Two young, curly-haired boys were taken by their father, boarded on the Titanic, and later survived the sinking – unlike their father. Without a parent or guardian, no one could figure out who they were on the other side of the accident.
Taken from their mother
The boys’ parents were divorced, and their mother had full custody of the children. Their father had requested that he take the boys for Easter weekend and their mother had no problem with that. Unfortunately, their father had other plans for the Easter holiday. He took the children and immediately traveled from Nice, France to Southhampton, England to board the Titanic and travel to America. He had abducted his children.
The boys were unaware that they were being abducted. Too young to tell and simply following their father, the children boarded the Titanic as second-class passengers under pseudonyms. Their father had boarded the ship with the passport of a man named Louis Hoffman. The eldest’s real name was Michel Jr., the younger’s was Edmond, and their father was Michel Navratil Sr.
The boys enjoyed the ship
Once aboard, the two boys truly enjoyed their time on the ship. Michel Jr. later recalled, “I remember looking down the length of the hull – the ship looked splendid. My brother and I played on the forward deck and were thrilled to be there.” The boys were being cared for in part by their father, and also by a Swiss girl named Bertha Lehmann who spoke French but not English.
When they went to bed in their second-class cabin, the boys had no problem sleeping. It wasn’t until the night of April 14 when they were woken up by their father and an accompanying stranger that they experienced any problems aboard the ship. Michel Jr. said, “My father entered our cabin where we were sleeping. He dressed me very warmly and took me in his arm. A stranger did the same for my brother.” Realizing later in his life what exactly they were doing, he continued by saying, “When I think of it now, I am very moved. They knew they were going to die.”
The night of the sinking
Their father and the man who helped him rushed the children to the last lifeboat. Michel Sr. shoved his children into the arms of an American woman, but not before whispering some final words into Michel Jr.’s ear. He said, “When your mother comes for you, as she surely will, tell her I loved her dearly and still do. Tell her I expected her to follow us so we might all live happily together.”
After his final kiss goodbye, their father let the boys go and their lifeboat was lowered into the sea. Michel Jr. remembered how pleasant he thought plopping into the sea was, completely unaware of what was happening all around him. An Irish woman on the ship, Mary Kelly, sang lullabies to the boys while they sat helpless waiting for rescue, and the two brothers fell asleep. When they awoke, they saw the Carpathia coming to their rescue.
While in New York
The boys were hoisted into the Carpathia after being placed in burlap bags. Michel Jr. remembered how he “thought it was extremely incorrect to be in a burlap bag.” Once aboard the ship, no one knew what to do with them. They were not claimed by any parent or guardian and couldn’t speak any English. Eventually, they arrived in New York and were handed off to the authorities to try and identify them or find their parents.
Given the language barrier, it was no surprise that they were misidentified. They were called Louis and Lola, the pseudonym their father gave Michel Jr. and a version of Edmond’s pet name. Newspaper headlines were loaded with questions as to who these boys were, where their parents were, and where they came from. During the search for answers, they were taken under the care of by another Titanic survivor, Margaret Hayes, which was extremely helpful as she spoke French. Unfortunately, the boys refused to answer any questions about themselves with any other response than “oui” (‘yes’ in English).
Reuniting with their mother
Back in France, their mother was frantically searching for her children after they were not returned home by their father. She had gone to her ex-husband’s house to search for them and they were nowhere to be found. She spoke with authorities, and the French police began to help in the search. It wasn’t until she saw her children staring out from the pages of newspapers that she was able to find them.
Her ex-husband had cleared their bank account before departing, but left just enough money for a voyage to America. Marcelle hopped on the next ship and made her way to New York. She was reunited with her children on May 16, 1912, and their reunion made the headlines. Afterward, she moved the children back to their home in Nice, France.
Oldest male survivor
Following the tragedy, Edmond grew up to be an interior designer and architect. He was drafted into the French Army during WWII and became a prisoner of war. He was able to escape his capture, but resulting health complications caused him to die an early death at the age of 43.
Michel Jr. grew up to become a professor of philosophy and lived to become the oldest male survivor of the Titanic sinking. He was an avid participant in survivor campaigns and events, and only visited his father’s grave, located at Baron de Hirsh Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1996. He lived out the rest of his life in Montpellier, France, and died on January 30, 2001, at the age of 92.