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Egon’s story: Modern day Mainz gets involved

Egon’s story: Modern day Mainz gets involved

Wednesday, 19 Sep 2012

This blog is part nine 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.

With nothing but sea on the horizon Egon and his fellow passengers turn to the time honoured distractions of gossiping and telling jokes. There is no news from Europe to speak of and the Marnix is still two days out from making port in Ceylon.

Egon's diary entry for 14 and 15 August 1939 (translated).

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Growing up in Mainz, Egon had three aunts and one uncle and the Schoenberger name was known throughout the town’s cobbled streets. By the end of 1942 the elder Schoenbergers were all either dead or had fled the Nazi terror. But the Schoenbergers have not been forgotten by the people of Mainz.

Since we began telling Egon’s story through these blogs there has been a remarkable connection with his old home town.

First, John Burland, a New Zealander living in Mainz, was alerted to the story and he began to do a little research into Egon’s life. On his Mainz Daily Photo blog, John posted what he initially had found out and has since been trying to photograph the streets where Egon’s family lived.

Then a local historian in Mainz, Markus Wuerz, made contact with the Museum. His historical society had produced a short history of the Schoenbergers and was researching the history of the family champagne factory, as well as a wider history of families buried in the Jewish cemetery.

Jeanne Schoenberger, Museum director Roy Clare (both standing) and writers Kirsten MacFarlane and Greg Meylan looking through Egon's papers.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

We put John and Markus in touch and John agreed to translate Markus’ short family history for us. Among the other things it reveals is that during the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938 Egon’s uncle Eugen had his home destroyed. Eugen himself escaped harm by sheltering in the apartment of his chauffeur, but two hours later a Nazi party member and a storm trooper tracked him down. They presented him with a prepared sales agreement for the family’s property and investments and asked that he put his signature on it. When Eugen inquired what would happen if he did not sign it, he was told: ‘Then you’ll be dead within five minutes’.

Meanwhile, further facets of the family story are coming to light from Egon’s papers. Yesterday Egon’s eldest daughter, Jeanne Schoenberger, was in the Museum reading some of the material written in French and German. We will share what she uncovers in a future blog post, so stay tuned.

Previous blog: The New Zealand connection

Next blog: Finding work in New Zealand

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: Kirsten MacFarlane

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