tomas stern

Johanna SternovaBratislava, Slovakia

Tomas Stern
Bratislava
Slovakia

My great-grandfather Adolf Stern was born on 28th February 1871 in Humenne,
the son of Moric Stern [1840-1922] and Helena or Leni Stern, nee Gutman
[1843-?]. He had five sisters and four brothers. Some of them died very
young.

 

Family background

Humenne is a small city in Eastern Slovakia. At the end of the 19th century
the Jews made up almost half of the city population. In 1930 there were
still some 1,800 Jews. The Stern family moved to Humenne at the end of the
18th century [according to Humenne district records in 1778] from Vilnius
[today Lithuania]. His name was Abraham Stern. He was a small merchant and
the grandfather of Moric Stern. About Moric Stern - his Jewish name was
Moses - I only know that he was the roshekol [head] of the local Jewish
community for many years. Later his son Adolf Stern [1871-1934] moved to
Opava. Opava is a city at the Czech-Polish border. They moved there either
because of some work opportunity or because they had some family there.
Then he lived for some time in Budapest and Vienna. In Budapest he studied
at the Academy of Commerce and later he worked as the director of the
Hungarian Trade and Lot Bank in Bratislava.

Moric Stern was the head of the Jewish Community in Humenne. The family
strictly observed Jewish traditions. In spite of this, his son Adolf Stern
studied in Vienna and became a progressive liberal. Along with Count
Richard Coudehove-Kalergi, he participated in the founding of Paneurope and
he was a member of its committee. Paneurope was the predecessor of the
later EU. Its idea is and always has been a united Europe. Adolf was a
member of the town commission for foreigners, a member of the Trade and
Industry Chamber and the member of the Paneurope Committee, about which he
held several lectures in Bratislava and in the country.

Adolf Stern got married in 1902, to Elizabeth Sternova, nee Willheim, who
was born in 1873 and died in 1959 in Great Britain. She left Slovakia after
the war. Her daughter Adriana Brodyova, nee Sternova, had left for Britain
with her husband earlier, in 1939. Her grandmother Antonia Bobretzky von
Arvenau [1781-1862] came from a Jewish-Polish noble family. Antonia's
sister Therese [1798-1886] married into the famous Jewish noble family of
Guttman. She was the grandmother of Elisabeth Guttman [1875-1947], whose
second husband was Prince Francis I of Liechtenstein [1853-1938]. It is
well known that she lived openly as a Jew in Liechtenstein, as the widow of
the late Prince even during World War II! One of her sisters, Rosalia,
married Markis Robert Fitzjames a direct descendent of the English King
Jacob II. Therese was a cousin of Elisabeth Willheim.

My great-grandparent's first-born son bled to death during his
circumcision. Then a daughter, Adriana, whom I mentioned before, was born
and the next son was Helmut Stern, my grandfather, born in 1906. My
grandfather escaped circumcision due to his father's decision and fear. His
father's decision saved his life during the Holocaust. He was captured with
his family in Hlohovec by Slovak guards [1] in order to be deported. As
soon as my grandfather proved that he wasn't circumcised and thus not
Jewish, he was free.

In 1896 Adolf Stern wrote a book entitled Tozsde keletkezese es annak
jelentosege [The creation of the stock market and its significance]. This
was a book about the stock market and apart from that he was the author of
many articles published in Hungarian, Slovak and German journals. He was
interested in sociology, he was a specialist in water transport, and in
1933 he wrote a very interesting book entitled Loesung des
Arbeitslosenproblems [Solution of the unemployment problem], which received
a sympathetic response in the journals of Central Europe. He also had many
lectures about his book broadcast on Bratislava Radio.

I would like to add that he regularly corresponded with several important
personalities of the period, namely with Sigrid Undset [2], Nobel Prize
winner in literature, and Gustav Streseman, Chancellor of the Weimar
Republic. Adolf died in Bratislava on 9th November 1934.

My grandfather, Helmut Stern, was born in Opava, when my great-grandfather
was working there. My grandfather attended the Czechoslovak State Trade
Academy in Bratislava from 1922-23. At least two thirds of the students
were of Jewish origin. The only person still alive from his class is Mr.
Marcel Kucera, who is about 90 now. After the war my grandfather worked as
an accountant. Later, due to his illness, he had to retire. He died in
1995.

He married Johanna Brodyova, born in 1903. She was called Janka in the
family. I have a very nice picture of them taken on a holiday in the Alps.
My grandfather, who was deeply devoted to Janka, cut out a miniature
portrait of her and stuck it to a portrait of my grandmother, just where
her heart is. My grandmother comes from Hlohovec, Western Slovakia, and my
grandfather Helmut Stern was born in Opava, Moravia, but the whole family
lived in Humenne, Eastern Slovakia.

My grandmother's family was one of the oldest families of Hlohovec.
Hlohovec is a small town some 50 kilometers from Bratislava. Its Jewish
community dates back to medieval times. Before the war some 1,000 Jews
lived in Hlohovec. My great-grandmother, Sofia Brodyova, nee Quitt, was
born in 1863 and died in 1923. Her husband was Jakob Brody [1861-1932],
who, as far as I know, owned a pub in Hlohovec. Their children were Jeno,
Katy, Bela, Viliam, Melania, Henrich, Ignac, Marcus and my grandmother
Janka.

An interesting fact was that two Brody siblings, Janka Brodyova and Viliam
Brody married two siblings of the Stern family in a mutual wedding. Viliam
married Adriana and Janka married my grandfather Helmut.

