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October 23, 1987 - Image 89

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-10-23

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Sandi Hammerstrom

The Unsinkable Titanic


The tragedy of the great ship
highlighted the attitudes of the times

he Jews are members of the
human race — worse I can say
of no man," Mark Twain once
That fairest of all observa-
tions about the Jews could have had
no clearer illustration than in the
conduct of those 100 or 200 Jews who
found themselves aboard the great
Titanic the night of April 15, 1912,
just over 75 years ago, when the un-
sinkable became the unthinkable.
Heroism and cowardice, family
loyalty and debauchery, honesty and
deceit — all instincts were
represented in the behavior of a group
of Jews that included everything from
the cream of "Our Crowd" in first-
class to Jewish cockneys in steerage.
Experts who have studied the
Titanic have no way of knowing exact-
ly how many of its passengers were
Jewish. But a survey of the passenger
list reveals a good number of
Strauses, Guggenheims, Rothschilds,
Solomons, Greenbergs, Jacobsons,
Levys, Pinskys, Cohens, Sadowitzes
and Abrahamsons.
"It is hard to tell which names


Special to The Jewish News

may have been Jewish, and which just
German," said Titanic scholar Walter
Lord, author of A Night To Remember,
"but of course there were many
passengers known to be Jewish. It is
not likely that any of the crew were
Jewish, since in the sea-going world
of Southampton it was a practice to
make hiring a family affair, giving
jobs aboard ships to people's brothers
and cousins!"
Most notable, perhaps, of all the
Jewish passengers aboard the Titanic
were Isidor and Ida Straus, of Macy's
Department Store fame, who decided
to face death together just as they
shared life with each other for over 40
At first Mrs. Straus prepared to
enter one of the lifeboats. Then she
turned around and rejoined her hus-
band. "We have been living together
for many years," she told him. "Where
you go, I go!' Hugh Woolner, son of a
prominent British sculptor, turned to
Straus and said, "I'm sure nobody
would object to an old gentleman like
you getting in," but Straus insisted,
"I will not go before the other men."
Then he and Mrs. Straus sat down
together on a pair of deck chairs. Mrs.

Straus gave her maid, Ellen Bird, her
coat. "I won't need this any more
now!' she told her.
Titanic expert - Lord was asked
about survivors' stories that the band
on board played hymns like Autumn
and Nearer My God to Thee until the
ship's last moments. Did this mean
that the strains of these Christian
dirges were the last thing the
Strauses ever heard?
"It's .a wonderful point," he laugh-
ed, "but I don't think those stories are
true. Most survivors said the band
kept on playing ragtime right until
the end."
John Straus, grandson of Isidor
and Ida Straus, finished the story of
the coat that Mrs. Straus gave her
maid. "The maid gave the coat to my
aunt, Sarah Hess, when she got to
New York:' he said "My aunt told her,
`No, Ida gave it to you. That meant
she wanted you to have it: "
Straus said he has no interest in
recovering the body of his grand-
mother for burial alongside that of his
grandfather, which was found at the
time of the disaster, now that the
wreckage of the Titanic has been
discovered and is being explored by

French salvagers. Reminded of scien-
tists' speculations that low
temperatures and a virtual absence of
marine life at 12,000 feet beneath the
sea are optimal conditions for the sur-
vival of the remains, he said, "That's
science fiction."
Straus, who described his family
as being "non-practicing Jews," said
the body of his grandfather was
buried in non-Jewish Woodlawn
Cemetery in New York. "I was mar-
ried by a rabbi;' he said, "and I will
probably be buried by a rabbi, but not
much in the way of Jewishness hap-
pens in between:'
Mrs. Edgar Meyer of New York
was another wife who wanted to stay
with her husband as the ship went
down, but her husband felt she should
find a place in a lifeboat because their
infant child awaited them at home.
Lord said the Meyers felt so self-
conscious about arguing in public
that they went down to their cabin,
which had not yet been submerged.
There they decided to part for the
baby's sake.
"I believe the Meyers were
Jewish," said Lord. "I believe they
were connected with a family from




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