02/19/2001 at 01:00 AM EST
Near the end of his long life, Michel Navratil went to see Titanic. He enjoyed the film, says his daughter Elisabeth, but "he told me it was hard for him to watch. He trembled and cried in the theater."
The elderly gent had good reason to weep through the 1998 Oscar winner; when the great ship went down in 1912, he was a frightened little boy—not yet 4—in a lifeboat. Navratil, 92, who died Jan. 30, was the Titanic's last male survivor.
The son of Michel and Marcelle, who worked in a Nice, France, tailor shop, Navratil, along with his 2-year-old brother, Edmond, was on the doomed ship because the boys' father, separated from his wife, was spiriting them away to New York City under an assumed surname.
As the Titanic foundered, the elder Michel dressed up his sons warmly and committed them to the care of the passengers on the last lifeboat. "Michel remembered bodies floating in the water," says Jacques Helfft, 92, a lifelong friend of Navratil's, "and that the water was very calm—a very calm, cold water." Their father was lost at sea, but the brothers were rescued by the Carpathia and became celebrities when no adult claimed them. Finally their mother, after reading a newspaper account about the "Orphans of the Titanic," came to the United States, and the three were reunited.
Michel became a philosophy professor, and he and his wife, Charlotte, who died in 1970, had three children and ten grandchildren. Shortly before Navratil died, says Elisabeth, 57, an opera director, he told her, "I saw death in the face when I was young. I was never afraid of it again."