Today, (Hebrew date 21st Sivan) is the sixth Jahrzeit (aniversary of the death) of my late father Günther Stern, so I wanted to dedicate a post today to his memory.
My father’s life was not easy. He was born to a well-to-do and respected family in Frankfurt Am Main in 1916. His father was a businessman from a long line in the family business but when the 1920s came his health failed along with his business and my father was left orphaned from father at the young age of five. His mother remarried and they moved to Köln but troubles were just starting.
When Hitler rose to power in the 1930s he was already a young man. Although his family had the foresight and managed to escape to England, he was unable to get a visa and fled to Belgium, luckily getting his British visa there and escaping just in time before the doors finally closed.
In England he was interned as an enemy alien. After a while in a British prison camp he was released due to ill health and got work on the factory floor of an electrical equipment manufacturer. He worked there for close on fifty years, moving up to senior engineering positions in development, pre-sales and customer support.
During the blitz he served as a fire watchman although in typical style he never collected the medal at the end of the war.
Many years passed and only in 1964 at the age of 48 did he marry and start a family. My parents moved from the Jewish end of town to the very un-Jewish suburb of Sutton in South London. Jewish life was hard in this environment but we were brought up in one of the few observant Jewish homes for miles around.
When in 1990 I was planning my move to Israel he was very worried that I was moving to a “war zone” as he put it, but five years later, still deeply uncertain of the wisdom of the move he came together with my mother to join me and to be beside his grandchildren.
The last twenty years of my father’s life were dogged by ill health – first heart problems and then ever-advancing Parkinson’s disease. In 2001 his health took a turn for the worse and he spent the next half year in and out of the Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem until he passed away in June 2002.
Here came the final irony that it was the philanthropy of his great-grandfather that had helped set up this very hospital back in 1873.
He lived a long life full of surprise turns that could never have been predicted.
If I were to pick a trait of my father to highlight it would be his unassuming self-deprecation. He despised ostentatiousness, expected little for himself and quietly got on with his life in intense privacy. On the other hand he was generous and went over and above in his efforts to be scrupulously transparent and honest in his dealings with others.
May his memory be blessed.
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