Émigré, U.S. Army Intelligence Operative (Ritchie Boys)
Dr. Guy Stern’s name while in Germany was Günther Stern. He was born in 1922, in Hildesheim, a medium-sized town in Northern Germany with a pre-war population of about 65,000. Less than 1% were Jewish citizens. It had one Synagogue in a Moorish style, which like almost all synagogues in Germany were burned by the Nazis in November 1938. His mother came from a solid middle-class family in Vlotho in Westphalia. One of her brothers, Felix, was killed during World War I; her brother, Willy, was severely wounded during the gas warfare at the end of the war. His paternal grandparents lived in a village, Ulrichstein, in Hesse.
Dr. Stern’s father had a small clothing store and his mother did all the billing and typing. The family spoke German and their friends were mostly Jewish. The town was predominantly Protestant with a sizable Catholic minority, but one of the first Rabbinical Seminars was in his hometown. The family attended services for the high holidays as well as frequent Shabbat services.
While his Bar Mitzvah in 1935 was still a greatly festive occasion, the restrictions and persecutions that had set in in 1933 became ever more stringent and at his high school, there were physical attacks by fellow students. Also, his father lost many of his customers because of the Nazi boycott of Jewish stores.
At that time, his parents intensified their correspondence with yet another brother of his mother, Benno, who had been “banished” as an unruly youngster to the United States, St. Louis to be specific, and had become a baker and pastry maker. However, he lost his job at the tail end of the Great Depression and was then able to manage because of substitute jobs provided by the union.
Dr. Stern succeeded in getting out of Germany because his uncle had furnished an affidavit (a guarantee) not to allow the immigrant boy to become a federal charge, and the Consul in Hamburg was far more sympathetic to the Jews than most of the Consul officials, encouraged to deny admission to the United States by orders of the largely anti-Semitic State Department.
Dr. Stern felt very lucky that he could stay with his Aunt and Uncle, and was enrolled in a very good high school about a three-mile walk from his home. He tried to get his parents and his two siblings to the United States, but when he found a willing sponsor the whole effort was wrecked by an insensitive lawyer.
After finishing high school, and attending the lower division program at St. Louis University, supporting himself by becoming a busboy after classes, he was drafted into the Army early in 1943. He served as an intelligence non-com of the U.S. Intelligence Service. He rose to the rank of Master Sergeant and was decorated with a bronze star for his innovative methods of extracting information from German POWs.
On a visit to his hometown, Dr. Stern learned of the fate of his family. All of them were victims of the Holocaust.
Upon his return to civilian life, he finished college, majoring in Romance Languages, and then on to Columbia University where he received his Masters and Ph.D. in German Literature in 1954. Dr. Stern then taught at Denison University in Ohio, then the University of Cincinnati, where he also served as Graduate Dean. Then at the University of Maryland and finally at Wayne State University where he served for three years as Senior Vice President and Provost. During his career, he also accepted five guest professorships in Germany.
After he retired from academic positions, Dr. Stern accepted various positions at The Zekelman Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills including the Interim Directorship of the Museum after the death of the founding Director, Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig.
Date: November 16, 2011
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Format: Video Recording