Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts

Unraveling My Father’s Holocaust Survival Story

Non-Fiction - Memoir
Kindle Edition
Reviewed on 10/29/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Nino Lobiladze for Readers' Favorite

Walter Stern, a Holocaust survivor, made a testimony video about his road to freedom from Nazi Germany and through Holland one year before his death in 1993. His daughter, Irene, re-watched it after the elections in 2016. That year marked the starting point of the new wave of antisemitism globally, and Walter's video took on a new meaning for Irene. Walter was about to turn twelve when he and his family, the owners of a clothing and textiles store in Bocholt, Germany, were brutally awakened in the dead of night on November 9–10, 1938. History remembers that night as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. The family's store was vandalized, and the lives of the Sterns were threatened. But Walter's father, Moritz, had a plan. He had managed to smuggle some money to neighboring Holland. The Sterns decided to escape to Holland, where they had friends. Many years later, Irene and her family traveled to Europe three times to recreate their route to survival. Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts by Irene Stern Frielich is a mesmerizing read that fans of memoirs and history will enjoy.

In Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts, Irene Stern Frielich speaks about her "inherited family trauma." It is a significant statement that should not be overlooked. The author tells us that the horrifying events of the Holocaust era still have an impact on the families of the survivors. The next generation's pain is overwhelming. But there is always a way to heal. Irene shares this healing journey with us. Irene opened up about the deepest inner feelings she experienced when she entered the house in Bocholt, where her family lived before the Holocaust. The emotional narrative transforms this memoir into a thrilling story that is impossible to put down. The author skillfully interweaves the memories of her father from the testimony video with the recreated facts of his life in Germany and Holland and her own amazing experiences and unexpected encounters in Europe. I liked the incredible stories about the heroism and dedication of those who helped save the lives of Jewish people during the darkest years of human history. Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts is a meaningful and thought-provoking book for readers who want to learn from history.

Michelle Robertson

In Bocholt, Germany, in 1938, the world changed forever one horrific night for a clothing store owner and his family, as Hitler began his attacks on the Jewish communities. Water Stern was snug in his bed in his family’s dwelling above their clothing store, dreaming of his birthday celebration the next morning. Breaking glass and angry voices forced him and his family members to flee for their lives in only the pajamas they wore to bed. This night would be the start of many years of hardship and despair for Walter's family along with many other Jewish families in Germany. In Massachusetts, in 2016, Irene Stern Frielich experienced feelings of racism and hate across the United States and was compelled to better understand her Holocaust survivor father’s past. Irene began to dig through letters, documents, and a 1993 video testimony to uncover the exact route her ancestors took to safety.

Over the course of three years, starting in 2018, Irene and her present family traveled back and forth to Germany, not only to discover how an escape was managed but also to better understand the emotional struggle that each ancestor endured and unintendedly passed on. Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts is an emotional, compelling memoir exquisitely written to educate readers about one family’s, struggles, hardships, and physical and emotional pain during the years of Germany’s Holocaust. The author intertwines the story and lives and struggles of her ancestral family with her present family as she reveals to the reader some very personal, raw, and emotional accounts and experiences of the Holocaust. Readers interested in German–Jewish history, and the Holocaust would highly benefit from reading this memoir, but it is not for the faint of heart.

K.C. Finn

Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts: Unraveling My Father’s Holocaust Survival Story is a work of non-fiction in the historical account, biography, and cultural stories subgenre. Penned by author Irene Stern Frielich, it is best suited to the general adult reading audience. The author embarks on a profoundly moving journey to retrace her late father's escape from Nazi Germany. This searing memoir weaves together the past and the present as it grapples with loss, intergenerational trauma, and the hope for a more just future. The book delves into the layers of a family's story, affected by the erosion and destruction of historical events, and how these layers intertwine over time. Frielich vividly describes the harrowing experiences of her father, Walter Stern, as a young boy when Hitler came to power. The family's escape from Germany, narrowly avoiding capture and experiencing the horrors of Kristallnacht, is a tribute to their resilience.

Author Irene Stern Frielich has a beautiful way of connecting past to present in this expansive and enthralling work of both biography and memoir. One of the most special things about the work is that Irene also shares her personal journey in the modern day and the layers of hidden connections to her roots and her father’s life. The work becomes a love letter to generations lost, a demonstration of the raw emotive power of storytelling, and a reminder that even in the darkest moments, hope can be found. Frielich's tender, exploratory narrative is not only a tribute to her father but to all those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust and the enduring strength of the human spirit. Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts to anyone seeking more information on survivors of the Holocaust, most especially for its deeply personal and resonant style.

Romuald Dzemo

Irene Stern Frielich’s Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts is a powerful and engaging memoir that follows the author's journey to unravel her father's Holocaust survival story. Walter Stern is the son of textile and clothing storeowners in Bocholt, Germany when Hitler comes to power. Not long after coming to power, violence against the Jews escalates and Walter's father begins to smuggle money out of Germany into Holland. Their shop is destroyed during the Kristallnacht and the family is forced to leave the country. While Walter makes a narrow escape from Germany, the Nazis capture his father and uncle and send them to Auschwitz. The memoir demonstrates Walter's tense days hiding in a farmer's attic, together with his mother and grandmother.

Irene Stern Frielich set out in 2016 on a journey to dig deeper into her father’s past. She was inspired by a testimony video her father made in 1993 that describes his childhood in Nazi Germany and his survival during the Holocaust. There are also letters that provide more insight into the family's life. This is a gripping memoir in which readers will discover a strong intersection between the violence of Nazi Germany and the anti-Semitic rhetoric that characterized the period of the elections in the US in 2016. Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts brilliantly captures the hatred, terror, and fear that Walter and his family experienced. Irene Stern Frielich's journey to the place where her father grew up and her encounter with people connected to his childhood, like the grandson of the farmer who protected him, will shake readers emotionally. This book is another precious addition to the literature that examines the Holocaust and the perils experienced by the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Christine Nguyen

Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts: Unraveling My Father’s Holocaust Survival Story by Irene Stern Frielich is a daughter’s brave journey to discovering her father’s past in Nazi Germany. Frielich painstakingly locates clues from her father’s testimony video that he left in 1993. On the memorable night of November 10, her father Walter Stern’s twelfth birthday, he and his family are awakened by violence known as Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass, which begins their long struggle for survival. The family flees to Holland where her father, grandmother, and great-grandmother hide in a farmer’s tiny attic for 909 days before liberation. She retraces her father’s steps in his hometown of Bocholt, Germany to start piecing together more of her family’s painful history.

Irene Stern Frielich writes with emotional depth and knowledge as she shares her family’s story of escape and survival. Her meticulous and dedicated research is evident as she travels to Germany on three memorable trips to reconstruct her father’s story. I was deeply moved by all the signs that led her to uncover more facts and locations that made her father’s story more cohesive and complete. Shattered Stars, Healing Hearts is a heartfelt and bittersweet reminder to the present and future generations about the atrocities committed in the past and that we must be vigilant in not repeating the same mistakes. Every single testimony that is uncovered will only help in educating people around the world. A deeply impactful and insightful read!