Guy Stern

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Guy Stern
Stern receiving the French Medal of Honor
Günther Stern

(1922-01-14)January 14, 1922
Hildesheim, Hanover, Prussia, Germany[1]
DiedDecember 7, 2023(2023-12-07) (aged 101)
Detroit, Michigan, US
Resting placeGreat Lakes National Cemetery
Judith S. Owens
(died 2003)
Susanna Piontek
(after 2003)
Academic background
EducationSaint Louis University
Alma mater

Günther "Guy" Stern (January 14, 1922 – December 7, 2023) was a German-American decorated member of the secret Ritchie Boys World War II military intelligence interrogation team. As the only person from his Jewish family to flee Nazi Germany, he came to the United States and later served in the US Army conducting frontline interrogations.[2]

After World War II, he graduated from Columbia University and became a scholar, primarily of German and comparative literature. He worked at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Early life[edit]

Günther Stern was born on January 14, 1922, the son of Julius Stern and Hedwig Stern (née Silberberg). He and his family, including a younger brother, Werner, and a younger sister, Eleonore, resided in Hildesheim, Germany. His father owned his own business, working as a salesman of clothing materials. Stern had a love for literature and music at a young age and enjoyed going to the theatre and opera with his parents on the weekends.[3]

Journey to America[edit]

After witnessing the start of anti-Semitic policies under the Nazis, Stern's parents hatched a plan to send him to the United States to stay with his Uncle Benno and Aunt Ethel. His aunt and uncle had to ensure they had the finances to support him and that the affidavit would clear, meaning he would not become a public charge to the government. They did so by borrowing money from friends and returning it all after the record statements came through. To prepare for his trip, Stern's parents took him out of high school and hired an English tutor for him. With the help of an American-Jewish agency and a well-meaning consular official in Hamburg, Stern left Germany on November 5, 1937, and headed to St. Louis.[4]

Stern graduated from Soldan High School in 1939.[5] He worked as a busboy and dishwasher at two hotels in St. Louis. He became active in his school community, joining the newspaper team and landing interviews with figures like Benny Goodman and Thomas Mann.[6] In 1940, he attended Saint Louis University and studied Romance languages.[7]

Ritchie Boys[edit]

In 1942, Stern volunteered for naval intelligence but was initially rejected because he was not born in the United States. He wanted to join the war effort in hopes of defeating the Nazis and reuniting with his family. He was later drafted in 1943, beginning weeks of basic training and legally changing his name from Günther to Guy in case of capture by enemies. In 1944, he was sent to Camp Ritchie in Maryland, becoming a member of the Ritchie Boys, a special military intelligence unit composed of German, Austrian, and Czech refugees and immigrants to the United States, mostly Jewish immigrants. There he studied enemy intelligence and different uniforms, memorized battle orders and aerial maps, and mostly learned how to conduct interrogations.[2]

The four most useful interrogation tactics he learned were the power of knowledge, bribery, common interests, and invoking fear, all to be done without violating the Geneva Conventions on Warfare. They were taught to separate any emotional and private aspects they may come across during interrogations. After months of training, Stern and the other Ritchie Boys returned to Europe on D-Day, where he became a member of a six-man IPW (Interrogators of Prisoners of War) Team 41. After several successful interrogations, Stern was promoted to head of his team and prepared various reports based on answers from prisoners for his commanders. These ranged from the German railroad system to German preparations for chemical warfare.[2][8]

Stern became close with another German-born interrogator, Fred Howard, and they formed new tactics to use like the good cop, bad cop routine to scare prisoners of war and defectors. One of their most important interrogations included learning about the execution of two fellow Ritchie Boys of another team, leading to the capture and trial of their murderer.[4]

Stern earned the Bronze Star Medal for the intelligence he gathered during the war.[9]


Once the war was over, Stern visited Hildesheim again where he learned that his family's home had been taken by the Nazi government in 1938 and they had been moved to a "Jew House". After talking to locals still in the area he learned they had ended up at the Warsaw Ghetto and had perished there.[10][11]

Stern moved back to New York City and went back to his studies, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Romance languages in 1948 from Hofstra University, and then a Master of Arts in 1950 and Doctor of Philosophy in 1954 from Columbia University.[12][13] After teaching at Columbia, he received an assistant professorship at Denison University in Ohio. He taught at the Seminarienhaus in Zürich in 1954 which was then owned by Ohio's Heidelberg University.[14] He was later professor and head of the department for German language and literature at the University of Cincinnati in the 1960s.[15] He was later head of the German and Slavic studies department at the University of Maryland, then until his retirement served as a distinguished professor of German literature and cultural history at Wayne State University and was vice president of student affairs and provost from 1978 to 1980.[16][17] He was a visiting scholar at the German universities of Freiburg im Breisgau and Frankfurt am Main.[18]

Stern was the director of the Harry and Wanda Zekelman International Institute of the Righteous at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills (near Detroit). He was one of the founders of the Lessing Society (University of Cincinnati, 1966), acting as its president from 1975 until 1977.[12][19] As author and editor, he published several books and compilations on German literary history.[18]

Stern received several awards throughout his life, among them the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1987) and the Goethe Medal (1989). In 1988, he received an honorary doctorate from Hofstra University. He was named a Knight of the Legion of Honor for freeing France during the war and was recognized as an honorary citizen of Hildesheim. A plaque has been placed in front of the area that was once his home as a tribute to his family.[4][12] He also received an honorary doctorate from Hildesheim University.[12]

