Born on March 8, 1930, to Freda and Samuel Adelberg, Sonja had one sister, Helen, and an older brother who died as an infant.
Sonja’s memories of Nazi Germany are the lasting, emotional impressions of a young child. The cruel and evil expression of Adolf Hitler looking out into the crowd during a parade she watched at the age of seven. Bombs dropping, people screaming, and the terror of Nazis grabbing people out of their homes. To this day, Holocaust films evoke a deep, guttural pain for Sonja.
At the age of six, Sonja’s mother passed away. Her father hired a housekeeper to care for her and her eleven-year-old sister. When he caught the housekeeper stealing, Sonja’s father decided to take his daughters to stay with the nuns where he felt the girls would be safer, given the perils of Nazi Germany. Sonja remembers the kindness and love shown to all the children by the nuns. He later placed the girls in an orthodox Jewish orphanage.
“For my father to put us in the orphanage was love; he gave us away so we could be safe,” she says.
With applications completed for the girls’ visas, it was now a waiting game. Sonja and Helen finally obtained their visas through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). The girls traveled with ten other Jewish children on a voyage by sea that Sonja describes as an adventure. She was given a banana for the first time and “ate the whole thing, peeling and all.” After the fourteen-day journey, the girls arrived at Ellis Island on January 17, 1940, and were greeted by their paternal grandmother and several aunts. Sonya recalls what a delicious cook her grandmother was. Her favorite dishes were chicken and sponge cake.
When Sonja was sixteen, she was reunited with her father. He had left Germany earlier than his daughters on the ill-fated S.S. St. Louis bound for Cuba but was sent back to Belgium where he met and married a German woman. When the Nazis invaded Belgium, they escaped to France and were hidden by French patriots. He developed a heart condition due to poor nutrition and Sonja recalls that he was very sickly when she saw him in America.
Sonja married Hyman Bromberg and settled in Montgomery, Alabama. They were married for forty-seven years. Their only son died in 2004 at the age of forty-two.