He survived the Titanic shipwreck, and became a Manchester legend


Pistols were firing, children were being dragged from their mothers, and men stampeded in panic. But this was not a German concentration camp. It was the sinking of the Titanic, as witnessed by a British Jewish survivor.

One hundred years ago, survivor Joseph Hyman told the New York Herald: "We sat there silent, we were terror-stricken. In less than ten minutes there came a terrible explosion, and I could see men, women and pieces of the ship blown into the air from the after-deck. Later I saw bodies partly blown to pieces floating around, and I am sure more than a hundred persons were blown into the sea by that explosion". As the Titanic sank, Joseph could only hear "a deafening silence" around him.

Years before James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster and ITV's Titanic drama, Joseph Abraham Hyman opened a kosher delicatessen in the run-down area of Cheetham Hill, north Manchester. Just a year earlier, he had been rescued from the freezing North Atlantic. It did not take long before people began to stop and point in the street at the young father - "That's the man from the Titanic" - disregarding the shop's formal name to call the business Titanics, which became Manchester's longest-running kosher shop.

Four generations after the deli's 1913 opening, his family still only know a little about Joseph's experience in the world's most infamous ship disaster.

"My great-grandfather did not really talk about it. The little we do know is that as the ship sank it was pitch black, but he heard the screams as people went down in the sea," recalls Richard Hyman, today's heir to the family business.

"Joseph used to wake up almost every night, screaming, with nightmares which lasted the rest of his life. Then, there were no psychiatrists or recognised conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder."

Joseph Hyman was 34 when he boarded the third-class deck on the "unsinkable" Titanic in Southampton, leaving his wife and four children in Manchester. He was seeking a new life for his family, joining his brother who was already in New Jersey.

When the ship hit the iceberg at 11.40pm on April 14 1912, Joseph and fellow third-class travellers were briefly detained below deck, while other passengers hurried to the Boat Deck.

Five days after his rescue, Joseph told the New York Times: "We got pretty nearly opposite the iceberg, when there came a tearing sound and the boat listed a little to one side... I heard shortly afterwards that some water was coming in and that the poor people heard it coming with a splashing sound. This was too much for them to stand, and they began to fight among themselves to see who would be first in the boats."

As the panic grew, the ship's officers began firing pistols into the crowd. Narrowly avoiding the bullets, Joseph began grabbing women and children from the deck and pushing them into the lifeboats.

Collapsible Lifeboat C had no men to row it beyond the lethal suction of the 50,000-ton ship as it sank. Joseph stepped into the lifeboat with the Titanic's owner, Joseph Bruce Ismay, head of the White Star Line. Together, they rowed the boat two miles out to sea. He was rescued, with 38 other passengers, by the Titanic's sister ship, the Carpathia, and landed in New York.

Joseph's grandson, Stanley, 70, said: "From what I can glean from cousins, Joseph came back to the UK only after his brother got him drunk. He was really too scared to step back onto a ship, but his wife and children were still in England. I remember him as a very quiet man. The ship's sinking must have had something to do with that. But he must have been entrepreneurial, opening the deli and basing it on what he'd seen of kosher shops in New York." Richard Hyman proudly displays a shabby, stained book, containing traditional recipes for curing salt-beef and gefilte fish, which he still uses today, handed down from his great-grandfather.

Stanley Hyman has never been on a cruise, nor has most of his family.

"The family joke is that we get invited on boats - until they find out our history. God forbid, people think we might hit an iceberg in the Med in June."

The Hymans will attend a memorial event in Southampton on April 10 for the families of Titanic survivors.

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