Fritz Stern was born February 2, 1926 in Breslau, Germany (modern Wroclaw, Poland) to a Jewish family. In 1938 his family fled Germany and eventually came to the United States. Stern obtained his B.A., Columbia College, 1946 (Phi Beta Kappa), M.A., Columbia University, 1948, and Ph. D., Columbia University, 1953. Aside from a couple of years at Cornell at the very beginning of his career, Fritz Stern spent all his working life at Columbia University, where from 1967-1992 he held the Seth Low Professorship in European History.
Stern rapidly established himself in the post-war era as one of the most influential chroniclers of modern German history alive today on either side of the Atlantic. His most important works are The Politics of Cultural Despair: A study in the Rise of Germanic Ideology (1961); Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichrder and the Building of the German Empire (1997), Dreams and Delusions: the Drama of German History (1987) and Einstein's German World (1991). These works continue to dominate the field, in some cases some four decades after they were written.
Stern has been willing to give public service in a huge array of important and prestigious organizations. Most significantly, he was an influential advisor to US policy-makers in the 1990s, including a stint as senior advisor to the US embassy in Germany 1993-1996. In 1993, former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt founded the Die Deutsche Nationalstifung on whose Senate Stern has been a member since its inception. He has been one of the trustees of the German Marshall Fund, a trustee of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, and has played equally important roles in many other grant-giving and educational bodies. His enormous role in promoting German-American relations was recognized in 1987, when he became the first foreigner ever to address the German Bundestag on the Day of German Unity. He has also been a regular public commentator on US-European relations, above all in the New York Review of Books.
Fritz Stern's public work, voice and scholarship have won a number of prestigious awards, including the Officer's Cross of the German Orden Pour le Merite (1976) and subsequent election as a member of the Orden Pour le Merite (1994); the Peace Prize of the German book trade (1999); and the Leo Baeck Medal of the Leo Baeck Institute, New York (2004). He received honorary doctorates at Oxford University (1985), the New School for Social Research, New York (1997), Columbia University (1998), and Wroclaw University, Poland (2002). His many research prizes include the Lionel Trilling Book Award (1997); the Kulturpreis Schlesien, awarded by a German-Polish jury in Wroclaw, Poland (1996); and one of Germany's premier awards, the Alexander-von-Humboldt Research Prize (1999). He has also delivered some of the most distinguished public lectures that academia has to offer.
Most recently, Professor Stern has published Five Germanys I Have Known (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006) and in the summer of 2007 lectured at the Jena Center 20th Century History, part of the Historical Institute at the Friedrich Schiller University.