The Rev. Irvin Stern, a Holocaust survivor of six different death camps who became a ritual kosher foods slaughterer, died of respiratory complications March 16 at his daughter’s home in Highland Park, New Jersey. The former Pikesville resident was 94.
Born in a Romanian village called Strumtura in the Transylvanian Carpathian mountains, he was the son of Chantza and Yisroel Dov Stern.
“As the sole survivor of his family, my grandfather immigrated to America as an orphan, began to study the craft of becoming a shochet (kosher ritual slaughterer) and began a new life in Baltimore,” said his grandson, Jeremy Diamond, a Pikesville resident.
His daughter, Adrian Diamond Wolf said, “My father’s village in Romania consisted of more than 75 Chasidic families. . . . He was related to more than half of them. Jews and gentiles got along very well. Torah learning was the most important thing to his parents. They began studying at an early age.
“Daily life was simple in their village. Homes, which consisted of one-room huts with dirt floors, did not have electricity or indoor plumbing. His mother took care of the family while his father traveled to teach Torah in the big city,” said his daughter, who lives in Pikesville.
She also said that by 1943 it became dangerous for Jews to travel on the open roads between cities. They were required to wear a yellow star in public.
“They began to fear what was happening in Europe, but without a newspaper or radio, it was difficult to hear the news first-hand. By 1944, the Jews were forced to move from their homes into Dragomerest Ghetto,” his daughter said.
She said that four weeks later they were rounded-up onto cattle car trains and sent to the Auschwitz death camp. When they arrived at night, there was pandemonium as the doors of the train cars opened. Nazis were yelling orders and dogs were barking.
At that point, Rev. Stern and his father were separated from the rest of the family and never saw them again.
“Only after the Holocaust was over, my father found out that his whole family was killed on the night they arrived in Auschwitz,” according to his daughter Adrian Diamond Wolf.
Rev. Stern and his father remained in Auschwitz for five days. Throughout the following year they were sent to the Buchenwald, Dora, Elrich, Hartzungen, and Bergen Belsen camps.
“My grandfather worked alongside his father until March 1945. At that point, his father became ill and disappeared,” said his grandson, Jeremy Diamond.
“My grandfather was alone at this point,” said his grandson. “He never gave up his strong will to survive and his faith in God. . . . On April 15, 1945 he was liberated from the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. He was 18 years old.”
In 1946 Rev. Stern was brought to America with other young orphans by Rabbi Wolf Jacobson of Ner Israel Rabbincal College in Baltimore.
As a Ner Israel student, he decided to become a shochet, or kosher slaughterer.
After 6 months of learning, he received his certification from Rabbi Joseph Feldman.
“My grandfather’s name on kosher meat was all that was needed for local kosher consumers,” said his grandson, Jeremy. “He was respected by all the rabbis in Baltimore. He became a master shochet and other shochtim and rabbis would look to him for answers or just to watch and learn from him at his craft.”
His great-grandson, Romi Diamond, said, “My Zadie (great-grandfather) didn’t just survive. He thrived after coming to America after the war. He grew his craft as a shochet, and grew his family - children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”
For most of his career he worked at two Baltimore slaughterhouses, A.W. Schmidt and Charles Schmidt in the 2100 block of Harford Road. He later worked at the J.W. Treuth & Sons on Oella Avenue.
“My grandfather could be tough on the outside but he was a softie on the inside,” said his grandson, Jeremy. “He had to be tough to survive what he did.
“Food was important to him,” his grandson said. “He had gone days without food during the war and in the death camps. When he could afford food when he was was in Baltimore, he wanted to feed everybody. He never wanted anyone to ever go hungry.”
In addition to his daughter, grandson and great-grandson, survivors include two other daughters, Susan Weiss of Detroit, Michigan and Karen Storch of Highland Park, New Jersey; and eight other grandchildren; and many great-grandchildren. His wife of more than 50 years, Naomi Fishbein died in 2020.