RUTH STERNE

 

In February 2016 we sadly lost one of our founding Association members and stalwart supporters. Ruth had not enjoyed good physical health in her final years, yet her love of learning, and enquiring mind, remained strong to the last.

 

Ruth Sterne (nee Arndt) was born in Konigsberg Germany in August 1919. Her father, Paul, was part owner of a family business which dealt in toys and underwear. Her mother Else was a housewife. Ruth left school at the age of fifteen and obtained a job working as an assistant in a small Jewish convalescent home in Potsdam. She had always wanted to work with young people and soon found herself responsible for supervising groups of children on swimming and walking activities. Ruth's experiences at Potsdam, and at another larger home at Bad Elmen, meant that she was eligible for a grant to complete a two year nursery teachers' training course. In Easter 1939 she received her German State approved Nursery Teacher's Certificate from the Wangenheim College in Berlin.

 

As an active young woman Ruth enjoyed participating in a local Jewish youth group, but she grew increasingly frustrated by the many laws that restricted the lives of Jews. She took part in a number of illegal camping trips and meetings. At one such meeting, in the back room of a synagogue, she met Julius Stern. Julius and Ruth fell in love and became engaged on Kristallnacht. Having heard rumours that Jews would no longer be allowed to marry in registry offices, the couple wed hastily in Berlin in January 1939.

 

Heinrich and Anne Stern, Julius's parents, came to London in March 1939. Heinrich, formerly head of the Jewish Community of Berlin, obtained a post working for the refugee committee in Bloomsbury House, London. A chance encounter with his superior enabled him to obtain trainee permits for Ruth and Julius, and the couple arrived in England from Berlin at the end of July 1939. Ruth left behind her parents, but found her situation eased by the presence of her parents-in-law. Heinrich helped to teach her some English. After a few months of acclimatising to life in England, Julius joined the Pioneer Corps, later transferring to the Royal Engineers. In order to anglicize his name he added an 'e' to his surname, and gave himself the first name Ernest, an anagram of Sterne.

 

In 1941 Ruth's flat in London was badly damaged during an air raid and she decided to move up to Leeds, where a friend had settled. The war meant that there was a shortage of teachers and eventually the Ministry of Education recognized Ruth's German qualification. She worked in a number of schools in the Leeds area, eventually becoming a deputy head at Whitebridge Primary School. Ernest also decided to train as a teacher and studied for a BA in History at Leeds University. For many years he taught comparative religion and history at the City of Leeds School. He maintained his wider interest in History, taking an MA at the university and publishing two accounts of the Leeds Jewish Community for the Jewish Historical Society.

 

Ruth had always maintained an active interest in her religion and she and Ernest were amongst the founder members of the Sinai Synagogue in Leeds. They held many important offices within the synagogue and watched its growth, 'from a small community into a large congregation', with pride. Ruth was a keen choral singer. She learned Braille and transcribed the Hebrew part of the Singer's Prayer Book. Ernest wrote a history of the early years of the synagogue.

 

Ernest's interest in comparative religion led the couple to join Concord, an organisation which sought to promote inter faith dialogue between the various religious groups in Leeds. The couple were active members for over thirty years and helped to write a publication, intended for non Jewish readers, explaining some basic facts about the Jewish religion.

 

Both Ernest and Ruth enjoyed rambling and spent much time exploring the Yorkshire countryside. They were keen members of the YHA and were on the committee of the Yorkshire branch. During the holidays they worked occasionally as assistant hostel wardens. Ernest was also a keen bird watcher and a President of the Leeds Birdwatchers Club. It was Ernest's belief that 'Anybody could be born a Yorkshire man but it takes a clever person to choose to be one.' Ruth wrote 'We got to Yorkshire 'by chance' and grew to love Yorkshire and its countryside, as well as the friendly people living there.'