Q: Was there a Slovak on board the Titanic?
Michal [MEE-hahl] Navrátil was born in Sereď on 14 August 1880. A 2nd class passenger on the Titanic, he drowned on 15 April 1912, but his two sons, Michel (3) and Edmond (2) survived. He was traveling under an assumed name, because he was abducting his children after a separation from his wife. The name, Louis M. Hoffman, was taken to be Jewish by the rescuers, so Michal Navrátil's remains were buried at the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, while Navrátil was Roman Catholic.
While Michal Navrátil's father, a carpenter also called Michal, was serving in the Habsburg army, he married Magdaléna née Kopecká. When their son grew up, he apprenticed as a tailor in Bratislava, and then moved to France at the age of 22 where he opened a business in Nice. He met Marcelle Caretto, whose parents came from Piedmont and Liguria in northern Italy according to her descendants, moved to Genoa and eventually to Nice. She gave her age as 21 and 3 months when she traveled to the U.S. in May 1912:
Michal (26) and Marcelle (16) went to London to get married on 26 May 1907 because neither of them had the documents required by the French authorities. Both their sons were born in Nice, Michel Marcel ("Lolo") on 12 June 1908 and Edmond Roger ("Momon") on 5 March 1910.
When Michal and Marcelle were separated in early 1912, the court gave their sons' temporary custody to Marcelle's uncle Bruno according to her account. Under the assumed name Louis. M. Hoffman, Michal first bought a ticket for himself and his sons to Australia in March, but he returned to the Thomas Cook & Co. office in Monte Carlo and rebooked for a second-class passage on the Titanic (cabin F2) saying the journey to Australia was too long for his little children. He had a cousin, also from Sereď, in Chicago, but there is no indication of where he planned to settle in the U.S.
Michal picked up their sons from Marcelle's uncle Bruno during the long Easter weekend, Friday-Monday, 5-8 April. He took them to the Charing Cross Hotel (room 126) in London and embarked the Titanic in Southampton, England, on 10 April, although the ship was also making a stop at Cherbourg, France, later that day. Marcelle told journalists she had received a note from him saying she would never see them again.
Michel Marcel, not yet four at the time, narrated decades later how his father had dressed him and his brother up before bringing them to a rescue boat as the Titanic was sinking on 15 April, but contemporary witness reports said he was wearing just a flannel shirt, and Edmond had no clothes, both were wrapped in blankets. They were put on "Collapsible D," the last boat to be launched. Only women and children were allowed on it. Their 32-year-old father drowned.
Michal Navrátil's body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennet and delivered to Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 30 April. Michal was wearing a gray coat over a brown suit, his pockets contained some cash and receipts, a pipe, a gold watch, and a loaded revolver. Identified under his assumed name Hoffman, which was thought to be Jewish (Michal was Roman Catholic), he was buried in Halifax at the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery.
Once the boys were delivered to the Carpathia later on April 15, a first-class Titanic passenger who left on the first lifeboat and spoke French, Margaret Bechstein Hays (24), began to take care of them and brought them to her parents' home in New York after the Carpathia docked there on 18 April.
With assistance from the Children's Aid Society, the Hayses contacted the French Consul in New York, Étienne Lanel, who arranged for the arrival of Lolo and Momon's mother when on 22 April she recognized the picture of her sons circulated widely in the press along with the captivating mystery of two little French-speaking "waifs" from the Titanic, who knew only their nicknames. Marcelle Navrátil arrived on the Oceania to pick them up in New York on 16 May and set off for Nice with them on board the same ship on 18 May 1912.