What Those Rescued from the Titanic Experienced
This article was published in the Yiddish-language Forward on April 19, 1912.
“I was standing at the wheel of the Titanic when the accident happened,” said Robert Hitchens, one of the ship’s officers who was rescued. “At 20 minutes to 12, I heard three bell signals and precisely afterward received a call from the watchman on the highest deck, that an iceberg was floating right toward us. We began shutting down the engines, but it was too late. The ship crashed into the iceberg.
“The captain ran over to us and his first words were: ’Close the doors!’
“‘They’re already closed!’ the first officer responded.
“‘Send for the carpenter to inspect the ship,’ was his second order. “They started seeking out the carpenter, but he was nowhere to be found. It appears he was already dead in his room.
“The captain lost no time. He ordered the entire crew up on deck. He directed some of them to begin pumping water from the ship. The rest were ordered to lower the lifeboats and to begin the rescue work.
“I didn’t abandon my post at the wheel until a quarter past 12. At that time, the first officer ordered me into a lifeboat that was filled with women.
“As far as I know, each lifeboat on the Titanic was put to use. Each one was lowered into the water filled with passengers, and the Carpathia picked them all up out of the water. The few hours we spent floating on the water were frightening. There was but one green lantern on one of the lifeboats lighting up the sea, and all 16 lifeboats followed that lantern. On one lifeboat, a passenger had a small electric pocket lamp that provided some light.
“We were too far away to see the Titanic finally sink.”
He Grabbed a Chair and Was Rescued
G. Whiteman, the Titanic’s barber, was rescued in a fabulous way.
“I was on the upper deck,” Whiteman said, “and I was helping to lower the lifeboats when suddenly we heard a crash. That was the engines beginning to explode. These explosions sent a pile of chairs flying that had been lashed together on the upper deck. They landed on my back, pushing me into the water.
“I didn’t lose my mind. The water was horribly cold. I decided to swim back toward the chairs and within a few minutes I was able to grab one of them. The waves carried me far from the ship. I floated that way for two hours. My limbs were paralyzed from cold. I didn’t think I would hold out much longer. Fortunately, the chair floated over to a lifeboat and the sailors lifted me into it.”
He Swam for Two Hours in Ice-Cold Water
Williams, a young boy from Philadelphia, had a similar experience. He was traveling aboard the Titanic with his father.
“I was standing on deck with my father, waiting for the ship to sink. We had given up any hope of being rescued. We had both decided to jump into the water together and hold onto each other until the last minute. I was wearing a fur coat.
“The ship’s bow, where we were standing, sank into the water. The waves pushed people wildly and my father was torn from my arms. I jumped into the water and started to swim.
“I lay in the cold water for two hours until I felt somebody pull me up onto a raft where I lay for quite a long while until I was taken onto a lifeboat.”
Harold Cottam, the wireless telegraph operator of the Carpathia who received the first distress signal from the Titanic, told us some incredibly interesting facts:
“All day Sunday, I was helping the Titanic send various wireless telegrams. She sent the telegrams to me and I sent them on to shore. At 11 p.m., I was terribly tired, and I telegraphed the Titanic’s telegraph operator to stop sending updates as I was going to sleep. I was just hanging up the receiver and leaving work when suddenly I received the signal: ‘We’ve crashed into something; come immediately!’
“I called over a sailor and sent him for the captain. Within seconds, we were already racing as fast as possible in the Titanic’s direction. Before I even had time to answer that first signal, we received a second one saying: ‘All is lost for us!’ I answered: ‘Have courage; we’re on the way!’ And then I began sending out signals to other ships so that they could race over to the Titanic.
“Had that first signal from the Titanic arrived a few seconds later, the Carpathia would not have received it. And nobody from the Titanic would have been rescued.”
Entertaining Themselves with a Game of Cards
Mr. Silverstone, a buyer, told of his experiences during the last moments of the Titanic. He was sitting in the smoking room reading a book. Nearby, several friends were playing a game of cards.
“Suddenly, we heard a crash,” he said. “We thought something had been hit. I told my friends I was going up on deck to see what had happened. We weren’t scared. I thought the ship had hit a whale or a smaller boat.
“My friends followed me up there. Soon we all went back down and they resumed their card game. Suddenly, a sailor ran down to us and ordered us to come up on deck. Lifeboats were already being lowered. There were few women on deck. And seeing how in a few lifeboats being lowered there were a lot of empty places, my friends and I were asked to get in and a few moments later, men were no longer permitted in those lifeboats.”
