It was a red letter day yesterday in the life of Joe Stirling when we met for lunch with Dr Hubert Becker from Friesland on the North Sea coast of Germany. His good friend Neil Jordon was hosting Hubert for a few days in Norfolk, and they took the opportunity to arrange a first time meeting with Joe.
Hubert was born in Nickenich, Joe’s home village in the Rhineland, in 1963 and when I was writing Escaping Hitler, Hubert was in touch with me, sending photographs of his relatives in the village and retelling anecdotes from his mother who still lives there. Some of these now appear in the book. Hubert’s father was Heinz Becker, a boy in Joe’s class at school (Joe was then Günter Stern) and his Uncle Peter was the best friend of Günter’s father Alfred. Are you following this?! Keep up! Peter appears on a photo that I show at every public talk – he is the second from the left on the plough. Peter died in 1973, having been the Mayor of Nickenich, two days before his Golden Wedding celebration.
Young Heinz appears in the Nickenich village school photo from 1932 – he is the one in centre at the front with the pudding basin fringe! (Günter is seated, front, far left in white socks) In his adult life, Heinz felt guilty about the fate of the Sterns during the Holocaust and how his schoolfriend had to flee to England to escape Nazi atrocities. As his life was coming to an end in 2000 he made his son Hubert promise to seek out Joe Stirling and ask his forgiveness for how the village failed to act during the darkest hours of Kristallnacht.
And yesterday in Loch Fyne in Norwich, Hubert was able to fulfil that promise.