By James R. Hagerty 

As a boy, Claude Ganz wondered where, if anywhere, he belonged. Born into a Jewish family in Germany in 1931, he escaped the Nazi regime with his immediate family and settled near Paris in the mid-1930s. When Nazi troops occupied Paris in 1940, the Ganz family retreated south and later were herded into a concentration camp at Gurs in southwestern France.

There, boys from Eastern Europe beat him up because he didn't speak Yiddish. "Just imagine the confusion in the mind of a 12-year-old trying to come to grips with a world that is looking the other way while the Nazis want to kill him because he is a Jew, the French hate him because he is a Jew from Germany, and he is disliked by his peers because he is not the right brand of Jew," he wrote in an unpublished memoir.

He eventually implanted himself firmly in California and was chief executive of Dymo Industries Inc., a maker of label-making devices, in the 1970s. In 1997, the Clinton administration sent him to Bosnia for 18 months as an adviser on economic reconstruction.

Mr. Ganz and his family returned to live in Glen Ellen, in California's Sonoma County. He died Jan. 24 of natural causes unrelated to Covid-19. He was 89.

Claude Louis Ganz, an only child, was born Aug. 5, 1931, in Frankfurt. His father's family was from the Alsace-Lorraine region and his mother's family from Central Europe. "They embraced German culture and assimilated," Mr. Ganz wrote. His father was a lawyer and played the violin. His mother was a pianist. They hosted weekly string quartets at home.

With his parents and maternal grandparents, he fled the Paris area to escape Nazi persecution. Most of his other relatives stayed behind, and more than 80 of them died in the Holocaust, he estimated.

The Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940 sent the family fleeing southward. They rented a home in Brive-la-Gaillarde. Mr. Ganz recalled hiding in a chicken coop there, but the family was discovered and sent to the Gurs prison camp, where they risked deportation to a death camp in Germany. "My father arranged to smuggle in and sell his rare stamp collection," Mr. Ganz wrote. "He used the funds to bribe the guards to let us go."

Traveling by night, the family crossed the Alps into Switzerland and arrived in Davos. Initially, they were housed in a jail when the authorities could find no other place for them. Soon a Protestant minister arranged for Claude to spend the rest of the war at a boarding school in Schiers, Switzerland.

In February 1947, the family boarded the S.S. America and sailed to New York, where they were deemed displaced people with no nationality. They crossed the country by train to reach California. One of Mr. Ganz's uncles had a pickle-making business in Watsonville, Calif.

Young Claude completed his high-school education in San Francisco. He improved his English by spending long days in movie theaters. When asked where they came from, the Ganz family struggled to find a simple answer. "My father finessed the answer by saying, 'We came from France,' " Mr. Ganz wrote. "I followed his lead, which earned me the name 'Frenchy' from my new friends."

In the early 1950s, he served in the U.S. Army, which based him in California. Among other things, he taught French at an Army language school. He then completed a bachelor's degree in management at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mr. Ganz joined Dymo Industries in 1960 and soon oversaw international operations. The company, then based in Berkeley, was a small conglomerate whose best-known product was a hand-held plastic device that punched embossed letters onto sticky tape used for labeling. In the 1960s, it was a faddish household item. When he became CEO in 1970, sales had leveled off at roughly $80 million a year.

By 1978, he had diversified the company into data-transmission and printing equipment. Annual sales topped $220 million. He initially resisted a 1978 takeover bid from Esselte AB but acquiesced after the Swedish company raised its offer to about $66 million.

Mr. Ganz led several smaller businesses in the 1980s and early 1990s, including one, Aquanautics Corp., that tried to find uses for technology developed at Duke University to extract oxygen from seawater. One idea was an engine to power what he called underwater tractors.

The sea is "a very, very important resource," Mr. Ganz told the Journal of Commerce in 1986. "If you really think long term, that's where we'll have to go, as things run out."

His spell advising the Bosnians on economic reforms often proved frustrating. "The country was not ready," he said later.

Mr. Ganz spent much of his retirement with his wife, Lynn Ganz, at their home in Glen Ellen, where they grew grapes on part of their 10-acre lot and made Syrah wine for their own enjoyment.

His survivors include his wife, four children, 10 grandchildren and two great grandsons. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

In the early 2000s, Mr. Ganz received a small amount of restitution for the persecution of his family during the Nazi era. He donated the money and raised additional funds to start a Jewish studies program at Sonoma State University.

Write to James R. Hagerty at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 25, 2021 10:14 ET (15:14 GMT)

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