Richard Sonnenfeldt. RIP.

Discussion in 'Memorials & Cemeteries' started by CXX, Oct 15, 2009.

  1. CXX

    CXX New Member

    Richard Sonnenfeldt - Telegraph

    Richard Sonnenfeldt, who died on October 9 aged 86, was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who became the principal interpreter for American prosecutors at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, helping to interrogate some of the most notorious leaders of the Third Reich.

    Among the 21 men he questioned were Hermann Goering, commander of the Luftwaffe and Hitler's designated successor; Albert Speer, who ran Germany's war machine as armaments minister; and Rudolf Hess, who had been Hitler's deputy in the Nazi Party. All bar Hess were convicted of war crimes.

    Sonnenfeldt's selection for this role was entirely fortuitous. As a private in the US Army, he had fought at the Battle of the Bulge and was working in a vehicle maintenance pool, greasing an armoured car, when he came to the attention of General William "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS – later the CIA).

    Donovan wanted an interpreter, and Sonnenfeldt – fluent in both German and English – was ideal. Donovan subsequently passed him on to the chief US prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert H Jackson, whose team was interrogating the 21 leading Nazis who would become defendants at Nuremberg. Sonnenfeldt effectively became the senior interrogator as he translated for six or seven hours a day from July to October 1945.

    He was then one of the two men who actually served the indictments, and in his autobiography, Witness to Nuremberg (2006), he wrote: "As we went through the awful recital of crimes over and over, for each of the 21 inmates, hour after hour, I envisioned anew the stacks of pitiful corpses and gagged once again on the smell of assembly-line extermination these men and their cohorts had unleashed... Elsewhere they might easily have been taken for a group of very ordinary men, picked at random from a crowd."

    In an interview in 2007, Sonnenfeldt recalled telling Goering: "When I translate the colonel's questions into German and your answers into English, you keep quiet until I am finished. You don't interrupt. When the stenographer has recorded my translation, you may tell me if you have a problem, and then I will decide whether it is necessary to consider your comments."

    At no time, he said, was he motivated by revenge: "Of course, I felt great satisfaction to be at Nuremberg, but my mind was more on doing my job than avenging a personal past in Nazi Germany. As to punishing the defendants for what they had done to humanity – that was the assigned task of the tribunal."

    When the business of Nuremberg had been completed, Justice Jackson recommended Sonnenfeldt – by then a sergeant – for the US Army Commendation Ribbon.

    Richard Wolfgang Sonnenfeldt was born in Berlin on July 23 1923 and grew up at Gardelegen, in north-east Germany. Both his parents were doctors, and in September 1938, aware that the family should get out of Germany, they sent him and his younger brother, Helmut, to England, where they went to the New Herrlingen School, at Bunce Court, Otterden, in Kent, which took in many Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

    In 1940, however, Richard was classified as an enemy alien and deported to Australia. (His brother, then 14, was allowed to remain in England.) But the Australians allowed him to make his way, via India, to the United States. He arrived there in 1941 to be reunited with his brother and his parents, who had escaped to Sweden before going to live near Baltimore, Maryland.

    Richard found work as an electrician in Baltimore, was granted American citizenship and joined the US Army. He was present at the liberation of Dachau concentration camp in April 1945.

    After leaving Nuremberg, Sonnenfeldt returned to the United States and studied Electrical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. He then joined the Radio Corporation of America (later RCA), where he worked on the development of colour television.

    He later worked on computer technology for the Nasa moon shots and was an executive with NBC. He retired in 2003 as chief executive of NAPP Systems, which produces newspaper printing plates.

    In 2006 he was interviewed for the BBC docudrama Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial.

    Richard Sonnenfeldt had a sharp mind, taking a keen interest in literature, history and science. He was an inveterate tinkerer with all manner of devices. In recent years, after he had suffered a stroke, his bedroom became his "command centre", festooned with circuits, cables, disks and scanners which he had adapted for his personal use. Among his pastimes was chess, but his real passion was bridge, which occupied him every Thursday.

    A keen and proficient sailor, Sonnenfeldt – with a small crew which included one of his sons – crossed the Atlantic three times in his seventies in his 45ft yacht, Peregrine.

    His first wife, Shirley, died in 1979. He is survived by his second, Barbara, and by two sons and a daughter from his first marriage and three stepdaughters.
  2. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

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