Fran Sonshine, National Chair


George Stern

Ko-ach

By the time he turned 14, George Stern was already the embodiment of ko-ach (strength): he had been an air raid commander, saved lives when a train he was on was bombed, and escaped death numerous times.

George was born on April 21, 1931, in Újpest, a suburb of Budapest, Hungary. As a boy, he loved soccer and earned a reputation as the fastest runner in his school.

A month before George’s thirteenth birthday, Germany invaded Hungary. George’s family was forced into a ghetto and made to wear the yellow Star of David. George, however, defiantly refused to wear the star. He escaped the ghetto and went into hiding, passing as a gentile.

George was taken in by a Christian farmer, whose family later obtained papers allowing them to stay at a “safe house” in Budapest run by the Swedish legation. One day, George was cornered in the streets of Budapest by two soldiers from the Nazi-backed Arrow Cross Party. They grabbed his papers and demanded he come with them. George snatched his papers back and took off running.

He saw his family torn apart, with his father and uncles forced into the Hungarian Labour Service and his mother and sister deported to Auschwitz.

After the war, George learned that his mother, a gentle and artistic soul, perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. George credits his survival to luck and his faith in G-d, although surely his own quick instincts, courage, and perseverance played a part as well.

At age 15, George met Judit Katz at a Zionist youth event. They were high school sweethearts but eventually lost touch.

In 1948, at age 17, George “made aliyah” (moved to Israel). George was told he had to be 18 years old to enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces, but he demanded to be allowed to serve his newly-established nation. George went on to serve in the Signal Corps in Israel’s War of Independence.

As George strolled down a street in Tel Aviv one day, whom should he meet but his high school sweetheart, Judit. She had also made aliyah. Their love was quickly rekindled, and in 1951 they got married. Their son, Paul, was born in 1953, and their daughter, Iris, was born in 1958. George worked as a radar technician for the Israeli Air Force.

In 1960, the family moved to Brazil, where George first sold wholesale fabric and then ran his own wholesale clothing business.

In 1969, George and Judit moved their family to Canada and have lived in Toronto since 1970. They are active members of Beth Tikvah Synagogue and the loving grandparents of six grandchildren.

George shares his story widely at schools. His memoir, Vanished Boyhood, was published by the Azrieli Foundation. George still has the twinkle in his eye and the zest for life of the 13-year-old boy who defied the Nazis and overcame unimaginable adversity over 70 years ago.