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Sontheim was born on February 3, 1820, in Jebenhausen, Wuerttemberg, Germany. His parents were Moses Loeb Sontheimer and Ruchele Rosenheim. A convert to Christianity as a young man, Sontheim returned to Judaism in 1847, following the death of his non-Jewish wife. He was a first cousin twice removed of Albert Einstein.
Coached from an early age, Sontheim earned international acclaim in the mid-to-late 19th Century. He was hailed in Germany as "The King of Tenors". He was known for his roles, among others, as Eléazar in Halévy's La Juive and the title role in Rossini's Otello. He was given a contract with the Stuttgart Opera, where he sang from 1850-1872. His appearances in Vienna as Eléazar secured his international reputation. 
^Aron Tanzer (1988). Die Geschichte der Juden in Jebenhausen und Göppingen (The History of Jews in Jebenhausen and Göppingen). Weissenhorn, Germany: Anton H. Konrad Verlag. pp. 197–198, 378–379. [in German]
^Tänzer, Arnold (1931). "Der Stammbaum Prof. Albert Einsteins". Jüdische Familienforschung (31): 420.