February 25, 2020

Charlotte Stern Friedman, Frank Family Friend, 98

Longtime Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf board member Charlotte “Lotte” Stern Friedman, a friend and schoolmate of Anne Frank, died April 13 at 98.

She was born on July 20, 1920, in Aachen, Germany, to Max and Anna Stern. Her deafness went unnoticed until she was 2 years old and contracted  typhoid fever. While recovering, Stern got too close to a hot stove. Her mother yelled a warning, then realized her daughter couldn’t hear her.

As a child, Stern’s family knew the family of Anne Frank, whose grandmother lived down the street from the Sterns. The Sterns and Franks often socialized, and their children went to school together. Both families eventually escaped to Holland at the same time.

After her mother’s death, Stern’s father married a woman named Minna in 1929. Minna helped Stern perfect lip-reading skills, involved Stern in sports and taught her to be independent. Stern was slated to graduate from school at age 13, but an edict declared Jewish children couldn’t attain higher public education. So Stern’s parents hired private tutors and sent her to a private art school.

Stern left home at age 17 to study at the Private Art School in Berlin. She thought she would stay in Berlin, but in November 1938, Stern witnessed Kristallnacht violence. She immediately left Berlin.

In November 1938, Stern witnessed Kristallnacht violence, and immediately left Berlin.

Charlotte Stern had been born in a Catholic hospital, and her birth certificate registered her as Catholic. She went to a police station to get an ID allowing her to travel. Jews were allowed to purchase only third-class train tickets. To try to ensure her safety, Stern bought a second-class ticket and saluted soldiers.

Using his connections, Max obtained passports for the family. Two weeks later, they boarded a train to Rotterdam, Netherlands. The soldier checking the passports failed to notice the page identifying them as Jews.

When the Sterns arrived, authorities confiscated their passports and held the family in a guarded detention facility. After a few weeks, the Sterns transferred to an Amsterdam hotel under guard. Max and Minna eventually moved to an apartment, but Charlotte stayed in detention. During this time, Stern worked with nurses taking care of detainees’ medical needs.

At age 19, she was released. The law forbade her to live with her parents, so she initially lived alone, then later, with her aunt. Working as a maid during this time, Stern had a strict curfew and had to report monthly to the police.

In 1940, Max secured passports and visas, and the Sterns left for New York. Charlotte was the only passenger not released when they arrived. The U.S. government wouldn’t admit anyone with a disability or mental illness, but she had a letter of sponsorship from a family member in San Francisco. The doctors and staff did the required interview and tested her. They returned her passport. Stern spent several months working temporary jobs, including making leather gloves and sketching for a wallpaper factory.

In 1940, Stern attended the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis with a scholarship from the Jewish Federation. In exchange for room and board, she cared for a deaf child with cerebral palsy. She learned English, then moved to Los Angeles, taking a job as a technical designer at an automotive school.

In 1945, The Volta Review published an article about and photo of Stern. Irvin Friedman, president and co-founder of the Hebrew Association of the Deaf in Chicago, kept the article. When Friedman attended a convention of the Jewish deaf in Los Angeles, he showed the picture and obtained Stern’s address. They married in a small Jewish chapel on Nov. 7, 1948. Stern and Friedman had two sons, Joey and Myron.

Stern and Friedman moved to Los Angeles and in 1970. Stern returned to school at age 57, graduating in 1977 as a licensed vocational nurse from Los Angeles Trade Technical College. She and four deaf classmates had proven their nursing abilities by state standards but California denied their licenses because they were deaf. St. John of God Catholic Church in Norwalk later hired her to care for a woman with Alzheimer’s disease.

They became involved with Temple Beth Solomon (TBS) of the Deaf. They received numerous awards for their work, years on the board of directors and involvement with the sisterhood. Friedman died in 1996, but Stern remained an active member of the TBS board until 2010.