by Robert Kimmel
Gunter Lorenz has the best attendance record at the weekly meetings of the Men’s Club at the Shames Jewish Community Center on the Hudson. At the age of 107, that is no small achievement. Adding to that accomplishment are the lectures he has given over the years to his fellow members at the JCC.
During a lively celebration of his birthday last month at the JCC in Tarrytown, Lorenz attributed his longevity to “medical science,” adding that he has two stents in his heart vessels. He also credited his wife’s loving care for his long life. His wife, Sylvia, ascribes his many years in part to his personality.
“He has a very good attitude toward life, and he has a temperament which is kind of even,” she said. “He doesn’t burn himself out with rants.” Both Lorenz and his wife had lost their spouses when they met more than 17 years ago.
Given what Lorenz went through as a younger man, his wife said, “that temperament has helped him out during his whole life.” Lorenz studied medicine in the 1930’s in Germany. When he graduated, “He was eligible for the highest awards,” his daughter, Linda Gerstman related. However, when Hitler came to power, as a Jew he was unable to practice as a doctor. Lorenz then worked at the famed optical instrument maker, Carl Zeiss, Inc. in Germany, Gerstman noted. She said that Lorenz, as a youngster “had a very interesting, diverse background,” and that “his father was interested in a wide variety of subjects.”
Those wide interests apparently were inherited by Gunter Lorenz, who has been involved with cameras, ship models, fish aquariums, and more. And, she added, “He did a lot of traveling.” With the Nazis running Germany, the Lorenz family moved to Poland where their stay was short lived. Lorenz explained that while he had studied English and French in Germany, his command of Polish, during the time he was there, was limited to the words for “Thank you” and “Good night.”
“My parents were lucky,” Gerstman said. “They had the necessary papers, with a sponsor in Washington, D.C., and they left in 1938 for a move to the United States.” It wasn’t a direct trip, according to Gerstman. The ship they boarded stopped in Havana and was supposed to go on to the United States. “Only it didn’t move on, and they stayed in Cuba for a year-and-a-half.”
Finally, they made it to Washington, and then to New York, where Gerstman said her mother had friends. During World War II, she said her father “worked in the field of optics for the U.S. Navy. My father thought he wouldn’t be able to practice as a doctor here in the United States, but he met a friend with whom he had gone to medical school, and he was already practicing. He told my father if he had all his papers, which my father did, and that if he sent them to Albany, which my father did, and he took the exams, and passed, he could practice. I still remember him studying, and he passed right away. And then he was an intern and resident and never home,” Gerstman stated.
“He was always incredible, talking to patients, doing hobbies, running to hospitals, taking care of all of us, he was a very unusual man.” Lorenz worked for a time at the Montrose V.A.
Lorenz lives with Sylvia, his wife of 17 years, in Ossining and he had lived in Sleepy Hollow for many years. In addition to his two cardiac stents, Lorenz said he has three others elsewhere. “They are all still working,” he noted. He has exceeded by far his father’s life span. “My father was 83 when he died; my younger brother was 82. My mother died of breast cancer at the age of 59.”
Neither his age nor his medical conditions have kept Lorenz from lecturing to the Men’s Club at the JCC on subjects ranging from the history of paper, to the history of gold. He said he has done 10 of them. And one lecture several years ago, which he presented, was billed as, “From Odessa to Vienna and to Paris, the History of the Ephrussi Dynasty.”
As for his attendance at the Wednesday morning Men’s Club meetings, “I come every week,” he related. “It makes me know that I am still out there. There are stimulating conversations. I like it.”