Henry E. Hockeimer, 92, Holocaust survivor

Henry E. Hockeimer Sr.
Henry E. Hockeimer Sr.
Posted: July 18, 2012

Henry E. Hockeimer Sr., 92, a former Philadelphian who survived Auschwitz to interrogate Nazis for the Army and who later became an executive of Ford Motor Co., died at his home in Washington on Friday, July 13, after a brief illness.

Mr. Hockeimer became a Ford vice president and a close adviser to Henry Ford 2d, and retired as president of Ford Aerospace & Communications Corp. He later worked as assistant director of the U.S. Information Agency.

His son, Henry E. Jr., a Philadelphia lawyer, said, "My dad was the embodiment of the American dream. He never dwelled on or used the past as an excuse for anything. He always looked forward."

Mr. Hockeimer was born in the small town of Winzig, then in Germany and now in Poland. His father was a World War I veteran who fought at Verdun.

In conversations last year, Hockeimer said he had ambitions to be an engineer but was kicked out of school as Nazi persecution of Jews intensified. He later was forced to work in a factory in Breslau unloading bags of cement. A short and slight young man, his body was failing under the 12-hour shifts; a supervisor took notice, and gave him a job inside fixing machinery.

In 1943, he and his younger sister were put on a train to Auschwitz. As soon as the train arrived, men were separated from women, and he lost sight of her in the crowd. "I never saw her again," he said. "I never found out what happened to her, to this day." After the war, he learned his parents had perished at Auschwitz.

But his personal good fortune continued. The same friendly supervisor from Breslau, now at Auschwitz, asked for him to be assigned to another inside job, as an electrician. The camps were evacuated in 1945 as the Soviet army advanced, and Hockeimer ended up in an abandoned barracks near Nordhausen, where the Germans were building V-2 rockets in a tunnel complex.

In April 1945, the British bombed the Nordhausen camp, believing it was still a German barracks; many of the prisoners were killed. Mr. Hockeimer saw the fences down and ran; he hid in a farmhouse and eventually made it to the American lines, where, in fluent English, he announced that he had an uncle waiting for him in Bound Brook, N.J.

The American commander gave him a job and he finished the war in a G.I. uniform, working for the military government first as a translator and then in the intelligence division, interrogating civilian criminals and at least one member of the SS.

After the war, he spent two years in the National Guard while he resumed his engineering studies at the RCA Institute and New York University, and went to work for Radio Corp. of America and Philco Corp. in Philadelphia. After Ford bought Philco, he eventually became a vice president and head of the aerospace unit, working on the space shuttle.

Following his retirement from Ford, he went to work for the USIA, concentrating on cultural exchange programs in Eastern Europe.

He and Margaret Madeline Feeny of Philadelphia were married in 1956. She died in 2006.

Besides his son, he is survived by a daughter, Ellen, and two grandchildren.

A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Friday, July 20, at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 3513 N St. N.W., Washington.

Contributions may be made to the Kennedy Krieger Institute, 707 N. Broadway, Baltimore, Md. 21205.

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