From 1917-1918, Viliam Brody attended Pozsonyi felso kereskedelmi iskola
[Academy of Commerce] in Bratislava. Most of the students were again of
Jewish origin.

Adriana spoke eleven languages fluently. In 1939 she left with her husband
for Great Britain (after my granduncle protected an old Jew beaten by
members of the Hlinka guards - he was a handsome tall man), where she was a
lecturer at university. Here she was a teacher at the secondary school on
Grosslingova Street in Bratislava. Adriana's life dream was to go on a
voyage on the river Rhine, and she did, and during this voyage she had a
heart attack and died. Viliam Brody established a small firm for typing
machines which later became a part of IBM. He died in Oxford in 1995. They
didn't have children.

Ignac Brody worked as a lawyer and left for Great Britain. He was famous
for his musical talent; he played the violin very well. He worked in the
emergency health service as simple medical assistant.

Marcus or Marci Brody, my grandmother's brother, graduated in 1907 in
Budapest and became a well-known lawyer in Bratislava. He is the only one
in our family to be buried in a Catholic cemetery because he married a
Catholic woman. He never converted and they had no children. He was the
only one in our family to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, called St.
Martin's cemetery in Bratislava, next to the Manderla grave.

The family traveled quite a bit. In 1921, they were on a holiday on the
northern coast of Germany, and in August 1923, my grandfather and his
friends were photographed in Karlsbad [3].

My father Juraj Stern was born during the war, in 1940, in Bratislava. Two
years later his brother Andrej, or Bandy, was born in Humenne, where the
family was hiding. He died on 16th August 1945 of an infection. During the
greater part of the war the family was hidden in Hlohovec by a Christian
family.

In 1941 my grandfather, his wife and his mother left for Michalovce, where
his family came from. My grandfather was living with false documents and a
false birth certificate that were provided by a Greek catholic priest. His
identity was disclosed soon, but he managed to escape and hide. He was
hiding in a flat in which only a thin wall separated him from one of the
high Nazi officers living next door. He had to live without moving around
too much and during that time he was able to learn to play chess, solve
various puzzles, and gain skills in high mathematics. After the war he was
able to surprise a number of his colleagues by the depth of his knowledge
that he gained during the six weeks of hiding.

There is another experience connected with Michalovce. My grandfather was
captured by Hlinka guards, but he realized that if he wanted to survive he
had to escape. He sent a message to my grandmother telling her how to get
him out by pretending to be a Red Cross employee carrying food baskets. She
was able to get in with a Red Cross crew and smuggle him out. Then they
were hiding in Hlohovec, where my grandmother was born. She told me one
story: when the family stayed in Hlohovec, she tried to go out to get some
food. She met a classmate of hers, who looked at her with surprise and
asked, 'How come you are still here?' This memory was very painful for my
grandmother even after the war. My family spent the last weeks of the war
in forests hiding in a potato pit.

In spite of the fact that my father was only four at that time, he vividly
remembers a few dramatic situations from that time and until now he cannot
suppress emotions connected with those moments. He also appreciated some
Slovak farmers who were courageous enough to hide Jewish families. The one
who provided shelter to them came back from the U.S. where he had worked in
mines. There he developed a rather positive attitude towards Jewish people.
He hid them in a small room and supplied them with food. During the raids
of Hlinka guards and Nazi soldiers, he hid them in a deep potato pit and
covered them with potatoes and wood. On one occasion, my father was
separated from his parents and hidden in a stable crib for a week. He
couldn't cry or shout but had to be absolutely quiet. He got something to
eat and drink several times a day. This resulted in his nervous stutter,
which he overcame only many years after the war.

Post-war

It happened so that none of my family was deported to a concentration camp.
They either emigrated, or were hidden, or were able to escape under
circumstances close to a miracle. When my grandparents came back to their
house they were welcomed by the people, who had taken over their house,
with the disappointed question, 'You have returned?!'

My grandfather worked as an accountant with Pravda newspaper, but in the
1950s he was kicked out, accused of being a Zionist. My grandmother worked
at home.

My father wasn't able to study at university because of his 'bourgeois
family history'. He wanted to study archeology, but wasn't accepted during
the 1950s. Then he finished a vocational typographic school and became a
newspaper typesetter. Later, in the 1960s, the situation changed and he was
allowed to study at the Faculty of Economics.

Almost thirty years later he became head of the Faculty of Economics, which
has meanwhile become an independent university; the third biggest in
Slovakia. He still teaches there and is still involved both in the economic
and political life of the country.

My father married my mother Zuzana Sternova, nee Zimkova, born in 1947. She
comes from an Orthodox Jewish family from Nitra, which was a big Jewish
center before the war. Almost 10,000 Jews lived in the city and
surroundings.

Glossary

[1] Slovak guards

[2] Undset, Sigrid (1882-1949): Norwegian novelist, best known for her
novels on life in Scandinavia in the Middle Ages. Her works of the modern
era deal with social and psychological problems, and her conversion to
Roman Catholicism in 1924 is reflected in her fiction as well as in studies
such as 'Saga of Saints' (1934). She was awarded the Nobel Prize in
literature in 1928.

[3] Karlsbad (Czech name: Karlovy Vary): The most famous Bohemian spa,
named after Bohemian King Charles (Karel) IV, who allegedly found the
springs during a hunting expedition in 1358. It was one of the most popular
resorts among the royalty and aristocracy in Europe for centuries.

Country: 
City: 
Bratislava

Interview details

Interviewee: Tomas Stern
Bratislava, Slovakia

KEY PERSON

Tomas Stern
Country name at time of birth:
Slovakia

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