EXPIRED: 08/26/09 – Joan Hecht Lorber, 80, survivor of the SS Athenia, torpedoed & sunk by Germans in WW2. Drifting off the coast of Scotland, she’s lucky she wasn’t on another lifeboat that was destroyed by the propeller of a rescue vessel.
As a child, Lorber lived a frightening slice of World War II history, surviving a German torpedo attack on the British passenger liner she was aboard in 1939. Lorber was one of the 1,400 passengers on the SS Athenia, which sank Sept. 3, 1939, the day after Britain declared war on Germany. She was returning to the United States after spending the summer in Scotland with the family of her governess.
The ship was hit about 200 miles west of Scotland’s Hebrides islands, and 118 people died.
Several ships picked up the passengers after two days on lifeboats. The British destroyer that rescued Mrs. Lorber’s lifeboat spent a few days chasing submarines before returning to Scotland. Some of the lifeboats were destroyed by the propellers of the ships there to rescue them.
After the incident and having learned the value of life, Lorber dedicated hers to volunteer work. She spent more than a decade helping at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton until she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 15 years ago, her son, Bryan Lorber, said. “Volunteering was her whole life. She learned a lot of compassion for other people growing up during that World War II period.”