Aug. 6, 1924 — Jan. 1, 2022
One by one, the children Ernest Stock ’49 had always played with donned the brown shirts of the Hitler Youth. His closest friend came to him one day and ended their bond; his Hitler Youth group leader had warned him against being seen with a Jew.
In third grade, Ernst, who grew up near Frankfurt, Germany, was forced out of his local public school and into a Jewish parochial school. Not long after that, a gang of kids chased him home, “yelling ‘Jew’ at the top of their lungs and trying to hit me with rocks and broken glass,” Ernst later wrote. Ernst, his class’s track star, outraced the gang to his apartment.
In 1938, on Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when Nazis attacked their Jewish neighbors, thugs broke into the Stocks’ home and dragged away his father, Leo, who had believed that the Nazi movement would fade, that Germans would not tolerate such extremism. Ernst watched as the mob torched the synagogue his family attended.
A few weeks later, Ernst, then 14, and his 10-year-old sister, Lotte, left Germany forever, joining a Kindertransport of 80 children from a Frankfurt orphanage escaping to France. His mother stayed behind, waiting for his father to be released from the Buchenwald concentration camp. Ernst’s family would not be reunited for nearly eight years.
In June 1940, as the Germans advanced toward their French refuge, the Stock children took off on their own, armed with visas to the United States but without a way to cross the ocean. For weeks, they stayed barely ahead of Nazi troops, jumping on bicycles, freight trains, and military transports; hitching rides, spending long days at consulates searching for a ship. They made their way across Spain and Portugal, where they finally boarded the S.S. Manhattan and crossed the Atlantic as stowaways — German citizens on a ship reserved for Americans.
Reunited with his mother in New York, Ernst, now Ernie, still 15, found work delivering medications for a pharmacy, a job that lasted only a few weeks because, as Stock wrote, “teen-aged boys would chase after me in the street because I was a Jew,” calling him “kike.” Once again, he outran them. He found better work, blazed through night high school, and began night courses at City College.
In 1943, he was drafted into the Army, became a U.S. citizen, and eagerly returned to Europe to fight the Nazis — and search for his father, who had hidden with a Dutch couple through much of the war.
Stock hadn’t heard from his father in a year and a half but drove from his posting in Brussels to Utrecht, Holland, where he found Leo Stock sitting behind a ground-floor window of a building near the false addresses he’d used on his earlier letters to America.
“Don’t you know me?” the son asked.
No, his father said.
“Ich bin dein Sohn, Ernst!” came the reply. “I am your son, Ernst.”
The University still required chapel attendance and rather than sit through the Christian service, Stock asked to be allowed to organize a Jewish group on campus. Thus was born the Student Hebrew Association, with Stock as chairman.
By early 1946, Stock’s unit was stateside, at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where Ernie — now officially Ernest — read in Stars and Stripes that the Army was administering a college entrance exam. Stock did so well that he gained admission to Princeton as a sophomore transfer student, his tuition covered by the G.I. Bill.
Princeton struck Stock as a “high-level playground for the youth of the WASP elite,” he wrote. It seemed like “the war had been little more than an unpleasant interlude.”
He realized “there were quite a few people around who were much smarter than I was,” devoted himself to “a vast amount of reading,” and joined The Daily Princetonian, becoming co-managing editor. That position “helped get me accepted by Prospect,” the one eating club known to accept Jews.
The University still required chapel attendance, and rather than sit through the Christian service, Stock asked to be allowed to organize a Jewish group on campus. Thus was born the Student Hebrew Association, with Stock as chairman.
His time at Princeton was among the happiest of his life, he wrote, but it was no respite from antisemitism. His assigned roommate, also a war veteran, announced toward the end of the semester that he was moving out. “My father wouldn’t let me room with a Jew,” he explained.
Things went better at Prospect, where students were curious about him, though saturated with stereotypes: At dinner, they’d ask Stock: “Why don’t Jews like to drink? Why are they so clannish? Why are they such grinds?”
Stock was saddened that none of his club friends invited him to their homes or to join them on their jaunts to New York. He decided “to become part of a society where I would be truly at home, where I would not have to apologize for what I was and where no doors would be closed to me because I was a Jew.”
After graduate work at Columbia and a few years as a journalist, Stock moved from New York to Israel in 1961, making him a member of what he called “the exclusive roster” of people who had lived under a totalitarian, antisemitic regime; escaped the Holocaust; lived “under a free, democratic government”; and finally moved to “the world’s only sovereign Jewish state.”
Stock married an Israeli woman, ran Brandeis University’s study program in Jerusalem, was on the faculty of two Israeli universities, and wrote several books on Israel’s politics and Israeli-Arab relations. In 2004, he became an Israeli citizen.
“The most meaningful experience of my life,” he told classmates in a Reunions yearbook, “was the privilege of being a participant observer in the revival of a Jewish polity after 2,000 years.”
Marc Fisher ’80 is senior editor at The Washington Post and chair of the PAW board.