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Dr. Lengyel Árpád, Who Cared for Titanic Survivors


Caption:  Top: the Carpathia; Dr. Lengyel (center) with Captain Rostron (left) and the Mayor of Budapest at the soccer match; Center: Dr. Lengyel in uniform;  with son who died of diphtheria at age 6;  Bottom: Ceremonial funeral procession; tombstone with inscription:" Dr. Lengyel Árpád, 1886 - 1940. The ship's doctor of the Carpathia who, at the time of the Titanic's sinking, earned the homage of the whole world by his rescue and medical work. MAHART, The Marine Administration 1982."

Dr. Lengyel Árpád, Who Cared for Titanic Survivors

Erika Papp Faber 

The RMS Carpathia had an original capacity of 1700 passengers, increased to 2550 in 1905 (2,200 of them being third class). It had been rented from the Cunard Lines by the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior for transporting Hungarian emigrants to the United States, from Fiume (then the only Hungarian port; now called Riyeka) to New York.

The Cunard Line was looking for English-speaking Hungarian doctors, and 26-year old Dr. Lengyel’s application was accepted.  He signed his contract in Fiume on March 9, 1912.  He was the only one of the three ship’s doctors on the Carpathia who had emergency medical experience.

Born in Pilismarót on March 19th, 1886, he had joined the volunteer emergency medical team in Budapest (Budapesti Önkéntes Mentőegyesület).  He obtained his medical degree from the Magyar Királyi Tudományegyetem in 1909, specializing in laryngology.  He began to practice in the Szent Rókus Kórház, and continued working with the emergency medical team, but now as a doctor. 

The Carpathia had just delivered immigrants to New York and was on its way back to Fiume when it received the fateful S.O.S. from the Titanic.  It raced to the rescue at top speed, plowing through ice floes all the way.  Because of his emergency training and experience, it was Dr. Lengyel who was stationed at the point where the 705 survivors were lifted onto the ship, and was the triage doctor who determined the priority of care.

All of the survivors were in shock, and their hands numb with cold could not grab hold of the rope ladder.  They had to be individually lifted onto the deck by means of pulleys. 

Dr. Lengyel noted many broken bones and sprains among the passengers, caused during the time of panic or when they got into the lifeboats.  He performed surgical procedures on 42 of them.  Four of the survivors died the same day, due to shock or internal injuries.  They were buried at sea.  

In a letter to his brother, Dr. Lengyel wrote: “It was terrible to see these people; the women were screaming for their husbands and children whom they had seen being lost, and some solitary children who had lost their parents came on board.  We consoled them with sobbing hearts...Our return trip to New York was very sad, everywhere we heard crying and wailing...”

In an interview given to the New York Times after their arrival on April 19th, Dr. Lengyel said: “It was horrible, even for me.  Several were wearing evening dress, several wore pajamas, but every one of them was in a state of shock, such as Mr. Daniel, a Philadelphia banker, to whom I gave my own suit... We salvaged from the life boats many children whose parents were not there... We found four men who had swum in the icy waters for two to three hours.  Although these men were swimming automatically, and kept their heads above water, they became mentally unconscious when they realized that they had escaped...”

In his memoirs, he recalled: “We could barely manage the amount of work and consoling people.” 

When the Carpathia left New York, after it had delivered the Titanic survivors,  it was accompanied by two American corvettes.  Every ship in the harbor lowered its flag to half-mast, and continuously sounded its ship’s horn.  Upon arrival in Fiume, each of the Carpathia’s officers, including Dr. Lengyel, received a personal invitation to an audience with Archduke József and Archduchess Augusta in Budapest.  In the capital, the Prime Minister presented the Titanic’s Captain Rostron with a high civic decoration.  Then the crew of the Carpathia played a friendly game of soccer with members of the MTK sport association, and offered the entire proceeds of the game to the orphaned children of the Titanic disaster. 

As can be imagined, the whole rescue experience left Dr. Lengyel terribly shaken.  He resigned from the Cunard Lines and never went to sea again.  He never spoke of the ordeal, unless hard pressed, and then only very briefly.  He received very many letters of gratitude from the survivors and had some public recognition:  the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society awarded him a certificate of gratitude and a silver officer’s medal; the Cunard Line sent him a special letter of gratitude for his self-sacrificing activity.  In Hungary, he was awarded the emergency rescue gold medal.  Other than that, he did not receive any special recognition for his service on the Carpathia.  But he was awarded high military honors for his service during World War I – on the eastern front, and then as commander of a hospital train.

After World War I, he continued to practice medicine as a laryngologist and taught in Budapest.  He set up his own practice in 1934.

Another great shock for Dr. Lengyel was the death of his son, who died of diphtheria at age 6, in 1927.  He himself died in 1940, at age 54.  He was given an elaborate state funeral, and was buried – rather appropriately –  in the Fiumei úti sírkert (the Fiume Road Cemetery) in Budapest.  A memorial plaque was dedicated in his native village of Pilismarót in 2008.


(Sources: Wikipedia; Origo, 04/16/17)




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