MY STORY - FRED GOMPERTZ
Born April 13th, 1924 in Gelsenkirchen, written in New York, 1995
Dedicated, with loving Memory to Anita Löw, a great Humanitarian. Without her, this story would not have been written.
Since we would surely have perished in Hitler's Death Camps.
It was the first of September 1939 and Hitler's Germany had begun to invade Poland, Göring's Luftwaffe was devastating Warsaw with its Blitzkrieg, the beginning of world war II. And in Rotterdam, Holland, the four of us boarded the S.S. Statendam sailing for America and New York. The four of us, mother Betty, brother Albert, little brother Ralph, and myself Fritz. Father Leo had to stay behind, on the pier in Rotterdam, because he was born in the wrongCountry. With America's immigration laws at that time he had to wait until his German "quota" came up to his number. So the "four of us" crossed the English channel and sailed into the Atlantic ocean dodging German U-boats out for the kill and it did not matter to them whether the ship was loaded with refugees and ordinary tourists, retribution was the watchword of the day and so the Statendam sailed on, full steam ahead, under the Dutch flag, thru a turbulent September Atlantic ocean, towards new York harbour.
When we finally sighted the statue of liberty ten days later, we knew that we were liberated from oppression and that we had made it to freedom the S.S. Statendam of the Holland America line, pulled up to its Pier in Hoboken, N.J. Early in the morning of that fine day and after disembarking we were met by the American cousin, Anita Loew, who welcomed us to these shores and drove us to our first apartment on Broadway and 86th street. Anita was just wonderful and immediately tried to make us feel at home she also added a few dollars to our non-existent pocket money. The next thing I remember is that after "lunch", that first day, I went down-stairs to Broadway and watched in wonder. All the finery being worn and paraded on the centre mall of Broadway between 79th and 96th street, it dawned on me then, that this was the first day of Rosh-Hashanah and all the Jewish families had just attended services at their synagogues. It was a beautiful clear and sunny day and cool enough for the ladies to wear their silver fox and mink stoles and jackets.
Anita Loew was a prominent vocal coach and teacher, who counted many famous and well known singers amongst her students. Her home was Carnegie hall by night and her studio apartment across the street from Carnegie hall on 57th street by day. We loved visiting there, it was an inspiring atmosphere. She was truly an angel; when I try to imagine what would have happened to us if she had not intervened in time and truly saved all our lives. May she rest in Peace.
Mother Betty soon took in knitting and other decorating homework which became available and thus was able to earn a few dollars without leaving the house so as not to leave us boys alone and unattended. She also took up catering and together with a few friends, started a catering service. It must have been very hard for her, but she never complained and really enjoyed her new role in life. She made us all feel safe and happy. Meanwhile Ralph and I entered the nearest elementary school where we learned Basic English. I remember only how difficult it was. Older brother Albert soon got a job delivering groceries, at night. About six months later, father Leo arrived in New York, having cleared the immigration hurdles with the US embassy in Holland. He was lucky, because in may that year, Hitler invaded and conquered Holland, the Gestapo soon started to round up all Jews in Holland, including our grandparents and other relatives. Only two uncles survived this holocaust, one survived the concentration camp and the other escaped to England where he served in the British army. But our grandparents died on the train to Auschwitz.
In New York there were now five of us, without any visible means of support, only Anita’s, and her relative’s, contributions sustained us. After a few weeks of adjustment, father Leo set out to look for previous European acquaintances in the fur trade and also any other earlier immigrants with whom he had been friends in Germany one of the first people I remember he ran into, was the former chief rabbi of Essen, Hugo Hahn. He probably gave father some leads and also invited him to help him found a new congregation to be called "Habonim" (the builders). With his help and networking his way thru the fur market in New York, he was offered some financial support from the fur federation and I believe they were very helpful and made him feel like a member of the furrier community in America.
Soon thereafter we moved into a wonderful ground floor four room apartment on Cabrini Boulevard and 187 Street in Washington Heights. This area of Manhattan, quickly established itself as the new German Jewish neighbourhood, later also to be called "the fourth Reich". Since this area of Manhattan is also the most elevated point geographically and at its highest point is beautiful Fort Tryon Park with its cloisters (a Rockefeller monastery), this area really became our community. All social activities for new immigrants soon were centred in this area, from west 157 Street to Dykman Street and bordered by Broadway and the Hudson River.
The "New World Club" started here and numerous other offices such as the "Aufbau" newspaper, in addition to many newly organized congregations. Butchers and bakers established themselves quickly, supplying familiar foods to the newcomers. Residents could walk at leisure, at any time, day or night and in peace feeling secure, meeting old and new friends and resting on benches along the Hudson River or within a well kept fort Tryon park. The commercial anchor point and shopping emporium became Wertheimer’s department store, on west 181 Street, near the corner of Broadway. This part of Washington heights had become a wonderful neighbourhood where the "refugees" from Nazi Germany could rebuild and re-establish their interrupted lives and in the new world.
