If Joe Stirling had not passed away in 2020, he would have been celebrating his 98th birthday today. I remember so many birthdays – visiting his home in Norwich to find stacks of brightly coloured greetings cards from friends around the world, and wrapped parcels from his many loving family members. He was known to be a chocoholic so there were always boxes of these sitting on the coffee table. I miss him every day and always enjoy giving “his talk” to groups around Norfolk, sharing tales of his childhood in Nazi Germany, his freedom walk through Europe and his achievements in later life, so many recorded in my biography Escaping Hitler (Pen and Sword Books 2016). Joe was a very special man and I was fortunate to find him when I did. I owe my ongoing writing and public speaking careers to his generosity, amazing memory and zest for life. Thank you Joe and Happy Birthday….
Tag: Skyhorse Publishing
Today Joe Stirling would have been 97 years old
Today, 18th October 2021, I visited the headstone of Joe and his wife Jean, set in the peaceful beauty of Earlham Cemetery in Norwich. It was my first visit and I had no idea how idyllic it would look with ancient trees, flowers, momuments and the odd squirrel. Joe died in February 2020, just before the pandemic lock-down, and his funeral was packed with family and friends, each wishing to pay their respects and celebrate the long and fruitful life of this wonderful man.
I was fascinated to see that Joe is next to Howard Cartwright, born in the same year as Joe and a serving soldier in WW2 with the Argyll and Southern Highlanders. I would like to think that maybe Joe and Howard trained together in Glasgow, perhaps Howard being part of the group of young soldiers in the barracks who ‘dubbed’ Günter as Joe, the name that stuck for the rest of his life. Two old friends brought together in death. Or is that too fanciful?
I wished Joe a happy birthday and left a spray of flowers. It has been a special day.
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.
No. 10 Hintergasse, Nickenich (taken in 2013) The Stern family lived in the upper flat of this house
Ida and Alfred Stern taken in about 1936
The Hintergasse Nickenich in early 1930s
Ida and Alfred Stern on their wedding day in 1923
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!
Reminder of the Come Yew In performance in Norwich Summer 2016
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.
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.
REVIEW OF ESCAPING HITLER ON MOMZINGA.COM
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.
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!
Incredible list of speaking engagements for Escaping Hitler 2016 & 2017
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
Our first talk at Brooklands Care Home, Drayton
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.