Sunday, April 15, 2012

The story of the forgotten Arab victims of the Titanic, told 100 years later

Apart from a six-second appearance of an Arab family in the Hollywood blockbuster “Titanic,” very little is known about the Arabs that perished aboard the Titanic. 

One hundred years have passed since the sinking of the Titanic, considered the worst disaster the seas have ever witnessed in the twentieth century. In the middle of the extensive coverage this shocking event has received, hardly anything has been mentioned about the Arab passengers that perished on the ship.

In addition to the list of victims which reveals all the Arabs who died in the tragedy were Lebanese except one Egyptian, the proof of Arab presence on the ship was evident in the 1997 blockbuster movie directed by James Cameron.
Graphic: Who was on the Titanic when it sunk … and who got awayOn the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, the National Post graphics department takes a look inside the ship and at the demographics of those who lived and those who went down with the ship.Related:Graphic: Follow the Titanic to the bottom of the ocean  Graphic: Who was on the Titanic when it sunk … and who got away

In the film “Titanic,” an Arabic speaking mother is heard urging her daughter to hurry when she ship starts to sink. The Lebanese accent with which she says “Come! Come!” in Arabic shows her roots.

Her husband replies, also with a Lebanese accent, “Wait! Let me see what we can do,” while panicking in one of the third class corridors. Behind the Lebanese family appears the film’s protagonist Leonardo Di Caprio, also an inmate of the third class, running with Kate Winslet in tow.

The Lebanese husband is seen flipping through the pages of a book that contains a layout of the ship in order to look for a way out. Other than this scene, which lasted for only six seconds, nothing was heard of Arabs who died in this tragedy even though the world keeps remembering the victims on every anniversary.

This clip from the movie is shown on Al Arabiya followed by real footage from the only video recorded inside the ship since it sailed on its way to New York. The video was discovered 27 years ago.

Titanic tragedy felt in Lebanon

The village of Kafr Mishki in the Rashaya District southeast of the Lebanese capital Beirut suffered the most in the Titanic tragedy. The village, whose population does not exceed 500, lost 13 of its residents.

“The church of Kafr Mishki will hold Sunday a Mass for the victims and the congregation will observe a minute of silence to mourn their death,” village mayor Khalil al-Sikli told Al Arabiya in a phone interview.

Sikli added that more than 11,000 natives of Kafr Mishki have immigrated to several parts of the world and are currently scattered over five continents.

“More than 6,000 from Kafr Mishki are in Ottawa, Canada alone.”

The village of Hardine in the Batroun District in northern Lebanon comes second as far as lives lost in Titanic are concerned.

“Hardine lost 11 of its residents in the Titanic [disaster],” the village mayor Bakhous Sarkis Assaf told Al Arabiya.

“When the ship started sinking in the first hours of dawn, those 11 passengers gathered in one corner and started reciting verses one of them improvised in the style of Lebanese vernacular poetry.”

According to Assaf, who says the story has been narrated down generations, the verses Hardine residents recited right before their death were: “O Hardine, weep and lament the death of 11 of your youths who did not exceed 25 years old. Five of them are single and the others are married. None of them is old. They’re all 25.”

Like Kafr Mishki, Hardine will hold a Mass in its church to remember its victims in Titanic, Assaf added.

“I just wish that the Lebanese government would also remember those forgotten victims especially at the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.”

Assaf from Pennsylvania told the story of a 19-year-old boy called Daher Shadid Abi Shadid from the village of Abrine in northern Lebanon. Abi Shadid accidentally killed a girl from his village while experimenting with his gun.

“Fearing the retaliation of the girl’s family, Abi Shadid left the village not knowing where to go until his uncle, who lived in Pennsylvania, sent him some money and told him to travel to the U.S.,” Assaf told Al Arabiya.

Shadid first went to Marseille in France and from there boarded the Titanic which stopped at the UK to pick up more passengers before sailing to New York.

“Shadid escaped a fate in Lebanon only for his uncle to receive his corpse from the Titanic,” he said, again recounting a story as told throughout generations.

One of the most striking details revealed to Al Arabiya during the search for details about Arab victims on the Titanic was provided by Syrian-American writer Laila Salloum Elias who wrote a book titled “The Dream and then the Nightmare.”

