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  • Witness to Nuremberg

  • The Many Lives of the Man Who Translated at the Nazi War Trials
  • By: W. Richard Sonnenfeldt
  • Narrated by: Robert Blumenfeld
  • Length: 7 hrs and 52 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (70 ratings)

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Editor reviews

Richard Sonnenfeldt has lived an incredible life. In this memoir, Sonnenfeldt recounts his numerous brushes with history. The first and central story surrounds his role as lead translator for the Nuremburg Trials. Intimate and thought-provoking, Witness to Nuremberg: The Many Lives of the Man Who Translated at the Nazi War Trials in an insider's account of one of history's greatest judicial episodes. Robert Blumenfeld gives a distinguished performance. Well-rehearsed and fast paced, Blumenfeld succeeds in his reading of Sonnenfeldt's intimate reflections on his past.

Summary

In this gripping memoir by the chief American interpreter at the Nuremberg trials, Richard Sonnenfeldt recounts a remarkable life. By the time he was 18, Sonnenfeldt had grown up in Germany, escaped to England, been deported to Australia as a "German enemy alien", arrived in the U.S., and joined the U.S. Army. By age 22 he had fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp, when he was appointed chief interpreter for the American prosecution of Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials.

During his service, he spent pretrial time with Hermann Göering as well as other top Nazi leaders like von Ribbentrop, Rudolph Höss, and Julius Streicher, the infamous editor of the anti-Semitic Der Sturmer.

An engineer in later life, Sonnenfeldt was also a principal developer of color TV and computer technology and a key player in NASA's preparation of the first moon shot.

©2006 Richard W. Sonnenfeldt (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • MR
  • 01-04-13

What an amazing life

Firstly, the narrators voice takes some getting used to, but once you do the story is awesome. This man went through so much and had such a positive life in such a negative period of history. He turned everything bad that happened to him to his advantage. There was never a dull moment in this and it was interesting to get a first eye look at life after the war.

2 people found this helpful

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An amazing story

This was an absorbing story from start to finish . I enjoyed it immensely.
Well narrated also.

1 person found this helpful

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narration comes over a little grandiose.

this is a really good book but the style of the narration is a bit grandiose and over the top and comes over as a vanity project which it defiantly is not.

1 person found this helpful

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very interesting life

Great book
this man had an amazing story to tell.
would definitely recommend this book

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Cheeky title!

I downloaded this because I’m interested in the Nuremberg trials. Little did I know that Nuremberg was going to occupy about one fifth of the book, the other four fifths being devoted to the author’s autobiography! It was a bit offputting when it became obvious that the trials were going to be left behind and, here we are, embarking on the life story of someone we’ve never heard of.
However, both parts are extremely interesting, and if by headlining Nuremberg the author managed to get his life story published, who can blame him? At Nuremberg he was mainly involved in pre trial interpretation of the war criminals, accompanying the various lawyers needing to build up their cases but, astonishingly, he also seems to have been allowed to interview the accused on his own, apparently confronting them and extracting interesting quotes, denials, confessions. I use the words “seems & “apparently” because I have a niggling doubt about the veracity of this (then) young man’s personal involvement in so much sensitive work - but who knows? I have a feeling I’ve heard all the Nazi’s words before, so it would be easy enough to incorporate them in a book saying it was you who winkled them out!
Our hero apparently self excluded from interpreting at the trial itself, telling his bosses he felt inadequate to do the speedy simultaneous translation required, so with his own involvement at an end, the Nuremberg section abruptly ends too.

We then pass to his life, which he chronicles faultlessly in terms of capturing the living conditions, beliefs and atmosphere of pre War Germany, and the family values and uprightness of a Jewish family. As anti-semitism grows, the book gets really scary. The author and his family manage to escape at the last viable moment, though with children and parents in different countries and not before the parents have been treated atrociously, leaving them scarred and timid for life. There follows a spell in an enlightened English boarding school, which the author loves, and does well (there is nothing, ever, at which he does not come top of the class!) but interrupted by internment. The author is caught up because he’s considered a German thus enemy alien, not a Jewish refugee. It’s an object lesson to hear a first person account of the cloddish, clumsy selection of internees in our country, where Jewish refugees, Poles etc were banged up together with vicious Nazi POWs, some of the British guards being sadists and not much better than Nazis themselves. With a herd of others, the author gets shipped to Australia where, again, he performs some feat that earns him special treatment, so off he goes to India where, apparently still in internment, he leads a life of freedom, even getting himself some employment,. Again, in this section, the author gives some compelling descriptions of the scenes and atmosphere there, and of the supine attitudes of many Indians, downtrodden by Imperialism.
I
Then comes a miraculous visa for the USA and he’s able to join his parents, develop an American accent and set off on a career path. US abandonment of neutrality happens, so he enlists, does some important fighting and truck driving in France and at The Bulge, before being identified as properly bilingual and sent to Nuremberg. All before he was 20!