My brother Ralph and I continued our interrupted education first at elementary school until we could advance to high school. Finally, I was accepted, at the high school of fashion also known as the high school for needle trades, at 225 west 24th street, while Ralph continued his studies at the George Washington high school in upper Manhattan. Each day after school, I rushed home to 282 Cabrini boulevard, to work in our little fur factory which we had established in our apartment. There I did small repairs and alterations which my father collected from friends and neighbours. Most of these fur coats were of black Persian lamb, brought over from Germany, and had now again become a necessity in cold New York. Soon we even started to receive orders for custom made fur coats, which we designed and made up to their order.
This was in 1941/42 and a short year later we found it necessary to move into a loft, which we found on the 6th floor of 224 west 30th street. There, we established our business and called it, L. F. Gompertz, L for Leo and F for Fred. This was incorporated as a partnership between my father and me. We furnished a very nice showroom and bought machinery and equipment for a good factory. Of course, at that time, I still had not completed my high school education, so I continued to attend school from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. studying hard, but now I only had to travel a few blocks, in the afternoon, from school to factory. There was no time for play, but since I had never taken part in soccer/football or baseball, I didn't miss it. However during my school years, I participated in many other activities, for instance, I founded a "victory garden" project on the terraced roof of our school. This became a popular activity in wartime America and I loved gardening and growing things.
When I received my diploma in 1943, I started working full time in our factory and we soon started to employ a few people, a cutter, a nailer, a finisher and a secretary. The fur finisher was Margot Nathan, who later became Mrs. Albert Gompertz. Our secretary and bookkeeper was Ellen Süsskind, who later married my best friend, Eric Rosenbaum. As soon as I turned eighteen, I took driving lessons and made my driver's licence and bought a 1939 Plymouth four door Sedan and what a feeling of joy it was to be able to drive around New York City. Also, since I could not cope with the humidity, I bought an air conditioner for our apartment. So my adulthood started to take shape and I became a man.
America was at war against Germany and Japan, so many sacrifices had to be made and soon I received my military draft notice which ordered me to report for examination, before being drafted. I told the doctors about a nervous condition which I had and which was probably caused by Nazi persecution. The draft board decided to excuse me from military service at the time. For this reason and also because one member of the family, Brother Albert, was already serving in the army, they reclassified me into a category called "4f". My family was very happy about this, because now we could continue to build our business and we did.
And so I looked for other opportunities to help the war effort and to support our boys in the armed forces. I heard about an organization which had just been started by a group of intellectuals and writers, and this group was called the "volunteer land corps". One of its leaders was the well known reporter and columnist, Dorothy Thompson and the author Sinclair Lewis. Most of the other leaders had been educated in the arts and sciences and were all creative people. This impressed me greatly and it looked like a wonderful group of people to be associated with. They had an aim in life and wanted to help humanity and improve life.
I volunteered and became an active member of the "volunteer land corps". This was also an opportunity to meet other "real" Americans in my age. I really enjoyed their company. We had regular meetings at famous people's houses, where we discussed and talked about varied topics, from music to art, and the humanities to politics.
For the summer their program included work on farms and thus helps to alleviate the farm labour shortage caused by sons being drafted into the army. And so I found myself working on a dairy farm in Vermont, near the city of St. Johnsbury. There I learned shovelling manure, and how to milk a cow, how to take care of young heifers, and to pitch hay with the pros. Generally I learned about the life of a farmer, getting up before dawn and drinking warm unpasteurized milk, reaping the harvest of corn and potatoes and being a cow poke, chasing the cows into the pasture and back into the barn at night.
It was a life filled with love and hard work. And I loved it. On weekends, we would all meet together on the village green and all the volunteers would talk about their new experiences and we would be served hot dogs and hamburgers by the campfire. We also were invited to stay at Dorothy Thompson's estate nearby, where she and Sinclair Lewis and others would talk to us and hold seminars. This was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot, especially about American culture.
I continued this, farming experience into a second summer in Vermont, and remained active in the v.l.c. winter lecture and social programs. Meanwhile, in the city, our business "L.F. Gompertz" prospered and became an important part of the Persian lamb manufacturing business and the New York wholesale fur market. Our export business also took off, with our main market being Spain and its neighbouring territories Tangier, Morocco. In fact, we were so busy that it was decided to accept brother Albert’s request to join. He left Allentown, PA. Where he had been employed, moved to Flushing, N.Y. and became a Partner in our business.
His joining the company, also gave me the opportunity to devote some more time to my first love (occupation), which was designing. In early 1950 I started to develop a line of fur sportswear which I intended to market to ski shops, speciality shops and boutiques.
As "women’s wear daily" wrote at that time and I quote, "this Designer has created the first ski parka in fur in America" this was truly a first, since my parkas were also designed for active skiing. Because of my love for skiing, I engineered these parkas, so that they could withstand the elements and was comfortable and safe for downhill skiing. These parkas were soon endorsed by such notables as Hannes Schneider, "the father of modern skiing", and Olympic champion from Austria.
