Skip To Content

What the Rescued Jewish Immigrants Have to Say

This article was published in the Yiddish-language Forward on April 19, 1912.

Twenty immigrants who were rescued from the Titanic are currently staying at the Hospitality Society located at 229 East Broadway. Five of them are Jewish; the rest are Christians and Muslims. Mr. Irving Lipschitz and Mr. Samuel Mason, representatives of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, brought them there from their rescue ship last night. Only the individuals who are traveling farther on from here were brought to the Hospitality Society’s locale. Local survivors were placed on buses and sent directly from the ship to their nearby addresses.

Tired, weak and broken down, with signs of their frightening experiences visible on their faces and in their eyes, which had witnessed death — this was typically how the unfortunate, yet lucky, rescued immigrants appeared. Though disheartened, they were still able to share experiences of surviving the events of last Sunday evening, when the Titanic crashed into an iceberg, sending it plunging into the depths. Afterward, they went to sleep in comfortable beds prepared for them. All of them quickly fell into a deep sleep, here in their first peaceful accommodations.

Plunging into the Sea

Gershon Cohen, a young, 19-year-old typesetter born in London who was traveling to be with his relative, Simon Beyn of 100 Cook St. in Brooklyn, told us what he had experienced:

When the accident occurred, he was asleep in his bed in steerage class. Awakened by the sudden bump, he thought the ship had been jostled a bit, but he turned over again and went back to sleep. But he was soon awakened by the noise of the desperate voices of his neighbors, and he ran up on deck. The deck was full of shards of ice that had fallen off the iceberg. He remembers only that he grabbed a life preserver and jumped into the ocean from a great height. At first he felt nothing and had no sense of where he was. Later, he heard a voice saying that there was room for two more people. He looked around and saw a lifeboat in the distance and realized that the voice he heard must have come from that boat. The life preserver held him afloat in the water, but he didn’t know how to make his way over to the lifeboat. Shortly thereafter, a hand grabbed him and pulled him up into the boat. There, he was given an oar and asked to help row. He was rescued from that location.

In the Pandemonium, She Lost Track of Her Baby and Didn’t Know If It Had Been Rescued.

The story of Leah Aks is heartbreaking. She was rescued along with her 8-month-old baby. Mrs. Aks is a charming 25-year-old woman who found herself in the second lifeboat, but she was dismayed at having saved her own life, for in the chaos and tumult, she had lost her child. She had been bringing the infant to her husband, the baby’s father, who, having deprived himself of eating till sated, and having saved cent by cent, was able to send for his beloved family. The rescued mother’s heart was torn to pieces as she looked for her child. Her baby, to her great joy, had also been rescued and was found in another lifeboat. When she was already aboard the Carpathia, she found the baby. Mrs. Aks had also been asleep during the accident and, had she not been awakened, she would have died.

What pen or pencil, what language is sufficient to describe this mother’s bliss?

Mrs. Aks is now traveling to Norfolk, Va., where her husband, who has only been in this country for one year, lives at 195 Chapel St. He is employed there as a pants operator.

Two of the other rescued Jewish immigrants are Beile Moor and her 7-year-old boy, Meier, of Starzshtsh, in the Podolsk region of Russia. She is a widow whose husband was killed in the Russo-Japanese war. She and her son spent 10 months in London and she’s currently traveling to the home of her aunt, Grune Koyfman of 943 West Randolph St.,Chicago. The Forverts reporter found Mrs. Moor while she was in the midst of writing a letter.

She is a 27-year-old woman. Her face still reveals the intense fear she recently experienced. Her eyes are tear-filled, but they are tears of joy as she writes to her nearest and dearest about her and her son’s fortunate rescue. She hadn’t known about the accident, and she had been awakened twice, but once she understood the danger, she ran off to wake her neighbors.
The Forverts reporter asked her: “How did you feel when you saw the accident?”

“I felt that my life was over, and I clutched my child tightly to myself and thought that whatever will be will be,” answered the rescued woman.

“Do you recall what took place around you?”

“Yes. People ran about wildly as though mad. The sound of wailing voices was petrifying. At the time, one couldn’t think about oneself much.”

“What did you feel once you were in a lifeboat?”

“I waited for death. None of us knew whether we would be found.”

“Did you see the ship sink?”

“Who could look at the disaster” My child said to me, pointing at the sinking ship, ‘Mother, mother, do you see? The lights are going out and the ship is plunging downward.’ But I turned my head away. It was alarming to watch, but having turned my glance to the other side, the scene was just as appalling. People were swimming about with despairing voices, with wild screaming. Everywhere you looked were the same terrifying images. If you closed your eyes, those fierce cries would lance your ears as they did mine. From every vantage point, death stared you in the eyes.”

He Fooled a Sailor

Philip Zeny, a Christian, tells of how he “stole” his own life by fooling a sailor.

The captain gave strict orders about the lifeboats throughout the ship: “No men — only women and children.” Lower-ranked officers, sailors and even some male passengers enforced this order. This order was enforced even by lower ranked officers, the sailors and some of the male passengers. Zeny himself was helping a female passenger who had fainted into a lifeboat. Then, instead of exiting the boat, he hid himself beneath a seat the way European train passengers steal a ride.

When the lifeboat had been lowered from the Titanic and had distanced itself from the ship somewhat, he overheard the women bemoaning the lack of men to help row the lifeboat. At that point, he came out of hiding. The sailor who then discovered him wasn’t pleased and demanded an explanation. But the women welcomed him and pleaded with the sailor not to harm him, and he then picked up an oar and started to help row the lifeboat.

They Thought He Was a First-Class Passenger

Picard Philippe Bernert, a Frenchman who had been living in England, was saved in a remarkable manner.

When he heard the screaming, he ran up to the first-class upper deck where the sailors were busy seating women and children in the lifeboats. One of the boats lacked enough women, so they began seating the men who were standing there, and Bernert was fortunate to be included.

“It was frightening, very frightening, to hear the last death rattles of the unfortunates who struggled desperately against the waves until they sank down under,” said this rescued man. “I heard these voices while I was already seated in the lifeboat, and along with those horrible sounds, I could hear music coming from the boat’s orchestra, which hadn’t ceased playing throughout the entire tumult. The unsettling human cries along with the harmonious sounds of the music mixed together with the wild rush of the angry ocean. It was a horrid, frightful concert of a ghostly orchestra.”

Outside the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society’s building, masses of people gathered that morning. They had come to find out about their friends who had traveled on the unfortunate ship. A heartbreaking scene played out when cousins of the rescued Gershon Cohen arrived. Tears could be seen in the eyes of the bystanders when the rescued fellow was embraced.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.