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Egon’s story: The family champagne factory is confiscated

Egon’s story: The family champagne factory is confiscated

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

This blog is part two 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 diary entry for 5 & 6 August 1939 (translated).

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

As the vessel Marnix heads towards Port Said, Egon hears news of the birth of Princess Irene, the second daughter of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. As befitting the birth of a princess of Orange, the captain announces a gala dinner and Oranje (orange) ball.

As the champagne flowed, Egon may have winced at the memory of the family’s wine business which the Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs had forcibly taken over in 1938.

The Schoenberger factory at Mainz in the Rhineland, was one of the largest in Germany and produced some of the best sparkling wine in Europe. Founded by Egon’s father Arthur and uncle Eugene (regarded as the doyen of wine makers), the factory produced around one million bottles of sparkling wine annually and employed 150 staff. Tastings of the premier brand “Schonberger Cabinet” were conducted in the “subterranean town” of the factory’s vast network of cellars and the plush surroundings of the salon de reception.

The champagne factory's salon de reception.

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

Egon had been immersed in the wine business from a young age. After graduating from high school, he spent a year working in the factory and returned during early university holidays. Due to the racial laws imposed by Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) government in 1933, Egon was unable to attend university in Germany and subsequently spent the next six years studying in France, England and Switzerland.

In 1939, he graduated Doctor of Laws at Berne University (his thesis dealt with the commercial usages and the legislation governing the manufacture of sparkling wines). In between studies, he also spent time in the wineries and cellars of the firm Champagne Heidsieck and Co. Monopole at Verzenay and Rheims.

Previous blog: Leaving Europe

Next blog: The Nazi state steals the family silver

  • 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.