People on board
Arthur Israel Cohen was born about 1879 in Tsad, Lithuania, then part of Russia, to Woolf Cohen and Malke (Mollie) Goldwater. Arthur was the second youngest of the six children, and the only boy. The Cohens emigrated to Belfast in 1890, part of a wave of Lithuanian Jews fleeing poverty and persecution. Most settled in North Belfast around the Crumlin and Old Lodge Roads, including the Cohens who were in Bedeque Street in 1901. In that year there were 708 Jews in Belfast, the number rising to 1,139 by 1911. Many were in the Drapery or Tailoring trades, but Woolf Cohen had been a Baker in Lithuania and he continued this trade in Belfast.
When Arthur was fifteen years old he ran away from home, hoping to make his fortune, first in South Africa and then in Canada. He was not successful and returned home to Belfast, becoming a naturalized British citizen in 1904. By this time one of Arthur’s sisters had married Bernhard Cohen, a Draper, and they were living with her parents and two other sisters, as well as their four children in the house in Bedeque Street. Arthur’s mother Mollie died in December 1904. In 1908 Arthur set up a business with capital of ₤100 and traded as the Donegall Clothing and House Furnishing Trading Co. and as Cohen and Co. Wholesale Linen Merchants, the latter in partnership with his brother-in-law Bernhard.
In 1910 Arthur Cohen married Louise Bloom in Glasgow giving his address as Carlisle Street in Belfast. He and Louise lived on the Antrim Road in Belfast, where two children, Mollie and Louis were born. In the 1911 census Bernhard, now Barnet and a Linen Merchant, was head of the household in Carlisle Street, which included his then eighty year old father-in-law, Woolf Cohen. Woolf died in August 1912, age given as seventy-eight and described as ‘Gentleman’.
Arthur was declared bankrupt in December 1915; his failure was attributed to loss of trading in Belfast and London because of the war, and also because of losses made on a Woollen Merchant business which he had set up in Montreal. A family memory suggests that in 1918 he decided to join the army in order to get a regular income and that was why he was on board RMS Leinster on the 10th of October. All newspaper reports however give his address as Gerber and Sons, 127 Argyle Street, Glasgow, Wholesale Jewellers, so he may have had employment there, possibly as a Travelling Salesman.
Arthur Cohen managed to get on to a life raft after the first torpedo, but was subsequently washed back into the sea. Clinging to a piece of debris he managed to survive until he was rescued, and was one of the earliest passengers identified as being safe. However he contracted pneumonia and was in hospital for six months. He kept a framed newspaper account of the sinking in his home so that it would always be remembered.
NOTE: Includes information from article by Carole Hershman, granddaughter of Arthur Cohen, published in “The Last Voyage of the Leinster”