Charlotte Stenham (née Cohn) was born in 1922 in the Eppendorf district of Hamburg, not far from the Grindel, where Jewish life flourished. Her father had served in World War One and had been wounded and decorated. He ran the family business. The family was not religious but had lost most of their non-Jewish social circle due to the rise in antisemitism. Charlotte’s education was disrupted by anti-Jewish measures and she had to move to a Jewish girls’ school (Höhere jüdische Töchterscule). In 1938 she was sent by her parents to Bunce Court School in Kent, which was largely a refugee establishment.
Charlotte left the school in 1940. She initially had a difficult time living on her own in London, until she was virtually adopted by the Oppenheimer family, refugees from Nuremberg who lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb. She found a job at Bloomsbury House with the Jewish Refugees Committee and also worked at night in the Fire Service in Soho.
In 1944 Charlotte married Charles Stenham (Sternheim) from Leipzig. The wedding was held at the North-Western Reform Synagogue in Alyth Gardens by the refugee Rabbi Werner van der Zyl. The couple settled in London and had two sons. Charles became a successful businessman, mainly selling brushes for art, and worked with a large refugee business that manufactured brushes on the Teme Valley Industrial Estate, Gateshead.