Stories of Lebanese on the Titanic – Part 3: The People of Kfarmishki

For part 1, click here. For part 2, click here.

Out of all the Lebanese villages that sent its sons and daughters to America on the Titanic, Kfarmishki has the highest death toll at 13, out of the 14 people that wanted to reach Ontario, Canada where most of the town’s expats reside.

Out of the 13 people that kfarmishki lost, only one body was recovered. Everyone else was lost, never to be seen again or given a proper burial. The abyss of the Atlantic became their final resting place.

Of those whose bodies were never found, there’s Assaf el Saykali who left his newly pregnant wife in order to find a way around the poverty in his hometown. Another is Mansour el Hajj, who left his 3 year old daughter and wife, only to be taken in by the sea.

The only body that was recovered through the MacKay-Bennett belonged to Mansour Nawfal, a man in his late twenties who had left his hometown searching for a better life all by himself. Almost none of the people of Kfarmishki know about him. The MacKay-Bennett’s crew wrote his name as Mansour Sovel on the medical form they filled upon collecting him on April 24th, 1912.

The only survivor from Kfarmishki was a woman named Zad Assaf, who is more commonly known as Mariana Assaf. The name discrepancy arose when she was rescued and asked for her name. Being illiterate, she couldn’t inform the personnel of her proper name so on the lists of survivors, she became known as Mariana.

Zad was born in 1867 and got married in her hometown before leaving it and her two sons to follow her husband to Ontario. In 1912, she returned to Lebanon to see her sons and got on the Titanic, via Cherbourg in France, to go back to her husband. Her sons would soon follow her. It was a good thing they weren’t on the Titanic with her.

While being interviewed on April 24th, 1912, a traumatized Zad told the story of what happened on the day Titanic sank. She said when the ship first hit the iceberg, none of the passengers she was with, most of whom were Lebanese, got afraid. They had called it a night and went to bed. The lack of fear was due to them not knowing the gravity of the situation. It had been kept under wraps for as long as the crew could do so. Some of the Lebanese, however, wanted to go on deck to see what was happening. They were told nothing was wrong and no one felt any danger. So they stayed in their rooms.

Zad Assaf's house in Kfarmishki.

As time went by and the ship didn’t move, their minds started racing and thinking about what the crew could be hiding from them. Some had started to think about the possibility that the ship might be sinking. Suddenly, one of the passengers shouted that the ship is sinking fast. That was then the chaos began and people started running frantically to the deck of the ship, not caring how they got there as long as they did.

Zad said her mind went numb. The only thing she was able to think about back then was to get to the deck where first class passengers had already been. She got to there with a man from her hometown named Elias Tannous Nasrallah, a 22 year old who had left his wife in Kfarmishki. He was going to Ontario to provide for her. As he neared the rescue boats, Elias tried to reason with an officer there to let him on. The officer wouldn’t let him. The chaos that ensued and Elias still pleading for his life got the officer to hold his gun at Elias and shoot him in the chest, killing him instantly, saying: women and children go first.

Shocked by what happened to Elias, Zad froze in her spot. She couldn’t move. The shock of the ship sinking was just made worse by seeing the man from her hometown murdered right in front of her. Without her being aware of it, a navy officer pushed her into a boat full of women and a few men. The boat was then lowered to the water and the men started rowing away as the ocean engulfed Titanic.

Some of the survivors had said the music band kept playing until the very last moments. Zad wasn’t aware of that. She was still in shock. She was among the last people to be lowered off the ship, an hour and thirty minutes after impact. Stranded at sea, they stayed there for hours, freezing in the cold. Six hours after leaving Titanic, the ship Carpathia came to their rescue. The only thing she was able to remember was them offering her warm clothes.

Once she got to New York, she was admitted to the hospital for observation. Once discharged, people from the area helped her get to Ontario where she met her husband. Her sons soon followed her. One of them later on went to Sao Paolo where he lived to be over 105 years old.

Elias Nasrallah’s wife got remarried in Kfarmishki after getting the news that her husband has passed away.

Stay tuned for part 4 tomorrow.

13 thoughts on “Stories of Lebanese on the Titanic – Part 3: The People of Kfarmishki

  1. Pingback: Stories of Lebanese on the Titanic – Part 4: Two Men from Toula & Zahle « A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

  2. Pingback: The RMS Titanic and Lebanon « A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

  3. It seems that lost in the tragic sinking of the Titanic are the stories of immigrants trying to get to America for a better life. I’m glad that posts such as these are around to give us a complete picture of the Titanic.

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  4. My parents were born and raised in this village and I was happy to go there for the first time a few months ago. It was such a great experience to finally see my roots. I was always aware there were many from Kfarmishki on the Titanic but never really felt the impact as when I went there. They do live a hard life and they truly would do anything to get out and that’s what these 14 did in 1912. What a sad outcome.

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  5. My grandfather is from this town. His last name was Zahalan. He settled in Ontario. My father was born in Magog. I just happened on this article, how sad.

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  6. I was very interested to read this as my ancestors were among those lost. My great grandfather Joseph Elias Shahin, his daughter Maria and her new husband Joseph Karam were all lost. Also lost were Catherine Barbara David (my grandfather’s mother) and his first cousin Saiide Barbara. My name is Norman Dowad and I live in Vancouver, Canada. I have photos of Marianna Assaf’s son Assad Daher who lived to be very old in Brasil. My grandfather Salim Dowad stayed at his house when he visited Sao Paulo in the 1950s. I would be happy to share research on this historical subject with anyone who is knowledgeable and interested. I am always happy to learn new things about these events. This account includes details that I had not heard before.

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  7. Hello, my mother`s grandfather was Selim Assaf (Felipe, after in Brazil), who came to Brazil and married a Brazilian named Idalina. Some people say he left Lebanon (Zahlé) with a friend and his brother traveled to USA some years latter, to study photography. Does anyone know more about it? I think this history you wrote on your blog has some link with Selim Assaf… but something is missing to connect the points. Thanks!

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  8. My Great Uncle George Assaf (brother of my Grandmother Sadie Nesrallah, née Assaf), also a Kfarmishki native, was supposed to have traveled on the Titanic to join his family in Ottawa but was denied passage due to an eye infection. I also heard stories of a man from Kfarmishki (the first husband of my Uncle Eli’s wife, Maria) being shot to death in the panic.

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