Despite getting a bit fed up and slightly sceptical of the author’s self aggrandisement, I actually loved most of this book, which you could almost call a picaresque novel. He does get around; he does have lucky breaks; he does work hard to improve his lot. But he also observes human beings and their foibles, and develops a world view that positively condemns hatred, prejudice, exclusion, sheep like behaviour and poor education, and tries to follow an honourable, humane way of life - not far off from the concepts of behaviour handed down by his parents. There’s an interesting episode when, much later on, he visits the high school in his German home town, and finds both students and teachers unable to think for themselves or venture an opinion. Because of its location his town became part of East Germany, so its citizens have endured 12 years of Nazi indoctrination followed by almost 50 of the Communist version. Even 3 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the citizens are still downtrodden and timid.

One thing this author must be applauded for is getting very close to the “whys” and “hows’ of a population being so easily converted to, essentially, acts of evil. There wasn’t much evidence of the so-called “good German”, he concludes. Many psychologists have tried to plumb the Nazi mentality but Richard Sonnenfeldt to my mind comes out with the best explanation.

Warts & all this is a humane, sympathetic account of a life well lived in often difficult circumstances by someone with great observational & descriptive powers who lets the reader in to every aspect of this extraordinary and sometimes bizarre life.

No complaints about the narrator. Once you get used to his tone, he takes you on the ride adeptly.

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Amazing life story; more than just Nuremberg

I must admit, that in my haste to sample a book about the War Trials, I didn't expect the life story of this author - but what a bonus! A life well lived, and an amazing perspective brings much more depth to a German Jewish lad's lot. Very illuminating, inspiring and food for thought.

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A great book and life

An incredible life and someone I would very much have liked to have been able to meet

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Very well worth listening to; a little hard going at times but some really good messages about freedom, democracy and human rights that are very apposite today.

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Hmm, fair to middling

Can't fault the narration , but the story lags when two generational back stories take up half the book.

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  • BM
  • 18-10-21

Excellent

I don’t think I’ve listened to a better audiobook in two years of using Audible, the fact it was a free listen makes it even better.
An amazing story, very well narrated, and a story full of lessons for the betterment of the human condition.
Highly recommended.

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  • Kathy
  • 23-03-12

So much more than expected

This story was so much more than I expected. What a life Mr. Sonnenfeldt had! Very well written and narrated. It left me gob-smacked!

9 people found this helpful

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  • Cookie
  • 08-04-12

A Whole Life

The Nuremberg chapter of this man's life was just one of the stories told in this book. It is a very comprehensive story of one Jewish German's experiences in an almost "Forrest Gump", "I was there" scenario. Totally amazing.
Sadly, the narrator gave it a reading that was at once braggaocious and defensive as if a super big chip was on his shoulder. I don't think this is what the author had in mind, as it does not come off this way in the written book.
The endings (that go on and on), become a bit preachy, but all in all this a great story that could have been presented better. Still well worth your credit.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Nate C
  • 23-10-12

Very VERY little trials

This book is about the man and not so much the trials. I was really hoping to learn about these trials. This is not the book for that.

2 people found this helpful

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  • mr kieran j murphy
  • 18-03-12

Story is great but the performance grated

I really enjoyed the story. Both from the point of view of the historical information and the personal story of the author. The performance however grated on me....a lot. The reader sounded like he was putting on a false posh accent. The story was really good if you can get past the performance.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Freddy's sister
  • 30-09-12

Disappointing

Is there anything you would change about this book?

More about what went on at the trials and less about the author.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

More about what went on at the trials and less about the author.

How could the performance have been better?

Author brags about his American accent and was read by someone with English accent. Reader came across as arrogant.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Allis
  • 25-04-18

warning for today

His story is relevant to today's Trumpian world. Never ever stop fighting the good fight!

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-02-18

Not what I expected

I wanted a book about the trials, not about the author, although it was interesting

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  • Simone
  • 18-05-17

Captivating!

Despite the accurate title, I didn’t realise that this book was not just about Richard Sonnenfeldt’s experiences at the Nuremburg trials, but rather a complete biography of his life. If you picked up this book just to learn more about the trials, stop. It’s not the book for you.

Once I realized the subject matter was more about the man, I found the book extremely interesting! I was completely captivated and even missed my subway stop on the way to work one morning I was so engrossed. What a life!

The narration on the other hand was just terrible. After listening for about 15 minutes and debating whether I should return the book (I am SO glad I didn’t) I realised I had lived this negative narration experience before – I recognized the voice. Sure enough, in 2014 I listened to “Escape from Sobibor” and described the narrator as: Monotone, staccato, no emotion, unvarying in pitch, no intonation and mechanical. It all still applies although I have to admit that I did get used to it.

The Epilogue to me felt like a cautionary tale, especially so because it was written long before anyone dreamt of the current mess that is Trump… it was almost prophetic! I found it all very sobering.