The collection is organized into the following series:
Series 1: World War II
Series 2: Civic Organizations
Series 3: Business
Series 4: Other Materials
Series 5: Scrapbooks
Series 6: Photographs
Series 7: Audio Tapes
Series 8: Oral History
Hermann Stern was born August 9, 1887, in Oberbrechen, Germany, to Samuel Loeb Stern and Mina (Strauss) Stern. The Orthodox Jewish family was very poor, as Samuel Stern was forced to eke out a meager existence by selling slaughtered cattle to a paste factory. As the youngest of eight children, Hermann Stern worked odd jobs until 1901 when he apprenticed with a clothing merchant in Mainz. In 1902, Stern's uncle, Morris G. Straus, asked him to come to America and enter the clothing business. Straus had left Germany many years before and operated a successful clothing store in Casselton, North Dakota. Unable to receive permission from his employer, Stern quit his training and left for America. He arrived in New York City on October 10, 1903, and traveled to Casselton later that year.
In Casselton, Stern dropped the second "n" from his first name, and thrived in the business of men's clothing. He became manager of the Straus store in Casselton in 1907, when Straus moved to Valley City to open a second location. In 1910, the two men switched positions. Two years later, Stern married Adeline Roth, Straus's sister-in-law. Straus retired in 1920, and Stern purchased half interest in the Valley City and Casselton stores. Additional stores were opened in LaMoure and Carrington. Stern had earned a strong reputation in the business community, and became an active member in the Valley City Chamber of Commerce. He was a founding member of the Greater North Dakota Association (the North Dakota State Chamber of Commerce), and served for many years as the President of the group.
The Great Depression brought tough times to Stern and his business. The stores in Casselton, LaMoure, and Carrington struggled to be profitable. Stern also grew increasingly concerned with Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic ideology and the effect it had on his relatives back in Germany. In 1933, his niece Klara Stern wrote to him requesting a visit to America for her and her brother, Erich. Stern requested the assistance of North Dakota Governor William Langer and Senator Gerald Nye in acquiring a visa. Nye was especially helpful in helping Stern cut through the red tape, allowing Klara and Erich to enter the United States in 1934. In 1935, Stern's nephew, Julius, wrote and asked his uncle to arrange for him to come to the United States. Julius also requested that Gustav Stern and his wife, Selma, also receive visas. Again with the assistance of Nye, visas were issued to all three. Gustav and Selma Stern were then reunited with their children, Klara and Erich.
By 1937, Stern's success in acquiring exit visas had spread. He began to receive letters from distant relatives, as well as complete strangers, asking for work affidavits in the United States. Not only did Stern supply the affidavits, he also helped them find work. He secured jobs in North Dakota, Minnesota, Chicago, and elsewhere. Stern sponsored 50 people at one point in time, and another 50 already had jobs.
Individual effort could only go so far and, in 1938, Stern agreed to act as an organizer for the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigration Aid Society. While raising money and sponsors for the Society, Stern also led efforts to send Jews to the Middle East. He spoke to Jewish groups in every major city in North Dakota, as well as in the Twin Cities and other parts of Minnesota.
In 1940, Stern's brother, Adolf, with his wife and children, who had left Germany and traveled to France, asked for Stern's help. Slowed by red tape, he again asked Nye for assistance. Both Stern and Nye personally contacted Secretary of State Cordell Hull in an attempt to expedite the process. Two weeks before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the visas were issued.
When America entered the war, contact with much of Europe was completely cut off. Stern's other two brothers, Moses and Julius, as well as Julius's wife Frieda were unable to be saved. All three of them perished in the Holocaust. All told, Stern had assisted 125 Jews in escaping Germany from 1933-1941, although knowledge of his involvement was confined to a few relatives and friends.
Herman Stern then turned his focus back to the clothing business. Not only a successful business leader, Stern was a life-long patron to the Boy Scouts. He was awarded three distinguished service awards from the Boy Scouts: the Silver Beaver, the Silver Antelope, and the Silver Buffalo. Stern was also a member of the Red River Valley Council and the Northern Lights Council. He was a founding member of the North Dakota Automobile Association, and was also instrumental in the creation of the North Dakota Winter Show at Valley City.
Herman Stern died June 20, 1980, in Fargo.
Shoptaugh, Terry L. "You Have Been Kind Enough to Assist Me: Herman Stern's Personal Crusade to Help German Jews, 1932-1941." North Dakota History. v64, n4 (Fall 1997): 2-15.
"Herman Stern Dies at Age 92." Fargo Forum. 22 June 1980: A-1.
Additional material was received from:
Edward Stern, Fargo, North Dakota, September 15, 1980; Acc.#80- 666
James Hetland, Grand Forks, North Dakota, August 17, 1985; Acc. #85-1392