Tag: Günter Stern

Anniversary of a very special Wedding

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.

Joe and Jean on wedding day


Huge Welcome for ‘Escaping Hitler’ in Germany

Last evening, we arrived home from the promotional trip to Germany, exhausted but delighted by the welcome we received both in Koblenz and Nickenich. Before either of my presentations, Victor and I found the Stolpersteine (Stumble stones) for Joe Stirling’s parents, set into the pavement outside their last known address in Koblenz and laid a white rose in their memory. It was a touching moment.

On Wednesday 11th May I spoke to an audience of about 70 people at the prestigious Bundesarchiv (Federal Archive) in Koblenz, hosted by the President of the Archive, Dr Michael Hollmann and the Kulturdezementin (Head of Culture and Education at Koblenz City Council), Dr Margit Theis-Scholz.  The Chairman of the Koblenz-Norwich Friendship Association, Günter Hahn, valiantly acted as my interpreter. The equipment for my presentation was ‘state of the art’, the Rhineland wine and huge pretzels were delicious and we met many people interested in Joe’s story.  I am most grateful for their support.  The very next day the local newspaper, Rhein-Zeitung carried the story.

On 12th May we arrived in Joe’s home village of Nickenich where we met with Jutta Hansen, local historian and the Town Mayor, Herr Gottfried Busch. Jutta took me for a walk around the village where I could still see signs of the farming village as it was in Günter’s childhood.  Herr Busch then treated us to dinner at our hotel.  During Friday we spent some time at the beautiful Maria Laach (ancient monastery) on the shores of the Laacher See (both of which feature in the early part of Escaping Hitler) where we were thrilled to find a poster for my book event on the tourist board by the lake!  During the late afternoon we helped prepare the room in the Nickenich Pellenzhalle for the evening’s presentation.  This went well beyond my imagination – more than 80 people – mostly locals but some from Andernach and a couple from Luxembourg,  people all fascinated to hear from the man himself (on video on a huge screen) what exactly happened to that little Jewish boy, Günter Stern, once he had disappeared from the village with his mother Ida, on the morning following his father’s arrest on Kristallnacht in 1938.  Joe’s family remains part of the folklore of the village, his parents’ names commemorated in the wall of the church.  My words were translated into German by student and Nickenich resident Jessica Hansen and people were clearly moved by Joe’s story.  Again, the local press were in attendance and the story is now in print.

In total from the two presentations I signed and sold 44 copies, each signed in advance by Joe Stirling.  Considering the book is in English this was an amazing result and in both Koblenz and Nickenich I now have people actively seeking a German publisher who will work with Pen and Sword Books to translate and publish the book for a German audience.  Fingers crossed!  Meantime, here are some photos to give you a flavour of this most satisfying trip to Joe’s homeland.



Packing for Germany

This weekend is all about preparing for our promotional trip to Germany on Monday.  I am proud to be taking little Günter Stern’s (now known as Joe Stirling of Norwich) life story  back to his roots in the village of Nickenich and the Rhineland city of Koblenz.  I have been invited by the Mayor of Nickenich, Gottfried Busch to give an illustrated talk on Friday 13th May in the Spiegelsaal (Sports Hall) of the Nickenich Community Centre known as the Pellenzhalle.  Two days earlier I will be presenting Escaping Hitler to the people of Koblenz, the twin city of Norwich, at the prestigious Federal Archive.  On both occasions I will be working with a translator, as sadly my German is rudimentary!  I am grateful to Herr Günter Hansen from the Norwich-Koblenz Friendship Association for his help in Koblenz, and to Jessica Hahn, a student at Trier University and resident of Nickenich for her help in Joe’s home village. This is an incredible opportunity to let the audiences know exactly what happened to that little Jewish boy after he left his homeland on a Kindertransport in July 1939.  I am excited and nervous in equal measure!!!

The photos show the village of Nickenich, the Pellenzhalle, the Federal Archive in Koblenz, an article from a Nickenich newspaper and the poster that is apparently on lampposts all over the village!


Lydney Town Council Annual Report

I am proud to say that Lydney Town Council has been generous enough to publish a short piece about Escaping Hitler in its Annual Report for 2015-16.  The Annual Meeting was held on 18th April.  The small market town of Lydney in Gloucestershire still holds a place in Joe’s heart, his second home in England, the place that educated him, the people who befriended and cherished him.  On behalf of a 91 year old Kindertransport refugee, I thank them.


Left to right: Günter at 15, Alan Allsopp, Doris Allsopp (mother) and Hazel Allsopp.  This family along with father Eddie cared for the young refugee for four years.



In the freezing January of 1940, a fourteen-year-old Jewish German refugee, Kindertransport boy Günter Stern, arrived in Lydney from Birmingham to join the evacuated Yardley Grammar School. Lodging for three years in Springmeadow with Eddie and Doris Allsopp and their children Alan and Hazel, the boy thrived in their care. He became Deputy Head Boy, passing up a University place to volunteer for the British Army. Over seventy years later, in January 2016, Pen and Sword Books has published Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future, the biography of Günter’s remarkable ninety-year life.

