by Brian Hartig
A variety of Eastern European countries contributed to the large number of steerage class passengers onboard Titanic’s maiden voyage. One of these countries, Bulgaria, an impoverished nation newly reborn in the Balkan region, seems to have never had its victims’ stories told. For an assortment of reasons, the stories of these Bulgarian men have been, to some small extent, recounted and discussed, but only within the country’s confines; little documentation or information regarding these men has ever been seriously compiled or collected. This fact is unfortunate when we look at the small amount of available literature about these men, then take into consideration the fact that 8 percent of the steerage men were Bulgarians. In this paper I have attempted to tell the Bulgarian story of Titanic by starting well before April 14, 1912, in order to set the stage for the political environment that contributed to Bulgaria’s part in the emigration wave of the early part of the last century. Beginning with Bulgaria’s emancipation from the Turks in 1878, I move chronologically through the history of Bulgarian emigration around the turn of the 19th century, taking a look at central Bulgaria’s connections with the immigration “industry.” I specifically address the lives of ten of the Bulgarians aboard Titanic -- who they were, where they were from and the legacy that they left. I then turn to the remaining Bulgarians listed as having been aboard Titanic, providing any previously unavailable information I have been able to uncover. Lastly, in my research notes, I examine the reasons why the exact number and identification of the Bulgarians aboard Titanic has never been, and may never be, determined; it has been the topic of many an article and newspaper story in Bulgaria over the years. As in many countries throughout the world, stories abound in Bulgaria of individuals who died claiming to have been aboard Titanic. In Bulgaria, not simply due to the passage of time, but for a variety of fundamental reasons, these claims are difficult to either confirm or dismiss.
Brian J. P. Hartig
When in 1876 the White Czar of Russia, Alexander II, committed his armies to the assistance of the ethnic Bulgarian population of the former Bulgarian Kingdom in overthrowing Turkish governance there, the seeds of the Russo-Turkish War were planted. The resulting military action reclaimed Bulgaria’s sovereign soil and vastly re-asserted Russia’s influence in the Balkans. The victory allowed Bulgaria to finally draw the curtain on the “Turkish Yoke” in a war the czar called “Holy”.i Having suffered under the despotism of the Ottoman Turks for more than 500 years, a new dawn had broken for the Bulgarians; one of self-rule and self-determination.
It was the confrontation that was to directly influence the later Balkan Wars and, more globally, the “War to End All Wars,” World War I. After the Russo-Turkish war, as lesser powers jockied for advantageous geographical boundaries, the Super-Powers, attempting to address the sudden imbalance of powers (and certainly shore up their own power structures in the process), re-drew the perimeters of vast portions of Eastern Europe at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.ii Although the war freed Bulgaria, returning this once tremendously powerful kingdom to autonomous statehood, the Treaty of Berlin removed at least one-third of the gains that Russia had bestowed upon Bulgaria in the Treaty of San Stefano,1 leaving the country in a state of anti-climactic semi-victory.
Frank D. Millet, working as a war correspondent for the London Daily News,iii later a victim of the Titanic tragedy, captured the carnage, along the route to Constantinople in the final days of the Russo-Turkish War, in his dispatches, as 200,000 Turkish refugees fled southeast before the Russian advance.iv
“We saw the bodies of Bulgarian peasants with terrible wounds in the head and neck,” wrote Millet, “sometimes mutilated and disfigured; women and infants, children and old men, both Turkish and Bulgarian, fallen in the fields by the roadside half buried in the snow, or lying in the pools of water.”v
Millet, who had arrived just in time to observe the Seige of Pleven (Plevna) unfold, after the Turkish defenses broke, marched south with the victorious Russian Army and witnessed the end-result of what “seemed to have been one long battle between the peasants of both races, in which the dead were counted equally for each.”vi
In a comment that bears eerie similarity to the scene displaying the great loss of life which subsequently followed the sinking of Titanic, Millet went on describe the backdrop of the war’s final days.
“(W)hile many of the bodies bore marks of violence and showed ghastly wounds the great proportion of the women and children were evidently frozen to death,” Millet wrote, “for they lay in the snow as if asleep, with the flush of life still on their faces, and the pink of their face and hands still unblanched.”vii
Millet described the wake that the clash of the two armies had left in another uncanny resemblance, this time to the field of wreckage which remained following Titanic’s sinking.
“For many miles we had been trampling in the mud carpets, bedding and clothing. Now the highway was literally paved with bundles, cushions, blankets and every imaginable article of household use,” wrote Millet. “Hundreds of acres were covered with household goods. Corpses of men, women and children lay about near every araba,2 the whole ground was carpeted with clothing, kitchen utensils, books and bedding. Bundles of rags and clothes nearly all held dead babies.”viii
Millet wrote that the scene was “as at once so unique in its general aspect, so terribly impressive, so eloquent of suffering and disaster to innocent people, that I hesitate to attempt a description of it.”ix
But describe it he did. And what he sent back in his dispatches for the millions of newspaper readers who followed the war at their breakfast tables each morning (as he reported on the war through to its completion) shocked them. This war was the first to have such immediate extensive international coverage.x
The war, significant in its international context, was vastly more important locally for Bulgaria, in that her people, used to the subjugation of her Turkish dominions, had at last, after five centuries, tasted freedom. It permitted this once-again country to breathe anew and move back into a dignified relationship with the rest of the world.