The Carroll Reed Ski Shop at north Conway, N.H. was the first to feature my sportswear and faster they became available in many shops and speciality stores throughout the nation. These designs were also the reason why was now becoming a recognised and sought after, fur designer. Soon, I took the next step and created a whole line of fur garments and called it "fur and sport" by Mr. Fred. This registered trade mark became very well known and admired by the consumer and was soon available in most better stores. I now designed annually six collections, each unique in concept and priced to sell attractively.
My first collection each year opened with "furs for the real man', a men's collection of coats, jackets and parkas. At the beginning of March, came the "young miss" collection catering to the very young and including a children’s fur collection. The classic "fur and sport" collection followed in June with a formal showing to buyers and press. This show usually took place in our showroom although sometimes in hotel ballrooms. The best of these collections, I believe, came at the time of our moon landing in 1967, when I featured a white fur moon landing jump suit. This of course got a lot of press. By the end of the year and with 1968 rolling around, my collections were acclaimed by the worlds fashion press and professional from Europe came to see what I was doing and why it should be copied. My 1968 collection was a tremendous hit and store buyers from around the country flocked to our showroom in order to arrange deals for exclusivity and personal appearances in their store. I was soon featured by Bergdorf-Goodman, sakes Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor, B. Altmans, and Bonwit Teller.
Bonwit Teller appointed me their designer of the year, my collection was featured at their stores and usually I had to be there for the opening party. The most satisfying of these appearances and shows were at Joseph Magnin in San Francisco and Los Angeles (plus branches), and at Kauffmann’s, Pittsburgh, where I had been awarded their prestigious fashion award in 1965.
Every one of these appearances was followed/preceded by a T.V. and radio talk show appearance and interview. The Magnin experience was the most exciting and since they also were the best, most generous buyers, was the most gratifying, I can not forget the wonderful friendship shown by the great Cyril Magnin, as well as by his sons Donald and Jerry. They would always personally pick me up at the airport and wine and dine with me at San Francisco’s best restaurants.
Cyril M., a most gracious man, cultured and intelligent, was also an advisor to the president of the United States, so we many times picked him at the airport on his return from Washington. Donald ran the S.F. Emporium, while Jerry ran Los Angeles and the southern divisions. On the first day in Los Angeles and as I entered the Magnin Emporium, I was greeted by the manager who told me that I had to return a call to Barbra Streisand and she had left her number. When I returned her call, she asked me to come to her new home in Beverly Hills.
Some of the Magnin staff drove me to her beautiful mansion and she asked to design various furs for her based on my latest collection. My friendship with Barbra dated back to a day a few years earlier, when she visited my showroom on west 30th Street, in New York; she resided in a duplex apartment on central park west. Her first visit was followed by many meetings with Barbra, both at home and on locations when she was working on her films and television specials. We designed many things for her which appeared in films and on stage.
One day she invited me to visit with her on location, where they were shooting "funny girl". This was near Tarrytown, N.Y. very close to West Point. I drove there, think it was a Sunday, and spent the day watching her and the proceedings. Of course it was most interesting and it also gave me the chance to meet her mother as well as her sister (who later became a singer in her own right). Of course I also met her co-stars Walter Mathau and Omar Shariff. I also sadly recall that on that day, the funeral of Bobby Kennedy took place in Washington, a very sad day.
Of course my excitements of being with all those famous Hollywood stars, made me forget the real world and the sadness. At that time I also met many other people who were stars of TV, stage and politics. The reason for meeting them was always professional. I designed furs for Lauren Bacall, Virna Lisi (the Italian sex bombshell), as well as others, to many to recall. I worked with all the important models at that time such as Cybil Shepherd, Verushka, Brigitte Bauer, Twiggy.
The story of Twiggy began on the day when she was crossing the Atlantic by British airways, while she and her escort were flying towards New York, she asked them to radio ahead and to ask Mr. Fred to please see her upon arrival because it would be cold in N.Y. and she needed a fur to keep her warm. This was the time of the mini skirts of which she was a proponent; she arrived at my showroom that day together with her friend Justin. But before she arrived the streets were crowded with thousands of people, who wanted a glimpse of Twiggy.
The police surrounded west 30th street and covered our building for her protection. We had a great time together, modelling all my latest creations and she fell in love with many. Before she left my place she had purchased two or three mini coats which were later seen and featured in all the press. She also wore them in her TV appearances and later in her films.
Shortly or immediately after the election of Richard Milhouse Nixon, in November 1968, Lisa Curtis, my wonderful and gracious public relations director, received a call from Pat Nixon, the future presidents wife. Mrs. Nixon asked her to arrange an appointment with Mr. Fred, so that she could discuss the ordering of a fur coat for daughter Tricia, who would soon be married to General Eisenhower’s grandson.
I met them in the penthouse apartment of the Pierre Hotel, near central park on Fifth Avenue. We had a wonderful meeting and I was asked to design a white fur coat for Tricia. The choice of fur was left entirely up to me, and so I choose a white broadtail lamb fur from china, so that her sister Julie would not be left out, pat Nixon asked me to also design a coat for her and I again choose a Chinese Kalgan lamb, a curlier lamb from Tibet, Mongolia. These coats were readied in record time and worn by them on the day of Tricia’s wedding. Photographs of course appeared in "The New York Times", and worldwide press especially the one taken with father Norman Vincent Peale, who married her and who is known as the author of the best selling book, "The Power of positive thinking".
As in real life, a little rain must fall when happiness reigns, and so on that day; i was stricken with an acute glaucoma attack of the left eye. My doctor Sylvan Bloomfield gave me heavy sedation, to enable me to attend all functions, whereupon I had to deliver myself to the Mt. Sinai hospital and undergo surgery. All is well that ends well, and although I lost sight of my left eye, I recovered and was able to resume all activities, by the middle of that year.
A new decade had begun. The fiftieth, I was 26 years of age, had a good social life with lots of activities, good friends and also serious girlfriends. Maybe I was too busy to think about marriage or finding a wife and maybe I was aware of the fact that I still did not have sufficient cash on the bank, to support a family I really never thought much about this. Life’s possibilities stretched out before me and of course I was indestructible.
When my very good friend, Harry Goldsmith, got married and soon others as well, I became more aware and started to think about establishing a family. Came the spring of 1952, my thoughts again turned to love, so, on the first day of summer, June 21st, I got into my brand new Chrysler Sedan, and decided to visit some friends, who were spending the summer at a bungalow at Lake Oskawana in the Catskill Mountains. It was beautiful, clear, sunny day, and as I entered their "living" room, I spotted a young lady, lounging in a corner. I knew at that very moment, that this was the girl of my dreams and the woman I was going to marry. I also knew that would be the mother of our children. It was truly "love at first sight".
After doing some diplomatic manoeuvres, I was given her phone number in the city, and although I knew that she was spoken for by someone in that room, I told her that I would call her tomorrow. This is what happened on Monday, she accepted my phone call and we made a date for the next evening. I believe it was in fort Tryon park, where we usually parked in "Lovers Lane" high up on the hill with a marvellous view of the Jersey Palisades, that I told her what I felt and what my intentions were. That summer I had rented space in a house by the sea at Ryis Park Beach, L.I. And so the next Sunday Rita and I drove there to spend our first full day together.
I believe that I proposed marriage to her during the following week and she accepted. This was the happiest moment in my life. After introducing her to my parents, we decided to have a small engagement party. Her mother and her little sister, Maren, lived in an apartment on ft. Washington Avenue near 181st street and after they also approved of me we set a wedding date, it was to be the first of February 1953. The wedding took place at the "Olcott Hotel" on west 72nd street in Manhattan, with our great rabbi Dr. Hugo Hahn officiating and cantor Irwing Hirsch doing the cantorial. It was attended by about 100 friends and relatives.
After the ceremony and dinner, we took off for our planned honeymoon, spending the first night at the Plaza Hotel, and then to drive up to Vermont, my favourite state at that time and to stay at "The Lodge" at Smugglers Notch in Stowe, Vermont. My intentions were, to teach Rita about my favourite sport, skiing we did that and she took to skiing like a fish to water. There was only one hitch, during our stay at the’ Plaza I was overcome by influenza. So instead of spending one night at the plaza, we spent more than a week there. When I was finally well enough, we drove up to Stowe.
Our first son, Ronald James, was born on November 2nd 1953. We had just moved into a one bedroom apartment in Riverdale, just off the Henry Hudson Parkway. It was a wonderful choice and a great neighbourhood however we realized it would become too small in the future, and started to look for a larger two bedroom apartment. After waiting about three years we found one on park terrace east, at Baker Field (Columbia) in the in wood section of Manhattan, facing the Hudson River at Spuyten Duyvel. Ronnie, as we preferred to call him, was a very healthy and vibrant baby and soon began to talk. He walked earlier than most kids, and showed his keen interest in everything early on. He was our pride and joy and we took him everywhere with us. His mother was very courageous and never afraid to try new things I think we took Ronnie skiing with us early on and when we couldn't do that, he stayed with his grandparents, Omi Betty and Opa Leo. He made us all very happy and kept his mother very busy.
Four years later, February 22, 1957, our second son arrived. We named him Jeffrey Lee. The middle name was for Leo, his Opa. Jeff's blonde silky hair made everybody want to touch him and he also developed very fast and soon became a very inquisitive kid. Both boys got along beautifully together, Ronnie would teach Jeff things which he had learned and Jeff loved it. Now the two of them made us very happy and kept mom (and dad on weekends) very busy. We spent a lot of time in the nearby parks, Isham Park and Inwood Hill Park). We hiked and did many excursions by car and by foot.
THE EARLY YEARS AND/OR BEFORE THE TUMULT
1924 was a good year. Germany was at peace, six years had past since they lost World War I and signed a peace treaty at Versailles and under Chancellor Hindenburg, were rebuilding their economy. So into this hopeful atmosphere, my mother gave birth to me on April 13th, 1924. My father Leo and my mother Betty had married in 1920 and had their first child, also a boy, in 1921. They named their first son, Albert. So I was welcomed by my older brother and our nanny, Rohrbach, more about her later.
My parents owned the house at 22 Bahnhofstrasse in Gelsenkirchen (Westfalen). Which is not far from the Ruhr Hauptstadt, Essen. The Ruhrgebiet stretches to Köln (Cologne) and Düsseldorf, along the river Ruhr which flows into the Rhine. On the other side our city is not far from Krefeld, where my father was born and when his family were huge merchants of textiles and silks.
Also only a few hours drive is the Holland border, where my grandparents, on mother’s side, lived later on. But at the time of my birth, I believe, the Isaacsons, mother’s parents, had moved from Hamburg to Gelsenkirchen where they met and married. I believe, they also kept their residence in Hamburg were aunt Fella still lived.
So Gelsenkirchen was an industrial town, being surrounded by coal mines with their towers all over the countryside. This coal was needed and used in the production of steel which was Essen’s heavy industry with the famous Krupp Werke at its forefront. Our town had a sizable Jewish population, with a very fine synagogue building, where I had my Bar Mitzvah in 1937. When I was about seven, or eight or nine, I recall in my memory, and I seem to remember that street demonstrations were happening and these were apparently mostly by left wing sympathisers and either socialist or possibly communists, who were then arrested by the Stadtpolizei (Stapo) under the watchful eye of the still illegal brown shirted members of the "nationalistic social democrats partei" later called Nazis.
Since our building was located on the main thoroughfare, we were always witnesses to any demonstration and parades. So, I recall, we children had to be extra careful on the street and were usually permitted out only under supervision of Rohrbach, our nanny.
It seems to me that preceded the eventual election or appointment of Chancellor Adolf Hitler in 1933. President Hindenburg had just died, of advanced age, and the Nazis had forced him to appoint Hitler as the chancellor.
At the time of Hindenburg’s death, I remember vividly, being at a summer camp which was called "Haus Bertha", and which my father had founded and sponsored together with other wealthy Jewish business owners of the Ruhr and Rhine valleys (Rhineland). This "Haus Bertha" became a symbol of the courage of German Jewry under stress and in danger of being annihilated by the new regime. This summer and winter camp for young people were wonderfully run and everyone in Germany wanted to send their children there. Incidentally, the official sponsoring organization was the "Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten" or the Jewish War Veterans. Father was one of the presidents, together with Albert Süsskind of Cologne.
Today in 1994, this Jewish young people's camp is being remembered by the Lutheran-Protestant church in Schermbeck and they build a memorial museum to the memory of the Jewish community in western Germany and this is located in the township of Dorsten. (Jüdisches Museum Westfalen). Thanks in large part to pastor Wolfgang Bornebusch.
Of course, I could go on and on about those events, but let's get back to our home in Gelsenkirchen (Geki). Mother’s parents, my grandparents, had built a huge fish Mongery and wholesale fish market for distribution in western Germany. Their sons, Lutz and Herbert, I believe became active in that business, until in about 1934-35 they wisely relocated to Rotterdam Holland. Actually they had lived there before and my mother, their first daughter was born there. I suppose when I was six years old, I started elementary school and when Jewish children were no longer permitted to attend public schools, in 1937 (I was thirteen years old), I was put into our local Jewish parochial school under the principal teacher Lehrer Weinstock, since we were prohibited from attending the regular schools.
Somehow I was later permitted to attend the real gymnasium (junior h.s.), but that lasted probably only half a year when I was thrown out by the Nazi authorities for being a Jew. However this short time left a lasting impression on me. There, I was forced to study Latin and music (Blockflöte) my homeroom teacher's name was Spengler, a real Nazi in sheep’s clothing) and I hated every minute of every day there. So at age 14, I was quite unhappy and being sensitive to my surroundings, I noticed more and insecurity around our house. My father adopted an orphan child whose parents had sent him to Germany for safekeeping from Poland, where pogroms against Jews were already in progress. This Jewish lived with us and we got along fine. Having a very large multi-storeyed house, we could accommodate comfortably many more people. Our bedroom was very large and then we had a Kinderzimmer and besides other bedrooms and baths, there was a library or Herrenzimmer, a dining room and a formal very large dining and Entertainment centre wit a concert piano and a tiger skin rug, and windows facing Bahnhofstrasse with balconies.
In the night and the early morning hours of November 9th 1938, I was shocked awake by thunderous noise and the breaking of glass which lasted for an eternity. The shock was so tremendous hat I was left with permanent damage to my nervous system. Upon slightly recovering from the initial blast, I remember going to the window of our bedroom on the third floor of our house, and what I saw made me pass out, although briefly. And when I recovered, I saw mobs of young people with crowbars, breaking all our store's Showindows there were about seven display windows which they shattered and then also knifed all display dummies and their precious coverings. These young hoodlums were lead on by uniformed Nazis, SA and SS storm troopers, many of them probably were the teachers of those students doing the actual dirty work.
Up on the third floor, we hovered under our blankets listening to the tumult down below and also telling ourselves, don’t put the lights on, because that could alert them on the street to our presence and they could throw rocks or bullets towards our windows, we also waited for further instructions from parents or nanny, but I don't remember much of that. Apparently our parents were just as dumfounded and scared as we were and could not offer much help. So little brother Rolf, the boy from Poland and me just lay there, trying not to hear the chanting of the mobs below, who were yelling " death to Jews" and singing the Horst Wessel Lied, "Die Fahne hoch", which had become their national anthem. The real anthem was still "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles in der Welt". Another song which they were yelling and which became the accompanying song in every parade, was "Bis das Judenblut vom Messer spritzt" this earthquake like noise continued into the wee hours of the morning and until the mornings first light. The "troops" moved on and left only the police to guard the devastation.
Our residence and private quarters occupied the third floor of our building, the street floor being the vast retail store and the second floor was occupied by the offices and the workrooms or ateliers. In between the front part of the building was a "Hof" which means an open area, where we usually played ball or other games. We always entered from the side street, crossed this Hof and then entered the main building where we climbed a large circular staircase to our apartment. This circular stairs case also had great banisters which we could slide down as often as we liked.
So on this morning, probably around seven, we could hear heavy boots coming up the stairs and when the knocks on the upstairs front door became louder, we knew that the police had arrived. Why? To protect us to apologize for the mobs? No they came to arrest our father and take any other male over the age of eighteen, to police or Gestapo headquarters down the street.
Luckily Brother Albert was no longer living at home, since he was attending textile school in Aachen, where he was also picked up by the police and released because he was not yet eighteen years old. Father Leo was released within 24 hours and that was lucky. Because all those men who were not released, were sent to concentration camp and only a few ever came back to rejoin their desperate families. I believe that the Nazis only released those, who, could prove that they already had an exit permit and visa to another country, and where the Nazis could benefit by releasing the hostage. Those who could not prove that money would be paid for their release, were sent away to concentration camps.
So father was lucky and of course very smart and he was able to convince those kidnapers that a ransom would be paid. This ransom was consequently paid, primarily by turning ownership of the building and the real estate he owned in another section of town, where we also had a small farm and fruit orchard, vegetable farm, over to the Nazis. He apparently promised them that he would sign over everything to the party and actually one of their party members who were also our factory manager, my father's employee, became the owner. Father also had to promise that he and his family would disappear quickly and no later than a few months from that date.
Again luck or god was on our side, because our grandparents lived across the border in Holland, and in December we left our beautiful home, never to return. But we had our lives. Actually, little brother Rolf was picked up by one of their Dutch friends, driven across the border and he became a foster child of a wonderful Dutch family. He continued to live with them, learn the Dutch language and attend their other children's school. When we arrived in Holland, the Dutch government interned us in a refugee camp, first near Rotterdam and later in Amsterdam, where it was called "The Lloyd Hotel". This was certainly not a hotel but rather it was an old dilapidated seaman’s overnight quarters, which was used for one night stands by the sailors. Although the Dutch government must have tried to quickly make this place liveable, it had barely the absolute necessities, so every room was converted into a family room and they were very small to begin with.
So we were given double deck bunks, a table and washrooms down the hall. For us kids this was just another adventure, a camp out, but for the older people, it must have been horrible. The immense dining hall, where all meals were taken, was also down the hall and I forgot who did the cooking. I think it was army style with cooks and dishwashers having been appointed or selected. There was also a large playroom with a few ping pong tables, which was our entertainment for the duration. But at least we were safe and we thanked the queen of Holland for it. We were also allowed to visit our grandparents in nearby Ymuiden once or twice that year. They had a beautiful house and it was near the beach. We had spent many summers there before and loved it. So somehow, during those eight or nine months, which seemed a lifetime, we recovered all our senses and when the time came to board the S.S. Statendam in Rotterdam, we were ready for the biggest journey of our lives.
THE MORNING AFTER KRISTALLNACHT, NOVEMBER 9th 1938
About 8:00 o'clock in the morning and after our father was carted off to jail, we were ordered to go to the street. Only then did we realize the real devastation of our property. The police had surrounded our block, "to protect us from looters", they said. They then ordered us to clean up and to pick up every last piece of shattered glass from sidewalk and street. How we did that, I don't remember, during all this the mobs of school children and storm troopers were yelling at us and calling out their death threats Jude.
I also remember crossing our "Hof" in order to get to the side street, and there I was seized upon by a group of at least six, who started to beat me up and surely have killed me if one of our Christian (Arian) employees had not come to my assistance. In the store all hell had broken loose, there was a rampage of mostly hoodlums who had started to ransack all that was left inside the main floor of the store. We had a mezzanine which overlooked the sales area, and at this time there were some of our employees whose offices had been there, on that mezzanine.
