Tag: Phyllida Scrivens

77th Anniversary of Kristallnacht – we must never forget

Today, 9th November 2015, marks the 77th Anniversary of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in Germany and Nazi-occupied territories.  It was the night when people turned against their fellow Germans, just because they were Jewish. Joe Stirling’s family was affected, even in their small farming village of Nickenich. As a 14 year old boy he watched as his beloved father was forcibly dragged from their home without explanation or knowledge of where he was being taken.  What happened to the boy and his mother is recorded in Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future (with foreword by Shirley Williams), my debut biography of this now 91 year old man living in Norwich, Norfolk, U.K. The book will be published in January 2016 by Pen and Sword Books with the official launch in Jarrolds Department Store in Norwich on 4th February.  Please find my Facebook page for Escaping Hitler and add your ‘like’ to the 200 others to be kept updated on publication dates, signings and how to get hold of your copy signed by both the author and by Joe Stirling (born Günter Stern in Nickenich, Rhineland).

Take a look at the Facebook page of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. to see interviews and footage of survivors talking about that terrible night.  We must be thankful it was not our families and never forget.


New York Times Headlines Kristallnacht

Kristallnacht Memorial Germany


I was saddened to read this morning that the U.S. Kindertransport Association have called time on their annual conferences with so few Kinder left alive or unable to attend through ill health and age.  I believe London is still going strong as is 91 year old  Joe Stirling of Norwich.  His story of arriving in England from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport features in my debut biography Escaping Hitler, available from January 2016.    May the memory of those brave young people and their parents who sacrificed so much live forever.

Kindertransport Association Gathers One Last Time

Between November 1938 and the start of World War II, the Kindertransport rescue movement saved the lives of nearly 10,000 children, transporting them out of Nazi Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia to safety in Great Britain. After the war, HIAS helped many of the Kinder resettle in the U.S.

In 1989 in London, England, the Kindertransport Association (KTA), held a reunion for Kindertransport survivors. Since then, there have been meetings throughout the United States. This October KTA’s 13th national conference was held outside Detroit, Michigan. The event was bittersweet as it was also the last KTA conference, as fewer and fewer Kindertransport alumni are still alive or able to travel to such gatherings. HIAS president Mark Hetfield gave the keynote speech at the conference’s final dinner.

“I was honored to talk to this group. They know better than most the importance of the work that HIAS does now, having been refugees themselves,” Hetfield said. “They are our inspiration to make sure that refugees are protected, and that refugee families are protected.”

Today, HIAS works to help children and families of all religions escape from persecution. This mission has been enthusiastically championed by Manny Lindenbaum, one of the Kindertransport survivors, who attended this year’s conference. In 2014, at the age of 83, Manny decided to retrace his refugee journey backwards, from Poland to Germany, on a bicycle. He made the journey, along with his grandchildren, to raise money for HIAS programs in Chad in honor of World Refugee Day.

“The lessons of the Holocaust are not forgotten. They are very much alive in the way that we treat refugees today. In that sense, it was natural for HIAS to be present at the last Kindertransport conference,” Hetfield said.

Großbritannien: Kinder polnischer Juden aus dem Gebiet zwischen Deutschland und Polen bei Ihrer Ankunft mit der


Even with a further ten weeks or so to publication, the word is out there and people want to hear the story of Joe Stirling’s remarkable life and how my debut biography Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future (with foreword by Shirley Williams) came about.   I now have nine speaking engagements in the diary including Cringleford Historical Society, Old Catton, Brooke and Norwich Lunchtime Women’s Institutes, Wymondham Heritage Society, the Out and About Club in Norwich, Mid Norfolk Family History Society, East Anglia Women Networking Group and, of course, Nickenich in the Rhineland on 13th May.  I will be brushing up my public speaking skills in readiness, I certainly am not short of enthusiasm!

Good advice!


It’s official – we have confirmed THURSDAY 4TH FEBRUARY 2016 from 6pm as the launch event and signing of my debut biography Escaping Hitler at Jarrolds Book Department, Norwich.

Publicity and information about buying your ticket (includes free glass of wine!) will begin locally during December.  Look out for it.  Once it is posted on the Jarrold’s Events Calendar I will add a link to this blog.  Very excited to be inviting many of the people who feature in Joe Stirling’s story and who will remember the anecdotal references to this Fine City’s heritage. If you have not already done so, please go to my Facebook page for Escaping Hitler and ‘Like’ the page.  This way you will be amongst the first to have an opportunity to buy a signed copy, both with mine and Joe’s signatures. Thanks to all who are already ‘fans’.Front cover of Escaping Hitler