This self-rule for Bulgaria brought with it the allowance of its citizenry to associate and gather within its boundaries without fear of reproach. And it allowed Bulgarians, for the first time in centuries, a window of opportunity for international travel; most of this travel was done by men who chose increasingly, in the coming decades, to opt for an Atlantic crossing to America.
1 This treaty, which ended the war with Turkey, had re-created Bulgaria in its previous mold of Greater Bulgaria encompassing an area approximately a third larger than today’s Bulgaria. This increase, plus more, however, was removed at the Congress of Berlin; the Western Super Powers feared giving Bulgaria, with so much Russian influence, such a large stake in the Balkans.
2 a wheeled vehicle drawn by a beast of burden or a team of such beasts
i Furneaux, Rupert. The Breakfast War, New York, NY, 1958; 15.
ii Ibid.; 228-9.
iii Ibid.; 16.
iv Ibid.; 225.
v Ibid.; 226.
vi Ibid.; 226.
vii Ibid.; 226.
viii Ibid.; 226-7.
ix Ibid.; 227.
x Ibid.; 17.
Throughout the 25 years following the unbridling of the “Turkish Yoke,” young Bulgaria managed quite ably to gather itself together, pulling itself up by the bootstraps. Having begun its renaissance in the past century while still under the dominion of the Turks, Bulgaria was able to emerge with its national identity intact and became a model nation-state for the Balkan region. This period before the Balkan Wars was a belle époque for Bulgaria -- its economy overtook those of all other Balkan countries; its national income was rising, the gold reserve of the treasury made Bulgarian currency convertible, and Bulgarians were free to travel and live in Europe as full-fledged citizens.i This included travel to and from the United States.
Although still a potent foe, the “sick man of Europe”1 had been pushed, due mostly to the immense momentum of the Russian army,2 from Bulgarian soil. The Treaty of Berlin, although a bitter pill for the Bulgarians, would nonetheless, it was hoped, keep the Turkish threat in check; as Turkey’s star had long been fading, it had become less and less a threat to Bulgaria’s stability. Although Turkey was not the only potential foe in the Balkan region at this point,3 the present strategic situation, with Russia as Bulgaria’s guardian,4 allowed for not a little bit of national breathing space and provided Bulgaria’s youth with the opportunity to test its wings both near and far from the nest.
This newly found freedom, coupled with the United States’ need for immigrant workers to satiate the ravenous demand of its factories, fueling its industrial revolution, brought about a large migration of Bulgarian men to American and Canadian shores.
Between 1903-1908 alone, fully 80,000 Bulgarians immigrated to North (and South) America.ii (In the first few months of 1912 alone, up until the Titanic disaster, approximately 445 people from the Lovech region, 424 from the Troyan region and 350 from the Teteven region had made the trip by transatlantic steamer to America and Canada.)iii As such, the emigration issue became a hot topic of debate in government channels.
It was about this time that a “discussion,” which represented the tone of the day in government circles regarding emigration and its effect on Bulgaria, took place in the Varna Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Varna, Bulgaria. It was pointed out in this discussion that the role of the state was not to impede emigration and thereby obstruct the citizens' making a living. It was pointed out that, evidently, migration had its causes, but that it was these causes -- and not the effects -- that had to be examined; thus, freedom of migration was demanded.
At the meeting’s close a conclusion on emigration’s effects was adopted, stating that a reasonable and well-organized emigration was universally acknowledged as one of the practical ways of balancing the means of subsistence. In this conclusion it was emphasized that emigration to America was temporary in the majority of cases, since Bulgarian emigrants were attracted to their fatherland and so the fear that the number of non-returns being so great that Bulgaria’s economy would be endangered was unfounded. In any case, it was felt that the state should guide and direct emigration, thereby assisting those who wished to earn a living abroad.iv
Although the government saw little wrong with emigration per se, Bulgaria’s youngest, brightest and strongest men seemed to be draining out of the country faster than they could be replaced. This was too much for the government leaders’ liking, particularly at a critical time when these men might potentially be needed in a coming time of hostility and while memory of the Turkish atrocities were as fresh in leaders’ minds as if they had occurred yesterday. A new set of emigration regulations, therefore, was written to ensure that this trend did not get out of hand, and was put into law on 12 December 1907.
