1912 Frankfurt, Germany
Blanche Levison Stern was born in Frankfurt, Germany. She went to a private Jewish school for ten years and belonged to Zionist youth organizations. While her family was not very religious, they attended synagogue, and Frankfurt had 30,000 Jews, so Blanche was immersed in Jewish life.
January: The Nazis gained power. Blanche’s brother moved to the United States.
April: All Jewish businesses were boycotted. Blanche worked at her father’s business as a secretary.
Blanche traveled to Berlin to visit a friend. While sitting outside at a café, she witnessed Nazis passing by singing, “If Jewish blood splashes from the knife, everything goes twice as well.” Blanche made the decision to move to Palestine but her parents said it was too far. They persuaded her to go to Belgium because she had some relatives there.
November: Blanche moved to Belgium, where she met and married her husband, Albert Stern.
February 16: Blanche’s son, George Stern was born in Brussels, Belgium.
November 9: Kristallnacht. Afterwards, Blanche’s parents’ business was seized, causing them to leave Frankfurt for Brussels. When they left, they were only allowed to take 10 Marks.
September: World War II begins when Germany invades Poland.
May 10: Blanche and her husband are caught in the German invasion of the Lowlands. Jewish men were being arrested. Blanche’s husband got hurt helping the neighboring children into the basement, which spared him from being taken to a camp. Afraid, Blanche, her husband, her son and parents took a car and tried to get to the coast.
Blanche’s husband and father were arrested for having German papers, and sent to prison for a few days. Her father smuggled out a note for her which read, “No matter the cost, get out.” Her father and husband were being held in German-occupied Belgium. Blanche, her mother and her son attempted to leave but were caught in the Battle of Dunkirk.
Eventually, they made it to the French border but their German papers got them put into a collecting center for women in Le Mans, France and were sent to the Gurs concentration camp, where they were held from the end of May until the middle of September. After release, they found a hotel for refugees and were able to connect with Blanche’s husband. Blanche’s mother went back to Brussels to be with Blanche’s father for the duration of the war.
By bribing German soldiers, they crossed to Madrid, Spain. From there, they took the night train to Portugal, and when they arrived at the border in Portugal with their three-year-old child, the border police saw that their Portuguese visa had expired. They had to go back to the Portuguese consulate and get another visa. They travelled back to Spain to the Portuguese consulate and were told that they had to verify the other visa. So they went to the South American consulate, who said that it was a false visa and tore it up. With most of their belongings stolen, not knowing the language, out of money, and no place to go, they happened to meet a Jewish man who offered to lodge them in a cheap boarding house, where they lived for four months. While in Spain, during Passover, a man brought them Matzos from Tangiers. He said, “At least, I want you to know that it’s Passover.”
They discovered they could get a visa to Havana, Cuba. They contacted the May family in Nashville, because Blanche’s father had some money in Nashville. The Mays sent the money to them.
May 19: Blanche, her husband and their son traveled to Havana, Cuba and remained there until they got their American visa. Mortimer May had sent an affidavit to Blanche so that they could come to the United States, because her father’s sister was married to Moses May. They took a clipper ship from Havana to Miami.
June 13, 1941: Blanche and her husband and son arrived by train in Nashville, TN.
Blanche’s brother had joined the American Army and was working for the military police, stationed in Paris. In December he wrote Blanche: he had found their parents in Brussels, alive. They had hidden from the Gestapo in a prepaid room in an attic for a year-and-a-half with no heat. They supported themselves with her mother’s knitting.
June: Blanche’s brother brought their parents to the United States. Blanche went to greet them in New York.
Blanche’s father died in Nashville, Tennessee.