Theo Stern – born in Oberstein am Nahe, Germany, 18th August 1905
Profession in country of origin: dealer in precious stones
Arrived in Britain as a refugee from Germany in 1939
My father, Theo Stern, did not talk much about this.
All I know is that he was evacuated from St Malo after demolishing the harbour fortifications in 1940, and was involved in interrogating German POWs after the war, in Schleswig-Holstein.
My father also mentioned that he made several business trips to England before the war: the family were in the gemstone-cutting business in Oberstein. His brother, Willy Stern, was their agent in the UK, living in Birmingham. He was searched by the German border guards whom he thought suspected him of trying to smuggle jewellery out of the country.
Just one other story my father told – about when the Pioneer Corps were getting ready to go to France (I don’t know when this happened).
The men were told they could change their names so as not to have too obviously Jewish or German ones in case they were captured. My father kept his (Stern) since it was not too un-English, but many did take advantage of the offer.
He always spoke of one man from Czechoslovakia who thought that the whole thing was a big joke, so he decided to take on the name of his cigarettes, Du Maurier. A few weeks later the sergeant called out “Dumorier fall out,” but nobody moved until this man realised it was his new name, just mispronounced. He quickly made a further change – to Maxwell (Robert)!
It’s bit like the story of assimilated Hungarian Jews, who first converted to Protestantism and later to the predominant Roman Catholic Church. Their reason was that when asked their religion they could say “Roman Catholic,” and be ready to answer the inevitable follow up questions:
“Were you born RC?”
“What was your previous religion?”
Submitted by Martin Stern for his father, Theo Stern