“Arabs aboard the Titanic,” Presentation to the Midwest Federation of Syrian and Lebanese Clubs

Part of the New York Herald front page about t...

Part of the New York Herald front page about the Titanic disaster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arabs of the Titanic

Presentation by Ray Hanania and Aaron Hanania


The Titanic departed Southampton in southern England at noon, April 10, 1912 and was due to arrive in New York City on April 15.

Along the way, stops were made in Cherbourg, France to collect continental passengers and Queenstown, (now Cobh) Ireland to pick up mail and additional passengers, mostly emigrants to the US.


At 11.40pm on the night of 14 April 1912, en route to New York and on her maiden voyage, the RMS Titanic struck the iceberg that would ultimately lead to her sinking less than 3 hours later. At around 2.20am on the morning of 15 April, RMS Titanic disappeared beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, a disaster that resulted in the loss of more than 1,500 lives, almost two-thirds of the people on board.




2,223 passengers and crew … it could have held 3,547 passengers

The cost of the most expensive First Class Parlor ticket to New York was $4,350 – about $69,600 today.

Most third-class cabins contained four to six bunks.

Third-class passengers could hear the loud roar of the ship’s engines in their cabins at all times.

Only two bathtubs were available for more than 700 third-class passengers – one for men, one for women.

The Titanic could have carried 64 lifeboats, but it only had 20 the night it sunk.

Each lifeboat could carry 65 passengers, but many left with only 25 passengers.

Only 1,300 passengers could have been saved.

1,324 on board were passengers

885 crew members

706 people survived, only 492 were passengers. 214 were crew.

1517 people died that night: 832 passengers died, and 685 crew members died

For more than 75 years until the remains of the Titanic were recovered in 1987 some 12,600 deep on the Atlantic Ocean floor, that’s what we knew about the people who were aboard the Titanic.

SLIDES 5, 6, 7, 8

When I was young, there were two motion pictures about the Titanic.




1953 Movie Titanic

Starring Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, Audrey Dalton, and Robert Wagner

Director Jean Negulesco











1958 A Night to Remember

Starring Kenneth More, Ronald Allen and Robert Ayres

Director Roy Ward Baker






But in 1997, James Cameron made the third film, more of a love story about a wealthy engaged woman from England who was in First Class and a poor Irish passenger who was in steerage, or Third Class.












And it wasn’t until the James Cameron movie, 86 years after the Titanic sunk, that the world even bothered to explore the other Titanic passengers and who they were.

I was in a movie theater in Orland Park in 1998 and had watched the Titanic with my wife. It was a film about a love story. About the human tragedy that did not distinguish between wealth or poverty.

And I was dozing off during the movie, really bored. As I had mentioned, I knew the Titanic story. Everyone knew the Titanic story. I’d seen both of the prior movies. They were more dramatic and less about love. But almost three hours into the film as I was lazily eating popcorn and going in and out of boredom, I heard the word that would wake me up.


SLIDE 9, 10, 11

Now, I’m Palestinian. I know that word I heard it all my life. I heard it from my mother and my father and from my cousins and even my friends. It is an Arab word that means “hurry” and “let’s go.”

And for some reason, James Cameron decided he was going to include that one word in the movie that came to represent a population of the passengers of between 79 and 175 Arabs which amounted to between 5 and15 percent of the 1,324 passengers on the Titanic, not including the crew.

Purely an accident that audiences around the world discovered that fact.

My eyes and ears opened wide. They flared with hunger for more.

An Arab aboard the Titanic.

Was this some kind of anti-Arab joke? That an Arab terrorist had destroyed the Titanic. I couldn’t wait to hear or read that from the mainstream news media, a media that does everything to not report on Arabs but to blame Arabs for everything.

It was the only moment in the 194 minutes of Cameron’s movie Titanic that we would even know that there was any Arabs aboard the ill-fated ship, let alone any Arab artifacts of significance.

But that three-seconds of the 194 minutes … 3 seconds out of 11,640 seconds of the film … grabbed my attention by the throat.

I couldn’t believe it.


I was 45 years old at the time and never once had heard that any of the passengers had been Arab.

As I left the movie theater, I took notice of something I had ignored walking in. The movie theater had posted a list of all of the names of all of the passengers and the crew that were on the Titanic when it sunk on April 14, 1912 … and this time I slowly read through the list thinking maybe I would find one, two or three Arab names.

I found dozens. Just from the names that appeared to be Arab, I identified about 81.

SLIDES 13, 14, 15

When I finished carefully going through the list of names, I was determined to do whatever I could to find every name of every person who was of Arab heritage on that ship.

1st Class Passengers

Hamad Hassab (Servant) (S)

2nd Class Passengers

Marie Thuillard Jerwan (S)

Adele Nasrallah Nasser (S)

Nicholas Nasrallah Nasser

Ellen Toomey (S)

3rd Class Passengers

Nassef Cassem Albimona

Ahmed Ali

William Ali

Gerios Assaf

Mariana Assaf (S)

Ali Assam

Sleiman Attalah (S)

Makala Attalah

Banoura Daher Ayoub (S)

Raffoul Baccos

Akar Boulos (S)

Joseph Sultana Boulos (S)

Hanna Boulos (S)
Laura Boulos (S)

Tannous Betros (S)

Joseph Kareem Caram

Nassef Belmenly Cassem (S)

Maria Elias Kareem Caram

Emir Farres Chebab (S)

Elias Dibo

Tannous Doharr

Elias Elias

Joseph Elias

John Elias

M. Houssein Hassan

Shawnee George Joseph Whabee (S)

Yousseff Ibraham Shawah

Saad Khalil

Betros Khalil
Zahie Khalil

Neshan Krekorian

Len Lam Fahim Leeni (S)

Sarkis Lahowd
Ali Lam (S)
Hanna Mamee (S)
Fatima Masselmany (S)

Hanna Mansour

Hanna Moubarek (S)

George Moubarek (S)

Amenia Moubarek (S)

William George Moubarek (S)

Maria Nackid (S)

Mary Mowad Nackid (S)

Said Nackid (S)

Toufik Nahill
Adele Kiamie Najib (S)

Mustafa (Alma) Nasr

Elias Nicola (Yarred) (S)

Jamilia Nicola (Yarred) (S)

Catherine Peter (Joseph) (S)

Mary Peter (Joseph) (S)
Michael Peter (Joseph) (S)

Razi Raibid Khalil Saad (S)

Amin Saad

Hanna Samaan

Yousef Samaan

Elias Samaan

Thomas Tannous

Arsun Sirayanian

Assad Alexander Thomas (Toumas)(S)

John Thomas (Toumas)

Thelma Thomas (Toumas) (S)
Charles Thomas (Toumas)

John Thomas (Toumas) Jr

Assad Torfa

George Touma (S)

Anna Razi Touma (S)
Hannah Touma (S)

Anna Sofia Turja (S)

Yousif Wazli

Celiney Alexander Yasbeck (S)

Antoni Yasbeck

Thamine (Tamini)

Gerious Youseff
Hileni Jabbur Zabour
Jabbur Zabour

That year, I wrote a column about the Arabs on the Titanic. It was very first article ever written on the subject that brought the experience of Arabs together into one story.

And THAT is a tragedy in and of itself that is as large for Arabs as is the tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic.

The truth is Arabs do a poor job of telling our own story. We love fiction and we love poetry because both forms of writing mesh so well with the Arabic language. You don’t speak Arabic, you sing Arabic. That makes for great Arabic poetry. And Arabs are a very, very emotional people. And Emotion is essential to fuel fiction.

But Arabs are also an oppressed people. An occupied people. We have been occupied and oppressed for almost all of our existence, especially in the past 1000 years of human renaissance. That oppression has impacted us and caused us to fear free speech. It has forced us away from telling our story. It has forced us to not learn the fine art of documenting our existence because our existence was controlled by dictators, and tyrants and demagogues who would use our existence to punish us. We learned not to put ourselves at the end of the spotlight.

