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Friday, 13 April 2012

One Armenian’s Fateful Escape from the Titanic

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Armenian Titanic survivor Neshan Krekorian (seated left) with his wife, Persape (seated right), daughter Angie (center), son George (left), and daughter Alice (right).

From Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Adapted from

The amazing tale of how one young Armenian managed to escape the Titanic and other dire circumstances through his travels from Turkey to the USA.

Neshan Krekorian was barely in his twenties when his father urged him to emigrate from western Armenia and start a new life far away across the Atlantic Ocean.

Thousands of Armenians were doing the same, in a bid to escape rising violence and persecution at the hands of Ottoman-era Turks.

So Krekorian fled, making his way across Europe and purchasing a third-class ticket for what would prove a fateful ocean journey.

“His father told him to leave the country and seek a new life in Canada and hopefully bring his brothers over,” says Krekorian’s grandson, Van Solomonian.

“He had two younger brothers who stayed behind. My grandfather gathered four other compatriots from Turkish Armenia in the area that he lived in, which was Keghi. And they got to France in Cherbourg, and by pure fate got on the ‘Titanic.’”

Krekorian was one of over 700 third-class passengers on board the maiden voyage of the celebrated ocean liner.

Immigrants from across the British Isles, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East paid the equivalent of $1,000 for a steerage-class ticket entitling them to modest sleeping quarters and meals in the third-class dining hall for the duration of what was meant to be a weeklong voyage.
‘A Shudder And A Dull Thud’
But things took a turn for the worse five nights into the journey. Close to midnight on April 14, the ship hit a massive iceberg in the North Atlantic and slowly began to sink. According to Solomonian, his grandfather and some of his fellow third-class passengers had just settled in for a game of cards when they heard “a shudder” and “a dull thud.”

“He knew something had happened, but he didn’t quite know what,” Solomonian says. “The problem with the third-class passengers was that they were actually locked down on their decks, because at the time regulations required that steerage passengers be isolated from first and second class.

“He and a few other men had to break a chain lock to get up to the upper decks. My grandfather ended up on boat 10. The boat was being lowered and he literally just jumped over the side and basically got away with it.”

Many steerage-class passengers were not nearly so lucky. More than two-thirds of the third-class ticket holders went down with the ship, many because they were unable to reach the upper decks.

Of the approximately 2,200 people on board, only 700 survived, most of them first- and second-class travelers.

Krekorian eventually made his way to Canada, ultimately settling in the town of St. 
Catherines in Ontario.

He Never Forgot The Horror
A foundry worker in the local General Motors plant, he earned enough money to honor his father’s wish to bring his younger brothers to Canada, and helped found the town’s Armenian Church, the first of its kind in the country.

Solomonian says it’s possible his grandfather’s brothers only learned of his ordeal on the “Titanic” once they had arrived in Canada.
When Krekorian died, at the age of 89, one of his brothers lingered at his tombstone, whispering his gratitude for Neshan’s help in getting them out of Keghi.

Solomonian, who grew up in St. Catherines and now lives in Toronto, remembers his grandfather as a quiet man who spoke little English and frequently clutched a string of traditional Armenian worry beads.

Krekorian rarely spoke of his experiences on the ill-fated “Titanic.” Solomonian recalls hearing only brief snippets of his grandfather’s memories of desperate passengers screaming for help and plunging to their death in the icy waters. But he is certain Krekorian never forgot the horror of that day:

“He never went on a boat again in his life,” he says. “He wouldn’t swim. In St. Catherines they had a nice beach on Lake Ontario, and when the family would go there for Sunday picnics, he would never, ever go in. I guess that speaks to the trauma that he experienced. 
He never got over that fear.”

12 Armenians were drowned in Titanic.  The following is a report from The Times – Monday 13, May 1912

Mr G.Hagoian writes from 25, Chesilton Road, Fulham:- In the disaster to the Titanic Armenia has furnished more than her quota of unfortunate passengers. Six Armenians from Keghi, travelling to Marseilles, had proceeded to Cherbourg and taken passage in the Titanic. They were:-Haroutioun Der Zakarian (aged 35), Mamprè Der Zakarian (22), Neshan Krikorian (22), Sarkis Mardirosian (21), David Vartanian (20) and Arsen Siraganian (20). The first five were married men. Of these Neshan Krikorian and David Vartanian were among the saved, and are reported to be undergoing medical treatment at a hospital in New York.

Besides the four drowned in the above list the following also were drowned:- Sarkis Lahundian, Thomas Toumaian, with his little son, Simon Bedrosian, Khachig, Oksen Zakarian, Apcar Muradian, Bedros Yazbegian, 12 in all.

Among the second class passengers Mrs Anna Hamalian was saved. (

Related Biographies: (click)

Sarkis Mardirosian
David Vartanian
Ortin Zakarian
Mapriededer Zakarian

The following is copied and pasted from the Brantford Ontario newspaper – April 14, 2012

Neshan Krekorian spoke no English in 1912. But he understood fear. He understood terror. And the Armenian emigrant had a will to live.