Article 3 of this law listed the cases when emigration was prohibited. It is worth mentioning some of them: 1) Young people under the age of 17, unaccompanied by their parents; 2) Boys on the recruit lists who had not completed their military service, except those who continued their education; 3) Men under the age of 23, who had not served in the Army; 4) Soldiers of the reserve up to the age of 40 - they were granted permission only if they paid a deposit of 1,000 to 4,000 leva -- a considerable sum at the time; 5) People found guilty of crimes who had not served their term of sentence; 6) People over the age of 50, incapable of working owing to disease; 7) Parents who had not provided for their children, remaining in the country; and 8) Those who had not paid their taxes.
It is apparent that the Bulgarian state had closed the emigration floodgates substantially to keep men of fighting age within the country as the settlement of the Bulgarian national question5 was forthcoming and a war with the Ottoman Empire was inevitable. The male population was soon to be needed for purposes other than vanishing abroad.
In the end, the connection these men had with their homeland and their people was quite strong. This strong connection was displayed in the years following Titanic's sinking as more than 20,000 Bulgarians returned to fight for their fatherland when the Balkan War began in 1912 – there was no obligatory mobilization, no compulsion; they were driven by the love of their fatherland and, certainly, the fear of their loved ones being overrun once again by the hated Turks.v
1 Czar Alexander II had referred to Turkey as such at the outset of the Russo-Turkish War.
2 International support was at play here, as well; ever since the first atrocities of the Turks landed in Western newspapers, public sentiment increasingly supported the Bulgarians in their bid for freedom from the tursko robstvo (Turkish slavery).
3 The governments of Serbia and Greece, due to a variety of reasons, were finding justification for hostilities toward Bulgaria.
4 Bulgaria was also spending large sums of funds from loans from Western countries on its defense systems.
5 The Bulgarian question considered the existence of an autonomous Bulgarian state, self-ruled and self-governed. It was a situation that many thought was only possible through military action.
i Fol, Valeria; Ovcharov, Nikolai; Gavrilova, Raina; Gavrilov, Borislav. Bulgaria: History Retold in Brief, Sofia, Bulgaria, Riva Publishing House, 1999: 142.
ii Crampton, Richard J. Bulgaria 1878-1918: A History, East European Monographs, Boulder, CO, 1983: 347.
iii Moskov, Nikki, “Two of Our Compatriots Get Drunk, Miss ‘Titanic,’” 24 Chassa, 2 Sept., 1996: 19.
iv Traikov, Veselin. "Bulgarian Emigrants in the United States up to the Second World War: Causes and Characteristics," Culture and History of the Bulgarian People, Duquesne University Press, 1982: 192-3.
v Traikov, 193.
The small central Bulgarian town of Troyan – not too far a trip south of Pleven, where Millet had begun his war correspondence in Bulgaria during the Siege of Pleven – was the center, of sorts, of the emigration exodus to the States. It was here that an immigrant travel agent (and nationalist political organizer)i by the name of Marko Kaludov,1 based in Chicago, opened a branch of his agency.
Kaludov was the first president of the Bulgarian Macedonian-Odrin society in the U.S. in the small New England town of North Adams, Massachusetts. The most prominent figure at that time in the Macedonian-Odrin movement in the United States, Kaludov moved the society’s headquarters to the “Bulgarian capital” (Chicago) in 1902 where the majority of Bulgarian immigrants were starting to relocate as they reached American soil.
A fiery Bulgarian patriot committed to the geographical unification of all Bulgarian-speaking areas, Kaludov mixed an earnest desire to help Bulgarian immigrants make the journey to the States and find employment successfully with a staunch defense of his country, which was at the time, due to the Treaty of Berlin, still only partially free from the governance of the Turks.ii
Kaludov’s local agent in Troyan, however, did not seem so conscientious of his fellow countrymen. The agent, Tsanko Burzelya, working out of the house of Toma Bakrachev, saw profit in the steamship passage sales made in the process of recruiting young men to fuel America’s ongoing industrial revolution.
“The psychosis had conquered the workless young balkandzhii (men from the Balkan mountain region),” said local researcher Ivan Peykovski, “and these men made a line in front of Bakrachev’s office.” Burzelya, Peykovski noted, would play on the naïveté of the men when he attempted to “negotiate” conditions for them by telephone with companies in America. He used to pick up the telephone and shout loudly into the mouthpiece, “New York! New York!” intimating that he was on the verge of communication with an important official in America. Because, however, of the “ocean’s roar,” Burzelya would explain to his emigration candidates, the “conversations” could usually not take place. The ploy was often enough, though, to excite many men into making the immediate decision to emigrate.iii
Kaludov provided these men with the opportunity to take this chance, granting work to any man who was willing to travel to America to take it.2 The realities of the work, however, were rarely in sync with the descriptions his agents gave. Kaludov advertised America, in colorful and well-placed posters, as a “Heaven on Earth.” He extolled them to “Discover the Planet’s New World,” and played upon their latent desire to escape poverty by coaxing them to “Go to the New World – the Swing of Prosperity.” He even played upon their small-town gullibility by telling them that “Happiness was Only in America.”iv
In fact, it was against the provisions of the United Sates immigration law, under a $1,000 penalty, for steamship companies to “solicit, invite or encourage the immigration of any aliens into the United States.” Through local agents and subagents of such companies, however, this law was violated persistently and continuously. Selling steerage tickets to America was the sole or chief occupation of large numbers of persons in southern and eastern Europe, and from observations of the U.S. Immigration Commission it is clear that these local agents, as a rule, solicited business, and consequently encouraged emigration, by every possible means.3
The “great hunt for emigrants” was a very prosperous business, so much so that there was an agreement among the larger steamship companies of the time which, in a measure, regulated the distribution of traffic and prevented unrestricted competition between the lines. It did not, however, affect the vigorous and widespread hunt for steerage passengers, which was carried on throughout the chief emigrant-furnishing countries.v
For most Bulgarian immigrants of the time, the living and working situations in America were hardly rosy; Bulgarians were usually given the heaviest work as miners, railway workers, common laborers, etc. This must have mattered little, however, to these young men who were eager to travel, see the new continent, have adventures, and make some good money in the process.
