Volume 16 • Issue 50 | May 7 - 13, 2004


Gompertz, 80, furrier to the stars and B.P.C. resident

By Albert Amateau

Fred Gompertz, a Battery Park City resident who survived both the Holocaust as a teenager in Germany and the World Trade Center attack more than 60 years later, died at the Cabrini Hospice on April 30 a week after his 80th birthday.

He was diagnosed a year ago with an unusual form of bladder cancer, according to his son, Ron Gompertz.

A furrier for many years, he was renowned in the fashion world in the 1960s for creating “fun furs” that appealed to youth and celebrities, counting among his customers the international model Twiggy, Barbra Streisand and Lauren Bacall and prominent political women including Ethel Kennedy and the wife of Mayor John Lindsay.

“I remember once in the 1960s going with him to Yonkers where they were filming ‘Hello Dolly,’ for a fitting with Streisand,” Ron recalled. Even after volatile fashion and economic changes forced his company into bankruptcy in 1971, he continued as a consultant, advising manufacturers in Asia on European techniques of fur production. “He lived in Hong Kong for about four or five years in the late 70s, when he was director of the leather and fur group of Hutchinson International, a firm doing business in Asia,” Ron said.

He returned to New York, went into business for himself again and moved to Gateway Plaza in Battery Park City in 1987. “He was still going to work every day until Sept.11, 2001, when he was 77 years old,” said Ron.

Norman Kleiman, president of the Battery Park Synagogue, recalled Fred Gompertz as a dear friend and a devoted member of the synagogue. “He joined nine years ago and was active until about a year ago, when he became ill and had to move from Battery Park,” Kleiman said.

A resident of the 31st floor of Gateway Plaza, Fred Gompertz was getting ready to leave for work when the planes hit the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Unable to leave because of the loss of power in the elevators, he remained without food or water in his apartment until the evening of Sept. 12, when his other son, Jeff Gompertz, came to Battery Park City and convinced a National Guardsman to let him go up to the apartment.

Shortly after the rescue, Fred Gompertz found temporary shelter in the Soho Grand and Tribeca Grand hotels. He remained there until he returned to his apartment in March of 2002. But his health declined rapidly and he moved to an assisted living residence in August of last year, said Ron. Later, he moved to the Cabrini Hospice after his cancer diagnosis. “We celebrated his birthday there on April 13 with my brother and my little daughter. He had some of his favorite cheesecake from Zabar’s,” said Ron.

However, Fred went into a coma a short time later and died April 30. Burial after a graveside funeral service was in Cedar Park Cemetery in Paramus, N.J. on May 2.

On the night of Nov. 9, 1938, Fred Gompertz was 14 years old and at home alone above the apparel shop that his father owned in Gelsen Kirchen, Germany, when a Hitler Youth group broke the glass of the shop, Ron said. It was the beginning of Kristallnacht, three days of anti-Semitic violence throughout Germany, known in English as “the night of broken glass.” The event is considered by many as the beginning of the Holocaust.

Fred’s mother, Betty Isaacson Gompertz, a Dutch citizen, had gone to the Gelsen Kirchen police station to try to free Fred Gompertz’s father, Leo, who had been arrested by the Gestapo, said Ron. She returned home without her husband and was eventually allowed to flee with Fred and an older son, Albert, to the Netherlands, where they were interned before getting a U.S. visa through the efforts of a relative in New York. Leo Gompertz rejoined the family in the Netherlands in 1939 and came with them to New York, where he established a fur business, first in Washington Heights and then in the fur district in Midtown, said Ron.

Fred Gompertz graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology around 1960 and began making rabbit and fox fur coats and jackets dyed in non-traditional colors, attracting the attention of Twiggy and other fashion world figures.

“Kristallnacht and 9/11 were the bookends of his very adventurous life,” said Ron. Fred 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.

In addition to Ron, of Half-Moon Bay, Calif., and Jeff, of Williamsburg, his older brother, Albert, of West Palm Beach, a baby granddaughter and two former wives also survive.



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