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TR award to Stern is inspired choice

The selection of the late Herman Stern as recipient of North Dakota’s highest citizen honor is an inspired choice. Stern’s grandsons, John and Rick, will accept the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award today from Gov. Jack Dalrymple at a luncheon in Fargo. Herman Stern died in 1980.

Stern was North Dakota’s — and one of the nation’s — most remarkable champions of European Jews threatened by the rise of Nazism in Germany and Austria in the 1930s. As a successful businessman and civic leader in the state (he came to the U.S. at about the turn of the 20th century to work in his cousin’s Straus Clothing Store in Casselton) he embarked on a personal mission to bring Jews to America. By that time he’d established himself as the state’s premier clothing retailer with stores in several North Dakota cities. He was active in all manner of civic affairs, including lifelong support for the Boy Scouts.

He and his wife, Adeline, doggedly worked with a sometimes-reluctant U.S. State Department to bring as many as 200 German Jews out of what was soon to be recognized as the Holocaust. Stern took on a task that included negotiating complicated paperwork and multi-level bureaucracy. Moreover, he had to overcome official resistance borne of endemic anti-Semitism in Congress and in the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt. He had to guarantee that none of the rescued Jews would become wards of the state.

Stern’s story as a pioneer businessman, civic leader and philanthropist would be sufficient to qualify for the Rough Rider. But his extraordinary work to save people from what were to become the worst excesses of tyranny in modern history is an accomplishment that puts him in a truly special category.

The Rough Rider award ceremony is more than recognition of business acumen and public service. It’s a celebration of Herman Stern’s lasting legacy as a humanitarian who made a difference.