There was no dearth of reasons for these men wanting to travel to America at this time. At a point when a wave of new immigration (from sources further east and south in Europe)4 was hitting America’s shores, groups of men, agreeing to live and work together once they arrived at their Stateside destination, made the trip as single units.5, vi
Although it is possible to conceive of the early groups of economic migrants coming to North America and forming the basis of communities by taking jobs in a variety of places of employment using a diversity of skills, this almost never happened. First, most of the migrants were explicitly of peasant background and they were usually unskilled from the perspective of the American labor market. A second point is that, as previously noted, they came as organized groups, the organization of which was often stimulated by the shipping companies who worked through the agents linked to the group by common ethnicity. In this way, the fact that they could secure employment in a particular industry provided an economic underpinning to the migration process.6
American employers were usually receptive to dealing with organized groups of immigrants from a particular area explicitly or implicitly because it provided a stability and internal discipline within the work force and, from a short-term perspective, reduced the turnover. Further, workers intending to earn money to return home with were more tractable.vii
Interestingly, it is noted that what made life bearable for the Bulgarian immigrants (and other classes of immigrants, too, for that matter), who were often to be found living in slum-like conditions on the very edge of society, was the notion that these “single men who were working in America still had their native villages inside their heads.”viii That is, their existence in America was to be relatively short, while the money that existed to be earned was, in relative terms, great.
Things had changed, at least, from the initial years of departures when many of the emigrants fell prey to the various speculators, who formally arranged their travel, but in fact, keeping in touch with different firms in the United States, supplied American industry with a “live commodity,” i.e., workers, who would have to render compulsory labor in railway and subway construction, metal-processing industry, mining, etc., at extremely low wages and for years on end.ix
The new Bulgarian emigration law, more a reflection of this change of times than a precursor to it, in addition to restricting who could and could not emigrate, provided for the operation of the emigration agencies in Bulgaria. The state endeavored to protect its citizens by preventing emigrants from being engaged in compulsory labor in advance; the intent, although not always the result, was to allow them to look for and choose their own jobs themselves in accordance with their interests. A special emigration Bureau was actually set up, covering the whole country and dealing with the organizational matters on a statewide scale.x
But Bulgaria continued to send its men to work in America, as is evidenced by the numbers of them emigrating and the growing Bulgarian quarters in many cities (and on their outskirts).
1 Kaludov was one of the driving forces behind the creation in the U.S. of the first Macedonian-Bulgarian organizations in 1899. In Chicago, after Bulgaria’s first national catastrophe during the Balkan War in 1913, Kaludov and others initiated the first Bulgarian emigrant congress ever held in the New World.
2 The cost of a steerage class ticket for Bulgarians was $40 (plus a $25 immigration tax).
3 As the work of these “emigrant-traffickers” was often carried on surreptitiously, due to its illegal nature, these men were commonly referred to as “secret agents.”
4 In the report of the Immigration Commission of 1907, the “new immigration” class included immigrants from Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Roumania, Russia, Servia, Spain, and Turkey, which countries in the first decade of the 20th century furnished about 77 percent of the total number of European immigrants admitted into the United States.
5 The migration process usually involved movement as a group, from start to finish, with relatives or friends, often as fellow villagers. Sharing of a common point of origin was to prove vital to adapting to life in the New World.
