Quite simply, thinking of Joe Stirling’s parents Alfred and Ida Stern who perished at Sobibor Death Camp in the summer of 1942. R.I.P.
Quite simply, thinking of Joe Stirling’s parents Alfred and Ida Stern who perished at Sobibor Death Camp in the summer of 1942. R.I.P.
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.
Just yesterday I was excited to find the irrepressible BBC Look East Senior Reporter Mike Liggins on the other end of my telephone!
In preparation for Holocaust Memorial Day he was off to visit and interview Joe Stirling and wanted to ask ‘his biographer’ for some facts and figures! I also emailed some of the photos from my book Escaping Hitler. When I see Joe tomorrow at the Holocaust Memorial Service at Norwich Cathedral I will ask him how it feels to be interviewed for BBC Television. One day….. Meantime, if you live in the Eastern Region do take a look at the film tomorrow night. The story will also feature on the Look East website over this coming weekend. The link is as below:
This photo shows Joe with the journalist from the now defunct Mustard TV when he was interviewed a couple of years ago. I imagine yesterday the scene was quite similar. Joe has just emailed to say that Mike was there with him for over two hours and insisted on help Joe to make a cup of tea. He sounds like a lovely man!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (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.
Yesterday, 1st February Joe Stirling and I gave a presentation about Escaping Hitler to students and staff at @NorwichHigh (Norwich High School for Girls). We were part of the excellent Lunch and Learn scheme where anyone is welcome to join a speaker at lunchtime in the library space and enjoy a buffet lunch while listening…. everyone was so welcoming. The students were mesmerised as ever by Joe telling his personal story of life as a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany. Our visit was timed to be as near as possible to Holocaust Memorial Day and we ended our slide show with a tribute to Joe’s parents, Alfred and Ida,who were murdered in Sobibor in 1942.
Also poignant was that Jane, Joe’s eldest child, won a scholarship to Norwich High School back in the late 1950s. This is the main reason the family moved to the Unthank Road. Joe and his wife Jean would have visited the school many times for parents evenings, concerts, sports days, bazaars and the like! The story is documented in Escaping Hitler and it is wonderful to think that my book will remain their stunning new Library for the girls to read for years to come.
Our thanks to Mr Emerson-Moering for inviting us to speak. Photos courtesy of Emily Marchant, Communications Officer.
This morning I attended the annual Civic Holocaust Memorial Service, this year for the first time held in the majestic Norwich Cathedral. Joe Stirling was the guest of honour and the Sheriff of Norwich, Richard Marks, made the opening welcome address. I was taken by surprise when at the end of his speech he mentioned my book. He kindly gave me permission to share his words with you.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the theme of this 2017 Holocaust Memorial Day is “How Can Life Go On?”
When we contemplate the millions of victims of the Nazi genocide in Europe in WWII, six million Jews, and millions more including Polish and Russian dissidents, the Roma and Gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses, disabled people, gay people, freemasons and trades unionist, we might think that humankind would have learnt some lessons. But the history of the 20th and 21st Centuries suggests otherwise
And we indeed ask ourselves the question, after such loss, after such suffering, “How Can Life Go On?”But if human beings have an almost limitless capacity for destruction, they have an equally remarkable capacity for starting all over again. At least one member of our congregation today vividly demonstrates this – Joe Stirling has contributed to public life, primarily Norfolk public life for more than sixty years.
But his early life was spent in Germany and at first it was idyllic. But after Hitler came to power, Joe witnessed that country’s descent into barbarism and sadistic brutality was meted out to his friends and family. At the age of 14, Joe decided to walk to England but was returned to his village. He eventually left on the last kinder transport out of Germany, and never saw his beloved family again. He arrived in Britain in 1939, enlisted in the British Army in 1944 and he became High Sheriff of Norwich – this fine city – in 1975. If you want to know more about the fascinating intervening years, you will have to read his extraordinary biography!
Joe demonstrates that, even after personal tragedy, people can live happy and fulfilling lives and become huge contributors to the public good. He proves to us that, given great courage and the kindness of strangers, good will triumph over evil and that indeed life can go on.”
