The story of the forgotten Arab victims of the Titanic, told 100 years later
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.
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.
(This is the first of a three-part series of articles on Arabs who lost their lives on the Titanic.)