Eaton & Cringleford

Escaping Hitler – Norwich man’s life story told

Just Regional
Feb 5, 2016 3 mins read

Long-time Eaton resident Joe Stirling has recently seen his life story completed by Norwich writer Phyllida Scrivens and published by Pen and Sword Books.

Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future traces the remarkable life of 91-year-old Joe, who came to England from Nazi Germany in 1939, aged 14, on a Kindertransport.

He subsequently settled in Norfolk, destined to become a leading member of Lions International, pioneering travel agent and ultimately Sheriff of Norwich in 1975.

Joe and Phyllida met when Joe was a “book” in a Human Library session at the UEA. The Human Library is an international equalities movement that challenges prejudice and discrimination through social contact. Just like in a real library, a visitor to the Human Library can choose a book from a range of titles – the difference is that books are people, and reading is a conversation.

“Phyllida happened to pass our area and noticed my book title ‘Refugee from Nazi Germany’ and came to ‘read’ me,” explained Joe.

“There was not enough time to get very far and she came to my house for a longer chat. She then explained that she would like to use my ‘story’ for a biographical project. That meeting became the first of regular weekly session for many months.

“I had written a basic factual record for my children, but Phyllida required a depth of detail much beyond that.

“She visited the German village where I was born and the nearby city of Koblenz (by coincidence the twin city of Norwich), where she met students who I had assisted in learning about victims of the Nazi period. She also contacted numerous people who remembered me from my English school days and my later involvement in our Norwich community.

“I was very keen to get sight of the biography – what someone else could make of it all!

“To experience the physical presence of the book was and still is stunning. So is the flow of warm responses by early readers.

“I am deeply grateful to Phyllida for devoting so much time, expense, and above all so much understanding of a foreign village boy making a life for himself in warmhearted England.”

Phyllida said: “It has taken four years to bring together the many aspects of Joe’s remarkable life. It is an inspirational tale of determination, courage and resourcefulness.”

Following his marriage in 1946 to an Attleborough girl, Joe settled in Norwich and has lived there for more than 60 years, predominantly in Eaton.

“I researched the life and times of Norwich throughout four decades, discovering original documents and newspaper reports,” said Phyllida. “I was delighted when Shirley Williams, who once worked with Joe, agreed to write the foreword.”

During 2016, Phyllida and Joe have more than 20 public speaking engagements in Norfolk, Gloucestershire and Germany.

“I have been invited by the Mayor of Nickenich, Joe’s birthplace, to present the book to the residents. Joe is as excited as I am about the prospect of his story being returned to his homeland.”

Escaping Hitler is now available from Norwich bookstores and online. For a copy signed by both Phyllida Scrivens and Joe Stirling, buy direct from Phyllida.  Full details on her website at or call 01603 300212.

Joe Stirling

Joe Stirling

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