Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. With events under way to commemorate the tragedy, some area-residents — including Gar Joseph — have Titanic-related stories to share.
By day, Gar Joseph works as the city editor for The Philadelphia Daily News. Growing up, he heard the story about his grandmother’s journey from Dresden, Germany, to America.
“My grandmother was named Leoni Hermann before she got married,” Joseph said. “She was 11 years old when she came to this country. She came with her grandmother to care for the children of her aunt.”
So in April 1912, Leoni Hermann and her grandmother set sail from Germany on the S.S. Bremen.
“The trip took about two weeks. And they were about 10 days into the voyage or so when they came across the debris and body field left by the Titanic, which had sunk about five days before.”
Leoni and another young girl had been playing on the ship’s deck when they spotted the floating bodies.
Joseph tape-recorded his grandmother describing the experience 25 years ago, when she was 86.
“The first one was a lady with a baby in her arm. And that got us to think. We just hollered down into the breakfast room that there are people in the water. And as stiff like a piece of wood,” Hermann was recorded saying.
As the ship’s crew started to pull bodies out of the water, Joseph’s grandmother said the whole ship was scared that the S.S. Bremen would sink, too. Eventually the ship arrived at Ellis Island, and the young Leoni and her grandmother reunited with their relatives. Traumatized her whole life by that experience at sea, Leoni never returned to Germany despite her homesickness.
“I never forgot it. Many times after that, I laid in bed to go to sleep, and I thought of home. I wanted to go back home,” she said. “But when I thought of that, I thought no. I’m not going to take no chance, no no …”
To this day, Joseph believes his grandmother’s vow to never sail again perhaps changed the course of her life. Had she returned to her family in Dresden, she would have been there during the bombing of the city by allied forces at the end of the war, during which her father died.
“The irony is that, in a way, those dead people on the waves, the victims of Titanic sinking, saved her, kept her in this country. She became an American citizen. She loved this country. And it is an irony,” Joseph said.