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A 'Titanic' Tragedy And A Small Piece Of History

Born in the Russian Empire, David Livshin was on his way to Montreal to join his family when the "Titanic" sank.
Born in the Russian Empire, David Livshin was on his way to Montreal to join his family when the "Titanic" sank.
David Livshin must have thought that luck was on his side. He had planned to leave England for Canada in late March 1912 aboard a ship named "Grampian" but managed to swap his ticket for another.

Reflecting 100 years later on the life of a relative she never knew, Rachel Mines describes the change of tickets as a "strange irony."

"In 1912, the Jewish holiday of Passover took place between April 2 and April 10, and David probably preferred to spend the holiday at home with his wife rather than at sea, because Passover is an important family celebration," she says.

"So, presumably, he exchanged his ticket on the "Grampian" for a later one on the "Titanic." He was probably very pleased to have this ticket on this luxury liner, where even third class was relatively comfortable."

A resident of Vancouver, Canada, Rachel Mines, 56, is David Livshin's great-niece. As a child, her mother had told her about a relative who died on the "Titanic" -- a story she dismissed as a tall tale.

How could her family, she thought, have a connection to the most storied maritime disaster in history? But while doubtful, she was curious enough to look.

Haunting Final Hours

It wasn't until a few years ago, Mines says, that her cousin, Ron Betnesky, discovered a branch of the family in England and, putting the pieces together, she realized her mother's story was true.

From passenger lists, survivor accounts, and family letters, Mines and her relatives have recreated the narrative of her great-uncle's life, and his haunting final hours.

David Livshin was born in 1887 into a Jewish family in the Baltic port city of Liepaja, Latvia -- in what was then the Russian Empire.

Following a brief period of service in the Russian army, he emigrated to England in 1911, perhaps for better economic opportunities. After starting a watch-making business, he decided to move again, this time to Canada, to join his sisters who had already settled there.

Livshin boarded the Titanic to do just that, leaving behind a pregnant wife whom he planned to send for later. He traveled under the name "Abraham Harmer," presumably because he had purchased his original ticket from a man of that name.

He would never make it across the Atlantic.

Unimaginable Distress

But as Mines recounts, her great-uncle didn't actually go down with the ship. Her research has placed him on "collapsible B," a lifeboat launched into the water upside down in the panicked, final moments before the Titanic sank.
David Livshin's great niece Rachel Mines
David Livshin's great niece Rachel Mines

"David was probably in the water at that time; he must have been," she says. "And with about 30 other men, he managed to make it to the lifeboat. Those survivors spent the night standing up on the upside down lifeboat -- on the hull, which was curved -- packed stem to stern and basically rolling with the waves and trying not to fall off. [They were] freezing cold, soaking wet. We can't even imagine what that must have been like. David died on that lifeboat."

The steamship "Carpathia" would eventually arrive to rescue the men and take on Livhsin's body, which was buried at sea. Less than five months later, his wife gave birth to a baby boy she named David.

On the centenary of the "Titanic's" sinking, Mines is proud and still "astonished" by the way she and her family managed to unearth her great uncle's story.

"It seems to me that history is made up of the little stories," she says. "They're there. Sometimes we discover them and sometimes we don't, but they're there.

"It's the stories of the so-called little people, I think, that are really important -- just as important or maybe even more important because there are more of those stories than the stories about the famous people and the wealthy people and the powerful people, which is what we call history."