St. Louis Jewish connections to the Titanic disaster

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

When the Titanic set sail for its maiden voyage from Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, bound for New York on April 11, 1912, there were 2,222 passengers and crew were on board.  Three days into its ill-fated voyage, the White Star luxury liner, which had been described as “unsinkable,” struck an iceberg and did indeed sink; some 1,523 passengers drowned in the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Only 705 passengers and crew survived.

Two more might have perished—both from the St. Louis Jewish community—had they not canceled their return on the Titanic to the United States from vacation in London.  

Kathleen Sitzer, artistic director of the New Jewish Theatre of St. Louis, explained that her father, the late Harold Feldman, who was two years old in 1912, was on a London vacation with his mother, Bert (Bertha) Rosenthal Feldman, who was from England. Bertha’s husband, Lou Feldman, who remained in the U.S. “wired them that they should stay longer to enjoy their visit with family.”

Sitzer recalled her father’s close call as a toddler as an almost-passenger on the Titanic at a memorial service for her mother, Josephine Klein Feldman, who died a few weeks short of her 100th birthday near the end of 2011.  Harold Feldman became a successful engineer after he married Josephine, and later was part of a scientific team that worked on the development of the hydrogen bomb.  The Feldmans had lived in Frederick, Md. in recent years.

In preparation for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the Light has been seeking St. Louis Jewish connections to the disaster and to date, the close call of little Harold Feldman was the only documented instance.  But there are numerous nationally prominent Jewish connections to the Titanic as well as “lots” of St. Louisans among the drowning victims and the survivors, according to Mary Strauss, who is helping to coordinate a Centennial commemorative weekend here. Strauss, however, knows of no St. Louis-based Jewish passengers who either survived or drowned.

She explained that researcher Gertrude Singer Ogushwitz obtained a copy of the names of First, Second and Third Class passengers aboard the Titanic, and has extracted a list of “Jewish-sounding names” from the Titanic Historical Society.  “My choice of ‘Jewish-sounding names’ is based on my judgment,” she said.

Ogushwitz’s list includes those of Isidor and Ida Straus, Benjamin Guggenheim and at least two Rothschilds, with home addresses as diverse as Philadelphia, Chicago and Antwerp.  On the list were 24 First Class Jewish passengers, 26 Second Class Jewish passengers and 36 Third Class Jewish passengers, for a total of 86 out of the 2,222 passengers and crew on board.

Readers of the St. Louis Jewish Light who have other documented instances of Jewish St. Louis passengers, both victims as well as survivors, are encouraged to share that information by emailing Robert A. Cohn at  [email protected].