The toddlers ‘orphaned’ by the Titanic disaster, April 1912

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Brothers holding toys being photographed shortly after returning to land after surviving the titanic. Both are not aware the significance of what just happened.There is a chain fence and wooden wall behind them.
The ‘Titanic Orphans’, Brothers Michel (age 4) and Edmond (age 2) pictured shortly after returning to land after surviving the sinking of the RMS Titanic, April 1912. Library of Congress // Public Domain

A remarkable story surrounds this image of these two little cute boys. They would become known as the ‘Titanic Orphans’ and are believed to be the only two orphans who would make it off the Titanic alive, after successfully being placed on the last inflatable boat by their father. Their father would later go on to perish in the sinking of the Titanic but these two brothers would successfully make it to New York and would temporarily be looked after by a French-speaking passenger Margaret Hays. She would later go on to look after the orphans until their mother surprisingly arrived in New York to collect the boys following a newspaper article.

So how did these two little boys make it onto the famous ship. Following the divorce of their parents, the boys would regularly visit their dad on the weekend. It would be during a long Easter Weekend that the dad would plan on taking/kidnapping the boys to a new life in America. From their hometown in Nice the 3 of them would travel to Southampton and board the Titanic. As second class passengers they would change their name, to Lola and Louis, to hide their actual identity from the estranged mother and wife left at home, shedding their actual jewish name and adopting a pseudo identity under ‘Hoffman’.

One of the brothers, Michel Navratil, would later describe the Titanic as a ‘magnificent ship’. But, famously, this huge ship would sink at the hands of an iceberg killing more than 1500 people. The boy’s father would be a victim of the sinking ship. But before he died, he would manage to smuggle the brothers onto Collapsible D lifeboat – the last lifeboat that was successfully launched from the ship. These brothers would become known as the ‘Titanic Orphans’ as knowledge of their surviving mother was unknown until years later, and their father would become one of the recovered bodies from the wreckage. The boys also only knew French and could only respond ‘oui’ to any questions.

Following the rescue of the brothers, they would take up residence in New York being looked after by a french speaking wealthy woman. It would not be until 1912, when their mother, who had no idea they had left on board the Titanic would eventually reunite with her children. As a result of newspaper articles, the boys mother – Marcelle – would board the Oceanic to return the boys to their native France. The older brother Michel went on to live into his old age, visiting his father’s grave in Nova Scotia for the first time when he was 87 years of age, decades after. The younger brother did not have quite as fortunate a life as his brother. Edmond would become an architect before deploying for France in the Second World War. He would be captured as a Prisoner of War. Surviving the war he would return to France but ill health from the bad conditions of his internment caused his eventual demise at the young age of 43 in 1953.

Surviving the Titanic is a crazy enough life story; Edmond also survived a POW camp during WWII. He would have had some seriously good stories for the grandchildren had he lived longer. Michel would live on to be the oldest surviving male survivor from the Titanic. Dubbed the ‘Titanic Orphans’, these boys became well known to the world and are amongst a very few nice stories to come out of the sinking of the Titanic. Perhaps the sequel to the Hollywood blockbuster?

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