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|Memories of VideoDisc - Who's Who in VideoDisc|
Richard Sonnenfeldt was Staff Vice President, SelectaVision VideoDisc Operations from 1974 through 1978.
Richard W. Sonnenfeldt received the B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering in 1949 at Johns Hopkins University. From 1941-43 and 1946-49 he designed control circuits and systems for the Charles Electric Company of Baltimore. In 1949 he joined RCA, where he was engaged in advanced development work on monochrome and color television receivers. He is now with Advanced Development, Industrial Electronic Products. Mr. Sonnenfeldt is a member of Tau Beta Pi, Omicron Delta Kappa, and a Senior Member of the Institute of Radio Engineers.
- RCA 1958 Company Biography
Richard W. Sonnenfeldt graduated cum laude from Johns Hopkins University in 1949 and immediately pursued graduate studies in electronics. Following service in World War II, Mr. Sonnenfeldt was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services and was later Chief Interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials. He began his business career with RCA, Camden, N. J. in 1949 where he rose from student engineer to Manager of Engineering and Production of RCA's Industrial Computer Systems Department.
Beginning in 1962 and the following three years, Mr. Sonnenfeldt was General Manager of Computer Systems Division of the Foxboro Co. In 1965, he was elected President and Chief Executive Officer of Digitronics Corporation, during which time he also served the company as Chairman of the Executive Committee and as a member of its Board of Directors. He rejoined RCA in August 1970 as Staff Vice President, New Business Programs.
On December 18, 1974, he was appointed Staff Vice President SelectaVision VideoDisc Operations. In this post, Mr. Sonnenfeldt assumed responsibility for the development of the Company's VideoDisc system, including marketing and programming development. He is a fellow of IEEE and a senior member of the Instrument Society of America and is also a member of Tau Beta Pi and Omicron Delta Kappa honorary fraternities.
- RCA 1978 Company Biography
In June 1978, Richard Sonnenfeldt, who had served as Staff Vice President, "SelectaVision" VideoDisc Project since 1974 was elected Vice President "SelectaVision" VideoDisc Project. In January 1979, Mr. Sonnenfeldt was named Vice President, Special Corporate Projects and later became an Executive Vice President at NBC.
Richard Sonnenfeldt presided over the first demonstration of the CED System to the technology press on March 19, 1975.
A profile of Richard W. Sonnenfeldt's varied career appeared in the July 2000 issue of IEEE Spectrum.
Read the complete VIDEODISK Chapter from Richard Sonnenfeldt's Autobiography.
See Richard Sonnenfeldt on slide 436 from Memories of VideoDisc.
Richard W. Sonnenfeldt, who fled Nazi Germany as a teenager, became the chief interpreter for American prosecutors at the Nuremberg war crimes trials and interrogated some of the most notorious Nazi leaders of World War II, died Friday at his home in Port Washington, N.Y. He was 86. The cause was complications of a stroke, his son Michael said.
Mr. Sonnenfeldt later became an electrical engineer and was part of an RCA team that developed color television.
A German-born Jew who fled his native country at age 15, Mr. Sonnenfeldt found himself face to face with almost two dozen Nazi oppressors only seven years later, in 1945. Among them were Hermann Goering, Hitler's second in command; the industrialist Albert Speer, who ran Germany's war manufacturing; and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi foreign minister. All were tried and convicted as war criminals by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg.
Mr. Sonnenfeldt, at the time a United States Army private who had helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp, was plucked out of an Army motor pool to be chief interpreter, recognized as a rare native German speaker who had a firm command of English. In that role, he participated in the pretrial interrogations of prisoners, commonly held in the bare rooms of the Palace of Justice.
His first interrogation was of Goering, who had been Hitler's designated successor. During the encounter, Mr. Sonnenfeldt said, he felt "the Jewish refugee I once had been tugging at my sleeve," he wrote in his autobiography, "Witness to Nuremberg" (2006, Arcade Publishing).
Despite his nervousness, he said, he sharply reprimanded Goering for interrupting. "When I speak, you don't interrupt me," he said to Goering, recalling his words in an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS in 2007. "You wait until I'm finished. And then when you have to say something, I will listen to you and decide whether it's necessary to translate it." At one point, remembering a childhood joke, he addressed him as "Herr Gering," a play on the name that means "little nothing" in German.
"He began as an interpreter but he evolved into a fairly significant interrogator," said John Q. Barrett, a professor at St. John's University who has written about the Nuremberg trials and was a friend of Mr. Sonnenfeldt's. "He was the person who could really thrust and parry with the prisoner in his native tongue."
One of Mr. Sonnenfeldt's duties was to read the indictments to each prisoner. "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," he wrote in his autobiography. "Their clean hands reached out for the bundles of stapled documents that catalogued their past. Elsewhere they might have easily have been taken for a group of very ordinary men, picked at random from a crowd."
Richard Wolfgang Sonnenfeldt was born on July 23, 1923, in Berlin and grew up in Gardelegen, in northeastern Germany. In 1938, his parents, Walter and Gertrud Sonnenfeldt, both physicians, sent him and his younger brother, Helmut, to a boarding school in England as part of an attempt to move the family out of Germany.
Two years later, in the midst of war, Mr. Sonnenfeldt was declared an enemy alien because of his nationality and deported to Australia. (His brother, only 14, was allowed to stay.) After arriving in Australia, he pleaded his desire as a Jew to fight the Nazis and was released. He began a long return journey, in which he set foot on five continents and survived a torpedo attack. In 1941, arriving in the United States, he was reunited with his brother and parents, who had escaped to Sweden before settling in the Baltimore area. After becoming an American citizen, Mr. Sonnenfeldt was drafted into the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped to liberate Dachau. A month later, General William J. Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services, plucked Mr. Sonnenfeldt out of the Army motor pool, saying his English was "better than we've heard from any other interpreter," according to the autobiography.
Mr. Sonnenfeldt returned to the United States before the trials were completed, turning down requests that he stay on. Enrolling at Johns Hopkins University, he studied electrical engineering and after graduating joined the Radio Corporation of America, as RCA was known then. As part of the color television development team, he worked on transmitting color television signals.
Mr. Sonnenfeldt also did early work in the development of computers, held executive posts at NBC and other companies, and was dean of the Graduate School of Management at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.
In his 70s, Mr. Sonnenfeldt, an avid sailor, crossed the Atlantic three times in his 45-foot sailboat. His first wife, the former Shirley C. Aronoff, died in 1979. Besides his son Michael, he is survived by his wife, the former Barbara A. Hausman; two other children, Ann Goldberg and Lawrence Sonnenfeldt; three stepchildren, Elizabeth Holdstein, Catherine Hausman and Maggi DeNicola; and his brother, Helmut.
Mr. Sonnenfeldt continued to write and speak, in English and in German, about his experience in Nuremberg. "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," he said in his autobiography. "As to punishing the defendants for what they had done to humanity - that was the assigned task of the tribunal."
- New York Times Obituary 10/13/2009
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