A Carpathia Passenger’s Story
Horrible events were relayed by Mrs. Virginia Steiner, one of the passengers aboard the Carpathia. She talked to reporters after disembarking.
“I can’t describe the scenes of the women in the lifeboats who were hysterical. About 100 of them were lying in a faint; the rest were screaming endlessly.
“We tried to calm them, but it was impossible. It was terribly difficult to get these hysterical women aboard our ship. They were so distressed they were acting crazy. They practically had to be forcibly taken out of those lifeboats.
“We, the passengers of the Carpathia, took the women and children into our cabins and did whatever we could for them. By Monday morning, there wasn’t one of us who had managed to sleep a wink.
“The ship became a hospital. I know for certain that many of the rescued women and children were dying. On Monday, a few did die, and by Tuesday, the number of dead increased. I don’t believe there is one of those unfortunate passengers who was well.”
We Thought the Titanic Was Safer Than the Lifeboats
Paul Cheveret, a Canadian sculptor, told the following:
“I recall every detail,” he said. ”When I was up on deck, the sailors were extremely upset with the ship’s officers. But the passengers were calm. They didn’t realize the great danger. The first and second lifeboats were lowered. The ship’s officers asked us to get in them, but we didn’t want to do that. When the third lifeboat was lowered, the sailors lost patience with us and yelled at us to get seated in them. A group of passengers released themselves from them and ran back down below.
“The lifeboat I sat in traveled a few hundred feet from the battered Titanic. The night was bright and I could see from a distance what was occurring on the ship. People were running around there insanely. I watched how one of the ship’s officers took out a revolver and fired three times. I don’t know what provoked him.”
‘We Thought the Whole Thing Was a Joke’
“I was asleep in my room when the accident happened,” said Mr. Snyder. “The crash of the iceberg was so light I didn’t even notice. My wife woke me up and shortly after that a ship steward ran over, ordering us to hurry to the upper deck. When we got up there, we thought the whole thing was a joke. I thought it was safer to stay on the Titanic than to be loaded onto one of those lifeboats. The sailors forcibly placed my wife and me in a lifeboat where there were many more women. It was so crowded in the lifeboat that women had to sit on the floor in order for the sailors to be able to steer.
“I looked at the Titanic. She was slowly sinking into the water. That’s when I regretted having left her. I couldn’t imagine she’d actually slowly sink.
“Our lifeboat moved far from the Titanic, and when I could no longer see the ship, I heard a terrible crash. That’s when the engines exploded. A bit later, when we had rowed closer to the ship, I saw people hanging on to the balustrades of the upper deck. They were likely pulled under with the ship.
“An hour after the explosion, we saw bodies floating on the water. Some were already dead, others were screaming and crying out for help. We were afraid to come closer to them because the lifeboat was so overcrowded. A few people swam over to us and we risked it and took them aboard.”
‘My Brother Woke Me’—Dr. Frauenthal’s Story
The following horrible details were relayed by acclaimed New York doctor Henry Frauenthal, a Jew who was rescued along with his wife, Clara, and his brother, Herman.
“I was asleep in my room when the ship crashed into the iceberg,” he said. “My room was in the second part of the ship and I didn’t hear the bang. My brother was sitting and reading at the time and so he woke me up.
“We all ran up on deck and I heard the captain tell [John Jacob] Astor that the ship had run into an iceberg. The deck was full of upset passengers. The sailors lowered the two lifeboats. I ordered my wife to get in and was going to remain on the Titanic. But she was terrified and hysterical and yelled that if I and my brother didn’t get into the lifeboat with her, she would throw herself into the sea. We did as she demanded and got into the lifeboat.
“The night was black. The lights on the Titanic were extinguished. We rowed very far. I don’t know how the ship went down, because I couldn’t see. I heard the horrible screams of the hundreds of people who would soon be drowned. Two hours afterward, these heartrending cries kept resounding ceaselessly. Slowly, the voices died out. A deathly silence prevailed in the air. The only sounds we heard were when a sister lifeboat passed by from time to time.”
Eight Die in the Lifeboat
Mrs. Andrews, an elderly woman, tells the following:
“Men were permitted in the first two lifeboats along with their wives, because at that point there weren’t enough women on deck to fill the lifeboats.
