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April 12, 2012

Language was a barrier for immigrant on sinking Titanic

ASHTABULA, Ohio — Imagine you’re 18, traveling alone on the Titanic and don’t speak a word of English. A few minutes before midnight on April 14, 1912, the ocean liner shudders as it slams into an iceberg.

That’s what happened to Anna Sofia (Turja) Lundi, who left her home in Finland for a new life in Ashtabula, Ohio. She boarded the Titanic in Southampton, England, and was among 2,230 people on board when it sank in the North Alantic. And one of only 714 to survive.

Lundi, who died in 1982, told family members she was going to bed in the third-class section when the ship struck the iceberg three days into its maiden voyage.

According to her grandson, John Rudolph, 59, of Los Angeles, a crewman pounded on her cabin door, hollering emergency orders she didn’t understand because they were in English. Then a Finnish-speaking passenger explained the ship was in distress and she should put on her life jacket and the warmest clothes possible.

To make this point, when Rudolph’s mother, Ethel, one of Lundi’s children, would talk to clubs and schoolchildren about the Titanic, she would start the presentation speaking Finnish. Then she would say, “That’s how my mother felt on the Titanic. All of the instructions were in English.”

At first, relatives said, Lundi and a group of Finnish immigrant passengers went to the ship’s concert hall and listened to the band for a while, but then panic set in.

“People were everywhere. Many were shouting,” she said in a 1962 Star Beacon interview. “An older woman in our cabin, who had been my unofficial guardian, since I was 18 years old, panicked when she got up on deck. She urged me to a higher deck where it is safer. But I decided to go where the people were and went back down.”

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