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Herbert Sonnenfeld

Epithet: World War Two Isle of Man Internee & Artist

Record type: Second World War Internees

Biography: Herbert Sonnenfeld was a Jewish photographer, particularly active during the 1930s. His photographs constitute one of the largest and most important portfolios in the Jewish Museum Berlin’s photographic archive. The Sonnenfeld collection consists of some 3000 negatives taken between 1933 and 1938. Along with Abraham Pisarek and Arno Kikoler, Sonnenfeld is one of the few Jewish photographers to document Jewish life in and around Berlin in the 1930s, passing down to us today an unparalleled photographic witness to that period.

Sonnenfeld first worked as an insurance employee before being laid off as a result of the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic measures. He came to photography circuitously and was an autodidact. Following a trip to Palestine in 1933, his wife Leni approached various Jewish newspapers and offered them her husband’s pictures. They were enthusiastic, promptly bought up the prints, and asked for more. Thus began Sonnenfeld’s career as a press photographer.

In the years to come, he captured the events, places, and people central to Jewish life in Germany.

At the end of 1939 the Sonnenfelds succeeded in emigrating to New York, and only a small portion of the photographs of those years made their way into the luggage the couple took with them. Herbert Sonnenfeld took up his camera again in New York, together with his wife, who had often accompanied him as an assistant, and they maintained the specialisation in Jewish themes.

He was interend in the Isle of Man in 1940.

Sonnenfeld died in 1972 at the age of 65.

Information from the Archives:

House 17, Mooragh Camp, Ramsey, Later Married Aliens Internment Camp c/o Malmore.(sic) - Wife Berta/Bertha (see Women's list). - Photographed (58.B.) 6.8.41. - Refugee. - While at the Mooragh Camp he took up sketching and portraits and Ludwig Meidner thought he had some talent and offered to help him develop this talent. - Shared a room with Macky Wertheimer and a Nazi. - One day he was handed a yellow envelope and inside was a letter signed by the camp commandant "Dear Sir, you are hereby informed that on July 8th 1940 you will present yourself, all belongings packed, at noontime at the main square of the Mooragh Camp, ready for shipment overseas." He was horrified and pleaded with the commandant not to send him as after 6 weeks he still did not know what had happened to his wife and daughter. The next day came the news of the sinking of the Arandora Star on July 2nd 1940 at 6.00 am this terrified Herbert even more. - Eventually Macky volunteered to take Herbert's place and he went to Australia while Herbert stayed in camp. - His daughter Gerda Marie sneaked away from Port St. Mary and managed to get to Ramsey by bus. When stopped by the guard she sat down and said she would stay there until she was allowed to see her father. The Commandant took pity on her and allowed them to meet in his office for a short while even though it was against regulations. - Whilst at the Married Camp Herbert worked on a farm belonging to Mr. Quiggin for 1 shilling a day. Mr. Quiggin invited several internees and their families to his daughter's wedding festivities. - The family was released in 1942 and went to Wigan where he was given a job of packing army mackintoshes for J. S. Rapport and Co. This being considered as war work. In Wigan they were reunited with his wife's parents. - After the war the family returned to Amsterdam where he worked as an insurance agent. He never did any more sketches. - From Barbed Wire on the Isle of Man B115/39.

Nationality: German

Gender: Male

Date of death: 1972


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