Personal life and death[edit]

Stern married a teacher named Judith S. Owens. She died in 2003. He remarried, to German author Susanna Piontek.[20][21][22] He also had a son, who predeceased him.[22]

Stern was one of the last surviving Ritchie Boys. He turned 100 on January 14, 2022,[23] and died on December 7, 2023, aged 101, in Detroit.[24][25] He was interred at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan.[26]

Selected works[edit]

  • Invisible Ink: A Memoir. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. 2020. ISBN 978-0-8143-4759-1.
  • Fielding, Wieland, Goethe and the rise of the novel. Frankfurt am Main u.a. 2003.
  • Literarische Kultur im Exil. Gesammelte Beiträge zur Exilforschung (1989–1997). Dresden u.a. 1998.
  • Literatur im Exil. Gesammelte Aufsätze 1959–1989. Ismaning 1989.
  • (Edited with Gustave Mathieu) Introduction to German Poetry. Dover. 1991. ISBN 978-0-486-26713-5. OCLC 742447008.
  • War, Weimar and Literature: The Story of the Neue Merkur, 1914–1925. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press 1971.


  1. ^ Franklin, Joshua. "German-Jewish Refugees in the American Armed Forces during World War II" (PDF). p. 34. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 30, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c "Ritchie Boys: The secret U.S. unit bolstered by German-born Jews who helped the Allies beat Hitler". January 2, 2022. Retrieved January 7, 2022.
  3. ^ Stern, Guy (2020). Invisible ink: a memoir. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-4760-7. OCLC 1145581870.
  4. ^ a b c Henderson, Bruce B. (2017). Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler (First ed.). New York: William Morrow. ISBN 978-0-06-241909-5. OCLC 960709002.
  5. ^ Harbaugh, Stephanie (September 7, 2013). "Dr. Guy Stern to tell the story of The Ritchie Boys". The Record Herald. Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  6. ^ Lang, Peter (2007). Culural Politics and the Politics of Culture. p. 333.
  7. ^ Levins, Harry (August 12, 2017). "German Jews interrogated POWs for U.S. in World War II". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  8. ^ "Guy Stern Archives". Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. December 4, 2018. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  9. ^ "Ritchie Boy Guy Stern's WWII mementos, a collection that helped win the war". CBS News. January 2, 2022. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  10. ^ Finkelman, Louis (August 4, 2020). "Review: Guy Stern's 'Invisible Ink: A Memoir'". The Detroit Jewish News.
  11. ^ Guy Stern: Rede vom 9. November 1998 anlässlich der Veranstaltung Als die Synagogen brannten" (Weblink)
  12. ^ a b c d Greenberg, Ginny (January 18, 2022). "Guy Stern '48, War Hero and Scholar, Turns 100". Hofstra University. Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  13. ^ "December 2020 Guy Stern". Hofstra University. 2020. Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  14. ^ Scheit, Gerhard (2018). Sans phrase: Heft 13, Zeitschrift für Ideologiekritik (in German). ça-ira-Verlag. p. 128. ISBN 9783862599134.
  15. ^ "German Honor Society Here Reactivated". The Cincinnati Enquirer. May 10, 1965. p. 28. Retrieved December 12, 2023 – via access icon
  16. ^ "Stern named WSU provost". Detroit Free Press. September 13, 1978. p. 20. Retrieved December 12, 2023 – via access icon
  17. ^ Kohn, Martin F. (December 10, 1980). "Vice-president resigns at WSU". Detroit Free Press. p. 9. Retrieved December 12, 2023 – via access icon
  18. ^ a b "Friends help WSU's Guy Stern blow out 65 candles". Detroit Free Press. February 1, 1987. p. 3K. Retrieved December 12, 2023 – via access icon
  19. ^ Enslin, Rob (February 25, 2013). "German Author and Scholar Present Joint Reading on Holocaust Memories in Literature March 6". Syracuse University. Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  20. ^ "Owens". Detroit Free Press. July 1, 2003. p. 13. Retrieved December 12, 2023 – via access icon
  21. ^ Enslin, Rob (February 25, 2013). "German Author and Scholar Present Joint Reading on Holocaust Memories in Literature March 6". Syracuse University News. Syracuse University.
  22. ^ a b Wingblad, Aileen (April 4, 2016). "Nazi Germany, freedom, service: Guy Stern reflects". Farmington Observer.
  23. ^ Schümer, Dirk (January 14, 2022). "Zeuge des Jahrhunderts". Die Welt (in German). Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  24. ^ Holocaust-Überlebender Guy Stern mit 101 Jahren gestorben (in German)
  25. ^ "German-American Holocaust survivor Guy Stern dead at 101". DPA. December 8, 2023. Retrieved December 8, 2023.
  26. ^ "Guy Stern". December 9, 2023. Retrieved December 12, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Feilchenfeldt, Konrad; Mahlmann-Bauer, Barbara, eds. (2005). Autobiographische Zeugnisse der Verfolgung. Hommage für Guy Stern [Autobiographical Testimony of Persecution. Homage for Guy Stern.] (in German). Heidelberg: Synchron. ISBN 3-935025-50-5. OCLC 230677581.

External links[edit]