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Egon’s story: Leaving Europe

Egon’s story: Leaving Europe

Monday, 3 September 2012

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


Egon's translated diary 3-4 August, 1939

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

On August 3 1939 a light breeze stirs the Mediterranean waters of the French Riveria as the Dutch liner Marnix gives a blast of its horn and sets sail. On board, Egon Schoenberger watches the French port of Villefranche-sur-Mer recede.

A thousand kilometres away in Berlin, Hitler’s generals are finalising their plans to invade Poland, and plunge the continent into war. On the far side of France, Egon’s mother, sister and uncle have escaped Germany for the city of Rheims. Egon hasn’t seen his family for several years and can only guess how long it will be before he sees them again. By evening, the Marnix reaches the Italian port of Genoa, Egon’s first stop on his six week journey to New Zealand.

Egon's permit to enter New Zealand.

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

A year earlier, Egon was nearing the completion of his studies in Switzerland when he was advised by his uncle to forget any thought of returning home and instead seek passage to a country far from the anti-Semitic menace of Hitler’s Germany.

His application to emigrate to Australia was turned down and he was placed on a waiting list for the United States. Things did not look promising when a letter from the New Zealand High Commission told him: “..it has recently been found necessary to discontinue the issuing of permits, except in very special circumstances. It is considered, therefore, that it would probably be hardly worth while making application..”

Egon applied regardless and his background in winemaking was sufficient for someone in the Department of Customs in Wellington to grant him a visa as an agricultural labourer. He became one of only about 300 Jews escaping Nazi Germany to be taken by New Zealand.

Previous blog: Introduction

Next blog: The family champagne factory is confiscated

  • 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.