Alex Bennett, from the Norwich Hebrew Congregation chanted the Memorial Prayer and the Mourners’ Kaddish; always so wonderful to hear the unusual Hebrew sounds resonating in a spiritual space. The Vicar of St Peter Mancroft, Revd Robert Avery read the moving piece by Pastor Martin Niemoller, now traditional at this service.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Throughout the service my thoughts returned again and again to Alfred and Ida Stern, Joe’s parents who were murdered by the Nazis in the Sobibor Death Camp in 1942. May they rest in peace.
Photos show Alfred and Ida Stern in 1937, Norwich Cathedral, Sheriff Richard Marks, Joe Stirling and Alex Bennett.
Yesterday, 25th January 2017, Joe Stirling and I visited Paston Sixth Form College in North Walsham in Norfolk. Notable alumni include Baroness Shepherd, Stephen Fry and Horatio Nelson! We were there at the invitation of Naomi Hardman, teacher of English. Some students had been studying the play ‘Kindertransport’ by Diane Samuels and here was a unique opportunity to meet and hear a real ‘kinder’. The timing was to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January. It was a long drive through misty winter drizzle but it was so worth it. About sixty students and staff members packed the classroom to hear Joe talk, eloquently as ever, about his early life in Nazi Germany. I controlled my powerpoint slides before taking my turn to address the audience with, hopefully, inspiring tales of studying Biography at UEA, meeting Joe and ultimately turning his remarkable life story into my debut biography – my first book with my name on the spine! Dreams can come true! Everyone was welcoming and delightful and we even received a Paston College Teddy Bear each as a gift! (and chocolate). We sold 12 signed copies and were treated to a buffet lunch by Principal Kevin Grieve in the Nelson Room of the historic and beautiful main college building. Here we met with eight students, two of whom had grandmothers who had travelled to England on a Kindertransport. The conversation was lively and informative. Joe and I both enjoyed ourselves very much. These lovely photos are courtesy of Jodie Rice.
Nearly one year since this short film was broadcast on Mustard TV in Norwich, here is another chance to see Joe in action as he is interviewed and filmed in his own home. Just follow the link below or copy and paste into your browser. With so many more followers on Facebook than this time last year, this is an opportunity for the ‘newbies’ to see this delightful piece of footage, filmed just before Holocaust Memorial Day 2016. Since the filming Joe has two further great-grandchildren, has turned 92 and is looking forward to the publication of his biography Escaping Hitler in the USA by Skyhorse Publishing of New York. If you would like to buy a copy of his book, signed by both Joe and by me, maybe as a Christmas present, you will find details of how to order on the Menu section of this blog. Enjoy!
I was delighted with a recent review of Escaping Hitler published in the September edition of Mancroft And More, the quarterly magazine from the editorial team at St Peter de Mancroft Anglican Church in the centre of Norwich, the second largest Anglican church in the city (the Cathedral is of course the largest!) It was in this iconic building where Escaping Hitler was first revealed to the public on Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2016, just days before the book’s official launch in Jarrolds. My thanks to Gemma Wassell and her team for this article. The Mancroft and More magazine is available at the rear of the church.
Today, Friday 29th January. Started quite normally. Met with Mayor of Thorpe St Andrew (home suburb) to have photo taken with him for the town newsletter. Went into City of Norwich to have an afternoon off at our favourite watering hole – they are holding their annual Winter Beer Festival (enough said!) On passing City Bookshop I spotted Escaping Hitler in their front window display. Photo opportunity! We then went into Smiths to buy a copy of Suffolk and Norfolk Life – I knew that it was promoting the book. Sure enough, two page spread complete with photos. We buy three copies! On to lunch and beer tastings. Lovely two hours chatting to a couple from Sheringham. On way back to bus stop at 5pm (we know how to live!) we took a detour through Waterstones, UK’s leading bookseller, just incase they were stocking my book, but I did not hold out much hope.
We asked at the desk. Sure enough the young woman said they had bought in 10 copies and would I like to sign them! No way had I expected that! Gleefully we followed her up the stairs to top floor and there was my display! She leant me a pen and I signed all ten copies, feeling a little shaky and overawed! Such a thrill! Then on the bus and home for a quiet night in. Wow! What a day.