Escaping Hitler – Mr Joe Stirling tells his life story. Students and staff at Paston Sixth Form College were honoured to receive a visit from local Kindertransport refugee survivor, Mr Joe Stirling, on the 25th January. Joe visited the college along with his biographer Phyllida Scrivens, author of ‘Escaping Hitler; a Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and his Future’. Together they delivered a talk which was incredibly powerful and moving.

Over 100 students gathered to hear Joe tell the story of how he escaped from Nazi Germany – a story filled with drama and tension. As a fourteen year old boy, Joe walked from Germany to Holland in an attempt to escape Nazi Germany. However, he had to return to Germany to catch a place on one of the last Kindertransport - the trains which evacuated Jewish children from the perils of Nazi Germany. Phyllida then went on to explain the process of writing a biography and discuss the impact meeting Joe has had on her life. One fortunate group of students also had lunch with Joe, Phyllida and Principal Kevin Grieve, and so had the opportunity to discuss Joe's experiences with him further.
 
The visit was organised by the English department as English Language and Literature students have been studying the play ‘Kindertransport’, a moving drama which addresses the impact being part of the Kindertransport has had both on survivors and future generations. 

English teacher Naomi Hardman said: “Joe and Phyllida’s visit was an amazing experience. Hearing Joe talk about his life was moving and humbling for all concerned. The students will also now be able to interpret the play ‘Kindertransport’ in a new and more personal context”. 

Student Abby Simm added: “Listening to such a powerful talk about how it personally affected Joe really put the play into perspective and emotionally hit everyone in the room.”

Student Alice Skippings also added “Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity, it was wonderful! I would say that listening to his experiences gave both historical and personal context to an already emotionally charged play, and meeting someone who's seen so much in his life made it easier to be empathetic towards the characters' decisions throughout the story”.

Phyllida Scrivens’ biography of Joe Stirling - ‘Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future’ -  is published by Pen and Sword Books (January 2016). Further information can be found on her website, “escapinghitler.com”.

Article written by Naomi Hardman.
Photo credit Jodie Rice.

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