Norwich writer Phyllida Scrivens spent four years researching the many aspects of 91-year-old Joe Stirling; Günter’s adult name as changed by the British Army; including his time in the Forest of Dean. She says, ‘A letter to The Forester newspaper in 2013 led to Joe being reunited with Hazel Allsopp after many years. In 2014 I visited Lydney, taking tea with resident Barbara Vedmore (née Hyde) who as a girl, was a close neighbour and friend of young Günter. Barbara generously shared fond memories of the young refugee, stories now captured in my book.’

In 1946 Joe married a Norfolk girl and moved to Norwich, his home for nearly seventy years. His destiny was to become a Labour Party Agent, leading member of Lions International, pioneering travel agent and ultimately Sheriff of Norwich in 1975. He would be in his seventies before he learnt of the fate of his parents in the Holocaust.

Joe says, ‘I have never forgotten the kindness of the Allsopp family, the teachers at the school and the people of Lydney. They showed compassion, friendship and tolerance to a German boy in a time of war.’

Learn more at www.escapinghitler.com. The book is available on Amazon.co.uk and Kindle, or for a copy signed by both author and Joe Stirling, contact Phyllida.scrivens@icloud.com. Books cost £19.50 plus £4 postage.


Today I received a copy of the poster as being displayed now in the Rhineland village of Nickenich, where Joe Stirling, the subject of Escaping Hitler was born in 1924, then named Günter Stern.  I am travelling to Koblenz on 9th May to speak about Günter’s biography first at the Koblenz Federal Archive on 11th, followed by an illustrated talk in the Pellenzhalle in Nickenich on 13th May.  I will be working with a translator on both occasions – another first for me!  I wish I had studied harder at my German lessons!


First ‘reader review’ received for Escaping Hitler

This morning I was delighted to receive my first ‘reader review’ on Facebook from a lovely lady who bought a book direct from me earlier this week. The review was actually from her husband and it reads:

“My husband managed to nab our copy before me. He keeps relaying little snippets so I know he is enjoying the book.
When I asked him about the style of writing he said he was finding it an easy read and a real page turner.”

As a debut biographer I could not have been more delighted. That is exactly what I set out to achieve when I knew I had to share Joe’s story.  Thank you Mary.

To receive your copy of Escaping Hitler, the biography of Norwich man Joe Stirling, kinder transport boy, former Sheriff of Norwich, senior member of Lions International and pioneering Travel Agent, refer to the previous blog posting with your options.  Looking forward to signing and mailing it out to you (U.K. only)

It is also available from Jarrold’s Book Department in Norwich,  Pen and Sword Books and Amazon.co.uk.


Joe Stirling reading his copy of Escaping Hitler!

Cringleford Historical Society Talk

Tonight, 18th November, I had the pleasure of taking  stories from Escaping Hitler to the good people of the Cringleford Historical Society, just outside Norwich.

Over fifty people came to listen to me talk about Joe Stirling’s life, my research techniques and publication journey.  It was wonderful to see so many faces, all listening attentively, and to field a good number of intelligent questions.

I tried not to give away my best anecdotal stories but some people did twist my arm.  It is very easy after four years to get a little too familiar with the tale of Günter Stern and his early life in Nazi Germany, so to watch the faces of people hearing it for the first time is always priceless.  Unfortunately no real books to sell quite yet, but I did take some names of those who wish to be kept informed, and all my marketing postcards disappeared!

I really enjoyed the evening and am very grateful to the Society for inviting me along.

My display of research material – always gets a lot of interest
The good people of Cringleford gather to hear me speak
My best ‘speaker’ dress!


Two weeks to go until my deadline to submit the manuscript to my publisher Pen and Sword Books.  Working hard now on the final edits, captioning photographs, writing my ‘author’s introduction’, checking my format against the ‘House Style’ rules.  Have had final formal interview with Joe Stirling this week, it was a difficult and quite emotional moment saying goodbye, knowing that I will not see him again until after I have submitted the 90,000 words.  As of this moment the manuscript is at 106,000 words so just a few to lose over the next ten days or so.  Wish me luck, there could be some burning of midnight oil ahead.  Will keep you all updated….

Joe, Jean, Jane and Ian in early 1950s.
Joe, Jean, Jane and Ian in early 1950s.

Suitcase1938 One Year On

Joe Stirling and Cast of Suitcase PressThis time last year it was the 75th Anniversary of the first Kindertransport train arriving in England from Nazi Germany.  Seven months later fourteen year old Gunter Stern escaped Hitler using the same route.  Victor and I took Joe to see a performance of Suitcase1938, an interactive promenade play about the Kinder, in Harwich during late November 1939.  The cast were delighted to meet a real refugee and he really enjoyed his day.  Victor and I then took two of our best friends (Judith’s father was also on the Kindertransport) to see the final performance at Liverpool Street.  This can be now be viewed on their website at http://www.suitcase1938.org or via the youtube link below.  Look out for Victor, me, Judith and her husband David, all singing along at the opening of the piece (1 minute 12 seconds!). It was a wonderful experience on both occasions and the video is well worth a view.