Passports a stark reminder

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Butch Stern with his father's passport and the few-framed reminders he has of his parents.

By Mick Jensen

Rakaia Gorge resident Butch Stern had never laid his eyes on his parents’ old passports until last week.

The passports are one of his few reminders of their lives and also a stark reminder of their traumatic flight from Nazi-occupied Austria in 1939.

The passports feature the Nazi swastika, a large letter J for Juden, or Jews, and refer to the Austrian capital of Vienna (Wien) as being in Germany.

Friedrick and Hedwig Lustig-Stern were among the lucky ones to escape the Holocaust, which took the lives of an estimated six million Jews.

Mr Stern said apart from an aunt who managed to flee to Hungary, his entire family had been wiped out by the Nazis. He had met the aunt shortly before her death.

Mr Stern, who runs Mt Hutt Lodge with his wife Jo and has lived in New Zealand for 15 years, said his parents had settled in the USA in 1939, but the flight to freedom took its toll on them.

“My parents were lucky to get out. My mother was an accomplished seamstress and had a job lined up in California. My father was a dentist in Austria, but did not have good enough English to pass the dental exams and ended up working in a factory.”

His father had died aged 49 in 1952, while his mother had been seven years older when she died in 1965.

Mr Stern said news of the Children’s Holocaust Memorial exhibition at Ashburton Museum had coincided with him getting his hands on his parents’ old passports.

His late brother Bill, who was a number of years older, had been the custodian of the passports, but on his passing, they had been sent to him by his sister-in-law in the USA.

“I received them last week and it’s the first time I’d ever laid my eyes on them.”

He had only been two when his father died, he said.

“Mum died when I was 16 and she continued to have nightmares until her death. I was surrounded by adopted Jewish aunts and a support network growing up. The talk was not about the atrocities of the past, but on the emergence of the state of Israel.”

The 71-year-old has framed his few treasured photographs of his parents, alongside an Immigration Wall of Honour certificate issued to them in the USA.

Mr Stern plans to bequeath the two passports to the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand in Wellington, for their archives and use as display material to help tell the story of a dark time in history.