Egon’s story: Singapore, the Gibraltar of the East
This blog is part 13 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.
When Egon landed in Singapore, this lively outpost of the East was teeming with traders. But in February 1942 the city was invaded by the Japanese, heralding a dark period for the Chinese population and captured allied troops. The British military base in Singapore was considered an impregnable fortress, but it took just seven days for the Japanese troops to bring it down during the battle of 1942. It went down in history as the largest surrender of British-led military personnel, with more than 80,000 allied troops made prisoners of war. The Japanese occupation lasted until 1945, and the Kempeitai or Japanese military police committed numerous atrocities against the citizens. They introduced the system of Sook Ching, or “purge through purification”, and its insidious task was to get rid of those deemed anti-Japanese. The Sook Ching Massacre claimed the lives of between 25,000 and 50,000 ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaya.
Monday 21 August, 1939
Today I travel with the railway train, which is also fast, comfortable and clean, to Medan, the capital of the district of Deli. Very beautiful shopping street with European and Chinese stores; Sultan’s palace with garden and mosque. The filth in the Chinese quarter is already less disturbing than in Pettah (Colombo). Midday at 13 o’clock sharp is the departure for Singapore. Now we can constantly see islands left and right.
Tuesday 22 August, 1939
At around 11 o’clock, the coast emerges and then we have a wonderful trip into the harbour toward Singapore. Here there is again much noise and a great deal of harbour traffic. Here I have my first trip in a rickshaw. Even this vehicle initially requires getting used to. It seems very strange to me that a person is hitched in the front of this small two-wheeled cart and is now driving me around at a run. In addition, in the blazing sun the people are wearing black kimonos and the typical Chinese straw hats. On the quay the traders have spread out their goods and are now selling at horrendously cheap prices, since Singapore, too, is a free port. Also, the people here do not pay any taxes. English and American cigarettes are cheapest here. The city is very expansively built. I see the Chinatown with its huge amount of traffic, its large and small stores. The commercial city has wonderful buildings and many European and American firms maintain agencies here. Because of the short length of time, I do not see anything of the European residential quarter. It must be wonderfully situated. The Botanical Garden must also be a worthwhile sight of Singapore.
Previous blog: Arrival in Sabang, Indonesia
Next blog: Passing through Hotel des Indes
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.