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Tom R. Kovach, Nevis, Minn., Published April 14 2012

Dad just missed sailing on Titanic

On the night of April 14, 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sunk in the wee hours of April 15, taking more than 1,500 people with it. My dad was almost one of them.

In his late teens in 1912, my father was migrating to America from his native Hungary. When he got to Hamburg, Germany, he was scheduled to sail to England in steerage on the Titanic’s maiden – and final – voyage. But there was a last-minute change in plans, and he was booked on a German ship, the Bremen, to New York City.

As a poor immigrant, he would have been in steerage, and we all know what happened to most of the folks in steerage: Very few, if any, of them made it off the Titanic.

So Dad lucked out 100 years ago, or I wouldn’t be here to tell this story.

Just his leaving Hungary at that time was a bit of a miracle. He was of draft age, and the country was not about to let healthy young men leave with war clouds on the horizon. (World War I was two years away.) But some years before, my grandfather, the mayor of a rural village, helped save the life of a Jewish storekeeper after drunken soldiers threatened his life over a minor incident. The storekeeper never forgot the good deed and neither did his college-educated son.

The storekeeper’s son worked in an immigration office in a nearby city. Dad lucked out by being in the right line at the immigration office – the one the storekeeper’s son was in charge of. He remembered my dad and asked about the family. My dad was sweating bullets, I’m sure. But the young custom official smiled at him and said, “Have a good trip to America, Joseph.” Dad looked at the immigration form. It was stamped: “approved.”

When WWI broke out, my father had to sign up for the draft. But the American government wouldn’t send him overseas to fight because his father (my grandfather) and his teenage brothers were fighting on the enemy side.

So this l00th anniversary of the Titanic disaster does indeed bring back family memories. I guess life can sometimes be about luck or just being in the right place at the right time.

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