When Michel Navratil married Marcelline Caretto in London in 1907, He thought it would last a lifetime. Sadly, five years, and two children later, the marriage was over and separation papers were filed. An agreement was made that the father could have access to his two sons, Michel aged three and two year old Edmond, once a month.
On Easter Sunday 1912, Marcelline, kissed her two cherub faced children and sent them off to visit their father, in the care of their God father. That was the last she saw of them for over a month.
Michel Navratil Sr. booked a place for him and his son's onboard the new steamship Titanic. Knowing that his estranged wife would call the police once she realized what had happened, He cunningly used a pseudonym, travelling under the name "Hoffman" and referring to his boys as "Lolo" and "Louis".
Onboard the ship, Mr. Navratil was extremely protective of his sons, not letting them out of his sight. One person he did trust with his toddlers was young Bertha Lehmann, a Swiss woman who spoke fluent French. She shared their table at dinner, and formed a friendship, so that on the day of the sinking, the boys father went to play cards, leaving them in the care of Miss. Lehmann.
After the collision, Mr. Navratil soon realized that he would not get a place on one of the boats, and so he had to secure the fate of his sons, he wrapped them warmly to keep their little bodies from freezing in the cold and kissed them goodbye before handing them to strangers in collapsible boat "D". In a later interview, Michel Jr said that he remembered his father dropped him into the boat, and then told him to tell his mother that he loves her...
The tiny little waifs clung to each other in the boat until they were sent up onto the Carpathia in different mail sacks. Onboard one was cared for by a first class passenger, the other by Third. Finally, with the help of Madames Laroche and Mallet, the two brothers were reunited and cared for by the beautiful Miss. Margaret Hays, a first class passenger.
Margaret spoke fluent French, she was worried that the boys would be taken to a welfare agency and split up forever, The committee soon agreed that Miss Hays would care for the boys in her home until relatives could be found.
Margaret contacted the French Consul-General, Monsieur Lancel, his office was being used as the clearing house for the French passengers. He visited her and made an assessment, Second class passenger Lawrence Beesley also visited and confirmed that the boys were indeed the Hoffmans, as did Julio Pedro who had sat at the table next to the boys and their father. He described Monsieur Hoffman as a handsome man of about 5 foot 6, with dark hair and about 40 years of age.
While making his assessment, Monsieur Lancel talked to the boys about their Easter. little Michel told the man about a chicken he had received which laid a chocolate egg. This story was printed in papers all over the world, and it was this story which was read by Marcelline, and she then realized the "Titanic Waifs" were her sons!
Marcelline sent a letter to Margaret Hays describing the boys, she also sent a photo of her husband to Monte Carlo where it was identified as the "Mr. Hoffman" who had bought tickets for himself and two children. With this the White Star Line arranged for Marcelline to travel to New York onboard the Oceanic.
A Month after arriving in New York, little Michel heard a noise in the hallway that brought joy to his little face, he clapped his hands and caught hold of his brother and drew him nearer. The door opened and in she walked, Michel, releasing his grasp on his brother sprang across the room and into his mother's arms. The boy buried his head in her lap and cried. Edmond stood quietly for a moment, then as the clouded reconciliation of his mother suddenly cleared and the full memory of her came to him, He crowded into her arms beside Michel
"My babies," Said Mrs. Navratil "My Michel, my Edmond," she laughed, turning to Miss. Hays, their rescuer who had entered the room along with the superintendent of the Childrens society.
A year later in 1913, Marcelline sued the White Star Line for the loss of her husband. The claim was filed by Mr. F.K Hays, father of the woman who had cared for the children in New York. He said he received word that the boys were living in poverty in Nice, France with their mother. She was working as a servant to try and support herself and her sons. She had been overlooked by the relief fund, and did not even receive the $30 found on her husbands body.
During this time, a newspaper reporter named Dorothy Dix, commented that Mrs. Navratil was selfish for taking her sons back to France to live in poverty when they could have been adopted by a rich American family. She went on to say the boys would have little future, with poor education and few advantages in life. - Miss. Dix was not psychic and her opinions were proven wrong when Michel became a scholar and teacher of philosophy!
In 1952 he received his doctorate and served as a professor of Philosophy at the university of Montpellier until his retirement in 1969.
In 1970, Michel's wife died, they had been married for thirty-three years. Four years later his mother also died. He took comfort from his own children.
Edmond also married, and lived in Lourdes as a builder and architect before the outbreak of World War II.
When war broke out he was sent to Northern France, where he was captured and interred as a prisoner of war. He escaped but never recovered from his ordeal and died in 1952 aged 43.
In 1996, Michel went to Nova Scotia as part of the RMS Titanic Inc. While there he visited his father's grave, which had mistakenly been interred in the Jewish Cemetery because of the name "Hoffman" being a Jewish name. Nobody from the Navratil family had visited the grave until his namesake, 84 years after the sinking. However, the Senior Navratil had not been forgotten, each year his grave was marked with stones, A Jewish tradition which showed that people had passed by to pay their respects.
This Biography was written on 30 October 2006 by Beata.
In memory of:
Michel Navratil, 1880 - 15 April 1912
Marcelline Navratil circa 1880 - 1974
Michel Navratil 1908 - 30 January 2001
Edmond Navratil 1910 - 1953.