Updated: Nov 10
Joel Stern grew up knowing only a little about his grandfather’s experience in the Holocaust. He didn’t like talking about it at all.
“He left Germany at 13, and he was haunted for the rest of his life by what happened and the fact that he never saw his parents again,” Stern said.
But Stern, a marketing director who lives outside of London, ended up diving into his grandfather Freddy’s dark past during the pandemic. He wrote a book about Freddy’s experience in Germany and surviving the Holocaust.
“Just Freddy,” published in June 2022, tells the story of how Freddy’s idyllic childhood in Germany was shattered by rising antisemitism, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. It’s told through Freddy’s perspective.
Stern calls it a “factual skeleton with fictional flesh” because it’s based on his grandfather’s story and real people, but he added rich detail, developed characters, and lots of dialogue to keep the story moving.
He used an interview his grandfather did with the AJR Refugee Voices Archive, records, and testimony from relatives to write the book. Freddy died in 2020 while Stern was writing it.
Inspiration to explore his grandfather’s Holocaust story
Stern had been interested in learning more about Freddy’s experience after living in Israel and visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum multiple times.
During the pandemic, he watched an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” where British celebrity Robert Rinder discovered more about his family’s history in Germany. (Rinder also wrote the forward of the book!) That, and being a father, inspired him to start writing.
“I started thinking about my own kids who at the time were 4 and 7,” Stern said. “How do I start talking to my kids about our family history in this area? My idea was I’ll write a kid's book that they can read and it kind of spiraled from there.”