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You Have Been Kind Enough to Assist Me. Herman Stern’s Crusade to save German Jews, 1932 -1941
Stern’s German Childhood Born in 1887, Hermann Stern was the youngest of eight children (six sons, two daughters) born to Samuel and Minna Stern, in Oberbrechen, Germany. Because the family was very poor, Hermann was forced to leave school and at age 15 apprentice himself to a tailor in Mainz. He feared that he would live his life in poverty.
Straus Clothing In 1903, M. G. Straus, a cousin of Minna Stern and the owner of a clothing store in Casselton, North Dakota, invited Stern to come to America and work for him.
Valley City Stern immigrated in 1903 and after learning the details of running a clothing store, moved to Valley City, where M. G. Straus had bought out a store owned by Adolf Sternberg. Valley City in 1910, the year that Stern took over the store, was a growing railroad town, the seat of Barnes County, and an excellent location for a shop specializing in all forms of men’s clothing.
Jewish Life in North Dakota Jewish farming communities in the northern part of Dakota territory had been established in the 1880 s near Devil’s Lake and north of Bismarck with the assistance of the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society. The members of these communities – mostly Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe, were a close-knit group, as described by Rachel Calof (left) in her memoir. Other Jews, of German origin, established businesses and small communities in the larger towns. In contrast to the Orthodox groups, these men and women generally followed Reform practices.
Marriage and Family Herman Stern married Adeline Roth in 1912. The sister-inlaw of M. G. Straus, Adeline bore two children, Richard and Edward, and would play an important part in Stern’s efforts to rescue members of his family from Germany in the 1930 s. After M. G. Straus retired, Stern managed the growing Straus clothing chain. Adeline Roth Stern’s wedding photograph.
Family in Germany Stern family during a visit Herman made about 1910 – brothers Adolf, Moses, Julius and Gustav in last row. Sisters Dora and Jettchen with Minna and Samuel Stern in middle row. Herman with brother Salli in front. Salli died in the postwar flu epidemic, while Dora died of natural causes in 1934. After World War I, Stern made several trips to visit his family in Germany. His brothers (Moses, Julius, Adolf, Gustav) and sisters (Dora and Jettchen) lived comfortably in small towns along the Rhine, but were worried about rising anti. Semitism in Germany.
National Socialism and Germany’s Jews Nazi Party parade in late 1920 s. The most virulent anti. Semites in Germany were the members of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, whose leader, Adolf Hitler, had written in his autobiography that Germany could have won the World War by killing thousands of “Jewish traitors” in Germany with poison gas.
“Jews Not Wanted” Once the Nazis gained power in Germany in 1933, they began to persecute the Jewish population, closing Jewishowned businesses by intimidation, beating Jews in the streets, and sending prominent Jewish thinkers and educators to concentration camps. Any Jew who wished to flee Germany had to surrender most of their property and accept a passport marked with a “J. ” Only a few countries in the world were willing to accept Jewish immigrants.
U. S. Restrictions Since 1924, the U. S. had carefully restricted immigration through a quota system. Even if a person could find a place on the quota list he or she could be rejected if the American consul feared he/she would be a “public charge” – someone who would not earn enough and become a welfare recipient. Americans who would file an affidavit promising to support an immigrant could help a person overcome this “public charge” obstacle.
First Sponsorship Herman Stern sponsored his first relative in 1933, his niece Klara, the daughter of his brother Gustav. With the help of North Dakota Senator Gerald Nye, Stern was able to clear the way for her to come to the United States, live in Valley City and attend Valley City State College. Klara was the first of over one hundred people helped by Stern
Gerald Nye Long reviled as an isolationist, a possible anti-Semite, and as the man who was giving a speech urging America to stay out of the war at the very moment Pearl Harbor was attacked, Nye was crucial to Stern’s success in saving his German relatives.
Emigration Increases As Nazi persecutions increased, more Jews emigrated from Germany – owners who lost businesses, professionals like doctors who could no longer practice, and intellectuals were among the earliest to leave. By 1935, thousands had left, but only a few countries accepted Jewish refugees.
What was Needed Permission to enter the United States rested on one’s ability to prove he or she had enough property to live without assistance, or a guaranteed job, or a sponsor – even then one had to wait for place on the quota list (only so many could enter each month). American Jewish agencies provided help to some people and were always seeking sponsors. Stern corresponded with many.
Long Lines at Consulates As war approached, Jewish refugees flooded American and British consulates with immigration requests. Long lines (as in Marseilles, above, in 1940) were a regular occurrence at the consulates, as immigrants grew desperate. Clerks at some consulates accepted bribes and sold false exit visas.
Children First? Although Jewish groups in America tried to have the immigration laws altered to permit more Jewish children to enter the country, Congress refused to consider the idea. Lore Moser (seen here with her mother Bette) was among the children who were able to emigrate to the U. S. under Stern’s sponsorship.