“The lifeboat that went ahead of ours rescued 17 men out of the water. But two of them died shortly thereafter. They froze in the water. A third was unconscious.
“The men in my lifeboat took their coats off and gave them to the women, who were practically all half-naked.
“The most moving event was the following: Sixteen to 20 men sat on a raft. For six hours, they floated, up to their knees in the icy water. When they were finally taken onto a lifeboat, one of them had both feet frozen and eight others died shortly thereafter. “The dead were thrown into the sea, which was a good thing for the living, because it lightened the load of the lifeboat and enabled it to stay afloat.”
The Last Woman on Board Refused to Leave Without her Brother
Mrs. Shobert, a middle-aged woman, told of how her stubbornness saved her brother.
“When I was up on deck, I heard the ship’s officers yelling, ”Women first! Women first!” The sailors tore women away from their husbands and brothers and pushed them into the lifeboats. The last lifeboat was already being lowered. I was standing next to my brother, holding him with both hands. There weren’t any more women on deck. The sailors spotted me: ’Get in the lifeboat!’ they ordered. I refused, saying, ‘Without my brother, I’m not going.’ I remained there stubbornly, refusing for a few minutes, until finally the sailors permitted my brother to get into the lifeboat along with me. And that’s how I rescued him.
“We left the Titanic with 25 minutes to spare before she sank. It was a beautiful night and when we rowed away from the Titanic, she looked gorgeous — lit up brightly by hundreds of lamps, and the music was playing.”
Someone Threw a Child into My Arms
Mrs. [Mary] Marvin, an 18-year-old wife who was returning from her honeymoon to Europe with her husband, told the following moving story:
“My husband pushed me into a lifeboat and he remained alone on deck and went down with the Titanic. As I sat in the lifeboat and waved goodbye to my husband, a bundle suddenly fell off the ship right into my arms and startled me. A five-year-old child lay in my arms, shivering from fright and the cold. For the entire five hours that my lifeboat was tossing in the waves, I held that child to my bosom. I don’t know whose child it is even now. Her parents must have both drowned on the Titanic. I gave her to Mrs. Irving, the head of the Women’s Relief Committee.”
What Happened in Steerage
Third-class passenger Karl Johnson tells of what happened in third class on the night of the disaster.
“We practically didn’t hear the crash on our side, but a few of us who were on the ocean side did feel the ship shake, but none of us paid much attention to that. Suddenly, several sailors ran over to us, demanding that we get dressed and get up on deck, and we did. But none of us imagined the situation to be so critical.
“When I arrived on deck, there was an awful panic among the passengers. Women were yelling from fear and men were running to and fro. Then I noticed how the ship started sinking at the edge where I was standing. The lights were still functioning on the ship. At first, when the sailors lowered the second lifeboat, the water flooded the engine room and the electricity stopped working and it was dark. Luckily, the night was bright and the sky was full of beautiful stars.
“I don’t recall what happened next. I only remember hearing voices of distressed people. Everybody decided to run over to the other end of the ship. I ran over with them when suddenly a wave smashed into my face and I was dragged into the water. “The wave dragged me for a while and when I settled down from its crest I noticed a piece of wood. I grabbed onto it and slowly came to, hearing all around me the horrifying screams of men and women who were trying to swim and couldn’t.
“Not far from me, the waves were tossing around an overturned lifeboat. I couldn’t swim over to it, but the water carried me there and I let go of my piece of wood and grabbed hold of the edge of the lifeboat. Another eight people were holding onto it. We were thrilled to realize the waves had thrown it off of the Titanic. When we were half a mile away from the Titanic, we noticed her sinking fast.
“A deathly silence dominated the water. The lifeboats floated merely yards away from each other. I watched the ship sinking lower and lower and suddenly the air was split by a horrible clamor. The ship was lost to the depths. The waves swallowed the heartrending desperation and wrenching laments of the hundreds of men and women who went down with her.
“For two hours, we had been floating, my comrades and I, in ice and waves, until we finally reached a lifeboat. The leader of that lifeboat ordered us to be taken aboard the lifeboat, which was packed with 40 women and 10 men. When all of us were aboard, it was so tight the sailors couldn’t row. We let the lifeboat float by itself until morning, when the Carpathia arrived and took us aboard.”