Samuel, also known as ‘Solomon’ or ‘Scholom’, Abramowitz was born in Riga, then part of Imperial Russia, in1878, but lived in Paris, France at 34, Rue St. Anne. He married his wife, Amelie, in 1899, and the couple had eight children, all born in Paris, the oldest being 16 years of age in 1915. He was a furrier by trade.
On the outbreak of the Great War, he turned his business place in St. Mann, Paris, into a hospital for wounded soldiers and then embarked upon work for the Red Cross on the battlefields. Perhaps, because he realised that his business skills might help the war effort more efficiently, on the 7th March 1915, he sailed from Le Havre, to the United States of America on board the
Rochambeau to buy medical supplies there for the Red Cross. For the first stage of his journey home, he booked second cabin passage on the
Lusitania which left New York on the early afternoon of 1st May 1915, to sail to Liverpool. The liner had been scheduled to sail at 10.00 a.m. but this sailing was postponed, whilst she embarked passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel the S.S. Cameronia, which the British Admiralty requisitioned for war service as a troop ship at the end of April.
Six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk, by the submarine
U-20, off the coast of southern Ireland, but Samuel Abramowitz was fortunate enough to be counted amongst the survivors because he was able to get into one of the lifeboats which survived the sinking. Having been landed at Queenstown, on the evening of the sinking, the following day he told of his experiences to a reporter of local newspaper
The Cork Examiner, which were published on Monday 10th May 1915. He report stated: -
“The day before we came to the British coast, the captain gave orders for the boats to be slung out in readiness. We were all sure that the German Government would not be able to do such a thing, as we had been talking so much about submarines on the voyage.
At 2 o’clock (yesterday), the steamer was going 17 knots and I went over to the saloon to have my dinner and I heard a “crack” and I see all these wooden clips go into the air, and the ship is gone to starboard. It was almost impossible for me to believe we had been torpedoed, because we had been talking about them; but in two minutes time those pirates seeing that his work is not finished, he sent a second one.
When we got the second torpedo, the ship started to go with her nose in the water and listed to starboard. What followed was a picture that no-one could believe with his eyes. All the crew did their duty. The captain started to calm the people; but the time was so small that the Lusitania went to the bottom and all those women, children and men went down with her. All those people with their eyes to God and looking at death were swallowed up by the sea.
I picked up a little child on deck, and climbed down one of the ropes into a boat which was lowered. After that I gave the child to another man and picked two other children out of the water. We also picked up an old man and an old woman who were saved in our boat”.
The Frenchman went on with much gesture to say that the torpedo did his work exactly. “If he had only given us time - a few minutes - everybody could have been saved”. After expressing his warm appreciation of the British as he had met them, he said all his feelings of humanity for the Germans had gone.
On his way back to Paris, Mr. Abramowitz later sailed to Fishguard in South Wales, where he further related his story to the press. This time,
The Western Mail, printed the following in its edition of Monday 10 May 1915: -
Among others arriving at Fishguard was Monsieur S. Abrahamowitz, (sic) of Paris who said if it had only been the first torpedo, the Lusitania would not have sunk. The scene was indescribable. The women and children as they trooped towards the side of the vessel had a hopeless look in their eyes.
He managed to get away, and as he looked back he saw a crowd of some 500 or 600 raised high on the deck. The boats failed to reach the water, and then the whole crowd were precipitated into the sea as the ship gave a lurch and sank.
The boat he was in picked up three young children and a baby. With one of them, a little girl, was a nurse.
Like many others at the time and often for the rest of the century, Samuel Abramowitz assumed wrongly that the second explosion heard by many people on board, was a second torpedo!
Samuel Abramowitz suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of his ordeal which affected him for some months after he returned to Paris, but thankfully he eventually recovered. As a result of his experience, he made the decision to emigrate to the United States of America with his family when the war ended.
In 1920, the Abramowitz family emigrated to the United States of America and settled in Kingston, New York, where the family continued in the fur trade. Samuel kept the lifebelt he wore during his ordeal for many years until it deteriorated through age, being made of natural cork and sail cloth.
Samuel Abramowitz was residing at 195. Albany Avenue, Kingston, New York, when he died on the 12th June 1947, aged 69 years. He is buried in Montrepose Cemetery, Kingston, Ulster County New York.
1930 United States Federal Census, 1940 United States Federal Census, Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, New York Passenger Lists 1820 - 1957, Liverpool Record Office, PRO BT 100/345, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly