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Egon’s story: Family life and Hitler's rise to power

Egon’s story: Family life and Hitler's rise to power

Monday, 10 September 2012

This blog is part five of the story of 24-year-old Jew Egon Schoenberger and his flight from the Nazi Holocaust of World War II to New Zealand. There will be 24 blogs in total. 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.  


Egon's diary entry for 10 August, 1939 (translated).

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

The blazing August sun beats down on the Marnix as it sails through the Red Sea. Day and night the ship travels through the hot and oppressive air. Beyond its stern Europe recedes ever further away, as events there draw ever closer to disaster. Egon looks forward to the cooler air of the open sea.

Doris and Egon Schoenberger in the mid 1920s.

Schoenberger family.

It has been six years since Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. Like Egon’s father, Hitler served in the First World War. But while Arthur Schoenberger returned to the family champagne factory after the war, Hitler turned to bitterness and the nurturing of a desire for Germany’s revenge.  

Like many other rightwing nationalists Hitler experienced Germany’s defeat at the end to World War I as a humiliation, and looked for someone to blame. The Jews made an easy and familiar target. Hitler bought into the soothing myth that the German army was undone by traitorous socialists and Jews at home rather than military defeat at the frontline.  

Egon was six when his sister Doris (right) was born in 1920. Over the following years the Schoenberger family enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. In 1925 they were photographed looking happy and relaxed at the seaside. But Egon’s father Arthur died in 1931, as a result of damage he had suffered during gas attacks in World War I. Egon’s uncle Eugen became the family patriarch as the Schoenberger’s faced their most difficult times. 

The same year that Doris was born Hitler left the army to work full time for the National Socialist German Workers Party (later to be known as the Nazi party) where he drew large audiences to his anti-Semitic beer hall speeches.  After a failed putsch in 1923 Hitler served a little over a year in prison. Upon release he continued to organise but would have to wait nearly 10 years before he could seize power and implement his terrible vision of a racially pure, militaristic Germany.  

In 1930 the German government attempted to deflate German wages to make them more competitive in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street crash and resulting Great Depression. The government’s severe austerity caused mass unemployment, social unrest and a rise in extremism on both the left and right. In 1933 Hitler won over 40% of the votes and was appointed chancellor of Germany. In the same year he used the excuse of the torching of the Reichstag to seize absolute power. Life for Germany’s Jews would never be the same again. 

Previous blog: Schonberger Cabinet

Next blog: The innocents of war

  • Post by: Kirsten MacFarlane

    Kirsten MacFarlane is a part-time editor and writer for Auckland Museum. She also edits and writes feature articles for various publications.