6 Hon. Horace G. Knowles, American minister to Roumania, Servia and Bulgaria, to display the extent to which potential emigrants would go to emigrate to America, informed the Immigration Commission of a system of mutual savings followed in some very poor Bulgarian villages: “A number of cases were heard of in nearly every district, where it required the combined savings of a score or more of peasants to provide the means for one person to emigrate to the United States. They have a kind of lottery by which one of the group would have the benefit of the savings of all the others and go. The lucky one would, after a few months in the United States, repay, with interest, the amount advanced by his compatriots, with the result that they all would have a still stronger desire to go to America, and then would fall another drawing and another emigrant.”
i Mitev, Dr. Trendafil. “The Macedonian Patriotic Organization in the United States, Canada and Australia,” Macedonia in History Website (http://www.macedoniainfo.com/MacPatrOrg_6.htm).
ii Genov, Dr. George. “The Bulgarians in America and the Native-born Intelligentsia in Defence of the Macedonian Liberation Movement,” Gallery-Museum Classica Website (http://web.orbitel.bg/classica/America.htm).
iii Moskov, “Compatriots.”
v Dillingham, William P. Reports of the U.S. Immigration Commission: Emigration Conditions in Europe. Washington Government Printing Office, 1911: 62-3.
vi Halpern, Joel M. "The Bulgarian-Americans: Retrospect and Prospect," Cultural History of the Bulgarian People, Duquesne University Press, 1982: 125.
vii Ibid., 128.
viii Halpern, 130.
ix Traikov, 192.
x Traikov, 193.
Nearly everyone who lives in the Troyan area knows of the existence of a pametnik (small monument), erected to the memory of eight of Titanic’s victims who had all been from a small picturesque village north of Troyan called Goumoshtnik. Located in the graveyard of Goumoshtnik’s small Bulgarian Orthodox church that had lost its pastor in 1998 and, subsequently, its dwindling congregation, the monument bears witness to these eight men who never returned home. A solid-looking stone obelisk, it was commissioned in 1919,i at the end of the Balkan Wars, and lists, in the old Bulgarian Cyrillic characters, the names of these men, along with the date of the tragedy, in the old Bulgarian calendar (2 April 1912).ii
Goumoshtnik is today but a skeleton of what it once had been. The Bulgarian economy having been such over the years that its people slowly trickled out of the villages – as happened in most other rural villages throughout the country, as well – for the promise of the larger towns and Sofia, the capital, as industrialization took shape in Bulgaria during the communist period.
Goumoshtnik, though, was not much bigger at the turn of the century. These eight men (and others who would emigrate at different times) would likely have been sending money back to their families and returning from time to time to visit their friends, families, wives and children. Their loss, however, would have been felt strongly and would have been a devastating blow to such a tightly knit, close community; it would come to be a blow, albeit on a smaller scale, quite similar to what was experienced in the houses down Southampton’s lanes after the sinking, where Titanic's numerous trimmers, porters and sailors had lived.
Perhaps it was because Goumoshtnik was the Bulgarian village that had lost the most men of all in the disaster that only this Bulgarian village erected a monument to its victims. Perhaps the severity of the loss to such a small town was the reason. Likely, it was a combination of the two. It made Goumoshtnik Bulgaria’s tragic epicenter linked to the disaster and fully warranting such a monument.
The pametnik exists as a monument to the lives of the Goumoshtnik 8, but it is also a burial ground of sorts. For, although none of the bodies of these eight men were ever identified – if they had even been recovered – beneath the monument is buried in their place the clothing of these men.
Those eight men (boys, mostly), with their names as they are most closely transliterated from Bulgarian's Cyrillic spellings on the monument (and their names as they were recorded missing by the White Star Company in parentheses), were Lalyo Yonkov (Jonkoff, Lazor), Peyo Kolev (Coleff, Peyo), Marin Markov (Markoff, Marin), Lazar Minkov (Minkoff, Lazar), Stoycho Minkov (Stoytcho, Minhoff), Nedyalko Petrov (Nedeco, Petroff), Penko Naidenov (Naidenoff, Penko), and Iliya Stoychev (Stoyehoff, Ilia).
These men are listed on White Star's passenger lists as having not survived the disaster. Interestingly enough, "Lloyd's" list of casualties, according to a local Bulgarian paper at the time of the disaster, however, do not mention these names. According to Lloyd's, of the 38 Bulgarian passengers aboard, none survived. Due to translation problems, distance, inaccurate reporting, and, say some, out of a desire by Lloyd's of not having to pay insurance to everyone lost, the final list could very well be inaccurate.
Goumoshtnik was certainly not the only village hit by the tragedy. Numerous villages throughout this region experienced loss. Because of the industrious work of emigration agents like the one in Troyan, men were flowing from Bulgaria like a faucet full on. Although the economy had taken an upswing in the first decade of the new century, work was limited to agricultural pursuits in most areas, particularly in the rural parts where this upswing was felt the least. Finding men who fit the new emigration laws was not so hard to accomplish at the end of the day.
Bulgarians were attracted to America for a variety of reasons, the primary of which was money; although it was rarely as an end but as a means. Most Bulgarian men had no plans to stay in the United States; their idea was to stay long enough to make the money necessary for them to be able to return to their homeland and set them and their families up comfortably in some sort of trade. Another, although correlative, reason for the trips to America were the fulfillment of the dream that many a young man had – the chance to see Kaludov’s “Heaven on Earth.” Also, an attraction, which went hand-in-hand with making a decent living, was the opportunity for these men to learn a trade or, in some cases, hone the skills they already possessed – although most of the men who traveled to the states were peasants possessing few skills. Most were farmers, potters,1 or common laborers.
