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Egon’s story: Finding work in New Zealand

Egon’s story: Finding work in New Zealand

Thursday, 20 September 2012

This blog is part 10 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 16 August 1939 (translated).

Egon's diary entry 16 August 1939 (translated).

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

The Marnix approaches Colombo amid growing excitement at making landfall in an exotic port. Egon is almost halfway to New Zealand.

Before he left for New Zealand Egon’s uncle Eugen tried to find work for him in the wine industry here. He enquired of the British wine shippers Grierson, Oldham and Co whether they knew anyone in New Zealand that could help him, but they had no real contacts. It would be several decades yet before New Zealand developed a thriving wine industry.

Letter of introduction from Barclay Perkins.

Letter of introduction from Barclay Perkins.

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

Egon also carried with him a letter of introduction to a Henry Kitson of Christchurch from the royal brewers Barclay Perkins & Co. They wrote the introduction at the request of Tattinger champagne maker Paul Eveque, who had assisted the rest of Egon’s family to escape into France.

In the end it was a letter of recommendation to a Dr Dreifuss in Auckland that saw Egon land a job on a farm in Huntly. The difference between his old life as a student in the picturesque cities of Europe (and an upbringing steeped in high culture) and that of his new one in the backblocks of the Waikato were huge. But Egon hardly flinched. He knew something terrible was coming to Europe and was therefore just grateful to have escaped.

But the relief of finding safety must have been tempered by enormous concern when the Germans invaded France in 1940. His mother and sister were arrested and he lost contact with them. In an attempt to find out where they were Egon put an advert in the international German Jewish newspaper Aufbau. He received a reply in January 1941 from a man in America who had been with them in Camp de Gurs concentration camp in southern France.

Doris Schoenberger in the mid to late 1930s.

Doris Schoenberger in the mid to late 1930s.

Schoenberger family.

Finally, the first letter from his mother and sister, written from the camp arrived in his letterbox. They were alive but Egon would have known how perilous Johanna and Doris’ situation still was.

Egon would eventually retrieve some of the trappings from the family’s cultured life when he was reunited with the family silver, but that is a story in itself and one for another blogpost.

Previous blogpost: Modern day Mainz gets involved

Next blogpost: First encounter with the Oriental World 

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: Greg Meylan

    Greg Meylan is a Geneva-based freelance writer and editor. He spent six years as a part-time writer and editor for Auckland Museum’s Exhibition team, and was previously a journalist for The Irish Times and Sunday Star Times in New Zealand. His special interests are writing for web and mobile devices.