Elias relied on Arab newspapers published in New York at the time of the ship’s sinking as information for her book. One such story came from the then famous al-Hoda newspaper.

According to Elias, who also listened to testimonies from victims’ families, several of the Lebanese victims were shot dead for refusing to obey the orders of the ship’s security personnel.

One was killed for trying to get on a life boat reserved for first class passengers.
Even though the list of victims who died on the Titanic denotes who among them was Arab, it is difficult to find enough information on their Arab nationalities and what circumstances drove them to board the doomed ship. This even applies to Encyclopedia Titanic, the most comprehensive source on the 1912 tragedy.

One of the challenges facing anyone investigating the case of foreigners on the Titanic is the way Arab names have been written as they do not necessarily correspond to the original names in Arabic. For example, Yusuf would become Joseph and Boutros would become Peter and so on.

One of the victims came from a family called Badr in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. The name was however spelled as “Badt” in the foreign media and had his first name not been Mohammed, no one would have guessed he was Arab.
The same happened with one of the survivors who came from the village of Chanay in the Aley District of western Lebanon. Nassef Qassim Abi al-Muna was written as “Albimona.” According to Muna’s granddaughter, the Beirut-based journalist Nada Fayyad, her grandfather died in Lebanon in 1975.

“He left behind an entire tribe that amounts to 200 children and grandchildren,” she told Al Arabiya. “Thank God he survived. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”

Fayyad added that her grandfather was married when he boarded the Titanic to a Lebanese woman who he divorced when he returned from the United States.

“In Lebanon, he married another woman and had six girls with her. The youngest is my mother who currently lives in the United States.”

A large number of the Titanic’s Arab passengers were laborers and farmers, as was made clear in the “travel contract” they signed with the company that owned the ship.

Suleiman Attallah, who drowned on the Titanic at the age of 30, was an exception. Attallah, who immigrated to Canada, was from Kafr Mishki, the village in Rashaya District that lost 13 of its residents on the Titanic.

Lebanese journalist and writer Samir Attallah could not confirm his relation with the deceased.

“I do not recall one of my relatives being on the Titanic and dying on it,” he told Al Arabiya.

Arab passengers on the Titanic rank fifth after the British (327), the Americans (306), the Irish (120), and the Swedish (113) as the largest group aboard the ship. Arabs were made up of one Egyptian and approximately 81 Lebanese, 20 women and 46 men. The youngest of Arab passengers was 16 and the oldest 45 and they had with them children whose ages ranged from three months to 15 years. Only 30 of them survived.

The only proof that those passengers were Lebanese is not their travel document since they carried Ottoman identification that indicated them as residents of Greater Syria, which includes present-day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. It was rather the fact that they came from villages that still have the same names in Lebanon.

The tiresome mission of tracing the Lebanese victims of the Titanic was first embarked upon by the Lebanese newspaper al-Anwar. In 1998, the newspaper published a report about correspondence between Lebanese expatriates in the United States and their families in Lebanon. This correspondence contained several names of Lebanese passengers on the Titanic and information about them.

A month later, another report was prepared by Palestinian-Lebanese journalist Ray Hanania which included a list of 79 names that did not include the Egyptian and the other Lebanese. He also published the names in their English form so the original Arabic remained unclear.

“I got the idea of digging up information about Arab passengers on the Titanic when I saw the movie and heard one of the passengers in it speak Arabic,” he told Al Arabiya.

Of the 899 crew members of the Titanic, there was one who was Lebanese, Mansour Meshaalani.

Meshaalani, also a British citizen, was born in 1860 in Lebanon and was in charge of the printing department on the ship on which food menus and name tags were printed.

He was also in charge of a daily newsletter that acquainted passengers with the activities that took place on the ship. Meshaalani did not survive the tragedy.

In 2010, Syrian-American writer Laila Salloum Elias released a book called “The Dream and then the Nightmare: Syrians who Boarded the Titanic.”

Elias sourced most of her information from Arabic language newspapers issued in New York on the year of the tragedy like al-Hoda and Meraat al-Gharb.

“There I found the original Arabic names of the Lebanese passengers who were aboard the Titanic,” she told Al Arabiya.

Elias noted that the word “Syrians” in her subtitle refers to citizens of Greater Syria and not present-day Syria.

Last year, Atlas publishing house in Beirut and Damascus released an Arabic translation of the book.

