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Egon’s Diary: Family reunited

Egon’s Diary: Family reunited

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

This blog is part 19 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\u0027s diary entry for 4 September 1939.

Egon's diary entry for 4 September 1939.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Monday 4 September (continues): The airplanes carry approximately three tons of material on each flight. In the countryside there was not very much to see, said the countryside excursionists. Three new passengers come on board, among them a Swiss geologist Prof. Dr. Arnold Heim, who undertook a research trip here in New Guinea. Prof. Heim is the author of the book Throne of the Gods, a report about his Himalaya expedition in 1936. He is glad that he can once again speak Swiss-German.

(from l-r) Kirsten MacFarlane, Sehai Orgad, Milan Orgad, Michèle Schoenberger-Orgad and Janneen Love.

(from l-r) Kirsten MacFarlane, Sehai Orgad, Milan Orgad, Michèle Schoenberger-Orgad and Janneen Love.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

This morning, there was another gathering of the Schoenberger-Orgad family at Auckland Museum. Three generations of the family sat round the table in the library; Egon’s daughter Michèle, his granddaughter Sehai Orgad and grandson Milan Orgad. Of course Egon was there in spirit only, in the form of his diary which lay in the middle of the table. In the weekend, museum staff de-installed the Anne Frank exhibition, and after six weeks on display, Egon’s diary was transferred back to the manuscript collections, where it will remain forever accessible to the public.

It was a story that first came to public attention through a trace of serendipity and much diligence on the part of exhibition developer Janneen Love, and writers Kirsten MacFarlane and Greg Meylan. It was the family though who were so generous in sharing their personal history. Egon’s diary and the many documents contained in the manuscript collections, revealed a story arc almost Shakespearean, with its requisite tragedies and shameful injustices. There were also unexpected pockets of joy for the descendants.

“I’ve had calls from people I have not seen or heard for many years, and each and every one had a memory to share. It brought my father back to me and gave me the most amazing opportunity for remembrance and memorial,” says Michèle.

This was the first time her son Milan had seen the diary. He had just arrived back in the country after a 24-hour flight from New York. His sister and mother picked him up from Auckland Airport and they drove straight here. Tomorrow he will fly out to Melbourne, to resume his job as policy advisor to the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency (ANZPAA).

We take for granted the ease of modern travel. Have passport, will fly across oceans and continents. Seventy three years ago – almost to the day – Milan’s grandfather had arrived by boat in Salamaua. As he observes in his diary entry of Monday 4 September, the consequences of war were that passengers with German passports couldn’t go ashore. Instead of exploring this foreign place with his fellow passengers, he was restricted to watching the cargo movements. Already, he was an alien in a new land.

Arthur Schoenberger with his son Egon.

Arthur Schoenberger with his son Egon.

Schoenberger family.

Michèle says the Museum did a mitzvah (good deed) for keeping the past alive. These stories will now be passed to generations. The story of the Jewish holocaust should never be forgotten. Neither should the memory of the pioneers of Auckland. Last week 20 of their graves were desecrated at Auckland’s Grafton Cemetery. The vandals targeted the Jewish headstones, spraying them with anti-semitic graffiti and swastikas. The Israeli Embassy in Wellington called it a vile attack.

“Sixty seven years after the liberation of the Jewish people from the death camps and ghettoes of Europe, expressions of blind hatred for Jews and for the sole Jewish state resurface.”

Previous blog: The letters of Dr Bacharach

Next blog: Coming of age in Camp de Gurs

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.

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