Also there was my best friend, a co-apprentice in my father’s workshop, by name, Walter Lipsky. He overlooked the terrible scene of destruction below, and the yelling by the Nazis, kill all the Jews, and he felt helpless at only 17 years of age, and so he yelled back at the bastards below, "Schweinehunde", pigs. When the uniformed Nazis below heard, they came running up the stairs ready to find and lynch him on the spot. Walter was very fast, he must have crawled under the work benches and they did not find him. My heart was in my throat because I knew that they would kill him. All I can remember is that again some of our very fine gentile employees helped him to hide and later that afternoon helped him to escape. I never really found out how he managed to avoid being arrested but he did get away and his parents helped him to escape to England.
I saw Walter again many years later in London, where he had become a prominent member of British society. Incidentally this reminds me of the "Kindertransport" by which many Jewish parents were able to send their children away to safety and London. What a sad experience it must have been for the many parents and the children who became orphans in a strange land. Again, many years later I was fortunate enough to see how wise these parents had been and how brave, most of these young people became solid citizens of Britain and I know of one who made it into parliament.
Meanwhile back in Gelsenkirchen (Geki), our synagogue was burning down to its foundation, having been torched by the SA troopers during the night. It was customary for the caretaker and often the rabbi to have their residential quarters next to the temple. And so it was also in our neighbour city of Essen, where the rabbi was Dr. Hugo Hahn. He and his family of two daughters and his wife were routed by the gangs while they torched the beautiful edifice, a temple which was an architectural masterpiece. Luckily they did escape with their lives and were able to come to America, where he re-established his congregation in New York, and he named it "Habonim" translated, the builders. Our father was asked by Dr. Hahn to help him and he became one of the founding builders of the New York temple on west 66th street.
How foresighted our parents were, because the area which they chose and where they were able to purchase land to build, a few years later became the home of the world renown Lincoln Centre and also the home of the Julliard School of music and opposite our temple now stands the television city of ABC, channel 7. Land prices have skyrocketed and despite a real estate recession in New York, this area has tremendously increased in value, thanks to the forward thinking of our parents.
FUR AND SPORT THE TRADEMARK
The fiftieth were very good to me. I married a beautiful, intelligent loving and caring wife. I was blessed with two wonderful and healthy sons. My dreams were truly coming true. My designs were beginning to sell well and my name was being recognized as a major force in the fashion business.
As the decade turned and we were now in the 1960's I had another dream. The regular fur wholesale and retail business was not good enough for me. My dream was to have an apparel company which was not only in furs but rather in all outerwear. So as I started to design other fashions and also hats, I saw the tremendous possibilities. My favourite subject however was still sportswear and so my concentration was in that direction.
The most difficult thing, I began to realize, in this business is not the designing, that requires only excellent good taste and professional know-how, but the most difficult thing is: the financing. So on a wonderful day in early 1960, I spoke with my new friend, the son of one of the wealthiest Jewish families in New York, by name Wolf Oppenheimer, and I invited him to dinner. Not in a best restaurant, but in our home on park terrace east. Rita prepared a marvellous meal and wolf was very happy to be with a young couple an he admired how we lived. Since he was still a bachelor and a confirmed one, he liked Rita and enjoyed our friendship.
The next day, we spoke about my business and also since his mother was one of my strongest supporters and clients, the subject turned to financing a growing company. I remember him saying "all I have is money". He had actually never had to work, although he dabbled in textiles, his job was to manage money. So Wolf helped me start my company and he suggested to call it "fur & sport". I immediately called my patent attorney, the one who had some years before registered the "Mr. Fred" trademark and he registered the "fur and sport" trademark. It also became known as "fur & sport by Mr. Fred" (TM). The only mistake I probably made at that time was not to continue separately the "Mr. Fred" trademark. It seemed to me not necessary at that time.
With Wolf's loan in hand, I now continued with my plan to expand this business and designs for fur and sport.
The early success of my collections is history the 60's were wonderful. All celebrities and socialites came to my door, because I was fulfilling their dreams, to own a contemporary fur. I suppose the term "fun furs" came into being because of this. I do not take full credit for that, because as is well known. Every success has its imitators so, other companies picked up on this theme and fun furs became a symbol for a young contemporary, mostly faux/fake fur coat. So fur & sport prospered and with Wolf's help always paid its bills and showed good profit.
However it still remained a subsidiary of L.F. Gompertz furs and therefore it paid the parent's company debts and so kept L.F. Gompertz fluent. On a day to day basis.
After father Leo died, we found many problems with the financing of the company. Fur and sport was still not strong enough financially, to keep on feeding the debts of the parent company so, although some bank loans were granted because of our good performance, there came a day of reckoning in early 1972. The bank called its loan and we were not able to make it good on the spur of the moment. Wolf tried to help and so did another very good friend and fine human being, Fred Mathes. But the accountants decided that this was not good enough for continued operations, and so they convinced brother Albert to throw in the towel and declare bankruptcy.
