Feb. 12, 1921 – Sept. 13, 2017
As a teenager in Adolf Hitler’s Germany, Gunter Paul Heinze grew up with great fear and apprehension about what the future would hold.
He and his parents, who lived in Berlin, had many Jewish friends. They did not support the Nazi dictator, his war efforts or his plans to exterminate the Jewish race.
“My father didn’t think he had a future,” said Heinze’s son, Bernie Heinze. “It was a scary time…His parents were not members of the Nazi party, or supporters in any way. In fact, they had a bunker behind their home where they would allow their Jewish friends to hide when the Gestapo came looking for them.”
But things would work out for Gunter Heinze. He had an extraordinary life, which included a friendship with a famous Olympic athlete, helping America’s space program land the first man on the moon, and spending nearly five decades in Western New York.
Mr. Heinze, an Amherst resident, died Wednesday in the hospice unit of Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, following a short illness. He was 96. He was married for 71 years to the former Elfriede “Elfi” Bendler, now 94, who grew up with him in Berlin.
“As it turned out, he had a wonderful life,” Bernie Heinze said. “You could say that my father truly out-kicked his punt coverage.”
As a young boy, he built and flew radio controlled glider planes and launched rockets. He also enjoyed competing in tennis, ice skating, and track and field events. Because of an injury, he fell just short of making the 1936 German Olympic Team.
But because he had learned to speak French and English, Mr. Heinze was selected to serve as a translator for French and American athletes at the Olympics, which were held in Berlin. One of his duties was to serve as a goodwill ambassador to Jesse Owens, the black American sprinter who would win four gold medals and become one of the most celebrated Olympic athletes of all time.
Mr. Heinze essentially served as a personal assistant and guide to Owens…