Among the popular media stories in the days after the Titanic sinking was that of the Titanic orphans. Two young boys, aged two and four, survived the sinking but, without any identification, their identities remained a mystery. It wasn’t until their mother recognized their photographs in a local newspaper and travelled to New York to reclaim them that the story behind their voyage on the Titanic became known.
The boys’ father, Michel Navratil, was a Slovakian tailor living in France. When he separated from their mother, she took custody of the boys, though they were allowed to spend time with him on special occasions. One of those occasions was the 1912 Easter weekend. However, when the mother came to collect her sons after the holiday, the father and boys, Michel and Edmond, were no where to be found.
Navratil had assumed the name Louis Hoffman, given the boys new names of Louis and Loto, and booked second class passage on the Titanic from Southampton to New York. As the ship sank, the passenger known as Louis Hoffman passed his sons to crew members to put them on the Collapsible D life boat, which was later rescued by the ship Carpathia. It was the last they would see of their father.
The body of “Louis Hoffman” was recovered and laid to rest in the Baron De Hirsch Jewish Cemetery in Halifax. His true identity was sorted out in time to inscribe his real name as Michel Navratil on the grave marker. Many years later in 1996, his son Michel – then 88 years of age – came to Halifax to visit his father’s grave site for the first time. Michel reported that when he touched his father’s grave marker, he could hear the lullaby that his father used to sing to him as child.
Photo: Titanic exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic