Croatian stories: The Titanic and the Carpathia – survival, rescue and tragedy

Artist: Marko Lulic;

April 15 2012 – the world remembers those who died and those who survived when the Titanic sank 100 years ago.

From ‘Out of the 30 Croatians who were heading for America in search of a better life, only 3 survived the tragedy. Nikola Lulic, Ivan Jalsevac and Mara Osman managed to leave the ship just under two hours before it sank.

 “My father said Nikola completely changed and that the Titanic tragedy left its mark,” said Mile Lulic, a relative of Titanic survivor Nikola Lulic to Croatian daily newspaper 24sata. All three survivors, who found it difficult to cope with the stress after the ordeal, were believed to have jumped from the sinking Titanic into the water, although it was unclear wether or not lifeboats were waiting or they had to wait in the freezing waters for a rescue boat.

Jalsevac and Lulic eventually returned to Croatia but Osman managed to get to America and stayed there for the remainder of her life’.

Many passengers on the ship were those from European countries fleeing oppression and/or poverty in search of a better life in “America”. Croatians among them fled the life within the Austro-Hungarian Empire – they set towards realising their personal “American dream”.

And the story of Titanic’s sinking reanimates stories of tragedy, but also the story of the significant differences between the rich and the poor.

These stories about the Titanic include the stories about 30 Croatian passengers.

Most of the Croatians, not having the means to pay for their passage to a “better life in America and Canada”, worked on the Titanic as stokers (21 of them). A smaller number came on board as passengers – third class, together with British, Irish, Scandinavian Russian, Bulgarian …

One of them was Ivan Jalsevac from Topolovac, near the town of Sisak. He managed to escape the jaws of the Big Blue. His family still keeps written details of his memory on that fatal night. Ivan, who always spoke about that night to his family, died in 1945. The disaster affected his life as he witnessed the death of his friends, visions which haunted him for life.

His nephew told us the stories: “My uncle told me that a strong crash awakened him. That was the moment when the Titanic hit the iceberg. Everyone was shocked at first, but after a few minutes, when the passengers and crew realised what had happened, panic ran rampant. Passengers, suddenly facing the possibility of ending their lives in the cold Atlantic Ocean, were petrified. The lower deck passengers were not allowed to come out. The ship’s staff locked all the exits from the lower decks. There was no room for lower class passengers to be saved. They were crossed out automatically for a rescue. A terrible noise was heard from the deck of the ship and the occasional gun shot, probably to make some order among the panic stricken mass.

“My uncle and two of his friends, Drazen and Stankovic, tried to save as many women and children as possible. That was their last meeting alive. Ivan Jalsevac never saw his friends again. He managed to escape through to the main deck and to jump into the cold Atlantic. That was his only chance out alive. In the cold ocean, next to the sinking Titanic was one of the lifeboats full of women and children. He reached for it and thankfully the women helped and took him into the boat because the sailors showed no interest in saving him.

‘They managed to paddle to the ‘Carpathia’ steam boat that took on most of the survivors of the catastrophe. There were twenty Croat sailors from Dalmatia working on the Carpathia.

‘The White Star Line Company, which owned the Titanic, decorated survivors and presented them an ironic award – free life passes to travel with the company. The ones who were reimbursed were mostly the rich and second class, excluding the third class – including Croats’.”

The Croatians on the Titanic were: Ivan Stankovic, Ivan Jalsevic, Josip Drazenovic, Franjo and Ana Korum, Ivan Markun, Ljudevit Cop, Branko Dakic, Ivan Bartoli, Mirko Dika, Stevo Pavlovic, Matilda Petrinac, Milan Karasin, Stevan Turcin, Ciro Rekic, Marija Cacic, Janko Vuk, Ivan Strimic, Petar Calic, Manda Calic, Tomo Pakrevic, Tomo Uzelac, Luka Oreskovic, Mate Pokrajac, Marija Oreskovic, and Janko and Mile Smiljanic.

Carpathia was the first ship to come to Titanic’s passengers and crew rescue. At the time of Titanic’s sinking Carpathia was on its regular route New York – Rijeka (Croatia). There were 76 Croatians working as crew on the Carpathia – the hero ship.

Titanic life jacket held in the Maritime and Historical Museum of the Croatian Littoral in Rijeka

Thanks to one of them, Josip Car, who pulled the Titanic survivors onto the Carpathia and tried to keep them warm with blankets, that Croatia today possesses one of only five life jackets from Titanic whose origin is unquestionable. Car kept as a memento one life jacket when the Titanic survivors disembarked and the life jackets lay abandoned on Carpathia’s deck. He brought the life jacket to Rijeka and in 1938 gifted it to Rijeka Museum and the Museum kept it in its storage, forgotten. Few years ago Slobodan Novakovic and his Swiss colleague Ginter Bablem, studying the Titanic tragedy located the life jacket in Rijeka and after its restoration placed it as an exhibit in the Museum. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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