Two Syrian Survivors Lost to History




I stumbled upon this website while researching my family tree on I was specifically interested in the Arab survivors. I realize that a lot of stories about unlisted survivors seem to be "tall tales", and that nearly all the survivors and passengers have allegedly been accounted for. However I have never been able to locate my great-grandmother or her brother on any survivor lists. Her name was Sadie Kassouf. I am not sure how well either sibling spoke English upon boarding, but I believe they must have had a limited knowledge in order to travel to England.

My great-grandmother was born in Zahle, Lebanon (then Ottoman Syria) into a prominent family. Her father, Shaheen Kassouf, was some sort of governor/politician. Sadie's birthday was August 8, 1894, and she was 17 years old when she boarded the Titanic. She and her brother were visiting relatives in NYC and planned to return to Zahle. In order to secure her brother's safety, due to the maritime code of "women and children first" she suggested that he wear a dress and disguise himself as a woman. I'm assuming he was younger than her, and probably had little to no facial hair. It's possible he was listed as a woman when they got to NYC.

My great-grandmother stayed in America (she remained terrified of the ocean all her life) and relocated to Scranton, PA. Her married name was Betress (Anglicized from the Arab "Butrus"). When she died in February 9, 1972, The Scranton Times Tribune ran a lengthy obituary the following day about how she was one of the last surviving passengers.

I know many people will probably think this is simply an unverified family legend. Most of this information comes from my dad and aunt. My dad was largely raised by his grandmother, and was very close to her. I know that it is not something she would have fabricated. I could go into a little more detail about what my dad told me, but for the most part, Sadie didn't want to talk about it. If anything about the Titanic came on TV, she would run upstairs and plug her ears. I believe she suffered PTSD her whole life, and I think this anxiety has been passed on down to later generations.

I would really like to add her name to historical passenger lists, and I wonder what steps can be taken to do so. Unfortunately, I do not know her brother's first name, only that he sailed back to Zahle. Even adding her story to this website would be helpful. I have some family photos taken in the 1940s and 1950s, and a copy of her 1972 obituary (the file to upload the obituary is too large, sadly).

Any help/guidance would be much appreciated.

Thank you.


Steven Christian

Steven Christian

A list of the Syrian passengers on this site doesn't bring anything up thats close to your descriptions. But thats not definative. You can surf it here.
But in this article below it does list a couple of the books on the Syrian/Arab passengers. If you haven't read those books already they might be worth a go. This passage from the article might make you interested in them. "The first contribution by Elias is to provide the real names of the Syrian and Lebanese passengers on the Titanic. The lists of living and dead supplied by American and British authorities relied on phonetic spellings of non-Anglo names, and the results were often brutally wrong. As Elias writes, families in the Middle East reading these lists frequently couldn't even tell whether their relatives were on the ship. Arabic newspapers spent weeks sorting out names so that family members left behind could know whether to mourn a loved one or not." One of the things I find intersting about Titanic is theres always something new being discovered about her story. Good luck on your research however it turns out.
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Leila Salloum Elias

Hi Megan,
If you'd like, I can talk to you about this - my email is [email protected] - sounds interesting and I'd like to help you solve the mystery.

Leila Salloum Elias