Orphans of the Titanic

Michel Navratil of Slovakia had married Marcelle Carette of Buenos Aires, settled in France and had two sons, Michel and Edmund. When the couple entered divorce proceedings, Marcelle was given full custody of the boys. However, when her husband asked to keep them over the Easter holiday in 1912, she consented. Little did she know what lay ahead for them.

Mr. Navratil borrowed his employer’s passport and on April 10th, signed on to the Titanic as Louis Hoffman. He gave the boys, ages four and two, the names of Lolo and Momon. During the voyage, he only let them out of his sight once to play cards, asking a French-speaking woman to watch them for a few hours.

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Michel and Edmund Navratil

As the ship sank and the lifeboats were loaded, Mr. Navratil placed his sons in the arms of passenger Margaret Hays in the last boat available. Michel Jr. remembered his father’s last words to him: “My child, when your mother comes for you, as she surely will, tell her that I loved her dearly and still do. Tell her I expected her to follow us, so that we might all live happily together in the peace and freedom of the New World.”

Following rescue, Margaret Hays offered to take care of little Michel and Edmund in New York until relatives could be located. Around the world, newspapers printed their story and photograph, calling them the Orphans of the Titanic.

In France, Marcelle had known the boys and their father had disappeared but had no idea they’d sailed on the Titanic until she recognized her sons in the newspaper. She immediately contacted the White Star Line and was given passage aboard the Oceanic to New York. They were reunited on May 16, thirty-one days after the sinking, and returned to France. The body of Mr. Navratil was recovered and buried in Nova Scotia.

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Michel and Edmund with their mother

Michel Jr. became a professor of philosophy and was one of the last survivors of the Titanic. He once said, “I only lived up to four years old. Since then I’ve been a floater, someone grabbing at extra time and I’ve let myself go on this ocean.” In 1987, he returned to America for the first time since the sinking to mark the 75th anniversary, and visited his father’s grave as well. He died in 2001 at the age of 92.

Edmund became an architect and was involved in the Resistance during World War II. He was captured and made a prisoner of war, and although he escaped, his health suffered. He died in 1953 at age 43.

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