Profits came before the safety of passengers
peaceful and calm amidst all the uproar and strife of the struggling hundreds at the boats”. Refusing the offer of a lifeboat, “these two old persons stood calmly awaiting death which was inevitable”. As the lifeboats drew away, the witness “could see the pair together still arm in arm, Straus bending towards the partner of his declining years, giving her a farewell kiss. It was an inspiring picture”.
Millionaire banker Benjamin Guggenheim was equally stoical — according to the report of the disaster in the JC, he also refused a place in a lifeboat. “I will not go. No woman shall remain unsaved because I was a coward”, he is quoted as saying. The paper added that, having “assisted the officers nobly in getting the women in the boats”, he died “with a jest upon his lips”.
With some relief an editorial in the JC commented that: “The whole incident shows that the Jewish race, after centuries of trampling under foot, retains its capacity for throwing up great types, and that even Jewish millionaires — the sport, sometimes, of so much idle and senseless declamation — may be numbered with the noblest breeds of men”.
It is a sad reflection of the times a century ago, as Richard Davenport-hines has suggested in his Titanic Lives (2012), that in such actions “Guggenheim, like Straus, wished to belie the antisemites”.
Also reflecting the contemporary mores, the JC devoted little space to the ordinary Jews travelling steerage who perished in great numbers. Some names were given but little else. But Jewish bravery was certainly not confined to first-class, and it was reported in detail by rival newspaper, the Jewish World, in relation to a young man, Gershoncohen,borninwhitechapelin1892. A former member of the Brady Club, he had trained as a compositor but had saved up for a third-class ticket to join his uncle in Brooklyn with the hope of opening a haberdashery business.
The paper reproduced his letter to his parents written on board the Carpathia as it awaited entry into New York. A mixture of Boy’s Own adventure and British imperial understatement, Gershon related how he jumped into the sea, managing to swim to a lifeboat. Although injured, he was one of only three men in the boat and he helped row it away from the swell of the fastsinking Titanic. Five hours later, they were picked up by the Carpathia.
His “adventurous” life was far from over. At the start of the war he came back to Britain to join the army where he was wounded twice and left blinded. In the Second World War he survived the Blitz and died at a ripe old age in Southend. Not surprisingly, his nickname was “the cat”. Certainly his optimism radiates from his letter back home — despite the horrors he had witnessed. In his section
Charts showing the numbers of passengers and crew lost when the Titanic sank. The figures are drawn from official information given in the House of Commons. The breakdown shows that just over 37 per cent of the 322 first-class passengers, died (115 men and five women); 58 per cent of the 277 second-class passengers died (147 men and 15 women), while of the 709 third-class passengers, 399 men, 81 women and 53 children died — a total of 75 per cent. Some 686 men and two women crew members died
The JC report of the disaster — and its wealthier victims — in April 1912