The only history we would explore was our ancient history, because it was so long ago it didn’t offend the dictators and tyrants and monarchs. The only modern history we were allowed to explore was the history of our conflicts, with Israel and the politics and our global oppression.

So the tragedy of the Arab people is we have not learned how to document our existence especially our existence in foreign countries because in the Arab mind living abroad was an act of failure. To be an Arab and to live in a non-Arab environment is shameful. It is haram. To speak English rather than Arabic fluently in everyday life with everyone else, is haram, shameful.

In 1988, 10 years before, I authored a feature for Chicago Magazine that was the first of its kind. It was a story about growing up Arab in America. It was called “Ya Habibi: Growing up Arab in America.”

Eight years later in 1996, only two years before Cameron’s movie Titanic premiered, I had completed my first book based on that magazine feature. It was a more detailed story of my life growing up Arab in America. It was the first of its kind. The idea of an Arab telling his story was so unusual that it shocked people into asking “Why would you do that?” One publisher told me in rejecting the book that no Americans cared about the experience of Arabs in America.

And that is because the few books that tried to address the topic had failed so miserably. They were boring academic histories of Arabs in the West. I read them all. And they really didn’t tell our story at all, at least not in the context of telling it with a human face. Compassing. Compelling.

Telling our story in a compelling manner was my mission.

I decided to use humor as a way to ease in the idea of making the story of Arabs in America interesting. The book is called “I’m Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America.”

But on that day in 1998 after seeing the Titanic movie and how Arabs had been excluded, marginalized and minimized in the film, I was determined to write the story of the Arabs aboard the Titanic.

Back then, it was difficult finding any sources for the experience of Arabs on the Titanic. There were some stories published in the American Arab news media in Arabic in the New York area. And, there were references to the Arabs on the Titanic, mainly as anecdotes and passing color, seeded in larger stories about American culture.

In 1912 and the beginning of the 20th Century, the Titanic was one of the world’s greatest human tragedies. It captured the hearts and minds of millions of people who read the books and saw the films in the 100 years since it sunk. Yet no one thought of writing our story? No one thought that the experience of Arabs on the Titanic would be something worth discussing?

So I started reading everything I could find that was written about the Titanic and I would find small clues. Mentions in generic ways of families that were from Arab countries.

It turns out that there were many Arabs on the Titanic. And little by little I started to find them.

I isolated the names that were easily identifiable and I slowly began tracing other names that had been Americanized.

I published the column on the topic along with the names of all those passengers who I could identify were of Arab heritage.

Let me read to you what I found:


Many of the stories were published in local newspapers where the survivors settled. But they were never grouped by their cultural identity so they were not connected in any written way together. Here are a few of the stories that were published as notes in other books or archived newspaper collections.

Daher Shadid Abi-Shadid
Another story about one of the passengers from Abrine in Northern Lebanon is of a 19-year-old boy named Daher Shadid Abi-Shadid. Abi Shadid accidentally killed a girl from his village while experimenting with his gun. Fearing retaliation of the girl’s family, Abi-Shadid received money from a relative in Pennsylvania to travel aboard the Titanic.

Shadid boarded the Titanic at Marseille in France. Shadid escaped his fate in Lebanon only to die aboard the Titanic. Reportedly, his body was one of the 300 recovered.

Miss Banoura Ayoub (Listed often as Ayout Banoura):

A young child in her early teens, Ayoub traveled from Lebanon to Detroit, Michigan where she was to be re-united with her family. She traveled with her cousins, Shawnee and George Wahbee (below), Thomas Tannous, Gerious Youseff and Tannous Doharr, who were to continue through Detroit to Youngstown, Ohio, where today a large Arab American community flourishes. Shawnee and Ayoub survived. All three men, traveling to find jobs at the steel mills in Youngstown, died. Banoura Ayoub eventually moved to Windsor, Ontario, Canada, another center of Arab growth.

Thomas Tannous is reportedly related to the family of Danny Thomas (Jacobs).

