THE Jewish community, stamp collectors and soccer enthusiasts are mourning Melbourne stamp and coin dealer and Holocaust survivor Max Stern, who died last week aged 95.
The great-grandfather, who was a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), last year told The AJN that because of his 14 great-grandchildren, “I know I have truly survived.”
Born in Slovakia, Stern began philately as a student, helping support his family by selling stamps. With Jews in Nazi-occupied Bratislava prohibited from owning businesses, Stern transferred his business to a non-Jew who obtained forged papers for him. But he was sent to a labour camp in Zilina in 1943 and was readied for transport to Auschwitz, yet eluded authorities.
On Yom Kippur 1944, the Nazis rounded up Bratislava’s Jews, and Stern’s family was later sent to Auschwitz. Stern himself hid with friends, but was captured and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Near the war’s end, he was on a death march towards Berlin.
While two sisters survived, his parents, two younger brothers and most of his aunts and uncles perished.
In 1948, Stern married survivor Eva Rosenthal and they immigrated to Australia, where he founded Max Stern & Co in Melbourne’s CBD. He later wrote an autobiography – My Stamp On Life.
In 2010, Max Stern & Co partnered with B’nai B’rith’s Raoul Wallenberg Unit to issue stamps honouring the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews.
Judi Schiff, who coordinated the Wallenberg project, paid tribute to Stern, who used his contacts at Australia Post. “Max had a wonderful manner and he could influence people to do things.”
Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC) education director Lisa Phillips said Stern, who spoke at last year’s Yom Hashoah commemoration, was “truly an inspirational man, much loved and with an indomitable spirit”. Speaking weekly to students at the JHC, “he captivated his audiences by sharing his testimony”.
North Caulfield Football Club committee member Harvey Silver said Stern, a life member, was “one in a million”. “Never have I met or will I meet a person with such zest for life. Still playing soccer into his 90s, working daily at his stamp shop in Melbourne at 94, generous, always with a smile on his face.
“Max revelled in his status as the oldest registered football player in Australia,” said Silver, “and will be truly missed at North Caulfield, where he was an icon and role model.”