Stark, Walter M.
Stark was born in 1919, the oldest son of an upper-middle income Jewish fabricator and merchant. He traces his ancestry back about 300 years in Germany and states that his family was quite assimilated into German culture and society, except for their Jewish beliefs and practices. Conversion to a Christian faith, a path followed by many upper-level integrated German Jews, was never a consideration in their household. Stark’s father was a World War I veteran, a respected member of the community, member of the Chamber of Commerce, and board member of their synagogue. A number of photographs of the family and of their life before 1933 are displayed during the interview.
Stark was attending a humanistic “gymnasium”, a combination of junior and senior high school, with entrance and tuition requirements in preparation for a medical career, when, in 1933, the Nazi party took over the German government. Prior to 1933, Stark does not recall any overt anti-Semitism toward him or his family. However, following 1933 and the passage of the anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws in 1935, it became quite evident that Stark would not be allowed to take the final exams required for graduation. In order to finish his pre-university education, Stark was sent to school in England. After it became illegal to take any money out of Germany his mother went to England to earn the money required to pay for the tuition. They returned to Munich in 1937 where Stark was able to attend a laboratory attached to the Technical University where he earned a certificate as Chemical Technical Assistant.
Due to the efforts of a former employee of Stark’s father, who the Starks helped emigrate to the United States, the necessary documentation was obtained for Stark and his brother Werner to come to the United States in the fall of 1938. Arriving in Detroit, Stark and his brother were able to find work at the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan. Stark continued his education by taking evening classes at Wayne University, now Wayne State University, and eventually graduated in chemistry with a minor in chemical engineering. Due to his job assignment at Ford, Stark was exempted from military service during World War II.
During the mass riots against Jews in Germany of November 9 and 10, 1938, Stark’s parents and his younger sister Lilo avoided being arrested by fleeing temporarily from Munich. With the assistance of a prominent Detroit businessman who had previously signed the guarantee of support (affidavit) for him and his brother, Stark was able to arrange for his parents and his sister to come to the United States.
Only his immediate family as well as some cousins survived the Holocaust. His grandmother was deported to Theresienstadt. His uncles, aunts, and other cousins perished with the details being unknown in most cases.
Stark attributes the effectiveness of the German genocide against Jews to the brainwashing that German children received in their schooling and the resulting loss of individual personal thinking, combined with aggressive propaganda.
A frequent visitor to Germany since 1952, for both personal and business reasons, Stark believes that the Germans today tend not to feel responsible for the Holocaust and that some anti-Semitism still exists, but that concentrated efforts are being made to address both. He blames economic insufficiencies as the cause of the recent unrest against foreigners, together with Germany’s cultural aversion to foreigners.
Stark, a founder and former president of Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, Michigan, is very active in professional, religious and civic activities.
Date: March 24, 1993
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 1 hour 24 minutes
Format: Video recording