Mr Adolphe Saalfeld was born in Oranienbaum, Anholt, Germany around 1865. He was the son of Jewish parents Heinemann Salomon and Rosalie Saalfeld and had at least one sibling, his brother Eric (b. 1869), a chemist.
Himself trained as a chemist, Adolphe came to Britain around the mid-1880s and became a naturalised citizen in July 1896, his address at the time being given as Clarence Lodge, Victoria Park, Manchester.
He was married in Marylebone, London in early 1888 to Gertrude Harris 1 a native of Exeter, Devon, but the couple would remain childless. The 1891 census shows them living at 65 Sutherland Avenue, Paddington, London and Adolphe was described as a clerk. By the time of the 1901 census he is described as a chemical merchant and living with his wife at Saoille, Lower Park Road, Manchester alongside his brother Eric and nephew Fred Hans Saville (b. 1896 in Charlottenburg, Berlin). The 1911 census shows Adolphe and his wife living at Victoria Park in south Manchester. A self-made businessman, Adolphe was chairman of the chemists and distillers Sparks-White & Co. Ltd and as senior chairman he over saw the marketing of his line of concentrated perfume fragrances and fine oils for distribution and sales.
Saalfeld boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a first class passenger (ticket number 19988 which cost £30, 10) and aboard he occupied cabin C-106. He was to travelling with samples of his perfume products with the intention of opening up a new outlet of floral fragrances in America. Before boarding he and his nephew Paul Joseph Danby (b. 1886), also a chemist, had toured the ship together; Danby wrote a letter (in German) back to his wife Rose (née Goldstein) in Manchester which stated:
“Uncle has a very large cabin, nearly a living room with sofa and an electric ventilator. I will tell you all in detail later. I embrace you and kiss you dearly. Your very loving Paul. Love from Uncle.”
Saalfeld also wrote to his own wife:
... I just had an hour's roaming about on this wonderful boat. I like my cabin very much ? it's like a bed-sitting room and rather large. They are still busy to finish the last things on board...
According to a later statement Saalfeld claimed that he had been in the smoking room at the time of the collision and sighted the iceberg following which he went to his cabin. In his haste he left his perfume samples in his cabin - he recounted:
I saw a few men and women go into a boat and I followed and when lowered, pushed off and rowed some distance, fearing...Titanic sinking... As we drifted away gradually, saw Titanic sink lower and lower and finally her lights went out, and others in my boat said they saw her disappear. Our boat was nearly two miles away but pitiful cries could be plainly heard. No one in our boat knew how many lifeboats were on Titanic but...there was ample time for saving every soul on board had there been sufficient boats... The Captain and Officers of the Carpathia did all that was possible to make us comfortable and to those that were sick or injured, they gave their tenderest care. The icebergs were huge and the weather extremely rough on the voyage to New York.
Saalfeld returned to his wife in England. As a male survivor of the Titanic disaster he found himself ostracised by society and family report that he never slept properly again, often calling upon his chauffeur to drive him around the empty midnight streets before he drifted off.
Adolphe Saalfeld died at Courtlands, Kew Road, Kew, Surrey on 5 June 1926 aged 61. He was still chairman of the firm which would continue in business until 1954. When his estate was settled on 16 July 1926 his assets were worth £46,902, 19s, 6d and were administered to his widow Gertrude, his nephew Frederick Hans Saville (a druggist) and an optician named Max Wiseman. He was buried in Golders Green Jewish Cemetery in Barnet, London.
His widow Gertrude was never remarried and later moved to Kensington, London where she died on 27 April 1929 aged 76.
His nephew Paul Danby was later imprisoned in England throughout World War One for being an ethnic German and after the conflict he and his family fled to the Netherlands. Following the Nazi invasion of that country Danby, his wife and elderly mother Clara were rounded up by the Nazis and imprisoned in the Sobibór death camp in Poland where they met their deaths in 1943. His two daughters survived the Holocaust and after the war one daughter, Margaret, lived in Amsterdam where she died in 1990, whilst the second, Ellen, moved to Canada where she died in 2016 aged 95. Margaret kept the letter sent by her father from the Titanic and it passed to her sister after her death; it was later privately auctioned.
Years later a recovery expedition to the wreck of the Titanic recovered a small leather pouch containing Saalfeld's perfumes, still intact; even after many years at the bottom of the ocean the scents retained their fragrance.