Mr Fahīm Rūḥānā al-Za'innī

Titanic Survivor from Batroun Syria

Fahīm Rūḥānā al-Za'innī

Mr Fahīm Rūḥānā al-Za'innī (Philip Zenni)1 was born in Tola Batron, Syria on 25 October 1886 2 the son of Fahim and Jamalie E. Zenni (1873-1956). His parents had married ca. 1893.  He had a brother, Joseph Elias Zenni (a paper decorator b. 19 March 1894, d. 1952), and a sister.

He had emigrated to the USA on 5 April 1906.

He married Elsie (18 March 1895 -  22 May 1981) back in Tula, Syria3, during the winter of 1911-1912, and had then returned to the USA on the Titanic.

He boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg as a third class passenger 2 with ticket number 2620 (£7 4s 6d).

‘Zanni made an effort to leap into one of the boats, but an officer of the boat stood with a drawn revolver in hand and all the men were compelled to stand back at the command, ‘Women and children first.’ Zanni made a second unsuccessful attempt to leap into the boat and was ordered back by the officer, but a moment later the officer turned and he made a leap, landing in the middle of the boat. He took refuge under one of the seats and the boat was pulled away. There was twenty women and three men in the boat. Zanni was placed at the oars. A woman in the boat pleaded with him to save her dog.’ (Niles Daily News, April 25, 1912)

He was rescued, possibly in lifeboat 6.

After surviving the sinking of theTitanic, he continued on to his destination of Dayton, Ohio where he lived out his life. He was first employed as a machinist at Platt Iron Works in Dayton but later worked in the confectionery business.

The new Mrs. Zenni came to America on another ship a few weeks after her husband. They later had four children; Mathilda (Matilia), born 12 April 1913 or 1914 (both are mentioned), Nazzare (Nazera A.) 19 December 1919 (d. 3 December 2012 as Mrs. Woodie (d. September 1975 as Mrs. Lauricella), Jeffrey, b. 2 December 1915 (d. 3 February 1987), and Elizabeth (Frances?) 11 December 1917; d. 1 January 1968 as Mrs. Bremer. 

In 1920, the Zenni family lived at 608 First Street in Dayton, Ohio. Mr. Zenni was working in his own confectionery store at the time.  He applied for citizenship 25 August 1920, but his application had been denied 'for want of prosecution.' He was in trouble with the law in 1920, when a Habeb Joseph had accused Mr. Zenni of assault. He was acquitted that time, but in 1925 he was in trouble again. The Dayton Herald reported 21 February 1925 that Philip Zenni had been found to be guilty of possession of liquor and had been fined $500 8 July 1924, but the newspaper reported that Mr. Zenni could not be found at the time and had not paid the fine. He had finally been made a US citizen around May 1924.  

All does not seem to have been well in the Zenni household -  The Dayton Herald, 29 June 1926, reported; 

Phillip Zenni, 36 years old, 608 East First street, was held under $3,000 bond when he pleaded not guilty in police court, Monday, to a charge of assault and battery on his wife, Elsie Zenni.  

According to Attorney A. J. Fiorini who filed the affidavit in Mrs. Zenni's behalf, the couple have five children. The case will be heard July 1.'' Apparently, the court believed Mrs. Zenni, and Mr. Zenni was sent to the workhouse for a few months. He was released 2 November, but when he returned home he discovered that his wife had sold the confectionery business and had disappeared with their four children. A few weeks later, he placed a query in The Dayton Daily News as to the whereabouts of his family: 

'Father Wants To Trace His Lost Family - Philip Zenni, 216 S. Main st., offered $25 reward Friday for information regarding the whereabouts of his wife, Elsie, and their four children, Mathilde, 13; Joeffrey (sic), 11; Frances, 9, and Nazzare, 7.  ... The husband and father now is looking forward to a cheerless Christmas. It will be the first in 14 years that he has not spent with his family.

It seems they never reconciled; when Mr. Zenni died of typhoid fever and broncho-pneumonia on 4 December 1927, allegedly aged 38, a sister and a brother were mentioned as his closest relatives. Three days later he was buried at Calvary Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio.


  1. Fahim in Arabic means 'intelligent,' 'perceptive,' 'he who sees'.
  2. His date of birth remains unclear. When he registered for military service in 1917, he stated he had been born 25 October 1886, and when he applied for citizenship he said it was 25 November 1890; since his mother had been born ca. 1874, 1890 seems more likely. On the other hand, there is a chance he had been born out of wedlock, or that his father had been married before.   His death certificate gives the date as 1889.
  3. Another source says they married in France.
  4. He appears on some passenger lists as Fahim Leeni.
  5. Another source says three children. Two are thought to be still living. Curiously, only siblings were listed as survivors in the three contemporary newspaper articles mentioning his death.


Fahīm Rūḥānā al-Za'innī

Articles and Stories

Unidentified Newspaper (1927) 
The Dayton Daily News (1926) 
The Dayton Herald (1926) 
The Dayton Herald (1912) 
Niles Daily News (1912) 

Comment and discuss

Phillip Zenni (6 posts)
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Gavin Bell, UK
Peter Engberg, Sweden
Phillip Gowan, USA
Elsie Zenni Hadley, USA

References and Sources

Niles Daily News (Ohio), 25 April 1912, Survivor from Titanic Arrives in Niles
Unidentified Newspaper (Dayton, Ohio), 6 December 1927, Obituary
State of Ohio Certificate of Death
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55[279]).
Search archive British and Irish newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

(2020) Fahīm Rūḥānā al-Za'innī Encyclopedia Titanica (ref: #965, updated 13th January 2020 10:08:46 AM)