In the desperate panic during the wee hours of April 15, 1912, Krekorian, 25, did not know what instructions frantic Titanic crewmen were shouting. He did not comprehend the words spoken by doomed men as they placed wives and children into the descending lifeboats.

He could not make out the gasping, futile cries for help from those flailing in the icy sea.

Perhaps it was just as well. For more than 65 years, Krekorian lived with memories no one would want yet everyone wanted to hear.

He was one of only about 700 survivors of the sinking of the Titanic. Some 1,500 people died. Krekorian also belonged to an even smaller fraternity – that of male survivors from third class.
When Krekorian boarded the Titanic to embark on a new life in the new world, he had already escaped an uncertain fate.

A Christian, he had fled the political strife and religious persecution of his homeland on the advice of his father, who instructed him to go to North America and start a new life.
In April 1912, he was headed to Brantford where, in the pre-First World War years, a small but vibrant Armenian community had coalesced.

Krekorian, and five other Armenian men from the same general area, found their way to France and booked third-class passage at Cherbourg for a voyage to New York aboard the much-heralded Titanic.

Krekorian had no idea of the hype that preceded the luxurious liner's maiden voyage. As a non-English-speaking steerage passenger, he was also unaware of the lavish amenities afforded to those on the upper decks.

That Krekorian survived was a miracle in more ways than one. He was one of only about 75 men, 76 women and 27 children from third-class to survive the sinking. The death toll of third-class passengers numbered more than 500.

“It was secluded down there,” says grandson Van Solomonian, of Toronto. “He talked about breaking a locked door. There was a chain on the door.”

During the voyage there was no mingling between steerage passengers and those in first or second class.
James Cameron's award winning 1997 film Titanic, featuring a romance between a first-class woman and third-class man, was “completely unrealistic,” Solomonian said. Steerage passengers had their own recreation lounge and dining area but they were well apart and separate from those in first and second-class.
Somehow, in the horrific chaos of the sinking, Krekorian made his way on deck and into lifeboat No. 10. “He saw an opportunity and he jumped in,” Solomonian said.

As years passed, Krekorian's tales of the experience became less specific and more visceral.

“He talked about how cold it was. The chunks of ice (in the water). And the noise. He heard screaming and yelling,” Solomonian said.
After being plucked from lifeboat No. 10 and taken aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, Krekorian joined the hundreds of bewildered, unbelieving strangers whose notoriety for simply being alive would grow with each passing generation.
On arrival in New York City, Krekorian spent four days in hospital being treated for pneumonia. He was finally sent on his way and arrived in Brantford on the evening of April 25, 1912.

An Expositor reporter learned of his arrival and hurried to an Armenian boarding house at 11 Main St. for an exclusive interview.

The reporter entered a large room set with tables. Four Armenian men sat at each table entertaining themselves with some type of “game peculiar to the country whence they came.”

The interview was a convoluted affair, conducted with the help of two interpreters, Mr. Mosoian and Mr. Ouzounean. The latter, Ouzounean, did not speak English either and interpreted Krekorian's words into French.

As soon as Krekorian began to relate his experience for the newspaperman, the other Armenians – about 20 or so -- crowded round to hear the harrowing tale.

Expositor: “Was there much confusion soon after the collision with the iceberg?”

Krekorian: “Yes, Everybody was running every way, downstairs, upstairs. It was about 11 o'clock and I was quite asleep. One of my companions woke me up and told me something happened. He then went up on deck to see what. They tell him to go right down and get his things on and get ready to get into lifeboats.
“At first we had no idea that anything bad happen and then little by little we begin to see ship was sinking. Then everybody get excited, running, shrieking, shouting. I see little boats and big boats being lowered and I begin to feel bad. I see two men try to get into boat. Officer shoot them. I felt stunned, and knew that something must be done. As boat, little boat go down I jump right into it. I then hide under the cover at front.

“I remember twice they look to see all who were in the boat and none see me. Then they come again, third time, and find me. I was too listless to care now, and just sit and look around. We stay in the boat perhaps three hours, perhaps more and then comes the big steamer. We then go to New York.

Expositor: “How many people were there in the little lifeboat?”
Krekorian: “About 50. All passengers and one sailor.”

Expositor: “You say one sailor. Was there a big rich man among the passengers who was also in command of the boat?”

Krekorian: “I couldn't say. I didn't see.”
Expositor: “Did you go to the hospital when you reached New York?”

Krekorian: “Yes. We were there four days. When I leave I get a suit of clothes. All shipwrecked people were given suit of clothes and I was given this overcoat too. And the company give me $10 and my fare to Brantford. I was also given an envelope. They said it was subscription. I look inside. It was $25 in paper.”

The Expositor reporter latched on to a notion that Krekorian had disguised himself as a woman to get off the Titanic.
“Is it true that when found you were wearing women's clothes?” he asked.

“It is not,” Krekorian said. “What time had we to be thinking of women's clothes at such a time as that? I did not know how to think.”

Despite Krekorian's vehement denial, the Expositor propagated the claim and a headline in the next day's paper cried: Armenian Who Dressed in Women's Clothes to Get Off the Titanic Arrived Here Last Night – Interviewed by Expositor Man.
The article states that Krekorian was an Armenian man mentioned by survivor Maj. Arthur Peuchen, of Toronto, in his evidence to the U.S. senate inquiry into the sinking, as being the person who crouched in the bow of Peuchen's lifeboat with women's clothing over him and a broken arm.

However, a transcript of Peuchen's testimony, available online, says nothing about an Armenian. Peuchen told the inquiry that a “stowaway” aboard lifeboat No. 6 looked to be an Italian man with a broken arm or wrist. He was unable to row.
Krekorian was in lifeboat No. 10, launched at about 1:40 a.m. It is believed it carried about 30 people, less than half of its capacity of 65.

According to data compiled at, lifeboat No. 10 held a varied group of women and children from first, second and third class, plus several crew members. Having crew members aboard was a necessity, as able-bodied men were needed to pull the oars.

Also aboard lifeboat No. 10 was two-month old Millvina Dean, her 
two-year-old brother and their mother. Millvina, who died in 2009 at the age of 97, was the last living Titanic survivor.

In his interview with the Expositor, Krekorian was generous with praise for his treatment in hospital in New York after the rescue. He said he was showered with kindnesses and “any amount of Armenian magazines and books were at his disposal.”
Krekorian remained in Brantford for several years before moving to St. Catharines in 1918.

He married Persa Vartanian on July 12, 1924 and the couple raised three children, George, Alice and Angeline.
He worked at a General Motors foundry and was proud that he, a poor, emigrant working man, was able to provide his family with the opportunity for a better life. His hard work put his son through medical school, a feat that would have been impossible had he not left his troubled homeland. He also saved enough money to bring his brothers Harry and Mac to Canada.

Time and life went on, but Krekorian, like most Titanic survivors, was never allowed much distance from the disaster that marked him for life.
In an interview conducted a decade ago, his daughter Alice Solomonian of St. Catharines remembered sitting through many conversations that held company enthralled at the family dinner table.

“All the company we had wanted to hear the story,” she said. “Everybody was so interested in it. I remember saying: 'There they go again'” whenever her father began to tell the story to listeners hungry for his words. Only when Alice was older did she appreciate the historical significance of her father's stories. She later wished she had paid more attention.

Grandson Van Solomonian has similar regrets. He was in his mid-20s when his grandfather died in 1978.
“I wish I was fluent in Armenian,” he said. “I would have loved to have spoken directly” to him in his native tongue.

Apart from the disaster itself, Krekorian spoke at times about the conditions on the Titanic before the tragedy. One of the quotes often attributed to him was that the third-class passengers were “cooped up like chickens,” Solomonian said.
“He'd say it was crowded and congested and there was only one bathroom for men and one for women. You can imagine how uncomfortable it was.”

Still, Krekorian had solid food and a clean bed. His experience as a third-class passenger needs to be viewed in the context of the time. Many of the steerage passengers were peasants, fleeing situations of deprivation and despair, Solomonian said.

And, compared to the horrific experiences of emigrants who crossed the ocean in steerage decades earlier on sailing ships often rife with disease, the experience of travelling third-class on a ship like the Titanic was nothing to sniff at.
In 1953, the movie Titanic starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck came to the big screen. Krekorian was not keen on seeing it but was convinced to go to the theatre by his son-in-law Paul Solomonian.

By that time, Krekorian, although not fluent in English, could understand the language and grudgingly agreed to go. Being an actual Titanic survivor, he was treated as a celebrity, his grandson said.

For everyone else in the theatre that night, the movie was a thrilling and tragic tale on the big screen. But for Krekorian, it was real – and it was terrible.

n a past interview, Alice Solomonian recalled her father's reaction while watching the film.

Everything seemed fine until the scene depicting the impact with the iceberg, she said. At that point her father sat up sharply in his seat, “so straight, so stiff” that he seemed transfixed, she said. “He didn't move. He just watched.”

Krekorian did not sleep that night, his daughter said.
As time went on, the legacy of the Titanic continued to grow. And as survivors passed on, those remaining began to attract increased attention.

“Through all his life he was known as a survivor. It always came up,” his grandson said.
Family, friends and strangers all wanted to hear Krekorian's story – to meet him and to have a personal connection to a momentous, albeit horrific, event in history.

“Implicitly he realized it was quite an experience he had but he found it all very unpleasant” to always have to remember, Solomonian said.

Neshan Krekorian died on May 21, 1978, in St. Catharines at the age of 92

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