Shoah survivor’s stamp of courage

Max Stern.
Max Stern.

FOR stamp dealer Max Stern, his passion for philately saw him through some of the darkest times of his life, which he related last Wednesday in a testimony at Melbourne’s Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) commemoration.

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV)’s annual Yom Hashoah ceremony, held at Robert Blackwood Hall on Monash University’s Clayton campus, heard Stern expound on his harrowing journey of survival.

In order to appear at the Yom Hashoah event and to speak to Jewish schools and the Holocaust Centre, the dynamic 94-year-old cancelled a trip to Berlin to address a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the German surrender next month, but will appear via a video link.

Born in Bratislava, Slovakia, Stern developed an enthusiasm for stamps as a high-school student and helped support his family by trading them, sometimes for food or as currency, later setting up a stamp dealership.

By 1943, Jews in Nazi-occupied Slovakia were not permitted to own businesses, so Stern transferred his ownership to a non-Jewish woman, Maria Aigner, while secretly operating the trade.

She helped get Stern an exemption from wearing a yellow star and obtained false papers for him. Despite his connections, Stern was sent to a labour camp in Zilina in 1943.

In May, he was among prisoners taken to the station for transport to Auschwitz but stole away and returned to Zilina. About five weeks later, he got out of the camp and returned home.

On Yom Kippur 1944, the Nazis began rounding up the Jews of Bratislava, and Stern’s family was arrested and later sent to Auschwitz.  Stern hid with three friends but was captured and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. After the camp’s closure, he was forced by the retreating Nazis 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 a stamp business that has become an icon of Melbourne’s CBD.

Max Stern & Co partnered with B’nai B’rith’s Raoul Wallenberg Unit to issue a limited-edition stamp sheet and envelope set to mark the unit’s 25th anniversary in 2010.

The great-grandfather told The AJN that whenever he thinks of his 14 great-grandchildren, “I know I have truly survived”.


Shoah survivor Max Stern.

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