Tag: Association of Jewish Refugees

Joe Stirling is 95 today!

Happy Birthday Joe!  Today, 18th October 2019, Joe Stirling, the subject of my biography Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future (Pen and Sword Books, 2016) is 95 years old.  I first met Joe in 2011 and never imagined our friendship would last as long as it has.  I visited Joe this afternoon in his Norwich Care Home to find his two lovely daughters, Jane and Johanna, sharing his day with him.  We had tea and cake with candles, gifts and a loud rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to You.’ Joe continues to keep a keen interest in how my writing and public speaking careers are progressing and is always proud to hear about it when I have share his life stories with new audiences in Norfolk.  Many Happy Returns Joe!

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Tonight is the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht – remembering the Sterns

Tonight, 9-10th November 2018 is the 80th anniversary of the so called ‘Night of Broken Glass’, when Hitler’s Nazi Party instructed the brownshirts to burn the synagogues, break the windows of all businesses and many homes, loot the contents and most devastating of all, arrest all Jewish men and boys over sixteen years old, incarcerating them in political concentration camps.  Alfred was sent to Dachau, a notorious camp in the cold Bavarian Alps.  All Jewish children were immediately expelled from their schools and life would never be the same again.  Joe Stirling has vivid memories of that terrifying night.  I want to share with you some illustrative photos along with the stylised prologue from Joe’s biography Escaping Hitler (Pen and Sword Books 2016), based entirely on Joe’s recollections, told to me when I first interviewed him in December 2011.

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No. 10 Hintergasse, Nickenich (taken in 2013) The Stern family lived in the upper flat of this house

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Ida and Alfred Stern taken in about 1936

Hintergasse 1930s

The Hintergasse Nickenich in early 1930s

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Ida and Alfred Stern on their wedding day in 1923

Visitors

 

It happens so quickly. Loud hammering on the door at around four in the morning. Günter instantly awake. His father’s heavy footsteps on the wooden stairs. The boy creeping from his body-warm bed, joining Mother at the top of the staircase. More banging. Raised angry voices. The door swinging open, rusty hinges straining under the force. Three or four men bursting over the threshold. Uninvited. Invading their home. Strangers, from Andernach or even Koblenz, clutching cudgels and brandishing revolvers.

‘Alfred Stern? Get dressed. You’re arrested.’
‘Arrested? What have I done?’
Günter flinches as his father takes a violent blow across the face. Two menclimb the stairs, pushing past woman and child. Roughnecks turning out drawers and cupboards, throwing contents to the floor, trampling over china and glass. Ida and Günter stunned, silent, shaking. Her husband pushed through the door and onto the cobbles of the Hintergasse. Ida’s throat opens and she screams out:

‘Where are you taking him?’

No reply. Just the muffled sound of Alfred’s anguished objections to being treated as a criminal. He fought bravely for his country. He was wounded four times. He was awarded the Iron Cross. Soon his cries and the marching feet are no longer audible and the night is still once more.

 

(Extract from the opening of Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future by Phyllida Scrivens.)

TODAY, 27th JANUARY 2018 is Holocaust Memorial Day. Sharing BBC film on Joe Stirling.

Last evening, 26th January 2018 BBC Look East (Regional News programme) showed a short documentary created by Senior Reporter Mike Liggins,  on the Kindertransport , featuring Joe Stirling’s story in his own words, using some of the photographs that appear in my biography Escaping Hitler. The piece is introduced by Stewart White and Suzie Fowler-Watt.  For the full story of Joe’s remarkable life and his contribution to Norwich over seven decades, plus more photographs, check the Menu drop down for details on how to order your copy, signed by both Joe and me.

 

REVIEW OF ESCAPING HITLER ON MOMZINGA.COM

Quite by chance yesterday I came across this online review of Escaping Hitler on the U.S. site Momzinga (the American version of Mumsnet).  I was so excited by Katie John’s unique spin on the story that I requested her permission to reproduce it on this blog. Some of the finer details are not exactly correct, but her opinion is loud and clear and for that I am grateful. Always good that one year on, American readers are still discovering Joe’s story.

ESCAPING HITLER; Enthralling, Amazing Story of The Boy Who Walked Out of Germany

by kjohnsinxs@yahoo.com  (Momzinga.com)

ESCAPING HITLER—Should be required reading for every American child!


Besides having a great title, Escaping Hitler, written by Phyllida Scrivens, is an enthralling book. It starts out kind of dull with telling Gunter’s parents’ history. But then suddenly it becomes enthralling, reading page after page having to find out what happens to Gunter, a Jewish teen who walks out of Germany to a new life.

You will be amazed at how innocent people were back in the late 1930’s and 1940’s and how people are not like this today. So many people helped Gunter get out of Germany when Hitler’s men were rounding up Jews to put them in prison, beat them up, starve them and ultimately kill them. He leaves his parents behind at their urging and starts a new life at 14—alone!

Paralyzed with fear, I wondered how a child could walk, swim and take a train ride to a new life. I kept reading as fast as possible to find out what happens to Gunter Stern. It was so amazing to read how so many people openly welcome this complete stranger into their homes, helping him get out of Germany across the countryside. After he wades across a river, a German guard yells at him to get out of the water, and ends up helping this thin teenager. He literally allows the teen to stay at his home for a week and speeds along the process of getting him out of Germany by a train, where Jewish-German kids are placed with relatives or with total strangers, getting them away from the Nazi’s.

