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The remarkable story of a remarkable man

PUBLISHED: 15:16 29 April 2014 | UPDATED: 15:16 29 April 2014

The Norwich Civic Association's St George's dinner, held at the Great Hospital. From left, Sheriff of Norwich, Graham Creelman; speaker, Joe Stirling; and The Lord Mayor, Keith Driver. Picture: Denise Bradley

The Norwich Civic Association's St George's dinner, held at the Great Hospital. From left, Sheriff of Norwich, Graham Creelman; speaker, Joe Stirling; and The Lord Mayor, Keith Driver. Picture: Denise Bradley

copyright: Archant 2014

The extraordinary story of how 14-year-old Gunter Stern, a Jewish boy, escaped from Nazi Germany and ended up in Norwich where he established a ground-breaking travel company was told at the annual dinner for members of the City of Norwich Civic Association.

An association brought together by a common love for a Fine City

More people than ever before attended the City of Norwich Civic Association dinner held at the magnificent Great Hospital last week.

You may think the association has been around for decades but it is only a few years old and is going from strength to strength under the leadership of former Lord Mayors Michael Banham and Jeremy Hook and a dedicated committee.

“There is a national association for sheriffs but nothing for lord mayors,” said Michael.

All the members of the association, they include consorts and partners, are brought together by a common love for all things Norwich. To celebrate its proud history and to help plan and be part of its future.

Thanks to the various civic charities tens of thousands of pounds has been raised to help so many different Norwich groups, large and small, who do so much good work in the city.

‘From Refugee to Sheriff’ was the title of the talk by a man this city has taken to its hearts. You could hear a pin drop in the Great Hospital as Gunter, better known as Joe Stirling, talked about his life under the Nazi regime and how he arrived in his adopted city of Norwich.

As he spoke it made us all realise just how fortunate we are, how we should never take our freedom for granted and how we should continue the centuries-old tradition of offering the hand of friendship to others who arrive in Norwich and Norfolk from across the world.

Joe Stirling, now approaching his 90th birthday, is the only survivor of an entire family wiped out in Nazi Germany. He built a new life in Norwich and will always be grateful for the kindness of strangers.

Back in the 1930s he walked alone from his home at Koblenz to try and reach England only to be sent back because he didn’t have a visa. Eventually he got one and managed to get on the last Kindertransport train out of Cologne and was one of the Jewish children saved by the offer of a home in Britain.

The Norwich Civic Association's St George's dinner, held at the Great Hospital. Picture: Denise BradleyThe Norwich Civic Association's St George's dinner, held at the Great Hospital. Picture: Denise Bradley

His parents were at the station to wave him off. The final words he heard his father say were whispered to his mother as she struggled for composure on the station platform, “Don’t forget what you promised me – no tears until he is gone.” He never saw them again. They were taken to a concentration camp.

Joe arrived in Britain, got to university, fell in love with a girl from Attleborough and worked as an agent for the Labour Party before launching his own travel business in Norwich which expanded across Norfolk and other parts of the country employing around 70 people.

He has been a member of Norwich Lions for more than 50 years, helped to set up the Norwich Volunteer Bureau (now Voluntary Norfolk) and has been involved with various other charities. He was made Sheriff of Norwich in the 1970s.

Today this great grandfather still attends civic events, continues to do charity work. While he thanks us for welcoming him, it is us who should be thanking him.

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