So, the tale of these eight men from Goumoshtnik, traveling as a group to take up industry and live communally in the vast industrialized cities of foreign shores, was a common one. Only the ending of this particular trip -- for this small Bulgarian village -- was extraordinarily uncommon.
1 The art of pottery and ceramics making was one particular skill possessed by many of these men from the Troyan area. Ceramics producing was an important craft and somewhat of a large part of the local economy at the time. For many years, because of the optimal natural resources of the area, men had come with their families to the Troyan region from all parts of the country to learn the trade as apprentices and become master potters, as well as to visit the ceramics fairs held to sell their wares or to look for work in the field. Today in Troyan there exists an art school to which students from around the country still come to learn this art.
The two most famous passengers from Bulgaria, were two life-long friends -- Hristo Danchev Totevski (Dantchoff, Kristo), 23, and Minko Angelov Vulchev (Angheloff, Minko), 26, both from the village Terzyisko. Although they were rather representative of the men who emigrated to America from Bulgaria at the time, the story of their loss lives to this day as it was enshrined in the words of a popular Bulgarian song after the sinking.
Hristo Danchev, a potter by trade and the eldest son of three boys, had a young wife and two children, Tsona, 3, and Pena, 2 months old, when he left Terzyisko to sail to America with Minko Angelov and Minko's older brother Hristo.
"Hristo wanted to travel to America," said Danchev's younger brother Stoyko in an interview in 1976.i "Our father didn't agree from the very beginning, but later he let him go.
"I remember that one day he left for Troyan to exchange banknotes for golden coins (Napoleons) at the bank there. In the evening when he came back he threw on the table 30 gold pieces. They shone like the embers in the fireplace.”
Stoyko’s words, filled with local dialect and vernacular of a bygone era, painted a picture of his peasant family that, like most families in Bulgarian villages of the time, was a tightly knit unit within a tightly knit community.
“Hristo Danchev left together with Minko Vulchev (ed. – “Angelov”) who was also from Terzyisko village. That happened in 1912. They traveled to Sofia and then to Belgrade, where they were received by the agent of the company in which they intended to begin work.
"The next stop was Italy.1 There, Hristo and Minko were detained for a health-related reason by the medical board -- poor eyesight.2 The second board3 approved them, however, and they left for America onboard the Titanic.”
Hristo’s travel companion, Minko Angelov, was married with one daughter. His granddaughter, Maria Draganova, recounted many years after the tragedy, how, when she had been but a small girl, the memory of her grandfather continued on long after his death.
"There was a big portrait on the wall at my home, of a smart young man. When people came to my house, they always asked me, 'Who is that young man in the picture?' I can still remember tears running down the face of my mother who said that the man was her father, but he died when Titanic sank.
"The strange thing was that he was with his elder brother Hristo and a friend of his called Hristo Danchev who set off for Titanic from Terzyisko village. It is situated a few kilometers from Troyan town.
"At that time all the people in the country knew about the first voyage of the biggest and most luxurious ship they had ever seen. There was still a week left until the first traveling. The elder brother was impatient and sailed to America with a ship called Carpathia. My grandfather and his friend Hristo Danchev waited for the Titanic, impressed by the unreal, fantastic advertisements. They thought that the Titanic might become the fastest ship in the world.
“After Minko Angelov went down with Titanic, his elder brother who had safely crossed with Carpathia, returned to fight in the Balkan Wars. He died the same year as his brother had, but in battle.
"At the time all of the main events became songs," continued Dranganova. "These songs, written by known and unknown poets reached many countries over the world. And that is how people were acquainted with the latest news. For years the song about Minko Angelov and Hristo Danchev was sung around the country."ii
So came to us the song, the tune to which has long been forgotten, within which the memories of Hristo Danchev and Minko Angelov of Terzyisko village are enshrined.
“Damn It This America”iii
Damn it this America,
This America, a high profit,
That betrayed young men,
Young men, all of them brave fellows,
Took them through nine countries,
Through nine countries to a tenth country.
There they waited for the ship,
The fastest ship arrived in the end,
The young men embarked,
Young men, a hundred thousand people.
They sailed for three days and three nights,
Sailed and sailed half the ocean,
There they saw big mountains -
But they weren’t big mountains,
But thick icebergs.
The young fellows shouted:
-Do play, musicians, for memory and glory,
As all we here are soon going to die,
In our raw youth, green and healthy!
The fast ship sank.
The ship and a hundred thousand people on it,
The people drew down!
This Minko Angelov from Doulevska neighborhood -
This Hristo Danchev from Terzyiska neighborhood -
Left alone a young widow,
A young widow with two kids.
