This book tell the story of Gunter Stern, born into a Jewish family in the rural Rhineland in 1924, the son of a First World War war veteran. After a happy early childhood his life was increasingly blighted by the rise of anti-Semitism under the Nazis, until his family eventually decided to try and get him to Britain. He safely escaped on one of the ‘kindertransports’, which saw nearly 10,000 Jewish children come to Britain in the last few months of peace. Stern was old enough to enlist in the army later in the war, where it was suggested that he should change his name to something more British (at the time it was expected that he would be into combat, and a German sounding name might have left him vulnerable to ill-treatment if captured). This is where he became known as Joe Stirling, the name he has kept ever since.
The first part of the story is of most interest from a military history perspective, tracing the way in which anti-Semitism slowly creapt across most of German society. Gunter grew up in a rural area, where the scourge arrived late and slowly, but his family was caught up in the abuses of Kristallnacht of 1938, and more and more of his relatives made the decision to escape from Germany. Gunter’s parents were able to get him onto on the ‘kindertransports’, but tragically were unable to escape themselves. We then trace his live in wartime Britain, first as an refugee and school child, and later in the British army.
Although the post-war story is less relevant to our theme, it is still a fascinating story. Stirling soon went into business, running a travel agency (ironically starting with guided trips to Germany, taking advantage of his local knowledge). He rose to a position of great prominence in his new home of Norwich, serving as a Labour politian, and spending a year as Sheriff of Norwich. He also became a member of the Lion Clubs International, an impressive international charitable organistion I must admit I’d never heard of. You’ll struggle to find a better argument in favour of immigration than Stirling’s story!
1 - Child, 1924-1939
2 - Schoolboy and Soldier, 1939-1945
3 - Parent and Politician, 1945-1955
4 - Business and Lion, 1955-1970
5 - Tour Guide and Sheriff, 1970-1980
6 - Employer and Grandfather, 1980-2000
7 - Retirement
Author: Phyllida Scrivens
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military