Since I was president of the company and had also personally signed for the bank loan, I bore the brunt of their onslaught and was forced to declare personal bankruptcy we all know what that means and the effects it has on a young man's ego, but so it went and for the next seven years, no credit. To add insult to injury, my brother Albert insisted on going into competition with me and he went to court to get possession of my trademark. The judge gave permission to share the tm 50/50 and so we both own the trademark "fur & sport" so in 1972 I moved my business to 32 east 57 street and tried to operate from there. This became a very difficult situation since the people there were not in agreement with anything I was doing.
Four years later, in 1976, I received a phone call from Hutchison International in Hong Kong, and they asked me join them and direct one of their factories there and redevelop their fur business as well as their leather garment business also to be in charge of their China fur business. When we decided to accept this outstanding offer, we moved to Hong Kong in July of that year. It was difficult to leave our sons in the USA, but we knew that we would be able to visit often. This move became the best decision and it truly changed my life for a third time. Rita also enjoyed the new surroundings and I believe was quite happy there for three years. My contract called for three year duration of living in Hong Kong. So in 1979/80 we moved back to New York.
Mr. Gompertz contributed newspaper clippings and family documents to the Museum of Jewish Heritage and Memorial to the Holocaust in Battery Park City concerning the family’s flight from Germany.
→ Recht und Wirtschaft: Kennkarte, Vorname, Paesse
→ Document granting permission for Gompertz family to enter Holland
→ Guide for Filling out Records of Jewish Assets
→ Consulate General of the Netherlands letter to Leo Gompertz
→ Reisepass (Passport) of Betty Gompertz
→ Police Notification of Departure of Leo "Israel" Gompertz and Betty "Sara" Gompertz
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS AND RESUME
MR. FRED GOMPERTZ FOR FUR AND SPORT
Fred Gompertz For Fur And Sport
"The third generation of his family to specialize in furs, he has single-handedly revolutionized the world attitudes to furs as garments." - Journal of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong
As a designer, Mr. Fred Gompertz is known for his meticulous attention to detail. The first American fur designer to be commissioned to present his entire collection in Europe, he is considered to be among the most accurate prophets in the fashion business today.
His fabulous furs have always been available through his design studio in New York City where his private clientele Is a Who's Who of World Society and celebrities of screen and stage, among them Francis Ford Coppola, Jackie Onassis, and Olympic ski champion, Suzy Chatfee. He created his-and-hers furs for Maestro Seizi Ozawa and his wife; and has designed for young jetsetters, first families of the White House, and for all women and men who value distinctive fur garments for themselves and their children.
Trained in the high-fashion custom atelier of his father, Mr. Fred Gompertz - throughout his distinguished career called simply "Mr. Fred" - immigrated to the United States where he graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology. He became a member of the Master Furriers Guild of America, immediately going on to win the many coveted awards bestowed for excellence in contemporary fur design.
He achieved leadership in the field of contemporary furs with his dynamic fashions for the young, and with the sport fur, designing the first ski and après ski furs as early as 1960. He invented the concept of the fur wardrobe, giving new aliveness to furs and Styling white losing none of the elegance that has made fur a perennial symbol of luxury. His sound creative thinking has always attracted the fashion press: smashing coordinates, children coats and parkas, the men's collections; and, while the term "Fun Fur" has easily passed into the world's vocabulary, the concept of the less rare-however, beautifully styled, and certainty tun—fur was invented by Mr. Fred Gompertz. In this particular fur grouping, Mr. Fred decided to use colour as a component in fur design, becoming the first to dye fur.
The designs of Mr. Fred Gompertz have been featured in every media throughout the world, on the pages of ladies and gentlemen's fashion magazines, with cover photographs appearing in cities of South America to those of Mexico to the United States. Mr. Fred has, himself, travelled extensively to all parts of the world as fashion Consultant, and at the invitation of industry leaders to direct fashion seminars. Most recently he lent his experience to Hutchison Whampoa, Ltd. as managing director of its fashion consultancy, Farentino Far East, Ltd. in Hong Kong.
Mr. Fred has designed trend-setting collections for major department Stores of such diverse fashion approaches as those presented by Joseph Magnin, Henri Bendel and Charles Jourdan, and was chosen Designer of the War at Bonwit Teller. He first introduced his Fun Furs at B. Altman & Company and at Bloomingdale, and he is credited with having originated the idea of a fur boutique within a department store, inaugurating the first fur boutique collection at Bergdorf Goodman.
Mr. Fred Gompertz gives his time to young people as he continually enjoys their own love of creativity, lecturing at schools of design, and creating special courses in fur design. He has involved students in apprenticeship programs at his studio, and has instituted a scholarship award among students for the best in fur design.
Elected to the privileged Fashion Advisory Council, he holds memberships in all those organizations reserved for select fashion Professionals.
Fred Gompertz memoir posted with permission from Ron and Jeff Gompertz. All rights reserved. → Email to Ron Gompertz
Andreas Jordan, April 2010