With the sun shining in Norwich, England, I am reminded of the wonderful summer’s afternoon I spent in the Norwich Castle Gardens in 2016, watching an energetic and inspiring performance of the unique community play ‘Come Yew In’. Within the many stories of Norwich history told that day, it was the segment that retold Joe’s story in just a few moments that I had been waiting for. Using words from my book Escaping Hitler the talented performers paid tribute to Joe. I have posted this film before but I thought it worth another viewing.
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.
Biographer Phyllida Scrivens and former Mayor of Nickenich, Gottfried Busch in Nickenich during May 2016.
As a former Sheriff of Norwich (1975-6) Joe Stirling, the star of Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future (Pen and Sword Books 2016), was naturally invited to the annual black-tie dinner of the Norwich Civic Association. This year I was also invited as the after-dinner speaker, to speak about my new book The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich 1923-2017 (Pen and Sword Books, 2018). It was an honour and a privilege to address this most knowledgable of audiences! All seemed to go well and Joe enjoyed his evening immensely. Victor and I are now taking a well earned break for a couple of weeks. Back with more updates on Joe soon.
Phyllida and Joe at Civic Association Dinner, 23rd April 2018
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.
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.
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!
Mindful that in early November Joe and I will be undertaking our final speaking engagement of 2017, to the good ladies of the Hopton-on-Sea Women’s Institute, I thought I would take a look through our visits since Escaping Hitler was published in January 2016. I was amazed at the number of groups I/we have spoken to, resulting in nearly 300 signed books sold following the talks. If you then add in sales directly from book exhibitions and individual readers approaching me online or via the telephone, total direct sales amount to 891 and counting! Unbelievable. I thought you might be interested in seeing the list of talks, the vast majority of which were in Norwich and surrounding area. (Photo taken at Norfolk Record Office on 8th February 2017) Thanks to all those who have invited us. We already have 11 dates in the diary for 2018!
ESCAPING HITLER 64 Speaking Engagements in Norfolk and beyond during 2016 and 2017
|Norwich Ladies Luncheon Club|
|Old Catton Women’s Institute|
|Official Launch at Jarrolds Department Store, Norwich|
|Belton Women’s Institute|
|Norwich North Liberal Democrats|
|Norwich Chamber Music Club|
|Wymondham Heritage Society|
|The Norfolk Club|
|Norwich Community History Group|
|Out and about Club|
|Mercedes Benz Owners Club evening|
|Walsingham Historical Society|
|East Anglia Women Networking Group|
|Brooke Women’s Institute|
|Lions International Regional Conference, Colchester|
|Sunday Assembly, Norwich|
|Association of Jewish Refugees|
|Mid Norfolk Family History Society|
|Rotary Club of Norwich St Edmund|
|Attleborough Public Library|
|Koblenz Federal Archive, Rhineland|
|The village of Nickenich, Rhineland|
|Great Hospital Group|
|Townswomen Guild Central Norwich Group|
|Mulbarton Words Week|
|Townwomen’s Guild Eaton Group|
|East Anglia Festival of Culture, Lowestoft|
|Wymondham British Legion|
|Recycled Teenagers Group|
|Norwich Business Women’s Network|
|Norwich Inter-faith Group|
|Liberal Democrat Regional Conference|
|Time Travellers Meeting, Heritage Centre, Forum|
|Sprowston History Group|
|Norwich Lunchtime Women’s Institute|
|Bure School, Aylsham|
|Norwich Ladies Luncheon Club|
|UEA Retirement Group|
|Paston College, North Walsham|
|Norwich Labour Party History Group|
|The Norwich School|
|Norfolk Record Office|
|Vale Probus Club Ladies’ Lunch|
|Koblenz Norwich Friendship Society AGM|
|Unison Trade Union Retired Members Norfolk Branch|
|Wymondham Sixth Form College|
|Salvation Army Ladies’ Fellowship|
|Mid Norfolk Family History Society|
|Civil Service Retirement Fellowship|
|Easton Women’s Institute|
|Maddermarket Theatre for Performance of Kindertransport|
|Beccles Probus Club|
|Lakenham Townswomen’s Guild|
|Catton Townswomen’s Guild|
|Mileham W.I. Near King’s Lynn|
|Holt Women’s Institute|
|Get Together Group Norwich Theatre Royal|
|Brooklands Care Home, Taverham|
|The Probus Club of Wymondham and District
Broadland Housing Association, Dereham
On Wednesday this week, 23rd August 2017, Joe and I rolled up to the award winning Brooklands Care Home in Drayton, just outside Norwich, to fulfil our engagement to speak to residents and staff about Escaping Hitler. This was our first venture into such a community and to be fair, it was not without its challenges, but we received a wonderful welcome, the book cover was on display everywhere we looked, there was a good group of people to address, and everyone was engaged while Joe gave his 30 minute address about his childhood in Nazi Germany. I was even given flowers and Joe received a bottle of fizz as a thank you. Book sales were brisk and we came away thinking what a wonderful home it was for those who can no longer care for themselves. Our thanks to the manager and her staff for being so attentive and thoughtful.
Yesterday, Saturday 8th July 2017, on a sunny lunchtime, I was in the audience for a performance of ‘Come Yew In: A Proud History of Strangers in Norwich’, a lively 90 minute review featuring music and dance. This new production from theatre company The Common Lot was part of the annual Lord Mayor’s Celebration weekend. Director Simon Floyd had approached Joe to ask if his story might be included in the drama. It was wonderful to see his story, so familiar to me, being communicated via a different media, so sensitively capsulated in such a brief moment. Here is the video footage I took so that you could share the moment.
The summer season is ahead and normally our presentations and public speaking events would be drying up. Not this year! 18 months after the publication of my debut biography Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future (Pen and Sword Books 2016 & Skyhorse Publications New York, 2017), our diary has a further six engagements to September, four in the autumn and three in 2018! This is mainly because Joe is so compelling when at, nearly 93, he tells his own story to audiences all over Norfolk. For those who have not yet seen this film, do take a look and you will see what I mean! For details of how to buy your signed copy direct from the author, do look at the menu section of this blog.