Mrs. George Joseph Whabee, known as Shawnee Abi Saab:

The better known of the Arabs who traveled on the Titanic was born in Thoum, Lebanon on Palm Sunday, 1874. (In Arabic, the name Shawnee means Palm Sunday). She was the youngest of seven children, the daughter of Thomas George Abi-Saab and Katoole Deeb Abi-Saab. She married George Joseph Wahbee and came to America in 1906, hoping to make enough money to return to Lebanon and buy land for her family. But, when her husband died in 1908, she remained in Youngstown, Ohio, where she raised her children, Joseph, Thomas, Albert, Rose and Mary, who had stayed behind in Lebanon.

Gerious Youseff:

From Lebanon, traveling with the passengers named above, died, although his body was later recovered in the aftermath of the Titanic sinking (Body label #312). He was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, in Halifax, N.S., on May 10, 1912.

Nicola Yarred, and Jamila and Elias Nicola (Yarred):

Originally from Hakoor, Lebanon, a moutain village, Jamilia Yarred, her father Nicola, and her younger brother Elias, were fleeing persecution when they began their trip to board the Titanic and to reunite with relatives that had settled in Jacksonville, Florida. They made the 130 km trip from their village to Beirut and boarded the boat to Marseilles. Nicola Yarred, the father, was prevented from boarding because he had an eye infection. Tight restrictions on diseases at Ellis Island in New York forced the Titanic shipping line to assume the cost of returning any passenger turned away there, so he could not board. The children registered, again as was custom at the time, by assuming their father’s name, Nicola, as their last name, and they boarded with what little money their father had left and his blessings for a safe trip.

Catherine, Michael and Mary Peter (Joseph):

Peter and Catherine Joseph had immigrated to Detroit, Michigan after the turn of the Century from Lebanon. Peter had begun typically pushing a peddlar’s cart, collecting scrap iron and junk. The Joseph’s had two children, Michael and Mary. In 1911, Peter Joseph sent his wife and two children back to Lebanon for a visit, possibly to let them escape from the hardships of their struggle in America. They returned on the Titanic, traveling by freighter from Beirut to Marseilles and then on to Cherbourg where they boarded the ship with other Lebanese voyagers. She listed herself, according to Geller, by her husband’s name, Peter, rather than by her real sur-name, Joseph, because it was custom.

SLIDE 17    Letters I received

The column got widespread distribution and was published in dozens of Middle East newspapers and American Arab newspapers. And I started to get inquiries from Arab families who were told by grandparents and older relatives that they had relatives who were on the Titanic.

ò March 6, 2005
Dear Sir,

ò My grandmother was Adele Nassar, Titanic survivor. She later remarried Albert Shamaley and one of their 4 kids is my mother.

ò My son is researching the Titanic for school, and I had almost forgotten the story of my grandmother. She would never discuss the event or give interviews. as she was still full of grief from losing a husband and later their first child. I want to thank you for your article and giving new perspective on Arabs on the Titanic.

ò Respectfully, 
Lisa Adele

ò Mr. Hanania: Re: In Search of Great Great Uncle’s name

ò I was told by my Aunt Helen that her great uncle died on the Titanic. Aunt Helen told me that her Grandmother, Etta Brown’s (Etta Brohein, from Lebanon) lost her brother on the Titanic. Etta Brown (unknown maiden name) was from Batron, Lebanon. I would assume that Etta Brown’s brother was in rout to Dallas, Texas, to join her. However; I do not known this for sure. Etta Brown’s brother spoke no English, and was starting out his new life fresh for the first time in America. I was told that Etta Brown’s brother died on the Titanic (3rd Class Passenger).

ò Mr. Hanania, I am half Lebanese, and a very proud Texan. I’ve been employed for Dallas County as a Deputy Sheriff for the past 20 years. However; it would be an honor to trace down and find the name of my great great uncle that perished on the Titanic.

ò Thank you ever so much for your assistance.

ò Respectfully submitted, Don George


ò The village of Kafr Mishki in the Rashaya District southeast of the Lebanese capital Beirut suffered the most in the Titanic tragedy.

