On this day: The Titanic hits an iceberg

April 14 1912: Tragedy at sea


Perhaps the most famous ocean wreckage in history, 99 years after it left Southampton its name still warns of the follies of poor disaster planning.

The "unsinkable" ship, which set sail on April 10 carrying 2,228 people crashed into an iceberg at 11.40pm. The impact left a gaping hole in its hull and water flooded in. The ship sank in the freezing Atlantic waters a few hours later early in the morning of April 15.

There were several Jewish passengers on board, many of them impoverished and in search of a better life, others considerably better off. Isidor Straus and his wife Ida, whose wealthy family owned New York department store R. H. Macy and Co, were among the more than 1,500 those who died at sea. Their bodies were never recovered, despite the best efforts of their son Percy.

The Straus', who had been married for 41 years and had six children, were later immortalised on screen, marking the fact that they refused to separate and instead chose to go to their deaths together.

Other Jewish victims included tobacconist Benjamin Hart, who was travelling with his wife and seven-year-old daughter (both survived) and banker Benjamin Guggenheim, who reportedly refused a place on a lifeboat and told a steward: "I will not go. No woman shall remain unsaved because I was a coward. If I don't turn up tell my wife I have done my duty the best I can."

Some of the victims who were believed to be Jewish were buried in the Baron de Hirsch Jewish cemetery in Halifax, Canada, most in graves marked only with numbers. It later emerged that some may have been wrongly indentified as Jewish.

Manchester merchant Adolphe Saalfeld was one of those who was saved. He later recalled: "Our boat was nearly two miles away but pitiful cries could be plainly heard. No one in our boat knew how many lifeboats were on Titanic...there was ample time for saving every soul on board had there been sufficient boats."

Rabbis around the country read sermons dedicated to the victims of the disaster, The JC paid tribute to those who perished, calling the sinking "the most dreadful maritime disaster in history". The editor also called for contributions to a fund for relatives of those who had drowned.

What the JC said: The news that has now come to hand of the foundering of the Titanic unhappily confirms the worst fears raised by the first tidings of the disaster. All that probably will ever be known is now known of this terrible calamity, sand it is certain that a large number of coreligionists perished in the wreck

See more from the JC archives here.

    Last updated: 10:01am, April 14 2011