Who cried every morning, cried and said:
- Damn it this America,
That left me a young widow
With two kids, infant babies.4
1 It is probable that Bulgarian emigrants were routed through Italy as much for accessibility reasons as to avoid Germany’s control stations, of which there were 13 along their borders and one near Berlin. Germany, as a matter of self-protection, required that all emigrants from Eastern Europe intending to cross German territory to ports of embarkation be examined at such stations, and such as did not comply with the German law governing the emigrant traffic through the Empire or who would obviously be debarred at United States ports, were rejected. (The Immigration Commission of 1907, p. 77)
2 More likely the cause was a disease of the eye. It was noted that of 34,228 rejections (of emigrants at European ports and control stations from December 1, 1906, to December 31, 1907), 19,283, or 56.3 per cent, were for trachoma, and 9, 622, or 28.1 per cent of the whole, were for other diseases of the eye which for the most part could doubtless be classified as trachoma. Consequently it can be said that practically 84.4 per cent of all the rejections considered were for diseases of the eye of some sort. (The Immigration Commission of 1907, p. 124)
3 It is quite conceivable that the “agent of the company,” that had met the two men (and others) in Belgrade, served a two-fold purpose: ensuring that the men made it from point A to point B and, their being familiar with the habits of the control stations, getting them through – “above board” or not -- difficulties encountered along the way.
4 The latter part of this poem refers to Hristo Danchev’s wife and children.
i Totevski, Stoyko. Interview by Totyu Totevski.
ii Draganova, Maria. Interview by Juliana Dzimbova, 2000.
iii Peykovski, Ivan Minkov. Planina Troyanska, Fatherland Front Press, Sofia, Bulgaria, 1970: 135.
Some very interesting obstacles littered the path of my research, the bulk of which actually provided interesting insight into these men, and their histories and allowed me to fill in some blanks, putting to rest some heretofore unexplained conundrums and correcting some minor mistakes made many, many years ago. Most obstacles were related to the transliterations of the Bulgarian passengers’ names (translating the names not just from Bulgarian to English, but, in the process, transferring the sounds defined by the letters and the combinations of letters of the Cyrillic alphabet into those defined by the Latin characters of the English alphabet). This entire process was very unscientific in the early part of the century and is one of the reasons why the names of Titanic’s Bulgarian passengers are spelled in various ways depending upon the source of the listing. Indeed, the importance that most countries nowadays place upon the exact spellings of its citizens’ names and records kept accordingly, did not exist then. Security and control was something to be maintained at the borders. The internal infrastructure did not exist – nor did the necessity for the maintenance of exact and proper lists and spellings of names. In the rural parts, in particular, where many were unable to read or write, importance was placed on the basic necessities of life and work, not maintaining documents or records. The obtaining of a Bulgarian’s “papers” in a small village like Goumoshtnik was often the first time that a Bulgarian saw his name written.
It is for this reason, amongst others, that we see variety in the spellings of the names of the Bulgarian passengers aboard Titanic.
Throughout my research I tried to be as thorough and accurate as possible, but, because of the transliteration problem mentioned above, inaccuracy has been a given in the case of the Bulgarians. I will list the major three obstacles I met with here:
1 This custom legally ended in 2000 as the Bulgarian Parliament passed a law regulating the passing down of names. Falling in line with Western countries, Bulgaria opted to have family names pass down from generation to generation, ie., a Bulgarian’s last name would be the same as his father’s, which would be the same as his grandfather’s, etc.
2 Many other passengers in various classes gave their complete names.
3 Hristo Danchev’s parents broke from this tradition naming him Hristo, although he was the eldest son and his grandfather family name was Totevski, ie., he was not named “Totyu.”
4 "Name Days" in Bulgaria are celebrated in addition to birthdays. As a matter of fact, most Bulgarians value their ‘Name Day’ more than their birthday. A Name Day, or "Saints Day" is celebrated by people named after that Saint (e.g. Everyone named Peter celebrates Saint Peter's day). We could accurately say that "a Name Day is the feast day of the saint after whom one is named."
5 Interestingly, Bulgarian women take their grandfathers’ names for their third names, as well; they simply add an “a” on the end of the variation, thereby “feminizing” it. When a Bulgarian woman marries, she takes on her husband’s third name and adds the “a” to its end.
6 Originally spelled “Христo дaнчeв,” the ending of the second name “-eв” has a distinct “-eff” sound, while the beginning of the first name “Х” has a distinct combination “k” and “h” sound.
7 This type of transliteration is called “phonemic transliteration” and, although it disregards how the letter is pronounced (as, indeed, occurs originally in the language by the speaker), it takes into account the designated sound of the specific letter when assigning its Latin counterpart.
i Lord, Albert B. The Singer of Tales, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1960: 101.
ii Gadzhinov, Vassil, “How Many Bulgarians Had Been on ‘Titanic’,” Pogled, 10 Feb., 1986
Nearly every Bulgarian newspaper article suggests that 32-38 Bulgarians perished on Titanic, but that upwards of 15 more survived, many choosing to live out the rest of their lives in the United States. Whether or not this is true is difficult to tell, but it is unlikely. I will list the names of the Bulgarian passengers as they given by a Bulgarian newspaper of the time, “Pogled,” (transliterated), and the White Star line. Lastly, I will include the musings (true or not) of Bulgarians over the years about other “passengers,” saved or not.
