he and the crew took to lifeboats and abandoned it. After that, Rudnicar kept afloat for about 20 hours before sinking.
The Konfinos did not miss Prudkin and began to develop their high-profit business on even a larger scale. In the spring of 1940, they bought a ship initially called Shipka and renamed to Libertat... Because illegal voyages of refugees to Palestine had become more often..., the British government warned the Bulgarian Jewish community that each such ship, if caught, would be confiscated, its captain sentenced to 8 years and a fine, and the refugees deported back. However, nothing could stop the Jews longing for freedom. In the early morning of June 14, 1940, Libertat sailed off to Palestine. 360 people were crowded aboard... Libertat reached the shore of Palestine successfully but was confiscated by the British. The fate of the crew and the captain was not known...
Next, Konfino bought the wooden ship Salvador... It was 100% antiquated and rotten... A cosmetic repair was done, in which the Jewish refugees worked for free... The ship was supplied with only 80 lifebelts. No one serious captain agreed to take its command because everybody feared that the passengers and the crew were doomed. Konfino required the refugees to sign statements that they were boarding on the ship voluntarily and were accepting all risks of the travel. Finally, a man with no expertise of navigation was appointed as captain. He did not even buy navigation devices. The crew consisted of 4 sailors.
On Dec. 26, 1940 (there is some error, presumably it is Nov. instead of Dec., see below - M.M.), Salvador departed from Varna with more than 320 Jewish passengers (different sources give their number between 327 and 360). 89 of them were children under 12. The ship was overcrowded. The refugees had paid expensively... It is thought that Konfino had a profit of 900 000 leva from this voyage...
In the night of Dec. 11 to 12, 1940, the ship found itself in a violent storm... The merciless waves threw it on the rocks of Djambaz Tepe, near the town of Silivri. Only 123 people survived, the rest perished. The drama of Salvador became known in Bulgaria and was discussed in the Parliament. Many voices accused Konfino and wanted him to be prosecuted. However, the tragedy of the unfortunate Jews was soon forgotten.
Dr. Konfino hastily organized the next voyage of refugees to Palestine. The ships of death continued to travel. This time the Konfinos bought a ship named Struma. It was built in 1867... The Konfinos adapted it for passenger transport. Struma was sailing under the flag of Panama but had a Bulgarian crew under the command of captain Grigoriy Gorbatenko...
After leaving Varna, Struma sailed to Constantza where it was overcrowded with 778 Jews. 103 of them were children. Before the ship had even left the port, its engine broke. A Romanian ship was rented to drag it to the Bosphorus. The refugees paid for this with gold, wedding rings and family jewellery.
Turkish authorities kept the ship in front of the Bosphorus for 71 days without water and food supplies. Dysentery broke out aboard; nevertheless, the refugees were not allowed to step on land. Then, Struma was ordered to leave the Bosphorus into open sea.
In the morning of Feb. 24, 1942, at a distance of 14 miles north-east of the Bosphorus, the ship was shot at and submerged by the Russian submarine ДЩ 213'' under the command of D. Dezhenko. The Russians had mistaken Struma for a German cargo ship. Only a 19-year-old Ukrainian Jew named David Stolyar survived in the ice-cold sea water.
The fatal voyage of Struma put an end to the illegal emigration (from Bulgaria) to Palestine."


chaim said...

Many thanks for your article regarding Rudnichar.
I was one of the furtunate one to be on it. I was 2 years old at then.
My parents told me that they came to shore of Palestine in barges.
We arrived in January 1940.
What I understand 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

Thank you

Maya M said...

Thank you for the comment, Chaim. I have found something about the latter voyages of Rudnicar and will translate it in a new post.

Nurit Tsin said...

Dear maya,
Dear chaim,

I have a letter from the 5th Jenuary 1940. from this letter I understand that my father Eujen Lax , was the doctor of that ship. He was than only a student of medicin, but according this letter he helped a lot on this ship.
what do you know please about the Rucnicar on January 1940.
Every thing you know will help me to know more about my father who died when I was 13 years old.
To day I'm older than 60...
thank you very much
Nurit tsin

Dan said...

Thank you for your interesting article. My parents were on one of a voyages out of Varna arriving to the shores of then Palestine on the 16th of September 1939. I would love to learn more about that voyage. Besides my parents (now deceased)I know names of other couples on that voyage. Do you have any other information sources that I can look at? Much appreciated.


Maya M said...

Nurit, I saught the Web for your father but, unfortunately, failed to find anything. Judging by the name, I guess he has been of Romanian origin; if so, possibly Romanian sources would be more useful. Anyway, if I come across any information, I'll report it.
You and Dan, see my later post
All voyages of Rudnicar are mentioned there, although briefly. Unfortunately, the articles I am using as sources do not give much details.

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