ò The village, whose population does not exceed 500, lost 13 of its residents.

ò The church of Kafr Mishki held Sunday a Mass for the victims and the congregation observed a moment of silence to mourn their death on the 100th anniversary

ò The village of Hardine in the Batroun District in northern Lebanon lost 11 of its residents in the Titanic, the Mayor of the Village Bakhous Sarkis Assaf is quoted as saying.

ò “When the ship started sinking in the first hours of dawn, those 11 passengers gathered in one corner and started reciting verses one of them improvised in the style of Lebanese vernacular poetry,” Mayor Assaf said.

ò The story has been handed down through generations. The verses Hardine residents recited right before their death:

ò “O Hardine, weep and lament the death of 11 of your youths who did not exceed 25 years old. Five of them are single and the others are married. None of them is old. They’re all 25.”

SLIDE 19 Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam

ò Also lost in what is one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th Century was a priceless copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam which had been purchased by a Jewish investor in New York City. The book had 1,051 semi-precious stones set in 18-carat gold, 5,000 separate pieces of colored leathers and 100 square feet of 22-carat gold leaf in the tooling.


Children on the Titanic


There was 128 children aboard the Titanic

Only 63 survived

12 were Arab Children, only 9 survived.

2 drowned. 1 was believed boarded a lifeboat but was never found

BOULOS, Miss Nourelain       AGE 7                                  DIED

3rd Class Passenger 2678

£15 4s 11d Cherbourg

from Lebanon, boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg as a third class passenger (ticket number 2678, £15, 4s, 11d). She was travelling to Kent, Ontario with her mother Sultana and brother Akar.

BOULOS, Master Akar AGE 9                                             DIED

3rd Class Passenger 2678

£15 4s 11d Cherbourg

from Lebanon, boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg. He was travelling to Kent, Ontario with his mother Sultana and sister Nourelain. Akar Boulos lost his life in the disaster.

HASSAN ABILMONA, Mr Houssein Mohamed AGE 11

Saved/But Disappeared

3rd Class Passenger 2699

£18 15s 9d Cherbourg   –

from Lebanon was travelling with Nassef Cassem Albimona to visit his parents in America. They boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg as third class passengers.

While Albimona was somehow rescued from the Titanic, the boy was lost.

MOUBAREK, Master Gerios (“George _”)     AGE 7

3rd Class Passenger 2661

£15 4s 11d Cherbourg   C    No Info

MOUBAREK, Master Halim Gonios (“William George”)  AGE 4

3rd Class Passenger 2661

£15 4s 11d Cherbourg   C   No Info

NAKID, Miss Maria       AGE 1

3rd Class Passenger 2653

£15 14s 10d Cherbourg   C  –

Maria Nackid, 18 months old was born in 1910 of Mary and Said Nackid. According to her death certificate she was born in Athens, Austria but the family originated from Syria.

They were travelling to Waterbury, CT. They were rescued in collapsible C Lifeboat.

Mary (or Maria) Nackid was the first survivor of the Titanic to die. She contracted Meningitis and died on 30th July 1912. She was buried in an unmarked grave at the Calvary Cemetery in Waterbury, Connecticut

NASSER, Ms Adele  AGE 14

2nd Class Passenger 237736

£30 1s 5d Cherbourg

was born in Zahlah (Zahle), Lebanon on 19 March 1898, the daughter of Habib Hakim and his wife Ator Achem (Rose Gresati). They boarded at Cherbourg, France as second class passengers.

Mrs Nasser survived the sinking, whereas her husband did not. To the Immigration Officer she gave her destination as Cleveland, Ohio, but unknown address.

She died in El Paso Texas on 20 January 1970. She was survived by her four children and her sister Mary and brother Richard who had also emigrated to America.

NICOLA-YARRED, Miss Jamila (“Amelia Garrett”)  AGE 14

3rd Class Passenger 2651

£11 4s 10d Cherbourg   Lifeboat C

from Hakoor, Lebanon was travelling with her brother Elias to Jacksonville, Florida to meet their father. Part of the family already lived in the United States while some of the siblings remained in Lebanon.

They boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg.

On the night of the sinking Jamila and her brother had gone to bed. After feeling a bump she became concerned about noises she was hearing outside their cabin and asked her brother to investigate. He was at first disinterested but Jamila was insistent and so the two children left their cabin and followed others to the Boat Deck. On deck she remembered the $500 given to her by her father for the trip, they headed back down to the cabin but found that water was filling the passageway and prevented her from opening the door. They returned to deck where they were allowed into (probably) collapsible C.

Jamila were taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia by their uncle immediately following the Titanic disaster. They stayed with their uncle in Nova Scotia until their father was able to get them after he sailed from France about a month later. The family then relocated to Jacksonville, Florida and their names were anglicized – Elias became Louis Nicholas Garrett and Jamila became Amelia Garrett.

At the age of just 16 Amelia married Isaac A. Isaac (who died in1942) they had seven children.

NICOLA-YARRED, Master Elias (“Louis Garrett”)  AGE 11

3rd Class Passenger 2651

£11 4s 10d Cherbourg   C

from Hakoor, Lebanon was travelling with his sister Jamila to Jacksonville, Florida to meet their father.

THOMAS/TANNOUS, Master Assad Alexander


3rd Class Passenger 2625

£8 10s 4d Cherbourg   Lifeboat 16

was born in the Lebanon. He boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg accompanied by his mother Thamine and uncle Charles.

Assad and his mother became separated during the sinking and Charles carried the baby to lifeboat 16. He begged for the child to be rescued and Winnie Troutt took it upon herself to take the child into the lifeboat.

Assad died on 12 June 1931.

TOUMA, Miss Maria Youssef (“Mary Thomas”)                    AGE 9

3rd Class Passenger 2650

£15 4s 11d Cherbourg   C

from Lebanon, was born 16 October 1902. She boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg with her mother Hanna and brother Georges. They were travelling to Dowagiac to join her father Darwis who had previously settled there.

The family name was later anglicized to “Thomas” and Maria later went by “Mary Thomas”, she was later married to Nicholas Haddad and she kept her home for them in Flint, Genesee County, Michigan.

Maria Haddad (née Touma) died in 12 August 1953.

TOUMA, Master Georges Youssef (“George Thomas”)


3rd Class Passenger 2650

£15 4s 11d Cherbourg  Lifeboat C

was born in Tibnin, Syria (Lebanon) the son of Darwish Touma and Anna Razi (Rassey).

He boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg with his mother and sister Maria. They were travelling to Dowagiac to join his father Darwis who had previously settled there.

George had a grocery and real estate business and also served as the first mayor of Burton after that city was incorporated.

George often reflected how he and his older sister used several vacant staterooms on the Titanic as their playrooms during the voyage. During his retirement years, Mr Thomas often spoke about his experiences on the Titanic. Although confined to a wheelchair, he attended a reunion of survivors in 1982 in Philadelphia. He lived alternately between his home in Michigan, and a winter home near Phoenix, Arizona.

He died 9th December 1991, at the age of 87.


ò Other reports claim at least one Arab passenger was shot and killed by the ship’s Crew members when he tried to board one of the lifeboats.

ò Many of the stories are just that, stories.

ò But it tells you about the power of media and recording these stories for future generations.

ò We need to do a BETTER JOB of telling our story. We shouldn’t have had to wait 100 years to be acknowledged. It’s our fault it took so long


ò For more information

ò Visit

ò http://www.RayHanania.com

ò Or

ò http://www.TheMediaOasis.com

American Public Radio interview






Another good reference for passenger and crew names:

Another excellent source for some of the above information is listed at Philip Hind’s Web Site at: www.rmplc.co.uk/eduweb/sites/phind/

For information on the children who were passengers on the Titanic, visit this site:



Categories: General Topics, Middle East Topics, US & National Politics

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Mr. Hanania,

    Thank you for your article highlighting Arabs on the Titanic. Banoura Ayoub was my great-grandmother. It is always fascinating to me to find her in any publication.

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