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Egon’s story: the librarian

Egon’s story: the librarian

Thursday, 8 November 2012

This blog is part 23 of the story of 24-year-old Jew Egon Schoenberger and his flight from the Nazi Holocaust of World War II to New Zealand. Egon’s story has been adapted by Museum writers Greg Meylan and Kirsten MacFarlane, using archive material submitted to Auckland Museum by Egon’s New Zealand family. There will be 24 posts in total.

Egon's diary 24 September 1939.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

After weeks at sea Egon arrives in New Zealand. During the voyage war has broken out in Europe. His uncertainty as to how he, a German born Jew, will be recieved in his new country gives way to hope that he has a good future in New Zealand. ”I think I shall like it,” he writes.

For this, the penultimate blog post in Egon’s story we are publishing an email from Rainer Escenbreuch, one of Egon’s colleagues at the Ruakura Research Centre. Following his settling in Hamtilton Egon’s great mind and education found a purpose as the librarian at Ruakura. Rainer Escenbreuch’s email shows something of Egon’s generous spirit, his quick mind, his passions and the influence he left in Hamilton and the people who knew him.

When I came to Ruakura in 1974 to take up a position in wine research I was immediately introduced to Egon, the librarian of the Ruakura library. Very quickly I understood what type of person he was, a German Jew who had had the unbelievable luck to have escaped the Nazi Pogrom, when at the same time his mother and sister vanished in Hitler’s killing machines.

The first moment I was anxious and hesitant not ever having met a Holocaust survivor, me a young German of the post-Nazi generation. In my time in South Africa I had experienced outright hostility from Jews, even later here in New Zealand. No, Egon was nothing of the sort!

And this was where our friendship started.

Egon ran the library of Ruakura extremely efficiently, was very helpful and generous, and always went out of his way to obtain any scientific information we scientists required.

Very soon we “confessed” our love for wine to each other and Egon became part of our Friday afternoon “drinkies” – of the wine research unit of Ruakura. He enthusiastically participated in several series of wine education courses at the Waikato University, lecturing about Champagne making.

The Schoenberger sparkling wine factory in Mainz, Germany before the war. Egon and Rainer had plans to create a winery near Hamilton.

Schoenberger, Egon. Papers 1892-1960s. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. MS-2002-74.

Both our families became friends, my very young family, he the father figure. We often shared the car, going to work, shared the lawn mower. We went to concerts together, simply enjoyed each others’ company. He made our entrance into New Zealand so much easier.

I remember when for the first time after his escape from Germany he went back to see his birthplace. His wife told me that it took him several days to find the courage to cross from the Netherlands into Germany, trembling, upset, disturbed – he did it!

Egon was a “professional” stamp collector. He often showed me his latest additions. He also collected rare correspondence between Germany and some Pacific Islands.

All the time both of us were “puzzling” about the possibility of setting up a wine business together. After several attempts Egon bought some land outside Hamilton and we began planting shelterbelts, looked for suitable grape varieties to plant – an exciting project, when suddenly , totally unexpected, he died, a misdiagnose of blood transfusion after a hip operation.

His sudden death disturbed me for a long time. And thirty years later I still miss him.

- Rainer Eschenbruch, Hamilton 2012

Previous blog: Hope dimming out more and more

Next blog: A twist in the (final) tale

Throughout this series of 24 blog posts we’d love to hear from you. If you have any questions, would like to learn more about any aspects of Egon’s story or share your thoughts please use the comment box. We’ll do our very best to respond and answer your questions.  And thank you to everyone who has commented so far.

  • Post by: Auckland Museum

    Auckland War Memorial Museum tells the story of New Zealand, its people, and their place in the Pacific.