The brave plight of a young German Jewish refugee to England and his fruitful contribution to postwar British life.
Having met “Joe Stirling” as part of a “Human Book” library project at the University of East Anglia, Scrivens became intrigued by the story of this native of the Rhineland whose parents died in the Holocaust. Born Günter Stern in 1924, the boy had a fairly happy youth growing up until 1933, when he became aware that a crisis was looming with the advent of a new chancellor, Adolf Hitler. The family’s decision to leave Germany after Kristallnacht in November 1938, when his father was arrested for the sole reason of being a Jew and incarcerated at Dachau for weeks, came too late, but they were determined to get their son onboard the Kindertransport out of Cologne in July 1939, just before the outbreak of war. After arriving in England, Stern lived with a guardian family in Wales, and then in Yardley and in Lydney, with the Allsopp family, committed members of the local Labour Party. While Stern was attending school during wartime within this welcoming community, his parents sent a final word in early 1942 that they were going to be “resettled” in Poland; this was the last missive from them. Enlisting in the British army in May 1944, the young man was urged to change his name to something less German-sounding: hence, Joe Stirling. He was not posted to Germany but became an effective officer in the Army Education Corps. Now married with children, Stirling was mentored within the Labour Party and became a spirited activist. On a group trip to visit Germany in 1954, Stirling struck on the enterprising idea of starting a travel tour business. The second part of this workmanlike book, less interesting than the first, follows Stirling’s long, successful career and leadership of the Lions Club International.
Stirling's story is an inspiring example of a valiant professional life fashioned out of loss and tragedy, but the book is, overall, unexceptional.