Many Iowans knew Fred Lorber for his story of survival.
Before he died at his Des Moines home on Tuesday at age 91, he wanted to make sure schoolchildren knew of the Holocaust and that military members knew how men of his generation fought to stop the evil.
Lorber did both. He escaped Vienna, Austria, in 1939 as Jews, including his father, were being captured and imprisoned. After immigrating to America, Lorber served in the U.S. military and marched into his old neighborhood to liberate it.
“The connections he made with younger generations, telling them how his generation fought back, touched more people than we can calculate,” said friend Graham Gillette. “Of all the things he did, that to me is his greatest contribution.”
A new memorial at the Iowa Capitol will honor Fred Lorber and other Iowans who survived the Holocaust or fought the Nazis.
He brought along his sons to have lunch with Lorber one day, and it’s a moment they never forgot, said Gillette, whose son Conner is today in the U.S. Naval Academy.
Lorber wasn’t satisfied to only survive. He went on to live a full life and was an avid bicyclist and skier into his 80s. He met his wife, Miriam, in New York City after the war at a USO dance, had four children, and in 1950 moved to Des Moines, where he began work at a textile company.
“He would often tell stories of going to small towns in the Midwest, to the fabric stores and tailors, and he would sell them textiles,” said Lorber’s son-in-law Don Polden of San Jose, Calif.
Lorber went on to form his own company, Lortex, from which he retired in 1995.
“He was a promoter of tolerance and a mentor to business people,” said Rabbi David Kaufman of Temple B’nai Jeshurun. “He was always there with advice and counsel in many areas, supporting artists and musicians and others. He is someone who will be missed by a broad swath of the Des Moines community.”
If Lorber thought a politician or community member was interesting, he would call the person up for an invitation to lunch. He dined with everyone from presidential candidates to school kids.
“You never had lunch with Fred once,” Gillette said.
He had a way of talking to folks that made them feel like they were important, Kaufman said.
He helped raise money for many community organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish. He served as president of the Iowa Sales Executive Club, the Jewish Federation, Temple B’nai Jeshurun, the Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Community Relations Commission, and on the Simpson College Board of Trustees.
In Lorber’s later years, he relished the opportunity to tell his important story. Earlier this year he told it to Iowa National Guard troops, and it was a great honor for him, said Polden. The troops both laughed at his engaging personality and shed some tears.
The story he told was breathtaking. He saw Adolf Hitler perched in the back of an open Mercedes as he paraded through recently occupied Austria in 1938, and later heard a knock on his parents’ door.
“The Nazi storm troopers came to the house and took my father,” he told the Register in 2000. “They wanted to take me also, but my mother begged them. I was so young. I can still see them — brown uniforms, black boots. They came into my room and looked over my books.”
His father was taken to Dachau, but later was released after Lorber’s mother pleaded to let him go. The family fled to New York City, where Lorber graduated from high school and was drafted into the Army.
He was sent to North Africa and by 1945 drove his Jeep right into his old neighborhood in Austria. He had mixed feelings. Some of the same people who had greeted him there didn’t help the Jews.
“He always felt he was especially privileged. He had the opportunity to come to this country and turn around and defend it,” Polden said. “That citizenship was a great honor for him and he remembered it all his life.
“He felt it was important to tell the story so it didn’t happen again.”
Lorber is survived by his wife, Miriam, son Steve of San Diego, and daughters Randy of Des Moines, and Susie of San Jose, Calif. His son Robert preceded him in death.
Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines.