We are deeply saddened by the passing of Sir Sigmund Sternberg and share in the mourning experienced by his family, those who knew him, and the many people he touched throughout his long life.
On the occasion of receiving the Templeton Prize in 1998, Sir Sigmund said:
“I am really a simple soul, a businessman, who, in a modest way, has been smiled on by fortune and who has tried to repay the blessings which have been bestowed on me by opening to others a sense of the goodness which lies in us all, regardless of our faith.”
Sigmund ‘Sigi’ Sternberg was born in Budapest in 1921 into a large and happy family. He watched with horror as Europe descended into war and chaos, as the familiar world in which he had grown up was swept away. His later years were to be dedicated to preventing such tragedies happening ever again.
Upon arrival in Britain in 1939, Sigi built a new life for himself and his family, but even while his businesses were flourishing, he remained deeply concerned about the relationships between the Abrahamic religions. In 1965 he gave up work and devoted the next fifty years of his life to various endeavours that sought to bring people together to overcome differences and build trust. Sigi thrived under pressure and he was in his element when working to resolve seemingly intractable conflicts. In 1984 Sigi was once again in the international spotlight when he used his immense diplomatic skills to handle the fallout from the decision to set up a convent in Auschwitz. His efforts were recognised with a Papal knighthood from Pope John Paul II and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1997 Sir Sigmund, with his friends the late Sheikh Dr Mohamed Aboulkhair Zaki Badawi, KBE, and Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke, set up the Three Faiths Forum. There are constant reminders of the impact of the life of Sir Sigmund throughout our office in Kentish Town, whether the pictures on the walls of Sir Sigmund with various global dignitaries, or the regular invitations we receive to receptions at one embassy or another on his behalf. A more personal note of appreciation comes from Stephen Shashoua who led the organisation from 2005 to 2015:
‘What is not known enough of are the chances Sir Sigmund’s gave to others to shine. In this, I offer heartfelt thanks on behalf of former and present Three Faiths Forum (3FF) for creating the vision, which we work and strive for. Throughout, he has encouraged us, removed barriers, and allowed us to stand on his huge shoulders’.
This speaks not just of a great statesman in the national and international arenas, but of a profound, sensitive, caring and outstanding human being. Although I did not have the good fortune to get to know Sir Sigmund myself, 3FF is an important part of his legacy. We will continue to strive for the vision he believed in, of a world where people live together in mutual respect and understanding, regardless of their faith.
May Sir Sigmund’s soul be bound up in the bond of life.