Sonny at the Stadion of Eintracht in Frankfurt.
Sonny at the Stadion of Eintracht in Frankfurt.

Helmut “Sonny” Sonneberg

Fan, survivor, educator

Martin Liepach
Martin Liepach FMH Contributor

Beginnings

Sonny became famous with an iconic photo in 1959 when he traveled to Berlin with a flag and top hat to celebrate the Eintracht winning the German championship. In the decades that followed, Sonny followed his Eintracht live in the stadium. Where there was Eintracht, there was Sonny!

Lives stolen

As a 13-year-old, Sonny, whose parents were Jewish, was deported to Theresienstadt by the Nazis. Before that, he experienced exclusion, harassment and violence in his hometown. Sonny was not allowed to go to school, had to live for a time in an orphanage and, from 1941, had to wear the “Jewish star”. His childhood was stolen from him. When he was liberated by the Red Army in Theresienstadt in May 1945, he weighed less than 30 kilograms.

Sonny returned to Frankfurt, became a member of Eintracht for a time and played in various teams. Never high class, but always with a great enthusiasm for sports and community. Eintracht became “his club and his family”, he attended the soccer matches, but also competitions of the other departments. 

Legacy

For many years, Helmut Sonneberg did not speak about the time of exclusion and persecution. Only in 2018 did he talk about his childhood for the first time as part of a teacher training course at the Eintracht Museum. In the following months, a first discussion evening with Eintracht fans followed, and in 2019 Sonny accompanied a group of Eintracht fans on an educational trip to the former concentration camp Theresienstadt. His authentic descriptions of the traumatic experiences, his clear recollections of personal feelings and his, despite everything, conciliatory and optimistic manner will remain unforgettable for all fellow travelers of 2019.

Immediately after the joint trip to Theresienstadt, Helmut Sonneberg was appointed a life member by Eintracht Frankfurt, an honor that filled him with pride. In recent years, he has been tirelessly active as a contemporary witness, whether in schools, at clubs or at social events. His descriptions of his life as a persecutee of the Nazi regime impressed the entire Eintracht family and, beyond that, countless people around the world.  

Helmut Sonneberg, whom everyone just called “Sonny,” passed away at the age of 91 in January 2023. He will be remembered at Eintracht Frankfurt and far beyond as an impressive person. Sonny stood resolutely for the values that Eintracht Frankfurt also stands for: he was committed to fighting racism, exclusion and anti-Semitism, and even in his old age he stood up for democratic values and a tolerant society.

Thinking Points

Sonny did not celebrate any great sporting successes for Eintracht, he never scored a decisive goal in the stadium.

Educators could look at the life story of Helmut “Sonny” Sonneberg and work with young people to consider this question:

  • Do you think only great success can help to contribute to develop a positive democratic club culture?
  • What is the value of the narrative of contemporary witnesses? How should be dealt with their messages after their passing?
  • Why do you think it took years for Sonny to talk about his youth?

Find out more

You can learn more about his life and work on the BBC. You could also watch a special documentary on the German ARD. In 2020, moreover, we published a short article on his work with the Eintracht Frankfurt Museum.

Sonny was committed to fighting racism, exclusion and anti-Semitism.

Life Story 117

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Sonny at the Stadion of Eintracht in Frankfurt.
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