Tag: Sobibor

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!

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:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/auschwitz-school-trips-are-helping-children-fight-discrimination-at-home-a6674351.html

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

JOE LIGHTS THE HOLOCAUST CANDLE AT THE FORUM

As previously mentioned, Joe Stirling lit the special Holocaust candle outside the Forum in Norwich at 4.30 pm this afternoon.  Having done so, he gave a short address on how his parents, Ida and Alfred were deported from Koblenz to Sobibor in 1942, where they were murdered by the Nazis.  During the morning, we had all attended the Holocaust Memorial Service and I held this photo of Joe’s parents throughout, giving it to the Rabbi for his blessing later.  A sad but good day.Ida and Alfred Stern IMG_4173