Richard W. Sonnenfeldt, the chief interpreter for American prosecutors at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, has died. He was 86.
Sonnenfeldt died Friday at his home in Port Washington, N.Y., of complications from a stroke, said his wife, Barbara.
Assigned to the International Military Tribunal, Sonnenfeldt interrogated some of World War II's most notorious Nazi leaders, including Hitler's second-in-command, Hermann Goering; Albert Speer, who headed Germany's war manufacturing; and Reich minister Rudolf Hess. They were all convicted as war criminals.
"Hitler was not on trial at Nuremberg, but he was a large presence at the trial," Sonnenfeldt told Newsday in a 2007 interview. "Virtually all of the defendants tried to blame him for their criminal deeds -- he was their Fuhrer who had to be obeyed."
Sonnenfeldt recounted his role in the 1945-46 legal proceedings in his memoir, "Witness to Nuremberg."
A Jew born in Germany in 1923 to parents who were both physicians, Sonnenfeldt was sent with his younger brother to boarding school in England in 1938. After being declared an enemy alien in 1940, Sonnenfeldt was put on a ship bound for Australia. He won his release after writing a letter to then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill arguing his innocence and was dropped off in India. The 17-year-old Sonnenfeldt found a job at a radio factory until he had enough money to pay for passage to Baltimore, where his parents had safely escaped via Sweden.