There are few stories which affect us as powerfully as the story of the sinking of the Titanic.
It is a story of arrogance, pomposity, and cruel disregard for human life.
It is a story of bravery, compassion and self-sacrifice.
It is a story about horrible deaths.
It is a story of survival.
The British ship Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912 after colliding with an iceberg only four days into her maiden voyage. The sinking of the Titanic caused the deaths of 1,502 of the 2,224 passengers and crew she carried.
Noted for its luxury and opulence the Titanic had a swimming pool, first-class restaurants, and every modern convenience of the time. She carried hundreds of emigrants on their way to North America and also some of the wealthiest people in the world. This unsinkable vessel also carried only enough lifeboats for 1,178 souls.
On April 14, 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg. The ship gradually filled with water. First class women and children were hurriedly loaded into lifeboats. When the ship finally broke apart and foundered there were still over a thousand people aboard. Two hours later the RMS Carpathia was able to rescue 705 survivors.
The disaster was greeted with worldwide shock and outrage at the huge loss of life and the procedural failures that had led to it. It is suspected that over 100 Jews died on the Titanic, many of them poor immigrants on their way to America. Others were crew members and also wealthy, prominent Jews who occupied first-class cabins. Jewish first-class passengers, Ida and Abraham Straus went down with the ship along with Jewish millionaire Benjamin Guggenheim.
Cantor Josef (Yossele) Rosenblatt, being a man of great heart, felt called upon to reach out with help for all those who had lost loved ones in the tragedy. Raising his powerful voice in song, he recorded “El mole rachmin (fur Titanic)” for Victor records soon afterwards. Record sales soared and Rosenblatt was able to collect over $150,000 in royalties, which was promptly donated to help the bereaved families. Click to hear original recording.
English translation: Exalted, compassionate God, grant perfect peace in Your sheltering Presence, among the holy and the pure, to the souls of all our beloved who have gone to their eternal home. May their memory endure as inspiration for deeds of charity and goodness in our lives. May their souls thus be bound up in the bond of life. May they rest in peace. And let us say: Amen.
The American Jewish community was especially touched by the bravery and death of Ida Straus who chose to die alongside her husband. Solomon Smulewitz, a prolific writer for the Yiddish theater, wrote “Der Naser Kaver (The Watery Grave)” a graphic and moving song about the tragic event. Click to hear the original recording.
English translation: There stand, in woe/The thousands in need/And know that death/will dash them down/Then they cry, “Save yourselves/into the boats quickly, women/No man dare/ Take a place tbere.”/But listen to one woman-soul/who can say/”I won’t stir from the spot/I’ll die here with my husband.”/Let small and great honor/the name of Ida Straus! (from Tenement Songs by Mark Slobin; 1982).
PLEASE click here to hear FAU’s Recorded Sound Archives compilation of 14 original songs from the Titanic Era.