It was so unreal reading how trusting people were back then. Gunter ends up living in England as his parents are eventually taken away to a prison camp in Poland and killed. Gunter is an innocent fourteen year old who makes a new life for himself.

Scrivens’ numerous research has gone into this remarkable book telling exactly what the Nazi’s did to the Jews. At the beginning they took any male over 16 out of their homes and put them in makeshift jails. Gunter’s father thought this would never happen to him, because he was a WWI hero, but he was horrifically wrong. It is incredibly horrible learning exactly how the Germans go about taking control of their people. As I read I was horrified at what was happening, but I had to find out what happened. History repeats itself, so that is a scary thought, which propelled me forward.

It is remarkable how so many people helped Gunter and how respectful they were of him and how respectful he was of them. He lived in stranger’s homes, and he worked in fields and grew stronger eating a diet of healthy food. Escaping Hitler is a beautiful and unreal story of the ultimate horrible reality. Escaping Hitler is a story you will not soon forget, it is that brilliantly told.   Momzinga.com.1-003 Gunter ID card front

 

 

 

75th Anniversary of the Jewish Deportation from Koblenz & chance encounter with the past

Today, 22nd March 2017, is the 75th Anniversary of the deportation of over 300 Jewish people by the Nazis, from the Rhineland city of Koblenz, to their ultimate murders in the death camps in Poland.

Travelling on those trains were the parents of Joe Stirling, subject of my biography Escaping Hitler. Their names were Alfred and Ida Stern and I remember them today.  

But I have an amazing co-incidence to share with you.  In February this year Joe Stirling and I gave an illustrated lunchtime talk at the Norfolk Record Office, a wonderful venue for historians, genealogists and researchers. Amongst our audience was a young couple from Dereham in Norfolk.  They told us before the talk that they were there because Ilan’s family had Koblenz war-time connections.  I began the talk, and quite unusually included a slide of the Balduinbrücke, the main bridge across the Mosel in Koblenz.   After we had completed our usual book signing, Ilan and his wife Anne approached our table and Ilan spoke directly to Joe.

He said that he was an Israeli Jew, Ilan Schönewald, whose family had originated in Koblenz.  He had reason to believe, from listening to my talk and matching the details with those from his family folklore, that his great-grandmother BERTA SCHÖNEWALD, may be been on that same deportation train on 22nd March 1942, heading to her death in Sobibor death camp.  It was if the past had reached out to cling to the present, bringing both Ilan and Joe together for a brief moment in honour of their close family members who had shared their last days in the most gruesome of circumstances.  We exchanged numbers, Anne promising to email me photos of Berta.  Once home, I double checked my research material, like a conscientious biographer (!) and found in a German newspaper report from 1992, the 60th anniversary of the deportation, the list that contained the names of Joe’s parents and step-grandmother Sabine.  Sure enough, Berta’s name was also on the list.  They had been together over that dreadful period, most probably both thinking of their children (Berta of her daughter escaped to England and Alfred and Ida of their son Günter (Joe) also safely in England).

It is co-incidences and remarkable encounters like these that make biography such a fascinating and rewarding genre.  RIP Alfred, Ida, Sabine and Berta.

Twelve months since Escaping Hitler launched in Jarrold Department Store in Norwich

Cannot believe it is exactly 12 months today since our Grand Launch in Jarrold.  It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life when I came into the room to be greeted by 220 relatives, friends and members of the public.  And then to see Joe Stirling at the front, just as I had always imagined it might be.  The two of us at our launch book signing!  And since then it has gone from strength to strength, the first print run of 1,300 books  by Pen and Sword Books selling out before Christmas, a  reprint, a visit to Germany to give two talks and sell books, over 40 public speaking engagements, most of them with Joe, and now in January this year the book has been published and launched in the U.S. by Skyhorse Publications of New York.  Loads of coverage and reviews in the press and in magazines such as the Association of Jewish Refugees and Lions Clubs International, nearly 500 followers on Facebook.  Wonderful progress –  and all the while researching for my second book!  Just wanted to share my joy with you.

Joe attends Sukkot ceremony in Norwich

Last Saturday, 22nd October, Joe Stirling and I were delighted to attend a Sukkot ceremony at the invitation of Annie Henriques, Chair of the Norwich Liberal Jewish Community.  This event took place at the Community’s regular home at the Old Meeting House in Colegate in Norwich, a beautiful historic Congregational Church.  Others from the Inter-Faith group were there, along with Deputy Lord Mayor of Norwich, James Wright.

It was my first time at a Jewish service and I was excited to see the simple Sukkah, or shelter, erected outside the building from simple sticks and covered with natural materials, including various fruits.  This festival is a celebration of Harvest as well as remembering the Jewish exodus from Egypt and the Israelites sheltering in the wilderness.  Having studied a little about Torahs and the Yad (ritual reading pointer) for my book, I was fascinated to witness Rabbi Leah Jordan opening the decorative box and removing the two huge parchment holy scrolls, covered by an exquisite white cloth covered in gold embroidery.  I cannot claim to have followed the Hebrew or join in the singing or prayers, but it was a pleasure to be there alongside Joe.

The photos show the meeting house with the Sukkah shelter, Joe in his Kippot and Rabbi Leah holding the Lulav before shaking it in every direction, symbolising God’s presence as being everywhere.  The Lulav is a bouquet of a single palm leaf, two willow branches and three myrtle branches, held  together with woven leaves.  We then shared bread and wine symbolising the bounty of the vine and the earth.  My thanks to the Norwich Liberal Jewish Community for their kind invitation.