I could not have been more excited!  On Tuesday this week I turned up at Jarrold’s Book Department, as agreed, to meet with Chris Rusby the department manager and Marketing Manager Carole Slaughter.  We sat at the very table in their cafe as shown in the photo below (I sat where the lady in the striped top is sitting) and Chris bought me a frothy coffee.  I was concerned that I might sport a white moustache throughout the discussion, but I think I kept it under control!  We were there for nearly an hour talking about the book, Joe, when the signing should be, how it might be organised, further communication with Pen and Sword Books, my plans for a follow up book etc etc.  All the while two couples were sitting nearby enjoying a coffee listening in with fascination!  Chris and Carole could not have been more friendly, yet professional.  We have pencilled in an evening in early February (I won’t confirm it here yet until we finalise arrangements) and asked me to produce a decent head and shoulders shot for their publicity posters!  It was as if the whole thing was happening to someone else!  They then went back to work, leaving me to explain to the two couples why I could not remove the grin from my face!  So, just to give you a taste, here are some photos of Jarrold, the oldest independent store in the City, the wonderful books on the shelves and the cafe table where the deal was struck!  Cloud Nine isn’t in it……

Jarrold Store, NorwichJarrold's Book DepartmentCafe in Jarrold's Book Department

Work of the Holocaust Education Trust applauded in the I Newspaper

Today in the I newspaper, journalist Sarah Cassidy writes about teaching of the Holocaust in our UK schools.   Joe Stirling visits Norfolk schools, talking about his escape from Nazi Germany and how his parents perished in Sobibor.  In this thought-provoking article Year 9 pupil John Soben, 14, said ‘Of course, we have learnt that 6 million people died, but having someone who’d actually been there telling you what it was like makes it much more real’.  I relate particularly to the words of Anita Parmar, Head of the LFA (Lessons from Auschwitz) project who says, ‘I think it is about dehumanising all the people involved in the events of the Holocaust.  When you read about the Holocaust in text books, it can seem unreal because it seems so horrific and on such a large scale.  We want to look at the individuals.’ And that it what I have tried to encapsulate in Escaping Hitler. I worked hard at keeping the issues to a human scale, citing experiences of four children during Kristallnacht, not dwelling on the unimaginable fate of Günter’s parents, instead focussing on their final night in Koblenz, amongst friends, courageously awaiting their inevitable fate.  If Joe’s story can help children relate to the Holocaust then our job is done.  You can read Sarah Cassidy’s article in full at:


Günters parents who died in Sobibor summer 1942
Günters parents who died in Sobibor summer 1942


Now I know it may a little thing, but the index has taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears so I now feel the need to share that with the world!  This is my final piece of the jigsaw to actually create this my first published book and it was special to email it off this morning to my lovely editor Stephen Chumbley.   The life of Joe Stirling has been so diverse, so complex, that the index ran to 6 pages, with the most bizarre combinations of subjects within one alphabetical section.  Where else would you find Attleborough and Auschwitz, Screaming Lord Sutch and Salvation Army, Norwich Football Club and Nickenich, Travel Trade Gazette and the Three C’s Youth Club nestling  together in one index?  To give you a flavour of the amount of content in Escaping Hitler, I now reveal page 1 of the index!!!  Please ‘like’ my Escaping Hitler facebook page to be kept up to date on publication dates, signing events and how to order your signed copy in the New Year. https://www.facebook.com/Escaping-Hitler-A-Jewish-Boys-Quest-for-Freedom-and-his-Future-1456106047996737/timeline/

Example of Index in Escaping Hitler
Example of Index in Escaping Hitler


I’m back after two weeks well earned break on the south coast of England.  A highlight was attending the Liberal Democrat Conference and who did I seek out especially to say hello?  Shirley Williams of course, whose foreword now graces the early pages of Escaping Hitler.

It was wonderful to see her again and thrilling that she remembered me and the book – she is very much looking forward to reading it.  She sent her best wishes to Joe Stirling in Norwich, her past agent during her very first by-election in Harwich in the 1950s.  She kindly posed for some photographs with me.

An update for those who are interested – marketing form completed and returned to Pen and Sword Books, index is a work in progress on my computer, appointment with Jarrold Book Department in diary to discuss February launch, Pen and Sword are taking the book proposal to German publishers at the Frankfurt Book Festival in a couple of weeks and I am about to contact my Koblenz colleagues to discuss signing in Germany during May next year.  Very excited…..

Photo taken at Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth September 2015
Photo taken at Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth September 2015


Such exciting news – my publisher Pen and Sword will be taking the details of my biography of Joe Stirling to the most famous trade book fair in the world – Frankfurt in mid-October.  The sales team will pitch the book to German publishers hoping to find one prepared to buy the translation rights.  To have Joe’s story translated into his home tongue would be more than a dream come true!  No guarantees of course, but many thanks  Pen and Sword Books!

Frankfurt, Germany
Frankfurt, Germany


On Wednesday 22nd July 2015, Joe Stirling, the subject of Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future, attended the Graduation Ceremony Literature and Creative Writing students at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.  He was my honoured guest, along with my husband Victor Scrivens.  Joe had been an instrumental part in me taking the Master of Arts Degree in Biography and Creative Non-Fiction, so it was fitting that he should witness the grand finale of my efforts.  As Joe’s biographer I was proud to show him off to my friends and colleagues.  He and Victor sat in the front row, meaning I was able to see them as I nervously crossed the stage towards the Vice-Chancellor to shake his hand and receive my treasured certificate.  A very happy day.

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