Antelope Valley Press - - Front Page - By RICHARD SANDOMIR The New York Times

George Sakheim, who was one of the last sur­viv­ing in­ter­preters at the Nazi war crimes tri­als in Nurem­berg, died on Dec. 5 at age 96.

The in­ter­ro­ga­tion of Ru­dolf Höss, Auschwitz’s mur­der­ous com­man­dant, had ended for the day at the Palace of Jus­tice in Nurem­berg in 1946 when George Sakheim, an in­ter­preter at the Nazi war crimes tri­als, took some pri­vate time to jot down Höss’ most chill­ing words in a small spiral-bound di­ary.

“If we do not ex­ter­mi­nate the Jewish race com­pletely now, then the Jewish race will an­ni­hi­late the Ger­man peo­ple,” Sakheim wrote in his na­tive Ger­man, record­ing words that Höss said Hitler had spo­ken about the Nazis’ “fi­nal so­lu­tion.”

More than a half-cen­tury later, Sakheim re­called his en­counter with Höss when he was in­ter­viewed about his Holo­caust ex­pe­ri­ences by the USC Shoah Foun­da­tion.

“I thought he was a mon­ster, I thought he was a de­gen­er­ate,” he said in 1998. “In my notes, I said he had an anx­ious look on his face. I was a bud­ding psy­chol­o­gist; he was fright­ened and knew he wouldn’t make it.”

Höss, who con­fessed that more than 2 mil­lion Jews had been gassed at Auschwitz from 1941 to 1943, was a de­fense wit­ness for se­nior Nazi of­fi­cials at the tri­als. He was later tried in Poland and hanged at Auschwitz.

Sakheim, who died on Dec. 5 at 96, was one of the last sur­viv­ing in­ter­preters — there were about 30 — at the In­ter­na­tional Mil­i­tary Tri­bunal, as the tri­als were of­fi­cially known, and an eye­wit­ness to its land­mark le­gal pro­ceed­ings. Only one Nurem­berg pros­e­cu­tor, Ben­jamin Ferencz, is still alive.

Sakheim’s death, at a hospital in Lans­dale, Penn­syl­va­nia., near his home in Gwynedd, was con­firmed by his son, David, who said the cause was pneu­mo­nia and a heart in­fec­tion.

In the in­ter­ro­ga­tions of Nazis like Höss and Her­mann Göring, Hitler’s deputy, Sakheim played a part in con­fronting them with in­crim­i­nat­ing ev­i­dence, “of­ten in the form of cap­tured wartime doc­u­ments that they them­selves had signed,” he wrote in The Jerusalem Post in 2015.

Dur­ing his time in Nurem­berg, Sakheim trans­lated Ger­man doc­u­ments into English; in­ter­preted the in­ter­ro­ga­tions of Höss and other Nazi lead­ers; and pro­vided si­mul­ta­ne­ous trans­la­tion of tes­ti­mony dur­ing the tri­als in Court­room 600.

At one point dur­ing his trial, Höss com­plained that Sakheim had not cor­rectly in­ter­preted his words and asked that he be re­placed.

“My dad said he was mor­ti­fied to be cor­rected like that,” David Sakheim said by phone. “But most of the time there were no such correction­s, and he was very proud of the fact that he had been able to mas­ter that art.”

Re­call­ing one of the in­ter­ro­ga­tions of Göring in the USC Shoah in­ter­view, Sakheim de­scribed him as “a very large, in­tim­i­dat­ing man, with big jowls, who looked like he had lost weight,” ad­ding, “He wasn’t get­ting the gourmet food in prison that he was used to.”

In that par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ro­ga­tion, Göring was asked not about the sys­temic mur­der of Jews but about mil­i­tary mat­ters, in par­tic­u­lar Ger­many’s aerial at­tacks against Eng­land.

“Göring sought to por­tray himself as some­one who had tried to per­suade Hitler against var­i­ous ex­cesses, such as the fire­bomb­ing of Lon­don,” Sakheim wrote in The Jerusalem Post. Göring, he re­called, had said, “I told him time and time against that we must de­stroy the English war in­dus­try in­stead of wast­ing our bombs drop­ping them on that stupid Lon­don.”

Ruben Gabriel Sakheim was born on June 12, 1923, in Ham­burg, Ger­many, to Arthur and Anuta (Plotkin) Sakheim. His fa­ther was a play­wright and artis­tic di­rec­tor of the city’s Thalia The­ater. His mother was a bank clerk.

