Which of us hasn’t heard of The Titanic and its tragic end? Who hasn’t watched the epic 3-hour movie centered on the love story of Jack and Rose? And who hasn’t spent the subsequent week crying their heart out while singing the Celine Dion classic My heart will go on?
Well, on the 107th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, we thought we’d give you some interesting facts of our people who were on board.
On April 14th, 1912, the most famous ship in the world hit an iceberg and sank into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The tragedy took the lives of more than 1,500 passengers and crew members, 165 of which were Lebanese.
It is a little known fact that there were 165 Lebanese on board of the British passenger liner, making their way from Southampton in England to New York City in the US.
The forgotten story of the Lebanese passengers was told by Michel Karam, author of the book, Lebanese on the Titanic. In it, the author recounts the circumstances that led to our 165 countrymen and countrywomen boarding the ship, and the events of the dreaded night, as told by its survivors.
We brought you today some highlights, and, while the movie’s storyline is fictional, it is astonishing how much these snippets about our Lebanese Titanic’s travelers resemble closely elements of the famous film.
These could very well be the true events that inspired some of the scenes of James Cameron’s movie. We’ll let you decide on your own:
(Warning:Spoilers ahead. But come on! Who hasn’t watched Titanic?)
Over 160 hopefuls from across Lebanon boarded the RMS Titanic on April 12th in search of a better life for themselves and their families.
From our towns of Kfarmishki, Zgharta, Zahle, Bkassine, Bint Jbeil, and others, these Lebanese people left their hometowns with the sole dream of escaping poverty and the clutches of the barbaric Ottoman rule.
The mountainous village of Hardine (pronounced Hardeen) in Batroun sent 19 of its sons and daughters on the ship. Only 7 of them made it back.
The following stories are relayed by Hardine native, Elie Fares.
One of these survivors, named Sileneh Dagher, was a newlywed traveling to the United States with her husband Antoun Yazbeck.
They both made it into a rescue boat. But an officer held a gun to Antoun’s head and forced him to relinquish his seat, convincing Sileneh that her husband would follow her on another boat. That was the last time she ever saw him.
The only man from Hardine who survived did so because a foreign woman pitied him and got him to hide under her dress in the rescue boat. The man in question was Moubarak Assi (shown below), the deacon of the Lebanese Patriarch Elias Howayek.
Another poignant account that came from Hardine is the story of Hanna Touma, a man who was in love with a girl from his hometown called Zahiyya Khalil.
Hanna and Zahiyya decided to travel to the United States to start a better life. Zahiyya’s parents refused for them to leave without getting married, so they tied the knot hours only before leaving Lebanon.
Aboard the Titanic, a wedding party was thrown for the newlywed the night the Titanic hit the iceberg.
According to survivors, once news of the collision reached the young couple, Zahiyya refused to leave her beloved husband’s side despite the officers begging her to. And so they held on to each other and bid farewell to the world together.
The people of Hardine in the sinking ship faced their looming mortality with remarkable bravery.
According to Moubarak Assi, as his rescue boat was being lowered off the ship, he saw the men of his hometown huddled around each other. Then one of them shouted, “Dabkeh, ya shabeb!”
And they embraced themselves to face their inevitable death, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, in this old-rooted unity and bravery-empowering dance of ours, called Dabkeh.