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Survival and Testimony



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Re the Titanic, our friend Cheryl Rhoads, a D.C.-area conservative and acting coach, recounts the following remarkable story:

 

Back in 1934, my late mom worked in the publicity department of the Chicago branch of Warner Brothers. When she started at Warners . . . there was this very nice quiet guy who used to eat lunch with her and a couple of others. One day, someone was talking about Titanic. Suddenly the quiet guy got even more quiet and left the table. According to my mom, she went to find him and asked him if he was all right. Then this man, who was about 30, confided to my 22-year-old mother that, in fact, he had been a survivor of the Titanic tragedy. This man and his parents (Russian immigrants) were passengers in steerage. By the time they made it to the upper decks, it was chaos and he got lost, but suddenly . . . a stranger found him by himself crying and grabbed him. The stranger got him to one of the last life boats and deposited him in it by himself. The survivor/co-worker told my mother that he never saw his rescuer, nor his parents ever again. But as a seven-year-old he sat shivering among strangers and watched the ship sink. After they were rescued by the Carpathia, he disembarked, was greeted by his father’s brother, and was raised in New York. 

 

When the boy grew up he later came to Chicago. . . . He learned English and (according to my mother) was one of the most productive employees in their office. Yet he had held this tragic secret in his heart, never burdening others, except when it oddly came up in general conversation and then only because my mom pursued it. This was 1934 and only 22 years after the disaster.

 

The presence of people who survived traumatic events can have a great power that the mere narration of those events can lack. So many times over the past decade, I have thought, completely dry-eyed, about various policies and issues that arose out of the context of 9/11. But once, about five or six years ago, I was on a plane flying into New York, when someone asked a flight attendant to point out Ground Zero, and she started talking to the person about 9/11. From a few seats back came the voice of a man, clear but tightly reined in: “Could we not talk about this, please? I miss my wife.” I don’t know him, never even saw his face; but that voice remains with me to this day.



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