The story of 27-year-old Egyptian, Hammad Hassab's trip on the Titanic goes back to winter 1912 when an American millionaire called Henry Harper came to Cairo with his wife and stayed at the Shepherd Hotel in Downtown Cairo. (Al Arabiya) The story of 27-year-old Egyptian, Hammad Hassab's trip on the Titanic goes back to winter 1912 when an American millionaire called Henry Harper came to Cairo with his wife and stayed at the Shepherd Hotel in 
The 27-year-old Egyptian, Hammad Hassab, is the most famous among the Arab passengers of the ill-fated Titanic. He was also the only non-Lebanese.

Hassab is one of the victims for which several results appear when you run a search for him on the Internet. His fame is basically attributed to the fact that he accompanied a rich American man on board the Titanic.

This man bought Hassab a ticket for 76 sterling pounds, 14 shillings, and 7 pence, an amount that is now equivalent to $8,000 whereas Hassab’s annual income did not exceed 60 sterling pounds.

The name “Hassab” was written in the list of victims even though he wrote it “Hammad” on his identification card. Information about Hassab reveals that he worked as a tour guide and a translator aboard the ship and his identification card says “Dragoman.” Hassab used to earn 1.25 sterling pounds from the British travel company Thomas Hook and Sons and which had a branch in Cairo, specifically in the Shepherd Hotel.
The story of Hassab’s trip on the Titanic goes back to winter 1912 when an American millionaire called Henry Harper came to Cairo with his wife and stayed at the Shepherd Hotel in Downtown Cairo. Harper asked Thomas and Hook for a translator and he got Hassab.

When the trip was about to come to an end, Harper told Hassab that he was most welcome to come with them to the United States if he wanted. Harper agreed immediately to what seemed to have started as a joke then was later taken seriously.

Harper and Hassab first traveled to Paris where the former bought a dog that he named Sun Yat-sen after a Chinese revolutionary who became famous in 1911. Then they headed to the French port of Cherbourg where they boarded the Titanic on April 10, 1912 with the other Lebanese passengers.

Harper, his wife, and Hassab as well as the dog, all survived since they were quick to get on a life boat. The boat that embarked on was the third out of the total of 20 which was equipped. Harper and Hassab were not supposed to have access to a life boat that quickly since priority was given to women and children.

There are no pictures of Hassab or Harper’s wife available, either online or through other sources on the Titanic, whereas Harper himself had only one photo. There is a photo of a life boat that might have been the one they got on when the ship started sinking.

The life boat picture ─ taken by J.W. Parker, crew member of the boat Carpathia, which rescued the 706 passengers who survived the Titanic disaster ─ shows two men among many women. They are seated next to a woman holding a puppy. The dark man is believed to be Hassab and the woman is most likely Harper’s wife.

According to reports on the sinking of the Titanic, Mr. and Mrs. Harper and Hassab were having dinner when the ship hit the iceberg. Because they were first class passengers, a crew member asked them to head to their rooms, take their valuables, and put on a life jacket. They were then taken to a life boat.

The three of them hurried to their rooms, collected their most precious possessions and then headed towards the life boat. On their way, Harper remembered that he had forgotten his hat and wanted to go back and get it, but his wife prevented him from doing so.

The boat, which the three boarded, did not wait for more passengers and left at half its capacity. That is why the boat appears empty in the photograph even though it was designed to accommodate 60 people.

The director of the movie “Titanic,” James Cameron, sent in 2001 a robotic devise to the ship wreck to record findings. The robot entered Harper’s suite and took a picture of the hat that remained at its spot for 100 years.

Hassab is said to have left the United States to Cairo, where he resumed his work as a translator. In 1927, he sent a postcard to someone in the United which depicted a boat crossing the Nile. The envelope also included Hassab’s business card. That card was later displayed at the Brooklyn Museum and is considered one of Titanic’s paraphernalia.

Harper, who is said to have stopped wearing hats, married another woman at the age of 59 after the death of his wife in 1923. He fathered a child with her and then died in 1944 in New York leaving behind an unsolved mystery as to why he had invited a man he barely knew to travel with him and his wife to the United States.

The list of Lebanese passengers who were on board the Titanic is mostly taken from the “The Dream and then the Nightmare” by Syrian-American writer Laila Salloum Elias, who currently lives in Pennsylvania.

In addition to sinking with the ship, some Lebanese passengers died after surviving the tragedy like five-month-old Mariam Nakad who died on July 30, 1912 and the Lebanese girl Eugene Baakelini, who died on August 12 the same year.

The list of the 59 Lebanese passengers who died on the Titanic

From Kafr Mishki: Catherine Barbara (Barbar), Saeida Barbara (Barbar), Karam Yusuf Karam, Assad Hanna Rizk, Maria (Mariam) Elias Wahba- Mikhail Assaf Taama, Suleiman Khalil Attalah, From Mansour: Hanna al-Hajj, Assaf Yusuf Tamma al-Sikli, Elias Tanous Ibrahim Nasrallah, Elias Yusuf Shahine, Hanna Yusuf.

From Hardine: Zohair Badr Khalil, Matanyuos al-Hourani, Asaad Tanous, Antone Moussa Yazbak, Botrous Khalil Tanyous (Moussa), Hanna Elias Samaan (Abu Fadel al-Bayadia)- Boules Hanna Deeb, Bashir Tanous Bashir (Raad), Yusuf Grace, Samaan Assi, Botrous Samaan (Aassi)

From Tibneen: Masfi Nasr Almi, Amin Hussein Saad, Khalil Hussein Saad, Hassan Saad, Yusuf Ahmed Wazna, Rashid al-Hakk Abdul Hussein Bazzi, Tawfik Nakhle al-Khouri

From Beirut: Constantine al-Labki, Yusuf Hani (Ibrahim), Malaka Attalah, Ibrahim Mansour Meshaalani, Prince Fares Shehab, Graceal- Labki

From Saraal: Boules (Bakhus) Rafoul Bakhous, Catherine (Katrina) Rizk Botrous Yusus, Soaadou Hanna Nasr Rizk, Nour al-Ain Boules, Akar Boules, Sultana Rizk Boules

From Zagharta: Sarkis Lahoud Ishak Moaawad, Botrous Kaawi, Kaatous Botrous Kaadi, Hanna Mikhail al-Aam

From Tahoum: Tanous Daher, Girgis Yusuf Abi Saad, Hanna Tanous Moaawad Bu Shahine, Tanous Hanna Moaawad.

From Tripoli: Mohamed Badr, Elia Deebou
From Chanay: Hussein Mahmoud Hussein Abi al-Muna, Farid Qassim Hussein (Abdul Khalek)

Others: Nicola Khalil Nasrallah from Zahle, Asaad Hassan Tarfa from Bint Jbeil, Suleiman Abi Nader from Beksine, Daher Shadid Abi Shadeed from Abreen

List of the survivors

From Cairo: Hammad Hassab

From Hardine: Thamine Iskander Khouri Tanous Raad, Silana Iskanfer Abi Dagher Yazbak, Amina Mubarak, Girgis Mubarak, Halim Mubarak, Mubarak Hanna Suleiman Abi Aasi

From Tibneen: Hanna Yusuf Razi Darwish Taama, Marian Yusuf Darwish Taama, Girgis Yusuf Darwish Taama, Fatma Mohamed Muslimani

From Al-Shuwair: Adal Najuib Kiyama, Latifa al-Hajj Kurban al-Baakilini, Maria al-Baakilini, Eugene al-Baakilini, Helana Baakilini

From Zagharta: Hanna (Mama) Makhlouf, Mantoura Boules (Moussa)

From Kafr Delajous: Saeid Antoine Nakad, Wadeea Nakad, Mariam Nakad

From Al-Hakour: Jamila Nicola Yard, Elias Nicola Yard

From Al-Fakeeha: Sourou Murad, Mikhail Murad, Rahma Razouk

From Saraal: Mary (Nabiha) Botrous Yusuf, Michael (Shafik) Botrous Yusuf

Other areas:
Banoura Ayoub Daher from Kafr Ebeida, Nassif Qassim Abi al-Muna from Chanay, Adale Habib Nasrallah from Zahle, Fahim Rouhani al-Zoani from Toula, Reem Assaf, Zaad Khalil Khalil Assaf Nasrallah from Kafr Mishki, Shanina Gi8rgis Shahine Yusuf Wahba from Tahoum, Safia Halout (or Mariam Yusuf Ibrahim)

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid) 

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