I am indebted to Terence Burchell from Mulbarton near Norwich for this video of me speaking to a lovely audience at Hanover Gardens, Mulbarton in June this year, as part of the Mulbarton Words Festival. I hope some of you will take 30 minutes of your lives to watch as I describe the early life of Joe Stirling, Kindertransport boy and former Sheriff of Norwich, as well as a little about how my debut biography came to be published by Pen and Sword Books in January. In January 2017 this remarkable man’s story will be available even more widely when Skyhorse Publishing of New York publish and distribute my book to the book lovers of the U.S.A. To purchase a signed copy directly from me take a look at the menu on this WordPress blog to find my contact details. Many thanks….
SIX MONTHS AGO today, 5th January 2016, my debut biography Escaping Hitler (foreword by Shirley Williams) was published by Pen and Sword Books. I will never forget the incredible moment when my first 200 copies arrived in six boxes at my house! And when I first presented Joe Stirling with his personal copy! Since that date so much has happened to me and to the book that I felt this was an appropriate moment to share the phenomonal achievements so far.
Over 30 published articles and reviews including local Archant publications, the Journal from the Association of Jewish Refugees, Lion Magazine and the Rhein Zeitung, regional newspaper for the Rhineland around Koblenz.
Grand official launch at Jarrold Department Store in Norwich on 4th February with 220 people in the audience. We signed over 50 books that night!
Appeared in Jarrold’s National Bestsellers lists for five weeks running, including No.1 during week of February 13th 2016!
29 Public and private talks and powerpoint presentations including two in Germany (Koblenz Federal Archive and the village of Nickenich). Seven more in the diary between now and July 2017. More welcomed!
Escaping Hitler appears in Norfolk Libraries. Waiting lists build up to borrow copies.
403 followers on Facebook and 112 on Twitter
542 copies sold directly from me and Joe, 297 of them signed and sold at our speaking engagements.
From the initial 1300 print run Pen and Sword is now down to the final 200 in the warehouse. Plans for a further hardback run and a little later for a softback.
In March this year New York Publisher Skyhorse bought the option to publish and distribute Escaping Hitler onto the U.S. market. Projected date for this is January 3rd 2017. I have recently received my Authors Questionnaire in order for us to work together on a marketing plan. (This was beyond my wildest expectations!)
Escaping Hitler entered for two major Book Awards – watch this space!
And finally, as a result of the marketing successes so far, I am now contracted to Pen and Sword for a second biographical book: My Lady Lord Mayor: The Seventeen Female Lord Mayor of Norwich 1923-2017. Estimated publication end 2017/early 2018.
So more work ahead!!
My sincere thanks to everyone who follows this blog, my Facebook page and my Twitter feed, and especially those who have already bought and read the book! Without your support the statistics would not look nearly as good!
Don’t forget – by clicking on the menu at the top of this page you will find full details of how to order your personally signed copy directly from me. The book makes a great gift!
Yesterday, amongst all the gloom of the Brexit vote, I received one ray of sunshine. This first photograph is of the lady whose family moved into Görgenstrasse 6 (second photo) late in 1939, the same block of apartments in Koblenz, Rhineland, where Ida and Alfred lived since January of that year, when Alfred was released from Dachau. Ida and Alfred Stern, as you will recall, are Joe Stirling’s parents who perished in the Holocaust. By the time the new family moved in, Günter Stern (Joe’s birth name) was in England, having arrived here in July 1939 on a Kindertransport. Following my recent book events in Koblenz and Nickenich, directly resulting from coverage in the local Rhineland newspaper, Rhein-Zeitung, I received this email from Hildegard Rockenfeller. I quote:
“My mother is the daughter of Anna and Anton Marzi living in Koblenz in Görgenstraße 6 during the 2nd world war. She vividly remembers Alfred and Ida Stern who were living on the 3rd floor in the same house by then. My mother is 90 years of age by now, she didn’t know Joe Striling personally, he already had gone to England when my mother and her family moved into the house in Görgenstraße 6. My grandparents had 4 children, 3 sons and a daughter, my mother. One of my mother’s twin brothers also was named Günter. The twin brothers are still alive, her eldest brother Kurt died in 1999. My grandfather Anton was a shoemaker and had his shop on the groundfloor in Görgenstraße 6. My mother always speaks with great respect of Alfred and Ida Stern, she liked them very much.”
I hope that both Hildegard and her mother enjoy reading about Joe’s escape from Nazi Germany and that his biography will bring back fond recollections of Alfred and Ida Stern for Hildegard’s mother. May their memory live on.
As a result of the recent articles in the Rhein-Zeitung in Koblenz and surrounding areas, on my book events in Koblenz and Nickenich, I have received an email from a lady called Hildegard. She lives about 20km from Koblenz and when reading her newspaper recognised the last known address of Alfred and Ida Strern, the Jewish parents of Günter Stern, now known as Joe Stirling, the subject of my book Escaping Hitler. Hildegard’s mother, now 90 years of age, moved with her family into the same block of houses,next door to the Sterns, some months after little Günter had climbed aboard his Kindertransport to freedom. Over her life Hildegard’s mother had often spoken of the Jewish couple who were taken away by the Nazis in 1942, remembering them fondly, especially her neighbour Ida. Hildegard has now requested to buy a copy of my book for her mother to read about what happened to Ida’s son, the boy she no doubt spoke about often.
