Tag: Koblenz

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.

0035 No.10 Hintergasse

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

image001 2

Ida and Alfred Stern taken in about 1936

Hintergasse 1930s

The Hintergasse Nickenich in early 1930s

1-3

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.)

Happy Birthday Günter/Joe!

Today, 18th October 2018, Joe Stirling (born Günter Stern), the subject of my biography Escaping Hitler, is 94 years old.  I called in to his home in the Unthank Road Norwich this morning to give him his card and found to my delight that he had visitors – his nephew Paul Skitmore and his wife Sarah. (Paul features in the book as a child)  Joe, although tired, was on top form.  Tonight, instead of accompanying me to speak about his life to the good ladies of Thorpe End W.I. in Norwich, he will be dining out in the city with members of his close family.  I wish him a happy birthday evening.

Joe and me with his birthday cards!

Sad to announce death of Gottfried Busch, Mayor of Nickenich

Both Joe Stirling and I were saddened last week to hear of the sudden and premature death of Gottfried Busch, the honorary Mayor of the Parish of Nickenich, Joe’s birth place in the Rheinland.  Herr Busch had been a member of the local council since 1989 and honorary Mayor (Ortsbürgermeister) since 1992.  He was well loved in the village and followed this blog with a keen interest.  It was Herr Busch who invited me to visit Nickenich in the May of 2016, five months after Escaping Hitler was published.  We found him a delightful generous man, who welcomed us and offering us his hospitality.  The photo shows Herr Bush and I following my presentation to the people of the village.  A few weeks later I received a bulk order for the book, to be given out as gifts to visiting dignitaries.  I was honoured to supply them to Nickenich Council.  Herr Busch died on 17th May 2018, at  sixty-nine years old.  He leaves his wife Lydia and children Sebastian, Patricia, Marco and Leandra.  Joe and I send our condolences to the Busch family and to the people of Nickenich.

 

IMG_6630

Biographer Phyllida Scrivens and former Mayor of Nickenich, Gottfried Busch in Nickenich during May 2016.

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.

 

Happy 93rd Birthday Joe Stirling!

Today is Joe’s 93rd birthday.  I called into his home to take him some chocolates (he is a self-confessed chocoholic) and found him in good form, looking forward to a family dinner tonight at an undisclosed location.  Wishing to record the moment I tried some selfies.  Why is it that I can never make them work like the youngsters do?!  But undeterred I carried on and I think these might make you smile!

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.

Escaping Hitler Talk success at Norfolk Record Office

On Wednesday 8th February, I was honoured to give a talk at the iconic Norfolk Record Office where so much wonderful research material, stretching from far off medieval times, is stored.  I have spent many happy hours pouring over documents and photographs AND NOW I was here as a guest lunchtime speaker.  About fifty people turned up to see my brand new slide show, outlining the remarkable life of Kindertransport refugee Joe Stirling, whose destiny was to become  Sheriff of Norwich (and so much more!) The audience were attentive and respectful as I described my research journey, including ‘footstepping’ his parents’ final forced walk through Koblenz in March 1942, on their way to Poland and their deaths at Sobibor death camp.  Happier photos followed and the audience were delighted when Joe stood to join me for a question and answer session.  He answered four or five questions in his usual eloquent style.  And then we signed books!  Very very pleased and our thanks go to Karen Gaffney and her team at NRO who organised the event.  And for all the tweets they were sending out!