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Sven Sonnenberg papers

Document | Not Digitized | Accession Number: 2002.49.1

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    One photograph of Elisabeth Sonnenberg donor's wife dated October 8, 1964, in Warsaw, Poland, and one photograph of Sven and Sylvia Sonnenberg at an orphanage in Helenówek, Poland, circa 1948.
    inclusive:  1948-1964
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Sven Sonnenberg
    Collection Creator
    Sven Sonnenberg
    Sven Sonnenberg was born in Grudziadz, Poland, on October 17, 1931 to a Jewish father, Martin Sonnenberg, and a non-Jewish, German mother, Louise Theophil. He had a brother and a younger sister, Sylvia, who was born on October 20, 1934. Martin Nathan Sonnenberg was born in 1897 and served in the German Army during World War I. During his military service he was wounded and hospitalized in Königsberg, East Prussia. Louise was his nurse. They married in 1918 despite the dissatisfaction of Martin’s family. Louise and Martin lived in Jablonowo, Poland where the Sonnenberg family business was located. All members of the family worked in the business. Martin worked as an accountant and salesman in the wholesale of grain, lumber and other building materials. His mother, Laura Sonnenberg, and his three brothers, Alfred, Magnus, and Ari, all worked together. The Sonnenberg family spoke German at home. Martin and Louise lived in a small house in the vicinity of the larger house where the rest of the family resided.

    In 1939, during the German invasion, the Sonnenberg family escaped Jablonowo towards the Southeast of Poland. Martin was arrested by the advancing German Army and was imprisoned in Brodnica. He was released after a few days, and the family returned to their hometown of Jablonowo. The Germans confiscated the Sonnenberg family’s two houses. At the end of September 1939 the Jews of Jablonowo were transferred to Dzialdowo and after a few weeks, in November 1939, to Plock, Poland. At first they lived in a rented apartment on Krolewska Street, but after the establishment of the ghetto in Plock they were forced to move to Szeroka Street. For the next year and a half the Sonnenbergs lived in Plock. Sven’s mother did not have to stay in the ghetto since she was a non-Jewish German, but she never considered abandoning her husband and children.

    During February and March 1941, six transports of Jews from Plock arrived in Radom District. The Sonnenberg family was transferred to the Drzewica ghetto, not far from Opoczno, Poland, in the Radom region. Sven, Sylvia, and his parents found one room in the ghetto. His grandmother and his three uncles were forced to stay in the synagogue with many other displaced Jews. He witnessed the death of his grandmother and his two uncles, Magnus and Alfred, from hunger. His other uncle, Ari, died of typhus. Martin made sure that during the many round-ups for deportations to the Treblinka death camp his family stayed hidden. In the late fall of 1942, during the final liquidation of the ghetto, Martin bribed a Polish policeman so that Louise, Sven, and Sylvia could flee to the nearby forest. Martin promised to join them later, but he never did. They stayed in the forest for a day or two and decided to return to Drzewica. As they walked towards the ghetto it became clear that it had been liquidated. Louise and her two children stayed for a day hoping Martin would appear. Louise found a room in a partially destroyed house, assembled some broken furniture, and settled down with her children while Sven foraged for food in the fields. Louise found a job as a cook in a camp for Polish conscripts of the Organisation Todt. This position assured adequate nutrition and relative safety from persecution. Louise explained to the German officials that her identification documents had been lost and that she was awaiting the issue of new ones.

    In early spring 1945 the Red Army liberated the area, but Louise decided to stay in Drzewica to await the return of her husband. After about a month, when only a few of the Jews had returned, Louise, who wanted to leave Poland, took her children to Lódź. The Jewish Committee placed Sven and Sylvia in the Helenowek orphanage and arranged for Louise to work there as a cook. Louise and the children traveled to Jablonowo to recover some of their pre-war property. The house was demolished and everything else had been stolen. After a short while Louise became ill with tuberculosis and was placed in a sanatorium in Otwock, Poland, near Warsaw. She died of heart failure in 1949 and was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Lódź. Sven and Sylvia continued to live in the orphanage until graduation from high school in 1951. Sven was admitted to the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at the Polytechnic in Wroclaw, Poland. After one year he transferred to Warsaw Polytechnic where he graduated in 1957. His sister, Sylvia, was accepted to study in Moscow. Sven married Elisabeth in March 1968, and they left Poland soon after. Sylvia remained in Poland. Sven and Elisabeth settled in North Carolina. Elisabeth died in March 1998.

    Physical Details

    1 folder

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    Administrative Notes

    Donated by Sven Sonnenberg to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2002.
    Record last modified:
    2023-02-24 14:05:08
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