Wonderful enough to receive this email, but even better, Hildegard has now kindly sent me a photo of the block of houses in Görgenstrasse, Koblenz, from the autumn of 1939, shortly after her mother moved in with her parents. It is believed that the Sterns lived on the upper floor. This is a wonderful image from the past. I would like to share with you now the photograph, alongside the one of how the building looks today. Outside the house there are now two Stolpersteine (engraved brass plates) in honour of Alfred and Ida. This journey with Joe just keeps on giving.
On 21st May 1946 Joe Stirling married his sweetheart Jean Skitmore in St Mary’s Church, Attleborough. They were both in Army uniform. Only three years earlier the groom’s birth name of Günter Stern had been officially changed by the British Army to Günter Stirling. The young soldiers in the barracks dubbed him Joe and the Jewish Kindertransport boy from the Rhineland village of Nickenich has been called that to this day.
In Church that day in 1946, Joe was sadly the only representative of the groom’s side but Jean’s family turned out in force from the Norfolk villages and towns around Attleborough. Today it is 70 years since that momentous occasion, a union that would produce four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren (more on the way!). The couple were happily married for nearly sixty years, but sadly Jean passed away after a long illness in 2002. Joe misses her every day. Today I am thinking of them.
Thanks to Fritz Lustig for reviewing my book Escaping Hitler in the May edition of the AJR Journal. I am so pleased that Mr Lustig enjoyed the read and I commend his excellent summary of the narrative. Don’t forget you can learn how to receive your signed copy by checking the menu on this blog.
Thought it about time I gave my many followers, who have not yet bought Escaping Hitler, a taste of the book. I hope you find it interesting. If you would like a copy (U.K. only) do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can give you the options of how to receive your signed book (both by me and Joe) at a discounted price.
This section is set in Germany during early 1939. The italicised opening is a direct quote from Joe during one of my many interviews with him.
‘I thought, “If war breaks out then I’ll never get away.” I was determined to get to England before the shutters came down. I would try and get over on my own. Of course I couldn’t tell my parents. They wouldn’t have allowed it.’
Günter’s paternal grandfather Heimann died of a heart attack on 28 February 1939. At the age of eighty-five he never recovered from the shock of his arrest on Kristallnacht. His body was returned to Meudt for burial, grave number 36 in the Jewish cemetery. Although still recuperating from his illness, Alfred took his young son to attend the ceremony. As an orthodox Jew, Heimann was buried in his tallit, the neckband removed and one of the fringes cut off, symbolising that once dead a Jew is no longer obliged to observe the rituals and customs of his religion. Günter stood amongst the adult mourners, joining the traditional chanting of the El Malei Rahamin, a prayer reassuringly declaring that the deceased is now ‘sheltered beneath the wings of God’s presence’. The sensitive child shed a tear for his grandfather as the simple wooden casket lowered into the grave to the rhythmic beat of the spoken Mourner’s Kaddish, the prayer for the dead.
After three or four weeks of recuperation Alfred received a visit from a member of the Gestapo.
‘I think you are fit enough to work now.’ ‘But I’ve not found any work yet.’
‘You don’t need to. You’ll be building the autobahns, and there is a lot of digging to do.’
Alfred was attached to a forced-labour unit living in caravans on the roadside miles from Koblenz. He was allowed to return home at weekends only if he could afford his fare, which wasn’t often. Expelled from school, with no father, no friends and reluctant to venture out, Günter had little with which to amuse himself, apart from watching the endless columns of Black and Brownshirts marching through the streets below. To ease the tension he made music on his new violin, losing himself in the moment.
Rumours were circulating in the Jewish community that a group of people in Great Britain had successfully lobbied their government to allow the immigration of more refugees, specifically children between eight and sixteen thought to be under threat from the Nazis. They would enter England on temporary travel documents and re-join their parents once the crisis was over. A £50 bond was required for each child and they would make the journey in sealed trains. Volunteer families and financial donations were actively being sought in Britain. Those children for whom sponsors could not be found, would be housed at Dovercourt, a holiday camp on the east coast of England, until a foster home could be found. Above all the refugees were not to be a drain on the British State.
Whilst there was no way out for Alfred and his wife, it was crucial to offer their son a future. They asked Günter if he would like a chance to go to England. The boy did not hesitate. His application was lodged and the wait for a response began. Sometime in February 1939 a brown envelope arrived from the Jewish Refugee Committee in London. The letter was brief and to the point: ‘We can now confirm that Günter is on the list and you will be advised when a seat is available for him on a Kindertransport out of Cologne.’ Günter read the letter over and over, excited at the prospect of escape. It became his ‘special treasure’ and lived permanently in his trouser pocket.
Excerpt from Escaping Hitler by Phyllida Scrivens February 2016