Select Stern Miscellany

Here are some Stern stories and accounts over the years:

Sterns in Frankfurt

The Judengasse in Frankfurt represented the largest Jewish community in Germany during the 17th century.  It was a closed compound, shut off from the rest of the city by high walls and three heavy gates.  These gates were locked at night and on Christian holidays.  The Jews were therefore almost completely isolated from everyone else in Frankfurt.

There were two important Stern families in the Judengasse, both named after their family home the Stern.

One of these families was a branch of a Worms family and had their main home in the Storch next door to the Stern.  Their descendants included wealthy brokers and famous rabbis.

The other Stern family began with Susskind Stern who had come originally from the Haas family (after Samuel Beer Haas’s descendants had named themselves after their homes – Beer, Kann, and Stern).  When the ban on Jewish wine merchants could no longer be upheld at the end of the 18th century, Jacob Samuel Heyum Stern became the first of the Jewish wine merchants in Frankfurt.  In 1805 he converted the family business into a bank named Jacob S.H. Stern.  This bamk soon became one of the most prominent in Germany and spread internationally.

August Heinrich Stern, born in 1838, was related to this family.  His daughter Alice married Michael Frank in 1885 and a descendant was Anne Frank of Anne Frank’s Diary

In the 20th century there were still many Sterns living in and around the Frankfurt area.  However, the Nazis decimated the Jewish population, forcing them either into concentration camps or to flee

The Turbulent times of Archbishop Sterne

At Cambridge University in 1633 Richard Sterne had the double honor of becoming master of Jesus College and being the chaplain to Archbishop Laud of Canterbury.  It appears to have been mainly through his instrumentality that many of the Cambridge colleges sent their plate to the King at York, to be converted into money for the Royal use. 

This roused the ire of the Parliamentarians.  Sterne, together with the masters of St. John's and Queen's, was sent to the Tower.  He was permitted, however, to minister to Laud on the scaffold at the time of William Laud’s execution in 1645. 

Rigorous imprisonment over a period of seven months followed.   He was then
placed on board a coal-ship moored in the Thames and shut down beneath the hatches.  He suffered great privation and his enemies were credited with the intention of selling him into slavery.  However, he was released after ten days in this abject state.

He survived.  At the time of the Restoration he was reinstated as head of Jesus College and shortly afterwards was consecrated as the Bishop of Carlisle.  He found his cathedral and residence in ruins, no dean or chapter, and many of the poorer clergy had never been ordained.  In four years, however, he evolved order out of chaos.  However, he rebuilt Rose Castle so badly that on his appointment as Archbishop of York in 1664 an action for dilapidation was brought against him by his successor and he was fined £400.

He died in 1683, aged 87, and was buried in his cathedral at York Minster

R.H. Stearns & Company in Boston

In 1846 Richard Stearns moved to Boston and opened up his own business in a small shop which later grew into a large store and company, R. H. Stearns & Company.

R. H. Stearns & Company became a fixture in the downtown Boston shopping scene for over a century.  The store catered to the “carriage trade” (well-off customers) and was particularly noted for its woman's clothing.  The stereotypical Stearns customer was a white-gloved older woman of subdued upper-crust demeanor.  Well-crafted children's items were also sold, as well as men's clothing, silver and crystal – but not appliances.

The R. H. Stearns Building, an 11 story structure, was built at Tremont Street in Boston in 1909.  The building with high, intricately designed ceilings, and sturdy Roman-style columns was developed in the beaux art style of architecture which was very common at that time.  It still stands.

The store remained in family hands until the early 1920’s.  When the store finally folded in 1978, Boston lost its “grand” store, the last really old-style Boston store left.

Stern Brothers in New York

In 1868 the three Stern brothers - Isaac, Louis and Benjamin Stern - moved to New York and opened a small one-room store on Sixth Avenue.  Ten years later their business had greatly expanded and they relocated to much larger premises at what became their flagship store on West 23rd Street.  It still stands today with the company's monogram located above the central arch, although the occupants are different.

It was an elegant store noted for its fashionable clothes. Ladies from all over the city came to Stern Brothers for their Paris fashions. The enterprise was distinguished by its elegant door men in top hats and the generous and friendly service of the Sterns.  It was not uncommon for customers to be greeted by the brothers themselves.

During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s sales began to decline as most white New Yorkers moved to the suburbs. Stern's in fact closed its flagship store in New York in 1969.

Harold Stern's World War Two Experiences

Harold Stern was a member of a large Jewish liberal congregation in Frankfurt, the West End synagogue.  By the late 1930’s the Nazi anti-semitism was increasingly evident and he attempted to emigrate.  Despite having an early quota number, his attempts to emigrate to America were thwarted because their affidavits were not accepted by the American Consulate in Stuttgart.  Instead, in early 1939, Harold left for England through the aid of family friends there.

In London he worked as a factory trainee until June 1940 when he was picked up and interned in Huyten, a camp near Liverpool, with other German Jewish refugees. 

A month later he volunteered for transport on the Dunera, a ship supposedly bound for Canada but re-routed to Australia.  In his journals he described in detail the desperate conditions at sea, harsh treatment by British soldiers, and the refugee behavior during the ten week voyage. From Sidney he was transferred to a barbed-wire enclosed compound in the Australian outback.  After twenty months of internment he joined the Australian army where he served until 1946.

Harold kept contact with his mother and knew that she had reached America in late 1941.  Through the help of a non-Jewish woman, she had obtained a visa in September 1941, left Germany on a sealed train to Berlin, journeyed through occupied and Vichy France and Spain to Lisbon, boarding one of the last steamers from Portugal to America.  Her brother, however, was arrested by the Gestapo and never seen again.

Harold himself immigrated to the USA in 1947 under the German quota.

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