Benjamin Stern, Sara Stern-Polak
Benjamin Stern (born on the11th of June 1877), lived at 75 Ambonstraat.
In one of the numerous inventories of Meppel Jews dated 1941 his
occupation was mentioned: ‘Reiziger’ (‘traveller’) and dancing teacher
as well. He married three times. First he married Naatje Buitenkant,
(born in Den Helder) who died in 1921, then Rebecca Chottel (born in
died on the 4th of May 1936. Her death caused commotion in Meppel, for
there was even talk of murder according to the local paper:
on the evening of the 3rd of May, around 23.00 hrs, after the news of a
terrible drama at the home of a well known dancing teacher had spread
like a fire through town, a large crowd assembled in front of the house
of B. Stern on Woldstraat.’
What had happened
here? Earlier that evening, Benjamin Stern had returned home from
Amsterdam and had found his wife lying in her bed in the back room in a
pool of blood. She had a terrible head wound and everything was covered
in blood. He immediately alarmed the neighbours and together they
returned to the house where they found under her pillow, drenched in
blood, the blood-stained wooden handle of an iron hammer with hairs on
It was obvious that it was murder, so the police and the doctor
were called. They detected a perilous wound on the head of the
unconscious Mrs Stern. Immediately she was taken to Sophia Hospital in
Zwolle. The hospital in Meppel could not adequately handle such a
wound. Mrs Stern-Chottel died 24 hours later.
In the meantime the police had started their first investigation,
including an interrogation of the domestic help Eike V., who declared
that, that morning she had finished her work and had left at around ten
thirty and that there was nothing unusual then.
statement supported the thought that maybe this was a suicide, although
it would be very difficult to get such a head wound by hitting oneself
with a hammer.
Mrs Stern was a mental
patient, and would behave strangely sometimes, so this seemed not
impossible. A telephone call from Zwolle put an end to the suicide
theory. It was stated that the woman’s skull had been hit at least ten
times with a hard object.
Since a second
interrogation of Eike provided no further information, the case seemed
to have a dead end. What remained was a meticulous examination of
Stern’s house. Then, on the apron of the domestic help traces of blood
were found. She was questioned again. Things became quite clear, when
they found her blood-stained shoes. Confronted with this, her
resistance broke; she nearly collapsed and admitted having hit Mrs
Stern with the hammer.’
in 1936, people were interested in the motive for the murder. Eike had
been working for the family Stern for about four months before the
fatal day. From day one, the neurotic Mrs Stern made life hell for her
with her constant nagging. That was not new: this also affected the
life of Benjamin Stern. Every domestic help had for the same reason
never stayed longer than two weeks. The fact that Eike had stayed for
four months, was partly due to the economic crisis, which at that time
had reached its highest point. Unemployment was high and if Eike had
handed in her notice to leave, she would not have found a new job.
In those four months, Eike V. started to hate her employer more and
more and on the 3rd of May 1936 she blew a fuse due to the constant
harassment. As everyone knew what it was like in the Stern house, the
sympathy for the girl and her respected family was greater than that
for the victim.
Eike may have had good reasons to do what she did to Mrs Stern, of
course she was guilty. Even though the psychiatric examination proved
that on the moment of the deed she was in a state of diminished
responsibility, she still got six years imprisonment and was committed.
In the war, Eike, who had only six months to go, got remission, because
she had killed a Jewess. She did not accept the extremely dubious
'I have been sentenced to six years in prison and I will serve my time!’
Stern married Sara Polak (born at Appingedam, on the 12th of February
1896). From both marriages there were no children. Mr. Feddema, who
lived in Ambonstraat before the war, still remembers that he had to
light the gas of the burner on the Sabbath, so that they could cook. He
never had to turn it off.
In the thirties, Benjamin Stern would
advertise in the Meppeler Courant with his photograph and the caption
‘The man of day and night’. He gave quite a few dancing lessons in the
area, often accompanied by Johan Lingeman on the piano or Max Vilé.
Dancing class given by Benjamin Stern.
one of those days Benjamin was going to be ‘honoured’. One of the
committee members of the club spoke a few words of appreciation and
then he was presented with a medal as a token of appreciation. Benjamin
was delighted. Little did he know that it was an old medal of the goat
breeders association … Next to teaching dancing, Benjamin also sold
crockery (reason for which he had ‘Reiziger’, (traveller) added to his
name). He also sold his goods on the market. He had a shop for a while
on the 2nd Hoofdstraat and before that on Prinsengracht.
(‘Fat one’ was his nick name to distinguish him from his brother Izak).
Stern was not liked in Meppel, because he was not an amiable man. There
is very little information about what happened to Benjamin and Sara in
the early years of the war.
For them the same procedure as for the other Meppel Jews: business
activities had to be ended, possessions had to be handed in, and
movements were restricted. Samson Frank, a textile trader, (son of
greengrocer Frank) and his wife Sara Heny Lehrer moved in with Benjamin
and his wife Sara. They were married on the 1st of July 1942. This
marriage would only last six weeks. Samson had to report to the labour
camp in Linde, and not much later he was transported from Westerbork to
Auschwitz, where he died on the 30th of September 1942.
After the departure of Samson, Sara went to live with relatives in Den
Haag (The Hague); she died on the same day and at the same place as
On the 31st of July 1942, Benjamin was taken to the labour camp in
Vledder together with four other Meppel Jews. From there he was
deported to Westerbork on the 3rd of October. There he was reunited
with his wife Sara. Not for long, though. Benjamin and Sara were
transported to Auschwitz on the 5th of October and died there on the
8th of October.