Irene Stern Frielich
Irene Stern Frielich is the daughter of Walter Stern, a German Holocaust survivor. But her father’s ordeal wasn’t talked about too much in her family home. She set aside the unspoken emotions and secrets that permeated her childhood and focused on her education, career, and family. She founded and manages a training consulting business, has played flute in a concert band, and volunteers with her synagogue. She loves to cook, entertain, hear good music, enjoy coffee with friends, snowshoe, and kayak. But it took her until recently to return to the unspoken journey of her family.
When Irene saw hate pour out into the streets in 2016, she became obsessed with her father’s Holocaust survival story. She needed to know more about how he escaped Nazi Germany and how strangers risked their lives to save him. Most of what she learned was from her 2017 viewing of the video testimony her father made in 1993, just a few months before his death. In the video, he said “I will never go back.”
Irene researched anyway. She wondered if her father would feel betrayed by her visits to Germany. In her obsessive quest to touch her father’s childhood, and understand the father he’d become, she visited locations where eighteen strangers risked their own lives to help her family escape, survive, and hide.
Irene had transformational meetings with the descendant of the German man who obtained her family’s home and business and with the descendant of the Dutch man who hid her father in a barn attic for two and one-half years.
She was struck with the many ways her story intertwined with her father’s childhood stories and with the people she met along the way, including a German school teacher with close ties to the town next to Irene’s own. Irene felt guided by signs and wonders, coincidences that were beschert, meant to be. She met a distant cousin in a remote German village who lives on the Dutch street where her father lived in 1945, she fulfilled her father’s unrealized dream to once again attend services in the synagogue where he became a bar mitzvah in 1939. And, together with the son of the man who hid her family from 1942 to 1945, she stood in the attic where her father, with his mother and grandmother, spent 909 days in the dark.
Irene presenting her father's story in Bocholt, Germany, 2019
Irene has made on-site and virtual presentations to over 1000 people as of December 2021.
Past Presentations (partial list)
Synagogues, Churches, and Faith-Based Organizations
Temple Israel, Sharon MA
Temple Beth David, Canton MA
Temple Sinai, Sharon MA
Temple Beth Sholom, Framingham MA
Temple Shir Tikvah, Winchester MA
Jewish Community and Educational Groups
2G Group, Framingham MA
Limmud at Kehillath Israel, Brookline MA
Hadassah, Sharon/Stoughton MA
Hazak, Sharon MA
Senior and 55+ Communities
Jenks Senior Center, Winchester MA
Oak Point Community, Middleboro MA
Fairing Way, Weymouth MA
Boston Public Schools, Boston MA
Granite Academy, Braintree MA
Irene’s presentation was truly interesting and inspiring, giving insight and walking us through her father’s journey during the Holocaust. It was not only a video, but also, an audio of her father’s voice, recorded along with his journal, in which he revealed the various people and places that helped his family escape the Nazis. Irene’s father left this beautiful legacy, which she is now able to pass on to others, a true gift. -Pat DeBiasi, Fairing Way resident, February, 2022
My Father’s Journey Through Courage, Compassion, and Kindness
Experience one family’s ordeal as they escape their comfortable home in Germany on Kristallnacht and cross the border to the Netherlands. They live there in relative safety until the Nazis invade and turn their world upside down. Join Irene as she retraces her family’s footsteps from Kristallnacht in 1938 through liberation in 1945, visiting each place her father journeyed. Hear about the moving transformation Irene experienced as she learned of all those who helped her family along the way. From coffee roasters and bakers to farmers and clergy, the people who helped her family along the way demonstrated courage, compassion, and kindness.
Bescherts: Stories of Amazing Coincidences...or were they
Irene felt both driven and guided to research her family’s history and retrace their footsteps. And, that guidance was palpable. You may experience your own sense of wonder as Irene shares highlights where she and her family most felt this guidance, and where she gained new understandings of her father, of herself, and of our interconnectedness in the world. See the cherries that led the way, the trees of life that were meant to be, the distant cousins who met in a distant town, the man who reconnected Irene to a family of deep importance, and the incredible story of a Bocholt teacher with an unexpected US connection.
Return Home: Synagogues, Cemeteries, and Silence
Journey with Irene to five small German towns where her ancestors lived as far back as the 1500s until the 1940s. See what remains of their homes and synagogue sites. Find out about the unique way Irene pays respects at the graves of 12 direct ancestors. Hear how Irene was struck by the silence in these towns, only plaques and memorials marking the presence of Jewish communities that ceased to exist over 80 years ago. Learn about the emotional complexities of returning "home" and about the current-day work being done in Germany to remember the Jews. You will hear the timeless, haunting prayer for the dead, chanted at moving memorial services by Jewish relatives in two of the towns.
Seeking and Stumbling: Tracing My Roots
Irene does not consider herself a genealogist, just a dabbler. And yet, she was able to locate her German ancestral hometowns through her active--and sometimes passive--efforts. Are you looking for ideas to get started on your own research? Or simply curious how Irene located ancestors, towns, and living relatives she had never hear of? Join Irene to hear how photos and letters, videos and websites, persistence and patience helped her connect with her lost family, and where she still stumbles in her attempts to touch her family's past and interact with their presents.
Connect with Irene
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