From My Bookshelf: Biography of the Heroic Herman Stern

ShoptaughAs mentioned on my other blog (Practicing Writing), I recently had the opportunity to speak about Quiet Americans with a group of readers at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. Following our meeting, we toured the museum’s new exhibit, “Against the Odds: American Jews and the Rescue of Europe’s Refugees, 1933-1941.”

I found the exhibit fascinating and returned another day to explore it more carefully. I also took notes. I was particularly captivated by the exhibit’s introduction to Herman Stern, a German-born Jew who immigrated to the U.S. in 1903. He was 16 at the time. Subsequently, Stern became a successful businessman in North Dakota. And from North Dakota, he managed to help more than 100 Jews escape from Nazi Europe.

I wanted to know more details than the exhibit provided, so I put my research skills to work. Soon enough, I located a biography of Stern in a local college library: Terry Shoptaugh’s “You Have Been Kind Enough to Assist Me”: Herman Stern and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, published in 2008 by the Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University.

In some ways, the book is unpolished–it might have benefited from another round of proofreading, for example. But it also provides useful basic historical background to help readers better understand Stern’s life and times and the significance of his choices. Most important, it details Stern’s ceaseless efforts on behalf of his family members (and others). It reminds us yet again how many individual and family lives were upended in the 1930s and 1940s. It shows us how many obstacles refugees had to overcome to be able to leave their homelands. It makes us marvel at their resilience and ability to rebuild their lives in a strange country. And it proves yet again that one person really can make a difference.

I’m not sure that the book is meant to be online, but I’ve also located an e-version that is currently available. I hope that some of you will be inspired to take a look. Herman Stern was apparently a modest man, but his memory deserves to be honored, and his story should be better known.