Bold = POGLED list
( ) = White Star Line list spelling
[ ] = Encyclopaedia Titanica Website
1. Minko Angelov Vulchev (Angeloff, Minko), 26, Terzyisko Village
2. Gencho Bostandjiev (Guentcho Bostandyeff), [NO INFO]
3. Sotir Kolev (Coleff, Fotio) [Satio], 24,
4. Petr “Peyo” Kolev (Coleff, Peyo), 36, Goumoshtnik Village
5. Yoto Denov (Danoff, Yoto), 27,
6. Hristo Denchov Totevski (Dantchoff, Khristo) [Dancheff, Ristiu], 25, Terzyisko Village
7. Mityu Denkov (Denkoff, Mito) [Denkoff, Mitto], 30,
8. Vulcho Dinchev (Dintcheff, Valtcho), 43,
9. Ilyo Iliev (Ilieff, Ylio) [Ileo], [NO INFO]
13. Dimitr Marinkov (Marinko, Dmitri), [NOT LISTED]
14. Martin Markov (Markoff, Marin), 35, Goumoshtnik Village
15. Stoycho Minkov (Stoytcho, Minhoff) [Mionoff, Stoytcho], 28, Goumoshtnik Village
16. Ivan Minev (Mineff, Ivan), 24,
17. Lazar Minkov (Minkoff, Lazar), 21, Goumoshtnik Village
18. Diko Mirkov (Mirko, Dika), [NOT LISTED]
19. Mityu Mitkov (Mitkoff, Mito), [NO INFO]
20. Penko Naidenov (Naidenoff, Penko), 22, Goumoshtnik Village
21. Minko Nankov (Nankoff, Minko), [NO INFO]
22. Hristo Nenkov (Nenkoff, Christo), [NO INFO]
23. Nedelko Petrov (Nedeco, Petroff ) [Petroff, Nedialco], 19, Goumoshtnik Village
24. Pencho Petrov (Pentcho, Petroff) [Pastcho], [NO INFO]
25. Vasil Plecharski (Plotcharsky, Vasil), [NO INFO]
26. Alexander Randev (Radeff, Alexandre) [Randeff], [NO INFO]
27. Todor Sydkov (Sdykoff, Todor), [NO INFO]
28. Peter Slabenov (Slabenoff, Petco), [NO INFO]
29. Ivan Stanev (Staneff, Ivan), [NO INFO]
30. Iliya Stoychev (Stoyehoff, Ilia) [Stoytcheff, Ilia], 19, Goumoshtnik Village
31. (Syntakoff, Stanko), [Lyntakoff, Stanko] [NO INFO]
32. (Todoroff, Lalio), [Todorof, Lalio], 23,
33. Stenyu Georgiev (Gheorgheff, Stanio) [NO INFO]
34. Nikola Malinov (Malinoff, Nicola), [Matinoff] [NO INFO]
NEWSPAPER “POGLED” ARTICLE (11 Nov. ‘85)
Stefan Hristov Chehlarov, 19 - died.
Doncho Atanasov Danchev - died.
Penko Staikov Vrachanski - saved.
Zlatyu Hristov Zlatev, 16, Sennick Village - saved,
NEWSPAPER “POGLED” ARTICLE (10 Feb. ‘86)
Rudolfo Eshkenazi - Sofia banker
Iliya Zhivkov Georgiev, Dulgi Del Village - died,
Mladen Kamenov Kustev, Dulgi Del Village - died,
Hristo (Ristyu) Mitov Radin, Dulgi Del Village - saved,
Vasil Siriiski, Goranovtsi Village
Andon Zhivkov, Goranovtsi Village
Iliya Radnev, Goranovtsi Village
Velin Kerchov, Yamborino Village (Dragovishtitsa)
Totyu Kolev Yonkov, 20, Debnevo Village, (wife + 1-yr. old daughter)
NEWSPAPER “TROOD” ARTICLE (19 March ‘98)
Zlatyo Hristov (Zlatev) Sennick Village– saved
Penko Staikov (Vrachanski) Sennick Village - saved
NEWSPAPER “24 CHASSA” ARTICLE (07 April ‘98)
Zlatyo Hristov Zlatev, Village Sennick - saved
Dancho Atanasov (Danchev), Village Sennick – died
Stephan Hristov, 19, Sennick Village -- died
“MISSED THE SHIP”
Matyu Gankov, Village Goumoshtnik
Petko Gloushkov, Village Goumoshtnik
NEWSPAPER “POGLED” LIST