The award-winning author Phyllida Scrivens told the true story of a Jewish boy who escaped from Nazi Germany and went on to become the Sheriff of Norwich. His name was Joe Stirling, who sadly passed away in February. Phyllida has written a book about Joe called ‘Escaping Hitler’ (Pen and Sword Books, 2016).
Joe started life in 1924 as Gunter Stern, born in a rural village near Koblenz. Having witnessed his father’s arrest during Kristallnacht in November 1938, Gunter realised that the Nazi regime represented a threat to his future. After an abortive escape attempt, which involved walking for seven days across Northern Europe, he subsequently arrived in England via the Kindertransport programme. Tragically, he never saw his parents again. Alfred and Ida Stern did not survive the war; they perished in the Sobibor death camp in Poland.
Gunter was such a good student that he was offered a place at Birmingham University to read Chemistry. He rejected the offer and instead volunteered to join the British Army. An injury led to Joe Stirling, as he was now called, spending the war in Basingstoke, where he met Jean Skitmore, his future wife, whose family came from Attleborough. After the war, they moved to Norfolk, where he got a job as Agent for the Labour Party in Norwich.
Joe became a family man and a successful businessman, running a travel company called Stirling Holidays. He also joined Lions International and raised lots of money for charities. Owing to his charity work, he became Sheriff of Norwich in 1975.
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