Confusion in Names Some of the relatives Stern sponsored had their paperwork delayed because it became confusing as to who was who – Gustav Stern (left), the son of Herman’s brother Julius, was mixed up with Gustave Stern, the son of Herman’s brother Adolf. Then there was Herman’s brother Gustav, who’s medical history revealed a heart murmur. The State Department consulate refused his visa request because of this, until Herman used Nye’s influence to clear the way.
Finding Work in America Herman Stern did more than help people get to America. When Hilda and Solly Levy (standing in rear) came to America in 1936, he helped them find jobs and a place to live in Fargo.
Subterfuge Tea Eichengruen (standing, left) was 17 when she immigrated to America with Stern’s help. Because she was not a relative, Stern sponsored her as the “fiancé” of his son Edward. Neither Ed nor Tea knew that Herman had made this story up.
In Valley City Stern may have housed some of the refugees he sponsored by finding them a small apartment in this converted home on Valley City’s 3 rd Avenue.
Congressional isolationism The very strong movement for maintaining neutrality during the tensions in Europe had an impact on immigration issues. Federal immigration authorities worried about the possibility of immigrants acting as agents for Germany (or Russia) and many consular officials used this reason for denying visas. Some elected officials were involved in distributing strong neutrality publications (and in the case of Minnesota Senator Ernest Lundeen, pro-German propaganda).
Isolation and Anti-Semitism Isolation became a factor in the 1938 and 1940 elections with the creation of the America First movement. A great many political figures, including Nye, Lundeen, Senators Borah (Idaho) and Wheeler (Montana), Congressmen Fish (NY), and Shipstead (MN), and many others. Critics charged that a strong streak of anti-Semitism was present in America First.
Countermeasures Groups like the Minneapolis Unit of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies organized to promote cash-and-carry sales of weapons to Britain and China, and later lobbied for the Lend-lease bill. Nye and others charged that “Jewish influence” was behind many of these actions. When Charles Lindbergh stated in a speech that “Jewish groups in this country should be opposing [war] in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences” his words were taken as a threat.
A Bold Proposal Following the ravages of Kristallnacht, n 1938, Stern began raising money to buy abandoned farms in North Dakota. He appealed to Stephen Wise and other Jewish leaders to help him brings hundreds of Jewish refugees to the US, there to take up farming. The onset of war in September 1939 put an end to the project.
War Shuts the Door With affidavits, Stern sponsored or co-sponsored (with relatives and members of the North Dakota Jewish community) about 140 men, women and children. Most were able to reach America before the beginning of World War II shut the door. Germany began exterminating European almost as soon as the war began.
Holocaust Between 1939 and 1945, some six million European Jews were murdered by the Nazis, most in special extermination camps. Two of Stern’s brothers, Moses and Julius, died in this way, as did several other relatives.
War Refugee Board The plight of Jews in Europe was hotly debated during World War II. In 1944, yielding to pressure from several groups, FDR created the War Refugee Board (with Cordell Hull, Henry Morgenthau, and Henry Stimson as directors of efforts to bring war refugees to the US
Co-sponsors Herman Stern had many co-sponsors for bringing refugees to the US. -- Co-sponsored by Robert Herbst: Wertheim family Dr. Maurbacher (one of physicians that Stern wanted to bring to North Dakota) Kopfstein family (all friends of Stern before he immigrated to U. S. ) Marcus family Albert and Friedrich Kann and families (friends of Stern before he immigrated to U. S) Seigfried Stern family (friends of Stern before he immigrated to U. S. ) Sol Falkenstein family -- Co-sponsored by Max Goldberg: Ludwig Falkenstein Alfons Levy (related to Hilda Levy Jonas -- Co-sponsored by Rabbi Papermaster: Kurt and Werner Benjamin (brothers of Hans Benjamin, Kurt died in Auschwitz, Werner emigrated and lived in his later years in California. A sister also emigrated but may have had a different sponsor. ) -- Co-sponsored by Jake Stern: Frankels family Albert Winter -- Co-sponsored by William Stern: Hilda Falks family -- Co-sponsored by “Avid” (Maurice Aved, New York Life insurance agent in Fargo): Friedl Bein (a friend of the Adolf Stern family in Duisberg)
“They Didn’t Owe Me Anything” During the remainder of his life, Herman Stern said little about what he had done in the 1930 s to rescue family and friends from European persecutions. At his death in 1980, he was honored for his contributions in other areas – the Boy Scouts, the creation of the Greater North Dakota Association, the Winter Show in Valley City, but almost nothing was said about his rescue efforts. After his story became better known, he was called North Dakota’s “angel on the prairie. ”