After his fa­ther’s death in 1931, Ruben and his mother moved to Ber­lin, where she worked as a book edi­tor. But two years later, after Hitler be­came chan­cel­lor, they left for Pales­tine and set­tled in the Tel Aviv area.

His mother bought a car and be­came a taxi driver and a tour guide, plac­ing Ruben in fos­ter care with two dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies over two years. By 1936, she had started mak­ing plans to send Ruben to live in Man­hat­tan with his aunt, a doc­tor. He ar­rived in 1938; within a year, his mother died of ovar­ian can­cer.

“One day, one of my let­ters to her was re­turned, stamped ‘De­ceased,’” he said in the Shoah in­ter­view. “The next day I got a tele­gram from my mother’s girl­friend, who said that she couldn’t go on and took an over­dose of sleep­ing pills.”

He was a teenager when he moved to New York, where he changed his first name to George (after George Wash­ing­ton) and re­placed his mid­dle name with his fa­ther’s given name.

After grad­u­at­ing from high school, he sup­ported himself as an el­e­va­tor op­er­a­tor and a coun­ter­man at the Nedick’s hot­dog stand in Penn Sta­tion while at­tend­ing Columbia Uni­ver­sity. But his pur­suit of a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy was in­ter­rupted when the Army drafted him in 1943.

Be­cause he spoke Ger­man, he was sent to Camp Ritchie in Mary­land, where he went through a train­ing pro­gram in in­ter­ro­gat­ing pris­on­ers of war, read­ing maps and an­a­lyz­ing aerial pho­to­graphs.

He fought in Nor­mandy, land­ing about a week after D-Day. As his unit moved east to­ward the Nether­lands he be­gan to trans­late in­ter­ro­ga­tions of Ger­man pris­on­ers — ini­tially to find out where the Nazis were pro­duc­ing V-1 mis­siles and V-2 rock­ets, but also to learn the lo­ca­tions of mine­fields, en­emy ar­tillery and tanks.

In early April 1945, as part of the 104th In­fantry Di­vi­sion, Sakheim was among the sol­diers who lib­er­ated the Dora-Mit­tel­bau con­cen­tra­tion camp in Nord­hausen, Ger­many. The streets and cre­ma­to­ries of the death camp were filled with corpses.

“Walk­ing around the camp, this could have been me if my mother hadn’t de­cided to move us out of Ber­lin in the spring of ’33,” he told Jewish Ex­po­nent, a weekly news­pa­per, in 2015.

Sakheim con­tin­ued to help with the in­ter­ro­ga­tion of Ger­man pris­on­ers in in­tern­ment camps after the war in Europe ended. But he de­layed his re­turn to the U.S. when he learned that the com­ing war crimes tri­als needed bilin­gual in­ter­preters.

After fly­ing to Nurem­berg, Sakheim, then only 22, moved into the Grand Ho­tel, which had been partly de­stroyed in bomb­ing dur­ing the war.

After seven months in Nurem­berg, he re­sumed his ed­u­ca­tion. He earned bach­e­lor’s and mas­ter’s de­grees in psy­chol­ogy at Columbia and a Ph.D. in clin­i­cal psy­chol­ogy from Florida State Uni­ver­sity.

He then be­gan a long ca­reer in psy­chol­ogy, hold­ing po­si­tions at hos­pi­tals, schools and other fa­cil­i­ties in Maine, Mas­sachusetts and New York. He spe­cial­ized in help­ing teenagers, es­pe­cially in re­duc­ing their risk of sui­cide.

As the chief psy­chol­o­gist at the Cot­tage School in Pleas­antville, New York, in the 1970s and ’80s, he tried to de­velop a pro­file for child ar­son­ists. He also wrote “Fire­set­ting Children: Risk As­sess­ment and Treat­ment” (1994), with Elizabeth Os­born.

In ad­di­tion to his son, he is sur­vived by his wife, Ilse (Oschinksy) Sakheim; his daugh­ter, Ruth Sakheim-Kitchell; and five grand­chil­dren.

Long after the Nurem­berg tri­als, Sakheim wrote that the con­tents of his di­ary re­mained haunting re­minders of what he heard from Nazi war crim­i­nals face to face, more so than the of­fi­cial tran­scripts of their tes­ti­mony.

“De­spite the fact that I now have more than 50 years’ post-Nurem­berg ex­pe­ri­ence as a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist be­hind me,” he wrote in The Jerusalem Post, “I con­tinue to wres­tle with what the per­pe­tra­tors did, what they said to us un­der ques­tion­ing, and how they said it.”


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