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November 03, 2011 - Image 39

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-11-03

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An extraordinary Guy

Guy Stern has
made excellence a
way of life through
several careers

Guy Stern, Wayne State
University distinguished
professor emeritus of German,
has comfortably worn many

In 1944, he landed in
Normandy three days
after D-Day as one of the
"Ritchie Boys," a special
military intelligence unit
of German-, Austrian- and
Czech-Jewish immigrants to
the United States. As a U.S.
Army intelligence officer,
he subsequently won the
Bronze Star for interrogating
Nazi SS war criminals. He
was Marlene Dietrich's driver
when she toured the front,
and a close friend of singer
and actress Lotte Lenya. He is
now director of The Harry and
Wanda Zekelman International
Institute of the Righteous at the
Holocaust Memorial Center in
Farmington Hills. And over a
long career in the classroom,
he has been an inspiration to
thousands of students.

But on another level, perhaps
his most important two
contributions were these: After
World War II ended, and he
learned his entire family had
died in the Holocaust, he would
not listen to those who told
him to give up a promising
career as a scholar of German
literature. How, they asked,
could he devote his life to
studying the language and
the literature of the people
responsible for such crimes?

"I thought that if I don't choose
to follow the talent that I have,
then I would be doing the task of
the Nazis on my own," he says.

Nor would he hate the
Germans. Unlike them, he
explains, "I could not tar-brush
an entire people."

Stern came to St. Louis from
Germany in 1937 as a teenager.
In those days you had to have
evidence that someone of

means would sponsor you. His
uncle, an unemployed baker,
borrowed money to make it
look as though he had more
means than he did. When
his nephew arrived, the boy
was determined to bring his
parents, brother and sister to
America to join him. One day,
he met a wealthy man who said
he would sponsor them.

"But we went to see this very
stupid lawyer, and he said
absolutely not," Stern recalls.
His would-be benefactor was a
gambler, and the lawyer said,
"Your sponsor needs to be a
well-respected person." While
the lawyer dithered, time ran
out, and Stern's family was
shipped to certain death in the
Warsaw Ghetto.

In 1953, Stern earned his
doctorate from Columbia and
began teaching. Before coming
to Wayne State, he taught at
Columbia, Denison University,
the University of Cincinnati, and
was head of the Department
of German and Slavic Studies
at the University of Maryland.
He has been a visiting scholar

Guy Stern, left, with former student and colleague Don Haase,
associate dean of the WSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

was modeled in large part on
having seen him in action."

Among Guy Stern's many
publications are War, Weimar

and Literature: The Story of
the Neue Merkur 1914-1925;
Literatur im Exil: Gesammelte
Aufseitze 1959-1989; Literature
and Culture in Exile; and Fielding,
Wieland, Goethe and the Rise of
the Novel.

"I thought that if I don't choose to
follow the talent that I have, then I would
be doing the task of the Nazis on my
own." Unlike them, "I could not tar-brush
an entire people."

at the German universities of
Freiburg im Breisgau, Frankfurt
am Main, Leipzig, Potsdam and

In 1978, he called to
congratulate his close friend,
the late Tom Bonner, on
becoming president of Wayne
State. Bonner insisted Stern join
him as the university's provost.

After four years as the school's
top academic officer, Stern
returned to teaching. His
former student and colleague,
Don Haase, now an associate
dean at WSU, describes him
as "both an internationally
renowned scholar and an adept
and skilled administrator. My
approach as an administrator

His honors include the
American Association of
Teachers of German's
Distinguished Germanist of the
Year (1985), and the Federal
Republic of Germany's Grand
Order of Merit and
the Goethe Medal.
He also received an
honorary doctorate
from Hofstra
University and was
awarded the Wayne
State University
President's Award
for Excellence in
Teaching in 1992.

Stern has retired
from teaching but
has not stopped
lecturing — or

starting new careers. He runs
the International Institute of
the Righteous at the Holocaust
Memorial Center in Farmington
Hills. The center is currently
sponsoring an exhibit dedicated
to the "Ritchie Boys."

Two years ago, Stern, who will
celebrate his 90th birthday
in January 2012, served
for nearly a year as interim
director of the museum after
the death of its founder, Rabbi
Charles Rosenzveig. Recently,
he embarked on yet another
career as translator for his wife,
Susanna Piontek, whom he
describes as "half my age and
twice as smart." A collection
of her short stories, Have

We Possibly Met Before?,

was published this year by
Culicidae Press.

"I think Guy has twice as much
energy as most people," his wife
says. It would be hard to find
anyone who would disagree.

Guy Stem with WSU Associate Professor
Roslyn Schindler in the early 1990s, following
publication of Stern's Literati! in? Ex 1.


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